From the Lives of the People


George Losev
Facebook
September 14, 2021

I chatted with an 86-year-old woman while I was changing the power outlet on her kitchen stove. She was from a village near Vologda and still pronounced her unstressed o’s as full o’s. She worked for 58 years on construction sites. She started working in ’54 or ’55. She worked three years as a helper, then eight years as a painter before making the switch to plastering.

“I really liked this work. But then everything fell apart, and anyone could get the job. If you could hold a brush, you could go to work as a painter.”

If I understood her correctly, she said that, in the fifties, sixties and seventies, without a specialized education, it was impossible to get a job anywhere except as a helper.

She said that they had lived quite poorly, that the foreman earned 15 rubles a month. I didn’t understand how this could be and so I expressly asked her again, and she confirmed what she’d said.

In the seventies, the planning got better, and life became easier. But she had still spent her entire life “in poverty.”

“My legs began to give out, and I was forbidden to work. Otherwise I would have kept working. I was already used to this being how things were, that we were working stiffs and this was how we lived.”

Her husband also worked on construction sites, as a finisher. She has a daughter. She lives in her son-in-law’s two-room apartment, renting out one of the rooms. Despite her obvious and visible poverty, the apartment was very clean. She tried to pay me generously, but I didn’t take any money.

We started talking about migrants. She said they were good, hard-working, polite people. They always helped her, carried her groceries. Migrants had saved her life after she had her first or second stroke, which had happened outside. Russians had walked on by, but “Georgians or migrants, basically two non-Russians” had come to her aid, telephoning an ambulance and waiting with her.

“I don’t want to badmouth migrants. I just wonder where our people are, Russians? Have they really all retired? Or don’t they want to work?”

George Losev is a housing authority electrician, veteran grassroots activist and DIY football enthusiast in Petersburg. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

The Depths

This is a map of the Petersburg subway, by Alexei Goncharov, showing the depth (in meters) and construction type (“single-vault,” etc.) of each station. The deepest station is Admiralteyskaya, at 86 meters, in downtown Petersburg. The station, which opened in 2011, has a troubled history. For many years, it was a “ghost” station, briefly glimpsed during the long dark transit from Sadovaya to Sportivnaya. Image courtesy of Natalia Yuda and St. Petersburg Photo Diary.

Bad Memories, Unpopular Opinions, Wacky Icons

September 8, 2018
I don’t care what they call themselves or what names they are called — liberals, intellectuals, anarchists, communists, socialists, plain old good people — but given the utter silencing of the topic of Syria in the provisionally anti-Putin grassroots and political discourse in Russia, it is difficult to see these various democratic and progressive forces as a force per se, and even more so as a force for good and renewal. The full picture of what is happening nowadays includes the bombing of Idlib, and not only the beloved “social agenda” vis-a-vis the unpopular pension reform, if only because the regime has had to find the money for the bombs, missiles and planes in people’s pockets. But everyone keeps their lips sealed, not realizing that cowardice on this occasion is read as cowardice on all occasions among “the common folk” that they are perpetually trying to save.

September 8, 2017
“However, his new position as head of the local police will not bring the main character the peace for whose sake he pursued it. After the opening of an oil refinery, the city is plunged into the chaos of crime. Attempts to deal with the oil company lead to disastrous consequences for his entire family. The tragedy forces the hero to compromise his principles and set out on the path of revenge.”

September 8, 2016
From the annals of Russian pollocracy, which I’ve decided to redub poleaxeocracy.

File this one under “aiding and comforting the enemy.”

Stalin was “quite popular,” too. God only knows how that ended up.

In any case, “being popular” and “good governance” are two entirely different things.

It’s strange how much capital of all kinds has been spent over the past 17 years to convince the Russian people and everyone else this isn’t the case.

So if US researchers really were wasting their time trying to figure out whether Putin is “in fact popular,” this only goes to show . . .

What? That either the researchers have fallen for this stupidity or they think Russians are degenerate morons.

There are no circumstances under which you can objectively determine whether Putin is “in fact popular,” because the question itself is irrelevant.

It’s like asking people whether they think Michael Corleone is “really handsome.”

Michael Corleone’s job is not “being handsome.” It’s running the Corleone mob.

Greg Yudin
September 8, 2016
A wonderful story. I have just been sent confirmation of my text yesterday about the Levada Center of a sort that I couldn’t have hoped for.

If you remember, the Justice Ministry has been hassling the Levada Center over a study conducted jointly with the University of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is somehow supported by the Pentagon, and from this it follows that Pentagon money directly lands in the pocket of the Levadovites, who in return report secrets about Russian public opinion. We won’t bother discussing this paranoia, so let’s move on.

The joint project with Wisconsin most likely refers to the research that Scott Gelbach from Wisconsin did with the Levada Center’s involvement. A colleague sent me an article on this research that has just been published. Actually, the goal of Gelbach, Timothy Frye from Columbia University and their team was to find out “Is Putin’s popularity real?” (as their article is entitled). They needed the Levada Center as a partner for conducting an “experiment” as part of a public opinion poll. In this experiment, they wanted to rule out the “fear factor” on the part of the respondents. (I’ll be writing a separate post about the “experiment.”) As a result of the experiment, it transpired that “Putin is in fact quite popular.” Moreover, they claim that, in reality, Putin’s ratings, per their experiment, may even be somewhat underestimated due to “artificial deflation.”

Once again, read these lines: the authorities want to shut down the Levada Center because of a study that claims that Putin is “in fact” even more popular than people think!

And not just claims, but informs the whole world about it in perfect English. I wonder if the Anti-Maidan movement knows about this?

September 8, 2016
“So begins a yearlong series of plays chronicling Russian leaders.”

Enough already. I’d like to hear a play or program about the history of Portugal or Mali or Ecuador or Malaysia.

BBC Radio 4 and all the other high-tone media outlets in the so-called western world have so-called Russian history and culture coming out of their ears and noses.

This only works to the advantage of the Putinists, because, almost without exception, these various “serious” entertainments and furrowed-brow documentaries and exposés simply reinforce the tired home truths (i.e., lies) about Russia’s history and present that the regime itself is fond of shoving down everyone’s throats. Not to mention the fact that getting so much attention satisfies the vanity of the Russian powers that be.

But really, there is a big, big world out there we’d like to hear about more often. A world without Putin and “Russia.”

September 8, 2015
Over-the-top late-Soviet “ritual” lacquered panels, commissioned by the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad in the early nineteen-eighties, and brilliantly and flawlessly executed by a group of six “retooled” icon painters from the village of Mstyora, near Suzdal, a place famed for its distinctive school of icon and lacquered box painting.

Although the panels were officially commissioned, they have not been exhibited until now, apparently. Head to the revamped Museum of the History of Religion (nowadays, sans the atheism) in downtown Petersburg to check them out.

Photos by Comrade Koganzon. Translated, where necessary, by the Russian Reader

The Doubles

The powers that be in Petersburg (i.e., Putin’s United Russia party) have decided to confuse voters by running two candidates named “Boris Vishnevsky” against the popular liberal city councilman Boris Vishnevsky, pictured on the far right, who is running for re-election on September 19. The two fake candidates (who were known as Alexei Shemlyov and Viktor Bykov before the current campaign and, presumably, will resume their real identities after it) have now also grown beards and mustaches to further muddle Petersburg voters, who will have this poster to look at in their polling stations when they vote in two weeks. As the real Boris Vishnevsky points out, above, it also appears that the photos of his doppelgangers have been retouched to heighten their resemblance to him. ||| TRR

Ilya Pershin: The Ice Under the Major’s Feet

Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page

The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya
OVD Info
September 2, 2021

Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.

On January 31,  2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.

“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.

She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St.  Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.

“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.

According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.

According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”

Investigative Ballet
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.

When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.

At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”

There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.

When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.

In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”

Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.

Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.

Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.

In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.

On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”

Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.

“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”

At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.

Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”

Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.

25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.

26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.

27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.

28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.

29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.

30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.

31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD

1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.

2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.

3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.

5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.

10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!

You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:

Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994

You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.

All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Grass Is Always Greener on Our Side of the Fence

“What do we need Europe for? We have Petersburg. And it’s a lot better.” Source: St. Petersburg Photo Diary (public Facebook page)

Russia records highest covid-19 mortality rate for third day in a row
Radio Svoboda
August 14, 2021

For the third day in a row, Russia has recorded the highest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus infection since the beginning of the pandemic. On Saturday, August 14, the authorities reported 819 deaths, according to the federal crisis management center.

A year ago, the Russian authorities declared victory over the pandemic, but due to the low level of vaccination and the spread of new strains, the number of reported infections has increased four times, and the death toll has increased six times compared to the previous summer.

On August 14, 22,144 new cases of infection by the novel coronavirus were recorded in Russia. 19,550 people recovered. The official death toll for the entire pandemic has reached almost 170,000.

Using data from Rosstat, the Russian federal statistics agency, independent demographers and statistical researchers have estimated that the real number of deaths from the pandemic is three and a half times higher,  in excess of 600,000.

Translated by the Russian Reader

A System of Absence

Late Soviet-era co-op apartment buildings on the Smolenka River in northwest Petersburg, near the Primorskaya subway station. Photo: Roman Bezjak/Hatje Cantz Verlag. Courtesy of Business Insider

* * *

Along with the heating, in every building
there is a system of absence. Concealed in the walls,
its noiseless radiators
flood the apartment with unadulterated emptiness
the year round, whatever the weather.
Connected to the main, it apparently runs
on fuel supplied by death, arrest or
simple jealousy. This temperature
rises towards evening. One turn of the key
and you find yourself in a place where there is
no one: like a thousand years ago,
or somewhat earlier—in the Ice Age,
before evolution. Usurped space
never relinquishes its
uninhabitedness, thus reminding
the upstart monkey
of emptiness’s primordial, pre-glacial right
to housing. Absence is merely
the home address of nonexistence.
Being bourgeois,
in the long run, at curtain call,
it prefers wallpaper to boulders or brown moss.
The more elaborate the wallpaper’s jungles, the unhappier the monkey.

1993

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader

A Wave of Summer Bargains

“On a wave of summer bargains. Up to 80%”

August

Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.

The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.

Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.

So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.

1996

Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg real estate developer and Brodsky museum founder Maxim Levchenko

43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.

Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader

Boris Koshelokhov, 1942-2021

Boris Koshelokhov in his studio at Pushkinskaya 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

A Titan Among Artists: Boris Koshelokhov Has Died
Kira Dolinina
Kommersant
July 12, 2021

The artist Boris (Bob) Koshelokhov has died at Petersburg’s Mariinsky Hospital aged eighty. Despite the thousands of canvases he has produced since 1975, Koshelokhov will be mourned first of all as a charismatic leader of the Leningrad underground. His mere presence in the artistic landscape enabled others to feel that they were situated within a great tradition whose principal value was the freedom to live as you wished.

The news that Bob Koshelokhov had passed away was expected (relatives and friends had discussed and written about his serious illness on social networks), but it was no less stunning, simply because Bob could not pass away: his personal relationship with time and space had long ago settled into an unlimited flow of being. Neither the numbers of birthdays, nor figures of work produced, nor the status of a Petersburg art old-timer stuck to him. Bob could not be called a “veteran” or a “mighty old man”: nothing about him ever changed.

The man in the photos from the 1970s looked like the same man whom you would encounter until quite recently at exhibition openings and in the courtyards of the Pushkinskaya 10 Art Center: long hair, beard, leather vest, black clothes, booming voice, darting gaze. Koshelokhov had become a guru less than a year after he started doing art himself, yet no one ever tried to push him off this pedestal.

His biography seems to have been specially written to fit the canon. He was orphan who ran away from orphanages with enviable regularity until the seventh grade. He was half-educated man who worked as a heating plant stoker, then as a carpenter, then as a trucker. He married an Italian woman and briefly emigrated, but then returned from this “golden cage” to an “iron cage” (his own iron cage). He lived in communal apartments and squats, and achieved cult status. In the early 1970s, he came to Leningrad from his Southern Urals hometown of Zlatoust to study medicine. He lasted two years: his programmatic study of the history of philosophy (Kierkegaard, Jaspers, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Camus) resulted in his being expelled for his fascination with “bourgeois” ideas. Devoutly believing in existentialism, spending all day long in second-hand bookstores and the legendary “Saigon” cafe, where he received the nickname the Philosopher, he arranged his life exactly in keeping with the precepts in the books he read: “Your freedom was born before you.”

His freedom was born on November 2, 1975, the day when his friend the artist Valery (Clover) Kleverov told Bob that he too was an artist. Koshelokhov himself later kidded that it was just a joke, a way to somehow repay Bob for the fact that he had turned his 27-meter-square room in a communal flat into a gallery selling paintings for a whole year. Joke or no joke, Bob took the idea to heart: an artist is someone who sees. Given a strong desire, anyone can become an artist. (Similar ideas espoused by Joseph Beuys were unknown in Russia at the time.)

Even paint was not needed: Koshelokhov’s first works were concocted from objects found in garbage dumps.

But when Koshelokhov got his hands on paint, it was clear that he really was an artist — an artist who was powerful, considerable and critically important to entire Petersburg culture.

Boris Koshelokhov, Happy New Year!, 2007. Oil on canvas, 120×190 cm. Image courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

Koshelokhov’s first exhibited work was “made of shit and sticks” in the true sense of the phrase. For an exhibition in memory of the deceased Leningrad abstract artist Yevgeny Rukhin, a show that had not been sanctioned by the authorities, Bob produced a “collage” consisting of a tabletop to which he had attached a hospital bedpan, a child’s potty, a coin and a brass exclamation mark. While all the other participants of the show were nabbed by the valiant police as they approached the venue, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Koshelokhov calmly made his way to the site, thus signifying that the exhibition had taken place.

Koshelokhov’s painting was made of the same stuff — he composed everything on the go. His expressionism was homegrown and self-made, unlike international expressionism and even dissimilar to what the baroquely passionate artists of the Arefiev Circle had done a little earlier on the other side of town. A spontaneous artist, Koshelokhov mixed everything with everything else, painting on carpets, plywood, upholstery from old sofas, and abandoned propaganda banners. He employed impossible combinations of colors (since they were all his personal discoveries, because even the fact that you get green when you mix blue and yellow was something he discovered for himself). And he painted, painted, and painted.

Although, in fact, he himself preferred to say that “the work should be like a boil: it pops up, comes to a head, then suddenly opens up, as if it bumped against a corner, so that the blood flows with might and main.”

Actually, only Koshelokhov himself could live up to this prescription. But he tried to teach others: the group Chronicle (Letopis), which he founded in 1977, is now famous primarily for the fact that Timur Novikov made his start there. And yet in terms of their painterly method, their devilishly rich rhythm of work (critiques were held every week; if you didn’t bring a new picture to them, you were told to take a walk), and rabid omnivorousness, Koshelokhov’s team fostered its own version of neo-expressionism at exactly the same time as the Europeans were developing theirs.

Koshelokhov’s painted oeuvre is all about philosophical categories, to the point of cosmism. And what matters is not its “complexity”  (on the contrary, the images are simple and executed backhandedly), but its quantity. Koshelokhov did not do dozens of anything: his series number hundreds, and sometimes thousands of works. His latest project, Two Highways, was produced over thirty years and consisted of three or four thousand canvases [sic] and tens of thousands of sketches, pastels and drawings. That was how he thought — in terms of numbers with many zeros after them.

One of his last solo shows was entitled 70,000 Years of Boris Koshelokhov. It was occasioned by [his seventieth birthday], but no one was interested in the numbers in his passport.

Boris Koshelokhov at an exhibition of his works. Photo courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

Vadim Ovchinnikov, one of the so-called New Artists who listened to him attentively, explained Koshelokhov’s place in art best of all: “We advise critics who doubt Koshelokhov’s significance to pay attention to the neon ‘Titan’ sign on the corner of the house on Nevsky and Liteiny where the artist lives.” Only a pandemic was capable of overpowering such a titan. There will be a hole in the stratosphere without him. But everyone who knew Koshelokhov is certain that he has just flown through that hole to the place where his thoughts have always dwelled.

Translated by Thomas Campbell

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Two Highways (Nick Teplov & Alexander Markov, 2008). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

2097 (Vadim Ovchinnikov, Boris Kazakov, Georgy Baranov, Tatiana Ledneva, 1996). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

The Creative Path of Boris Koshelokhov (Yevgeny Kondratiev, 1988). Courtesy of boriskoshelokhov.com

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Boris Koshelokhov’s Two Highways

It seems to me that every person is an artist. It’s just that some people know this, and others don’t.

— Boris Koshelokhov

Alain Badiou argues that social progress is propelled by “events”—great insights, discoveries, and revolutions in art, science, politics, and love. Although he often uses language that is evangelical to evoke the lived relationship to these events (it is no accident that one of his prototypical heroes is Saint Paul), Badiou is rather more prosaic, even purposely “mathematical,” when he describes how events come about. In a situation whose elements remain as many and self-identical as they were before the event, the poet, scientist, revolutionary or lover sees something other (more) than what the canon, scientific dogma, public opinion, and common sense tell him that he should see. After this event, the world remains the same and is changed forever. The exact proportion of sameness and difference is determined by how those who live in the wake of the event construe its afterlife. For Badiou, what matters are whether we remain faithful to the event or not, and what forms our faith (or faithlessness) takes. In fact, this is what the event is: the sense or nonsense we make of it; the way it changes how we act even when its whole significance escapes us; the social reaction and personal deadening that set in when we deny or forget the truth the event revealed to us. The event has no other meaning.

For Petersburg artist Boris “Bob” Koshelokhov (born 1942), the event was this: in 1975, his friend the painter Valery “Clover” Kleverov told Bob that he, too, was an artist. Nowadays, Koshelokhov suspects that a sense of guilt made Clover pronounce these fateful words. Koshelokhov had been helping Clover and his family improve their cramped living conditions and (later) emigrate by selling Clover’s works—on zero commission—from a makeshift gallery that doubled as Koshelokhov’s room in a communal flat. Besides not making any money off these transactions, Koshelokhov also drew the ire of his neighbors, who sent denunciations to the authorities. Wanting, apparently, to compensate his friend’s risky, selfless efforts on his behalf, Clover pronounced Koshelokhov an artist. Koshelokhov believed him.

What followed is art history—in more ways than one. Within a year of declaring himself for the truth accidentally revealed by Clover and after the latter man’s departure for America, Koshelokhov had gathered around him his own haphazard group of disciples, Chronicle. The group’s name is linked to Koshelokhov’s understanding of the artist’s task: “The artist is a chronicler; he has to record everything.” The dozen-some young artists in Chronicle—which included latter-day Petersburg art superstars Timur Novikov and Elena Figurina—gathered weekly in each other’s homes to discuss their new paintings. If they showed up for the weekly session without a freshly painted work, “Master” Koshelokhov showed them the door (even when it was the door of their own apartment).

The group provided a way for Koshelokhov to spread the gospel of art he’d been vouchsafed by Clover. It also created a refuge for Koshelokhov and his pupils from a late-Soviet art world where neither the right wing (the state-sponsored Union of Artists) nor the left wing (the so-called unofficial artists and their alternative quasi-unions) had much time for the purely artistic and personal truths Koshelokhov & Co. wanted to pursue with paint on canvas.

More important, Chronicle gave Koshelokhov the means to realize his notion of art as philosophical/existentialist practice. State Russian Museum curator Ekaterina Andreeva argues that Koshelokhov finds in painting an external outlet for the endless work of inquiry going on in his head and heart. Koshelokhov sees the artwork as the (potential) site of a dialogue between maker and looker, an intermediary in their otherwise lonely search for the meaning of self, world, and being. The result, according to Andreeva, is an “altered space” that forever changes how Koshelokhov’s interlocutors think and behave after they have entered it.

Koshelokhov’s dialogical view of art echoes within his biography. By his own account, he has spent his whole life in dialogue with others—whether the medical school classmates with whom he studied existentialist philosophy in the sixties (they were all expelled for this seditious act), the artists of Chronicle, the habitus of the famous “Saigon” cafe (where Koshelokhov earned the moniker “Philosopher”), or the inmates in the smoking room of the nearby Russian National Library (the equally famous “Publichka”). Through the books of philosophy that Koshelokhov found in this last haunt and elsewhere he has extended his dialogue with others into remoter times and kingdoms. This dialogue is re-enacted in his artistic practice, which can be imagined as an active interrogation of the artists and schools with whom Koshelokhov shares aesthetic ground: the Fauves, The Blue Rider, Dadaism and surrealism, Paul Klee, CoBrA, the Transavantguardia, the Neue Wilde, Figuration Libre.

Koshelokhov’s work likewise evokes international and Slavic traditions of outsider and naive art. In keeping with these traditions and Mikhail Larionov’s notion of everythingism (vsechestvo), and joyously bowing to straitened material circumstances, Koshelokhov has often turned the least promising debris of daily life into the stuff of art: discarded sofa frames, Styrofoam packing, bedpans, and other treasures rescued from garbage dumps. In this connection, his disciple Timur Novikov once remarked that if you come across a Koshelokhov painting from the seventies on a good canvas and high-quality frame, it’s almost surely a forgery.

Koshelokhov’s work also makes an especially clear appeal to the immediacy of children’s art. By his own admission, his five-year-old son Ilya has become his severest critic and “teacher.”

The context most germane for an understanding of Koshelokhov’s work, however, is the post-war Leningrad/Petersburg neo-fauvist/neo-expressionist school, in which Koshelokhov can be seen as the lynch pin between the immediate post-WWII generation (the circle of Alexander Arefiev) and the young bucks who created a grassroots artistic perestroika during the eighties and early nineties (Novikov, Oleg Kotelnikov, Ivan Sotnikov, Vadim Ovchinnikov, Vladislav Gutsevich and their fellow New Artists). For these younger Petersburg neo-expressionists and other local contemporaries, Koshelokhov has served as a peculiar model of steadfastness in the midst of faction and fashion. It is a testament to his significance in Petersburg’s “second” culture that his life has become the stuff of legends.

Finally and most vitally, Koshelokhov’s artistic practice is a dialogue with biological evolution and universal history. He rehearses the evolving variety and perennial sameness of animal and human life, and re-maps the migration of these life forms through geography and history. In his own words, his work and life is a cognitive and pictorial ontogenesis that repeats the phylogenesis of art history and human culture.

Paradoxically and appropriately for an artist so interested in dialogue, Koshelokhov’s path has been a remarkably lonely one. In a Russian artistic culture that favors collective identities, he has taken pains to emphasize his independence and distaste for “crowds” and “scenes” (the tusovki that prominent Russian curator Viktor Misiano identifies as the dominant form of post-Soviet artistic and cultural life). This sense of independence was his birthright: an orphan, he spent his childhood passing through and running away from a series of orphanages in the Urals. The wanderings of his youth and middle life took him to places as far-flung as Odessa and Leningrad, and jobs as unromantic as ship’s electrician and armed security guard. Most remarkably, just as his influence within Leningrad’s underground art scene was solidifying, he gave it all up and left for Italy with a young Italian aristocrat-communist. Just as surprisingly, he returned to the Soviet Union several months later, having found life in his new “golden cage” no more conducive to his pursuit of the truth revealed by the event of 1975 than life behind the bad-old Iron Curtain.

Whatever the peripeteias of Koshelokhov’s life, then, they all answer to another of the dictums he often repeats (following Sartre): “First my freedom was born, then I was born.” Koshelokhov teaches us that human life is a work of art that takes shape as its makers—we ourselves—haltingly grope backwards and forwards toward this originary insight.

Since the dawn of another great and little-understood political event, perestroika, Koshelokhov has become bolder and more single-minded in his faithfulness to the event that changed his life in the mid-seventies. This boldness has manifested itself in an increasing turn to scale and number. Ekaterina Andreeva points out that many of the great artists of the modern and postmodern periods (she cites Picasso, Warhol, and Ilya Kabakov) have also employed rapid, serialized mass production as a means of unburdening themselves of their genius. Koshelokhov had always been productive and profligate, even in the midst of harrowingly inhospitable working conditions. (His “studios” have included the machine room of an elevator and waterlogged cellars lit by a single bulb.) Many of the hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and assemblages (the so-called concepts) of his early period disappeared into the mists of oblivion and the landfills of suburban Leningrad almost as quickly as they appeared.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Koshelokhov carried out two projects that even more clearly signaled his desire to “world the world” by turning it into art: Puppets of Peace March Around the World (1989, oil on canvas, 23 meters x 6 meters) and Heilige Sunder (1992, oil on canvas, 120 meters x 3 meters). Fortunately, these gigantic pieces weren’t consigned to the rubbish bin of history. They are now in private collections in France and Moscow.

In 1992, Koshelokhov began work on his magnum opus, Two Highways, which Andreeva cites as one of the most significant art works of contemporary art. The first two stages of the project—1,200 black-and-white sketches and 6,000 (40 cm x 30 cm) pastels (five variations on each of the original sketches)—were completed in 2002. The third and final stage—a 5,000 square meter mural incorporating the findings of the previous two stages—so far exists only in the imaginations of Koshelokhov and the friends he has infected with his sober, tender, and naive re-visioning of life. He says that he is ready to produce the work anywhere in the world, given a wall that is big enough, a team of helpers, and a minimal amount of funding.

As Koshelokhov explains it, the two highways in his project’s title (in English in the original) are the earthly path and the heavenly path. “I travel in a vehicle over the earth’s surface. My peripheral vision picks out quintessential human images and artifacts from the Stone Age to modern times. My journey takes me from Europe to Africa, across the Atlantic and America to Alaska. From there I go to Japan, Asia, the islands of Oceania, and around Australia. Finally, I cross Antarctica and complete my journey in South America.” Andreeva suggests that the prototype of this imaginary trek is a solo road trip from Trieste to Palermo that Koshelokhov made in his Italian wife’s Citroen in 1978. It also has to be mentioned that for some time in the late eighties and early nineties he worked as a gypsy cab driver in Petersburg. He ferried people and things around the city at all hours of the day and night in a used Mercedes-Benz until the mafia forced him into an early retirement.

Mikhail Trofimenkov has written of Two Highways that it gives us a glimpse of how God sees the earth as He flies above it. For his part, Koshelokhov claims that, like the opposite side of a Moebius strip, the earthly path repeats (in extension) the forms and ideas that lie hidden in the empyrean. His mission is to re-awaken the viewer to the possibility of participating in the world’s co-creation by uniting thought and feeling, theory and practice, sensus et ratio (to borrow the artist’s beloved coinage). Everywhere—even in the less prepossessing quarters of Leningrad/Petersburg (Koshelokhov’s real muse)—we are reminded (by colors, shapes, faces, bodies, buildings) of the miracle of being’s unfolding. Ekaterina Andreeva argues that it was this impulse—to see the whole world and to see it all at once—that launched the postmodernist/transavantgarde project. In this sense, she speculates, it was no accident that Koshelokhov found himself in Italy just as the movement was jelling. (There, he exhibited in a special program at the Venice Biennale, “New Soviet Art: An Unofficial View.”)

Preached by Mikhail Larionov and Joseph Beuys, and then taken up by Koshelokhov and Novikov’s New Artists, the now-unfashionable avant-garde notion that everyone is an artist and everything can be turned into art (which we must distinguish from the directive to turn everything and everyone into commodity and consumer) is nothing other than the ethical imperative to remain faithful to the insight that visited Koshelokhov in the mid-seventies: that the mission of art is to reunite vision and thought, self and world. In Koshelokhov’s case, “insight” has to be understood literally. Two Highways is a journey that the artist has been making without leaving his current studio at Pushkinskaya-10. Like all genuine avant-garde projects, though, this journey won’t be complete until the human world (or, at least, one 5000 square meter corner of it) is physically and spiritually transformed. // Thomas Campbell 

Sources
· Ekaterina Andreeva. “Khudozhnik,” Novyi mir iskusstva 6 (1999): 3–5.
· Ekaterina Andreeva. Postmodernizm. Iskusstvo vtoroi poloviny XX—nachala XXI veka [Postmodernism. Art of the Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries]. Saint Petersburg: Azbuka-Klassika, 2007.
· Ekaterina Andreeva. Videotaped interview, January 2007, Saint Petersburg.
· Alain Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Trans. Peter Hallward. London and New York: Verso, 2001.
· Thomas Campbell and Nick Teplov. Unpublished tape-recorded interview with Boris Koshelokhov, October 2006, Saint Petersburg.
· Boris Koshelokhov. Zhivopis. Exhibition catalogue. Text by Ekaterina Andreeva. Saint Petersburg: Na Obvodnom Gallery, 2002.
· Nick Teplov, editor. Bob Koshelokhov. Two Highways. Saint Petersburg, 2003.
· Mikhail Trofimenkov. “Bob pravdu vidit,” Kommersant 14 August 2002.

Source: boriskoshelokhov.com

Fallout

TASS reports:

The fallout from the news that Russian tourists in Cuba have been quarantined due to suspected coronavirus infections does not facilitate promoting tourist trips to this country on the Russian market. The [Russian] diplomatic mission is working with the Cuban side to resolve the problem as soon as possible, Russian Ambassador to Havana Andrei Guskov said.

Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana, Cuba. Photo: ITAR-TASS/Andrei Babushkin

Bumaga reports:

From January to April 2021, 30% more people died in St. Petersburg than during the same period in 2020, according to figures published by Petrostat on July 5.

In total, 27,027 people died in the first four months of 2021, compared to 20,752 people a year ago. In April, 5,897 people were confirmed dead — this was 11.5% more than in April 2020.

In 2021, community-acquired pneumonia also began to be detected more often in St. Petersburg. From January to April, 22,945 cases of pneumonia were recorded. This was twice as many as in the first four months of 2020.