Psychoactive

“It’s an Exhibitionist Move to Proclaim You Have an Illness”: Who Marched with the Psychoactivists on May Day
Ilya Panin
Takie Dela
May 2, 2018

At this year’s May Day demo in Moscow, almost three dozen people marched with placards inscribed with slogans on the harm caused by stigmatizing mental illnesses. Police detained the marchers at the head of the Bolshomoskvoretsky Bridge and took them to police stations. Only a few marchers in the group managed to avoid being detained. Takie Dela found out what the psychoactivists wanted to say by marching. 


“I was treated without my knowledge: you have a right to know your diagnosis.” | “People need hope, not neuroleptics.” Psychoactivists at this year’s May Day march in Moscow. Photo by Ilya Panin. Courtesy of Takie Dela

This year, a group of psychoactivists—artists and human rights defenders, researching mental illnesses, mental quirks, and the boundaries between normal and abnormal—brought up the rear of the traditional procession organized by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR). The marches carried placards inscribed slogans like “Antidepressants are a girl’s best friend,” “We’re coming out of the psycho-closet and expect acceptance, not a 100 years of solitude,” “I know my own diagnosis. Do you know yours?” “The affective class,” and “Stop romanticizing and depreciating us.” Ekaterina Nenasheva, an organizer of the Psychoactive Movement, leafleted passersby with flyers detailing how to behave if your loved one suffes from depression, anxiety or panic.

The group had managed to cross the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge, from the police checkpoint and the metal detectors to Basil’s Descent, when the activists were detained by regular police and riot police (OMON). As witnesses testified, the police roughed up the activists and ripped their placarads. The law enforcers could not settle on a reason for apprehending the activists. Some of them were told it was because of what written on the placards, while others were told it was because the march had not been authorized.

The detainees were split up, loaded into paddy wagons, and taken to the Basmanny and Tagansky police stations. In the paddy wagons, policemen told the activists they should have vetted their placards with the rally’s organizer, the head of the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions. However, the rally’s website indicated all comers had been welcome to join the demonstration.

“We were asked to write statements and undergo preventive discussions. Each of us was assigned our own personal police officer, who said he was informing us that, by law, it was wrong to be involved in unauthorized rallies,” said Mikhail Levin.

The activists were released several hours later without having been charged with any offenses or fined. The detainees noted they had also been questioned by Center “E” (Extremism Prevention Center) officers, who photographed their placards.

Ekaterina Nenasheva
Artist, activist, organizer of the Psychoactive Movement and the May Day bloc


Katrin Nenasheva. Photo by Ilya Panin. Courtesy of Takie Dela

People who have mental illnesses still have no place to speak out and act. Organizing the May Day bloc was an attempt to create a discursive field for people who have mental illnesses or mental quirks. What does it do for them? According to the people who were with us yesterday, community gives them the important sense that they are not alone. There was a slogan to that effect on one of the placards: “You’re not the only one in the hood.”

It is believed that people with mental disorders can only be consumers of someone’s kindness, charity, tolerance, and pity. But they are completely capable of speaking out for themselves and being a social, political, and cultural force.

Mikhail Levin
Organizer of the Psychoactive Movement and the May Day bloc
It’s a slightly exhibitionist move to proclaim you have an illness. The guys and gals marched with very personal placards about their own quirks. We also want to demand reforms in psychiatric treatment and talk about the need for deinstitutionalizaton and our disagreement with plans to ban the import of certain medicines.

Marching with trade unions, with other workers, was an important statement. We wanted to say we also produce meaning, ideas, and work. This was the first attempt to do something like this, so it is fine that we are not a united fist, that we have different demands and opinions. What we wanted was just this: to bring together people with different mental makeups and show off this polyphony.

Sasha Starost
Artist, psychoactivist, organizer of the Psychoactive May Day bloc


Sasha Starost. Photo by Ilya Panin. Courtesy of Takie Dela

I have paranoid schizophrenia. I have been hospitalized five time; three of those were involuntary. In the psychiatric field, I’m involved on an institutional level as a simultaneous interpreter and translator. Our May Day bloc was conceived as the Russian version of Mad Pride.  On the whole, however, we are more inclusive than Mad Pride, because in recent years they have shifted very hard towards antipsychiatry, and that is not for everyone. Yes, there is the system, and it is really poor organized. It contains neuropsychiatric residential care facilities and neuropsychiatric dispensaries in which nothing goes to plan and the rules are not followed, but this does not discredit the idea of psychiatry, the presence of illnesses, and the possiblity of treating them.

If we have taken the step of vetting our bloc, the demo’s organizers would have found excuses for not letting us march. I’m totally convinced that the cops saw a bloc of young people, some of them had tattoos, and they were carrying placards with slogans too boot. In their minds, there was a clear like with youth rebellions, and their immediate reaction was to remove us right away.

Alyona Agadzhikova
Media artist, journalist, photographer, organizer of the Psychoactive May Day bloc
Since childhood, I have had a few mental illnesses (OCD, agoraphobia accompanied by panic attacks, and  anxiodepressive disorder) and so for a long  time there was nowhere I could go and no one to go with me, because people’s awareness of mental health in Russia is somewhere around nil. So, I write and talk a lot about the visibility of people with similar quicks. I’m not afraid to say I have mental illnesses. I want the people in my life to pay attention to their own states of mind and offer help to people having trouble. I want the hate speech to disappear from the Russian language. People who do dumb or bad things should be not called psychos and schizos, and they do not need psychiatric treatment. All of these things have nothing to do with each other. Fortunately, things have been getting better lately, thanks to psychoactivists, journalists, and blogger doing outreach work on the rights of people with mental quirks and bringing the topic of psychiatry out of the gray zone.

What happened on May 1 was unprecedented, of course. It was the first Mad Pride in Russia, and it did not end the way everyone expected. We had come out to tell people that we people with mental illnesses existed. The people in our midst, the other marchers in the May Day demo, smiled at us, applauded us, and took our pictures. After reading our placards, several people decided to join our bloc. But then, twenty minutes or so later, a mob of riot police (OMON) and Russian National Guardsmen came running at us. They ripped our posters and our banner, confiscated all our placards, and dragged people away. Some people they practically dragged over the pavement, while they took other people by the arm. Many peole had severe panic attacks, including me. Fortunately, I always have my pills along. Otherwise, I simply would have passed out right there on the spot. That is how I react to unexpected, stressful circumstances.

My panic attack continued in the paddy wagon, but it was no longer so intense because I had taken a tranquillizer. But I suffer badly from claustrophobia, so I asked to be released from the cage, which opens from the outside. Fortunately, the riot  police immediately agreed. I think it had something to do with the fact that there have been precedents at the European Court of Human Rights, cases in which transporting claustrophobics in so-called cages and glasses has been deemed torture.

While we drove to the Basmanny police station, the law enforcers were keen to ask me why I was so nervous, what Psychoactive was about, who had diagnosed me, and why we had marched.

When I had described in detail how a panic attack works, one of the riot policemen  said, “Oh that’s nonsense. Try doing a five-kilometer cross-country run. Your heart is pumping so hard, it makes your head spin.”

I replied immediately.

“It’s the same feeling, only imagine you haven’t run five kilometers, that these feelings come on for no reason at all,” I snapped back.

The riot police exchanged glances and said, “Yeah, that’s harsh.”

Miroslava Podlesnykh
Ceramicist, animal rights advocate

Miroslava Podlesnykh. Photo by Ilya Panin. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Mental quirks and mental disorders are a topic means a lot to me, something I tried to live with for a long time without paying attention to it. Ultimately, however, I realized that living a full-fledged life meant accepting myself the way I was. I realized that if I wanted to changed the world I had to get a move on, to be around people who shared my values and views, to be part of a community.

The arrests were particularly hilarious when you could hear the announcers in the background talking about peace, labor, unity, and May, while the police were detaining a group that was just gaining the strength to assert itself, because this was an incredible effort for them. I know what a person who suffers from sociopathic disorders feels like in a crowd. Going on a demo is a huge effort, a big step towards a partial recovery.

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The psychoactivist community emerged in January 2018. Their projects have included Psychoactive, which focused on communication and creativity, and I’m Burnt Out, which dealt with emotional burnout. They also have their own brand of clothing and accessories.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ekaterina Nenasheva: Fire Safety at Russian Shopping Malls

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Ekaterina Nenasheva
Facebook
March 28, 2018

#KemerevoIsNotAlone #InsecurePlacesList #OkhotnyRyadShoppingCenter

What should you look for in terms of fire safety at a shopping center? I decided to call the Emergencies Ministry and find out everything firsthand.

“What, I’m supposed to reread you the whole booklet?”

The man on the other end of the line, whom I had reached after a couple of transfers, was not very happy to hear from me.

“What’s your district? You need to talk to your own fire inspector.”

I waited again to be transferred.

“You realize we now have these temporary reprieves for small businesses. It’s now impossible for us to carry out a normal fire inspection. We need a court order. We can, of, course, call a facility and find out what’s happening there. But beyond that . . .”

The fire inspector told me it was absolutely normal and legal to ask a shopping mall’s security guards and employees about their fire safety system. If doors are locked, why is that? How do they work? What would happen during a fire? If shopping mall staff and, especially, security guards had the least bit of training, they would easily be able to answer any and all questions.

The guys and I headed to Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall in Moscow. We immediately located the evacuation plan, which made it easier to find the emergency exits. The funny thing about the emergency exits at Okhotny Ryad is the plan says they exist, but in reality the doors are marked “Staff Entrance” and “Keycard Access Only.” Naturally, all of these doors are locked. All of them.

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“We don’t have any exits,” said a guard, “only entrances from the outside.”

“I don’t know anything. Go ask that policeman over yonder,” replied another guard.

“What have I got to do with it?” the policeman wondered, laughing.

“Look, we have emergency exits in every shop. Got it?” replied a third guard, who had a mustache.

“Can we go and take a look at them?”

“No, you can’t. You know what? If something happens, we’ll save you. Got it?”

We could not understand how we would be rescued by guards who still did not know how the emergeny exits in their shopping mall worked. We went to pull on the other doors on the upper floors. We found ourselves outside the restrooms. A female cashier explained she did not know what exactly was beyond the door, but you could only get through it with a magnetic key. If there were a fire, she would exit the shopping mall via the regular entrance to the mall.

“What’s the big deal? You grab your stuff quickly and take off.”

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Wherever we went, a mustached guy in a gray blazer would come running. He sweated and was out of breath. He had obviously hurried. He would stand off to one side and stare at us.

“Did you forget something? Well, what? What do you want?”

After asking his questions, the man would turn around and slowly walk away from us.

“Everything works here. Everything. The doors operate on magnetic keys, but in a fire they open automatically.”

“How does that happen?”

We were nearly chasing him in an attempt to continue the conversation.

“The guards line up in the corridors, and the emergency . . . begins.”

The dude swallowed half his words.

“Who the heck are you guys? Should I really be talking to you?”

Irriated, the mustached Mr. Suit vanished. Now we were certain the guards would save us.

So, what conclusions can we draw?

1. Shopping mall staff and security are obliged to know how the emergency exits function, and how the fire safety system is organized. It is our right to ask them about it. The staff at Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall are completely ignorant about the building’s layout, where the exits are, and how they work. Meaning that the guards, who are supposed to save us, have had no training whatsoever and have not even bothered to take a glance at how the building is laid out. Can we trust such people in an emergency? No.

2. The doors in the shopping mall are kept firmly locked. Neither staff nor security know  how they work. Can we trust a safety system like this? No.

3. The evacuation plan does not always synch with reality. Where the plan says there are exits, there are always signs saying, “Staff only.” The signs pointing to the emergency exits are confusing and could lead you into a dead end. This is scary. Given a system of signage like this, would you be able to escape if a fire slightly less ferocious than the one in Kemerovo broke out? No.

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The Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall is a prime candidate for the #InsecurePlacesList. In addition, we encountered another problem: a total ignorance of fire safety rules on the part of mall employees. Therefore, I demand employees fix the problem. I will no longer be patronizing the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall. Sure, it’s a local fix, but I will #boycott the mall. I also plan to relate our adventures to the Emergencies Ministry.

Do you go to Okhotny Ryad often? How do things stand in terms of fire safety at the shopping mall you frequent?

I am still proposing we do inspections of shopping centers right away. Sure, we are not professionals, but it’s enough to reach out to to mall employees and find out whether they know the rules. If they don’t, it is a clear violation of the law.

1. Go to your local shopping malls. Look and see what is going on with the emergency exits. Study the evacuation plan. Ask security guards and mall management about their arrangements. Record your findings by snapping pictures and making videos.

2. Write up the results of your spot checks and post them on social media. Identify and tag the shopping malls in your posts and tag the posts with the hashtags #KemerovoIsNotAlone, #InsecurePlacesList, and anything else you can think of.

3. Don’t hesitate to call the Emergencies Ministry and report violations, rude behavior, etc. It all helps.

After launching spot checks like this and expanding the list, we can think about filing class-action complaints against the shopping malls and continuing to publicize the issue on social media.

I regard posts about insecure places, like shopping malls, in which fire safety rules do not function, as an elementary tool of self-defense and a means of protecting my friends and loved ones.

Currently, any and all information and all spot checks are truly important. Unfortunately, no one else will do this work for us. So join us!

You can also post your findings on the Facebook group page Act!

P.S. Dmitry Gudkov and his Open Elections team are organizing training sessions for people who want to learn how to conduct fire safety inspections professionally.

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos courtesy of Ekaterina Nenasheva

The Body of Russia, Given to Thee

Center “E” Comes Looking For Performance Artist Who Changed Disabled Orphan’s Dressings Near Kremlin
Natalia Zotova
Novaya Gazeta
June 13, 2016

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Katrin Nenasheva and Dmitry Zhdanov. Photo: Viktor Novikov/Facebook

Center “E” (Center for Extremism Prevention) officers visited the dormitory room of performance artist Katrin Nenasheva at the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow on Sunday. Nenasheva reported this on Facebook, referring to the accounts of her dormitory roommates. Nenasheva was not in the dormitory at the time.

A few hours earlier, the artist had staged a performance in Moscow’s Alexander Garden. As passersby looked on, she changed the daily dressings of a former orphanage ward now confined to a wheelchair.

The young man who took part in the performance was Dmitry Zhdanov. He was disabled after jumping from the fifth floor of a building in despair and breaking his back. His brother had been beaten up by other former orphanage wards, who had not been punished for the crime. The criminal case against them fell apart altogether. The performance was dedicated to wards of orphanages and the punishments they suffer.

“It was an exhibition of the body, the real symbol of those very punishments,” Nenasheva explained to Novaya Gazeta.

“Why should I hide the wounds I got from living in this system? Such things must be shown. My body is Russia just as it is today,” Nenasheva quoted Zhdanov as saying.

“Many people avoided us and would not let their kids approach Dmitry. Some people turned away. There was a man who just ran off, clutching his head,” wrote the artist about the performance.

Police did not attempt to detain them. According to Nenasheva, they were confused and did not know what to do.

The performance was timed to coincide with Russia Day (June 12), but was part of the multiday action Punishment (Nakazanie), dedicated to wards of orphanages.

“One of the most common punishments is sending children to mental hospitals, where various methods are used to limit their mobility, for example, by tying them to the beds,” Nenasheva explained another performance in the action, in which she tied herself to a bed frame and carried it down the street. “Of course, the experience delineates their lives, and it remains with them in one shape or another, as a memory, symbol or just a metaphor.”

Nenasheva has done push-ups on the streets and stood on one leg during the action. These are all punishments meted out to orphans.

The action will last twenty-one days. It is the same number of days that children diagnosed with “mental retardation” at orphanages are sent to mental hospitals, explained Nenasheva, adding the diagnosis is often made for no objective reason.

“I think the topic was touched on too concretely, ” Nenasheva told Novaya Gazeta when asked to comment on law enforcement’s having shown up at her room. “When there are two people, an artist and a real, totally alive, and simultaneously scary character, the message is more assertive, and it really is not clear what to do with it.”

Last year, Nenasheva also staged a multiday performance. She walked around Moscow for a month dressed in a prison uniform, drawing attention to the stigmatization of ex-convicts, who find it hard to adjust to life on the outside. It was then that Nenasheva shaved herself bald on Red Square, for which she was sentenced to twenty-four hours in a special detention center.

No Peace for {NE MIR}

Police Detain Participants of Itinerant Anti-War Exhibition in Moscow
Mediazona
March 13, 2016

Police in downtown Moscow have detained participants of the itinerant pacifist exhibition {NE MIR} (NO PEACE), artist Ekaterina Nenasheva reports on her Facebook page.

According to Nenasheva, paddy wagons accompanied the artists from Kurskaya subway station to the Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art.

{NE MIR} marchers pose with works before boarding police paddy wagon
{NE MIR} marchers pose with works before boarding police paddy wagon

“The exhibition ended at Baumanskaya subway station and continued in a paddy wagon,” the artist wrote.

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Artist Ekaterina Nenasheva inside a police paddy wagon

She said it was the third {NE MIR} exhibition, featuring artists from Moscow, Petersburg, Murmansk, and Krasnodar, as well as Ukraine, Finland, and Austria.

OVD Info reports that fifteen people were detained outside Winzavod, including Nenasheva, Anna Bokler, Mikhail Oskarin, Ksenia Tretyushina, Alexandra Lavrova, Andrei Darklight, Angelina Trinten, Elvira Komarova, Tatyana Sushenkova, Ivan Karamnov, and Nikita Rasskazov.

The participants of the itinerant exhibition have been taken to Basmanny police precinct, where their papers are being checked. In addition, police are examining the artworks.

Nenasheva later informed Mediazona that thirteen artists are being held at the police station.

The police have not given any reasons for the arrests. According to Nenasheva, the artists will likely be charged with violating the rules for holding a public event (Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code).

Update. Nenasheva has informed Mediazona that the police have formally charged twelve artists with violating Article 20.2 of the Administrative Offenses Code. Their case will be heard in administrative court on March 16.

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Darja Serenko
Facebook
March 16, 2016

The judge refused to give my public defender access to the case file, forbade Gerchikov (who introduced himself as the head designer of the city of Moscow) from sketching in the courtroom (“if you don’t respect the court, then at least respect yourself”: how can you talk that way with the head designer of the city of Moscow), and found me guilty of unauthorized marching with photographic works from house no. 4 to house no. 8. The fine was 20,000 rubles [approx. 260 euros].

The whole day I was working on totally blacking out a little book called the Russian Federal Criminal Procedure Code: I discovered something almost therapeutic about this practice. The hearing was scary and I kept on shading in the book. I felt calmer that way. I did my best blacking out right when the sentence was announced. I am really grateful to everyone who came to draw and to support me (Vanya Simonov, Masha Menshikov, Marja Klinova, Dima the head designer of the city of Moscow, and everyone else), and I thank my civil rights defender.

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Darja Serenko, Blacked-out page of the Russian Federal Criminal Procedure Code, March 16, 2016. The remaining words produce the phrase “Freedom / is conducted in Russian / or another language / depending on the character.”

Although there was nothing really scary about our case and now it has turned into a bloated media blip that will survive for a week in opposition media, I think it was worth it. And our self-existent exhibition inside the courtroom was also lovely and reminded me of Harald Szeemann and his exhibition project, in which everyone brought their works literally right off the street into the gallery, and the curator found a place for the works. Because of all the noise made by the media, everyone forgot about the pictures. In this case, they are only EVIDENCE. Everyone is interested in the court hearing and certain heroic artists. I am not an artist. I am a mini-curator, and I was stunned by certain works and their power. I would organize an exhibition like this in the well-known spaces where I work. The exhibition {NE MIR} is the best work with space (in the broad sense of the word) I have seen. I hope we will get our hands on the work and be able to show it.

What matters is not whether it is an anti-war exhibition or a protest rally or not, but the fundamental fact that in our country the classic format of the outdoor exhibition is still imagined almost as a terrorist act. In my opinion, everyone should have already had their fill of the format: the outdoor exhibition should be an art object invisible to everyone. But a renewed political discourse has updated the format as well.

After the court hearing, I took the subway and found myself in an exhibition car: the Russian Geographical Society and Miklouho-Maclay were on display. I laughed hysterically. It was also basically an itinerant exhibition. It moved almost by itself, wonder of wonders.

When we were still outside the courthouse smoking, a man came up to us. He said he had just been freed and asked us for money. When we gave him some, he told us our fortunes and recited psalms. I am going to have two husbands. The first one will cheat on me, the second will cheat on me, but the third won’t cheat on me, despite the fact that I am going to have two husbands all the same. While he was telling our fortunes, a policeman who worked at the courthouse came up to us and asked what sort of gathering we were having. I think someone known as the Director of the City of Moscow orchestrated this day.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Video courtesy of Radio Svoboda. Images courtesy of OVD Info, Ekaterina Nenasheva, and Darja Serenko. Thanks to Vadim F. Lurie for the heads-up.

{NE MIR} Dialogues (Riga)

Vadim F. Lurie
Facebook
February 21, 2016

The exhibition {NE MIR} (NO PEACE), a sequel to and an elaboration on the itinerant exhibition/performance that recently took place in Petersburg, opens today in Riga. I sent my photographs of Antiwar Weekend, a walk around the city made by Ekaterina Nenasheva. She strolled around Petersburg in a blood-stained, camouflage uniform. We looked for places in one way or another connected with war, aggression, the army or the memory of them. Actually, we didn’t have to love for them: they were everywhere. Our city is traumatized. Aggression and the memory of wars are offered to tourists as souvenirs, and I see this as an attempt not only at self-assertion but also at conveying this feeling to everyone. As we walked round the city, passersby paid no special attention to the young woman in camouflage. She had become yet another military artifact, a customary sight here. Thirteen photographs, Petersburg, a sunny day in 2015.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Ekaterina Nenasheva, Antiwar Weekend, 2015. Photograph by Vadim F. Lurie. Items for sale in the far right of the kiosk include “Cities of Military Glory,” “Russia’s Naval Glory,” and “The Battle for Vyborg.”
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Ekaterina Nenasheva, Antiwar Weekend, 2015. Photograph by Vadim F. Lurie.
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Ekaterina Nenasheva, Antiwar Weekend, 2015. Photograph by Vadim F. Lurie.

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{NE MIR}: Dialogues in Riga
Opening: February 21, 2016, 7 p.m.
BOLDERĀJA, AVOTU, 29, RIGA

{NE MIR} is a series of antiwar street exhibitions launched by a group of artists from Moscow and Petersburg. The project’s objective is to discuss war in its different forms, make a collective artistic statement on the relationship between the individual and the state, and investigate the borders of street art in today’s Russia.

The first {NE MIR} exhibition took place in Petersburg on December 27, 2015.

In Russia, there is a law prohibiting marches and rallies (in fact, any political or public gathering of more than two people) without obtaining permission from the authorities ten days beforehand. Moreover, these rallies can be held only in specific places, which are usually situated on the outskirts of cities or are difficult for the public to access. The Russian authorities have the right to prohibit any rally, and in that case it will be considered illegal.

Since their request was turned down three times by local authorities, the artists who launched {NE MIR} had no other choice than to make mobile banners and wander the city under the watchful eye of regular police and riot police.

The urban environment, which dictated the form of protest (wandering round the city), thus functioned as the exhibition’s curator.

This interactive format raised many questions both in terms of art and civic involvement.

How should Russian artists act in the current situation when any statement is deemed disorderly conduct or even a crime? What is the visual code used by police and random passersby, and what are the circumstances under which dialogue is possible? How are absolutely defenseless artists regarded by viewers when they display their artworks in such an aggressive environment?

We intend to look for answers to these questions both inside and outside Russia.

{NE MIR}: Dialogues is a series of itinerant exhibitions and discussions held outside Russia in free art spaces and galleries. It is an attempt to promote dialogue among citizens, artists, and activists, and spark cultural and social interaction between people from different societies and countries.

The exhibition of the {NE MIR} project in Riga will include paintings, graphic art, installations, photographs, and video works by artists from Russia, Ukraine, Denmark, and Chile.

A discussion entitled “The Image of War: The Mass Image and the Private Image” will be held at 7 p.m. on February 21 at Bolderāja Bookshop and Cafe (Avotu 29, Riga), with the exhibition opening to follow at 8 p.m.

Adapted and edited from the original event notice in English on Bolderāja’s Facebook page