deutsche version

Alexander Sokolov: "The new Moscow" in the IFFR Gallery, Berlin

English by Andrew Kilpatrick

Since the day on which Russian troops invaded Chechenia, Czar Peter the Great stands in the centre of Moscow, 70 m tall, hplding a ship's wheel in his hands. The sculptor responsible, Zurab Tsereteli (interviewed by Barbara Barsch (IFFR) and Kathrin Becker, curator of the exhibition ´The new Moscow´ that has now opened in the IFFR Gallery, Berlin), expects many people to wonder what Peter the Great is doing in Moscow. "His obscure comments leave the interviewers without a clear ideological interpretation of the monumental work. One might be tempted to suspect that the sculpture of Peter the Great, at whose bidding Petersburg was built, is intended to personify the cult of the founders of cities, above all of the mayor of Moscow and creator of the new Moscow style, Jury Lushkov.

Lushkov's numerous large-scale projects of restoration, reconstruction and revitalization include religious centres like the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, monuments -like the Poklonnaya Hills, Peter the Great, Marshal Zukov; cultural institutions like the Bolshoy Theatre or the Tretyakov Gallery, commercial centres like Manege Square and leisure facilities and restaurants such as the Russkoe Bistro chain.

Bart Goldhoorn, Editor of the architectural periodical Project Russia, claims that the major projects of the Moscow city administration are ultimately intended to lure increasing numbers of visitors (i.e. consumers) into the city centre, which is also the shop window of the consumer society and propels that society's development. He adds that the political elite's taste and the way they supervise planning are currently leading to a new style in Moscow, astoundingly similar to the architecture of Disneyland - the guiding principle of which is to score points in the eyes of the masses. The search for the specifically Russian (Muscovite) national character announced by the city fathers as their aesthetic program has exhausted itself in copying the methods of the giant American entertainment industry. As a result, Moscow is the only place where mass culture has been elevated to the rank of official policy."

For a long time it was rumoured in Moscow that the memorial to Peter the Great, whose features resemble Columbus', was originally not destined for Moscow at all, but intended as a present to the USA. The latter allegedly rejected the memorial (Columbus not counting as an unambiguously heroic figure), and so the statue was modified appropriately and then erected in Moscow - it now represents a ship either setting out to discover America or returning from the voyage of discovery. The presence of this sculpture triggered a wave of protest, possibly attributable to the inability of the spectators to recognize any message whatever in this gigantic and costly colossus.

In his well-known novel Generation P, which enjoys wide popularity among the Russian masses, Viktor Pelevin describes the course of events in Russia from the point of view of a Russian in the advertising business. The head of the agency is talking to an advertising texter: "First you try to find out what people like, and then you palm it off on them as a lie. But what people want is to have the same thing palmed off on them as the truth. Tsereteli adheres to a different principle of the agency boss: "We don't need artificers, we need authentic creators - but he cannot imitate the authenticity of which Kathrin Becker writes: "It is not a question of 'reproducing' authentic situations, but of finding an authentic form to represent fictional situations, in other words of imitating authenticity (catalog, 2nd Ars Baltic Triennale for Photographic Art).

In connexion with this unsuccessful "imitation of authenticity Pavel Pepperstein of Medical Hermeneutics, a group of Moscow artists, writes in his introduction to the exhibition "The new Moscow", in which he describes the sculpture by Tsereteli standing in the Moscow Zoo, and labels the sculptor an unscrupulous agitator:"ÖWe see a vast number of exotic animals trampling on the Russian world - an amorphous mass of monkeys, crocodiles, rhinoceri, pelicans, zebras etc. The new image of Russia is that of an exotic land - exotic most of all in its own eyes.

At the end of the nineties, when Russian artists have lost virtually every link to Western markets and have abandoned any hope of a home market emerging in the near future, they are trying to participate in the political and economic life of their country by working with the mass media or in advertising. This experience has a decisive influence on how the artists view the functioning of the market, the mass media, advertising and the public and internal politics of the administration. Their reflections are concerned less with cultural differences than with the universal mechanisms of media-oriented society. In an analysis of the total flow of information they develop strategies for becoming immune to its suggestive effect.

Andrey Chlobystin, who is exhibiting a new design for the Russian flag featuring an agaric-like decorative motif in the IFFR Gallery, compares the official Russian tricolor with imitations of expensive products by back-street firms:
"As a national symbol it is obviously no good." "Hardly anyone will be able to describe the arrangement of the three colours from memory. The flag is incomprehensible, cynical and devoid of power."

Timur Novikov works with the medial constructs of the history of totalitarian art: "the art of the northern spirit, socialist realism, modern art, classical art".
He deconstructs one set, only to create new ones with ease. By manipulating public awareness in face-to-face discussions, in exhibitions and via the mass media, Novikov imitates the authenticity of representation, exploiting all the technologies of suggestion available today. "At this moment it became clear that art is not a matter of manipulation, not of irony, but of serious intent, and not of vampire-like interaction and communication" (A. Chlobystin).

The series of photo-collages entitled "Russian Questions" by Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe brings the fairy-tale world of Russian folklore back to life. Lisa Beresovskaja, the daughter of the all-powerful Russian financier, was the model for the daughter of the Russian Czar in this series.

The elements of nationalistic representation immanent in the new Moscow style can summon up unwelcome associations. In today's context the weapons for cutting and stabbing that occur here and there, often in the hands of aggressive-looking individuals, do not refer to any possibility of immediate use, but stand for their being put on sale as goods - here the objects are alienated from their actual function in favour of a monetary and ethnic trademark value à la "Made in Russia. Hardly anyone would think of Santa Claus hitting children over the head with his sack - or would they?

"The new Moscow", until 09.01.2000
IFFR Gallery, Berlin, Neustädtische Kirchstrasse 15