"Russian Performance: A Cartography of Its History": Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

By Folkerts, Hendrik | Artforum International, February 2015 | Go to article overview

"Russian Performance: A Cartography of Its History": Garage Museum of Contemporary Art


Folkerts, Hendrik, Artforum International


"Russian Performance: A Cartography of its History"

GARAGE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

Based on years of archival research, "Russian Performance: A Cartography of its History" provided a comprehensive overview of the subject over the last hundred years, from the artistic experiments of the early Russian avant-garde through the Moscow Conceptualism of the 1970s to the political post-perestroika work of the "New Wave" and Moscow Actionism groups, the apolitical collective performances of the early 2000s, and the renewed interest in activism and politics in performance in the 2010s. An enlarged photograph of the anti-Putin protest group Pussy Riot (by prominent Moscow photographer Igor Mukhin) was the not-so-subtle exit point of the exhibition.

Rather than articulating performance as a genre, through which questions are produced only by the medium itself, the exhibition embedded the medium in very a specific sociopolitical and cultural context, with its own questions, issues, and anxieties. This raises the question of how performance has been defined through art history: more often than not with a strong, if not exclusive, focus on a Euro-American context, associated with the transgressive, bodily, or identity politics of those artistic practices that emerged in the 1960s and '70s. An exhibition of this kind can revise that history even as it is being written. Performance is a medium that escapes a stable definition, mainly because its manifestations are as varied as the artists practicing it. This wide range was reflected in the exhibition, and its organizers (Garage curator Yulia Aksenova and its head archivist, Sasha Obukhova) actively destabilized the definition of performance. The show's first room featured some obvious examples, such as the 1913 Futurist opera Victory over the Sun. But then the focus shifted to the theatrical experiments of Vsevolod Meyerhold and Sergei Eisenstein--traditionally shown as part of theater history, yet now framed as Russian performance in a broader sense--as well as filmed and photographic documentation of mass revolutionary demonstrations and parades that took place in Russia in the 1910s and '20s. …

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