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9.Komar and Melamid
19.Savadov and Senchenko
The idea of the programme Conversion emerged at the dawn of perestroika. It stemmed from the belief that the Soviet Union could have been modernized without radical economic and political changes. Predilection of Soviet officialdom to building ideological patterns, alienated from actual life, manifested itself here to the full extent. A simple solution of economic problems with the help of conversion which was used as an argument in the international political discourse, the split of society into its advocates and opponents, and finally the failure to fulfill the programme indicate the appearance of the next Great Utopia. It is a marginal nature of conversion that attracts us. Thus, if law-building and the struggle for power, privatizaion and interests rates have their personally interested referents in society, it appears that no one really needs conversion. This problem remains without social support, no party added it to its armory. It has fervent opponents, but it has no passionate advocates. The lack of pressing from the side of the population places the problem in the periphery of social life. A contemporary artist, however, with all the paradoxy of his thinking, can reveal multiple interpretations of the problem, endow it with topical interest, introduce into the context of the philosophical debate, and bring out historical parallels. Plastics is the second aspect. The military style, design, attributes, as well as metal, tarpaulins, nets, oil is a very attractive media for an artist. The tradition to install weapons on pedestals can be attributed not so much to imperial ambitions but rather to the monumentality of combat technique. Having moved to safe artistic environment, military training maneuvers transformed into performances. CDchrome-recorded cannonade dislodged had rock. The third aspect is connected with the resignation of contemporary art from the function of ideological weapon. Similar "disarmament" threatens to devoid art of its mission in society, and in this context conversion is a competitive programme to disarmament, or "modernization, as a quest of art for a new social function.
Excerpts from a catalogue
Deputy Chairman, Russian Defense Industries Committee Mr. V.V.Alesenko Director, All-Russian Institute of Interbranch Information
Dear Gennadii Georgievich and Vadimir Vladimirovich,
In my opinion, a series of exhibitions winding up the 1992-93 season quite convincingly demonstrated that artists' attention is focused on current social problems, and it's their turn to these problems that defines the Moscow arts today. This phenomenon can be regarded as an attempt to widen the audience or to charge art with the energy of turbulent society, as a next anti-crisis medicine invented in New York, or a sincere endeavor to "be active in life". Be that as it may, but it was for the first time that professional art critics as well as mass media-- press, radio, TV-- both in Russia and abroad vividly responded to the exhibitions Charity, Dedicated to the 7th Congress of the People's Deputies of Russia, A Moving Line Displayed on the Step Pyramid, The War is Going On, Art as Power or Power as Art and Settlement. It is very likely that art will change soon and this change will be amazing. A new movement aiming "to change the paradigm of culture" is being formed. The egocentric, relativist and cynical nomad of post-modernism is severely criticized. Morris Berman in philosophy and Suzy Gablic in art criticism are at the head of the movement for "holistic paradigm", "aesthetics of participation" and for transformation of our ever- wandering-among-shadows but always lonely ego into something more healthy and natural. "New friendliness" towards environment and cooperation with society, i.e. actual participation in life on the basis of the only super-value--the idea of the Universe and the integrity of Being. I believe that we all shall have to ponder over it", Alexander Yakimovich writes in his essay " We Retreat Forward, or a Red Star with a Male Sign". Relations between art and society acquire more and more complicated character. Evidently, either an artists and society will become interesting and useful for each other or keeping reciprocal displeasure, will remain indifferent. Some artists' and curators' stances towards new reality are common: - as always, an overwhelming number of "cultural products" seeks to match tastes and meet demands of mass audience. Indicative of this trend is not only grand editions of cheap novels and kitsch in exhibits, but also an entire mergence with the customer in which an artist identifies interests of separate social groups with social ones; - a steady hostility towards any sort of social engagement as a consequence of the 70-years engagement forced by the State (nearly all criticism of socially oriented artists accounts for a "Communist pedigree" of their orientation), which little by little gets replaced by the quest for one's own "interests", one's own exceptional stance of a sacred average man, an observer rather than Harold. Those are not phenomena of actual life that are painstakingly observed but changes of a general state. The more concrete is the influence of society the more refined is the response; - "a poet in Russia is more than a poet"--that defines, on the one hand, a social function of a man of art as a spiritual leader, and, on the other, a great distance between life and art. Forced by circumstances of life to go out into a social environment an artist becomes a revolutionary ("Cut Your Veins, Prove You are Red" V.Pimenov). He interprets his alienation from social reality and personal discomfort as social disability at large, and tries to reform society inasmuch as his fervor permits but, de facto, he just idealizes ultra-right (left) forces (E.Limonov); - the necessity arose to raise the political status of an artist, a "specific character" of artistic thinking and an impact of artistic idiom being comprehended. Communication is impossible because of the lack of common terminology used by the largest part of society in describing reality. An artist's turn to archetypal i.e. most common ways of presentation of reality makes him responsible for an adequate illustration of all viewpoints; - safety of artistic environment which entitles to make radical steps is comprehended by society and is use to illustrate the most dangerous results of this or that social act (movies and books about nuclear war, rebirth of Communism, ecological disasters). It's appropriate to mention Igor Kaminnik's "Official Declaration No.2". The artist from Odessa illustrates Russian-Ukrainian arguments on the division of military equipment with a shocking phrase: "I declare war to Russia". However, nothing happens in society, except that the monstrosity of Kievan new military doctrine becomes obvious; - the fluency of social life makes the task of its timely reflection insoluble, as it is impossible to debunk power. At least, exhibits are inappropriate for this purport. Thus, during the preparation of the exhibit "Dedicated to the 7th Congress of the People's Deputies" the 8th and the 9th "Extraordinary Congresses" took place. A transformation towards new and more energetic forms asks for new artistic technologies and, what is more problematic, new social type of an artist; - preservation of the status of an artists which is quite high in Russia is a main problem of those who pursue the strategy of "participation in life". Few are those who do not insist on belonging to art ("We want to do it, even though this gesture is not that of an artists"). Our exhibition, which is also a scholarly study of the All-Russian Institute of Interbranch Information is very indicative of this. (In accordance with the contract the results of the exhibit are going to be published as a report). The pathos of Komar's and Melamid's activity in Moscow (despite critics' observations about the quest for the lost text) is confined in their address to Eltsin which can hardly be called an "artistic gesture". Political struggle remains the most obvious but not the deepest problem, however, hence its somewhat didactic, "non-artistic" character. Nowadays, politics have lost philosophic essence. Instead of the struggle of "good and evil" and "freedom and slavery" we are witnesses of the struggle for concrete state positions, tax interest rates, credits, etc. Along with trying to have a special place in society and being incapable to compete with journalism, art biases towards marginal forms of social life. It is this marginalia of conversion that attracts us. If there are protagonists of law- building and a struggle for power, privatization and interest rates in society, who are personally interested in the results, it's not so with the conversion. No one actually needs it. The problem has no social support. It's not backed by any political force. It has ardent antagonists, but no protagonists. The lack of pressure from the citizens lows the status of the problem making it insignificant. A contemporary artist's paradoxical thinking may bring to life many new interpretations of the problem, making it actual, propounding it into the context of the philosophical dispute, pinpointing historical parallels. Thus, the artist Anton Litvin accompanies his work dedicated to conversion by the following citation from the Bible: "Samson killed more people at his death than he had killed during his life". Comparing the colossus of defense industry with Samson, the artist warns the society against the consequences of havoc. Being a mighty instrument of interpretation, "conversion" allows art historians to demonstrate their means which, in the art world of the late 20th century, is an evident constituent of success. Even now, we can formulate some artistic aspects of conversion. The conversion program emerged at the dawn of perestroika and is based on the belief in modernization of the Soviet Union without radical economical and political changes. Predilection for building ideological patterns aloof to actual life manifested itself to a full extent. A popular simplicity of the solution of economic problems by means of conversion, political manipulation with this concept, a split of society into its supporters and opponents, and finally, a failure to fulfill the program--all this can be ranked as a next "Great Utopia". Obviously, being a destructive force in society, "Utopia" is extremely creative and successful in arts (unlike the World Revolution the Russian Avant-Garde has won the whole World). On the other hand, by the end of the 20th century, art with its applied forms (cinema, advertising, design, tourism, etc.) has became a full-right branch, a factory of dreams, making possible almost a full-scale realization of utopia without tragic consequences. (Noteworthy, that pragmatism of the post-structural consciousness accepts 'some utopia for health', transforming it into some kind of social gymnastics. Thus European civilization made use of oriental religious doctrines for better digestion). Plastic is the second aspect. Military style, design, color, attributes on a par with metal, tarpaulin, net, oil are attractive materials for artists. The tradition to install weapons on pedestals was born not so much because of imperial ambitions, but rather because of the monumentality of combat technique. Rifles and sabers displayed on home walls always competed with canvases. Great musicians used 'the voice of cannons' in their musical compositions. Military uniforms together with matreshkas are fast-moving goods of street vendors of kitsch. With a certain share of irony one can imagine the situation when whole military plants will produce souvenirs: tanks as monumental decorations of squares, decorative rifles and sabers intended by fashionable designers to adorn offices. Having moved into a safe artistic space, military maneuvers will turn into performances. CDchrome receded cannonade will oust hard rock. The contents of military warehouses will turn into props to be consumed by members of Creative Unions. Military strategists will collect royalties from film producers and computer games developing companies. In creating works of art from genuine military equipment, artists will perform a ritual extermination of evil. Taking into account that the cold war terminated without mutual destruction of weapons, such utilization will be similar to sublimation of accumulated energy expressed in pure decoration. Military design may unexpectedly prove an effective defense from omnivorous kitsch because of diametrically opposed utilitarian premises. Thus, if kitsch is to arrest attention, the function of camouflage fabric is to disguise an object. The third aspect is connected with the refusal of contemporary art to be an ideological weapon. Such "disarmament" can make art lose its social mission, and conversion in this context comes out as a program competitive to "disarmament", or "modernization", namely as a quest for new social function of art. Conversion as an escape from mental overstrain, as an idiom of the state of art is very actual, and may engender new discussions on fundamental issues of artistic practice. Conversion, as a solution of the problem of relations between contemporary art and tradition is neither continuity no destruction. It is a transformation and citation (application for peace goals). The forth aspect is connected with the following similarity of problems of the defense industry and art in Russia: - in the forth spheres the post-Soviet component if very feasible: concentration of art in the capital and the Army's drive for a command from the center within the former USSR. (Thus, artists from Odessa in artistic Moscow are equal to Sevastopol sailors identifying themselves with the Russian Army); - both the Army and Art occupy key positions in Russian spiritual environment. In contradistinction to other spiritual elements, however, such as religion, family, tradition, they are united on the basis of territory rather than nationality; - the defense industry is regarded today as a set of opportunities, while similar to art, it is a function beyond such criteria as repayment of means, period of recoupment, etc. In closing, I must admit that without good knowledge of the material, it was extremely difficult for me to formulate practical advantages of our cooperation for your Department. One thing is obvious, nevertheless: the Defense Industry, having been a closed and secret super firm, and trying to create communication channels with society has neither sufficient experience (or rather has a negative experience of entrance check-points, Security Departments and admittance), nor staff. Involvement of intellectual resources in this work will lead to reduction of transactional costs which in unstable society is more than feasible value.
FIRE ON HEADQUARTERS!
In Memory of Two Voluntarily Disarmed Soldiers - Mao and Paul Valery
М We are living at a time when our country's brain is rent with permanent convulsions. Every little grey cell of Russia and its government is aware that it does not recognise itself for what it was. They are no longer their old selves, and are threatened by losing identity - the identity which is not limitless intellectual rumination but that self-identification which is inevitable and indispensable.
The military crisis is, to all appearances, coming to an end. The economic crisis is, unlike it, in full swing. The intellectual crisis, the subtlest of all - which is the most protean by nature because it manifests itself in the lawful domain of appearances and put-up shows - conceals the stage which it is actually passing.
Genuine military conversion to civil purposes presupposes a change of historical paradigms. A community fated to re-appraise its values learns a bitter lesson. Same in the arts. In his time, Duchamp made bicycle wheels out of melted cannon of Napoleon's army, and these wheels rolled in a direction opposite to that army's. Now, we are standing stock-still, rapt and overawed, as we witness another change of paradigm. Where is it rolling, the wheel of history?
At present, no one knows and can predict which artistic trends and phenomena will be hailed tomorrow, and which doomed; which will come out victorious to indicate a new direction of progress with its finger - muscular or flabby, as the case may be. No one knows what ideas will enter the list of extinct species, what material manifestations of these ideas will be buried, and what new finds will appear for the world to gasp at. Worse than that, we do not see a single person who may aspire to become a spiritual leader. Is our energy in slumber, waiting to be awakened, or has it ebbed out? What will the coming age raise as its banner: an imitation or a blunder; a tautology or tiding fatigue and indifference; real frankness or feigned sincerity? A photograph of a face disfigured for a fleeting moment by an ugly grimace is an irrefutable documentary proof. Yet show this document to a friend of the model, and he will not recognise her, while a stranger will ascribe a meaning all his own to that grimace.
Meanwhile, we ought to be grateful to the prolonged instant of conversion of military industry, this dual process which allows us to make far-reaching conclusions and gives an illusory hope to discern a rational message underlying what is taking place. But then, what do we mean by conversion - a term which gives even a vaguer idea of the actuality behind it than of the person who uses this term? Be this as it may, we all need bicycles and have no use whatsoever of tanks. A community, however miserable it may feel - even an agonizing community - can't look at itself in a mirror and fight back a splutter. Who can look at his own reflection without laughing?
It is as natural for man to arm himself as for a mountain to loom high, and for the sea to splash its waves. The elementary logic of continuity makes this idea reach its limits beyond which there is no stopping it. Man's hair and nails grow, his teeth become sharper, his eyesight develops precision, muscles get stronger. Then, there are endless habits which man acquires in society. All this gives us grounds to think that armament can be infinite. An instant comes when this realisation flares up like fire to set aflame anything, be it a pebble or a finger, a napkin or an eyelash, and makes this thing struggle for its own identity, at the same time destroying it till both the object and the idea are gone to leave behind themselves only a clanging sound, not unlike sabre rattling. This point is not so interesting in itself as the way it opens to thinking of the ways and prospects of disarmament.
There are many ways to disarm oneself. One can go bald and toothless, or get deaf, or again, amnesic. Yet this triumphant academic manner of disarmament lacks elegance. One can disarm oneself through a conscious effort of willpower, on which pacifists have long insisted. Yet every doctrine is a lie. Every artist is aware of this, knowing only too well that anything made to be looked at is doomed to change its appearance with time. This is specially true of weaponry. A rifle can be used for a crutch, and the other way round. Brain can serve us only insofar as it retains dynamism and dependence on the will of the passing instant; only before its activity acquires the form of a game or a legal act, a theorem or a work of art and, in this final form, recedes into the shade of history. Really, it takes acts and not non-resistance to disarm oneself. We cannot achieve actual disarmament in starry-eyed idealism which drives us to shoot at clouds making them pour out in life-giving rain. Genuine disarmament demands shooting at targets to spend tons of shells and cartridges, with the earth scorched and blanketed in their empty cases - the way taken since times immemorial by Honour, Dignity and Obstinacy, the Magnificent Three that have long come under suspicion. Last but not least, there is conversion of military industry to civil purposes, coming last not only in my list but, possibly, in any intellectual hierarchy.
No one to this day has properly studied the goal of conversion and roads leading to it. Whoever knows keeps mum while ignoramuses are making judgements. So whatever clarity there is on this issue remains utterly subjective, with opinions clashing, and each substantiated by indisputable evidence from the past. This issue is all the more obscure since conversion is a process pure and unadulterated, with no material results to speak of. Can we regard a typewriter or a sewing machine as fruit of conversion? No. The typewriter is fruit of literary developments, and the sewing machine of fashions industry, while conversion is a kind of carpenter's bench on which they all come together. Conversion is pure contemplation of a peculiar sort - one that threatens to poke at the contemplating eye with an umbrella regarded through a misconception as its product. Now, we have got hold of a nuclear umbrella. So hurray to the nuclear rain! That was how we Russian artists found ourselves in one boat with Russian military generals, political leaders and economic tycoons. But then, who else are we to mix with- Jasper Jones or Francois Mitterrand? Welcome options, but to be attained only in gala events at international shows, which may last no longer than a quarter of an hour. The rest of the time is to be eaten up by conversion - a word not highbrow enough to our liking, and not quite intelligible, but it is the one word for all things which are sheer verbal functions and cannot exist otherwise