NOTE: Please, as a courtesy to your fellow classmates send your assignment to me and to everyone in your Politburo panel no later than 24 hours prior to our Tuesday class. Late submissions will not be accepted and will affect your grade.
Case 2. Art and Protest in Putin's Russia by Lena Johnson
Introduction: Art on Trial
KremlinAbstract Prepared by Miriam Harrison
The book “Art on Trial” examines the role of art in society, and more specifically, in Russian politics. The author of this book believes that there may be a correlation between the development of arts and culture in Russia in the early 2000s, and the social protests that occurred in following years. This is not the first time that this connection has been noticed; changes in culture played a role in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and more recently, demonstrations in North Africa. The cultural shifts and changes in ideology that occurred can usually be traced back to subcultures and countercultures, networks of people who share some of the same ideas and opinions. In this book, the author analyzes how dissensus and protest can be found in arts and culture, and also how the search for the Russian identity has affected the art scene. After Putin was elected for his second term, the development of a new Russian identity became one of the regime’s goals. In doing this, the regime widened the gap between the government and the artistic communities who were creating identities of their own, which made subcultures and countercultures all the more popular. Although the examples of art investigated in this book are not all obvious symbols of protest, they all played a small role in creating Russia’s current political environment. In recent decades, the art scene in Russia has grown dramatically, despite a lack of state funding and support, and it seems likely that this led to some of the protests that are occurring today.
Kremlin Questions Prepared by Heather Burdett
1. Why do you think the Putin regime felt a ‘need’ to create a sense of common national belonging? What sort of identity did Putin aim to create?
2. What do you think about protest being communicated through art? How does this relate to political protest?
3. The chapter says that after the election of Vladimir Putin in 2012, “a more urgent question is whether art can continue as a space for counterculture in a situation where the political ‘spring’ has rapidly transformed back to ‘winter’, or if it will fall in line with new official injunctions of the day.” What do you think about this and what do you think it means?
4. How has the field of art expanded in Russia through the 20th and 21st centuries?
5. The chapter says that “value shifts usually precede great upheavals and that these shifts are often visible in the cultural sphere before they are articulated in political terms in wider society”? Why do you think this is the case?
Kremlin Key Concepts Note: We need the 6th person to this group
Chapter 2: A History of Dissensus,Consensus, and Illusions of a New Era
Sputnik Abstract Prepared by Cashmere Leming
Dissensus of Art started with the Avant-garde movement of 1910. Avant-gardism was rooted in anarchical beliefs and transitioned in 1934 underground with the prominent rise in Socialist Realism that chose to depict only art that would be easily understood in connection to Soviet Russia. With the death of Stalin in 1953 arose a new freedom in art predominately attributed to Khrushchev’s ‘Thaw’. Out of this arose Abstract art that was halted by the dissatisfaction of Khrushchev at the Moscow Union of Artists in 1962. The 1970s pushed for a movement away from discontent towards non-conformist art through art-isms such as Moscow Conceptualism and Sots-Art which were also halted as they were seen as connected to opposing regimes although they rarely held political attributions within their art. With the Soviet Union separation in 1991 came another art liberation as non-conformist art was sold and Actionism arose to depict shocking art forms in order to gain audience attention. Art dissensus took a new form after 2000 as RADEK and the nongovernmental Control Commission turned towards politically-routed art that was intended to fight governmental power but was also disliked as it was against political leader’s right before political elections. As early as 2000, Vladimir Putin built up a depiction of what a Russian ideology should be and what a Russian future should look like. Putin’s policies pushed Russia into a state of Russian nationalism predominately separate from Western ideology that focused on the concept of a collective concept of Russian belonging. With this new ideal began a rush of discontent and distaste towards the internal as well as the external ‘other’ in 2004. With the new ideal of an Orthodox, collective, nationalistic Russia there was an avoidance of political ideologies as authors and artists such as Vladimir Sorokin were met with threats from young, pro-putin groups such as Nashi ["Ours"]. In this way, although dissensus was prominent previously, under Putin there was a halt to critical art almost altogether.
Sputnik Questions Prepared by Sara Magee
1. What was the original role of the ‘intelligentsia’ and has this changed over time?
2. What was the impact of the avant-garde’s involvement in politics, and how did the relationship between art and the party evolve over time?
3. What were the ways in which Russian artists kept dissent art active during the Soviet regimes? What groups were creative as a challenge to the system?
4. What is the ideological conflict between Actionism and Conceptualism? How did this difference influence how they showed their dissent?
5. What are the pillars of Putin’s new construction of society? How were these effectively used to reshape Russian society?
6. How does Putin reinvent aesthetics and class in Russia? And how did he use controlled art and media to promote his message?
7. What are some of the differences and similarities between dissident art in Soviet Russia and in Putin’s Russia?
The official narrative of the Russian identity and ethos versus the narrative expressed through art lends itself to conflict given increasing censorship.
The use of political figures and references to convey an apolitical statement within art.
Does the prevalence of radical artists on the fringes of society within the world of contemporary art inherently lend itself to more astute reflections on society?
Balalaika Questions Prepared by Petra Regeni
1. What role, if any, do you believe art has in shaping the way people think about the political order of their society?
2. In modern society, why do you believe there is more caution in the art that’s allowed to be publicized?
3. Do you believe that art can tell an unbiased political truth, or if it only illustrates a bias point of view? (Use Sinie Nosy’s piece to illustrate)
4. “The purpose of art is to provide a space for communication.” Discuss the validity of this statement in the political order.
5. If art is so popular in society and people understand the message of a piece to rally behind it, how come little to no political change is ever seen?
6. Dissent through art has been known to get physical and violent at times, why do you believe such extreme measures need to be taken if their political message is already established?
7. Under the increasingly authoritarian conditions of Russia, it is believed that dissent art replaced ordinary political protests, do you believe this is a more effective way to create conversation and change?
Chapter 7: Political Action Cheburashka Abstract Prepared by Maxim
This chapter examines counterculture as a catalyst for social change in modern Russia and details the way in which artists of all sorts have influenced the political climate in post soviet Russia through their voices and their works. Growing unrest among the intelligentsia has led to many members using their capacity to generate crowds as a means to organize demonstrations against the regime as seen in the 2007 Khimki movement. Well-known artists such as NOIZE MC and Yuri Shevchuk have been explicitly against Putin and his government in their songs, and the New Russian Drama movement explores topics critical of post-soviet society in the theatre. The dissent of the intelligentsia has been reflected in 2011 polls showing diminishing support of the United Russia party. The chapter also details the role of Russian Internet culture in the political sphere. Edits of Putin and popular slogans riffing off of public statements have unsanctified the once seemingly untouchable regime and rallied people around them in protest. Decentralized and rebellious, the modern artistic protest movement is gaining ground and forcing the hand of the government to react.
Cheburashka Questions Prepared by Christopher Fulton
1. What are some parallels between the Russian meme culture and the meme culture in the US that has been purported to have been a major factor in Donald Trump's election to office?
2. How has Russian Meme culture shaped the Russian political landscape?
3. One third of Russians have higher education while 70% of demonstrators had higher education. Why do you think the most vocal opponents of Putin's party highly educated, or either bloggers, journalists, and musicians?
4. Does this have any significance when evaluating the classes of people who voted for Trump?
5. What would happen in a Western country if rappers were being arrested for anti-statism? How would people react?
6. Why might online advocators not show up to demonstrations if they have already revealed their identity through signing online petitions and participating in meme culture?
Cheburashka Key Concepts Prepared by Rebecca
The counterculture regarding the Russian Art community and their intellectuals taking stands against the government on moral and ethical grounds and protesting in various ways.
Sub Concept #1: Russian Theatre The reading discusses the huge driving force that is the Russian theatre as it is being used to detail and brings to life the struggles of everyday Russia and its people. In this sense it is not necessarily theatre influencing the people and popular opinion but rather the people influencing theatre and their issues with society being broadcasted for everyone to see. Esp. ‘New Drama’ and life following the Soviet Union.
Sub Concept #2: The Other Russia This is the coalition of non-governmental human rights organizations from the non-systemic opposition. It had a diverse group of leaders and participated in various protest demonstrations in many cities. It led to assist Russian Liberal politicians to regroup and come back as legitimate opposition against Putin’s regime as the communists had not been able to. Overall it grew to socio-economic protests during Putin’s second term with themes of monetizing social benefits, housing issues, as well as labour and work issues. They were not reported by official national media though even though there was clearly an increase in the mobilization of protests.
Sub Concept #3: Evolving Protests The use of the internet brought new prospects and techniques to protesting authority such as memes. This is the new age of political satire that picks Putin apart and makes fun of his shortcomings. The choice of media techniques used by political satirists on the internet transgressed the borders of media, art, and design.
Protest movements and the arts focus on values and norms contrary to what is current in their society, joining people from different walks of life and opinions to speak out against injustice.
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