artist / participant
For his exhibition at Kadist Art Foundation, Arseniy Zhilyaev creates an anti-utopian museum of contemporary Russian history. The title of the exhibition plays with the polysemous word ‘mir’ which in Russian means both ‘peace’ and ‘world’, and could read as an acronym for ‘‘Museum of Russian History’’. Arseniy Zhilyaev pursues his reflection on the Museum as an institution, and a legitimizing one at that, whose mission is to spread knowledge among a wide audience, as well as to express an official policy. The artist appropriates the discursive mode of a Museum of History to represent how Russian society could change during the next years.
The Museum as a tool
Arseniy Zhilyaev’s artistic practice is inspired by A. Fedorov-Davydov, an art historian who contributed in his approach to the “experimental Marxist exhibition” that briefly dominated Soviet museum policy. The science of Marxist display has to reveal not self-sufficient and static objects, but the dynamic social processes of which they were part, with a pervasive awareness of the sociological conflicts underlying all art history, combining diverse artifacts — from “high” to “low” culture, ignoring the difference between original and copy, using folk culture, advertisement et al. Considering the museum as a tool in which the goal of the display is to educate and to create a provocative discourse open to debate, the case of MIR designed by Arseniy Zhilyaev gives us an example of a critical and “negative” display, by depicting a projection of what could be Russia in a near future. Presented from a dialectical perspective, the display draws a parallel between the Russian political situation and the contemporary art field. It is a didactic exercise of self-criticism against over-ambitious political art, the role of objects in its economy and its “bureaucratization”. Thus, in this fictive Museum, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, is taken as a model for artistic performances, showing how he proposed to escape the obsessive tendency of producing permanent changes in the contemporary art world: «‘Nowadays the only real change that is possible in the contemporary art field is the renunciation of all change’, he declared in October Journal»*.
Defining the borders of democracy
At the time when Soviet museums were widely frequented, they played a role in producing new critical subjectivity. In his text Politics of Installation, Boris Groys analyses how art today is becoming a part of mass culture, in which he tries to differentiate two main figures: the artist and the curator who both demonstrate a certain selection, a certain chain of choices, a logic of inclusions and exclusions in the objects they choose to present to an audience. But according to Groys, ‘‘the artist and the curator embody, in a very conspicuous manner, [...] two different kinds of freedom: the sovereign, unconditional, politically non-partisan freedom of artistic self-expression, and the institutionalized, politically responsible freedom of curatorship.’’.
The artist would be the one who reveals the hidden sovereign dimension of the contemporary democratic order that politicians for the most part, try to conceal. In that sense, the installation space is where we are immediately confronted with the ambiguous character of the contemporary notion of freedom that functions in our democracies as a tension between sovereign and institutional freedom. Having recourse to parafiction, making art and politics fields in parallel into a museal display, is a way for Arseniy Zhilyaev to test these borders between the sovereign and the institutionalized freedom based on the belief that a strong non-institutional public sphere is a precondition for the emergence of a strong democracy.
* As mentioned in a wall text in the room II of the ‘‘MIR’’ Museum.
A publication will be accompanied by the exhibition, with an introduction by Boris Groys and an interview with the artist by Siliva Franceschini.
M.I.R.: New paths to the objects