Reflexive fetishism of Anatoly Osmolovsky
If to offer quite a wide definition, then the main interest of Anatoly Osmolovsky in his new series of objects titled «Untitled» is socio-cultural functioning of art: rules of production and consumption. Such interests might be alien to the previous period of the artist's work. His new role of an individual author, a producer of artifacts and a gallery artist seems to be also alien to his previous statements and declarations. This text will try to disprove these ideas.
As it's known Osmolovsky earliest work was an action titled «EAT - text». On the 18th of April 1991 a group «Expropriation of Art Territories» («EAT»), made a Russian word «hui» («prick») on the Red Square with their own bodies. At that time the group «EAT» made another action, in the Medical House, in a course of the film festival of the legendary «Nouvelle Vague». The members of the group went to the stage, approached the screen, trying to make a contact with the characters on the screen: the film was stopped. Both actions - what is ignored -were dual and supplementary.
By attacking the film performance Osmolovsky marked the exhaustion of institutional functioning of visual product: by the action at the Red Square he suggested a new type of visual representation, adequate to the changed situation. After that this strategy became the core event of the 90-s and got a name «Moscow Actionism». Ideologically, the actionism of Osmolovsky appealed to neo-avant-garde slogans to overcome the borders of art and life. However, actionism did not reject disciplinary norms; by attacking elite forms of visual distribution, actionism did not refuse distribution itself, but made a bet for mass-medial distribution.
In a similar manner having broken status qvo of language norms prevailing in art at the end of 80-s. Osmolovsky's actionism did not refuse language reference. The outburst of actionism towards reality was recognized as the work inside art tradition; moreover, as the work with tradition and not only reality. Consequently, the action at the Red Square was preceded by the manifestation in the Medical House as the exit into the reality was the main goal of the «Nouvelle Vague». Jean-Luc Godard put the appeal to break the borders of art conventionalities in the mouth of Belmondo's character, who spoke straightly with the audience from the screen. The exit of «EAT»'s activists to the stage, together with the exit to the Red Square, was an answer to this invitation.
It is symptomatic that Osmolovsky refers to Godard even today when he substantiates the poetics of his new objects; he cites the program thesis of the French avant-gardist - «it is necessary to make films politically and not political films». In other words, the artist identifies himself with the idea that artistic program should be realized not on the level of a topic but on the level of thematisation of an artistic media, i.e. at the expense of revelation of rules, typical for socio-cultural functioning of an artifact.
Such procedure was typical for the actions of 1991. After that the Moscow actionists needed to justify their works by topical context - «zoophrenia», «end of optics», etc. However, there, in the Red Square, that form was presented just as it was, in all basic components - physical presence of the author, symbolical importance of the place, provocative character of the action, following public and medial scandal, etc. These components were presented in their basic structure; now Osmolovsky presents visual and plastic components in his new objects. The text written by the bodies of the «EAT» group near the Kremlin walls was so senseless that it proved that their main goal was not to present a new political manifest, but to present a new political method of art production.
However, very soon the group «EAT» broke up and Osmolovsky initiated a new group, called «Revolutionary Carriers», then «Nezeziudik» and later «Non-governmental Control Commission», and so on. This inclination to the group work and to the form of action was an answer to the situation of communication break in the culture, institutional paralysis, indefinite social status of art practice. If actionism allowed external representation and legitimization of art in the mass-media, then group communication and work constructed internal communication and legitimization. Those groups. Osmolovsky took part were not net communities (that were important for the art of 90-s) but mostly hierarchically structured groups of associates. Osmolovsky's understanding of group solidarity as a hierarchical community led him to the curatorial practice, to the leadership in the magazine project «Radek». to the teaching in the School of Contemporary Art, founded by Avdey Ter-Oganian. This adherence to the disciplinary principles in internal communities' organization recognizes itself also in their external strategy and tactics. Osmolovsky's groups cultivate classical modernist ideas of innovation, generations' conflict: («Generation Kills Generations»1), «competitive programs»2, etc.
Consequently, without disrupting his principles, Osmolovsky easily backed away collective work, when social justification and internal actuality of such kinds of works had already exhausted themselves and tried a role of professional gallery artist. Even before, taking part in dialogical projects3 , he never identified himself with their philosophy, and having contributed to the group work, he never dissolved in the Other. His personal exhibition in Marat Guelman Gallery in 1993 titled «My Way» was a vivid example of that position. Osmolovsky presented his author's status as a construction of disciplinary society, however, that construction was deconstructed and glorified at the same time.
Another example of Osmolovsky reflexive position in the system is a program of non-spectacular art proclaimed by him in the beginning of a new decade. That program itself is another example of the artist's sensibility to changes of socio-cultural art functioning: it appeared at the moment when resurrected institutions made the actionist strategy to be out of place. Non-spectacularity, i.e. the creation of group exhibitions, where the artifacts were unnoticeable in the space, means the problematization of the very fact of institutions' return as the show full of unnoticeable artifacts, represents the white cube as material easement. Besides, the return of institutions presumes the return of promotional tasks and, thus, a cult of spectacularity that was in the focus of critical pathos of non-spectacularity. However, inevitably, the subject of this critic was interiorized during this critical work. Contradicting hyper-visuality that conquered the society and bringing his non-spectacular visuality to the minimum point, the artist mobilizes maximum of the spectator's attention.
The series «Untitled» is a natural continuation of non-spectacular program, however, the focus has moved from expositional representation to another aspect of becoming Russian art system - to its market existence. In fact, these objects were conceived in the moment, when certain commercial mainstream was appearing in Moscow, thus, the phenomenon of commodity fetishism, known before only notionally. transformed into the fact of practical experience. As a result, creative and theoretical efforts of Osmolovsky are focused towards he creation of an object that refuses semantic obviousness and visual comfort, typical for commercially oriented art. He is trying to create an anti-fetishistic object, semantically encoded, visually indefinite, that is difficult to be identified with. Being exhibited in the gallery, these objects must become «extra objects», if to use a favorite term by Osmolovsky of more that a decade ago. New objects by Osmolovsky are as improper in the context of the art dominating most Russian galleries as the view of the vulgar word, done in the sacral square and a vision of an empty exhibition space. The main predestination of these objects, together with his previous works, are to extract the spectators' view from routine consumption of art product.
However, while analyzing the shock component of the new series of objects by Osmolovsky, one might find another association with the artist's previous works - with his old idea to focus a strong projector at the spectator, entering the exhibition hall 4. Osmolovsky's goal, both then and now, was not to deprive the spectator of the vision, not to turn his fetishistic desires but to correct them, to transform them into different reflexive regime. Like in 1994, during the work of «Visual Anthropology Workshops» challenging «the first who will pronounce a word», he was not going to abolish intellectual conversation but only to stop it and continue it after «the first blood» 5. In fact, I can witness, that after breaking the usual intellectual conversation, marking its limit by a radical gesture. Osmolovsky attached new dynamics and new dimension to the project.
Also now, by his objects that are not lacking some artifact's quality, he tries to add new dimension to market relations. If an art market is exclusive by its status, then the market of Osmolovsky's objects is exclusive inside exclusivity. His works are nothing but thematization of market relations in art and the symbolical representation of capitalism. Consequently, only the most reflexive consumers, realizing the rules of the art market and goods' fetishism should be the most adequate buyers and worshipers of Osmolovsky's new objects. One can also recollect the words by Jean-Luc Godard: «lf you didn't like this work, it is your own fault – you just didn't manage to make a dialogue».
However, irrespective to the commercial success of these works, it is significant that these objects were created with a different purpose. Commercial quality has project character: rather then working for the market Osmolovsky is constructing its analytical models. The experience of his previous work shows that analytical sagacity allowed him to be the first one who defined new forms of socio-cultural functioning of art and offered an adequate type of artist. Having defined in 1991 a type of provocateur-actionist he left behind the Russian art and mass-medial situation for several years. Now, the suggested type of reflexive market artist is not secured with the level of artistic sensibility. By the way, the Stella Art Gallery bears the same projective character as it offers a model of relations between artists and consumers, that outcome the standard borders.
However, in time, when reality catches up with the suggested standards, the gallery will be rewarded for the ability to outdistance the time. What will do the artist when his reflexive project is adopted by the market? Osmolovsky's way shows that others will get pragmatic benefit from all his creative revelations. At that moment he will be abscessed by different tasks.
«Generation Kills generation» - is the title of Osmolovsky's text in «The Moscow Art Magazine» # 3, 1994, p.2
This definition, acquired from Paul Feyerabend, was constantly used by Osmolovsky in the middle of 90-s.
I am meaning «Hamburg Project» and «Visual Anthropology Workshop» held in the Contemporary Art Centre (on Jakimanka street) in 1993-1994.
That was the opening of the exhibition «lmpudent, Insensible, Suffering from Delirium of Persecution...» in Regina Gallery, that was curated by A.Osmolovsky.
Ref. «Visual Anthropology Workshop. 1993-1994. Documentation of the Project/Project of the Documentation», M., «Moscow Art magazines», 2000, pp. 72-73.