Post-Post-Soviet? Art, Politics & Society in Russia at the Turn of the Decade - Ekaterina Degot, Marta Dziewańska, Ilya Budraitskis (red.) - ebook

Post-Post-Soviet? Art, Politics & Society in Russia at the Turn of the Decade ebook

Ekaterina Degot, Marta Dziewańska, Ilya Budraitskis (red.)



By placing emerging artists in their political and social contexts, this collection attempts to confront the new activist scene that has arisen in the Russian art world during the past years. The recent explosion of protests in Russia—often with their very purpose being to decry the lack of artistic freedom—is a symptom of a fundamental change in culture heralded by Vladimir Putin’s first election. This shift was precipitated by the change to a highly commercial, isolated world, financed and informed by oligarchs. In response, the Russian contemporary art scene has faced shrinking freedom yet an even more urgent need for expression. While much of what is emerging from the Moscow art scene is too new to be completely understood, the editors of this volume seek to bring to light the important work of Russian artists today and to explicate the political environment that has given rise to such work. „Post-Post-Soviet?” will feature both criticism by writers and scholars, as well as dialogues with artists. Contributors include Boris Kagarlitsky, Ekaterina Degot, Keti Chukhrov, Boris Buden, Artur Zmijewski, and others.



Niedawna eksplozja protestów w Rosji to symptom podskórnych zmian w społeczeństwie i w kulturze, obserwowanych od momentu zwycięstwa w wyborach parlamentarnych partii wspieranej przez Władimira Putina.


Jego czasy przyniosły sztukę dostosowaną do nowego porządku: skomercjalizowaną, odciętą od rzeczywistości społecznej, finansowaną i manipulowaną przez oligarchów. Równocześnie powstał „drugi obieg” sztuki – tam odpowiedzią na systematycznie kurcząca się przestrzeń wolności była paląca potrzeba ekspresji.


Książka „Post-Post-Soviet? Art, Politics & Society in Russia at the Turn of the Decade” to próba opisu rosyjskiej sceny artystycznej, ukształtowanej dosłownie w ciągu kilku ostatnich lat. Jest to próba spojrzenia na młodych artystów w jak najszerszym kontekście społeczno-politycznym.


Książka zawiera rozmowy z artystami oraz teksty krytyczne kuratorów, akademików i krytyków sztuki; całość poprzedza bogate kalendarium wydarzeń politycznych, społecznych i kulturalnych. Wiele z opisywanych zjawisk jest zbyt nowa, żeby analizować je z dystansu czy zamykać w formułach, a publikowane teksty (powstałe w latach 2007–2013) przedstawiają różne, często sprzeczne opinie. Niektóre stanowią próby przewidywania dalszego przebiegu wydarzeń i historia z pewnością zweryfikuje stawiane w nich tezy. Inne zostały zweryfikowane w ostatnich dniach. „Post-Post-Soviet?” chce uchwycić ducha zmian: pokazać dynamizm zachodzących w sztuce i polityce zjawisk i niepewny moment braku stabilności, który prowadzić może do rewolucji albo powrotu stagnacji. Tak czy owak, pytanie, które zawsze pozostaje aktualne, brzmi: jak sztuka towarzyszy zmianom i czy jest w stanie sprostać historycznej chwili?


Wśród autorów są między innymi: Boris Buden, Keti Chukhrov, Ekaterina Degot, Alek D. Epstein, Boris Kagarlitski, Ilja Budraitskis, Alexej Tsvetkov, Artur Żmijewski, Arsenij Zhilyaev, Oleksij Radinsky, Alexander Ivanov, Vera Akulova i inni.

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Socio-Political Context and Artworld



Fucking Winter Outside


Small Talk with the President


The Catastrophes of “Real Capitalism”


A Taste for Politics


Fragile Authoritarianism


Orientalism: A Russian Version


The Double Periphery


Nothing to Complete: Something to Start


The Case of Yerofeev and Samodurov: What is to Be Done and Who is to Blame?


Paradise for Kids, Elderly and Artists


A Political Guide to Contemporary Russian Poetry


The Lessons of the Biennale Season


Between Revisited Historical Socialism and Imported Western Discourses


The Voina Group: Radical Actionist Protest in Contemporary Russia


Pussy Riot: Gender and Class


Selection of Images


List of Artists




The word “stability” was often used to describe the reality of Russia during the last decade. Everything about this stability seemed predictable and well-functioning—stable economical growth resulted in rising prosperity, which created a middle class, the requisite base for stability. In its turn, this middle class was satisfied by the authoritarian, but predictable political regime of Vladimir Putin. It seemed that the rules of the game were established and nobody was about to challenge them, at least not seriously. Many within Russia began to make comparisons with the stagnation of Brezhnev’s 70s, which was described by Soviet philistines and the pessimistic intelligentsia as a sad but quiet “end of history.”

With the passing of the decade, the Putin-led “end of history,” just as all others, proved to be another ideological tour de force. It became clear that the economic growth was fake, based on nothing other than unreliable oil prices. The Russian middle class felt deprived of the future, and political upheaval swiftly entered the sleepy social space.

The mass political protests at the end of 2011—early 2012 questioned the base of the unstable post-Soviet contract between power and society—social insensitivity, brutal market-driven individualism and abstention from politics. This politicization had its limits, however. The most visible driving force behind early protests, the precarious “creative” middle class of big cities, the defense of liberties, was in fact sometimes defending its free access to international (“Western”) consumer goods, including cultural consumer goods, and the role of intellectual elites in a hierarchical non-democratic society (the rule of the 1% rather than 99%). The political agenda of the opposition was extremely heterogeneous. While leftists advanced social claims of free education and health care, as well as solidarity with migrant workers, the liberal mainstream of the movement tended to interpret civil rights as referring strictly to rights associated with free travel to the European Union, calling for the strict closure of borders with former Soviet republics of Asia.

What role can contemporary art have or take in such a multilayered context? During the Soviet period, contemporary art was underground and therefore “unofficial,” unknown or misunderstood by the public. By contrast, in the 90s, it tentatively formed bonds with self-proclaimed elites, the ultra-rich, and willingly or unwillingly legitimized their exclusive status. During the 2000s, in its depoliticized form, contemporary art acquired a new role in middle-class recreation and an “effective” tool of capitalist brainwashing. Already an ally of violent neoliberal transformation, and well established as a status symbol, contemporary art had to take up a role as the demarcator between the educated few and the non-initiated masses.

Against this very background, in the mid-2000s, a new generation of artists, curators, and art theoreticians emerged. They saw themselves in opposition to the dominant political and aesthetic orders, and stood behind some of the most visible events of political protest, including Occupy Abay in Moscow, the Open University, actions of solidarity with workers in Kazakhstan and Russia, anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist and anti-fascist demonstrations, and many others. Art seemed to become the very site of the political imagination where new, alternative, forms of opposition could be invented and tested. On its agenda, plural in its vectors, there was a rediscovery of suppressed Marxism and iron-hard collectivity and solidarity, a defense of gay rights (extremely fraught in contemporary Russia), anti-clericalism, and understanding of economic precarity. It rehabilitates and re-appropriates Soviet anti-Stalinist cultural heritage in the very moment when all the remnants of Soviet welfare state and its ideology (free education, internationalism, critically-oriented and widely available culture and non-consumerist ethics of work, as well as architectural monuments of this era and mind) are massively attacked by both state and capital, and are about to vanish.

The post-Soviet state is at its end, there is a feeling of change in the air, but their direction remains unknown. Post-Post-Soviet? Art, Politics & Society in Russia at the Turn of the Decade is an attempt to describe a historical moment that is not yet fully understood. By placing dialogues with artists alongside critical texts by curators, scholars, historians and activists, this volume seeks to testify to the state of the spirit of change. The texts presented in this volume are of very different natures, they present various (sometimes contradictory) standpoints, and they were written in different moments between 2007 and 2013 (some are reprinted). Some of them are very recent, in which case history will shortly provide its necessary revisions, while others have predicted (or were trying) what is coming. In its varied form, this collection aims to show the dynamics of something difficult to grasp, an uncertain moment of instability which, as in many cases already known to us, might burst into revolution, or might easily return to the state of enforced stagnation. In either case, will art be equal to the historical occasion?



From the editors

This timeline seeks to bring to light the interconnections between artistic practices and broader social, economic, and political contexts. In particular, the timeline seeks to elucidate the environment that gave rise to the activist scene in the Russian art world during the past several years. It begins in 2007, the year during Vladimir Putin’s second term as President when his party won an overwhelming majority of seats. It was at this point that the Russian contemporary art scene faced increasing instrumentalization as a façade of the violent neoliberal regime, while still searching for its own critical voice. This year likewise marked the timid beginning of protests all over Russia—protests which were symptomatic of underlying changes in society and culture.

Ilya Budraitskis (b.1981) is a historian, activist, and a post-graduate student at the Institute for World History in the Russian Academy of Sciences. He has been a political activist since 1997, organizing the Russian protests against the G8, European and World Economic Forums and is currently the spokesperson for the Russian Socialist Movement. He was a participant in Avdey Ter-Oganyan’s School of Contemporary Art between 1996–99, and he participated in Anatoly Osmolovsky’s seminars on critical theory from 1998–2000. He has worked on collective art projects and exhibitions with David Ter-Oganyan and Alexandra Galkina since 2005. Their collaborative works are in the collections of the Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art and the Luigi Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art in Prato (Italy). Budraitskis is a member of the editorial board of Moscow Art Magazine. He lives and works in Moscow.

Ekaterina Degot (b.1958) is an art historian, art writer and curator. She holds a PhD in art history. Amongst her many curated and co-curated shows, the following are particularly noteworthy: “Body Memory: Underwear of the Soviet Era” (2000–2004) in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Helsinki, and Vienna, “Struggling for the Banner: Soviet Art Between Trotsky and Stalin” (2008) at the New Manege in Moscow, “Citizens, Mind Yourselves: Dimitri Prigov” at the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow. In 2010, with David Riff and Cosmin Costinas, she curated the 1st Ural Industrial Biennial in Ekaterinburg (TIMELINE) with the title “Shockworkers of the Mobile Image.” In the following year, with David Riff and Joanna Mytkowska, she curated an exhibition and discussion platform “Auditorium Moscow” (TIMELINE) in collaboration with the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art. She also curated “Art After the End of the World”, the discussion platform for the Kiev Biennial of Contemporary Art Arsenale (2012), and in cooperation with Anton Vidokle and Julieta Aranda, she curated “Art/Food” at the Stella Art Foundation in Moscow (2012). She currently teaches at the Moscow Alexander Rodchenko Photography and New Media School. Her books include: Terroristic Naturalism (1998), Russian 20th Century Art (2000), and Moscow Conceptualism (2005) with Vadim Zakharov. She has contributed works of art criticism to Frieze, Artforum and e-flux magazines. In 2007–2012, she was a senior editor of the online cultural magazine. She lives and works in Moscow.

Ekaterina Lazareva (b.1978) is an artist, curator, critic, and editor-in-chief of magazine. She graduated from the Faculty of Art History of the Russian State University for Humanities (2000) and the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia (2012). In 2011, she received a PhD in art criticism for the dissertation “The Evolution of Futurism in Italy and Russia from late 10s till 30s.” She is a research fellow at the State Institute of Art Studies. She worked as an editor at the Moscow Art Magazine and and participated in many group shows including: “Anti-Censorial Placard” (2012), “Performative Archive,” E.K. Art Bureau, Moscow (2011), “Impossible Community,” State Museum of Modern Art of the Russian Academy of Art, Moscow (2011), “Dada Moscow” (in the framework of the 4th Moscow Biennale for Contemporary Art) “ARTPLAY,” Moscow (2011). She was nominated for the Kandinsky Prize 2012 in the category “Young artist.” She worked as independent curator on such projects as “Photographing Future” (2013), “Visibility Zones” (within “Qui Vive?” at the 2nd Moscow International Biennale for Young Art), “Proekt Fabrika,” Moscow (2010). She lives and works in Moscow.



10 February 2007

While attending the annual Munich Security Conference, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, gives a speech which many Western experts and journalists perceive as a return to Cold War rhetoric. In particular, President Putin says: “Independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.”

March 2007

THE 2ND MOSCOW BIENNALE OF CONTEMPORARY ART(DIALOGUE) (01.03–01.04) opens in Moscow and is curated, as before, by Joseph Backstein, Daniel Birnbaum, Jara Boubnova, Nicolas Bourriaud, Rosa Martinez, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, who are joined this time by Gunnar B. Kwaran and Fulia Erdemci. The venues include the top floor of the exclusive department store TsUM, and the Federation Tower, an uncompleted skyscraper that was originally launched by the Mirax Group of property developers. The “I Believe!” exhibition (28.01–31.03) by a group of Moscow artists is curated by the former actionist Oleg Kulik. The exhibition is one of the first major shows at the WINZAVOD CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART(ESSAY), a new cluster of galleries and creative studios opened in a gentrified area. The private art foundation Contemporary City runs another emblematic exhibition “Urbanist Formalism” (01.03–01.04).

March 2007

FORBIDDEN ART 2006(ESSAY) (07.03–31.03), an exhibition curated by Andrei Yerofeev, opens at the Sakharov Museum and Public Centre. It features works banned from exhibition in a number of Moscow’s museums and galleries in 2006. Soon afterwards, Yerofeev and the museum’s director Yuri Samodurov are charged with criminal offences under laws concerning the incitement of religious hatred. The case is brought forward by the People’s Assembly [Narodny Sobor], a nationalist, conservative Orthodox movement. Andrei Yerofeev is eventually sacked from his post at the Tretyakov Gallery in June of 2008.

April 2007

The Estonian Art Museum in Tallinn plans to open “The Return of Memory,” an exhibition curated by Viktor Misiano featuring works by artists from the former USSR that reflect on their Soviet and post-Soviet experiences. DAVID TER-OGANYAN(IMAGE), Ilya Budraitskis and ALEXANDRA GALKINA(IMAGE) are supposed to present “A Draft of a Revolution in Tallinn,” an artistic study of a mass rebellion in the current Estonian capital viewed as a utopian possibility. However, a few days before the opening, Tallinn actually sees mass demonstrations that are without precedent in the country’s recent history: Russian-speaking youths protest against the Soviet Soldier memorial being dismantled in the city center. Shortly after the turmoil begins, Russia and Estonia break off diplomatic relations, and the exhibition opening is postponed indefinitely. After May 2007, the project in question, with a number of works by Eastern European artists added by the curator, is shown at the Luigi Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art in Prato and a number of other museums under the title “Progressive Nostalgia. Contemporary Art from the Former USSR” (27.05–26.08), becoming an internationally renowned representation of post-Soviet art.

14 April 2007

Over five thousand people take part in an unauthorised protest in Moscow, billed as the “Dissenters’ March.” Despite special purpose police units, interior troops and the city’s police shutting off Pushkin Square, between one to two thousand protesters manage to break through the cordons and carry on with the rally, marching without hindrance from Pushkin Square to Trubnaya Square.

23 April 2007

Boris Yeltsin, first President of Russia, dies.

27 April 2007

Cabbies (Bombily) group organise a protest WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WE WANT(IMAGE) in one of Moscow’s parks, in which an alley is cordoned off with a six-metre-long banner bearing these words. Among the participants are Oleg Vorotnikov, Anton Nikolaev, Petr Verzilov and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, later to become members of the VOINA GROUP(ESSAY) (IMAGE).

1 May 2007

Voina’s first artistic action takes place in Moscow. During Mordovian Hour, the activists went into a McDonald’s shouting “Checkout’s free!” while throwing live cats over the counter in the direction of the kitchen.

June 2007

The Russian Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale (10.06–21.11) is curated by Olga Sviblova, the director of the Moscow House of Photography. The project is entitled “Click I Hope” after an interactive installation by the artist Julia Milner, previously known as the spouse of the owner of Russia’s largest Internet holding company Other participants included AES + F, Alexander Ponomarev, the fashion designer and showman Andrei Bartenev, and Arseniy Meshcheryakov, a designer and publisher. Complex media installations are dominant. The Russian elite shows some interest in the Venice Biennale for the first time. Roman Abramovich’s yacht was moored at the Venice embankment.

June 2007

For the first time, the DOCUMENTA 12 (16.06–23.09) includes numerous works of Russian artists: Andrei Monastyrsky, DMITRY GUTOV(DIALOGUE), Anatoly Osmolovsky and Kirill Preobrazhensky. The independent publishing programme presented a newspaper run by CHTO DELAT?/WHAT IS TO BE DONE?(DIALOGUE) (IMAGE).

4 July 2007

The 119th International Olympic Committee Session, held in Guatemala, selects the Russian city of Sochi to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Several months later, on the 8th of November, a specially founded state corporation, Olympstroy, is appointed as the main contractor for the construction of Olympic venues and the Games’ infrastructure. In the run-up to 2014, Olympstroy will receive 186 billion RUB (approximately 6.2 billion USD).

September 2007

Gagosian Gallery holds its first Russian show entitled “Insight?” (19.10–28.10) in a branch of the Alfa Bank located in Barvikha Luxury Village, an exclusive shopping mall near Moscow. It features works by Picasso, Rothko, Miró, Warhol, Kabakov, and Hirst. A year later, a similar exhibition is organised in a former Red October chocolate factory. This event marked the last of the gallery’s forays into the Russian market.

20 November2007

A four-week-long strike starts at the Russian Ford plant, located near St. Petersburg, resulting in serious public reaction. As a result, the trade union signs a new agreement with a 20% pay rise.

December 2007

The Kandinsky Prize, founded by Shalva Breus, a businessman and the owner of Art Chronicle magazine, is awarded for the first time. This award (currently worth approximately 50,000 USD), intended for Russian artists, is privately funded and internationally judged. ANATOLY OSMOLOVSKY(DIALOGUE), a former political activist who now works as a sculptor and adheres to the idea of autonomous art, is named the first winner in “The Project of the Year” category.

2 December 2007

Russia’s parliamentary election brings victory for President Putin’s party. United Russia wins 64.3% of the vote (70% of the seats), the Communist Party of the Russian Federation receives 11.57% (12.7% of the seats). UR has a constitutional majority and the largest representation ever achieved by a “ruling party” during the post-Soviet period.

2 December 2007

President Putin supports Dmitry Medvedev’s candidacy for the post of the President of the Russian Federation.

29 February 2008

On the eve of Russia’s presidential elections, the Voina group stages an action entitled FUCK FOR THE TEDDY BEAR HEIR!(ESSAY) in Moscow’s Timiryazev State Museum of Biology. The event is immensely popular in the Internet.

February–March 2008

While fighting for the St. Petersburg European University to be reopened, students from a number of universities and activists launch the STREET UNIVERSITY(DIALOGUE), a St. Petersburg-based street platform for self-education.

2 March 2008

The presidential elections end with Dmitry Medvedev winning in the first round by securing 70.28% of the vote. On the 8th of May the new president confirms Putin’s appointment as Prime Minister. These events mark the emergence of a political system often called “tandem” in the media, a term hinting at the limited degree of Medvedev’s political independence, an impression unaffected by his attempts to show his own, more liberal, stance.

11 April 2008

The body of Anna Alchuk, a poet and artist who took part in the exhibition BEWARE: RELIGION(ESSAY) is found in Berlin. An inquest concludes that the cause of death is suicide. Facing charges for the curation of an exhibition, Alchuk was acquitted in 2005 on the grounds of a lack of evidence, but nevertheless had to leave the country with her husband, the philosopher Mikhail Ryklin.

May 2008

The website OpenSpace is launched in Moscow, its arts pages gradually becoming one of the platforms for “new left-wing” artists. The publication ceases to exist in 2012.

May 2008

The 5th Moscow World Fine Art Fair (30.05–04.06), designed to sell classical art, antique furniture and jewelry, includes contemporary art galleries for the first time, while one of Winzavod’s galleries holds an exhibition of works by the socialite Ksenia Sobchak (the exhibition opens on 20th of May and is made jointly with the designer Andrei Bartenev), who displays her shoe collection arranged by colour.

June 2008

The New Manezh exhibition center hosts “Struggling for the Banner. Soviet Art Between Trotsky and Stalin (1926–36)” (20.06–05.07) by the independent curator Ekaterina Degot. This is the first time that Stalin’s “left zig-zag” and cultural revolution are highlighted as a key period in Russian art history. Dmitry Gutov, David Ter-Oganyan and other contemporary artists take part in the project.

June 2008

The construction of the Bakhmetyev Bus Depot, designed by the avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov, is converted into a center for contemporary culture called Garage, which is funded by Roman Abramovich.

3 July 2008

The Voina group stages the action A COP IN A PRIEST’S ROBE(ESSAY).

July 2008

The group Chto Delat?/What Is To Be Done? completes its film Perestroika Songspiel:A Victory Over the Putsch. This debut in the Brechtian genre of recitative opera was followed by Partisan Songspiel: A Belgrade Story (2009) and A Tower: Songspiel (2010), the latter presenting an analysis of the situation concerning the construction of the Okhta Centre—the offices of the Gazprom corporation in St. Petersburg.

July 2008

Moscow’s Proekt Fabrika holds an exhibition “1968–2008: Politics in the Streets,” directly related to the 40th anniversary of the May 1968 events in Paris. The show’s curators, Kirill Medvedev, Ilya Budraitskis, Nikolay Oleinikov and Oksana Sarkisyan, create what becomes a unique space by Moscow standards, where new art appears alongside elements of a political conference and music festival. The participants of “Politics in the Streets” include David Ter-Oganyan, ARSENIY ZHILYAEV(ESSAY) the Voina group, Chto Delat?/What Is To Be Done?, Alexandra Galkina, and others.

8 August 2008

Armed hostilities start in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, with Russia officially joining the war on the side of South Ossetia. On the 11th of August, President Medvedev and the President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, at talks in Moscow, draft a six-point resolution on the conflict intended to settle the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On the 26th of August Russia officially recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence.

September–October 2008

The first wave of the global financial crisis hits Russia, leading to mass redundancies in the industrial and service sectors. Later, according to economic analysts, the consequences of the crisis for Russia prove harsher than for most other countries. This is largely understood to be the result of large foreign debts incurred by Russian companies (which by October 2008 approached the level of the country’s gold and currency reserve assets) taken in conjunction with a slump in oil prices, down to 70 USD per barrel.

7 September 2008

The action IN MEMORY OF THE DECEMBRISTS(ESSAY) (IMAGE) is organised by the Voina group.

September 2008

PERMM, a new contemporary art museum conceived and headed by the art dealer MARAT GUELMAN(DIALOGUE), opens in Perm, a large industrial city in the Urals, with a programmatic exhibition entitled “The Russian Poor” (25.09–30.11). The show defines the style of Russian art as a kind of “minimalism, done poorly.” This pilot project marks the start of an outreach process with Guelman working with local authorities and with the United Russia party to bring contemporary art to the country’s regions.

October 2008

The news breaks that Mercury, a major Russian luxury market player, the owner of Moscow’s TsUM, the boutique shopping complex Barvikha Luxury Village and other sites, is becoming the main shareholder of the auction house Phillips de Pury.

December 2008

Kandinsky Prize is awarded to Alexey Belyaev-Gintovt, an active member of the far-right Eurasia Movement which styles itself as fascist. During the award ceremony, a number of artists voice their protest. Later, the panel’s decision becomes a target for journalists which forces the resignation of one of the judges, a Deutsche Bank representative. As a result, the bank stops supporting the prize.

5 December 2008

Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and all Russia dies. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad becomes the interim head of the Russian Orthodox Church before being elected the new patriarch in January 2009.

28 December 2008

An intervention by Voina, THE BANNING OF CLUBS(ESSAY) (also known as “Citizens’ Safety: Charity Work to Reinforce the Doors of the Elite Club Oprichnik”), blocks the entrance of Oprichnik restaurant by welding metal sheets to it.

1 January 2009

Russia completely stops supplying gas to Ukraine. The gas conflict between the countries subsequently results in a significant increase in Russian gas prices for Ukraine.

27 April 2009

Without any apparent motive, Major Denis Evsyukov, the police chief of one of Moscow’s districts, opens fire at a supermarket. Evsyukov is detained at the scene after killing two people and injuring twenty two, all passers-by or customers. The incident provokes a nationwide public response causing a series of discussions about the necessity for police reform.

9 May 2009

Participants in “Leftist Art. Leftist Philosophy. Leftist Poetry,” a seminar organised by the group Chto Delat?/What Is To Be Done? and the socialist movement Vpered! (Forward!) in Nizhny Novgorod, are oppressed by a special forces unit of the Ministry of Interior (MoI). After a search, documents and reading materials are confiscated and approximately thirty participants are taken to a local MoI office, where they are interviewed and photographed.

15 May 2009

Artem Loskutov, an artist and activist from Novosibirsk, is detained by operatives of the Anti-Extremism Center on charges of possessing 11 grams of marijuana. In his view, the real cause for his arrest is the fact that he had been one of the organisers of “Monstrations,” the annual May Day neo-dadaist flash mob held in Novosibirsk since 2004. An Internet campaign is launched to protect Loskutov. He is released on the 10th June and handed a 20,000 RUB (635 USD) fine.

30 May 2009

A closing vernissage at ARTStrelka, an independent art center which has occupied the site of the former Red October chocolate factory since 2004. Located in the very center of Moscow, near the Kremlin, it is replaced by the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design with a trendy bar and restaurants. Thus begins the development of a gentrified area intended for the “creative class.” There are plans to build a luxury residential complex named The Golden Island.

June 2009

The Rodchenko School of Photography and Multimedia sees its first students, who enrolled in the autumn of 2007, graduate — EKATERINA SAMUTSEVICH(ESSAY) is among them.

2 June 2009

Hundreds of people in Pikalevo (Leningrad Region) block off a federal motorway connecting the town to St. Petersburg. The protesters demand that planned redundancies be reversed and workers be paid the salaries owed to them. The town’s main business, Pikalevo Alumina Refinery, has suffered a cash flow crisis, resulting in workers not being paid for several months and the local power station being switched off because of debts. On the 4th of June Prime Minister Putin visits Pikalevo to meet the refinery’s owners and sign an agreement stipulating that resources to repay salary debts will be provided from the state budget.

June 2009

The Russian Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale (07.06–22.11), curated by Olga Sviblova, exhibits a group project entitled “A Victory Over the Future.” Several more “Russian projects” open in Venice at the same time, all of them financed by private foundations. Russian art has never before been so aggressive in its expansion abroad.

July–August 2009

Several exhibitions are held in Moscow, curated by young artists or without curators. Participants in “The Conquered City” include Ilya Budraitskis, Alexandra Galkina, David Ter-Oganyan and others (27.07–15.08, Regina Gallery, Moscow). The artist Arseniy Zhilyaev presents his project “A Machine and Natasha” (20.07–15.08, Proekt Fabrika, Moscow). The artists’ self-organisation is noted as symptomatic of the new era.

August 2009

Plans to create the first national museum of contemporary art are announced. The idea is to expand the existing building of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts (NCCA), adding fifteen storeys to the building. The museum is envisaged to have an international collection (including Damien Hirst and the Chapman brothers), supported by private galleries.

17 August 2009

An accident hits the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric station, the largest power plant in Russia and one of the biggest hydropower facilities in the world. Beyond taking the lives of seventy -five people, the accident leads to a wide-scale ecological catastrophe (a 130-kilometre oil slick stretches along the Yenisey River, one of the largest in Siberia), likewise dealing a blow to the region’s economy. The subsequent inquest and reports produced by a specially appointed parliamentary commission cite worn-out equipment and failure to follow operating instructions as the main factors behind the accident.

September 2009

The 3RD MOSCOW BIENNALE OF CONTEMPORARY ART(DIALOGUE) (25.09–25.10) opens at the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture (the other venue being TsUM). “Against Exclusion” is curated by Jean-Hubert Martin in reference to his 1989 project “Magicians of the Earth.” Although the show breaks popularity records, the political and social meaning of the post-colonial themes go unnoticed by the general public.

September 2009

For the first time, the streets of Moscow see critical guerilla posters and mock advertisements in place of real ones. An unknown group, Ovoscham.Net (No to Vegetables), which did not call itself an art collective, accepts responsibility for the campaign. The authorities take some time to notice the posters, which become extremely popular among bloggers.

27 November 2009

The “Neva Express” train travelling from Moscow to St. Petersburg derails, causing the deaths of twenty-seven people and injuring over a hundred. According to official reports, the crash is the result of a terrorist act carried out by Islamic fundamentalists from the North Caucasus.

December 2009

Kandinsky Prize ceremony takes place in the suburban shopping mall Barvikha Luxury Village. In his acceptance speech, the winner of the prize, Vadim Zakharov, accuses the “new bourgeoisie” of reluctance in supporting particular movements of Russian contemporary art, ex. Moscow Conceptualism and its leader, Andrei Monastyrsky. In turn, a reviewer writing for a major financial paper accuses Zakharov of being ungrateful to private capitalists.

30 December 2009

Putin claims that the Russian economic crisis is past its active phase.

9 January 2010

Anti-fascist demonstrations in Moscow and several other Russian cities in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. A lawyer and human rights activist, Markelov, was shot to death on the 19th of January 2009 while leaving a news conference in the center of Moscow; Anastasia Baburova, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta was also killed in the attack while trying to come to the aid of Markelov. Amongst his various activities, Markelov was particularly known for his participation in a number of publicized cases, including those of left-wing political activists anti-fascist persecuted since the 1990s, as well as victims of an “anti-terrorist operation” in Chechnya from the early 2000s. In November 2009, Russian authorities declared the end of the criminal investigation. The murder suspects were Nikita Tikhonov and Eugenia Khasis, both members of a radical neo-nazi group.

29 March 2010

Forty-one people die and eighty-eight are injured in two powerful explosions at two Moscow metro stations. As is established almost immediately afterwards, the terrorist attacks are committed within an hour of one another by female suicide bombers. Two days later, Doku Umarov, a leader of the Chechen separatists, makes a statement acknowledging his responsibility for the attacks.

1 May 2010

The 1st May Congress of Creative Workers takes place in Moscow, an assembly of creative organisations and collectives working in the field of culture and humanities education.

8 May 2010

Sixty-six people die and over one hundred are injured in a gas blast at the Raspadskaya mine in the town of Mezhdurechensk in Western Siberia. On the 14th of May a meeting to mourn the dead is held in Mezhdurechensk. Participants complain about low salaries and poor working conditions. Many openly claim to have breached safety regulations (the explosion apparently having been caused by such a breach) in order to be paid a decent salary. Hundreds of miners and their families try blocking off the railway the following night, leading to clashes with the police.

June 2010

A special operation in Primorsky Krai, a region in the Russian Far East, disarms a group referred to as the PRIMORYE GUERRILLAS(DIALOGUE) in the media. Active since February 2010, the six-member group carries out a number of attacks on policemen, killing two and injuring six. In a video address, later spread over the Internet, the guerrillas call on people to fight the outrageous crimes of the police: “although people are helpless and humble, there are those who are not afraid.” The case of the guerrillas provokes a strong reaction nationwide. In a poll conducted by a popular radio station, up to 75% of callers support the Primorye Guerrillas.

14 June 2010

The Voina group stages its protest A DICK HELD PRISONER AT THE FSB(ESSAY) (IMAGE 2) in St. Petersburg.

June 2010

The 2nd Moscow Biennale of Young Art, entitled “Halt! Who Goes There?” (01.07–01.08), opens in Moscow simultaneously with a self-organised alternative event, the Youth Festival of Independent Art, “Go Away! Watch Where You’re Going!” The latter is run by the artist Denis Mustafin with the active support from ZHIR (Grease), a gallery of activist art that has existed since 2009.

12 July 2010

The organisers of “Forbidden Art 2006,” Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev are found guilty by Moscow’s Court and ordered to pay fines of 200,000 and 150,000 RUB (approximately 6500 and 4950 USD), respectively. As the sentence is announced, Orthodox fundamentalist groups sing psalms, while members of Voina scatter about three thousand cockroaches in the corridor of the court building during a protest entitled COCKROACH COURT(ESSAY).

June–August 2010

A CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT THE KHIMKI FOREST(DIALOGUE), situated in the suburbs of Moscow, is underway. In early June, works begin to cut down parts of the forest to make way for a stretch of a federal motorway designed to link Moscow with St. Petersburg. Locals, supported by Moscow’s political and ecological activists, attempt a number of peaceful protests to stop the area from being cleared. These protests are brutally suppressed by the local authorities and private security guards. On the 28th of July a group of about four hundred anti-fascists and anarchists come to Khimki and attack the local administration building. The issue of the Khimki Forest gains national significance.

22 August 2010

A meeting attended by thousands takes place in the centre of Moscow, followed by President Medvedev’s decision to suspend works in the Khimki Forest.

Summer 2010

Russia’s Ministry of Culture vetoes the prints of Moscow artist AVDEY TER-OGANYAN(ESSAY). A law suit was initiated against him after his, allegedly, anticlerical performance at the “Art Manege-98” exhibition in 1998. In 1999, he left Russia and in 2002 obtained refugee status in the Czech Republic. The prints in question were to be part of Counterpoint, a Russian art exhibition held at the Louvre and organised by the NCCA. They are excluded because of their potential ability to incite inter-religious hatred. Ironically, the works in question had these very words written on them as the artist complemented his abstract “pictures” with captions mocking the criminal charges most frequently brought against contemporary art. The exhibition “Counterpoint: Russian Contemporary Art,” which includes Oganyan’s works, will finally open on 14.10 at the Louvre in Paris.

Late July–Early September 2010

Central Russia is engulfed in a wave of forest fires. Throughout the summer, thirty two thousand fires take the lives of fifty-three people in Russia, while two thousand and five hundred homes are burned and one hundred and twenty seven localities are destroyed, completely or partially. Data collected throughout the country shows a 17.5% increase in the death rate over the months of July and August. The fires are caused/exacerbated by anomalous heat levels, a lack of precipitation, and the extremely poor performance of public services, such as state forest departments and fire brigades.

September 2010

The 1st Ural Industrial Biennnial (09.09–10.10), organized by NCCA, opens in Ekaterinburg. The main project of the biennale, “Shockworkers of the Mobile Image” is curated by Cosmin Costinas, Ekaterina Degot and David Riff and poses a question about the role of global contemporary art in the shaping of neoliberal capitalism in post-industrial and post-Soviet regions, comparing this phenomenon with the role of art during Stalinist industrialisation.

September 2010

A new foundation, V-A-C (Victoria—the Art of Being Contemporary), owned by Leonid Mikhelson, the chairman of the gas company Novatek, launches its first export project, “Modernicon” (23.09.2010–24.04.2011), an exhibition of Russian art shown at the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation in Turin that is curated by Francesco Bonami and Irene Calderoni. The show features samples of both neoformalism and socially engaged art.

11 September 2010

At Moscow Museum of Modern Art opens “ŽEN d’art. The Gender History of Art in the Post-Soviet Space: 1989–2009” curated by Natalya Kamenetskaya and Oksana Sarkisyan (11.09–07.11).

16 September 2010

COUP D’ETAT(ESSAY) is staged by Voina in St. Petersburg. The group’s activists turn over several police cars. On the 15th of November two of the participants, Leonid Nikolaev and Oleg Vorotnikov, are detained, only to be released on bail on the 24th of February 2011. They are never charged with any offences.

28 September 2010

President Medvedev issues a decree forcing the early resignation of the mayor of Moscow. Yuri Luzhkov, who has held the post of mayor since 1992, was formerly regarded as one of the most influential Russian politicians, exercising virtually limitless power over the capital.

October 2010

The Multimedia Art Museum opens in Moscow, the first large museum space in the country organised in the white cube style.

October 2010

Preliminary results of the national census are released. In the autumn of 2010 the population of Russia was 142,905,200, making it the 8th most populous country in the world. Compared to the previous census of 2002, the total population fell by 2.3 million. Urban and countryside populations made up, respectively, 74% and 26% of the whole. The average age in Russia was estimated to be 39. The majority of the population, 80.9%, gave their ethnicity as Russian, followed by Tartars, who amounted to 3.87%.

November 2010

The first large-scale retrospective of works by Andrei Monastyrsky (22.11.2010–27.01.2011), the leader of MOSCOW CONCEPTUALISM(ESSAY), takes place in one of Moscow’s most prestigious exhibition halls. It is organised by the V-A-C foundation and curated by Teresa Mavica.

6 December 2010

A fight in a Moscow suburb between youths of Caucasian origin and Spartak Moscow supporters leads to the death of 28-year-old Yegor Sviridov, one of the football fans. On the 11th of December, the day after Sviridov’s funeral, an unprecedented spontaneous DEMONSTRATION(DIALOGUE) emerges in the centre of Moscow, at Manezhnaya Square, with participants clearly expressing anti-Caucasian and racist views. About five thousand young football fans supporting different Moscow clubs occupy one of the city’s main squares for several hours, clashing with the police and attacking NON-SLAVIC LOOKING(ESSAY) passers-by. The occasion becomes widely known as “Manezhnaya Square,” or “Manezhka.” On the 21st of December Prime Minister Putin visits Sviridov’s grave and meets with representatives of football fan organisations to offer his condolences.

9 December 2010

Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus sign a set of documents, which upon coming into effect on the 1st of January 2012, will establish the Common Economic Zone. According to the Constitutive Declaration, the main aim of the agreement is “to guarantee the participating countries the free movement of goods, services, financial and human capital across their borders.”

January–February 2011

Over two months prior to the Russian “militia” being renamed “police,” Moscow faction of Voina (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and others) stage several actions etitled KISS A COP(ESSAY). The group’s female activists ran “training sessions on aggressive kissing aimed at “Grey Women,” as they call policewomen, intending to help liberate them from militia complexes.

19 January 2011

A massive anti-fascist demonstration in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova takes place in the streets of Moscow.

24 January 2011

A blast ripps through a crowd gathered in the arrivals area of the international terminal of Moscow’s “Domodedovo” airport, leaving thirty-eight people, the terrorist among them, dead and one hundred seventy injured. The next day Putin makes a statement claiming that the attack had no trace of Chechen involvement. On the 8th of February, a speech by Doku Umarov appears online, in which he proclaims himself responsible for the explosion.

February 2011

The artists Denis Mustafin, Matvey Krylov and Tanya Sushenkova run “Metrosticker,” a campaign in which metro trains are plastered with leaflets advertising a special service whereby paying clients can have federal laws amended and the country’s constitution changed.

10 February 2011

Innovation Prize, the largest nationwide state-backed award, established in 2005, shortlists Voina’s protest A Dick Held Prisoner at the FSB for “The Best Work of Visual Art” and Artem Loskutov’s “Monstrations” for “The Best Regional Project.” At the time, the authors of both protests are involved in criminal proceedings. Despite the Ministry of Culture and the NCCA opposing their decision, the jury names both candidates as winners, announcing the results on the 7th of April. The Voina group does not attend the award ceremony. It later donates the prize money, 400,000 RUB (approximately 12,000 USD) to the human rights organisation Agora, assisting political prisoners.

1 March 2011

The federal law on the police comes into effect, the main document related to the reform of law enforcement bodies proclaimed by President Medvedev as one of his top priorities. The long-awaited law causes general disappointment, the most radical change in it being a new name, “police,” given to the former “militia.” Those criticising the law point out that the work of the police remains as non-transparent and the public control over it as non-existent as before.

March 2011

The Tretyakov Gallery appoints a new director, Irina Lebedeva, who soon announces her plans to establish contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church in the sphere of art.

24 March 2011

President Dmitry Medvedev meets with culture and contemporary art practitioners at the Multimedia Art Museum, which was opened in October 2010. The meeting is organised as part of Medvedev’s unofficial campaign designed to win him support amongst the intelligentsia.

June 2011

At the 54th Venice Biennale (04.06–27.11) the Russian Pavilion presents a joint project by Andrei Monastyrsky and the Collective Actions group, which is curated by Boris Groys. The project was chosen by Stella Kesaeva, the owner of the Stella Art Foundation. In 2010 she was appointed the pavilion’s commissar for 2011, 2013 and 2015 by the Ministry of Culture.

17–20 June 2011

A citizen forum takes place in the Khimki Forest. Known as “Anti-Seliger,” it brought together opposition figures, citizen and ecological activists, including art practitioners (including the artist Anton Nikolaev and curator Tatyana Volkova). The forum was organised in opposition to “Seliger,” the annual youth camp run by the United Russia party.

20 June 2011

Members of the Petr Alexeev Opposition Movement show A Monument to Bourgeoisie, a gilded plaster bust of a pig. The guerrilla monument was installed in the center of St. Petersburg in an area in which residents had been priced out by upmarket offices and luxury restaurants.

25 June 2011

The billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, never involved in politics before, says he is willing to lead the small right-liberal Right Cause party in forthcoming parliamentary elections, to be held in December. The course of the election campaign might have been significantly changed by the presence of Prokhorov and his assets, not least because this scenario could have facilitated the involvement of liberal opposition supporters, previously deprived of any chance of parliamentary representation. In mid-September, however, Prokhorov is suddenly expelled from Right Cause (with the covert assistance of the Kremlin’s political technologists) and thereby loses his opportunity to run for office.

July 2011

“Ostalgia”—a show curated by Massimiliano Gioni opens at New Museum in New York (14.07–25.09). It features the works of more than fifty artists from twenty countries across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

10 July 2011

The cruise boat “Bulgaria” sinks in the Kuibyshev Reservoir in Tatarstan. One hundred and twenty-two of the two hundred passengers die, including many children. An investigation into the causes of the tragedy finds that the company that owned the ship had no transport service licence, and the Bulgaria was in desperate need of repairs.

September 2011

IMPOSSIBLE COMMUNITY(DIALOGUE) (06.09–06.11), exhibition curated by Viktor Misiano, opens in Moscow in the State Museum of Modern Art of the Russian Academy of Art. Its theme is new art’s utopian notion of the creative subject as a collective entity.

24 September 2011

Putin speaks at the congress of the ruling United Russia party about his willingness to run for the office of president in March 2012 and thereby become head of the state for the third time, dashing any hopes liberals might have nurtured for Dmitry Medvedev.

September 2011

The 4TH MOSCOW BIENNALE OF CONTEMPORARY ART(DIALOGUE) (23.09–30.10), entitled “Rewriting Worlds” and curated by Peter Weibel, presents international art with an emphasis on interactive and computer technology. It is shown on the 3rd floor of TsUM, as well as in the Artplay design center (formerly the Manometer factory). The biennale’s independent programme features a discussion project AUDITORIUM MOSCOW. A SKETCH FOR A PUBLIC SPACE(DIALOGUE) (16.09–16.10). It is implemented in collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, and sees people discussing a lack of space for political and public discussions in Moscow. Another key event from the same period is MEDIA IMPACT(DIALOGUE) (24.09–10.10) an international festival of activist art curated by Tatyana Volkova, which shows works by the “Moscow fraction” of Voina. The most controversial of the featured projects is a cluster of exhibitions held at the so-called ART HOUSE SQUAT FORUM(DIALOGUE) (24.09–22.10), an uncompleted luxury residential development: the artists and curators were supposed to infuse it with a squat-like atmosphere of “creativity.” Some artists boycotted the project, others accused them of being inconsistent.

6 September 2011

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister ALEXEY KUDRIN(DIALOGUE) suddenly resigns after eleven years at his post. Kudrin is widely regarded as the main figure behind the economic policies of Putin’s Russia and a proponent of budget economy.

30 September 2011

The second forum of citizen activists, “The Last Autumn,” opens near Moscow, following in the footsteps of the summer event “Anti-Seliger.” Petr Verzilov is one of the organisers.

October 2011

Prosecution withdraws its CASE AGAINST NIKOLAEV AND VOROTNIKOV(ESSAY), protesters involved in Coup d’Etat, on the grounds of “the absence of a criminal offence.”

15 October 2011

A meeting is held between the outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev and Russia’s creativeintelligentsia. Several figures from the art world are also invited, including a number ofARTISTS(DIALOGUE).

October 2011

PUSSY RIOT(ESSAY) (IMAGE) begins activities, its female members remaining anonymous. The activists take over Moscow’s public spaces—metro stations, trolley-bus roofs, trendy shops and bars—in order to perform “concerts” in the style of punk rock gigs. The lyrics of their song “Liberate the Cobbles” anticipate the forthcoming December demonstrations in Moscow: “The air of Egypt is good for your lungs/Make the Red Square into Tahrir/Spend a wild day among strong women/Look for a crowbar on your balcony, liberate the cobbles.”

November 2011

Perm hosts the first national forum for the members of “Cultural Alliance,” a union of seven Russian regions. The idea of the forum belongs to Marat Guelman, the head of the PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art. He launched the CULTURAL ALLIANCE(ESSAY) in the summer of 2010 as a project run by the United Russia party, designed to promote high-quality cultural activities as well as to contribute to the country’s positive image abroad.

4 November 2011

Most of Russia’s big cities saw a series of demonstrations held under the umbrella name of Russian March. Officially recognised in 2005 as a national holiday, the NATIONAL UNITY DAY(ESSAY)