2017 marked the centenary of the Russian Revolution and London commemorates the event with different galleries exhibiting Russian art.
The representations allude to, and never go as far as showing, the reckless violence and bloodshed, the inexorable executions and the consequent unforgiving long-lasting dictatorships that populate the chapters of Western history books. Infamy, shame and not fame surround the uprising of Communism. In Western narrative Trotsky is not heroic; Stalin is not blessed with the same Rock’n’Roll and photogenic flair as cigar-smoking Che Guevara, and no modern study of Economics romanticises on the once so promising Perestroika…
Usually insurgencies and revolts, despite their inherent ferocity, are magnanimously seen as cool and underground. But this one is not.
It is a rather unpopular cultural perception to give the backdrop for Saatchi to stage Inside Pussy Riot by Les Enfants Terribles – whilst Tate Modern is honouring the occasion with its Red Star Over Russia.
Both galleries present a revolution on Russian soil, although against different regimes.
Inside Pussy Riot is a post-modern insertion of a rebellious act, such as the band itself, that criticises the very pillars established by the conventions of what we celebrate today as the Revolution of 1917. Amongst many images, it shows the epistolary exchange of words of wisdom on freedom, peace and democracy shared by Pussyrioter Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Zizek, which is, I think, the most memorable bit of the show. Despite the criticism around Pussy Riot, a self-declared feminist act with a name that is more reminiscent of some Russ Mayer movie than some Simone DeBeauvoir piece, I think Saatchi’s anachronistic approach is perhaps the most original.
Red Star Over Russia has a different appeal. It kind of shows it like it is, or like it was shown. Propaganda reigns in the Tate Modern halls. Its display is colourful, eye-catching and stark just as Mother Russia wanted it to be. Gazing at the posters, photos and paintings you really are transmitted a sort of enthusiasm and you feel a certain togetherness in the “building” of something… At first, I thought looking at the propagandist images with the maturity and hindsight of a post-soviet conscience may have deprived them of their charm. But not so. The pictures have gained an eeriness and they manage to give a sense of unsettlement in contrast with their clear and direct messages. They are worth seeing … and it is worth remembering.
*Unfortunately Inside Pussy Riot only showed at Saatchi for a month – with an unperestroik charge of £35 per ticket…