art Europe

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism and Pussy Riot at Saatchi Gallery, London. Exhibition preview

You’ll either walk out of Art Riot fuelled with passion ready to make your own artistic political statement, or you’ll leave feeling inadequate that you’ve never been brave enough to truly stand up for what is right. I felt the latter. See the thing is, the ideas, concepts, creativity and practical action carried out by the three major artists and their peers who are taking part in the new Saatchi Gallery exhibition ‘Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism’ are so impressive, it’s mind-blowing – literally.

Their sheer passion and commitment to make a stand against politics, authority, oppressors, power, laws and rules makes you feel in awe of their wisdom. You on the other hand are possibly thinking about doing something ‘radical’ but will so easily find ways of talking yourself out of it, which is what makes these artists such important people.

Educational and thought-provoking, the exhibition is dedicated to 25 years of Russian Art Protest, so it isn’t something you’ll typically come across. It’s a rare experience to enter into such a specific world. All the installations on display make perfect sense when you consider their intentions, but they are hard to digest because they are so different to the realities most of us witness on a typical day.

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Pussy Riot performing ‘Mother of God, Drive Putin Away’

Pussy Riot, are likely to be the most recognisable of the artists involved after the international media coverage the feminist punk rock band received after two of their members were jailed for two years after the group performed at a cathedral. Their story is documented in the film ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’ and now it’s become even more vivid with ‘Inside Pussy Riot’, a programme of live immersive performance which accompanies the exhibition. Not much has been revealed about the experience, I didn’t get to see it when I visited, but it’s supposed to make you feel as though you are inside a Russian prison. Which judging by banners on display in the exhibition is not a positive experience.

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Portrait of Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Vibrant and colourful (just like their signature balaclavas) the work on display is bold and beautiful and features huge portraits, statues and even the women turned into Russian dolls.

Maria, one of the two members of Pussy Riot who was jailed, was in attendance at the preview.

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Maria Alyokhina, Pussy Riot

Elsewhere there’s a gallery dedicated to Oleg Kulik, who was also at the preview I attended.

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Oleg Kulik at London preview of Art Riot

Oleg is considered one of the most controversial artists in Russia and though he does sculptures and illustrations, it’s live performance art in which he really excels in pushing boundaries. Once of his most iconic works is where he became a man-dog for five years. During this time he behaved like a dog in public crawling around naked, barking and even living as a dog in a cage. The exhibition showcases extraordinary footage of him being patted on the head by a police officer and even having other dogs bark at him. It sounds comedic yet it isn’t.

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Artist: Pyotr Pavlensky and his living art ‘Seam’

Another gallery is dedicated to Pyotr Pavlensky who takes his art to the extreme of extreme; from sewing his mouth shut to rolling naked in barbed wire through to his most terrifying works, ‘Threat’ where he set alight the HQ of the Russian Security Services while inviting the media to observe and play a role in the ‘artistic performance.’ His says: ‘My aim is to suck the authorities into my art and deprive them at least temporarily, of the ability to control event.’ WOW. That is some serious thought out plan and with precision he has stayed true to his intentions. This section of the exhibition is scarily dark and atmospheric and features audio accounts of conversations he’s had with different authorities, again building them into his art.

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AES+F’s installation The Islamic Project

Other sections include a room filled with what seems like beautiful quilts but are in fact a visualisation of Western fears about Islam. Displayed to feel like a Bedouin tent it’s filled with handmade carpets where meditation is encouraged. There’s plenty more too but it’s not my intention to give it all way. Art Riot features anecdotes and stories that you may not hear about, may not affect your day-to-day life but have universal importance. It opened my eyes to a side of art I realised I knew nothing about so I am happy I visited.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism runs 16 Nov – 31 December 2017
Inside Pussy Riot (immersive theatre experience) runs until 24 December 2017

Images by CraftandTravel and Saatchi Gallery PR

www.saatchigallery.com

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