Blue Noses

OVERVIEWEssays on Artist
    Arseny Sergeyev

                       From “You’re Not in Moscow Here”

“….The Blue Noses group (Vyacheslav Mizin and Alexander Shaburov), the most prolific artists of the gallery-critical discourse, have elaborated a sophisticated strategy of ‘selling Russia and Russian things’ as something that is backward and wild with a rustle of caricature threats justifying the mistrust and caution of the West, formed by the propaganda of the Cold War. (Since the annexation of Crimea, this strategy is used successfully by the Russian state both in the international political arena and in manipulating public opinion domestically.) Their popular series of groups with ‘little Russian muzhiks’ (Inventory of the Revolution and NATO, Welcome) involves characters in hats with earflaps and vatniki solving all problems with a single method—raising them with a pitchfork or chopping them with an axe.

Their artistic strategy for the domestic market consists of campaigns ‘made of jokes’ synchronously with current Russian politics and mass culture—’In the paper in the morning, a joke in the evening.’ They have developed an inimitable signature and format, despite working primarily in media that resist individualizing—photography and video. The artists’ personal interests help. Alexander Shaburov is a tireless collector of all sorts of kitsch and is an encyclopedist who created vast collections of images structured by various absurdist methods. Vyacheslav Mizin has an acutely ironical sense for radical artistic gestures and a desperate readiness to take the gesture to extreme absurdity. Their most characteristic works of this type are the quasi TV series Two Against the Mafia and If I Was Harry Potter and the photo series At the Bottom. The Fear of Ending Up in the Trash.

Conceptually, all their gags are emphatically primitive gags, created by primitive means. One of their most famous video works is called Video on the Knee. Structurally, the group’s typical product is a rebus or a visual pun made intentionally carelessly with whatever material is at hand (kitsch objects from Shaburov’s collection, toys, kitchen dishes, panty liners, silhouettes cut out of pictures, products in recognizable packaging, and so on) and always in ‘ordinary’ living conditions. For example, the SEX ART series is shot in the kitchen of a rented apartment, the model is posed on a table that has not been cleared after dinner.

Lowbrow humor and the lumpen aesthetic are the trademark features of the Blue Noses’ style. In the series New Yurodivye [Holy Fools] the artists methodically pose in their underwear in front of Moscow churches, and in Kitchen Suprematism enthusiastically reduce the visionary passions of Kazimir Malevich to circles of sausage, rectangles of black bread, and triangles of cheese.

Mizin and Shaburov are undisputed masters of literalness and reductionism. The large-scale video installation Little People demonstrates the surrealistic banality of the opinions of the ‘enlightened Russian class’ about ‘the people and the country.’ On the bottoms of cardboard boxes Lenin continually rolls in his grave, while naked people ‘eat, crap, fuck,’ endlessly and pointlessly protesting, bury their past, have conflicts and express xenophobia.

Most of the works by Blue Noses has a clear criminal nuance echoing prison camp culture. For example the Mask Show series offers the viewer a retelling of international politics and culture in the form of amateur porn and in criminal formulations (‘understandings’) of homosexual dominance-submission typical of drunken conversations of the lumpen, semi-criminal public. The photographs of half-naked, flabby characters wearing the masks of major political figures and iconic cultural celebrities of the twentieth century quite clearly illustrate the disposition of power and success—who got a blow job and who got fucked in the ass.

The video charades and low-tech clowning are the Blue Noses’ method of artistic commentary.”