Blue Noses

Period: 1999 to present
List of representatives:
Alexander Shaburov
Vyacheslav Mizin

In the late 1990s, young Siberians read in the national press about the latest thing in contemporary art – actionism. All you had to do was take off your clothes and the next day you would be on the front pages of all the newspapers. Resolving to repeat this success, Vyacheslav Mizin held several radical performances. He spat in his own face, drew a self-portrait in blood, took a shower in urine and crunched on a light bulb. None of this is as naïve as it might at first appear. While the Moscow actionists believed that they were shaking the world’s foundations, back in Siberia they already suspected that capitalism and the media were capable of distorting any radical gesture.

In 1999, a group of artists (Vyacheslav MizinAlexander Shaburov, Konstantin Skotnikov, Dmitry Bulnygin and photographer Yevgeny Ivanov) descended into an abandoned bunker in Novosibirsk to make a video recording of a series of short performances, acquiring the name of the Blue Noses. Back then, they still did not know that their props would evolve into their own name. For some time, they were also known as the Siberian Group. The blue noses of Russian clowns or the blue noses of drunkards, frozen in the Siberian frosts wearing quilted jackets and caps with ear-flaps, hiding in a bomb shelter in order to engage in art, became a successful metaphor. Fourteen short performances, funny and touching, presented episodes from the lives of these artists, lost in the expanses of Russia and telling, in the middle of nowhere, in the territorial and economic “underground,” what performance and video art are in contemporary art. This double marginality unexpectedly gave rise to the myth of the group’s populism.

The populism of the Blue Noses is one of the most widespread myths surrounding the group. Critics claim that the Blue Noses speculate on such national stereotypes as alcoholism, nationalism and sexism. Their supporters say that they criticise these stereotypes by taking them to the point of complete senselessness. The position of the members of the group themselves is that they create art comprehensible to “pioneers and pensioners” (the words of Vyacheslav Mizin). They address such popular genres as video thrillers, television news and reality shows, parodying not so much individual genres as the mass-media environment as a whole. In the Blue Noses reality show – Everything You Always Wanted to See on Television But Were Afraid To Ask (2003) – “little people” (the artists and their friends) swarm at the bottom of cardboard boxes, caught in a neverending circle of daily pleasure from having sex, eating food and defecating. The box incarnates the innermost fantasies of the viewers of a reality show – being able to look into a prepared “box” that is a house without the roof.

In the Two against the Mob series of video gags (2003), Blue Noses parody the popular Russian police serials. The main heroes, played by Alexander Shaburov and Vyacheslav Mizin, engage in senseless actions, letting off fireworks and running across rooftops. In The Miracles of Harry PotterAlexander Shaburov assumes the role of Harry Potter and demonstrates various forms of hocus-pocus, ranging from cloning Dolly the toy sheep to flying on a broomstick and extirpating all sins in one minute. The whole cud of the mass media is presented without any shiny wrapping – poor, funny, pitiful and, at the same time, evoking sympathy. The populist artistic tongue of the Blue Noses is not so much based on creating comprehensible art, as going beyond the bounds of art into everyday life. An everyday life that only becomes visible in transitional periods and to which the “little man” clings desperately when everything around him collapses. Living the life of the “little man”, the artists call themselves the New Peredvizhniki, claiming that in their works “not the humour, but the peeled wallpaper in the background becomes a metaphor for life on the ruins of an empire” (Alexander Shaburov).

The second myth linked to the Blue Noses is the myth of the national character of the group. They are usually presented as a Siberian group or as Siberian punks – politically incorrect and playing with the most inadmissible stereotypes. In the Props for Revolutions series (2003), Vyacheslav Mizin and Konstantin Skotnikov wear quilted jackets, caps with ear-flaps and brutal facial expressions. Wielding axes and pitchforks, they attack advertising billboards depicting such “Western contagions” as photographs of long-legged models in furs or ads for Adidas. They perform the role of spontaneous anti-globalists, simultaneously offering to create a pseudo-office selling props for revolutions and organizing globalist and anti-globalist tours.

In one of the 25 Short Performances about Globalization (2002), Vyacheslav Mizin demonstrates the action of the “Americaniser” on the downcast Alexander Shaburov, who does not want to say that he is OK until his mouth is mechanically stretched out into a broad American grin with the help of a stick and a piece of string. This video gag is reminiscent of the force-feeding of Charlie Chaplin in City Lights. The Blue Noses are often compared to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Marx brothers. Their black humour is based on the inconveniences of modern culture and the deconstruction of its myths and heroes. Political stars, popular culture and avant-garde icons are the material of the Blue Noses, who translate the “high” into the “low”. In the Kitchen Suprematism series (2005), Suprematist compositions are presented in the form of indigent still-lifes composed of boiled sausage meat and bread. High art is a pensioner recalling his achievements in the fumes of a communal kitchen.

The third myth actively encouraged by the Blue Noses is the idiotic nature of their art, based on the theory of “artistic imbecility” and the creation of the “works of morons” (the words of Vyacheslav Mizin) and on the senseless juxtaposition of incompatible things. An idiot is someone who differs from everyone else, not discerning art from life. The erosion of the borders between art and life is a feature of the avant-garde. But the avant-garde tends to engage in affirmative projects, whereas destructive projects are more typical of the Blue Noses. The idiot is a holy fool. The artists are the New Holy Fools (1999) – a troika of idiots (Mizin, Skotnikov and Shaburov) photographed in the snow, wearing only their underpants, against the Moscow churches. The artists are idiots who are allowed to criticise the modern social order and all the terrible myths of Russian reality. The Blue Noses fire rockets from their trousers and carry upside-down television sets backwards and forwards. There are no illusions in their works; nothing is concealed. On the contrary, everything is flaunted. Art is the discharging of daily needs, an idiotic activity, only no more idiotic than life itself.

The art of the Blue Noses can be related as a short anecdote or linked to the traditions of Dadaism and Mikhail Larionov’s “everythingism” (vsyochestvo). First and foremost, however, it addresses the tradition of the “little man”, surviving in the face of all cataclysms. The most stoic hero of modernity, naively believing that everyone can be made happy in an instant, even if he is defeated in this time after time. This failure, presented as one of the life principles of their oeuvre, while we are all doomed to the effectiveness of production and composition, is what always makes the art of the Blue Noses so up-to-date and exciting.

The historical concept of Dadaism transformed the artistic profession into deliberate idiocy. This strategy is actively developed today, both in national and (particularly) international fine art. This applies to the “double game” played by artists. Behind the masks of clowns and fools lie bitter critics of both the prevalent ideology and the philistine mind, while external imitation is rolled out as a victory. The works of Vyacheslav Mizin and Alexander Shaburov represent a full-scale deconstruction of the entire produce of the film industry and a denunciation of the temptation and deception of the moving pictures filling our everyday reality, beginning with TV advertisements and ending with “non-commercial” European intellectual cinema. Mizin and Shaburov are, in essence, Nietzschean heroes, battling against modern morals and the indigestible cocktail of jingoism, gender fanaticism and “high-tech” occultism.

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