Staunton, April 27 – Since 2004, Novosbirsk artist and activist Artem Loskutov has been organizing on May Day a “Monstration” in which people march through the streets of his city with absurd slogans that in the minds of many “are beginning to truly describe reality,” according to a Radio Liberty report.
But Loskutov faces two new challenges, the station’s Valentin Baryshnikov says on the basis of an interview with him. On the other hand, the mayor wants to keep those with such slogans from marching in the city center. And on the other, the possibilities for absurdity are so great that Loskutov has not yet selected his own (svoboda.org/content/article/26978811.html).
The artist says that the mayor has proposed that he move the Monstration from the center to the embankment of the Ob, near “the monument to Nicholas II, which we don’t have in the city. There is a monument to Alexander III,” however, and perhaps that is what the mayor was referring to, another case of the confusion of reality and absurdity.
Because he has been focusing on these organizational questions, Loskutov says, he hasn’t come up with his personal slogan yet. Recent events in Novosibirsk, including the Tannhauser scandal, provide plenty of possibilities. He notes that some of the slogans protesters carried about that opera could easily appear on Monstration signs.
But of course, there is always the war in Ukraine just as there was last year, the artist continues. Last year, with the “Crimea is Ours” propaganda firestorm, it was impossible not to take note of it by carrying a sign that “Hell is Ours” – something he says that was “a little prophetic, not only about Crimea but also about Hell.”
When he first organized such marches a decade ago, Russia was a different country, and the Monstrations were almost entirely happy because people felt that they were living in kind of “stagnation” in which nothing much was happening and they had not yet been subjected to mind-altering propaganda. Now things are different – at least in some respects.
One year, Loskutov says, marchers carried a sign that simply said “Anti-Globalist Slogan” and nothing else. Another placard read “A Slogan calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order.” The police wanted to know what that meant and whether it was in fact a threat to the Russian state.
These are the games which Russians have to play, Loskutov says. “We live in Novosibirsk in a kind of vacuum, far from events, from from Moscow, far from those with whom it would be possible to speak. We cannot appeal to politicians and we cannot demand anything from them.” The only possible response is an ironic one.
Loskutov says he was prompted to launch the Monstration project after attending a real May Day demonstration. The slogans “were absurd but were trying to look real.” One slogan involved the shoe factory of a man who wanted a political career; all that was on his placards was a picture of his brand symbol.
Other posters were even more absurd, he continues. The KPRF had signs declaring that “the only force which can oppose the fascists, the West and liberals is the Soviet people,” a true absurdity “because there is no Soviet people.” Another was from a nightclub and promised “100 grams” of vodka to all who came.
There were even placards with slogans from strip clubs. One simply had pictures and was entitled “Capitulation.” Apparently, on May 9, Loskutov says, “the strippers will capitulate before someone or other.”
He says that he cannot escape from “the sense that I live in an absurd world” and that “the ‘Monstration’ is more honest and adequate” than the official slogans. “We do not conceal that we want to achieve something. We simply register the facts and serve as a litmus test of our society.”
Monstration slogans sometimes pass into the hands of others. Several years ago, during the height of anti-Putin demonstrations, one appeared in Moscow and other cities declaring “You do not even represent us,” a declaration directed at deputies “who do not represent anyone” and an indication of how cut off politicians are from society.
Loskutov says he agrees with Baryshnikov’s formulation that “now absurd posters are an incarnation of good sense and posters which show reality are a complete absurdity.” He suggests that the Monstration is “a living phenomenon. It changes. Each year we begin with one desire and it is transformed” by events.
That is a stark contrast, he suggests, with the official marches on May Day which use the same posters year after year and thus show themselves to be “cut off from life.”