Kevin M.F. Platt. Poetry As Mobilizational Tool, 3.0

Conceptual text and public performance have deep roots in the Russian tradition of politically relevant artistic practices, certainly reaching back to the text-based actions of the Soviet dissident and alternative art scenes of the 1960s and 1970s: think, for instance, of the conceptually brilliant, yet simple poster of A. Esenin-Volpin for the first glasnost’ meeting in 1965, demanding “Уважайте Советскую Конституцию”; or of the alternative art happenings of A. Monastyrskii’s group in the 1970s. Arguably, these traditions extend back to radical political poster art of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. One of the most recent chapters of the Russian story of conceptually charged and political relevant texts in public has been written by the Laboratory of Poetic Actionism in St. Petersburg, where Pavel Arseniev and his colleagues have been applying the lessons of earlier practices of conceptual textual inscription in public spaces to the production of video poetry, disseminated via electronic media. Many of Arseniev’s actions rely specifically on the traditions of earlier artistic interventions into political discourse. The result of Arseniev’s work are doubly and sometimes triply remediated incursions of conceptual texts in public spaces in which historically charged texts are reinserted into the cityscape and then recorded and disseminated in digital form — a conceptual-art version of augmented reality. How do these practices respond to the conditions of a “closed society,” in which political mobilization is becoming increasingly difficult, risky and rare? How does this revision of the practices of publicly inscribed and performed conceptual text alter the performative impact of the text on audiences, who are removed from tactile and spatial actuality of the artwork, but included in a broader, dispersed audience via Internet dissemination? Finally, how do Arseniev and his undertakings not only respond to the preceding tradition, but contribute to the reconfiguration of the history of the Soviet era, in opposition to official and mainstream revisions of history, in which artists like Monastyrskii, I. Kabakov and others are more and more commonly and completely reduced to the status of art commodities? In this paper I will analyze several examples of this form of action based video-poetry in terms of aesthetic impact, mobilization potential, and political intervention in historical traditions.