AR Hunter. The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia. / Art Group Yav, Photo: Art Group Yav

State of the Art(ist) – Research

Ars Electronica (AT), Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AT)

Launched as a joint project of Ars Electronica and the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2022, State of the Art(ist) sets a thematic focus each year.

In 2022, Ukrainian artists in need were not only the starting point for the initiation of the entire project, they were also the central focus of the Open Call. The project initiators decided to concentrate on “What is Risk?” in line with the principle of being an initiative for artists in need from all over the world.
Out of respect for Ukrainian participants of the State of Art(ist) Award, no Russian projects should stand next to a Ukrainian winner. However, it should always be possible to engage with the content of system-critical, oppositional art from Russia or Belarus. As a result, the idea for research on the topic of “What is Risk?” was born in order to showcase artists advocating for democracy and peace from the two aforementioned countries as a separate endeavor outside of the State of the Art(ist) Award.

The research addresses three topics: Advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, queer life and religion; critical street art and documentary photography across journalism; art and activism.
In each of these areas, activists and artists in Russia and Belarus are acutely endangered at present.

Queer Crucession, Alisa Verbina

Video installation consisting of a documentary video (2018) and a video reworked by AI (2023).

The work centers on a real personality, that of St. Petersburg priest Alexander, a cleric who holds a unique position in the LGTBQ+ community of St. Petersburg and the clergy of Russia.
Alisa Verbina plays with the strategies of modern Russian propaganda in her work, using their own argumentation strategies, but at the same time reversing the direction of the same argumentation. She sets out to beat and expose the system with its own weapons. Here are two examples:

  1. Contradictory legislation: In most authoritarian regimes, repressive behavior is often hidden in deliberately contradictory legislation. Article 6.21 of the Russian Criminal Code prohibits any promotion of non-traditional relations. The artist contrasts this paragraph with Article 148 of the Russian Criminal Code, also enacted under Putin, which criminalizes hurting the feelings of the faithful. This offense was introduced in 2012 and formed the basis for the conviction of the punk group Pussy Riot for holding a prayer for an end to the Russian president’s term in office. The example of the priest Alexander shows the contradictory nature of the two articles mentioned. The faithful priest who stands up for the protection of the LGTBQ+ community on the grounds of his religious conviction should be protected by Article 148, which criminalizes the violation of religious feelings. Instead, he is arrested for the same cause under Article 6.21 of the same Penal Code, which proves to the artist to be nothing more than state-encouraged arbitrariness in the field of legislation.
  2. Historicity – Queer Crucession draws a historical line from the Christianization of Russia by Kiever Rus through Bloody Sunday 1905, the first Russian revolution of labor against the Tsarist state put down by force of arms, led by priest Georgi Gapon to Queer Crucession 2018 with participation of LGTBQ+ priest Alexander, which ended with a breakup and numerous arrests, including that of the priest.

In her AI-powered video, images of a real protest for the rights of LGTBQ+ persons from 2018 merge with artificially generated modifications of bygone eras.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia, YAV Art Group, 2015 – 2021

Street art, graffiti, application

The Bridge, YAV Art Group, 2022

Video documentation of the performance of the same name

Since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea, YAV has created over 150 system-critical artistic works in public space, the majority of them in Russia. By its own account, YAV is oriented toward ideals of democracy, opposition to war, opposition, science and ecology. The artists’ group continues to work in Russia despite massive, repeated attempts at intimidation, with the goal that their art in public space will make people think. In the face of persecution by police authorities, both artists had to realize their works outside Russia in virtual space.

The work The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia was created from 2015 to 2021. With the help of an app, viewers can decode images of Matryoshka dolls placed in public spaces and reveal the sins of the Russian state.

The second work of the artist duo is called Bridge and was created as a reaction to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
The short video documents an intervention on the Day of Unity of Russia, in which two brothers stand at opposite ends of a bridge before the bridge between them is set on fire and burns down.

A third part of the State of the Art(ist) research was published as an article in the September issue of the art magazine EIKON, coordinated with the dates of the Ars Electronica Festival.
It presents two photographers, Alyona Malkovskaya and Lesia Pcholka, whose documentary work has often exposed them to risks of arrest and repression, and yet they have continued. Alyona Malkovskaya’s photographs of everyday Russian political life can regularly be seen as footage for international reporting, while Lesia Pcholka works steadily on her visual archive of Belarusian history and contemporary events. Both create and preserve lasting images of what is happening in their countries and, moreover, are willing to take personal risks to do so.

Research & Text: Simon Mraz

  • AR Hunter. The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia.

    AR Hunter. The Seven Deadly Sins of Russia.

    Art Group Yav – Anastasya Vladychkina (RU), Alexander Voronin (RU)

    The project is the creation of the AR Hunter app to bypass censorship and show oppositional street art. The works represent the Seven Deadly Sins of Russia in the form of matryoshkas, symbolizing the problems of Russian power. The project promotes creative freedom and makes citizens think about what is happening in the country.

  • Queer Crucession

    Queer Crucession

    Alisa Verbina (RU)

    By evoking the sensation of encountering a “Total Other” and embracing the numinous experience, Queer Crucession serves as a creative pursuit to unite individuals from various backgrounds and political views.The project directly confronts a prominent issue in modern Russian society – the absence of solidarity.