Art Of Post-Soviet Actionism Explored At Saatchi Gallery

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism is perhaps the most interesting and relevant exhibition and performance event mounted at The Saatchi Gallery since its launch in Chelsea in 2008.

The show is devoted to Post-Soviet Union protest art over the past 25 years. This is the first time artists Pussy Riot, Pyotr Pavlensky along with Oleg Kulik, Blue Noses Art Group, Arsen Savadov, AES + F and Vasily Slonov have exhibited together outside Russia, contextualising them as a viable art movement.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism explores issues such as challenges to individual freedom of expression

The exhibition is complemented by the award-winning theatre group Les Enfant Terribles who are presenting Inside Pussy Riot, an immersive theatre experience that includes an audio performance by founding Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

The interactive performance is first rate. It is a cross between the London Dungeon and a concentration camp. Without giving too much away, the experience kicks off when you are accused of being a subversive. A group of 14 participants are processed through a kangaroo court then incarcerated in a Siberian gulag. This forced labour camp recreates a culture of menial tasks and degrading treatment by the guards. The exercise yard is next where you are put through a token Russian workout reminding me of the Green Goddess arobics of the 1980s. The final destination locks you up in a darkened  confessional box where you listen to a member of Pussy Riot ranting about human rights abuses and the power of protest. All of this sounds gruelling, but it isn’t overly sanctimonious and earnest. It does have a humourous side to it. The staging is partly Tim Burtonesque and the actors were conjured out of a theatrical S&M dungeon. – A winner!

Inside Pussy Riot

Inside Pussy Riot

With exhibitions internationally taking place to mark 100 years since the Russian Revolution, Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism explores issues such as challenges to individual freedom of expression in the face of both political ideology and religion. While it does not have direct links to the Revolution, many of the problems that artists face in Russia today are comparable to those in 1917 such as persisting government censorship and police intervention.

Oleg Kulik, an artist virtually unknown in the West presents photos and videos from his Mad Dog series. This consists of a stocky naked man ( Mr Kulik himself) on a dog lead jumping at a gathered crowd or mounting cars and aggressively shouting. It is a rather unnerving work which certainly creates tension. He is known for his animal performances which create a symbolic set of parameters to define the environment which he inhabits in the persona of a dog and then devises a series of actions that unfold as a response. The artist describes the dialogue within his practice as “a conscious falling out of the human horizon” which places him on hands and knees. He intends to describe what he sees as a crisis of contemporary culture, a result of an overly refined cultural language which creates barriers between individuals. Thus, he simplifies his performance language to half of the basic emotional vocabulary of a domestic animal.

The show also features work by artists including Blue Noses Art Group, Arsen Savadov, AES + F, Vasily Slonov, displaying various genres and types of protest art, from posters and slogans to video art, staged photography and performances. These practices are in response to a crisis where artists face shrinking freedom yet have an even more urgent need for expression.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism raises crucial questions about artistic freedom, exploring what it means to be an artist in the Post-Soviet Union today. Curated by Marat Guelman, it marks the fourth exhibition presented by the Tsukanov Family Foundation in partnership with Saatchi Gallery.

Inside Pussy Riot, is an immersive theatre experience. The production complements the exhibition and tells the story of Pussy Riot’s arrest and imprisonment following their 2012 Punk performance inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Two of the group’s members Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova were convicted of “hooliganism” and sentenced to 2 years in a labour colony, rising to worldwide notoriety as a result and becoming a symbol of defiance. The performance was paid for through crowdfunding.

Words: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2017 Top Photo: Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery Photo: Kenny Mathieson Photo 2 Inside Pussy Riot P C Robinson © Artlyst 2017

Inside Pussy Riot runs from Tuesday 14th November – Sunday 24th December and tickets are priced from £21.50. For more information and to book tickets visit

Tsukanov Family Foundation present ART RIOT: POST-SOVIET ACTIONISM 16 November – 31 December 2017

Les Enfant Terribles present INSIDE PUSSY RIOT 14 November – 24 December 2017

Visit Saatchi Gallery Here

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