Irina Sirotkina

Costume as Truth and as a New Mythology: Dressed Performances of Perestroika

Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 2018 V. 22 (2)
The paper was first presented at the conference “Lye as a Factor of Social Life” (Sait-Petersburg, 27-29 May 2016) and developed for the festival “Island 91” (Moscow, Museon, 20 August 2016). I thank my informants Evgeniya Andrianova, Mila Vvedenskaya, Georgy Litichevsky, Aleksandr Marov and Dmitry Fedotov. My warm gratitude goes to Lyudmila Alyabieva, for the invitation to present the paper, and to Roger Smith, for polishing my English.
Clothes can cover, hide and clothe, but they can also denude, unveil and demonstrate. This is especially true of clothes created in protest, in negation of something, that is, of alternative fashion. A nearly global phenomenon, alternative fashion is closely connected with radical social groups and practices, including artistic ones. By opposing itself to the establishment, the conventions and rules of which it denies as false, alternative fashion has an ambition to speak on behalf of the truth. In the former Soviet Union, rock-musicians, hippies, punks and other subcultures were deeply marginal and their attire shocked the general public. Dressed performances of alternative fashion and life style became possible only in mid-1980s, when Gorbachev’s Perestroika began. They flourished in post-Soviet Russia for about a decade before transforming themselves in either popular entertainment for the rich or a new mythology.

Key words: alternative fashion, performance art, Soviet Union, carnival, Perestroika
When Vivienne Westwood came to the Soviet Union in 1989, she declared that «in the country of sickle and hammer fashion does not and cannot exist» (Alternative fashion 2011: 47). To her surprise, the punk designer saw in Moscow, at the British Fashion Week, a collection of her Russian colleague, Katya Filippova. Filippova invented a style, «tsarism» and the image of the «punk tsarina in exile». One can imagine that in the Soviet Union references to both «punks» and «the tsars» were not welcome. Yet, even in the country of sickle and hammer, actors, musicians and other performers needed to dress up for the stage. Their costumes were often improvised from what they had to hand, using Soviet-produced materials and symbols. This may be ssen as the beginning of alternative fashion. At times professional designers helped them with their outfits. Irina Afonina, for instance, worked at the state-supported All-Union Fashion House, but she also made dresses for rock-musicians and after Perestrioka produced one of the first collections of alternative fashion ironically using Soviet symbols and the Red Army uniform (Alternative fashion 2011: 14). In the USSR, alternative fashion associated itself the opposition to the stagnated regime, well-known for its lies and hypocrisy, and its ambition therefore was to be on the side of truth and to reveal the falseness of Soviet officialdom.
The Stiliagi and the Hooligans
The Stilyagi (from stil', style) was a name for Soviet dandies (Vainshtein 2005) who challenged Soviet conventions of simple and practical dress by dressing themselves up and being always in style. In a recent film by Valery Todorovsky with the same name, there is an episode which takes place in a university lecture amphitheatre full of students all dressed in identical grey clothes. Suddenly the doors open and the principal character, a dandy, appears. The sound track for the episode is a song, «Locked by the Same Chain», by a Perestroika rock-group, Nautilus Pompilius. The song amplifies the contrast between everybody's triste unifrom and the stylish costume of the main character. Soviet Stilyagi were not alone: alternative youth fashion everywhere caused trouble and sometimes repression (Vainshtein 2005: 534). Youngsters worldwide provoked public criticism by their alternative appearance, in which they mixed high and low style and ironised clichés.The disapproval could vary from the criticism of aggressive babushkas (grannies) sitting on a bench by the entrance door of a communal appartment block, to repressive measures such as being expelled from university or drafted into the army.

«Hooligans of the 1980s», a research and publication project of Misha Buster, is about the youth subcultures in the decade just before and after Perestroika. In 2011, Buster co-curated an exhibition «Alternative Fashion Before Glossies, 1985-1995» at the Museum of Contemporary Art Garage. A former «hooligan», Buster, bore witness: alternative faishion «was wild and untamed, flaring up suddenly like a chemical reaction among the various underground creative groups who had claimed a place on the rock scene, in squats and on official stages with a lightning speed (Alternative Fashion 2011: 5). Another participant of the underground artistic movement, Georgy Litichevsky, claims that alternative fashion was larger then dress and larger than traditional fashion. He termed it «superfashion»; his essay on the subject is titled «The System of Superfashion» – obviously a play on Roland Barthes' book. In Litichevsky's view, «the alternative costume before the 1980s is non-dress, and after the 1980s it is an abundant 'superdress', oversized (in oversize clothes one looks an orhaned child in adult's attire), excentric, exotic, opposing everyday life» (Litichevsky 1996: 25).

Vivienne Westwood's words about the absence of fashion in the Soviet Union remind us of a Perestroika anecdote, when a participant in a TV talk-show claimed that «there was no sex in the Soviet Union». Continuing in the same vein, one might say that in the USSR there was no performance art. The term «performance» was a neologism – it is absent in the 1984 Russian Dictionary in 4 volumes. Its appearance coincided with the first happenings and performances by conceptual artists, like the Moscow group «Kollektivnye Deistviya» («Collective Action») who organised «actions» or «countryside outings» (Masterkova 1982; Monastyrsky 1998).

The very genre of performance art emerged (in Italy, France and pre-Revolutionary Russia) in protest against traditional «bourgeois» culture of theatres and museums. The first Futurist performances were always accompanied by scandals (Goldberg 2011). Performance art is sometimes called «an ideal crime»: the performer shakes the art system from within (Gnirenko 2000). And though the aim of performance art is to critique traditional art, public opinion associates it with political protest. In performance art, there is more freedom and improvisation than in a carefully staged and rehearsed theatre play. Given the tight controlled over art and culture in the Soviet Union, performance art was therefore only possible underground, for theatre performances had to be aproved by the Communist Party, and even mass festivities were planned and staged from the top.

Imbued with chance and improvisation, performance art has always been an object of suspcion to authoritarian regimes. In Russia, the roots of performance art may exist in the folk tradition of people's jesters, skomorokhi – wandering actors, clowns and musicians. Along with court jesters, skomorokhi could speak truth of and even ridicule the authorities, lay and religious. To the official culture – serious, monological and repressive – Mikhail Bakhtin opposed the «people's culture of laughter», of clowning and carnival (Bakhtin 1968). Carnival overturns regular hierarchies, smashes traditional boundaries and norms and has a potential – Bakhtin believed – to undermine political regimes. In carnival culture, «top» becomes «bottom», «inside» is turned «outside», everything serious and official is ridiculed and falsity is exposed. Clowns and jester alone speak truth. One of the favourite «jesters» of the Soviet era, the actor and singer Vladimir Vysotsky, exposed the hypocrisy of official life in his songs, and expressed by means of art, the truth became acceptable even at the official level and Vysotsky was allowed to perform his songs at concerts in public. His songs talked directly to the hearts of people; he «performed truth». This permits us to think that «truth» is also a performance – a successful one.

In order not to be punished, the jester puts on a hat with bells, turns his clothes inside out, walks with his legs up in the air and talks in parables. In this way, the jester marks his «frame» as different from the «reality» and signaling that the habitual, everyday circumstances are suspended. The anthropologist and psychologist, Gregory Bateson, introduced the notion of frame in order to distinguish between two basic situations, «reality» and «imagination» or «as if» (Bateson 2000). The sociologist Erwing Goffman began to consider the two kinds of frames as equal meaning that the frame «imagined» can be perceived no less real that the frame «reality» (Goffman 2003). Clowning, practical jokes, or prangsterism transform the frame «reality» to the frame «imagination», where the «reality» rules are not applicable. A jester's jokes are simply laughted at and not punished. If the jester manages to frame his jokes as «imagined», not «real», he even has a chance to survive.

«Theatre» is also a frame, different from «reality»: actions in the theatre are always actions «as if», obeying laws of imagination, as opposite to reality. By contrast with what Roland Barthes termed «the effect of reality» (Barthes 1994), theatre creates «the effect of irreality», by marking the situation «as if». The elevated stage, three calls before the beginning of a performance and lifting the curtain all separate theatre action from everyday life, switching the frame from «reality» to «imagination». The audience watches the performance following these specific conventions, bearing in mind that what is going on the stage is not an «everyday reality» but a different «reality of theatre», «as if».

And what about performance art? It is yet another frame, different from both «reality» and «as if» of theatre. Performance art is able to function as a protest or a critique of both life and theatre. In the absence of traditional markers (stage, curtain, bells, etc.), performance art pretends to be taken for «reality», not for «theatre». And yet performers are usually special people – artists or actors. As a result of the ambuguity, spectators are confused about how to specify which frame they are in – «reality» or «imagination». The aim of alternative performance, especially, is to undermine both frames, «reality» and «theatre», by destroying habitual markers of the situation and blurring the boundaries.

«…but there was love» – she continued (to make it ridiculous, the quote has been cut short).

Performance art comes out of the underground
In the 1970s, in the USSR performance art was addressed to a narrow circle of people and took place in marginal spaces, sometimes literally underground – in cellars, or in derilect buildings, or empty townscapes. (By contrast, in New York alternative performers moved upwards, into lofts and attics.) In the late 1980s, I managed to see a performance by an alternative art group, “Srednerusskaya Vozvyshennost'” (“The Central Russian Upland”) in the minus one level of a residential block in industrial Moscow district. I also was at an underground concert of the poet and rock-musician, Aleksandr Bashlachev, in a private appartment on the outskirts of the city.

In the 1970s, performance art was represented by the artists of Moscow Conceptualism, including the groups “Collective Actions” and “Gnezdo” (The Nest), the Gerlovins couple, Dmitry Prigov and the pioneers of soc-art, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid. In the 1980s, the new groups “Mukhomory” (“Fly Agarics”), “TOTART”, and others appeared. Litichevsky believes that “Mukhomory” were the first to develop their “look” in performance art practices. The brothers Sergey and Vladimir Mironenko combined army boots with fur hats and diamond-incrusted medals. Konstantin Zvezdochetov created a “Soviet criminal look” on the basis of the sailor’s striped vest. When he came back after the two-year compulsory military service, he discovered that his design taken up by the tribalist group, “Myt’ki” (Litichevsky 1996: 25).

With the beginning of Perestroika in the mid-1980s, a new wave of performance artists came on stage: Vladislav Mamyshev-Monro, Sergey Kurekhin and his group, “Popular Mechanics”, the “World Champions” and the “New Artists” (Performance v Rossii 2014). The first dressed performances, or alternative fashion shows, were staged as part of “Pop-mechanics” gigs. They were organised by a Moscow and Petersburg art group “Assa” (Litichevsky termed it a “performance-and-styling movement”.) “Assa parades” were a kind of “rock-n-roll gesamtkunstwerk”, with rock musicians, alternative artists, poet and even animals taking part (Alternative Fashion 2011: 17). The main figure of the parades was Oleg Kolomiychuk, who was given the nickname Garri (or Garik) Assa for his contribution to the movement. Garri Assa created his collection out of elements of prèt-a-porter from the 1950s and 1960s which he found in flea markets. “Having settled in Moscow”, he remembered, “I discovered Tishinka, where they were selling stylish jackets, tunics and Chekist uniforms. Today the quality of these things is considered remarkable, but few really understand it even now, and back then no one at all was interested in them. We began to buy up these ‘spy suits’, dressed up in them and organised derisive performances on the streets. The costumes necessitated a special way of carrying oneself that looked clownish. That’s how the ‘dead spy’ style came about” (Alternative Fashion 2011: 25). The purpose of the parades, Garri Assa comments, was to shock the audienc out of their ideological stereotypes: “We simply tried to inject Soviet life with a completely non-Soviet culture, and this bore distinctive fruit once it merged with real Soviet life” (Alternative Fashion 2011: 25). The fruit indeed was rich, although Assa’s performances often resulted in scandals and fines. The Assa parades-cum-carnivals had the same objective as the classical jester – to overcome the frame “reality” in order to comment on it.
Styob and stupor
The Assa parades and Garri's collections were indented to shock and stun Soviet people. To his Fashion House, Garri gave a name «Ai-Da Lyuli» («Oh-Yes-People»), which could be a line from a skomorokhi song. His favourite quote was from «The Dance of Death» by Charles Baudelaire:
In every clime and under every sun,
Death laughs at ye, mad mortals, as ye run;
And oft perfumes herself with myrrh, like ye
And mingles with your madness, irony!
Sometimes performances began with poetry reading or alternative music by German Vinogradov, who quitely clinked with his metal constructions. And then «spirits» would appear and cause chaos. There was a «Russian spirit» with a folk Russian string instrument, balalayka, and a «Chinese spirit» with a crow-bar. «Girls strolled the podium. And the public was stunned literally in five or ten minutes» (Shcherbino 2011). When Kurekhin and his «Pop-mechanics» appeared for the first time on Soviet TV (in the programme, «Musical Ring» in 1987), the audience was shocked by the music, completely new to the ear, and the odd-looking musicians – the saxophonist, Sergey Letov, had a pony tail, long white clothes and bare feet. Once I went to a happening of «The Central Russian Upland» with my younger brother, a schoolboy. He was shocked and disgusted by the «non-human», as he said, look of the performers. Again, this was the very purposes of performance art: by showing «monstruosity», to defy the boundaries between the normal and abnormal and to thereby defend the artists' rights for unconventional expression.

The first experiments in performance art were happenings (the term came into the Russian language apparently prior to the term, performance). A happening literally means «what has happened», an event without a definite plan or a script and with an open outcome. By contrast with a theatre performance, in a happening there are no actors and everyone coming to a happening, the audience, becomes a participant. And this makes keeping apart the frame «reality» and the frame «imagination» even harder. When the boundaries of habitual frames are destroyed, and the person cannot know the frame he or she is in, it may produce a state of schock or stupor. This was the case with «Pop-mechanics», as we can see from the dialogue:
The first person: What is Pop-mekhanika? Jazz? A conceptual action?
The second person: Why so complicated? It is simply a total synthesis… In a happening everything imaginable might happen, such are the rules… There is a fun atmosphere of the absurd, and this is what’s needed. A logic of Lewis Carroll, of Dali and Beckett! All the habitual notions shift and the audience’s perception is prepared for the most incredible

Happening 1985
It would be fair to call the strategy of Perestroika performance art as styob. The word appeared at the same time as happening and performance, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Styob means ironising, teasing, being sarcastic, and making a laugh out of someone. It is important that the action of styob happens in front of the person, not behind his or her back. Inspite of this, the object of styob is left in a state ambiguity, not knowing in which frame, “real” or “as if”, the action takes place. The main objects of styob were figures and symbols of the Soviet period – a recent past, like a dead body which one had no time to bury. Perestroika performances marked a new life and newly found freedom, at a time when criticising things Soviet could go unpunished.
From the very beginning, performance art aimed at provocation and épatage. Yet styob is a different kind of provocation – it uses grotesque, satire, irony and other figures of denigration. In Soviet times, styob opposed both the official communist rhetoric with its false enthusiasm, and the Russian language which had been reduced to Party New Speak. In the view of the philologist, A.L. Ageev, styob is a “kind of cultural self-defense, rather blind and not always consciously understood by the users of the language” (Russky Yazyk 1996: 22). Behind the styob intonation of agression and superiority, there is awareness of one’s incompetence and failures. The sociologist, Boris Dubin, termed styob “an aggressive and parodying communication” by which one distances oneself from the accepted values. The object of styob is therefore a negative reference, or a reference to a negative object (Dubin 2001: 168). Through styob over Soviet figures and symbols, artists wanted to break with everything reminiscent of the Soviet past.

Could performance art have a positive reference – an attractive value or an ideal? Katya Filippova, who in 1989 showed her “Punk Tsarism” collection, claimed: “I shocked the audiences by combining Soviet military uniform with ballet tutus, and communist symbols with religious ones. But at the same time I tried to emphasise the continuity between contemporary ideology and the fundamental institutes of Russia – the Army, monarchy and religion” (Alternative Fashion 2011: 48). Filippova confesses that she identified with both the punks’ protest and the striving for nobility, luxury and glitter – everything opposite to the poverty that surrounded Soviet people.

The dress-object “Hurrah!”, made by the artist, Mila Vvedenskaya in the Spring of 1990, is an excellent example of a dressed performance as styob over the Soviet world. In the episode from the film “Stilyagi” mentioned above, the greyish uniformity of dress is a hyperbole, a poetic exaggeration. We know that in the USSR there were people who made pretty and even fashionable clothes. In Moscow, there were two fashion houses – the All-Union (National) House of Fashion located in the city centre, on Kuznetsky Most, and the Moscow House of Fashion, with headquarters in the south-east of the city. Kuznetsky Most was traditionally a street of fashion boutiques, and it partly kept its character after the Revolution. There, next to the National House of Fashion, was the editorial office of the only Soviet fashion magazine, “Zhurnal Mod”. Opposite there was the headquarters of the Moscow Union of Artists. Mila Vvedenskaya was a member of the latter, and she made her dress-object “Hurrah!” for an official exhibition, “The Artist and the Model”. At that time of loud applauding and cheering at the Communist Party congresses, “Hurrah!” was unambiguously understood as part of official rhetoric. Even schoolchildren laughed at the “total hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” of the Party congresses (I did it as at the age of eleven, anyway). Mila Vvedenskaya’s dress had the word “Hurrah!” laid out with small electric bulbs lighting from the batteries. The apron of the dress was made of a net-bag – a primitive shopping bag which contained several pyramid-shaped packets of milk. The photo of the dress was to appear on the cover of the Spring issue (1990) of the popular “Ogonek” magazine. Yet, at the last minute it was censored, and it finally appeared inside the following issue. As Vvedenskaya told me, the photo session took place in winter on the roof of a tall building in the centre of Moscow, where the editorial office of the magazine “Decorative Art” was then located. The roof was decorated by sculptured vases with fruit, which added beautifully to the idea of the dress (false enthusiasm). The view of the Kremlin on a frosty day contributed to the solemn look of the model. The model, Evgeniya Andrianova, was an actress in the student theatre “Poor Yorik” and a participant in the experimental performance group, “Saira Blanch”.

In both one could purchase models from catwalk at an accesible price.

Designer Mila Vvedenskaya. Dress-object «Hurrah!». Oktiabr' Magazine, 1990, no. 4 Model – Evgeniya Andrianova
A couple of years before this, Artemy Troitsky and Svetlana Kunitsyna organised one of the first alternative fashion shows in the National House of Fashion. Besides the catwalk, there were performances by «The Central Russian Upland» and «Zvuki Mu». Georgy Litichevsky’s paintings on clothes decorated the walls, and Katya Filippova and Katya Mossina demonstrated their collections. Mossina made her models out of soldiers’ blouses; her skirts appeared made out of red flags with yellow fringes arranged like the Bolshoi Theatre curtain. Accessories were medals with large glass stones – they reminded the audience of “the tear of a Komsomol girl raped by a Red Army soldier” (a quote from the Soviet masters of literary styob, Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov) (Kriakvina 2016). In the same year of 1988, one more alternative fashion show took place at the editorial office of the “Zhurnal Mod” (“Fashion magazine”). There Litichevsky demonstrated his collection “OSVOD” – an abbreviation for the Society for Rescuing Drowning Persons, a soft styob over Soviet symbols and activities.
Georgy Litichevsky, Collection “OSVOD”, 1988
This description of the alternative fashion parade would not be complete without a mention of Aleksandr Petlyura. Following Garri Assa, he looked for “treasure” at Moscow flea markets and then used it in dress performances in the Petrovsky Boulevard squat where he lived. His aged neighbour, Pani Bronya (Bronislava Dubner), became his muse and model/ Their performance at the Alternative Miss World Competition in London brought Pani Bronya the crown of the Alternative Queen. For the project, “The Empire Through Things”, Petlyura made twelve collections which reflected on the style of various decades of the twentieth century – the most unusual history of 20th-century Russia in 12 ‘volumes’ (Alternative fashion 2011: 55).
Post-Soviet Mythologies
In post-Soviet Russia, alternative fashion was a product of styob, an ironising yet creative reflection over the recent past, the official Soviet ideology. Garri Assa called this «alchemistry»: «I extracted from every culture, made my own alchemic quintessence by adding our Russian recklessness to Western fashion » (Kostrova 2011). So, what happened afterwards, when the Soviet establishment ceased to exist and people wanted to forget it as quickly as possible? In an attempt to make sense of post-Soviet alternative fashion, Litichevsky questions whether it is possible to be alternative without having an establishemnt. For instance, could mafia gangs, which came to replace the Party nomenclature, be considered as a new establishment? One thing is clear: at some point, styob over things Soviet exhausted itself – the joke grew a beard. Soc-art quickly became museum stuff and collectors' objects. It was not so hard for performers to find other objects for styob. In post-Soviet times, suitable objects were also in abundance. Al the same, negative references could be:
The symbols and semantics of mass consumption (the figures of showmen, advertising lines, the aesthetics of «make it beautiful»…), specialist knowledge, expert competences (beginning with scientists who traditionally irritated the intelligentsia and ending with the new businessmen); the main figures of Perestroika and their rhetoric...

Dubin 2001: 168
After the first post-Soviet years of extreme poverty, products, goods and supermarkets started to appeare: the consumer market was gradually filled out. The artist, Andrey Bartenev, comments that in the 1990s the country «was flooded by bright goods of poor quality but very desirable. One would want to consume everything» (Batenev 2012). At that time, he made a performance with various packaging, including tins of soup and cola (like Andy Warhol) and «the entire rubbish tip, up to children's tricycles». The artist Georgy (Gosha) Ostretsov chose as an object of negative reference the aggressive response of the conservative majority to the bright look of youth subcultures, which he termed «costume phobia». His own perfromances were «cheerful laugh-making»: «I did not do fashion, I did performances in the spirit of «Blue Blouse» [early Soviet propaganda theatre], and with Timur Novikov we developed the theme of hypercommunism. At that time fashion and performance were united, as in the first [sport] parades of the 1920s. In my case, the New Wave overlapped with the aesthetics of naïve art, which became popular in mid-1980s. This was a conceptual descent into childhood» (Alternative Fashion 2011: 28). In the Kindergarten Squat where he lived, Gosha created a «conceptual playground». He also turned his own wedding into a carnival: the bride and groom, in superhero costumes, registered their marriage as volleys were fired from toy machine guns.

It is not surprising that styob over Soviet ideology was replaced by a new mythology. Negative references to old values gave place to positive ones, the objects of which were new myths. A decade into Perestroika, there were several candidates for the new post-Soviet values, from religion, mystics and irrationalism (in the form of mass healers and hypnotisers) to features of the pre-Revolutionary past (especially tsarism, nobility, Russian aristocracy) and nationalism, or «Russianness». The very values which had been taboo during Soviet times were brought forward. Similarly to the «Tsarism» of Katya Filippova, other artists attempted to revive and modernise Russian costume or to make it anew. Ostretsov imbued dress with «magic powers» by decorating pieces with geometric «power lines». He claimed that the union of mind and body, or macrocosm with microcosm, is achieved in dress, and that the new Russian costume is born from the spirit of people's festivities. «The students-cum-fashionistas, Katya Ryzhikova and Irene Burmistrova, who had become jaded with the foreign clothing obtained from black marketeers… first participated in the shows as models, amd later decided to try their hand at design» (Alternative Fashion 2011: 31) In the late 1980s, they set up as a duo, «Blood and Milk», and launched their first collection, «Iron Shovel», which included shovels, forks and other agricultural tools symbolic of the Soviet past. Later the girls began working separately: inspired by the Futuristic «figurines» of Kazimir Malevich, Burmistova made fantastic constructions of plastic, cellophane and foam. She allegedly showed her «Rocket» costume on Red Square and was briefly arrested; she eventually emigrated.

Together with her husband, Aleksandr Lugin, Katya Ryzhikova set up the group, «Sever» («North»), in mid-1990s. They laid the path for the «New Archaic» movement, popular ever since among Moscow intellectuals. The name was characteristic of the new geopolicy of the time: the adepts opposed the «North», a bearer of genuine cultural values, to both the barbarian «South» and the decadent «West». The purpose of their dressed performance was to revive religious feelings and to breath new life into pagan myths. Her avant-garde collections, ironically combined ethnic elements with a pseudo-industrial style, and she went on to perfect her approach by uniting archaic forms with transculture and techno (Alternative Fashion 2011: 37). The «Sever» made neo-shamanist and neo-pagan pseudo-rituals with fire shows and an avant-garde musical accompanement. They had various projects, including «Techno-magic», «Techno-Round-Dance», «The Northrn Video», «The Northern Photo», an electronic art group «Northern Light» and even the «Shock School» with «trans-ritual psychoactive games». Katya called herself the «Magician», and she played the role of «Mother» in ritual performances. In «Mother-Earth», she «gave birth». Another performance was after a Russian fairy-tale, «Mar'ya-Morevna»: the cast included the main female character, Mar'ya-Morevna, the black magician Koshchey, and the Laborant of the Northern Wind (she wore a coat out of fake leather hand-painted with colour pens). Performances were carefully recorded by a professional photographer – their authors had an ambition to «include the photo-sign in the tradition» and to create a new icon of «Russianness». Ryzhikova compared this work with the painter Ivan Bilibin's illustrations for Russian fairy-tales. These art-nouveau illustrations were so popular that they became a model of the Russian style and even, as Ryzhikova believed, an icon of «Russinness». She and her fellow artists believed in the «Russain idea» as a «non-verbal paradigm» – primarily a visual one. In 1998, there was an exhibition of Ryzhikova's painting and photoes in Moscow on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street, at the exhibition hall famous for its alternative projects. Naturally, the adepts of the «Russian World» welcomed an artistic attempt to make performance-ritual, performance-myth. (One of the supporters of the «Sever» was Aleksandr Dugin, an ideologist of the «Russian World» [Dugin 2005].) Bartenev was also influenced – in one of his recent public talks I heard him listing the «Sever» as his favourite group.
Katya Ryzhikova and the Sever group. Performance «Mar'ya-Morevna». Photo by Aleksandr Marov
The idea to transform performance art into ritual, to imbue it with sacred meaning, attracted many artists seeking new sources and energy for creative work. Since the early 1980s, anthropologists and theatre theoreticians have emphasised the closeness of performance art to ritual (Turner 1969). Contemporary performance studies feature ethnographic concepts like «liminal experience» – the experience of a passage, transit, or threshold. According to these views, a performance is successful if the audience manages to break out of constraints of everyday perception, to experience a moment of “liminality” and to be existentially transformed. Such a performance is similar to a ritual (Fischer-Lichte 2008). When the usual becomes unusual, when the binary oppositions are destroyed and things are transformed into their opposites, the spectator experience a magic feeling. The Russian theatre director and philosopher, Nikolay Evreinov, claimed early on that the outcome of a successful performance is personal transformation, and he sought to achieve this in his own stagings (Evreinov 2012).

In the late 1980s in Leningrad, a group of artists worked with the dancer and theatre director, Anton Adasinsky (later the founder of the dance theatre, “Derevo”), on the stage design of his performances in the Palace of Youth. They formed a group, “Svoi” (“Ours”) and started their own street performances in which they aimed to create as semi-sacred, fascinating spectacle-rituals (Matveeva 2015). Their performances, “The Aeroplane”, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, “A Couple”, were shown at no. 10, Pushkinskaya St., where a colony of artists and musicians, “The Underground”, lived. Performances of “Svoi” echoed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the nearly absurd atmosphere of the 1990s, which some people perceived as a carnival on the scale of the entire country.

Having abandoned its previous styob strategy, alternative dress performance in post-Soviet Russia followed the directions of neo-traditionalism and nationalism combined with neo-avant-garde. This was partly inspired by Western values, including individualism and feminism. Petersburg artists Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya and Olga Egorova, known by nicknames, Glyuklya and Tsaplya, formed a duo, “The Fabric of Found Clothes”. According to Tsaplya,
The realy 1990s was the time of the culture of sensing and experiencing. It is linked to dandyism, the culture of beautification. The female dandy is not described in literature, though she exists. Glyuklya and myself were, in our own way, dandies. We were very much taken by the form issue. On the one hand, we were sure that the form creates the content and, on the other hand, that our complex content requires a special form. We created this form with the help of clothes, making an ephemeral everyday art. Later we called it the “costume-object”, a work of art which you wear on yourself. The material was old clothes. We thought new clothes were extremely stupid

Artyukh 2008
A search for new positive references turned out a real challenge for the artists. Those who began in the Soviet Union and founded their performances in negative references and styob were unable to alter their strategy and style, and as a result, some had to abandon their career in art.

One of the most interesting performers of the 1980s, a participant of “The Central Rusian Upland” and “Fly Agarics” groups, Sven Gundlakh, explained that the decision to leave art came to him when “in Cologne, the gallery owner was selling my work to a collector. I suddenly realised that his was selling not my work, but a story around it: ‘A Russian artist, was imprisoned for antisoviet actions, a madman…’” (Gorbasheva2006)

End of the Heroic Era
The last decade of the past century was called the «likhie» («evil» or «dashing») 90s; it was a time both heroic and fatal. At the end of the decade, the interest in performance art faded. The performer and researcher, Yulya Gnirenko, believes that performance art has finally reached its goal – to shift and to renew artistic thinking (Gnirenko 2000). Bartenev also argues that, in search of grants, galleries re-oriented themselves towards Western models and supported artists who copied Western art (as I heard at his public talk at the «Island 91» festival in August 2016). Yet another reason could be a growing number of commercial clubs and private galleries. Not interested in sophisticated performance art, the new audiences were more likely to spend their crazy money on pure entertainment. Radical performance gave place to entertainment and glamour. In the night club «Titanic», «the Bohemians of the 1980s and the 1990s came together for the last time, boarded a fashionable ark, went straight into the twenty-first century and… drowned» (Buster 2015). Ironically, the last Assa parade, «An Agony of the Fire-Giraffe», took place in the «Titanic». «New owners of the Cherry Garden» and their lady friends, Buster comments, gradually replaced the Bohemians and expats in many seedy locations. Fashion, music and art-performance became elements of a club show for the new rich. The next decade was the decade of «oil abundance» and, as a result, of political conservatism, and alternative artists came under the banners of various political parties.

Litichevsky’s question, how alternative fashion and performance art were transformed in the absence of an establishment, can now be answered. The “alternative” artists stopped parodying the dominant ideology (which no longer existed) and invented their own mythology, for instance, neo-archaics or new dandyism. We come back to where we started. Alternative fashion and performance art are global movements. Alternative fashion weeks are regularly organised in Berlin, Maastricht, New York and London, with the participation of Russian artists (Andrey Bartenev and his students, Roman Ermakov, the author of “moving sculptures”, and Sasha Frolova, the Reigning Alternative Miss of the World). Their performances can hardly be called “radical”: they are “art” which has perfectly inscribed itself into show business. In these performances, the absurd and carnival are present in a mild form, tamed and not shocking. The other outcome of the story is the creation of new myths and new ideology, either leftist or conservative and nationalist. When one compares the two outcomes, the former one does not seem that bad at all.

The Iron Curtain fell down nearly three decades ago; the world will never be the same. It is understandable that Garri Assa could well believe that he would never compete with anybody as an alternative fashion designer. «Whom should I compete with? Gaultier? Or Galliano? God forbid. They did business, and we simply played around. I have not earned a penny, on the contrary, I spent my money and dressed everybody at my own expense. At that time everything cost trifles. Many things were given to me. Granddads–spies died, and the costumes tailored for them were left behind» (Kostrova 2011). But not only granddads died – the old system appeared dead too. Artists and performers had to find new sources, new rules and to prove their artistic competence in front of a larger audience and a wider world.
Sources cited
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