Art and Crime. Sorokin Behind Bars

Kunst & Verbrechen: Art without Crime. Hebbel Theater am Ufer, Berlin, 10.31-11.02.2003

The book “Blue Lard” by Vladimir Sorokin was taken to court in 2002 on the first of November by the Putin-linked youth movement “The United Ones” on pornography charges. The Propagate-man of pornographic literature was going to the detention cell of the police-department in Berlin.

On the weekend of October 31st a new theatre-project opened in Berlin. The Project, became an investigative zone in which the laws of art, the business side of the art world, and the law itself were all under examination.

Kunst und Verbrechen: Art without Crime“(The show was curated by Anselm Franke, Sylvia Sasse, and Stefanie Werner.) took place over three days in the three theatres of the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU), with the audience taking on the roles of judge, victim, and detective. The trial of art had been provided with a new setting: the theatre.

Friday night opened with a funeral. Vadim Zakharov gives a mass with the sandcake Madeleine, which was shot on his order:

“We will start with the suspicion that Madeleine does not just contain part of Proust’s or Swann’s soul, (as is explained in the novel In Search of the Lost Time) but also contains parts of other ‘Selves’ – even of dozens, hundreds or thousands of ‘Selves.’ Madeleine has become a universally accessible stranger and additionally a keeper of broken hearts.

What sort of self-prostituting monster is she to collect human fragments? Or has the sandcake become a sarcophagus for the sacral adornment, for the words unspoken, for the incomprehensible? Has the sandcake become a safe, a Swiss bank? Or is she just some heap of worn-out, useless objects, laid bare by Proust, upon which people throw pieces of themselves?”(See

Zakharov lives and works in Cologne and has had various international solo and group exhibitions.

He is currently working on the monument for the 100th Birthday of Theodor W. Adorno in Frankfurt am Main.

The climax of the mass was the “Requiem for the Death of the Sandcake Madeleine” composed by Ivan Sokolov and sung by Natalia Pshenichikova. At the end we are left with the question: Is Madeleine really dead?

After that, Hans Werner Kroesinger produced scenic miniatures which deal with the freedom to accuse and to judge.

“Cases” took a look at the impact of the post-September 11thth international war on terrorism on the freedom of press in Russia.

Christoph Schlingensief held a speech on his own concerns: With his “redemption benediction” he blesses not only the new theatre but he “cleanses art from its compulsion to infringe limits”.

Matthias Lilienthal, new director of the Hebbel-Factory, gave us a clear sign to the future of the three kreuzberg-theatre-houses with opening weekend.

At the end of Friday evening the cult Russian band Leningrad performed, playing a wild mix of ska, punk, and balkan beats, bringing life back to the theatre.

The band was founded in 1997 in St. Petersburg by Sergey Shnurov (“Shnur”- laces). In 2000, the wider public began to take notice of this underground band that performs with at least fifteen musicians.

Their lyrics are inspired by Shnurs favourite writer Vladimir Sorokin. Their concerts have been prohibited or cancelled at the last minute on many occasions.

In Russia, a new secular and religious censorship is appearing, which claims the right to classify art works as pornographic or blasphemous and take them to court. But what happens when art is taken to court?

Does the judge become an art critic and the art critic defense counsel or prosecution? By what means can art be defended and justice stage-managed? Which and whose laws apply?

According to Bataille, the best artists must cross boundaries – which would mean that art is clearly a crime and thus burdened by guilt.

Since the era of Plato, law has become established as the authority which decides truth – the courtroom thus replaced theatre.

In Plato’s Laws, it is put forward that most people are not descended from gods, people have to take responsibility for their own justice and create laws themselves.

Deluze affirms, “From Greek tragedy to modern philosophy, a genuine science of the courtroom has emerged and developed”.

From this point onwards, the tribunals formed by Greek tragedy follow a path leading to the opening of legal proceedings as mentioned by Kant, finally reaching the sort of proceedings evident in Kafka’s “The Trial and The Judgement”, where such trials are stopped by their own poetic laws.

Cornelia Vismann, fellow at the International Research Institute for Cultural Sciences (IFK) in Vienna, opens the lecture program on Saturday afternoon with “Tragedy, Celebration, Trial” examining this correlation.

She talks about the relationship between theatre and the court: “In the absence of the gods, tragedies become trials.”

While today, theatre and the court have a mutually parasitic relationship (the courtroom exploits the performative elements of theatre, while theatre seizes possession of the sphere of truth in which justice resides), this is not true for the ancient world.

Greek tragedy does not distinguish between these two spheres, but rather establishes its own forum for a trial on justice and truth.

In a similarly undifferentiated way, Greek sacrificial celebrations also handle this topic, staging ancient myths in an entirely theatrical way.

As such myths always tell of a crime, this crime is therefore also performed in a ritualized manner as part of these celebrations.

The legal theorist Pierre Legendre, referring to trials called this observation “Rejourner les crimes”.

During the lecture art critic, historian, and curator Ekaterina Degot spoke about her main area of interest, Russian Art of the 20th century and its contemporary developments.

Albrecht Koschorke, Professor for German literature and General Literary Studies at the University of Constance, finished the theoretical part of Saturday with the lecture “Signs of the Gods and Founding Crimes”:

“In many accounts of how different cultures were founded, both law and order and normal state institutions are established paradoxically by an initial crime. Crime precedes law – it is the precondition for its existence. It might be expected that legends concerning the figure of the state founder would try to conceal the criminal character in the founding of a state. In fact, the opposite is true.”

The night took place under the banner of the transference of crime into the space of art. Anatolij Osmolovskij, who works as artist, theorist, and curator, discussed left-wing art in Russia since 1990.

Using the revolutionary aesthetic in the Russia of 1990s as a background, he showed how both the symbolism of Western left-wingers and their methods of resistance and subversion have an essentially aesthetic character.

He used various campaigns and projects, which he conceived or took part in, to illustrate this idea.

As an artist, a writer and an art-theoretician, Pavel Pepperstejn belongs to the new generation of Russian conceptual art.

He is a co-founder (with Sergej Anufriev and Jurij Lejderman) of the Inspektion Medizinische Hermeneutik in 1987.

In his first film “Hypnosis” the audience sees a girl and a penis at eye level. Is Erection a result of hypnosis? Who is hypnotizing who? After the film Pepperstejn gave a lecture and answered questions concerning the film.

Avdej Ter-Oganjan, who is currently living in exile, presented a lecture performance. The lecture considered the wealth of material written about him while he was being charged, including numerous reports from art critics and academics.

Ter-Organjan was accused of violating icons during a performance in 1998. The basis for the charge was a newly introduced legal paragraph concerning “Stirring up religious hatred” – a paragraph which under Soviet law had not existed for the last seventy years.

Up until this point, Ter-Oganjan was actually head of the School of Contemporary Art where the punishment of art was being taught.

On all three days Elena Kovylina, graduate of the University of Arts (UdK) in Berlin as a student of Rebecca Horn, offered her service as virtual contact killer.

Tanja Dabo and her performance “the White Cube” cleaned different art spaces. This project was about polishing as a useless, senseless effort that leaves a shiny but barely visible mark that doesn’t last for long.

The White Cube was a constructed cube on a theatre stage, which symbolized a gallery space during the art festival.

Without the audience, Dabo polished the White Cube interior for the camera, then covered the front side of the cube, and installed a projection on it outside from where the performance was being held.

Because of that her virtual appearance and disappearance in the White Cube it looks like an illusion, a vision of the artist working in the White Cube.

Robin James Rhode, who calls himself a “working-class bushy artist” painted a car on the wall and tried to break into it. The group Radek transported books from various Berlin bookshops to Hebbel am Ufer and set up a public library there.

The books selected for the library were those the artists felt should not be sold but rather made freely available for everybody.

On Sunday afternoon Michail Ryklin, professor at the department of postclassical studies of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, spoke about The Museum as a space of God.

Departing from the public denunciation of the international exhibition “Attention religion!”, (January 2003, Moscow) by the Russian Orthodox church and the following vandalism of art objects by all edged religious fanatics, his lecture examined the relation between religion, art and violence.

He referred not only to questions of Russian art, the efforts of the Russian orthodox church since the early 1990s and the public campaigns against artists, but as well to a much older case: de Sade’s pamphlet “Francais, encore un effort”, which allowed him to clarify the present situation.

Kembrew McLeod discussed his campaign “Freedom of Expression” and the privatization of everyday culture via trademarks and copyright law.

He is a scholar, an artist and an occasional music critic. He works as Assistant Professor for Communication Studies at the University of Iowa and has published a book on the impact of intellectual property law entitled “Owning Culture”.

As a satirical prank, Kembrew McLeod trademarked the phrase “Freedom of Expression” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and in 2003 gained notoriety when he sent a telecommunications giant a cease and desist letter for using the phrase without his permission.

His framed “Freedom of Expression” certificate is included in the travelling art show “Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age”, which showcases art that pushes the boundaries of intellectual property law.

At the end of the festival we saw the film “Inhaftierung” which documents the artists.

Julia Kissina, an author, photo and performance artist, has been trying to get a cell for artists and their fictive crimes at her disposal.

Within the framework of the Art and Crime Festival, the artist was able to realize this project in a detention cell in Berlin-Schöneberg.

Artists, critics, and curators as well as art experts were able to take themselves into custody in order to do penance for their work in peace.

According to current Russian jurisdiction, the detention cell of this art project should be occupied at all times.

Vladimir Sorokin went into the cell with a song and came out on the theatre stage, during which, Bernhard Schütz, the actor of the Volksbühne, read from Sorokin’s book “Blue Lard”, the author’s description of his situation in Russia.

Sorokin became, in the 1980s, a part of the Moscow Conceptualists, together with D.A. Prigow, L. Rubinstein, A. Monastyrskij and the Medical Hermeneuten.

This collective made the traditions of avant-garde more radical by opposing both Soviet and classic literature, including neo-traditionalist prose and the moralizing dissident literature.

For the conceptualists, all of these areas were part of a system that was impossible to escape.

As a protest against the fall in moral standards the book was supposed to represent, “The United Ones” threw Sorokin’s book into a huge cardboard toilet set up in front of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. v

If they had actually read Sorokin’s books, they might actually have found answers to the question of the guilt of presentation and the innocence of formulation.

The question of the legitimization of this crossing of boundaries and that of effect and artistic sovereignty is therefore always subject to concurring systems of law.

In this already tense relationship, the ability of arts to cross borders and have an effect is also under discussion.

So playing a wild mix of ska, punk, and balkan beats, Leningrad got the life back to the theatre, the artists fortified it on the stage, and we hope it will be here to stay.