The End of the Empire: The Collapse of the USSR
A Forbidden Image
“It seemed to our generation and to Grisha that we would not see the end of this empire in our lifetime,” he says. “It was a hard stress,” but as the Soviet Union drew near to collapse, Boris describes how he and Bruskin responded to that inevitability.
We felt that we shouldn’t avoid it, as dissidents who denied it as absolute evil and excluded it from the field their consciousness. We just faced this situation, this reality, as analysts or anatomists. We wanted to decide for ourselves how we should live face to face with this monster. I started to consider the phenomenon of the Soviet empire as a continuation of all world empires. Grisha set a task to describe the empire. He decided to divide it into parts, to describe literally like an encyclopedia. He made an encyclopedia of the Soviet empire in visual images.
“When a person looks into a distorting mirror, this mirror distorts their features and makes apparent their essence,” Bruskin says, “that is how I see the art of Socialist Realism.” “Russian Nonconformists viewed Socialist Realism as backward and they did not want to limit themselves to the sphere of Soviet censored official art,” distinguishes Olga Sviblova. Bruskin collected these “official” identities as archetypes of Soviet mythology and catalogued them to explore the civilization more closely like an entomologist with a butterfly collection.
“When Grisha Bruskin catalogued the ideological slogans of Soviet mass propaganda, we suddenly saw the monstrous imbecility of the totalitarian system we had endured and the degree to which society did not grow people but rather idols who were non-living,” amazes the museum director of MAMM who also has a phD in psychology. “The Soviet Union is a social disease. When I studied at the department of psychology, the professor of pathopsychology told us that in order to understand the regularities of normal personality development, we study how the disease processes proceed; what happens to human’s mind in case of schizophrenia, epilepsy, manic-depressive psychosis… because a disease discloses the norm. I would say that Grisha’s world is built in the same way. The Soviet Union is a sick society but this sick society discloses the mechanisms regulating the existence of the others. But sometimes, we feel there is a healthy man, and then suddenly he dies. It turned out that he had a serious disease that was germinating for many years, but did not appear. And then –bang – and the world closed in. The same is true for social formations, too. The Soviet Union, at the stage when Grisha Bruskin started to describe it is a seriously sick formation. And since it is sick, it discloses the mechanisms of its existence.”
The artist began to see these archetypes as entities like pillars of salt as though they had looked at something forbidden and were deprived of life immediately, explains Bruskin likening his artistic figures to Lot’s wife who looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt in the book of Genesis. The pale white Soviet people in Fundamental Lexicon and Birth of a Hero beheld the objects that formed and defined their identities in society yet robed them of their breath and movement as human beings. The human figures were morphing into forms no longer living, but remains more like the entomologist’s beautifully and carefully preserved butterflies.
In Bruskin’s recent work, Archeologist Collection, Archival would film the live excavation of the artist’s archeological recovery of the Soviet society he had created and buried in a mass grave in the ground. “Very important to me is the theme of ruins” Bruskin states. Later the footage of the mock excavation was shown in video installations in the contemporary art museum, Undarnik, in Moscow and the Venice Biennale.