The use of human blood is required to interrogate the existing political system. Russian artist Andrei Molodkin in conversation about art and blood with Maria Abramenko.
After education you happened to attend Russian military service. Can you speak about this experience and how did it affect your art?
During military service in the Soviet Union I saw a fellow soldier put a gun to his heart and shoot himself. Later we were eating in the canteen and the guards pulled him through the room. His body and clothes were covered in blood so he left a line like a signature behind him. I had come to the army from art school where I dreamt that culture could save the world. It was on this day I realised that in the military there was no such thing as culture. Soldiers are brainwashed. When you can lose your life in a few seconds you are told to run. And you run. You give your life for someone else. Nothing is important; it is just about survival. Seeing this man dragged across the floor, it was from there I understood blood as a currency – a material that demonstrated the physical cost of war.
Your art is extremely political I would like to speak about your political views, especially towards your homeland government. Do you think you can tell you are proud to be Russian nowadays?
In Russia, anyone who goes to prison or when there is a court hearing there are 200 pages of documents with language of why you have to go to prison or pay the fine or emigrate. Why your piece of art/literature is dangerous and they will invite many experts to analyse it and see if it breaks the law. In the end it is they who will give you the idea of you being a communist or fascist, anarchist. This short sentence – Your artwork provokes you to damage the life of the Russian President, for example – will be recorded quickly in the media or somewhere else. You provoked hate speech against this or that. Or in Europe they engage you to be a member of ISIS for instance. In France, we have many people who can go to prison for using twitter, Instagram, just by reposting. If you have some sensitive content and you just repost it, you can go to prison for it. Prison defines you as a contemporary. You are working precisely in the now and not the future or the past.
In your work you often use oil and blood, where from and how do you manage to get these materials?
Blood and oil are both currencies of war and genocide. I use industrial materials to pump the liquid through this cycle. When people donate their blood to my sculptures, the work is instantly politicised. I never use my blood, my liquid or personality because I was born in a militarist country in a totalitarian regime. I use the language of everyone. Words such as ‘Democracy’, ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Human Rights’ are filled with either blood from a specific group of people or oil from a region of conflict – Iran, Iraq etc. The material fills and transforms these concepts into something different, something new.
What does art mean to you and how would you describe your practice?
I was born is a small city in the snow in the north of Russia. When I was 9 or 10 I used to put many metal nails on the railroad under the train and was surprised how the train flattened them. I began putting more and more things on the track; money, metal buttons. They became squashed in different ways. I became so curious I used bigger and bigger things – but then one day we crashed the train. My mother had to check me into the police station ever month because I was on the black list for terrible children. This memory stays with me until now – I still try to understand what it is to transform an object into something else, to take from one world and transform into another.
What effect do you think your art has on people?
I have questions about why people have to give their blood for an ideology or a sentence, that’s why I use and move this experience. I propose for them the same idea – if you want to give your blood for an ideology, maybe you will give it to art or for another thing that you’re free to choose. It’s essential to put people in front of difficult choices, a shame situation that they are not used to discussing – like nationalism, blood, violence and death. In Capitalism, people try to smile, hide and pretend death does not exist, while it exists somehow in other countries. They don’t want to accept that the colonial world they grew up in ruined countries and people.