Writing about the relationship between Western Modernism and Socialist Realism Boris Groys talks about Wassily Kandinsky’s interest in Gesamtkunstwerk: “Here the individual is placed not outside the artwork, or in front of it — but inside the artwork, and totally immersed in it. Such an artificial environment can create a powerful subconscious effect on the spectator, who becomes a visitor to, if not a prisoner of, the artwork.” Kazimir Malevich describes his Black Square (1915) by trying to emphasise the universality and irreversibility of the image that is not a representation: “I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation, /…/ to the new realism in painting – to non-objective creation.”
The well-known Greenberg text debating the avant-garde and kitsch defines apparent borders between those two. Many theories have used Greenberg to denounce socialist realism as kitsch as well. But let us not forget the revolutionary influence of the Russian avant-garde, the constructivists, who became the primary agents of agitprop while Socialist Realism was starting to rule the cultural space behind the Iron Curtain.
Petr Davydtchenko, a Russian-born but UK-educated artist who became known to the world through his durational performance art, most notably Go and Stop Progress (2017-19), in which the artist excluded himself from the consumerist system by surviving only on roadkill for three years, Perftoran (2020-21) where the artist vaccinated himself against Covid-19 by eating a live bat in front of European Parliament to present the only live Covid-19 vaccine in the world and Ratrace (2021-), that started with the artist hunting and eating rats during the 2021 Cologne rat infestation, presents a new work at the Parisian Opyum Festival. Untitled (2022) is a video work supported by a lecture performance and manifesto cynically announcing a new form of art — Self-Destructive Art in dialogue with Gustav Metzger and his pioneering theory of Auto Destructive Art:
“Self-destructive art is art which contains within itself an agent which automatically leads to its self destruction. There are forms of Self-destructive art where the artist has a tight control over the nature and timing of the dismantling process, and there are other forms where artists control is slight. Some forms of Self-destructive art can involve manual manipulation.
Power tools used in Self-destructive art process: Chainsaw, Hammer Drill, Rotary Hammer, Impact Driver, Electric Screwdriver, Rotary Tool, Impact Wrench, Jigsaw, Reciprocating Saw, Side Grinder, Demolition Jackhammer, Angle Grinder, Table Saw, Power Sander, Oscillating Multi-Tool.
Self-destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies.
Self-destructive artists may work alone or collaborate with scientists, engineers.
Self-destructive art painting, sculpture, and construction is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method and timing of the destructive process.
Self-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.
Self-destructive art can also be created with use of Makita, Dewalt or Festool power tools.
Self-destructive art can be machine produced and factory assembled.
Self-destructive art is the transformation of technology into public art. The immense productive capacity, the chaos of capitalism and of Soviet communism, the co-existence of surplus and starvation; the increasing stock-piling of nuclear weapons – more than enough to destroy technological societies by the use of Makita impact drivers.
Each visible fact absolutely expresses its reality.
Man in Francs Bourgeois Street is Self-destructive.
Rockets, nuclear weapons, are Self-destructive.
Drones are Self-destructive.
The drop drop dropping of HH bombs.
Not interested in ruins, (the picturesque)
Self-destructive art demonstrates man’s power to accelerate the disintegrative processes of nature and to order them.
Self-destructive art mirrors the compulsive perfectionism of arms manufacture-polishing to the point of destruction.
Self-destructive art is art of change, growth movement and a window into the future.
Self-destructive art is an attack on capitalistic values and the drive to nuclear annihilation.
Self-destructive art aims at the integration of art with the advances of science and technology.
Self-destructive art re-enacts the obsession with destruction, the pummelling to which individuals and masses are subjected.
Self-destructive art enables deconstruction of imposed structures by Husqvarna chainsaw.” Petr Davydtchenko
Davydtchenko’s practice is based on creating alternate realities which he delves his mind into to stress out or protest against a certain aspect of our reality he sees as defective. In his durational performances, the artist immerses himself completely into a set of constructed rules and beliefs that reconstruct his reality into a sort of personal Gesamtkunstwerk one can observe from the outside or even actively participate in (Perftoran was largely participative). Davydtchenko’s newly constructed ‘artificial’ realities result from a Derridean process of deconstruction, sort of differánces. Similarly as Derrida was so keen on producing new words, not just new meanings, Davydtchenko creates new realities instead of just turning the original ones against themselves through détournement as we are used to in Situationism and later Actionism.
Untitled (2022) (ab)uses the body of a pig cut in half with a chainsaw to construct a swastika. A work simultaneously of pristine realism and of extreme creation bridges the ideas of social(ist) realism and the avant-garde announcing Self-Destructive Art. Davydtchenko transfers the ideas and means of creation from the times of crisis of the World Wars and the Cold War to today’s new time of crisis. The East and the West are facing mutual destruction again and the Cultural Wars are becoming our disorientated version of Star Wars’ Clone Wars, pendently clashing between cancel-culture on one side and an abundance of poorly done consumerist creation on the other. The war in Ukraine is the first war absolutely covered by social media — and while Twitter is finally giving up censorship, Telegram never had a system of control in place, so it became swarmed by grotesque images of the war, from mass killings, to rape, to extreme shows of nationalism and use of Nazi symbols — culminating in the live-streamed execution of Yevgeny Nuzin, a Wagner Group deserter.
In Regarding the Pain of Others (2003) Susan Sontag talks about the role of photography in war times: ”Wherever people feel safe /…/ they will be indifferent.” The abundance of grotesque images has since her time grown immensely through social media and the feeling of imminent danger has radicalised thoughts of the masses, only strengthening the need for repressive apparatuses, the newest of them being cancel-culture. In the arts, the pure reactionism we’re used to from Pussy Riot is being replaced by post-apocalyptic de(re)constructions of reality in works of artists such as Jon Rafman or the Russian music group Nogu Svelo. Former cultural icons and stereotypes are being dismantled by artists of the East and the West simultaneously while the spectator is losing the sense of the border between art and reality. The recent events surrounding Kanye West, who just announced his second presidential bid, as Davydtchenko puts it, “are an example of Self-Destructive art: when he deconstructed cultural icons he was censored and destroyed as no one longer understands or cares about the difference between art and reality.”
By slaughtering an animal in an extremely violent way only to use its body to deconstruct a symbol of extreme violence, Davydtchenko creates a work that is inherently cancelable i.e. Self-Destructive. The work can be dismissed as kitsch, it can be cancelled as antisemitic, it can be accused as animal cruelty — or none of the above, if we follow Susan Sontag’s “One person’s ‘barbarian’ is another person’s ‘just doing what everybody else is doing.” The work’s inherent cancelability comes from its universality and irreversibility — similar to Malevich’s Black Square (1915), Untitled (2022) is not a representation of an idea or a reality — it is just what it is, a convulsing pig swastika. The representation only comes after. It is only based on the language of the viewer, their histories, and beliefs that give later meaning to meaningless shapes of pure aesthetics. Untitled (2022) has the power to insult everyone at once or nobody at all.