Urging towards personal responsibility, independence of thought and truth-telling: a spotlight on “Putin Filled with Ukrainian Blood” by Russian artist Andrei Molodkin by Jessica Todd.
Putin Filled with Ukrainian Blood, a two-hour art action held in St. John’s Church in central London, represents an inverted communion. Instead of one man sacrificing his blood and body for many, in Molodkin’s work and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine the equation is reversed – the blood and bodies of many are sacrificed for one man. We take the cup in a different way: instead of grace we receive horror.
Molodkin exploits the perceived neutral frame of art to execute a pure speech act. The artist has spoken of art as ‘the only reliable information source we have’. In a war that is as much about literal warfare as it is about the control of information, Molodkin insists on art as a means of truth-telling. Where propaganda is all-pervasive and disinformation is weaponised, Russian protestors risk their life to dissent and trust has long since eroded in the field of journalism, Molodkin deploys art in a mode he terms ‘political minimalism’ – to say what it means and, in its simplicity and clarity, remain whole as a self-contained truth-telling speech unit.
The artist’s reverence for truth is expressed as efficiency. With limited or no access to power, the messages one sends and receives on a cellphone matter. When a protestor’s sentence is liable to be cut short, that sentence matters. This is the kind of attention that Molodkin brings to his materials. Putin Filled with Ukrainian Blood is just that. The blood used in the work was donated for this purpose by Ukrainian friends and associates of the artist. The work’s elements are calculated to be the minimum required to make the whole statement. In addition to Putin’s image and name and the Ukrainian blood that defines it, at the top right-hand of the frame is the number of the death toll of the war so far.
The artist’s urgent and dissenting approach to information echoes George Orwell’s 1984, in which freedom of thought is outlawed. Not that there are any laws, there is simply a culture so pervasive that dissent is unthinkable. Nobody thinks. The main character Winston opens a diary and wonders for whom he writes. The freedom and the privacy of his own thoughts intoxicates him, and terrifies him. He teeters on the edge of utterance, for ‘To mark the paper was the decisive act.’ To view Molodkin’s work, his decisive act, is to bear witness to the atrocity it stands for. In its means of protest, the work urges its witnesses towards personal responsibility, independence of thought and truth-telling.