Andrei Monastyrski and Collective Actions are to make an installation specially for the Russian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale. The Collective Actions group (its members are Nikita Alekseev, Elena Elagina, Georgy Kizevalter, Igor Makarevich, Andrei Monastyrski, Nikolai Panitkov, Sergei Romashko, and Sabine Hänsgen; Nikita Alekseev and Georgy Kizevalter left the group in 1983 and 1989 respectively) was founded by Monastyrski in 1976 and continues its work to this day. Boris Groys, the exhibition’s curator, considers that "it was the first example in Russia of the kind of art that takes the viewer out of his usual passive condition and offers him an active role in creating an artistic event."
The aesthetic spatiotemporal events that make up CA’s "actions" have been developed both in huge rural spaces (fields, forests, rivers and so on) and in the texts that introduce the actions, accompany them, and comment on the events of an action. However, some actions have also been held in the city and in closed spaces when the process of developing a contemporary aesthetic language has called for it. CA has performed 125 actions and compiled 10 volumes (work on the 11th is in progress) of the Trips out of Town books.
The Russian Pavilion will host an attempt to view CA’s actions retrospectively as life in art. The exhibition will show art as the production of oneself rather than of objects (paintings, sculptures, installations). Empty Zones is the concept of life as a unique kind of artwork. And this life in art will be demonstrated through using the metaphors created for the Russian Pavilion space.
For me, the most interesting thing about Andrei Monastyrski is his lifelong fidelity to his artistic practice.
He began working in the 1970s (still in the Soviet Union) and has continued to do so exclusively along the inner logic of his artistic venture in the era following the end of Soviet power. Today, he declines to accommodate his art to market demand, just as he once declined to accommodate it to ideological censorship.
At the same time, Monastyrski is in no way a shut-in, willfully isolated from social life. Quite the contrary – the Collective Actions group, founded by Monastyrski in the 1970s, was the first instance in Russia of the kind of participatory art, now fashionable the world over, that removes the viewer from his usual passive condition and gives him an active role in the creation of an artistic event.
There is one more way in which Monastyrski is a contemporary artist in the fullest sense of the word, specifically, that he does not restrict himself to any specific method or genre. Monastyrski’s artistic statements make equal use of performance, poetry, essay-writing, photography, video, objects, and installations. And it is that same artistic transmediality that makes Monastyrski’s works steadfastly contemporary; methods and techniques can get old, but a clearly defined artistic statement is timeless.
Boris Groys, September 2010
Collective Actions (Andrei Monastyrski, Nikolai Pantikov, Igor Makarevich, Elena Elagina, Sergey Romashko, and Sabine Hänsgen; Nikita Alekseev and Georgy Kizevalter left in 1983) began its work in 1976 and has continued it to the present day.
We have realized 124 actions and collected 10 volumes (work on the 11th is underway) of the Trips out of Town books, which are comprised of texts describing the actions, accounts by the actions’ participants, and theoretical articles about the contemporary aesthetic the group continues to develop. Each volume also features photographs and various documentary materials from the actions (maps, supplementary material, drawings, and so on).
In 1977, the second year of the group’s work, Flash Art International, the leading art magazine of the time, published a feature about CA’s actions and ran a photograph of one action on the cover. That same year, documentation of CA was presented at the Venice Biennale.
CA’s work in the 1970s and 1980s was acclaimed in both Russian conceptualist circles and the West as work at the forefront of the discourse of contemporary art as art "after philosophy." Practically every Moscow artist, poet, writer, critic, and musician from the 1970s and 1980s – themselves part of an international-level (as opposed to regional) contemporary artistic avant-garde – took part in the group’s work as spectators and, even in a certain sense, collaborators.
As aesthetic space-time events, CA’s actions have unfolded in both huge rural spaces (fields, forests, rivers, and so on) and in the considerable discourse of texts introducing, accompanying, and commenting on action events (i.e. in the Trips out of Town books). However, actions have sometimes been held in both urban and closed space when this was called for by the process of developing a contemporary aesthetic language, social particularities in terms of historical development "here and now," or the various twists and turns of the collective existential discourse of emerging stages of an aesthetic era.
Andrei Monastyrski, September 2010