Half naked activists from FEMEN, a Ukrainian feminist movement, have become the new symbol of a political happening in the post-Soviet region. Sadly, their PR effectiveness does not compare with the quality of performance. The women shed their clothes under any circumstance. Already bored? Older colleagues from Warsaw Akademia Ruchu (Academy of Movement) come to aid.
Thrown-away newspapers, unrelated queues
The theatre group Akademia Ruchu was created in 1973 in Warsaw, as an initiative of Wojciech Krukowski. For a group of students from artistic faculties, leaving the premises of a theatre stage and interactions with citizens of Polish cities was a matter of honour as well as a priority. Another characteristic trait of the Academy was its penchant for commenting the reality of the Polish Socialism. The commentaries were cynical in their nature, for instance: the actors of Academy were intentionally stumbling while going past buildings decorated with propaganda slogans. Such repeated actions piqued the interests of passers-by.
”Newspapers”, another action of the Academy, a happening cyclically organized in cities of Łódź and Warsaw through 1977, was aimed against a propaganda character of the state-owned press. After scanning the first pages of newly bought newspapers, the members were throwing them away to nearest waste bins. Once again, the looped activity was to draw attention of bystanders. Intrigued by bins full with newspapers, people were coming closer and noticing a heap of Trybuna Ludu(the major regime newspaper in Poland). Despite their abstract character, actions of Akademia Ruchu always met with a strong response of citizens, also in the case of “Kolejki wychodzące ze sklepu” (“Queues to exit a shop”). To mock the never-ending queues for goods that were always in short supply in Communist Poland, artists were forming waiting lines out of shops. They were joined by many of those understanding the ridiculing actions against absurdities of everyday life.
In the 1980s, the Academy were targeted by authorities with a growing frequency. In autumn 1980 – during struggles to register NSZZ “Solidarność” (the Solidarity movement) – its members hung out a slogan “Sprawiedliwość Jest Ostoją Mocy i Trwałości Rzeczpospolitej” (Justice Supports Strenghts and Indestructibility of the Republic) on the building facing the Court. It was the very same motto that decorated the Court House itself, and was supposed to remind the decision-makers about precepts that defined the role of a court of law. The Academy team was up to date in their commentaries on the surrounding reality, not focusing on media acclaim. For the happenings had no chance to go through the censorship regime, the Academy directly targeted the citizens, appealing to their intelligence as well as their senses.
More creativity, less PR
The countries we present on our portal are still a perfect area for the whole range of artistic happenings aimed against the governments and absurdities caused by state malfunctioning. Alas it is currently hard to find anything interesting in this sphere. In Belarus during the last two decades, the street performance was dominated by Ales Pushkin. This eccentric painter from Bobr, a village located in the Minsk area, has under his belt such actions as entering the Presidential Palace with a wheelbarrow full of manure and decorating a vault of an Orthodox church with images of President Lukashenko and Metropolitan Filaret among demons in hellfire. For the moment, real happenings are lacking, the only few are poor actions of throwing eggs at communists paying homage to Lenin or pelting the Ministry of Internal Affairs with toilet paper.
Ukraine suffers the monopoly of FEMEN. Until lately, the activists were undressing in response to problems within their own countries. Now, they expand internationally, organizing protests against mutilation of women in Turkey or financial policy of Western countries in Davos. The trouble with feminists from Kyiv is their repetitious actions and using bare breasts as an answer to all problems. The message is lost while pictures of girls in a state of undress are all that remains.
A team of Russian activists called Pussy Riotis more original. Women in balaclavas were attacking the Moscow public space with spontaneous music performances, yelling out protest songs against Putin’s regime to the beat of punk racket. Unfortunately, Pussy Riot decided to “chant a punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. The lyrics included “The Mother of God, chase away Putin”. They overdid it. Arrested, they are liable to imprisonment of 7 years.
With all due respect for FEMEN’s organizational skills and an uncompromising activity of Pussy Riot, they gave us an impression that present actions in their aggressive form are fully media-orientated. It is highly possible that the cause is the new media development that aids in reaching the audience very fast in countries where freedom of speech is lrestricted – that means all countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia. Akademia Ruchu had no such chance in the 1970s and 1980s. Therefore, its actions were well-thought-out, citing universal truths of everyday life and using refined theatre forms. Their happenings should become an example to the present generation of contesters.
To those passing through and inhabiting Warsaw, I highly recommend visiting Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle and the exhibition “Akademia Ruchu. Miasto. Pole akcji”(closing date: 29 April) presenting film and photo materials documenting activity of the Academy within the city space between 1975 and 2011.
Translated by KD