In his project, Maxim Afanasyev examines the problem of modern urbanism and gentrification, paying special attention to Moscow’s local and municipal context. In a broader sense his practice can be referred to as municipalism. This is a locally oriented cultural tactic of activists, artists and small institutions, focused on a specific community of people in the city. Such work allows us to convert particular cases, individual lives of people and cultural microhistory into a global context through modern art. There is no universal global history, but the art can be a meeting point for multiple important narratives of everyday life that are not covered by official media and certainly not included in textbooks and mainstream sources. But history is made not only from above – it permeates the everyday life of specific individuals and communities, turning them into contemporaries in repetitive routines, rituals and political gestures.
The conflict between local communities and the power of the capital making use of corrupt developers, greedy businessmen and dishonest municipal workers serve as the centre of Afanasyev’s artistic practice. His work “Russian monolith, Yachichna does not sleep,” is based on the struggle of the Kotenlnicheskaya Embankment residents against the construction of an elite club house. Maxim Afanasyev personally participated in protests and documented rallies, meetings and petitions around this case. The contours of the conflict are ideological: the local community of residents tries to defend their own cultural memory before the leveling gesture of the development company. However, the protests did not lead to a definitive result. What is the role of the artist in processes of this kind? Can art take a particular role in this story which will be absorbed by new shocks and information storms tomorrow?
In this situation, the artist draws attention to the conflict, bringing to life the image of the pagan spirit Yachichna. Yachichna – or “Pustodomka” – is a mythological creature settling in uninhabited houses. If all rational methods of legitimate protest fail, art can draw attention to this case by recreating a fiction, a local myth that does not preserve the status quo, but has a critical potential. As Benjamin Buchloh repeatedly noted, art should become the last myth, abolishing the mythological as such. That is, the myth of art, in contrast to the myth of power, should not lull, but politically awaken, revealing the potential of the community.
Afanasyev is using a method of artistic investigation of the processes surrounding the real estate development that refers to the practices of Hans Haacke. The artist complements the archive with a strange video essay, where a group of anonymous people conducts rituals that evoke the spirit of the ancient Yachichna. Science fiction author China Mieville’s books about London that represented the city as a meeting point of different beliefs, technologies and cults can be considered the inspiration for the video essay. Contemporary Moscow is a place where rational shrewdness and an almost sci-fi faith in one’s own petty beliefs intertwine. Usually these myths support the orthodox and regulatory distribution of power, but the role of art as a fictitious process is to use these myths in a critical manner. Maxim Afanasyev creates a single narrative, in which the real and possible are redistributed in the logic of modern local protest.
Text by Boris Klyushnikov.
Additional info: The ritual enacted drew on the fact it took place in a neighbourhood that in medieval times was a centre for the craft pottery neighborhood. In Slavic myths and legends the ceramists were associated with dark powers and the potter played the role of wizard living between the worlds of the living and the dead. The emblem of the neighborhood reflects this and contains a potter.
There is a video of this time based work here: https://youtu.be/3O9TThezi2A