ANIMAL’s new feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their idea sketch next to a finished piece. This week, Oleg Mavromatti tells us about that time he decided to hook himself up to an electric chair and let internet users vote to electrocute him in Ally/Foe.
This action came as a reaction to the current situation in Russia, in which state and religious powers fuse, resulting in continuous, unjust persecutions against artists who comment critically that this is improper for a secular state. One of these cases was against me for the performance Do Not Believe Your Eyes made as part of a film I was shooting in 2000 with the working title Oil on Canvas. As a result of the criminal persecution against me opened by religious and nationalist organizations presented heavily in the Russian Duma (the parliament), I had to leave Russia and live abroad in Bulgaria and USA since then. In 2010 the Russian authorities refused to renew my international passport and I was threatened by extradition and immediate arrest. Being in prison for political reasons in many cases means immediate death.
I have decided to illustrate this situation, putting myself in the position of someone whose fate is immediately by people who considered themselves threatened by the art I am making, as opposed to passing the responsibility to the court and the state. People had to vote “guilty” or “not” on the Ally/Foe website.
It is very common, that when someone is convicted, all possible sides that have participated in the process of conviction, pass the responsibility to the other one. The authorities say “We do what people want” (Pontius Pilates case), the people say “We gave it to the wise guys in court and the state to decide, so they are responsible.” At the end nobody is responsible for convicting someone for unjust reasons, but this person is in jail, threatened to die there, because the most common attitude to political prisoners in jail is that they are “betrayers” of the Mother country. It is often that criminals, who are in jail kill or humiliate political prisoners on that basis.
The electric chair and voting system on Internet created a shortcut between the people and the persecuted and embodied the immediate life-threatening danger, a political prisoner faces when in jail. All juridical complexities and etiquette were cut off.
The drawings were made to determine how the chair is going to look like and how to hook up the custom made electric circuit to work and be visible for people who watch my Internet stream. The chair was also custom made according to a 3D model that I designed.
The procedure was live streamed for four hours per day. During these hours I was hooked up to the chair, not possible to leave before the end of the streaming. I had a TV talk show, in which I spoke about different issues, played music and answered questions of people who were voting online. They also had a chat in which they communicated with me and among each other. Skype was also another option in which they could have participated. The performance lasted 7 days. The votes were counted every day and if the votes “guilty” prevailed an electric shock had to go through the circuit. The most critical days were the first five, but danger existed until the end of the seventh day.
The most scary moments were when the website and the voting system was attacked by trolls like for instance 4chan.org subscribers.
And on that note: Come meet Oleg Mavromatti and Boryana Rossa at their group show with three other artist couples, Common Frequency at the Radiator Gallery this Friday at 6pm. Along with new work, there will be a special presentation of Baptism By Fire. They’re transgressive and electric. Don’t miss.
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