The naïve curlicues of Oleg Ustinov’s painting series twirl around the logos of the protective paper, stripped from the back of large advertising stickers, on which they were made. They are somehow childish (with too many colours, as if a whole box of crayons had to be used), but they fail to disappoint. Perhaps the ‘intelligent dance music’ from the 1990s that plays in Ustinov’s studio is still pumping through them.
Ustinov regularly experiments with sound, music and installations of various kinds. But this is a work of another order. Conceived as the first in a series of ‘provocations’ on current political topics, it targets the infamous Russian law against ‘encouraging non-traditional sexual orientation among children and the young’. In August 2013 he stuck leaflets up in housing estates in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. They were printed to look like regular announcements, but proclaimed that ‘the administration’ had the gays and lesbians in the building (their numbers specified in handwriting) under surveillance and asked inhabitants to report anything suspicious to a provided telephone number.
This text was quickly met with earnest disapproval all over the more or less western-orientated Russian-language Internet. The NTV television channel picked up the story and spun two news items around it, on 29 and 30 August 2013, discussing whether neighbours should denounce each other and calling for the arrest of the leaflet’s unknown authors for spreading lies. The two television clips and selected on-line reactions are shown in the exhibition along with the leaflet. The best satire is often just playing back the original.
This project could hardly be more different than the paintings. Yet Ustinov says that he thinks of the various strands of his practice as downloading several heavy files onto his computer at the same time. One process can happen independently of the other, but in the end variety reinforces the agency of the host organism. Art as experimental agency with a capacity to infiltrate and embarrass the ‘Powers that Be’: that is exactly what Russian cultural policy is being re-engineered to discourage right now. (AK)