The Mitki is one of the numerous social groups that somehow escaped the control of the Soviet power and have nothing to do with the state and Party ideology, nor with the prescribed lifestyle. Phenomena, similar to the Mitki movement now and then appear in the pluralistic Western societies where they aren't always approved by the traditionally thinking part of the society; yet fit into the system quite naturally. Within the structure of the totalitarian ideocratic state they are of a far greater surprise and of a far greater sociological and psychological interest.
The Mitki preach the return to moral values and want to fight against the evils of the Western influence.
Mitki is a community of clever, ironic and undoubtedly talented people. They have their own theme in art, they manage to create very individual literature. The Mitki is not a fad, since mere emulation won't help you to achieve the Mitki effect. Whether one should emulate them is, however, open to discus- sion.
This phenomenon was described about four yeas ago. It may be referred to as the hippies of Russian variety.
Vladimir Shinkaryov, who predicted and described this phenomenon and its embodiment, Dmitri Shagin, hit the bull's eye. Exactly such hero was in demand in the demented times of universal acceleration. The charm of V.Shinkaryov's literary gifts played its role too. The "Samizdat" books about the Mitki, equipped with irresistible drawings by Alexander Florensky, enjoyed instant popularity. Now it can be said that the Mitki have stepped across the borders of the country. During a Peace Match in America several local kids put on the striped sailors duffels and announced proudly, "We're Mitki!" to the absolute amazement of our compatriots.
The artists of this peculiar group have been exhibited abroad.
Who are these Mitki? asks our reader from the Podporozhye District Igor Afanasenko. Are they artists, writers or plain loafers?
All of the above.
Reporter: During the discussions of exhibitions visitors often argue about the groups of Mitki and "new", or as they are sometimes called, "wild" artists. Some call their works "creative experiments", while others see in them "affected antisocial pose", an example of the so-called "mass culture"...
Alexander Borovsky: (Chief of research, Department of contemporary Soviet Art, Russian Museum): This comparison is not incidental. The painting of such type necessary establishes itself within the context of youth culture with its specific rituals.
It is especially clear in the activities of the Mitki group. Here the lifestyle, the style of behavior is based on anti-sociality, on games; their works present shocking subjects. But there is something else: their own life material, the sense of peculiar spicy and fantastic poetry of the communal, drab and seamy everyday life, perceived through the underworld songs and films about Militia. Thus, the contradiction appears: the lifestyle drives them to anti-sociality, to "slappinng the public tastes in the face". And the artistic system of values dictates a very different thing: infusing more culture in their expressive means. The two tendencies clash. So the "graffiti" captions hinder the perception of poignant works by Shinkaryov, and the scandalizing authors' subscripts pull the relatively sound, cultured paintings by Yashke and Florensky back, into the realm of jokes uttered at some drunken party.
It seems very hard to find another such group of artists who could so organically combine in their works the everyday realities and the sublimity of myth, which is being created by themselves and in the process, determines their real life.
Special Police Force had to be summoned by the organizers of the Mitki exhibition in Moscow
Poet Victor Krivulin called the meeting of the Mitki with the public "the Congress of the Victors", meaning that the Mitki had managed to conquer the whole Leningrad with their art and with the very fact of their existence. The Mitki's upward fight was swift and paradoxical.
The Mitki seemed the very flesh of the Soviet l970's and 80's. They reflected that time much fuller and brighter than the official carnival fairy play of the "youth arts of l970's". The Mitki were a carnival in themselves reviving the traditions of "the feast in times of the plague", so dear to a Russian heart. The greatest impudence was that they didn't deny the imbecile reality from the very start, they included it into their myth with a gentle smile.
... It is an exceptional and even suspicious situation when a company of very talented and very different people united under one banner for such a long period of time. The Mitki exist in a stange symbiosis. Each of them does a little of his own, and together they work to support the Mitki image.
"The Mitki washed the blood off the Commissars" stripped duffels, transmuting this symbol of violence into the symbol of brotherhood and peacefulness.
The Mitki want to be.
The Mitki are not stupid and ignorant enough to start "making avant-garde", as opposed to "the new" and "the wild".
The lode the Mitki started prospecting during the cruelest years is abundant. It is not exhausted and it will never be. Simplicity and benevolence with which they looked at the world, and offered this look to everybody, are long-term, because they are archetypal".
It is even rumored that the Mitki is not at all a "mass youth movement" (which some journalists have eagerly believed), but a group of artists. Still this is not exactly so. Somewhere the youth groups calling themselves "Mitki" are found. For instance, in Perm. However, V.Dementyev seems to accuse these groups of insufficient Mitki-ism; I think that the kids from Perm are people with double psychology. They are not the Dmitri Shagin of Leningrad, who has decidedly broken all ties with the society and become a misfit. Our "Mitki" are quite well-adjusted boys and girls...
One can't help remembering the remarks that used to be made in Leningrad about the Mitki. "The Mitki" are not harmless at all. "Kindly yet surely they lead young people away from real life into passivity." V.Koshvanetz's intonations are also some- what unfriendly: "Hard times have come now for various drunken scum. They are especially hard for the so-called "intellectual" winos... who used to attach themselves to some company by means of closer talk so as to have a few free drinks. In the course of a regular anti-alcoholic raid the Militiamen and their voluntary assistants started collecting dead-drunk people here and there. Later it turned out that all these citizens managed to get swinishly drunk at the reception in the General Consulate of the USA. Such state is not too unusual for the so-called "free artists" Kirill Miller and Dmitri Shagin who were conducted into a special cell..."
Let's now pass from the heroic past to the present days. The atmosphere has radically changed and this is why the Mitki idecology faces imminent danger. The Perestroika has destroyed their environment. Wealth, fame, wide publicity, international cruises: all this breaks the Mitki image and reduces their social phenomenon to zero. Their almost regained chastity is being gradually wasted. For some period of time - they may, possibly, survive as a group of artists, developing those elements of their art that are fruitful in the current cultural situation. Here it is hard to predict anything. The future will show. Our memory will gratefully preserve the luminous images of the Mitki of the past. May be they were the most glorious and charming of all the children of the stagnation time.
The Mitki, as I see it, has long ago stopped being a company in a sociological sense. It is a group, even, excuse me, an industry.
Yet, no matter how adult we have become and what tests we have g around ourselves, we can always recognize OUR CROWD by their sign system. The Mitki are buying cars, traveling abroad, join the Artists' Union, begetting endless children, publishing books, staring in films, shooting films, dressing normaly; but in their company it's so easy to get back to that absurd theater... To our old puppet-booth that had blessed several lucky individuals with the sense of irony, which helped a few of us not to become senous villains and at times to feel a sot of freedom...
. . . Having appeared on the junction of two epochs, the Mitki- ism carried, on the one hand, the fearful fatigue of the last years of stagnation, and on the other hand, sudden fresh force and a certain vague optimism, connected with the appeardnce of new illusions... In comparison to the "Okudzhava's Childrens" who were only dreaming of the "Christian all-forgiveness, in reality being rather egocentric and vindictive, the Mitki have approached the ideal much closer... The evolution of the Mitki condition in the Soviet hierarchy of material goods from ascetic poverty, multiplied by Evangelical Christianity, to the streams of Mercedeses under the windows of pesonal apartments, has brought the movement to the unacknowledged Pharisaism and to mental dead end.
It is easy to notice that the spiritual progress of the Mitki [reminds] strongly the history of the Quaker movement. The Quakers, appearing in Engiand in the end of the seventeenth century as the result of the disintegration of "Puratanism", tried to bring real love into the world. But, as the result of their development, they have grown into a bigoted sect of rich merachants disguising their new activities with old slogans of brotherhood. We would be very happy to believe that the Mitki will manage to avoid this fate, at least in some respects.
There are different patterns discernable on the veil of Maya; some of them are very refined. But the Mitki, "the artists of behavior", covered this veil with intentionally shabby images of our crude everyday reality with the esthetic of hard drinking bouts and four-lettered words; a game of idiocy; a speech, simple like mooing, and the vocabulary of an average cannibal.
But the Mitki behavior is designed as a cipher, both hiding and revealing what is there, beyond the veil.
And what is beyond the veil? The lofty life of spirit? At any rate, art.
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