I recently noticed a poster in central Moscow advertising a robot display which seemed to have exactly the same type of white, eerily humanoid robots that were featured in Chris Cunningham’s clip for Björk’s “All is Full of Love” (only these were minus Bjork’s features).
The poster was for TSUM, which is a lavish, gleaming temple of contemporary consumerism, right in the centre of Moscow within spitting distance of the Bolshoi Theatre. So it turned out that these robots were the new ground-floor TSUM window displays and had been arranged in groups of twos (or threes) in a mind-boggling array of sex positions. I guess anything goes in the bid to sell a few more pairs of designer jeans.
Then, predictably, a group of right-wing ‘patriots’ recently started picketing the shopping centre, demanding the removal of what they’d dubbed ‘porno-robots’, and carrying placards reading: “shame!” They were also stating that these porno-robots were a symbol of all the evils of a ‘democratic, liberal’ society, ie: this would never have happened back in the halcyon days of the USSR! The whole thing, naturally, started to garner more attention, and the management of the shopping centre was forced to remove the promiscuous robots to a less visible location – the sign said that they’d been relocated to the ‘youth fashion’ floor – yes, really.
All the commotion seems oddly reminiscent. The 2003 exhibition, called ”Caution: Religion!” that opened at the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Center in Moscow was shut down after exhibits were smashed and defaced by several followers of the ultra-right Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Shargunov. The assailants were detained by the police but quickly released. Meanwhile, acting on a complaint from the same good Father, the Russian parliament passed a resolution demanding that criminal charges be filed against the exhibition’s organisers for ”incitement of ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.” For example, a work illustrating the seven deadly sins with scenes from the life of a typical Russian family (such as a ”sloth” sitting in front of the television) was labeled as defamatory toward ethnic Russians. So if your snide artistic jokes at populace’s expense are read as ‘blasphemy’ and those calling for your blood happen to have a few friends in the government (and they frequently do), you might find yourself doing time.
I’m trying to imagine what would happen in this city if, for example, Spencer Tunick wanted to do his usual thing by gathering a throng of naked people in order to photograph them in the main streets of Moscow. I daresay we would see a similar crowd out with placards with almost identical text on them.
So where does that leave the porno-robots? Strangely enough, I’m now in the unusual position of actually agreeing with those radical right-wingers that I normally emphatically side against. I’m all for freedom of expression, but I just can’t see the compelling need for some kind of robotic karma sutra along a main thoroughfare – let alone something that is being used as a backdrop for clothes. I was recently at the Abramović retrospective at the Garazh Centre for Contemporary Culture, which definitely contains some confronting pieces, and I didn’t feel at any time that I was being assailed by imagery that I wasn’t prepared to see. These window displays, conversely, are devoid of any contemplation: they’re merely an attempt to create an edgy ‘screw decorum’ image, which is all too clearly linked to the relentless pursuit of profit.
by SUSIE GARDEN