project > Dictionary of Moscow Romantic

This page presents a few excerpts from the "Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism," which I have translated, providing partial annotations and illustrations. The original Russian title of this publication, edited by Andrei Monastyrsky, is Slovar' Terminov Moskovskoi Kontzeptualinoi Shkoly (Moscow, Ad Marginem, 1999). The original version of the dictionary is available on-line. I am able to post at this time only my short preface, Andrei Monastyrsky's complete Foreword, and the entries that fall under the letters A, B, V, G, D, E, Z, I, O, L.






The Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism, edited by Andrei Monastyrsky – the leader of the “Collective Actions” group (hereafter abbreviated as KD, for the Russian Kollektivnye deistvia) – was first published in Russian in 1999. The Dictionary may be regarded as a discursive map of Moscow Conceptualism, a map that charts the key concepts and ideas that emerged and circulated within this tradition in the course of several decades. The mot à mot translation of this publication’s title is “Dictionary of Terms of the Moscow Conceptual School,” where the term “school” refers to the three generations of conceptualists in which younger artists were mentored by older, as well as to the fact that many of these artists and poets have regarded their artistic and aesthetic practices as an ongoing epistemological project, that is, as an investigation of art’s conditions of possibility.[1] In this regard the work of the Moscow conceptualists, and of the “Collective Actions” group in particular, follows the agenda of the conceptual art of the second half of the last century, one of the main tasks of which was to investigate the nature of art.

In its content and function the Dictionary may be compared to the lexicographical literature produced by the representatives of other artistic movements, for example the Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme composed by André Breton and Paul Éluard in 1938.[2] Both arrange concepts and ideas that circulated within these traditions in alphabetical order, accompanying each entry with what is ostensibly a short explanation supported by a bibliographical reference and/or the name of the person responsible for the emergence of a particular concept or idea. Unlike the surrealist Dictionnaire the conceptualist one contains no images, thus underlining conceptual art’s iconoclasm. But despite their status as “dictionaries,” both seek to distance themselves from the academic conventions set for this category of literature, using more open and ludic approaches. For instance, the Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism, like that of Surrealism, often fails to provide a clear and straightforward definition of the concepts and principles at hand; on numerous occasions it omits bibliographical sources that would otherwise indicate where the reader might find a more detailed discussion of a given entry, often pointing instead to undocumented oral usages; or, instead of a definition, the editor provides a note stating that the artist has simply refused to offer an explanation for the term attributed to him.[3]

It would perhaps be useful to discuss the Dictionary, or rather the editorial method employed by Monastyrsky, in comparison to a project initiated by a group of ex-surrealists and academics who regarded themselves in opposition to Breton’s circle. The Critical Dictionary appeared as a monthly addendum to the art journal Documents, and was far more concerned with undermining idées reçues than with defining or explaining. Here Georges Bataille introduced, in the form of an entry, the notion of “formless” (informe)[4] – an operation rather than a concept, a performative gesture that aims at transcending such established cultural dichotomies as form and content, formalism and iconology, art and science, beautiful and ugly, civilized and primitive, and so forth. Unlike the conventional intellectual procedures that seek to produce knowledge through the imposition of form (to “form” or to “inform”), the informe-as-method would demonstrate that the universe, as well as any discrete object within it, “resembles nothing at all.”[5]

The category of “emptiness,” which is central for Moscow Conceptualism, is comparable in many regards to Bataille’s “formless.”[6] Both of these terms name operations or procedures that open up new non-authoritative positions for writing, philosophizing or art making, regardless of how paradoxical or absurd their results may appear. “Emptiness” appears in Monastyrsky’s Dictionary not only as an independent entry but also as a method, or rather as a lack of method (an “empty method,” to paraphrase one of KD’s key concepts), fully justifying the “incomplete” and “partial” character of lexicographical reference within the Dictionary, often to the point of frustrating academic inquiry. Unlike the Critical Dictionary, in which Bataille provides the entries with theorizations of their method and extensive explanations, the conceptualists’ Dictionary – like the Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme – more resembles an index, or a search algorithm that helps re-direct the reader to other sources and names. Although it lacks any clear theoretical elaboration of the overall method used by the conceptualists, remaining in this way truly faithful to the key category of “emptiness,” the Dictionary is nevertheless an indispensable inventory of the terms, procedures and names that contributed to what is known as Moscow Conceptualism. Despite its differences from the Critical Dictionary, its main function is very close to what Bataille defines as the main job of a dictionary: it would begin “as of the moment when it no longer provided the meaning of words but their tasks.”[7]

Monastyrsky’s Dictionary fulfills this mission, for it presents the reader with those words, concepts and ideas that acquired multiple meanings and tasks in the work of a group of artists, writers and critics. Its major contribution, however, was to establish the discursive field of this tradition, to map that area of contemporary art and aesthetics that the conceptualist trod. The Dictionary may be regarded not only as a map of Moscow Conceptualism but also as a guide to KD’s ten-volume publication Journeys Outside the City, helping the lost traveler to navigate through its dense and often impenetrable content.

As already mentioned, the original Russian edition of the Dictionary contains no images. Since this English annotated version is both a translation and a critico-historical interpretation of the original publication, I took the liberty of inserting under certain concepts pictures of artworks, maps or graphs made or employed by the conceptualists in order to make these terms more comprehensible and more easily accessible to a reader who may not be familiar with Moscow Conceptualism or with Soviet/Russian art historical and cultural contexts. The original Russian book is divided into several parts: four introductory texts, the main section of the Dictionary, three appendices entitled “Additional Dictionaries,” and a bibliography. For the English version I translated only Monastyrsky’s introduction and the main section of the Dictionary, leaving additional material and annexes for another occasion.

Translating texts by the Moscow conceptualists may be at times an exhausting and frustrating experience. Therefore, I am grateful to Andrei Monastyrsky for providing me with helpful explanations and advice with regard to many of the terms listed in the Dictionary. I am also thankful to Catherine Hansen for going through the painful process of editing and for making the content of this publication more or less comprehensible to the English reader.

Octavian Esanu
Princeton, NJ, 2010


Foreword (translation)
In the origins of this project lies a very simple consideration, namely that conceptual art deals primarily with ideas (and most often with ideas of relations) and not with the world of objects and its long-established paradigms of naming. The world of ideas (especially the ideas of relations and the relations among ideas) is in a certain sense “nonexistent,” therefore the methods of “reproducing” it – if one makes use of an analogy with what we habitually say about the world of “existing” objects – are significantly different from the methods used or accepted in the so-called “everyday world.” But let us not dwell too long on the general features and the specifics of conceptualism as an artistic direction. It should suffice to say that in the aesthetics of conceptualism (as in the philosophical aesthetics that corresponds to it) there is a constant attempt to “reproduce” those structures of consciousness that in some form or another are nevertheless “present” in the world; moreover, to reproduce these structures as they perceive themselves within this world, in their endless acts of self-conscious reproduction.

In Moscow Conceptualism, as it is presented here in this dictionary, what takes place is not only the naming of some “mental worlds” and of their “inhabitants” – for the most part one witnesses a process of continual research and the construction of an aesthetic discourse, with its methods and principles, which I believe is the central motive of conceptualism. Of course, one also encounters in this dictionary such terms as “Rotten Pinocchios” (gnilykh buratin), but from the strangeness of such terms and from their character it is easily understood that they are mere products of ironic fancy. However, such fancies and fantasies are completely natural for conceptualism as a direction in art (but not in philosophy). Here, in contrast to philosophy, we are dealing with the poiesis of notions. If there is such a phenomenon as “philosophical poetics” then it is conceptualism (at least, in the “theoretical” aspect that this dictionary presents) that emphasizes the poetics: as the emphatically nonexistent that from the beginning requires an unwarranted credulity, and only after that, understanding. So – conceptualism as the poesis of philosophy. It is precisely this, in my opinion, that the reader is dealing with here. And it is precisely from this perspective that Moscow Conceptualism is presented in this book.

The dictionary is assembled according to the following principle: it contains, first, the general or the main section, where the terms are introduced together with their definitions. All the definitions (except in specified cases) are written by the authors of the “terms” (or “words and phrases,” since many readers would hardly agree with the choice of “term” for most of the words presented here). For this section I had to make some restrictions, first of all with regard to myself and to Pavel Pepperstein. It turned out that both of us had too many terms, and if we had brought all our terms into the main section then the presentation of the authors would have been imbalanced. Some authors have just one term. In Pepperstein’s and my own case it is very easy to explain this seemingly boundless pleonasm. This is because he and I, we are both members of artists’ groups; he is a member of Medgerminevtika (MG) and I of the Collective Actions group (KD). We had – in a certain sense – to “lead,” to construct the ideologies and the discourses of these two groups, and maybe it is because both of us are “poetically oriented”. I came to conceptualism from poetry, and Pavel is still writing poetry and prose. Every group is connected by one (or by several) ideas. If such shared ideas do not exist, or if they are quickly exhausted, then the group is falling apart. When an artist group begins its aesthetic journey it has two kind of maps (this is what sets it apart from a tourist group): one is of the usual and “objective kind,” as it consists of artistic gestures, commercial purposes, and so forth. An aesthetic journey is a journey in between “the sky and the earth,” and the second “sky” map must be continually updated during the trip. Initially this map consists entirely of white spaces. In addition, on this map one must preliminarily spot some “interesting places” towards which the group is moving – the map must also simply be, it must exist and contain already some of the most basic and fundamental features: the scale, the division into rectangles, the elements of landscape (tradition), and so forth.  Besides tradition, which provides this preliminary pre-mapping, there is also the system-building introduction of new concepts; this also has sufficient inertia to keep the “running mechanism” (the travelers) moving by themselves, mechanically, so that at some point there is the possibility for something interesting to emerge. At this point mechanical inertia turns into inspiration. This is to say that on this map there must be  outlined the distinctive contours of the aesthetic system (or even systems), there must be drawn the aesthetic ideology of the group, so that the group can continue to exist. Since the groups KD and MG have been active for quite a long time, it may be said that they have their “celestial” maps with many marks already drawn on them (judging by the number of terms introduced by Pepperstein and myself). But everything has its reasonable limits. I had to make “Appendix 2,” in order to add terms by other authors. In the section entitled “Additional Dictionaries” there takes place a certain deciphering of the principal terms from the main list. The terms by S. Anufriev and P. Pepperstein were actually included in the “Additional Dictionaries” in order to extend such notions of MG as “individual psychedelic practices,” and so forth. These are the “interesting places” on the aesthetic map of MG. For my part, I included here terms related to the “theory” of demonstration/exposition semiotic fields (these are, so to speak, the technical details or the partitioning into squares of KD’s aesthetic map) and to the schizoanalytical texts. It is interesting to notice that the purely technical impetus that initially conditioned me to create the section “Additional Dictionaries” out of “sheer necessity” turned out to be a very fruitful idea, as this part became an independent genre within the main dictionary. Y. Leiderman, who initially contributed with a concise list of terms for the main section of the dictionary, later composed his own “Additional Dictionary,” which is very interesting in my view, because it possesses all the features of a poetic-philosophical work – compositional integrity of words and their definitions, interrelationship among the constituent elements.

We have been talking about the “journeys” of two groups – KD and MG. However, we should not forget that the basic content of the dictionary constitutes the discourse of the Moscow conceptualist school. The latter also has its big map, in the construction of which all the authors of this dictionary took part. And on this level, that of the big general map, it is not important how many terms each author has contributed. Perhaps the presence (or absence) of one single term, which at first glance may even seem unimportant, has accounted for the very existence of the entire aesthetic map of Moscow conceptualism during almost thirty years. Unfortunately, for various (mostly technical) reasons, this dictionary was elaborated without the participation of Erik Bulatov, Oleg Vasiliev, Vsevolod Nekrasov, Rimma and Valery Gerlovin, Nikita Alexeev – artists and poets without whom it would be very difficult to imagine Moscow Conceptualism.

A. Monastyrsky,
28 December, 1998.



ABBREVIATIONEITY (Abbreviational reading, Abbreviational vision) [abbreviaturnoe prochtenie, abbreviaturnoe zrenie] – an attitude towards the visual as towards a text that consists of abbreviations. The abbreviational perception of the world is conditioned by the existence of unconscious abbreviational structures in the depth of memory and language. (V. Tupitzyn, Kommunalinyi (Post)Modernizm: Russkoe Iskusstvo Vtoroi Poloviny Xx Veka. Moskva: Ad Marginiem, 1998).


ABSOLUTE PAINTING [absolutnaia kartina] – “Mona Lisa,” “Sistine Madonna,” “The Death of Marat,” “The Parable of the Blind” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Dürer’s “Melancholia” – all of these are absolute paintings. An absolute painting is that painting which, with maximal fullness and expressiveness, accumulates within itself the collective conscious and unconscious. It is also possible to say that the absolute painting not only accumulates but also forms the collective conscious and unconscious. These are paintings without which it is impossible to imagine the history of art. The overall number of these paintings – while compared with the ocean of art  – is relatively small, about 50. This is only on the scale of European culture. It is possible, however, to locate absolute paintings within the temple-dome of individual national cultures, and these “regional” domes do not always overlap with the European ones. For example, the Russian list of absolute paintings must include, without fail, “Ivan the Terrible And His Son Ivan” [Ilya Repin, 1885] or the “The Bath of the Red Horse” [Kouzma Petrov-Vodkine, 1912] – paintings, which are not part of the main (European) culture. (V. Pivovarov. “Dachnaia tetrad’” iz zikla “Serye tetradi).

“Ivan the Terrible And His Son Ivan” [Ilya Repin, 1885] (Image source: Wikipedia)

AUTHOR [avtor] – the capitalized word “Author” conveyed, in the rhetoric of the PROGRAM OF WORKS, the pseudonym of the physical author Lev Rubinstein (compare to Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid’s collective pseudonym – “Famous artists of the 1970s of the 20th century”). The term “Author” also partially parodied the idea of the romantic author-demiurge. It was an important break between the existence of the Author and the radically authorless style of the texts in the PROGRAM. (L. Rubinstein, Raboty, 1975).


AGENT [agent] – refers to a particular state of abandonment and alienation from reality, a state in which the individual has the impression that he is the Agent of something which he does not comprehend, as if he had parachuted somewhere with no particular task to perform and with no knowledge whatsoever of under what agency he acts. The state of the Agent is not functional: he is alienated to the same degree from everything (“for the Agent all the stairs are slippery”). It is supposed that this state is the euphoric counter-version of paranoia. (Term by S. Anufriev 1989. The term was clarified by P. Pepperstein).


AGENT (AND AGENCY) OF DYSTOPIA [agenty (i agenstva) distopii] – semantic and visual turns (returneli) which both violate the one-directional character of utopian representation and de-structure [destrukturiruischie] the space of utopian anticipation. (M. Tupitsyn. Playing the Games of Difference in Artistas Rusos Contemporaneos, Sala de Exposiciones, Santiago de Compostela, 1991).


THE AGGRESSION OF THE SOFT [agressia myagkogo] – marks the inevitable dependency of the speaker on what seems to be fortuitously produced speech; the impossibility of occupying a completely external position. The emptiness is continuously filled with soft residues from speech acts that were once produced, and which are not directed towards the Other, but into EMPTINESS. The “Aggression of the Soft” – is the name of the performance by the group “Frame” (Rama), which took place on the 19th of February 1989 in the presence of 11 spectators. During this performance sound recordings of Mikhail Ryklin and Andrei Monastyrsky’s voices were superimposed. (M. Ryklin, A. Al’ciuk, RAMA. Performansy, Moscow, Obskuri Viri, 1994).


ALIA [Alia] – an intelligible state of things, the return to which generates realia. (S. Anufriev’s term, 1989. The term was clarified by P. Pepperstein).


ANALYTICAL TREE [Analiticeskoe drevo] – potentially, an endless process of self-generation of art objects by means of consecutive fragmentation. (I. Chuikov. Analitical tree, Stammbaum der Analyse, 1994).

“What then is the relationship between a fragment and its enlarged copy?” asks the artist in his painterly installation Analytical tree, a work that takes over one corner of the Stella gallery's wall space. Here Chuikov enlarged a minuscule piece of a Soviet-time postcard covered in a flower pattern by one hundred times until it filled up the area of a separate canvas. He then took a tiny fragment of the latter and repeated the process until all parts of the initial painting turned into individual abstractions; literally blobs of color. Through the different mediums of acrylic, oil, graphite and photocopies, the artist equally distorts the original metric scale. To trace the order and development of the enlargements, Chuikov connects the pieces of Analytical tree by a number of black lines that are governed by a mathematical formula. Quite apart from its formal exploration, the installation could be read as a genogram of episodes that constituted life during the Soviet epoch: thin cardbord, cheap print and an inflated reality of an over-sized utopia.[8]


ANTIGRAVITATIONAL MEASURES (AGM) [Antigravitazionnye meropriatia] – the plot of a “gradual” (not “instant”) expansion of the universe, manifested in various forms that alter each other (for example, “after the plants the AGM was conducted by the insects,” and so forth). (S. Anufriev, Na sklone gory, 1993).


APT–ART (from English “apartment” and “Art”) – the name of Nikita Alexeev’s gallery which later gave its name to a direction in Moscow conceptualism. (The term emerged in 1982 in a discussion between M. Roshal, N. Alexeev and S. Gundalakh)

“A Chair” (text by N. Abalakova), First Aptart Exibition. Alekseev’s appartment. Moscow, 1982.

First Aptart Exhibition Reconstructed by Victor Tupitsyn at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 1986. (M. Tupitsyn Margins of Soviet Art, 1992)

…The original series of APT-ART exhibitions was held at the beginning of the 1980s in the single-room apartment of artist Nikita Alexeyev. These domestic happenings were not only significant for the Russian cultural scene, but ranked among the most innovative art events held anywhere at the time. Filling a space no bigger than an average bathroom, a typical APT-ART show created a "total installation" of text-paintings, cartoon-inspired drawings, abstract graphics, collages, objects and photographs. Works by Alexeyev and his friends covered the walls and ceiling, carpeted the floor, and hung in midair. Speaking at E.K. ArtBureau last week, amid some of the pieces originally shown two decades ago, Alexeyev called the endeavor as much a way of life as a scheme to get work noticed. "It was free, and a place to have fun," he said. "The official exhibition spaces were inaccessible to us. The only possibility was to create a structure for ourselves." The exhibitions proved so popular that sometimes 500 people would visit over 10 days, despite the fact that the apartment near Leninsky Prospekt served as Alexeyev's sole living quarters. He even remembers that for a long time he didn't have a bed, but slept "in an inflatable boat in the middle of the room."…[9]


ARTIFICATION (Artification caprice, artification distortion), [Artifikatsia, artifikatsonnyi kapriz, artifikatsonnoe iskazhenie]  – statement (articulation) which looks like a “work of art.” (P. Pepperstein. Ideologizatsia neizvestnogo, 1998)


ATTRIBUTES (Atributy) – a class of conceptual object-gifts offered within the circle of NOMA and which were constructed in terms of schizo-analytical relations with regard to the “Hierarchy of the Monk Sergii.” (Introduced by A. Monastyrsky in 1992-94).

KD’s action “Russian World” 1985 (Image: Journeys Outside the City)

After the participants returned to the middle of the field they were handed out labeled “empty photographs” which depicted a gray sky and a black strip of the forest that stretched in the distance over the large white Kievogorskoe Field and a very tiny figure of somebody far in the distance emerging from the trees. It soon became a tradition of KD to give to their spectators, at the end of each action, “souvenirs” – a photograph or another token from the action, an artifact of the factographical discourse, also called “attributes.”[10]



BACKSTEIN FUNCTION [Bakshtein funktzia] – universal operator of actuality within the circle of Moscow conceptualists during the nineties. (M. Ryklin, "Dva golubea" in Isskustvo kak prepiatsvie, M., Ad Marginem, 1997, c. 150).


BALLARAT (Principle) – lateral, selective and literal illustration of certain secondary versions, of certain false ideas that phantasmatically emerge in the process of reading some texts (especially texts written in the detective or similar genres). The Ballarat Principle operates as if by fixing marginal, optional, short-time mental adhesives (slipania) conferring upon them a real and even a foundational (osnovopologayushchiy) status by means of this illustrative procedure. The name is related to an episode from a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.” (Y. Leiderman. Ballaret i Konashevici, 1989; M.G. Taina Boskomskoi doliny  – Inspektia Medizinskaia Medgermenevtika, Ideotekhnika i rekreazia, M., 1994).

…Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from his pocket and flattened it out on the table. "This is a map of the Colony of Victoria," he said. "I wired to Bristol for it last night." He put his hand over part of the map. "What do you read?"

"ARAT," I read.

"And now?" He raised his hand.


"Quite so. That was the word the man uttered, and of which his son only caught the last two syllables. He was trying to utter the name of his murderer. So and so, of Ballarat."

"It is wonderful!" I exclaimed…[11]


BRN and BRN (The Big Rotten Novel and The Big Relational Narration) [BGR i BSP: bol’shoi gniloi roman i bol’shoe svyaznoe povestvovanie)  – refers to two types of hyper-narratives: the literary and the historical. The first is regarded as dominant with respect to Russia and the second with respect to the West. (MG, Zona inkriminazii. Text-triada “Po povodu Bol’shogo Gnilogo Romana,” 1988. Term by P. Pepperstein).


WHITE CAT [belaya koshka] – refers to the possibility of slipping away, and in the same time to the refreshing impulse contained in the depth of this slipping away. Thanks to this, the White Cat appears as a guarantor of hermeneutical intrigue, and works as a spring in the biographical sideshow. White Cat – is the «spring gasket in the ditriumphation machine (mashina detriumfatsyi)» (P. Pepperstein. Passo i detriumfatsya, 1985-1986. P. Pepperstein. Belaya koshka, 1988).


WHITENESS OF THE PAPER OR OF THE PAINTING [beloe bumagi ili kartiny]  – refers to an ambiguous meaning that depends entirely on the orientation, or the  “accommodation” of the viewer’s consciousness: to regard this “whiteness” simply as nothing, as emptiness, as an uncovered surface that awaits text or a drawing, or as a screen, on whose surface – from an infinite depth – a bright “positive” light comes towards the viewer, shining from a mysterious source. (I. Kabakov, Rassujdenie o 3-x sloiakh… MANI N1, 1981. A-IA N6, 1984)

In his memoirs Kabakov offers a detailed account of the Moscow unofficial scene, individually describing many members of these circles, as well as grouping and categorizing them according to their age, generation, shared worldviews and forms of artistic, social and political engagement.[12] In the text “The Air Over Moscow” (Vozdukh nad Moskvoi), he portrays in greater detail that unofficial intellectual atmosphere, which Groys describes in A-Ya as a lyrical and romantic blend opposed to the dryness of officialdom. Kabakov returns over and over to reflect upon those painters who left a strong impact on him, and (one should add) through him on the later generations of Moscow conceptualists. It is in his description of the so-called “spiritual painters” Eduard Shteinberg and Mikhail Shvartsman, and of the way in which these artists perceived themselves and their art, that one can recognize some features of the conceptualists’ “emptiness.” These were artists who dedicated themselves, from the fifties on, to religious and spiritual pursuits; painters who would have been deeply offended if told that they made good pictures, for they regarded themselves not as mere painters of pictures but as prophets and priests who offered an “opening into a new century” and “new spiritual transformations.”[13] In addition to the persistent use of Christian symbolism  (the cross, the fish, the bird) their works betrayed overwhelming preoccupations with such painterly issues as light, space, and whiteness. But such preoccupations are not to be understood through the prism of mere physical phenomena, for instance light as a natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. They regarded these concepts from a broader metaphysical perspective, and they used them within a philosophical and even theological context, speaking not just about light but about the “metaphysics of light.” One should remember that “light” can mean “Taboric Light,” “Blessed Light” “Gracious Light,” “Good Light,” or “Eternal Light.” Their “whiteness” was also metaphysical, for it meant not only negation, but also a transcendental emptiness, a space the beyond of which is unknown to those of this world. They discussed the notions of whiteness and space using a predominantly religious vocabulary; they would never say “painting something white” but rather “becoming white” (stanovlenie belym) or “journeying to the white” (puti k belomu).[14]


BIS–PUSTOTNIKI [bis pustotniki] – the term refers to those artists who attain minimal content by means of a paradoxical forcing of narrative allusions. To this category belong such artists as Konstantin Zvezdochetov, Perzy, Vadim Zakharov and others. (Y. Leiderman together with M. Skripkin, V. Kojevnikov. Svarschiki i Bis-Pustotniki,” 1987).


BUKVARNOSTI [bukvarnost’] – one of the aesthetic categories of MG [Medgerminevtika] (related to the aesthetics of simplicity). The development of this category is demonstrated in MG’s book “Lateks.” (MG Lateks, 1988).


FAKES (AND GRAPHOMANIA) [Butaphoria and Graphomania] – two poles of division in the genre of installation. Fakes (Butaphoria) refers to the heap of accumulated objects (paintings, ready-mades, and other artifacts) that lacks coherence or any justification of its story. Graphomania, on the other hand, refers to a homogenous background of various textual relations and interpretations, devoid of any objective supports but concerned instead only with continual self-reproduction within a chain of endless versifications. (Y. Leiderman, “Butaphoria i Graphomania.” – Nailuchshee i Ocheni Somnitelinoe. M., 1992).



WARUM-WARUM-like THINGS [Varum-Varumnye Dela] – refers to a dependency on cause-and-effect relations, that is, on explanatory discourses. The term is derived from the German Warum – “why.” (Y. Leiderman. Polet, ukhod, ischeznovenie – Flug entfernung verschwinden. Konzeptuelle moskauer Kunst, Gantz Verlag, 1995).


VIRTUAL [Virtualinyi] – as if existing. “As if” is a key phrase here, a phrase which by the way  is very widespread within discourse. See also virtual particles (physics), virtual reality, and so forth. (I. Chuikov, Virtual sculpture, 1977).


STUCKO [Vliparo, from the Russian word Vlipat' – to get stuck] – refers to immersion in a context. (Ural’skii uglozub [Uralian Cornertooth] is an identical combination of words for A. M. [Andrei Monastyrsky]). (V. Sorokiin. Rasskaz “Pameatnik,” 1983).


HEC (Highest Evaluation Category) [VOK – Vyshaya Otsenochnaia Kategoria] – in the practice of MG [Medgerminevtika] an evaluation according to the HEC principle takes place spontaneously and cannot be interpreted rationally. It may be said that this evaluation demonstrates a refusal to evaluate and at the same time a realization of the impossibility of refusing. (MG, Inspectional Block Notes, 1988).


HACKING THE SETS [Vyrubanie Garniturov] – the process of revealing – on unfamiliar semantic territories – mechanisms that function simultaneously in such regimes as familiar (svoi), strange (chiuzhoi), and other (drugoi). (V. Zakharov, From the series of works from the early 1990s).



GEISTPAARUNG (From Geist + Paarung)  – spiritual pairing. Term by Elena Elagina, 1983. See Igor Makarevich Kniga prodolzhenyi 1983).


DUMBBELL SCHEMA [Gantelinaia shema] – is a demonstration element in the event, consisting of the event’s organizers and its spectators. (A. Monastyrsky. Foreword to the 2nd Volume of Journeys Outside the City, 1983). [See also, CATEGORIES KD.]


SET [Garnitur] – the term refers to the semantic balance produced in a creative-temporal space that is both stylistically and ideologically precarious. A Set prevents some parts of this space from complete collapse. (Vadim Zakharov, From the series of work from the early 1990s).

Set “Saint Sebastian”
The image below is a set of genuine furniture. It was made while taking into consideration all the visual distortions that one would see in an icon. The set of furniture cannot practically be used as such because it is built on the principle of inverted perspective. And yet, this is furniture, or if you want it is a style of furniture.[15]

Vadim Zakharov, “Set Saint Sebastian Near boiling porridge oats” 2008 [16]


ROTTEN BRIDO [Gniloe Brido] – the image of disintegrating matter, the entropy of the world. The term is derived from Vladimir Sorokin’s story Kiset [Tobacco-Pouch], 1983.


ROTTEN PINOCCHIO [Gnilye Buratino] – refers to the population that inhabits the “worlds and spheres of impermanence.” (Andrey Monastyrsky and Vladimir Sorokin. Hieromonk Sergii’s Foreword to the First Hierarchy, 1986).

Hieromonk Sergii’s Foreword


ROTTEN SPOTS IN THE GOLDEN NIMBUS [Gnilye Mesta Zolotogo Nimba] – the aesthetic critique of the most sacred places of every ideology. (A. Monastyrsky, KD, Action “To Press on the Rotten Spots in the Golden Nimbus” in the 4th Volume of Journeys Outside the City, 1987).

While working on the “Behind KD” action, we discovered on the side of a road two blue silk curtains set onto a metallic framework. Such curtains are often used to cover the rear windows of the Soviet bureaucrats’ cars (the ministerial black ‘Volga’). The silk fabric was perfectly fresh and clean, with no signs of accident or anything.

Makarevich proposed to upholster with this silk the binding of the fourth volume of Journeys Outside the City. Panitkov agreed and he did so. Makarevich then suggested titling this action “Pressing on the rotten spots in the golden nimbus.”

March, 1987

I. Makarevich, N. Panitkov, A. Monastyrsky[18]


“Behind KD,” 1987. The binding of the fourth volume of
Journeys Outside the City.

ROTTEN TEXTS [Gnilye teksty] – texts that cannot “dry out” in temporal space. (Vladimir Sorokin. From conversations held in the early 1980s).


SUPPURATION [Gnoynoe] – state of metaphysical chaos. (Vladimir Sorokin, From texts and conversations held in the early 1980s).


EPISTEMOLOGICAL THIRST [Gnoseologicheskaia zhazhda] – is a paradoxical combination of words that connects the intellectual necessity of knowing to physiological processes. It refers to the Russian “collective unconscious,” which may be regarded as a single undivided “body” that desperately seeks to know itself, to perceive what it is “in itself.” (Ilya Kabakov, “Epistemological Thirst, 1983, published in I. Kabakov, The Life of Flies, Cologne, 1993).[19]

Fragment from Kabakov, The Life of Flies, Cologne, 1993


GARGANTUA(ING) (GARGANTUA FIELD) [Gorgonal’nost’ (Gorgonal’noe pole)] – refers to the “direct gaze,” which in its turns leads to “direct action” – this is the main intention in Western culture. (Sergei Anufriev. Pontogruel’ bokovogo zrenie, 1989).




GUGUTA SYNDROME [Guguza sindrom] – Syndrome of complete lack of understanding (compare with TEDDY SYNDROME). Guguta is one of the characters of the Moldovan writer Ion Druta [translator’s note: in fact the writer’s name is Spiridon Vangheli]. Guguta represents the state of sudden and complete inability to comprehend something, as in this story for children where this boy’s huge hat often covers his eyes, obstructing his vision of the world. Term by MG; see Teddy, 1988.

The character Guguta, Illustration by Octavia Taralunga



DOUBLE AFTER [Dvoinoe posle] – refers to the representation of unattractive scenes of city life in the work of post-Soviet photographers – of all of those whose “after” has expired with regard to the unattractive “before” which ended “after” the Revolution. (This first “after’ – is the most important rhetorical ingredient of Soviet photo-production of the 1920s and 1930s). (M. Tupizina. “Photography as a Remedy for Stammering” in Boris Mikhailov Unfinished Dissertation, Zurich/New York; Scalo, 1998).

…Mikhailov saw no point in providing an explicit critique of Soviet society, either through mocking it or through unmasking its endless vices. Instead, his goal was to preserve Soviet reality’s sense of totality, but without its layer of systematically sustained external joy. This construct of “totality from below” rather than “from above” was achieved through Mikhailov’s intrinsic rather than participatory identification with all Soviet inhabitants and all Soviet routine [footnote]. The roots for this kind of identification or rather this slipanie (sticking) with the object of photography were established by early Soviet photographers.

For example, in the 1920s and 1930s Aleksander Rodchenko documented images of the Soviet “after,” to contrast with the oppressive “before” images of pre-Revolutionary Russia. He plunged into the street activities of Moscow but he stayed away from direct contact with the people and things he caught in his lens, believing he was connected to them by the higher force of socialist identification [footnote]. Mikhailov attests to a similar identification with post-Stalin society by remarking, “In my work, I identify with the period and the process our country is going through” [footnote]. To gather visual material for Unfinished Dissertation, Mikhailov revisited a Soviet city, in his case not the capital but provincial Kharkov, and returned with photos that can be identified as images of the “double after.” They are post-utopian with respect to the documentary photographs of the 1920s, and post-mythographic vis à vis the staged images of subsequent decades.[21]

Boris Mikhailov, Unfinished Dissertation

DEMONSTRATIVE SEMIOTIC FIELD [Demonstratsionnoe znakovoe pole] – refers to a time-space continuum system of elements which is intentionally included by the authors in the construction of the text for a concrete work. The term is part of the correlative pair DEMONSTRATIVE SEMIOTIC FIELD – EXPOSITION SEMIOTIC FIELD. In the discourse of KD [Collective Actions group] the formation of the relation between the two FIELDS is constructed around various elements of the event (part of the CATEGORIES KD) such as: walking, standing, lying in a pit, ‘people in the distance,’ moving along a straight line, ‘imperceptibility,’ light, sound, speech, group, listening to listening, etc. (A. Monastyrsky, Foreword to the First Volume of Journeys Outside the City. See in particular KD’s action “Earth Works” [Zemleanye raboty], 1987).

Another definition of this important element in the work of KD group – also known as Demonstrative Field [Demonstratsionnoe pole] – is: a dynamic center of the action constituted by the totality of psychic (subjective) and empirical (objective) fields.” [Journeys pp. 22-23]

A. Monastyrsky, "Earth Works," diagram, 1987. (translated and reconstructed)

So far I have discussed the action as if from the perspective of the spectators-participants, and although this is an indispensable category without which one cannot imagine this group, it is still only half of the action. The other half is comprised of the tools and devices the artists introduce in order to provoke in the viewer those “empty” states of “pre-waiting,” “waiting,” “looking,” “listening,” “understanding,” and so forth. KD often refers to the place where the action takes place as the [Demonstrative Semiotic Field] (Demonstrazionnoe znakovoe pole). This concept stands for the dynamic center of the action, which is constituted by the totality of psychic (subjective) and empirical (objective) elements.[22] The “demonstrative field” totalizes all the elements engaged in the action within one common domain, and one can say that this is the action itself, or the action as planned by the authors. Those elements that constitute the demonstrative field include  the eventful part (plot), the objects involved, the role of the spectators-participants and even those states that the latter have experienced in their ES [emotional space], from the moment when they received the invitation until the present where they hold their certificates. But these are only the subjective parts of the demonstrative field. The “objective” or empirical component of this field is the location of the action, namely the empty white snowy field at the outskirts of Moscow. The objective empirical emptiness of the real field and the empty states of expectation experienced by the spectators meet within the “demonstrative field.” “The real field undergoes a metamorphosis and at a certain moment it could be perceived as a continuation of the field of waiting…”[23]


DE-TRIUMPH-ACTION [Detriumfatsia] – condition in which one or another thing frees itself from its existence in the state of being precisely that thing. It is as if the thing exits the state of its “triumph,” that is, the condition in which the thing occupies a determinate presence in the world. (P. Pepperstein. Passo i detriumfatsia, 1985-1986).


DISSIDENT MODERNISM [Dissidentskii modernism] – the term denotes the unofficial art of the 1960s. (M. Tupitsyn. Margins of Soviet Art: socialist realism to the present. Milan: Politi, 1989).


DOUBLETS [Duplety] – comical and downgraded myths produced by sots artists as a negative completion of the official mythology. (M. Tupitsyn. “Sots art: The Russian De-constructive Force” in M. Tupitsyn, Sots Art, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986).

Komar & Melamid,
Bolsheviks Returning Home After a Demonstration[24]



CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES [Eliseiskie polea] – a dynamic socio-cultural space, which can be located only by knowing its stylistic-mythological topography. (V. Zakharov. Posledneia progulka po Eliseiskim poleam. Cologne Kunstvarein, 1995).

CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES (Image source Wikipedia)



BUNNIES and HEDGEHOGS [Zaichiki i ezhiki] – the highest ontological and “cultural” icons of children’s texts and illustrations. Like any icons, Bunnies and Hedgehogs are located beyond any transmutation, representing unperishable meta-columns within ontological vortexes. (V. Pivovarov, Metampsihoz, 1993).

Record of V. Pivovarov's book Metapsihoz at the National Center for Contemporary Arts, Moscow.[25]


WEST [Zapad] – emerges in the role of the superego with regard to RUSSIA. Russian culture's constant opposition to the West, as well as its attempt to live outside the Western cultural norm, may serve as a confirmation of this. (B. Groys, Die Erfindung Russlands. München: Hanser, 1993)

For a detailed discussion of this concept see its counterpart below, RUSSIA.


CONTAMINATION [Zarazhenie] – refers to the process of dissolving formal-stylistic canons while keeping the meaning unaltered. (V. Zakharov. See the work of the “Infekzionnaia”, 1989).


PROBING (PROBE-WORK) [Zondirovanie (zond-raboty)] – instrumental activity (work) that fulfills one of the AUTHOR's tasks but which does not have a value of its own. (V. Zakharov, “Sloniki”, “Papuasy” and others. See MANI N3 and 4, 1982).



IDEODELIKA [Ideodelika] – “psychological” manipulations of ideas and ideological constructs, as well as the hallucinogenic or oneiromorphic layer which accounts for the composition of ideology. (P. Pepperstein. Vvedenie v videotekhniku, 1989).


IDEOLOGICAL FACTURA [Ideologicheskaia faktura] – refers to the effect of superimposing Soviet ideological clichés on purely formal, technological aspects of painting, color, or material –  on all that concerns the tradition of easel painting. (M. Tupitsyn. “Sots art: The Russian De-constructive Force,” in M. Tupitsyn, Sots Art, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1986).


IDEOTECHNIC [Ideotehnika] – registration and cataloging of technical devices employed in ideological production or ideological creation. (P. Pepperstein. Vvedenie v ideotekhniku, 1989).



THE HIERARCHY OF HIEROMONK SERGE [Ierarhia aeromonaha Sergia] – system of hierarchies within the circle MANI–NOMA. It was intrduced by A. Monastyrsky and V. Sorokin (with the participation of S. Anufriev); the word “Hieromonk” [aeromonk] was introduced by Y. Kisin in 1986 (the first hierarchy: “The transfer of obsosov [suckers] of the MANI military department to the residency [fixed post spy] position”).


ILLUST [Illjust] – phantasm produced by various mechanisms of illustration. The Illust is a carrier of enjoyment (of lust) whose generator may be considered the “libido of illustration” (the libido of arbitrary visualization). (P. Pepperstein. Vvedenie v ideotekhniku, 1989).

Image Google search result for the term “ILLUST” (Russian)


IMPERIAL CENTER [Imperskii zentr]editorial authority in charge of elaboration of norms, materialization of speech and objectification of language. (See MG, Zona inkriminazii, 1988. Term by P. Pepperstein).


IM/PULSE TO HEAR [Im/puls proslushivania] – My addition to Rosalind Krauss's definition of visual modernism as “the im/pulse to see”. This addition emphasizes the fact that in contrast to the Western art, Soviet (post-bellum) modernism gravitated towards phonocentrism. (M. Tupitsyn, “About Early Soviet Conceptualism,” in Conceptualist Art: Points of Origin. New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999).  


INCITERS [Inspiratory] – refers to objects (or processes) on the EXPOSITION SEMIOTIC FIELD that generate various motivational contexts for aesthetic activity. Most often this term refers to elements (or processes) found on constructions [building sites], topographical, economical, and other sites that belong to the collective discourse. (A. Monastyrsky. Zemleanye raboty, 1987).

By the mid-eighties the “Collective Actions” group had constructed a system to which Monastyrsky sometimes refers using the phrase: “the totalitarian space of KD.”[26] He used the word “totalitarian” in order to introduce the new concept of “inciters” (inspiratory). An example of an “inciter” in the aesthetic discourse of KD might be an avenue, a monument complex, a building, or any other imposing structure that projects totalitarian politics through the discourse of architecture. If an action takes place around one of these “inciters” then the structure incites new motivations and affects the context of the action; it is as if the “inciter” contaminates the work with its presence. An “inciter” is something too grand to be ignored, something that hovers over the exposition field of the action, dominating and controlling it, entrapping everything around it in its totalitarian nets [see also diagram under the term DEMONSTRATIVE SEMIOTIC FIELD].


A. Monastyrsky. Zemleanye raboty, 1987

SIE (Space of Intellectual Evaluation [the spectators' consciousness]) [IOP Intellektualino-ozenochnoe prostranstvo (soznanie zritelea)] – on the demonstrative field of KD's actions, the time vector of the intellectual perception of the action (the pre-eventful, eventful, and post-eventful parts). The spectator's attempt to rationally explain the event [i.e. KD's action]. (N. Panitkov. O tipakh vosprieatia, vozmojhnykh na demonstrazionnom pole akzii KD, 1985.)

KD divides the SIE, or the Space of Intellectual Evaluation, into three parts: the three phases of the temporal space of their actions. The first phase is often called pre-eventful. For instance, taking the train and traveling outside of Moscow to the location of KD’s action (the Journey per se) is the pre-eventful part of the action. During these phases the spectators construct a frame of expectation. Over the years the artists of this group have worked to prove that a journey is for one of their actions what a frame is for a painting. One of the main aesthetical concerns of KD for decades has been the idea that while journeying to see an artwork, one must wait to see what will happen. KD owes this idea of “waiting as a frame” to the poet Vsevolod Nekrasov, who theorized that the sense of waiting for something surrounds or frames that which is about to take place. “In addition, Nekrasov believes that it is very difficult to locate this ‘frame;’ where it begins and where it ends.”[27] In its work KD attempts to deal with this difficult task of establishing when an action begins – does it begin when the guests receive their invitations, or when they embark on the train, or in the train?

The eventful part of the action is the time when the action is taking place. Unlike other groups and artists who place the emphasis on the eventful part, or the action itself, KD did not specially treat this part. Monastyrsky writes that the action itself, or its scenario, is a decoy and that the mythical or symbolical content (which is sometimes itself called the “eventful part”[28]) is not important to the organizers. “We have no intention of ‘showing’ anything to the spectator; our task is to preserve the experience of waiting as an important, valuable event.”[29] The eventful part of the action serves as mere preparation for opening up and activation of a series of empty or undefined psychic processes. The post-eventful part of the action relates to the process of interpretation, to writing the participants’ reports after attending the actions.[30]


IPS (Individual Psychedelic Space) [IPP Individualinoe psikhodelicheskoe prostranstvo) – refers to a horizon (which is almost unattainable) of aspiration of the MG [Medgerminevtika] group. Later IPS was described as attainable on multiple occasions and in multiple variants. (MG. V poiskakh IPP, 1988).


ART OF BACKGROUNDS [Iskusstvo fonov] – refers to an artwork constituted by the spectators’ consciousness, both in terms of the aesthetic act and of this artwork’s concrete existence. Most often these are artworks that focus on the notion of pause, artworks that consciously accentuate the pause, as for instance in the work of such artists as John Cage, Ilya Kabakov, and KD). (A. Monastyrsky. “Ob iskusstve fonov,” 1982-83. Text from KD’s action “Perevod” [Translation], 1985).

36. TRANSLATION (Archaeology of an empty action)

A text written prior to the action by Monastyrski consisted of 22 small parts and was translated into German by Sabine Haensgen. A few days before the action, in two stages, the text was taped using a recorder. The recording was conducted in the following manner. The first part of the text was read aloud in Russian by Monastyrski and then repeated in German by Haensgen. Then the second part was recorded, with its German translation having started some seconds before the ending of the Russian part, so that it was superimposed acoustically over the Russian part’s last phrase. This superimposition of German speech over Russian continued and with each part seized more and more of the Russian text, so that parts 11 and 12 were synchronized in both languages. After the 13th part the German text (which was translated from Russian) began running ahead, and by the 20th part the manner of reading turned to reverse. Thus, first the German text of part 20 was read aloud, then the Russian text. Both language versions of part 21 (an episode "Drugstore") were synchronized, like parts 11 and 12. The last one, part 22, was recorded like part one: first Russian text, then its German translation.

In the second stage of preparatory recording Haensgen and S. Romashko vocalized the recorded text on one cassette and recorderd it to another using the repetitive technique (see "Voices"). S.Haensgen repeated after Monastyrski’s reading the Russian text, and vice versa. Thus, the second cassette was recorded, where Russian text by Monastyrski was repeated by Haensgen, and its German counterpart (written by Haensgen) repeated by Romashko.

In the course of the action, which took place indoors (at Monastyrski’s apartment), Haensgen and Monastyrski sat at a table moved a few feet away from the audience, put on headphones and repeated after the second cassette’s recording: Haensgen repeated after her original translation dubbed by Romashko, while Monastyrski repeated after his Russian text dubbed by Haensgen. During the playback of part 19 of the text which ended with words "What do you think?" the tape recorder was temporarily switched off and Haensgen "in her own words" (i.e. outside the repetition space) answered in German. Her answer was translated into Russian for the audience (and for Monastyrski): "What else can be said, enough words have been said already". Then the tape recorder was switched on again and the playback proceeded. During "The Drugstore" episode Romashko – synchronously with Haensgen and Monastyrski – read this text aloud in Russian. Thus, it was simultaneously read aloud in three voices, two in Russian and one in German.

After the second cassette’s playback was over, Monastyrski and Haensgen removed the headphones and turned off the tape recorder. Haensgen read aloud a beforehand-written text in German, while Romashko translated it into Russian. In the final part Romashko vocalized his own text titled "Afterword". Besides the described above verbal sequence, the action also had an acoustic background, which was produced by a speaker and consisted of homogenous street noise, low-key hissing with occasional inclusions of mechanical sounds such as distant working air supply, and vaguely audible "Music Outside the Window".

The visual sequence of the action consisted of an elongated rectangular black box with four (two paired) turned on electric torches protruding from the box’s front side. The box sat on the table, lamps facing the audience, and separated the participants (S.H., A.M. and S. R.) from viewers. Inside the box, invisible to the audience, there was a working tape recorder with a 45-minute-long tape. It was empty, with three occasional technical noises like clicks and humming: in the middle of the recording there was a sound of rewinding tape (about one minute long) and in the beginning and the end there were a couple of button clicks.

Behind participants’ backs in a windowpane there was a square black box (also used in the "Voices" action) with three electric torches of different shapes protruding from it (for description of these electric torches see text "Engineer Wasser and engineer Licht").

In the room there were several black boards with letters and numbers, like those on car license plates.


6th of February, 1985

A. Monastyrski, S.Hangsen, S. Romashko

Viewers: I. Kabakov, I. Bakshtein, I. Nakhova, Yu. Leiderman, A. Zhigalov, N. Abalakova, D. Prigov, V. Mochalova, L. Rubinstein, G.Witte, E. Dobringer, S.Letov + 3 persons[31]



OBSOSIUM [Obsosium] – phenomenon in gnosiological package. (Andrei Monastyrsky’s version of this term is “Obsosy”. The term was used by Vladimir Sorokin in discussions and in some of his texts of the 1980s).

Apparently the etymological origin of the term “Obsosium” is the Russian word sosat’ – to suck. The word was used extensively by the Russian contemporary writer Vladimir Sorokin, who was also actively involved in the work of the Moscow conceptualists, and in particular in the actions organized by KD. The fragment below is from one of Sorokin's plays, entitled «The Dugout» (Zemleanka). The play depicts the daily life of five low-ranking Soviet army officers who share a dugout during the Second World War. The term OBSOSIUM appears in this fragment when the character Pukhov reads the newspaper. Please notice that many of the words in this fragment (placed in italics) do not exist neither in the Russian language nor in English, having been introduced with only the rhyme, for example, in mind. The word OBSOSIUM, which for certain reasons become very popular among the readers, also belongs to this group of invented words.


...VOLOBUEV. I'll go take a leak, and at the same point I'll check with my eagles [solders].

SOKOLOV. Listen, Vitea [Viktor] tell your first sergeant to provide my soldiers with a few more baskets. He promised.

VOLBUEV. O.K. (leaves).

DENISOV. I will also go! (Leaves after Volobuev).

PUKHOV. Yes…sweat is to our advantage (unfolds a newspaper and begins to read, chewing on a piece of bread).
Our great nation vliparo repeats again and again Lenin's name. Like the dearest word urparo the name lives with us like a flame. The great Soviet power barbido and the triumphs of our kolkhozes. This is Lenin's genius and glory carbido his eternal and sacred cause. We will never be tired of great work morkosy! And there is no country more powerful than ours. When our dear Party's warm-breathed sbrosy [waste]. Warms our people' heroic deeds like golden stars. I'll read you some poems, I'll tell you my children godo. About how our Lenin met once a little girl bodo. So that our red star will be with us forever meto. In those days we fought with our enemies beto. Lenin was very busy back then, but he took along the little child grother. He warmed and fed her and then he took a little book, oh brother. Amid all great and busy work she could have seen the koka. Lenin could love his people then, but he could also loath them voka. He hated masters and the tsar, the generals he loathed with brittle. He loved instead the simple folk and little children, little, little. And now the children are growing up like orchards in the spring of vupo. So let's grow up but try and be like our Lenin upo, upo. His portrait – OBSOSIUM, govnero, his portrait is OBSOSIUM aia. His portrait with the will of gorera, united OBSOSIUM oia. His portrait, which our krupsy like to decorate with flowers. This portrait of he who in the depth of obsupsy will bring us newer and newer powers.

RUBENSEIN. Nicely done.

SOKOLOV. I think that when one uses flowers to decorate coffins then for some reasons these flowers smell very strong.

PUKHOV. Well this depends on the flowers.

RUBINSTEIN. True, there are all sorts of flowers...[32]


WINDOWS [Okna] – constructions imitating real windows but which are in fact hybrids of windows and pictures that pretend to reveal the essence of painting. «Painting is the window on the world» Alberti. Ivan Chuikov, 1967 (starting with the painting «Window # 1»)

Ivan Chiukov «Window # 1» 1967. Courtesy Bar-Gera collection.

OMS [Omy] – refers to transmutational monads of a certain metallicity that are capable of being verbalized, textualized and embodied in images. Oms are easily woven within various semantic ornaments, such as texts, pictures and photographs. The Oms belonging to certain individuals can often form relations or “bundles” with the Oms of other persons, animals or things, leading to the formation of double, triple or multiple (collective) Oms. One example of such a collective Oms is the NOMA. (V. Pivovarov. Metampsikhoz, 1993).


ONANIUM [Onanium] – aesthetic auto-eroticism. (V. Sorokin. The object “Onanium,” 1988).

V. Sorokin "Onanium," Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1990


ORTHODOX HUT [Ortodoxal'naya izbushka] – the (honorary) title conferred upon the EMPTY CANON of MG [Medgerminevtika]. (P. pepperstein. Letter to S. Anufiev from Prague, February 18, 1988).


OPEN PAINTING [Otkrytaia kartina] – if a classical painting, which on the whole has preserved its particularities throughout the modernist epoch, represents a closed space, a self-sufficient immanent “world in itself,” then the open conceptual painting is loose and unfastened. It is unfastened first of all in the direction of the spectator. This open conceptual painting seems eternally unfinished, perpetually in the process of its making, and it acquires meaning only during the contact and the dialogue with the spectator. Secondly, this painting is open in the direction of other paintings or artistic objects, that is it is absolutely contextual and may be “read” or interpreted only in relation to other paintings-texts. (V. Pivovarov. Razbitoe zerkalo, 1977).


THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA OR FROM DUCHAMP TO DUCHAMP [Otkrytie Ameriki ili ot Dushana k Dushanu] – refers to the method of a second discovery of America, or to the discovery of something that has already been Known. This method presupposes nothing new or innovative, nothing original. (V. Zakharov. Poslednyaya progulka pe Eliseiskim poleam, Collogne Kunstverein, Cantz Ost-fildern, 1995).



LIVINGSTONE IN AFRICA [Livingston v Afrike] – refers to Moscow Conceptualists’ cultural self-determination and to their attitude towards the world. The term originated in A. Monastyrsky’s conversations with J. Backstein. (A. Monastyrsky “Vstupitel’nyi dialog k sborniku MANI “Komnaty”, 1986).

...I agree. I think that history is not about the past. It is about the reality of time, time as a dimension of responsible action. I want to remind you of a metaphor that Monastyrsky and I often used at the beginning of the 1980s. We called ourselves “Livingstone in Africa” – we felt like a kind of scientist who had been sent by the “Central Geographic Club located somewhere in the West” to the African countries to collect different material for future research. What we were doing was describing this strange country, feeling ourselves alien in our own society. However, among ourselves we were members of this “Central Geographic Club,” collecting all the data and anecdotes and reports to send to the center via our friends, diplomats or correspondents. That was an important aspect of our position. However, we also described our activities as an alternative and “second” culture. The first culture – official culture – had all the kinds of functions and abilities that every culture had, except one: the official culture was unable to describe itself. And we believed that the alternative culture had a responsibility to undertake this function. We did play a role of carrying out independent social reflection. It is difficult to describe it. Was it critique, or criticality? It is a very delicate point. Maybe you are right. However, at the same time, how could you think about yourself in terms of criticality if you are alien? For me this is another side of the metaphor of “Livingstone in Africa” but a much more metaphysical one. [33]


SKIER [Lyjhnik] – one of two central discursive figures in «sliding without Cheating» – the second figure is KOLOBOK. (S. Anufriev. Na sklone gory, 1993).


[1] For a more detailed discussion of Moscow Conceptualism see Octavian Esanu, “Transition in post-Soviet Art: “Collective Actions” Before and After 1989” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2009). There has also been prepared an expanded version of this text for publication.
[2] André Breton and Paul Éluard, Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme (Paris: José Corti, 1991).
[3] Sergei Anufriev introduced the entry “Clearness and Peace” (Iasnosti i pokoi) into the Dictionary, but he refused to provide a definition. For terms that omit bibliographical sources see for instance the entries for “schizoanalysis” (Schizoanaliz) or “rotten texts” (gnilye teksty). Andrei Monastyrsky, Slovari terminov moskovskoi kontzeptualinoi shkoly, 100.
[4] “FORMLESS – A dictionary would begin as of the moment when it no longer provided the meaning of words but their tasks. In this way formless is not only an adjective having such and such a meaning, but a term serving to declassify, requiring in general that every thing should have a form. What it designates does not, in any sense whatever, posses rights, and everywhere gets crushed like a spider or an earthworm. For academics to be satisfied, it would be necessary, in effect, for the universe to take on a form… To affirm on the contrary that the universe resembles nothing at all and is only formless, amount to saying that the universe is something akin to a spider or a gob of spittle.” Georges Bataille, Robert Waldberg, Isabelle Lebel, with Iain White and Alastair Brotchie, Encyclopaedia Acephalica: Comprising the Critical Dictionary & Related Texts, Atlas arkhive (London: Atlas Press, 1995), 51.
[5] Ibid. On Bataille’s notion of informe see also Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss, Formless: a User's Guide (New York, Cambridge: Zone Books, 1997).
For a more detailed discussion of the Moscow conceptualists’ category of “emptiness” see Esanu, “Transition in post-Soviet Art.”
[7] Ibid. 51.
[8] Yulia Tikhonova, “Ivan Chuikov’s Theory of Refletion” ArtMargins (29 May, 2008) (Accessed October 5, 2010)
[9] Romilly Eveleigh The Moscow Times, February 4, 2005. (accessed September 28, 2010).
[10] Fragment from Esanu, “Transition in post-Soviet Art”
[11] Arthur Conan Doyle The Boscombe Valley Mystery (Accessed October 14, 2010).
[12] Kabakov, 60-e – 70-e: zapiski o neofitialinoi zhizni v Moskve.
[13] Kabakov refers here to such artists as Mikhail Shvartsman and Ülo Sooster. Ibid., 59.
[14] Fragment from Esanu "Transition in post-Soviet art"
[15] Translated from Russian by Octavian Esanu. Text and image from: (accessed 19 October 2010).
[16] Text and image from: (accessed 19 October 2010).
[17] Image from the journal Pastor (
[18] Text and images from Text slightly modified.
[19] Kabakov, Ilya Iosifovich, Nicola von Velsen, and Boris Groys. Ilya Kabakov: Das Leben Der Fliegen = Ilia Kabakov: Zhizn' Mukh. Stuttgart: Edition Cantz, 1992
[20] Image Source: (accessed October 10, 2010)
[21] Text and image from Margarita Tupitsyn, Photography as a Remedy for Stammering, in Boris Mikhailov, Unfinished Dissertation (Zurich/New York: Scalo, 1998) [unpaginated].
[22] ———, Poezdki za gorod: kollektivnye deistvia 1-5 vols, 22-23.
[23] Ibid., 22. From Esanu, Transition in post-Soviet Art.
[24] From the series Nostalgic Socialist Realism, 1981-82. (Image source:
[25] Image:
[26] ———, Poezdki za gorod: kollektivnye deistvia 1-5 vols, 673.
[27] ———, Poezdki za gorod: kollektivnye deistvia 1-5 vols, 728.
[28] [sobytiinaia chasti] Ibid., 107.
[29] Ibid., 22.
[30] For a more detailed discussion see Esanu, Transition in post-Soviet Art., 76.
[31] Description of the action “Translation,” Moscow 1985. (Image and text: [accessed October 22, 2010].
[32] Vladimir Sorokin Zemleanka, (accessed August 1, 2010). Translated by Octavian Esanu.
[33] Backstein, Joseph, and Bart de Baere. Angels of History: Moscow Conceptualism and Its Influence. (Brussels: Mercatorfonds, 2005) 24.