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Art Review: Giving Yourself The Finger

Tony Curzon Price

            Calvert22, the contemporary Russian art gallery in hippest Shoreditch, has just opened its summer exhibition, "Field of Action: The Moscow Conceptual School in Context". At least in their early incarnation, these artists prefigured Glasnost in their intelligent, open, creative critiques of the Soviet system. They went from being an underground in the 60s and early 70s to being the talk of Moscow by the late 70s - I guess that any observer with their finger really on the pulse at the time would have understood that if your cultural elite is enjoying art like this, then they really neither believe in it nor respect it anymore.

            There's some really powerful work there. I think my favourite was Andrey Monastyrski's 1978 "Action Object", Finger.

Here's what happens when you use it (or at least when I used it):

1. A moment of slight revulsion at the fleshiness of the finger against the clean sterility of the nevertheless slightly obscene aperture;

2. I wiggled the finger, distanced from my control of it, almost surprised that this was me at all;

3. I noticed I was pointing at myself, and that the aperture might have been a watching device, an eye - the fingering eye;

4. Watching myself and also pointing at myself, watching with a pointing finger ... blaming myself, or keeping an eye on myself?

5. ... and, as ever in looking at Soviet art of this period, "where is the totalitarianism?" In myself? in my self-observation?

6. I remember that the finger is connected to my arm, and that I can extract myself

            It turns out that Monastyrski did a whole series of these sorts of pieces, and they're nice collected over here.

            There is much to ponder in this vein, especially in the first room. Well worth the lunch-break detour. Open until Aug 28.