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Dmitri Prigov: and life is good and to live is good...

Alistair Hicks

14 June, 2021

Two exhibitions of Dmitri Prigov’s work running in parallel in Ekaterinburg and Samara remind Alistair Hicks that life begins with a shout (or a whimper).

Dmitri Prigov (1940–2007) starts with a scream. It is not Munch’s all-absorbing howl of despair. He is acting as an orchestral pitch-setting instrument for rock music that he unleashed that evening in Moscow in 1987. It is a calculated, knowing sound, resonating with an all-too-familiar frustrated friction. Dmitri Prigov was a pioneer Moscow Conceptualist. He took the Japanese concept of “an artist of the floating world” on his own special journey. Performance and fluid phrases were at the heart of his work, but he used many other media to endeavour to keep up with wide-ranging interests. The current show in Ekaterinburg, for instance, delves into his interests in the planets and ex-terrestrial existence. Even his famous “concrete” poems aren’t as solid as they might first look and they are all the more lasting because of this. He called them ‘poetrygrams’. One of them, in the collection of the Tate, is called ‘And Life is Good and To Live is Good’. It, too, is a scream, a scream against the life we are “forced” to live and an unadulterated embracing of life.

Perhaps the defining image of the twentieth century is of a human being in an apartment block. It is not just that so many of us live in boxes made of bricks or concrete, but that we also confine ourselves within mental boxes. We constantly build containers out of words. Sometimes, they contain ideas: they can be all too empty. Prigov hand-typed his poetrygrams. His towers of words, in this particular primal outpouring, manage to give the impression of strength and, yet, we know they can tumble like those houses made of packs of playing cards.

Much of Prigov’s work was to do with communication and the lack of it. He confronts and wallows in Soviet language. As he once said: “The thing was that by this time [the early-to mid-1970s] some kind of schizophrenic state had been shaped and it needed to be resolved. As a rule, all artists hated Soviet language. It was, so to speak, the dog’s lingo. In their studios, they used a lofty, undying language, but their lives otherwise unfolded in the realm of Soviet language: they watched football, drank, cursed. There was some kind of schizophrenic split, which made the artistic activity insane.” Despite everything Prigov believed in language. He maintained that “everything said by one person, in principle, can be understood by another person”.

‘And Life is Good and To Live is Good’ shows how we are constrained within the architecture of language, ours and that which is inflicted upon us. The title originally comes from ‘Good’, 1927, by Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930), a poet who fully exploited the ambivalence of words and understood the abuse they would receive. These numb words survived two generations and were resuscitated by Prigov. Words like seeds fall on fertile and dead ground. They are only intermediaries in communication, between old life and new life. We are not always receptive, as the title of Prigov’s exhibition at the Victoria Gallery in Samara declares: I’m not ready for this idea.

One wonders how often Prigov was ready for his own ideas. I will leave you with his answer when asked how he spent his days: “Ideally, my day goes like this. I get up at 11 o'clock. I quickly drink coffee and read something while doing this (15–20 minutes). Then a long walk (3–4 hours), during which I write poetry. I write them only on the go. Then I return home and work on the computer (I used to work either on a typewriter or writing by hand) – on prose or on any kind of non-poetic writing. From 7 to 11 pm, I either hang out or do all kinds of domestic manipulations. From 11 pm to 4 am ,I paint. This is, of course, the perfect alignment. But all sorts of exhibitions, performances, conferences, travels are invading, not to mention, of course, household chores, problems and troubles.”

Faraway planets of DAP

Yeltsin Centre

Ekaterinburg, Russia

May 28 – August 22, 2021

I am not ready for this idea. Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov

Victoria Gallery

Samara, Russia

April 29 – June 27, 2021

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