The cry on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge
There is a new addition to Boris Nemtsov’s memorial on the Moskvoretsky Bridge where he was killed: a sculptural version of Edvard Munch’s “Scream”. This “scream” metal grid hovering above the bridge wall was made and installed by Konstantin Benkovich, a young artist who likes to challenge the status quo in the contemporary art world.
Benkovich does not work with innovative techniques, expensive supplies, a large production team or investor funds. He works alone with simple and inexpensive materials.
The 37-year-old artist from St. Petersburg studied at the Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design in St. Petersburg, whose graduates are renowned for decorative elegance. Benkovich uses simpler materials, especially steel grids, which he sees as a symbol of the absence of freedom in Russia.
Examples of his creations include a portrait of Pyotr Pavlensky, the Russian political protest artist famous for nailing his scrotum in Red Square and setting fire to a door of the former Soviet KGB headquarters; and Pacman, which emerged as the artist’s response to the 2014-17 Russian financial crisis.
At the end of 2017, Benkovich took part in the group exhibition “Art Riot: Post-Soviet Activism and Inside Pussy Riot” at the Saatchi Art Gallery in London with works by Pussy Riot and other well-known Russian artists.
The Moscow Times met with Benkovich to ask him about his work.
Q: Your latest creation is called “The Scream”. Tell us about it.
A: The death of Boris Nemtsov was a great loss for all who hoped to see Russia as a free and democratic country. He was a person who could lead the country to a democratic future, but he was obviously killed near Red Square. My work is based on one of Edvard Munch’s works titled “The Scream”. I visited the Munch Museum in Oslo, where I was really struck by the artist’s ability to reflect a variety of emotions, be it horror, fear, pain or numbness in the face. people. As I often do in my works, I took a well-known figure from mass culture, I changed the context and the meaning of the work and I welded the screaming face behind a steel grid. . I then installed the work on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge next to the memorial dedicated to Boris Nemtsov.
Q: You have decided to exhibit your work in a public place without permission. Are you not afraid of the consequences?
A: Street art is the most democratic form of art. I rarely exhibit my work in the street, but if I do decide to do so, it is carefully chosen and meaningful. No, I was not at all afraid of the consequences. I did not destroy or offend anyone’s feelings in anything, but I do realize that the reason for the persecution may be completely different – perhaps political.
Q: How do you see yourself as an artist?
A: I am an artist who follows his instincts. Things that touch me deeply turn into inspiration. I am very sensitive to injustice and the pain of others. At the same time, my language is made up of the symbols of pop culture. I change the context and sometimes even completely change the meaning of the images I borrow from other artists. Putin’s supporters do not like and criticize my work. But I don’t care. I will always be on the side of the weak and never on the side of the ruling elite.
Q: Who inspires you in your work?
A: Jasper Johns inspires me. He is an American painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work is associated with Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dadaism, and Pop Art. Johns is famous for his depictions of the American flag. A work I produced in 2015 is a tribute to Jasper Johns. I drew a Russian flag and thought that if I soldered it to a metal grid, it would describe the situation in the country perfectly. After that, I decided to go through all the symbols of the Russian state – stars, eagles and various other attributes of power. I was particularly inspired by the Russian coat of arms. Eagles, including two-headed eagles, are present in the coats of arms of many countries, and double-headed eagles are still present in countries that somehow claim to be the successors of the first Rome, that of the Tiber. For example: Austria (a fragment of the Holy Roman Empire); little Montenegro; and immense Russia. So I decided to create a huge two-headed eagle. The work was part of the “Uniform” exhibition presented at the Dukley European Art Community in Montenegro in 2016. Another contemporary artist and activist who inspires me is Ai Weiwei. All of his works are socially astute and uncompromising. My dream is to collaborate with him.
Q: A recurring symbol in your work is the steel grid. Why?
A: The steel grid is a visible sign of the lack of freedom in Russia and therefore one of my favorite things. In Russia, steel is used to make bars in prisons, to create grilles for the windows of residential houses, to make fences around graves, etc. Steel is a coded material that conveys a lot of information.
Q: What are your plans for the future and what are you currently working on?
A: I met Kirill Serebrennikov, director of the Gogol Center, a month before the absurd court case was brought against him. At that time, the police had raided the theater and he suggested that I do a project about it. But everything collapsed and ceased to be important after the start of her unjust and artificial persecution. Any sane person in Russia understands how easy it is for the government to organize a politically motivated case and then put the person in jail. Now I am working on several projects simultaneously. One concerns Kirill Serebrennikov. For now, I am happy that several collectors are buying my works, which gives me the opportunity to experiment more.