Consider David Burliuk a pioneer of the ‘paparazzi stroll’. The self-proclaimed ‘Father of Russian Futurism’ is perhaps best known as a co-author of the fiery 1912 manifesto, ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste’, which advocated ridding society of its ‘filthy stigmas of “common sense” and “good taste”’. Burliuk attempted this through a series of guerilla gestures meant to signal a programmatic rejection of societal norms. In the days before Burliuk’s proto-futurist group, the Knave of Diamonds, held public debates, the artist would drum up publicity by leading other members down Kuznetsky Most – then, as now, one of Moscow’s chicest streets – with wooden spoons tucked brazenly into their lapels. While decidedly inconsequential in form, the staged fashion faux pas was just enough to rile its audience.
A century later, Burliuk’s micro-provocations find resonance in ‘Detail is All’, a group exhibition that valorizes minor disruptions of conventional behaviour. The show brings together nine contemporary artists who wield their own respective wooden spoons. Curated by Stefanie Böttcher, the gestures collected here hover between public and publicity. Many of the works specifically operate on the level of pranks or viral videos, a format of performed public disobedience that co-opts social intervention into entertainment. For instance, the guerrilla makeovers of unsuspecting parked vehicles documented in Ahmet Ög˘üt’s slideshow Somebody Else’s Car (2005) recall the antics of TV programmes like Punk’d or Candid Camera. Meanwhile, Klara Lidén’s Paralyzed (2003) – a three-minute video in which the artist erupts into a near-Delphic state on the Berlin U-bahn – plays out like a one-person flash mob.
Samson Kambalu tweaks the tropes of the viral video in his ‘Nyau Cinema’ (2012–ongoing), a body of short films based on site-specific performances created according to a set of rules determined by the artist. Emphatically lo-fi and improvisational, the films adopt the anachronistic aesthetic of overexposed black and white film, with rough cuts that suggest Buster Keaton in league with the situationists. The 12 films in Kambalu’s installation Metropolitan (2016) forge links with the show’s older works. Most obviously, Kambalu’s Pickpocket (2013) echoes Vito Acconci’s similarly rule-driven Following (1969–ongoing), but there is also correspondence between films like Cathedral (2016), which shows Kambalu mysteriously striding through a cathedral’s brick facade, and Neša Paripović’s N.P. 1977 (1977), in which the artist courses through the city of Belgrade in a burgundy coat and flared pants, impervious to whatever obstacles might lie in his path – flower beds, highways or apartment buildings. If Kambalu passes through the spaces of his films via the blatant manipulation of the medium, Paripović hurls himself through with physical effort, shimmying down drainpipes or flinging himself over picket fences. After each obstacle is cleared, the artist dusts off his jacket and continues, seemingly oblivious to the stupefied crowds in his wake.
While Paripović’s disregard for private property manages to tug at a small thread of the social fabric, the true tear comes with Pilvi Takala’s Bag Lady (2006). The slide show excerpts a week-long performance for which the artist drifted through a Berlin shopping centre with a clear plastic bag full of cash. Malls, as Walter Benjamin famously observed, are spectacles of conspicuous consumption, but the transactions within them require their mechanism – money – to remain explicitly inconspicuous. As Takala makes her way through the stores, trying on trousers and hanging out in the food court, she is shunned by sales clerks, questioned by security officers and repeatedly offered more discreet bags by concerned fellow shoppers. If selfie culture has helped normalize acts of exhibitionism or deviant behaviour in public, Takala reveals that social spaces still have entry points for intervention, and that public taste can still feel the sting of a well-placed slap.
First published in Issue 183