The self-proclaimed republic of the United States of Siberia has become the most ambitious and provocative artistic project on Russian territory. The Siberian separatist movement, though much discussed and fretted about by Russians when mentions of it appear on television, differs from other separatist movements (such as those in Catalonia, Scotland, Chechnya and Abkhazia) in a crucial way. It is entirely the invention of a group of artists: the Blue Noses group, Artem Loskutov, Vasily Slonov, and Damir Muratov. So in place of nationalist parties, referenda on independence, separatist governors – Siberian separatism has artists, exhibitions, funny performances, and other manifestations of Siberian humour.
Despite this, the Russian FSB (the Federal Security Bureau, the successor the KGB) has opened countless criminal investigations into the Siberian separatist movement. The artists are under full-time surveillance and curators exhibiting their art have been interrogated about the ownership of weapons maintained by any supporters of the United States of Siberia, the Island of Siberia Freedom, and the United Kingdom of Siberia.
It is worth mentioning that the above-mentioned artists do not group themselves together in the way that the members of Pussy Riot do. Each artist works independently and lives in a different city: Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Ekaterinburg, and Ufa, all of which are hundreds of miles away from each other. Thus the only mechanism these artists have to make themselves heard is to tap into and amplify (even if in the form of a caricature) the deep-set fears of ordinary citizens – which is likely why each of their performances is so violently opposed by the authorities.
THE BLUE NOSES
The Blue Noses group (consisting of the duo Alexander Shaburov and Vyacheslav Mizin) is the best known of the Siberian artists. They express better than anyone else the key feature of Siberian art: self-deprecation and self-mockery. They burst onto the international art scene with a uniquely Siberian answer to the question: “What is art?” The Blue Noses proclaimed as their influences not the giants of European art such as Van Gogh or da Vinci, but rather Basil the Blessed – a Russian Holy Fool, known for telling truth to power through jokes and humour. Thus The Blue Noses through their work mock almost everything and everyone: their fellow artists, the history of art, but first and foremost, Russian society and the Russian state. Their work often walks a fine line between real art and comic sketches. For the same reasons that Charlie Hebdo enrages Islamic fundamentalists, however, Russian politicians try to supress The Blue Noses again and again – they recognise that laughter is a potent weapon.