How Did I Get Here?

In a fairytale dream we don’t forget about a reawakening.

Text: Sergey Guskov
Translation : Tobin Auber
Posted on: September 10, 2020

Modern art and fairytales are again working in unison – why? We can answer this question by examining recent history. Just six or seven years ago, there was a group of artists, critics and curators that presented itself as progressive, calling for the demythologization and rationalization of everything and anything. For the most part, they were figures with leftist or leftist-liberal views. Another section of the community put themselves forward on the basis of religion, esoterica or refined taste. This section championed dandyism on the one hand, and spirituality on the other. For the former, tales and myths were something to be overcome, whilst the latter group regarded them as a vulgar expression or even a degeneration of true knowledge. (Not far off there were some fun loving hooligans who were simply playing with the myths of popular culture for laughs). But this hierarchy was doomed.

The underlying context of the 2010s was the spread of the cultural sphere to the masses. A lot of people gained direct access to it. Going to an exhibition or a cinema or buying a book was no longer obligatory as much could now be accessed online. You could also now publicly comment on artistic works, films or plays. An individual statement on a social network or a visit by one person to an exhibition might not amount to much, but when we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of such incidents the situation is radically changed. 

For the generation of cultural experts that grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, this democratizing or populist (depending on which reference system you employ to evaluate the situation) revolution was fatal. The audience no longer required advisers, and certainly had no need of teachers. The latter had to undertake a painful reevaluation of their role in the process of cultural distribution, and were simply forced to look for new jobs. The collapse in expert evaluations was accompanied by a loss of authority for both of the abovementioned parties (the hooligans didn’t suffer particularly). Both positions were high-brow and anti-democratic. Then there came people who were close to the masses. They understood popular-culture production, quoted fashionable TV-series, and pushed themselves and their views with the aid of memes. They were open to the changeable moods of the consumers and where they did insist on their own views they did so with a host of reverential qualifiers. Critics are now prepared to answer comments, to interact with their readers on Facebook and write reviews that are a 140 character long – that’s the standard that was set on the Meduza site[1]. In the noughties such a position was castigated, but in the 2010s it was very much regarded as being the norm. 

This transported art into a realm of blatant myth-making, composition and translation of narratives packed with wonders. Fairytales sell even better than sex. The strategies of mystification and parafiction[2] became so widely disseminated that an artist without an alter ego, his own phantom institute or, at the very least, some stock-in-trade mysterious story, became about as rare as hen’s teeth. The behavioral models became characters from comics and myth became the main construction material. In a very short period of time, the process went so far that it’s even a surprise that all these artistic projects, telegram channels, Instagram accounts and other sources of invention haven’t acquired their own Ovid, Apollodorus or Nikolai Kun[3].

Nevertheless, it wasn’t the artistic sphere that was in the avantgarde of what was taking place. The surrounding world was transforming at a far brisker pace. When, in 2016 everyone began talking of “fake news” and the editors of the Oxford dictionary bestowed the title of new entry of the year to the term “post-truth”, nobody regarded what had taken place as surprising. Both concepts became well-known at a point of social and political escalation, though forebodings had been evident since the beginning of the decade. This was just the tip of the iceberg, however. The cultural wars have long been underway. The classic mass media of the 20th century were capable, of course, of whipping up hysteria on a national scale in order to deal with opponents, but with the arrival of the internet the stakes were raised. The conflicts reached a global level, the warring sides could now mobilize armies of millions and there was nowhere to hide. 

Today the cultural wars are being waged on both sides with the use of weapons of mass mythologization. After all, when you believe that you’re fighting the good fight it only seems natural to campaign hard through to victory. And the best propaganda is built not only on a mythologization of your opponent but also of your own declared values. Liberals and conservatives alike do it, as do those for and against certain rights and freedoms, activists and bureaucrats, businessmen and journalists, and optimists and sceptics on issues revolving around ecology, the internet and robotization.

The era of ubiquitous psychologizing has made this possible. Emotions, along with faith and the sixth sense, are clearly far better regarded than logical conclusions and analysis. Striking fictions embellish this post-rational world. The Marvel universe, Star Wars and Harry Potter have become the new heroic epics. The biographies of the deceased, and sometimes even of robust and living celebrities, are staking a claim to roles previously played by the lives of the saints. The art world has its own hagiography – Lives of the Artists by Calvin Tomkins or the posthumous canonization of Vladislav Mamyshev-Monro and Timur Novikov. All that remains is for us to establish whether the internet is the contemporary counterpart of gothic cathedrals. What’s far more important, however, is what will replace the current “dark ages.” When will, as Hugo put it, the new “this” do away with the “that”[4]? These are questions, no doubt, for the longer perspective. 

The experts have gone, everything and anything is now permitted. Art has lunged in formerly forbidden directions, towards the spectacular, wizardry and myths that garner the public’s interest. But this was the initial level. Now there are qualitative changes underway in the layer of artistic myths that has formed. The subjects, approaches and language are becoming more complicated. A blurred image is no longer sufficient, a well thought out narrative with a mass of detailing is required. Art has adapted to the new conditions and is ready to work with them.

[1] After Twitter, without a doubt.

[2] Carrie Lambert-Beatty. Make Believe: Parafiction and Plausibility. OCTOBER 129, Summer 2009, pp. 51-84

[3] The Russian historian who wrote the seminal “Legends and Myths of the Ancient Greeks” (1922).

[4] In Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo’s character Claude Frollo says to his guests pointing to the book and then to the Notre Dame cathedral: “This will kill that.” This scene symbolizes the end of mythological and visual culture and the victory of rational book culture.


Dialogue of Art, #1, 2020
Dialogue of Arts online magazine