A bar against the Russian salad and an opera with the Ukrainian flag: the logic of symbols against the war | cultural | icon

“We are all responsible for everyone,” said Dostoyevsky in The Karamazov brothers. Even knowing the Russian’s obsession with guilt, it is difficult to know what he would say about the decision taken this week by an Italian university, that of Milano-Bicocca, in response to the Russian offensive in Ukraine: to cancel a lessons on his novels, including Crime and Punishment Yes The idiot. “It’s not just bad to be a Russian living in Italy, it’s also bad to be dead,” the teacher in charge of the courses, Paolo Nori, lamented on Instagram.

This is just part of the cacophony of announcements that have mushroomed on the global cultural scene in recent days. Dozens of institutions, groups and corporations and official bodies announced, one after another, how they responded to a world at war. The Venice Biennale banned Russian cinema. Balenciaga has deleted its Instagram history to only upload images of support for Ukraine. It took a week to see to what extent this war is capable of arousing the unanimous rejection of the West; how far virality can move the world and how distant intent and results can be. On a Friday, the European Broadcasting Union vetoed Russia in the current edition of Eurovision; On a Tuesday, the conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, lost his job for supporting the war.

Some examples are easier to understand than others. Queen Letizia appeared in public on Thursday with a vyshyvanka Is sorochka, the same thing that Jill Biden had done a few days before, with a dress embroidered with a sunflower, a symbol of the invaded country: people with public weight who express the concerns of their peoples. The fashion world has proven that it knows how a symbol works. Balenciaga deleted all posts from its Instagram account, one of its main communication channels with nearly 13 million followers; replaced them with a photo of the Ukrainian flag, while in the section of stories He only shared news related to the conflict and in his description he left a link to the World Food Program website. It is not a decision intended to mobilize the masses, but for its supporters it is a powerfully effective gesture. During Milan Fashion Week, Armani decided to turn off the music for its Sunday 27th show. “The best thing to do is send the message that we don’t want to celebrate anything because something very worrying is happening “, explained the creator. . On Friday, the house announced that it would donate half a million euros to Ukrainian refugees.

In other cases, utility is more elusive. A bar in Maryland, Washington DC has banned vodka and a restaurant in Zaragoza plans to change the name from Russian salad to kyiv salad. The Royal Theater of Madrid has slightly modified its representation of The sunset of the godsof Wagner so that (spoilers 1876) so that in the end the body of the main hero, Siegfried, was not wrapped in a sheet as before, but in a Ukrainian flag.

A moment from the last act of ‘Twilight of the Gods’ during its performance on February 27 at the Teatro Real in Madrid.ASSIGNMENT

What meaning do these gestures have? According to Frédéric Martel, journalist specializing in soft power and author of dominant culture. How are mass phenomena born? (Taurus), a very precious one. “Support, psychological warfare, communication and soft power are essential in any war, especially in 2022, and this will have an impact,” he explains by email. “We can of course be ironic about the mobilization of artists and intellectuals, joke and say that it is nothing more than a spectacle, but each one mobilizes with his own weapons. An artist goes on stage; an intellectual raises the voice. What else can they do? And those who laugh at them do nothing! In your country, a live television broadcast of almost six hours was made this weekend from the National Theater of Chaillot in Paris, in which a hundred artists will perform in favor of Ukraine

These maneuvers are not only made by watching Russia, but the politicians of each country. “It is true that this will not stop Putin’s weapons, paranoia and madness, but it serves as a warning to French supporters of Putin, who are numerous, and in particular among politicians. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon is ultra-proputinian, as are Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, and we are nominating three candidates for the presidential elections on April 10. The voice of the artists will be more useful on their own ground, but it is essential”.

Such movements are not only found in countries far from the conflict. Russian-Ukrainian conceptual artist Aljoscha posed nude February 22 in front of the Statue of the Fatherland in kyiv to protest against the conflict that would arise two days later. This statue, a 60-meter-tall woman with a sword and shield in each hand, is a commemoration of Russia’s participation in World War II and is one of the few remaining symbols of Soviet communism in Ukraine, banned since 2015. Nadya Tolokonnikova of controversial music group Pussy Riot started an organization to raise money for Ukrainian refugees. The money was raised by auctioning off 10,000 Ukrainian flag NFTs, which sold for a total of $6.7 million.

Other institutions prefer to culturally isolate Russia. A group of some 25 artists from different countries have signed an open letter advocating strong “cultural sanctions” against the country, which will now have no representation at the Venice Biennale after participants Alexandra Sukhareva and Kirill Savchenkov withdrew. “There is no place for art when civilians die under missile fire, when Ukrainian citizens hide in shelters and when Russian dissidents are silenced,” Savchenkov explained on Instagram. The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has also decided to do without works and collaborations by Russian artists and organizations until the end of the invasion.

In film, the response has been mixed. The Cannes Film Festival announced that it would not receive official Russian delegations or accept the presence of anyone linked to the Kremlin. “We stand with Ukrainian artists and film industry professionals and their families, whose lives are in danger,” the statement said. They will not veto, yes, Russian productions; yes it will be the Glasgow Festival, which has removed two films from its selection. The Venice Film Festival has taken another route: organizing free screenings of Ukrainian films Vidblysk (Reflection) by Valentyn Vasyanovych, on the armed conflict in the east of the country.

Dissent against Putin becomes a collateral victim of this new order: artists and innocent civilians are now trapped in cultural isolation. The European Film Academy has vetoed Russian cinema in its awards. Hollywood began to cancel Russian premieres of titles such as Batman, from Warner Bros., and lost city Yes sonic 2, both from Paramount. Groups like Green Day, Iggy Pop or Franz Ferdinand have canceled their concerts in the country.

These announcements arouse the concern of those who know the cultural terrain. “I don’t think the Russian people should be harassed or isolated because of their country’s oppressive policies and actions,” said Latvian art curator Raimundas Malašauskas, responsible for the Russia Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale which takes place in April. “I want to avoid unnecessary divisions and instead advocate for forms of solidarity at different levels where there are international forums for art and for artists in Russia to express freely what they cannot express at home.”

Andrei Molodkin, a Russian conceptual artist living in Paris and critic of Putin, agrees: “Putin’s dream is that there is no art or critical discussion,” he says. Another Russian artist living in the French capital, Olga Kisseleva, also spoke out against the boycott and collaborated with Ukrainian artist Taisya Polichuk to create a video-performance titled Women warriors, women in combat to be seen at the Topographie de l’Art in Paris.

Martel admits that “boycotts and censorships are hot reactions and you may end up regretting them”, but understands that this is the most common response at the moment. “We are perhaps entering a new page in the history of Europe. Putin’s defiance of the West, his hatred of Europe and democracy, his KGB tactics, his preference for war over diplomacy and the nuclear threat are exceptionally serious. We no longer live in the Kantian world of peace and law; We have entered a dangerous world. The attention of artists is a good thing. I prefer those who act, create, shout, rather than those who remain passive.

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