Artist Andrei Molodkin was born in a small town in North-Western Russia. growing up to serve in the Soviet Army for two years. After this, he graduated from the Architecture and Interior design department at the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry. With a background as fraught as this is no surprise, he uses blood as part of his alive, direct and powerful artwork. Find out more from him directly here about his work directly in his own words and about the vitality that drives his work. Blood on the Canvas
Molodkin’s practice comprises drawing, sculpture and installation. During his career, his works have included drawings made in ballpoint pen, an implement that references his experiences in the Soviet Military as soldiers were given two Bic pens a day to write letters.
His sculptures and installations often employ materials techniques and practices common in engineering and he is known for creating complex mechanical systems consisting of air compressors, cast-iron pumps, and plastic tubing that pump liquids (most commonly blood and/or crude oil) around hollowed perspex replicas of sculptures and architecture, as well as politically loaded words and phrases.
Molodkin’s work draws attention to the technical systems that channel political and economic configurations and to the ways in which words, concepts and spaces can be coloured, inflected, shaped and filled by their associations with oil.
His 2009 work ‘Le Rouge et le Noir, a multimedia installation that featured two hollow acrylic block replicas of the statue of Nike of Samothrace, a Hellenistic sculpture on permanent display at the Louvre. The installation featured the blood of a Russian soldier and veteran of the Chechen War being mixed, using a system of pumps, with Chechen oil inside the cavities of the blocks.
A 2013 exhibition by Molodkin in the Void Gallery in Derry entitled ‘Catholic Blood’ was created specifically for the context of Derry and Northern Ireland. ‘Catholic Blood’ tapped into contentious historical religious divides in Ireland.
Politicla art at one point was vital to changing minds and in these gravely difficult times will we see a rise in this vital form of messaging? So we at .Cent asked Andrei directly some questions to help us furth engage with his powerful works
Why blood? Why real Blood? Why is it so important that you use real blood in your artwork?
During military service in the Soviet Union, I saw a fellow soldier put a gun to his heart and shoot himself. Later we were eating in the canteen and the guards pulled him through the room, his body and clothes covered in blood. I had come to the army from art school where I dreamt that culture could save the world. It was on this day I realized that in the military there was no such thing as culture. Soldiers are brainwashed. When you can lose your life in a few seconds you are told to run. And you run. You give your life for someone else. Nothing is important; it is just about survival. Seeing this man dragged across the floor, it was from there I understood blood as a currency – a material that demonstrated the physical cost of war.
“Putin Filled with Ukrainian Blood” a portrait of the Russian president hollowed in an acrylic block. Blood pours into the block, filling the empty lines and spaces in the frame to the rhythm of a heartbeat. The blood was donated by Ukrainian friends and co-workers living at The Foundry. After donating their blood, they went back to Ukraine to fight the Russian army. The wives and children of the men came and lived with me.
The use of human blood is necessary to interrogate the existing political system.
Are there artists in the past that have used this medium that has managed to help you on your own creative journey? And if so do you recall a moment when their work ‘hit you’
Picasso had his studio in Paris during the German occupation. It’s well known that a Nazi officer came to visit him. He thought he was very cultural coming to see an artist and their work. The Nazi saw an image of Guernica and asked Picasso ‘Did you do that?’ and Picasso replied ‘No, you did.’
Why do you do political art, is it because of where and how you grew up again where there other political artists that impacted your life and if so when and how?
This idea started for me when I was a child. I was born in a small city in the snow in the north of Russia. When I was 9 or 10 I used to put many metal nails on the railroad under the train and was surprised how the train flattened them. I began putting more and more things on the track; money, metal, buttons. They became squashed in different ways. I became so curious I used bigger and bigger things – but then one day we crashed the train. My mother had to check me into the police station every month because I was on the blacklist for terrible children. This memory stays with me until now – I still try to understand what it is to transform an object into something else, to take from one world and transform into another.
Why do you feel art that is political is important and in what ways do you see it as a creative yourself, and it impacts others.
When you walk around Tate Modern, MoMA and these types of institutions you realise that the walls protect you from the outside world. They construct an atmosphere where you feel you are detached from time and space. The artwork I produce and the work that is produced at The Foundry is based on risk, as it captures or points a gun at the contemporary moment.
I take art and place it in the social space. It’s a formal approach. The Putin artwork was integrated into contemporary warfare through AR on Putin’s Victory Day Parade on Red Square, and on the savaged, bombed-out landscapes in Ukraine. It was written in the papers things like Russia uprising as furious ex-soviet openly shames ‘bloodthirsty’ Putin in Moscow streets. PUTIN has been humiliated on Victory Day as a portrait of him filled with the blood of Ukrainian soldiers is shared with onlookers in Moscow. More than 200,000 people within a one-mile radius of the parade were expected to use the technology.
When you have an idea of a piece you want to create how do you go about it, its always interesting to understand an artist’s process/way of working
I grew up in a small city. We didn’t have any museums but we had an industrial zone. The Foundry is where I live now. It is a 4500 square metre ex-ammunition factory by Lourdes, the pilgrimage site in the south of France. It is a place where artists, musicians, criminals, and investigative journalists all come to discuss and produce. It’s a new concept where you talk, experiment, produce and permanently install the work. I have been censored all my life. Art is the last remaining free space. I wanted to create a free space away from Museums and Institutions.
In Northern Ireland, I presented the rose window from the Houses of Parliament – a Protestant symbol – and on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland I asked only Catholics to come forward to give their blood. This exhibition was nearly shut down on the opening night, but many people protested. They wanted to give their blood as their democratic and personal right. When I represented Russia in 2009 at the Venice Biennale they closed it, they banned me, they did not let me give any interviews, they told me that I don’t exist and they took out all the documentation from the wall to explain what the substances were and where they came from; the context of the work. I tried to show people that we live in the real world, in the real moment.
At The Foundry, we make FOUNDRY UNIFORMS by hand as a living identity of the work we are producing and the ideas we materialise. These have included lines with artists Erik Bulatov, Andres Serrano and Democracia. For the anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bomb, we collaborated with Nagasaki-born Noise musicians Makoto and Yukata Sakamoto to remember the innocent civilians who died or were maimed at the hands of the American government 77 years ago. The brothers and their family donated their radioactive blood to the artwork Whitehouse Filled with Radioactive Blood, which was used on the clothing.
The line was launched on Tuesday, 9th August, Nagasaki Memorial Day at the Nagasaki Art Museum. The two brothers performed their ‘Atomic Message’ for 8 hours alongside a video from Molodkin that included a projection of the White House filled with their own radioactive blood. The event was also a memorial for their grandfather, a survivor of the bomb, who recently passed away at the age of 90.
Chinese-born Zoe Huiwen Shi, who runs FOUNDRY UNIFORM and uses Molodkin’s artwork on the clothing said
“We are now closer to a nuclear catastrophe like Hiroshima and Nagasaki than ever before. America bombed Japan in part as a warning to others. Here we are again, witnessing tensions escalate. This time it’s different. This time we know the devastation these bombs leave behind.”
Do the early works of Russian propaganda artists say the new constructivists have an impact on you?
My work is from the perspective of an ex-military person, I know what war means and I know its human cost. In every barrel of Russian oil, there is Ukrainian blood. Money for gas and oil is continuing this war. This image can help to deconstruct Russian propaganda. I believe that at this moment it’s only culture that can change the world. Russian media is all Kremlin-controlled, but images like this can deconstruct the language of power.
You use a mixture of mediums can you share with us why?
It is essential to put people in front of difficult choices, shameful situations that they are not used to discussing – like nationalism, blood, violence and death. In Capitalism, people try to smile, hide and pretend death does not exist, while it exists somehow in other countries. They don’t want to accept that the colonial world they grew up in ruined countries and people.
To find out more about Foundry Uniform please visit FOUNDRYUNIFORM.COM Here
I always believed we are living in an oil democracy and we pay for this with human blood.
If you enjoyed reading Blood on the Canvas why not read the Click that speaks Here
.Cent Magazine London, Be Inspired; Get Involved