The film consists of the video documentation of the demonstrations unfolded in the streets of St. Petersburg on 1 May 2017, 2018 and 2019. Demonstrations had happened almost every year since Soviet times untill 2020.
1 May – the day of Labour and Spring – became the possibility for the artistic community of St. Petersburg to express political protest. This day was only one during which it could be imaginable to unite progressive critical thinkers with other citizens. Year after year ,1 May demonstration became a protest art event. More and more people were joining. The imagination of artists brought unique aesthetic to the protest.
We began to film the 1 May demonstrations in 2017, by inviting Nastya Molchanova as a camera person. Later she invited her friend Gleb Milian
to work with other camera. In preparation, I invited people for a workshop at my studio in St. Petersburg to create costumes to wear during the protest and the dress banners , by the using their clothes (I had conceived of these banners, clothes on conceptual sticks, during one of the first protests in 2012). We decided to name our group at the demonstration Column of Fragility. Our costumes took the form of a green cucumbers, referencing the young mind as a reflection on the slow process of raising critical voices among the Russian population. There is expression in Russian : you are like a green cucamber ,which means not mature ,infantile mind. Already in the first 10 minutes of our appearance at the square where the march would depart from, the police came and demanded to make a hole in the costumes, explaining that it was forbidden to cover one’s face during the demonstration. We subordinated to the demand with regret.
In 2018, I invited the Union of Convalescents *to join the demonstration together and filmed it myself. The debate of this year revolved around the topic of forced hospitalization in mental institutions and stigmatization of people with diagnoses of mental illness. We reflected on both problems: the topic of sending disobidient people to psychiatric hospitals to shut them up and the orthodox condition of the post-Soviet countries regarding correct diagnoses, horrible treatment of patients and the lack of the support for institutions of care in general.
2019 brought the topic of police corruption, abuse of power, cruel torture of prisoners and extreme work conditions, especially for migrants. This year filming was done by Ivan Shatravin-Donsov and Natalia Nikulenkova would film the police. But this year we faced a new obstacle; the police had installed a check point, like in an airport, and investigated every item of our protest banners. They asked, why is this written here? What does it mean? Why are they looking so ugly and so on… And then they confiscated it all and threw it in the garbage! After the demonstration, we came back and took what had survived.
I do not know when or if the 1 May demonstrations will ever be possible again. Most of the artistic groups and individuals seen in the videos – my dear friends – are now facing investigations by the Russian government for their political position, with many forced to evacuate the country.
* Union of Convalescents consisted of: Natalia Nikulenkova, Egor Safronov and Pavel Mitenko.
Special thanks for Natalia Nikulenkova by editing the material and assistance.