The installation consists of three videos of demonstrations unfolding in the streets of St. Petersburg on 1 May 2017, 2018 and 2019. This demonstration had happened almost every year since Soviet times. Now it has stopped, an unbearable and tragic reality.
The title comes from the playful winter fight when children are throwing snowballs at each other. In the context of protest, the snowball might be thought of as a precarious relative of the revolutionary cobblestone – as the Russian protest is fragile. 1 May – the day of Labour and Spring – became an important 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 it became a sort of protest art festival. More and more people were joining. The imagination of artists brought unique aesthetics to the expression of indignation.
We began to film the 1 May demonstrations in 2017, inviting Nastya Molchanova as a camera person. In preparation, I invited people for a workshop at my studio in St. Petersburg to create costumes to wear during the protest and banners using their clothes (I had conceived of these banners, clothes on conceptual sticks, during the first 1 May protest in 2012). We decided to name the demonstration Column of Fragility. Our costumes took the form of green cucumbers, referencing the young mind as a reflection on the slow process of raising critical voices among the Russian population. 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 was invited by the Union of Convalescents to join the demonstration together and filmed it myself.1 The debate revolved around the topic of forced hospitalization in mental institutions and stigmatization of people with diagnoses of mental illness. Covering both problems: the topic of protestors being sent 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. I had decided to film with two cameras; while I focused on people, Vanya Shatravin Dostov 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.
1 Union of Convalescents consisted of: Natalia Nikulenkova, Egor Safronov and Pavel Mitenko.