Sergei Mironenko began as one of Russia’s semidesyatniki – a group of artists who fought for expression during the changeable “stagnant era” of the 70’s. He was educated at the Gorki Theater Academy of Art in Moscow and graduated from the theatre department at MXAT in 1981.
Mironenko began his artistic career when in 1978 he joined a group called the Mykhomor (“Toadstools” in English.) Other members included Sven Gundlach, Konstantin Zvezdochetov, Alexei Kaminski and Vladimir Mironenko (Sergei’s twin brother). This anti-establishment collective dabbled in various forms of art including writing, performance, graphics, painting, and music. They wrote and bound their own books of poetry, made posters and put on performance art skits. In 1982 they released a musical piece entitled “Golden Disk” which launched them into brief super-stardom. The production, quickly banned in the USSR after being played on the BBC, featured the young artists reading poetry over a diverse collection of world music. Included in the musical mash-up were the groups Shocking Blue, ABBA, and Stasa Namina, but also the ringing of the Kremlin bells, Verdi, Arabic melodies, blues improvisation, country, jazz standards, and fragments from the symphonies of Chekhov and Beethoven.
Despite the fact that none of the members of the group had any particular musical talent, the poetic piece attracted an avid cult following. Soon they were ranked on a par with Pink Floyd on Russian musical charts. The Mykhomor handled the idea of being pop stars like it was any one of their other conceptual art projects, and they continued to put on skits and write poetry. Using the Futurists of the 1910s as an example, they turned their own image into an earnest art project. Konstantin Zvezdochetov declared: “We are not concerned with art. Our main work – it is our existence.”
One description of a Mykhomor exhibit shows the attention given to the experience of the audience. Evidently at one showing the Mykhomor group hid behind a large spread of white paper. They began tearing the paper apart slowly from behind. After a while, they projected a seascape on the white paper, also from behind. As the paper came down, the seascape became little by little projected on the audience rather than on the “canvas.” As the paper came apart, they threw torn-off pieces and poured water through. Throughout, a low hum of words and other sounds was played as a background – this was the sea babble, which the audience described as lulling and soothing. The experience of the audience steadily became the work of art – as if the art clawed its way from the canvas in order to insinuate itself into the lives of the viewers.
Mironenko stopped his work with the Mykhomor in 1984 and became more involved with the unofficial or nonconformist artists. He participated in several Apt Art exhibitions – which earned their name by traditionally being held in apartments. The Apt Art movement, which ran from 1982-1984, was differentiated by its inherent embrace of conceptual art. The artists would frequently use their setting as a ready-made artistic commentary on the stagnancy induced by the shortcomings of state reform. Mironenko was among the first to exhibit on Furmanny Lane, a small street in Moscow in which unemployed artists would alternate between squatting in dank basements and holding sincere art showings.
Mironenko had long been a conceptualist, but around this period he became more involved with the Sots-Art movement, Russia’s answer to American Pop-Art. The movement in America largely came as a reaction to commercialization and the heavy presence of marketing slogans in daily life. In Russia, the slow dismantling of the reign of Socialist Realism and its counterpart propaganda left ample material and a ready-made canvas for ironic art. Sots-Art subverted Russian propaganda, Socialist Realism and other forms of government repression.
Mironenko entered Sots-Art with an artistic background in theatre, writing, painting and conceptual Apt Art installations. His Sots-Art work consequently drew from a broad spectrum of influences. In Area Hero (1988), Mironenko displayed an actual hospital bed for war veterans with the inscription “Area Hero”. The words underlined the irony of the state’s treatment of veterans while turning traditional propaganda on its head.
In Presidential Election Campaign (1988) he showed an accurate, almost full-size election billboard, on which the artist himself is nominated for President. This expressed the feelings of freedom brought about by the election as well as the freedoms of expression allowed by perestroika and glasnost. However, a desk placed before the billboard bore, in place of an uplifting campaign slogan, the words “What have these swine done to our country?”
While in both cases the words intone Sots-Art irony, the mentality that everything is stagecraft and that the audience is complicit can be clearly traced back to Mironenko’s days with the conceptualists and the Mykhomor. In both Area Hero and Presidential Election Campaign, the art is not framed or emotionally distanced from the viewer as “art.” Instead, the viewer is made to feel as if he or she is being confronted with an actual scenario. It’s as if a real part of life is being subtitled and turned upside down. This interactive element has become a staple of Mironenko’s work.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s Mironenko participated in exhibitions both in Russia and abroad. In addition to his installations, he also produced many Sots-Art paintings, usually red print on black drawings apparently in the style of traditional Socialist Realism.
His 1992 piece, “Signature” – essentially a canvas in the shape of a signature and copyright insignia– was a comment on the supreme importance of monetary value within Pop-Art and Sots-Art. In calculating the worth of Sots-Art and Pop-Art pieces, the all-important consideration was the presence or absence of the artist’s signature. Hence, Mironenko cut out the middle man (the art) and simply made the signature into the exhibited piece.
In 1995, he began to pursue design but he returned to “high” art in 2003 with “Apartment Exhibition.” Since then, he has shown his work several times. First, in 2006 he exhibited at “Artists Against The State: Perestroika Revisited” at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc. in New York and “Handle with care: glass” at Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art.
In 2007 he participated in “Sots Art. Political Art in Russia from 1972 up to Today” at the Maison Rouge in Paris. In his 2009 he exhibited at the Aiden Gallery in the Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. At this latter show, his installation was entitled “Elements,” and it featured a wall-spanning periodic table of fake elements including “Comfort,” “Illusion,” “Fiasco,” and “Patiency.” On one wall is an enormous poster reading: “Falsification: The Accelerator for Filling in Spaces.”
Of this installation, Mironenko said: “Spectators are always in dialogue with the product and become, in essence, an integral part, as a result of their interaction and there is something that can be called art or, conversely, can not be labeled as such. [. . .] The work appeared [to be an] orderly system in the form of a table of elements, packaged for easy understanding in the form of the periodic table, but [was] filled with other domestic content.”
The discrepancy between what one expects and what one gets is important in Mironenko’s work because of the high value he places on the thought processes of the viewer. A large part of his art exists within theses struggles to comprehend. The viewer either accepts the art or rejects it, but either way he or she is pulled into a dialogue.
Source Material From:
The Museological Unconscious by Victor Tupitsyn (Chapter 2: Communal (Post)Modernism: A Short History), 2009.