Moscow - Conversations - Not to talk - Brotherhood - Inspection - Success or not - Gorbatschovism - NOMA - Ideologization of Unknown - Structure - Context - Performances - LINKS

Medizinische Hermeneutik
Die Auflösung und Umgestaltung des Ostblocks seit 1987 korrespondierte mit Entwicklungen und Neuorientierungen auch in der Kunst und Kultur der ehemaligen Sowjetunion und Rußlands. - Die Gruppe "medizinische Hermeneutik" war einerseits eine direkte Reaktion auf diese Phänomene, andererseits entwickelte sie einen neuen Standpunkt, aus dem Kontext der Kunst heraus, aber darüber hinaus gerichtet. Auffällig ist zudem, mit welcher Konsequenz und Erfolg sich die Gruppe und ihr Umfeld als Kristallisationspunkt einer "konzeptionellen Moskauer Schule" inszeniert haben.
Das folgende Gespräch führte der Autor im Juni 1997 mit
Pavel Pepperstein, einem der Gründer der Gruppe, in seinem Kölner Atelier, wo der Moskauer zeitweise arbeitet.
Da Pepperstein kaum deutsch spricht, der Autor kaum russisch, wurde das Gespräch in englisch geführt und erscheint auch in dieser Form und ohne Korrektur. In den Links finden sich Verweise auch auf russische Texte und Websites zur medizinischen Hermeneutik im engeren und die besagte Schule im weiteren Sinne.
Klärende Ergänzungen des Autors, die in der Schriftform des Gespräch sonst unklar geblieben wären, sind [in Klammern] gesetzt.

Medical Hermeneutics
The dissolution and reform of the eastern block since 1987 corresponded with developments and reorientations in culture and art of the former SU and of Russia. The group 'medical hermeneutics' was a direct reaction to these phenomenon, but also it developed a new point of view, out of the art context but aimed beyond. It is also striking to see how the group succeeded in presenting itself as a crystallizing point of a 'moscow conceptual school' of art.
This conversation was held by the author in June 1997 with
Pavel Pepperstein, one of the groups founders, in his cologne studio where he works from time to time.
As Pepperstein speaks merely german and the author merely russian the conversation was held in english and is presented here without corrections. Links to russian texts and websites are at the end of this document. Explaining remarks of the author are set [in brackets].

Bernd von den Brincken, July 97,  

What was the starting situation for the group?
It was in December 1987 the first time I met Sergeji Anufriev, it was a house where lot of artists work, Furmane, a street in
Moscow. Once i came there I met Sergej, we were speaking and we compared our feelings for this [historic] moment, and we found them similar. Because half a year before we stopped our [art] working. What kind of working was this?
A lot of different things, but we should not talk about it now, it was
conceptual art. At this moment we thought that we make pause, and use this pause to work on theoretical background...

One of this dialogues was translated and published in german, so you can read it, it was about freedom, it is called "contraceptive conversation about freedom". In this dialogue we were discussing one idea of performance. The Performance was: we make big balls of snow in wintertime, then we move with big balls, each man and woman has one ball, [sitting and] holding in a flat in a room, around big table, each has a ball in front of him or her, and then we must speak, only one rule: we do not speak like men, but we have to imagine us to be gods. And in process of speaking, each of participants must observe the process of melting of the snowball. (illustrates) Because: form of ball is absolute form, ideal, at first we identify with this ideal form, in the beginning we are gods, we created our own worlds, like each of us had created the universe. But, because we are sitting in a warm room, the balls will melt and we have to think about this. And speak [about melting]? No, the question is, how this process willl influence our speech. And of course, at the end, when balls are absolutely melted, when we have only dirt in our hands and this uncomfortable feeling in our trousers, we are men, not gods anymore, we have lost our divinity.

We didn`t realize this performance, because thinking about it we deeply meditated about this idea, so it was not neccessary to realize. But the idea of this not realized performance did absolutely influence our work. You can read it in the catalogue of Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, it is a book edited for our exhibition in 1990.

... We make conversations with tape recorder.
There was a concept about these conversations from the beginning?
At the beginning we decided just to meet and talk. And then we made many conversations and it turned to be a special practice. At first we were two, then came third, Juri Lederman, from Odessa, Sergei he is also from Odessa. At the beginning there was a decision to make nine conversations, and this was our first book: It was
three triangles [of notions], three triangles - first was: hope, love, believe. Then, second triangle, was, it was a official slogan, ... "Communistic party is mind, honour and conscience of our time." So we made this triangle.
After the first conversation we decided for the second. (makes illustration of words in structure)
Third triangle was like french revolution:
freedom, equality and brotherhood. So we took three quite banal, abstract matters of humanity. Our concept was to make a long talk but not to talk about any of these words [directly]. It was like "going around".

During the third conversation, brotherhood, following the logic of our discourse, we decided to make a group "Inspection medical hermeneutic". It was NOT about brotherhood, NOT connected, like a system of rings, a chain with nine rings (illustrates).
All of these conversations where about to find a way or technique, mental or aesthetic technique to find a way to make us independent of those [nine] ideas. In the process of this type of discourse we were
tasting the ideas somehow, because in the periphery of our mind nevertheless determined by the power which is in all this, all of these words are already in a collective purpose.

Taste but not eating? Yes, tasting, not eating, I doubt that it is very good english.... (laughter)

Again - the last conversation: about brotherhood. We found it the most agressive of this list of words - it is one of the most totalitarian projects, like the society would be a family. Then we were talking about how to protect against this brothers, we are not brothers although we are talking.
Then we decide that "together we can be not-brothers", so this is a
brotherhood against brotherhood (smile). Microscopical brotherhood against macroscopical.

[The concept of] Brotherhood is very old, from archaic rituals, when in tribals younger teenagers should be isolated in a magic house, were very hardly treated from spiritual teachers, they must learn magic rituals - this was brotherhood for them, it was always spiritual unity, it starts when you are taken from family, from mother, like in monastry (Kloster) or army. In ethnology they call it "male houses".

Conscience! - Mind, honour, (Gewissen) - in russian it is...: UM chest sovest, is very very important for russian philosophy and spirituality, it is aristrocatic ethic complex. They don't speak about spiritual practice, meditation for instance, they say UM - for my interpretation it is from sanskrit, like um mani pamtme um- cleverness is like lotus flower. Also has a meaning like proudness.


Beer bar called "white nights", in Moscow, now it is closed, was very nice place, huge, very funny Brechnjew design.
Special design? Of course, very interesting aesthetic, usually very ugly, my favourite, it is luxury together with ascetism, special ugliness, just kitsch, not over-kitsch, aesthetic kitsch, kitsch-povery (laughter).

Then we start with another text, we called it "unsere gemütlich Kampf" [german for: our pleasant fight], it was one text in german. Just one of the preambles of founding our group.

But the main thing was the idea of inspection, we were not group but inspection. Everyone around us were doing something - working, creating...
Artists? No, everything, also art, but endless list. So we started visits of different places. First was inspection of beer bar called "white nights", in Moscow. So we went there with block notes, made marks for everything, for example quality of beer, of food, of design, of wheather, wheather was nice, grey but warm, typical for Moscow. There was a worker from Lipiz, he was talking about his life, very interesting, so he got five marks, highest.
It was a special system, different categories:
perspectivity, psychedelic - "p.d. category", etc.

But the highest category, we called
VOK category
. This was absolutely irrational. When we took this mark we had to be absolutely spontaneous, so it was absolutely unpredictable, should be very quick, not changeable, to make this mark, on the scale from 1- to 5+, the highest. With these inspections, we visit many different events, studios of artists, writers, exhibitions, official and unofficial, subway stations, post offices - but accidental, never specially, just accidentially, usually it was spontaneous decision.

So for many artists of our surrounding of artists, friends, it was funny influence on them, because it was time when the west became important; and consciously or not they started to think about success or not in context with western curators, critics, visitors. And we tried to create alternative "government for art", alternative system of criterias.
Important was: we absolutely had no practical importance for them, nothing
real. This was very important for us, [that] such a abstract alternative can work, and it worked, a lot of them they wanted this. So you helped the artist community? Yes, idea to help, but also idea to create another mental space, all of them they needed this, this is why it worked. It is the wish not to be in the context of normal art world but in context of own art world, not common.
So it worked - but how did you know, was there a feedback? - We just felt it was ... effective, we felt our activity which was so absurd would be helpful ... and even therapeutic for the situation.

First we told the artists to work less, to stop. They all wanted to prepare for a possible career. They made the psychic condition not so good with so much work. So we made propaganda for not so much work.
Then we made propaganda for a completely new communication of art pieces. [...]
Then we start conversation with other artists, authors, writers - not just we three. Many were tape recorded.

Was the old [political] system still valid [in 1987]? - It was the time of deep Gorbatschovism, liberty, Perestroika - but nobody knew it was going [to stay] this way or to a new totalitarian system. We were not optimistic, many pessimistic, even we.
But we were happy... because at this moment we had this feeling to be .. be free. So it was atmosphere of permanent holiday... Fest (german for: celebration).
It was atmosphere of freedom - and pessimism made this freedom even more deep then if we would be optimistic.

Our first  public lecture  was in Moscow University in January 1988 on a conference called "new languages in art".
So it was two lectures, one by Sergeji [Anufriev], one by me, the common title: "Uncorrupted bureaucrats of time of pale flags." -
? - (smile) Because the power stopped to change flags, so red flags were becoming pink or white, so it was ideological process of paling. The title of Sergeji´s speech was "Inspector Statement", my "Ideologization of Unknown". This was quite important, I was talking about important idea of us - idea of unknown. It was about ideology in general, and [that] every critic of ideology becomes a part of ideology - or another ideology. What is possible to confront to this endless circulation? - We decided it should be "ideologization". It is different to "ideology" - a process without final product, endless and resultless. Then we decided: It should be "Ideologization of Unknown", could be both entrance and exit from this ideology of circulation.

And we created special formula which could be used as a base, fundament for this "Ideologization of Unknown". We called it  Formula of Unknown:
"We certainly know that we don't know if the unknown is known for us or not."
(not smiling) - Also a definition of "unknown"?! - And Known!

Another definition of this lecture was a new term for circle of Moscow conceptual art. And this word is NOMA (writing on interviewer´s block) - Normalna! - Like "normalna" without "r". This word became deeply to language, everybody use it, was very ... sucessful. It is a voluntaristic word but comes from a group of associations, first of all: Nom - was in old egypt: districts in egypt that were named by parts of Osiris' body.
Also "Nomenklatura"! - Yes, also. Many other associations, you can read about it in books, many authors write about it. Kabakov [russian artist] did special exhibition in Hamburg 1993 and it was a special german/russian book "Noma" with many texts. The first text is mine, "Rapport NOMA - NOMA".

So it is possible to say this lecture was historic, it was a successful preposition, became part of dictionary of russian art, at least.
(Richness - my basic feeling is that richness has many aspects... cultural identity IS richness, and whether this is combined with material richness is just a question of... situation).

Medical hermeneutics - does it still exist? - Yes. Next idea was the idea of "void canon", like book of laws - concept of void, emptyness is also central idea of conceptualism. In spring 1988 we start to work on second book [after that first book with 9 conversations].
In this book we used special metapher of
Latex, we inspect different art pieces and texts if there is Latex in it - it is empty but it is also glue, it can glue things together, it can fix certain interpretations. Is Medical Hermeneutics meant to stay in the art scene [or will it go beyond]? - For us it is not so important which context [art or other]. For us it was moment of experiment, of inspect so to say, we don´t just produce, but inside we inspect through these productions what conditions can be used or born or exist or NOT be born, used, exist.

The group is closely defined? - More of structures of Medical Hermeneutics, there is history of structure, it could be a longer story of itself.
First it was just three people (Sergei, Lederman, me) and we called ourself inspectors. But soon we decide to take other people as
junior inspectors, we were senior inspectors - the purpose was to help juniors but they [were] almost never helped. They have a special history, sometimes we analyzed the circle of junior. It was never more than ten, usually less. But in beginning of 1991 group changed because Lederman went away and stopped to be member. Instead we took another friend of us, Vladimir Fjedorov. Then we make change again in structure, we cancelled status of "junior inspector", instead: 1. inspection, 2. collegium of inspection, they are inspectors but not group. They have a structure to help us, be around, protect us. - It worked? - Partly. - Mental or physical? - Just mental, not physical, not practical!
Of course, main help is help of our girlfriend and wife, like my friend Victoria. That is, when we make installations we make them together with them.
Another concept of "collegium" is to involve different areas of people, for example there is one medician..., different professions.

...performances... Like the chess tournament, a big table (illustrates)... Instead of chessboard it was just white papers, instead of chessplay we were writing dialogues on paper, was very funny, some were philosophers, some were friends which were very comic [funny], third group were women who worked in the institutes. 1. group, philosophers, reacted on the word "hermeneutic", 2. friends, they react on us because they knew us, 3. women, they react on word "medical", each on a different side of the table. The women asked us about medical questions, different type of healing, psychical etc. So they asked us to help them.

What means of action and communication are used? - Exhibition, installation, art pieces. Sometimes we teached, for example I was guest professor in Frankfurt, Hamburg. We gave a lot of lectures, cooperations with authors, a lot of literature. Literature is very central for russian culture, as central column. Then performances, for example institute of philosophy in moscow, "seance of simultaneous discourse", we invited different people. - So, we are not fixed on a certain type.
So, not everything you do is connected to medical Hermeneutics? - No, no!