Critics’ Picks

The Brotherhood of New Blockheads, Blessed Easter Sunday, 1999, still from action and video performance.

Zurich

The Brotherhood of the New Blockheads

Kunsthalle Zurich
Limmatstrasse 270
February 16–May 26, 2019

A vast array of drawings, photographs, videos, restaged installations, and artifacts by the Brotherhood of the New Blockheads—a Russian performance collective active mainly in and around Saint Petersburg in the mid-1990s—is presented in this archival exhibition. From 1996 to 2002, the eclectic fraternity’s eight key figures staged more than one hundred performances, often combining mundane materials such as magazine covers and canned foods with playfully archaic and at times mythical language. For The Movement of a Tea Table Towards the Sunset. Seven Days of Travel, 1996, the members loitered around Saint Petersburg monuments with a table and two folding chairs, idly drinking beer while developing a performance script and interacting with passersby. Perhaps due to the officious, bureaucracy-invoking presence of a typewriter, the Blockheads went along their route, from the Palace Square to the Alexander Column, unquestioned by security guards or police.

In both the collective’s antics and this exhibition, riffs on totalitarianism and the pomp of its language are presented alongside evidence of post-Communist Russia’s existential and material instability. In the Blockheads’ work, it often seems that levity is just precarity’s carefree sibling. In April 1999, the group traveled to the Shapkinskiye Lakes near Saint Petersburg to create their performance Blessed Easter Sunday, part of their “Central Russian Elevated Stupidity Project,” 1999. Documentation shows three men on a blanket overlooking a forested landscape. Theatrically consuming simple foods (ham, eggs, bread) in the nude, their bodies in this scene convey a sense of a ritualistic communion. Or perhaps, as the project title suggests, they are simply playacting a stupid activity.