Fishes Are Dumb - We Are No Slaves
By Olga Bozhko
25 November 2015 - 13 January 2016
A site-specific installation that plays with ideas of memory and history as they are reflected both in the language of the streets and in the language of government propaganda.
Bozhko is fascinated by the way everyday Russian language mutates alongside ever-changing Russian perceptions of history. Living and working in Moscow, Bozhko pays attention to the graffiti, advertising and government slogans which comment, often unconsciously, on Russian society today.
The works of the installation were knitted by hand - a symbolically soft and feminine medium. The large size of the works imply a considerable investment of labour and time: we usually associate this type of labour with domestic craft, which sets out to ‘wrap’ home life in comforting, soft hand-made material. But the images and particularly the inscriptions on the works are unsettling. Some of them imitate brick walls covered with angry graffiti, others - net curtains - but with slogans woven in to them. In the context of the elegant early Georgian architecture of Pushkin House, they turn into politically-charged comments on the past and present of Russia.
The key piece here is inspired by Pushkin's iconic version of the famous Russian fairytale, “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish”. It is a large hand-knitted ‘fishing-net' in the colours of Russian flag with the inscription ‘Ryby Nemy’ (Fishes Are Dumb).
The inscription recalls the early Soviet propaganda slogan ‘Raby Ne My’ which in Russian means ‘We Are No Slaves’. Between 1917 and the onset of Perestroika, the phrase always featured in the Soviet primary school literacy programme and as a result resonates today with generations of Russian- speakers. This play on words shows how very subtle changes in can disarm (and in fact then re-arm) a powerful propagandistic message. To Russian ears, the phrase ‘We are no slaves’ is associated with one of the grand ideological narratives of the last century; ‘fishes are dumb’ may be read factually or of course as a metaphor for silent shoals of people caught in nets of government propaganda.
Olga Bozhko is a highly-regarded artist based in Moscow. She graduated from the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (2000), and the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Art (2010). Bozhko works in different media, including installation, painting and drawing. She is a regular participant in major group shows in Russia and Europe. This exhibition was her eighth solo show. Her works have also been previously exhibited in group exhibitions in Calvert 22 (2010) and in Pushkin House (2014).