Artyčok Recommends

Two things are most alien to Viktor Pivovarov’s world: mysticism and secret services. In one of his letters (to be published later this year) he recalls his visit to an exhibition of an artist called Vasiliev whose works were worshipped by many after his tragic death in 1970s. Having seen a mixture of ‘Christian Orthodox gibberish, Scandinavian mysticism, and unconscious fascist archetypes’ Pivovarov yelled at the paintings and the admiring public: “This is harlotry and you all are harlots!” His attitude to the Soviet national secret service that debauched and demoralized people when it was not killing them can be described with the same words. And yet, here we are: Agent in Norway. 72 pages, three parts, special equipment, mysterious drawings instead of conventional telegrams, The White Ascension group, talking stones and secret operations in the fiords. Why all this secret services paraphernalia combined with pseudoreligious ‘gibberish’? Who is the agent? And whom is he working for?
In reality, the only reason for secret services to exist is power. Knowledge is instrumental to seizing power and retaining it. Agents are secret because the knowledge they obtain must be objective, they shouldn’t influence it. The operations are rare because they change the balance of forces and nobody needs to do that often. Should one be interested in knowledge as such, should one seek the truth disinterestedly, one turns to science and its most general form, philosophy.
However, in the perverted reality that Viktor Pivovarov and his fellow Moscow conceptualists lived in the 1970s and 80s, knowledge was proclaimed to be the power. “Lenin’s teaching is omnipotent because it is true”, said numerous posters. ‘True philosophy’ was ‘scientific’ and it opened the doors of top offices. Secret services were not secret. Everyone knew his own snitch and preferred to keep him or her for as long as possible, for the new one could do something unusual. Agents’ dispatches were in fact boring and the form was rudimentary. There was hardly anyone who did not know how an anonymous denunciation looks like. There was no question of seizing power or retaining it. Power was in the hands of the powerful and could only be exercised. It seemed that the sole channel that allowed an ordinary person to touch the reality was mysticism.
But it only seemed so. Everyone – with a little help of imagination – could turn into an extraordinary human being and become a spy who shadows real truth, one that is not instrumental to anything. Everyone could go to a faraway land of fiords and talking stones where several competing groups of intellectuals try to change the balance of forces by means of carefully planned secret operations. When those operations turn out successful, blue mice start falling from the sky and dispatches sent from that land become works of art. The agent is, thus, an artist-philosopher. The center he works for is truth.
However, there is something else that permeates the gaps between art, truth and secret operations of learning. The agent seems to entertain certain feeling for Frida Simonson. He records she bought soft sofas. He is deep in love, which is real, true and yet mysterious, i.e. calling for further investigation.

Olga Serebryanaya

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