From the New York Times:
Dmitri Prigov, a prolific and influential Russian poet and artist who at one point was incarcerated in a Soviet psychiatric hospital as punishment for his work, died on Monday. He was 66.The Moscow Times further reported:
Mr. Prigov’s creative expression took many forms. He said in 2005 that he had written nearly 36,000 poems. He also wrote plays and essays, created drawings, installations and video art, acted in films, staged performance art and performed music.
For years his verse circulated in the Soviet Union as samizdat, officially banned literature that was passed furtively hand to hand. Only in 1990, during the last stages of the Communist era, was a collection of his verse officially published in his country. His work had been published extensively abroad in émigré publications and Slavic studies journals.
Trained as a sculptor at the Stroganov Art Institute in Moscow, he began writing poetry in the 1950s, then worked as a municipal architect and created sculptures for parks. In the 1970s he grew close to artists in the Soviet underground and became a leader in Moscow’s conceptual art movement, combining his poetry with performance. He was also known for writing verse on cans.
“In America there was Pop Art,” said Vitaly Patsyukov, a Russian art historian and friend of Mr. Prigov’s. “Here it was ideology as a manifestation of mass consciousness.” Mr. Patsyukov added, “He turned words into objects.”
At the time he was producing work considered subversive by the authorities, Mr. Prigov was stopped while walking down a street in 1986, he recalled, and was whisked away by the K.G.B. and then to a Soviet psychiatric hospital. His stay was brief, however, after prominent poets like Bella Akhmadulina lodged protests.
In the West he was probably best known for his performance art. Rita Lipson, a senior lecturer in Russian literature and culture at Yale University, recalled Mr. Prigov’s performance there. His work, she said, was “a form of social protest.” One of his most widely known cycles of verse is about a Soviet policeman.
Members of the Voina performance group, including students, artists and a few employees of the Cinema Museum, only revealed the location of the wake by telephone a few hours beforehand, to prevent it being stopped by police. Prigov's relatives did not attend. Most elements of the ceremony were symbolic, though in a jokey, rather incoherent way that seemed to echo Prigov's own style of writing.Prigov was reportedly on his way to a reading with the Voina Performance Group. The group planned to drag Prigov in a cupboard up 22 flights of a Moscow State University student dormitory while reading poetry.
The metro was an obvious choice, said Oleg Vorotnikov, the organizer of the wake and the cancelled Moscow State University performance, who works at the Cinema Museum. "He's considered to have gone to heaven, but if you don't believe in God, then he has gone underground."
As for the choice of line: "The Circle Line of the Moscow metro is depicted using the color brown – the color of earth, and the color of feces, waste products. That which is left of you," Vorotnikov said. "What's left of Dmitry Alexandrovich is his poetry and his body, which is located with us in Moscow, not far from the center."
The mourners met at Krasnopresnenskaya metro station, northwest of the city center, and covered a makeshift table with a checkered tablecloth, pickled salads and bowls of candy. Vorotnikov solemnly intoned a few lines of Prigov's poetry. Arriving back at Krasnopresnenskaya, they left the table and the food for metro workers to dispose of -- plus a symbolic plate of food and glass of wine for Prigov.
"They're commemorating something?" asked Magomed Alebekov, who shared the metro car with the revellers for a few stops. "That's diversity," he approved. "If they'd done it somewhere else, it would have been boring."
For those less than familiar with Russian funereal traditions, 3 days, 9 days, and 40 days after death are traditional for wakes or feasts of the dead. The place setting with the bread on the glass of wine is symbolically placed for the departed. From the abstract from a paper by Michel Bouchard, Department of Anthropology, University of Northern British Columbia:
The age-old tradition of feasting the dead has been maintained by Russian populations for well over five centuries. Graveyards hold a special place both in traditional Orthodox faith and in the lives of Russians and others in the city of Narva, Estonia. The tradition of feasting the dead for three, nine and forty days after death, can be traced unbroken to pre-Christian Rus’. Details may vary, but always the soul of the deceased must battle its way out of the body and then spend time in both heaven and hell. While this journey is occurring, the living must remember the dead, helping their souls during this period of travail. Even a final feast one year after the death of the individual does not end the relationship between the living and the deceased, for the graves are still visited on a regular basis as a sign of respect to the dead, who are potential saints in the Russian Orthodox tradition. This ‘saintly’ land — Russian graves — defines homeland and roots the population to a new area.
Postscript - After I wrote this, I saw that both IZO (and by extension, English Russia) had posts regarding this unusual wake. Just want to give credit to those blogs as well.
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