This article originally appeared in Monster Children #63. To see more from the issue, pick up a copy here.
You know what does a lot of travelling? Blood. The average human contains roughly 5.6 litres (six quarts) of blood, which circulates through the body three times every-damn-minute. In a day, your blood travels a total of 19,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), and in two days it has almost travelled the same distance as the equatorial circumference of Earth, which is 40,075 km (24,901 miles). Your blood goes halfway round the world every twenty-four-hours. That. Is. Fucking. In. Sane. You know what else is crazy? Andrei Moldkin’s latest controversy magnet of an art show, YOUNG BLOOD. You might remember Andrei as the Russian artist whose epic ballpoint pen sketches of skulls graced these pages back in 2006 (MC #13). Since then, he’s done a bunch of cool politically charged work, much of it incorporating human blood. Is he a vampire? Possibly. We sent a pigeon to Transylvania with an interview request taped to its leg, but Andrei bit its head off and chugged it like Gatorade. So, then we just called him up and asked him about his latest bright-red ‘Fuck You’ to The Man.
Your work in the BLACK HORIZON exhibition is best described as ‘hectic.’ What’s it all about?
YOUNG BLOOD is an action against what society tries to censor. It’s made up of acrylic sculptures, empty vessels that spell out phrases from prohibited and suppressed music. These sculptures are connected to pipes, industrial compressors, pumps and medical fridges. I ask visitors to come forward and donate their blood to the lyric of their choice. They have the opportunity to give part of themselves to something that they believe in. It’s a rare experience to see your thick, red blood pour directly into a piece of art projected twenty times the scale on the wall. Everyone has a different reason to be a part of it.
Right. And what kind of censorship have you come up against as an artist?
I’ve been censored all through my life. In the military, you agree to conform to a particular discipline. There is no room for self-expression or individuality—you’re conditioned to self-censor. When I exhibited my work at the Venice Biennale in the Russian Pavilion, I used Chechen oil and the blood of Russian soldiers who had fought in Chechnya, and pumped both into the symbol of ‘Victory’. Just before the opening, the curator ripped down the information panel from the wall and I was prohibited from speaking to the press. That was the most blatant act of censorship I had experienced. Since then, I have had museum boards try to shut down my exhibitions on the opening night, and I’ve been on the receiving end of other methods of intimidation. People get nervous when I use blood, even though it’s the most natural material. It’s treated like poison. I work with this poison, from soldiers, from prisoners, from anyone who wants to put their body and their blood into something they believe in.
How did you and Erik Bulatov come to exhibit together?
We’ve known each other for over twenty years. Our studios in Paris are close by. A couple of years ago, Erik came to our Foundry, a 4500-square metre experimental space in the south of France which I’ve been rehabilitating over the past four years. The Foundry attracts artists who work outside of the art system. We have a young artist living there named Petr Davydtchenko. Since he arrived, he’s only eaten roadkill.
Every morning he wakes up at 4am and cycles until he finds fresh meat. He’s been collaborating with top chefs to perfect his cuisine and is now working towards his first Michelin Star.
When Erik visited, he was so inspired by the Foundry he asked to test out his life-long theory of whether a three-dimensional artwork can function as a painting. From there, we mobilised and worked with him to produce four large-scale new projects: FORWARD, which moved directly to TATE Modern during the centenary of the Russian Revolution; EVERYTHING’S NOT SO SCARY, which is currently on view at BPS22 Museum in Black Horizon; FRIEND SUDDENLY ENEMY, which the fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy picked up for his AW18 line; and, finally, Erik’s most hardcore series to date—TO SHIT ON. For BPS22 we moved the Foundry, our experimental lab, directly to the museum.
Was he an artist that inspired you when you were coming up?
Yes, of course.
Through his approach. As a young artist, I saw that his formal language was not about grandiose aesthetics and high art—it was about everyday life. He used what society had, whether this was great, good, bad or even terrible. There was no sugarcoating. This honest approach influenced me greatly.
Given that Erik is in his eighties, what were his thoughts on the phrases used in your work and their origins?
You know, you should ask me what I thought about Erik in his eighties producing a largescale new series using the Russian word НАСРАТЬ (the verb ‘to shit on’)! This is a very aggressive proclamation, which he has used like a warning or road sign. His politics are being presented in a much more straightforward and uncompromising way as he gets older.
But he was curious about my sentences when I showed him images of the work before we started installing. Erik speaks Russian and French, and I use English in my work, so he was asking me to explain who I was going to shit on (I SHIT ON GOD) and who we are going to fuck (FUCK YOUR JESUS I AM THE FUTURE).
Did you play some drill music for him?
Erik is very happy when people interact with his three-dimensional pieces. For the majority of his life, he has theorised about the pictorial and social spaces that his work encounters. I have just started a collaboration with some really interesting young drill musicians– Skengdo x AM and Drillminister. Drillminister is running for London Mayor in 2020. We worked together with the exhibition at BPS22 for their new music video and together with FOUNDRY UNIFORM; we designed their clothing too. I sent Erik a video of the guys dancing on his monumental EVERYTHING’S NOT SO SCARY with smoke all over the place. He was very pleased. He was also very pleased when Gosha Rubchinskiy produced his line of clothing with FRIEND SUDDENLY ENEMY. It shows how relevant his work is to the younger generation.
From a mechanical standpoint, how does your work work, like, how does the blood travel through the various pieces? Is there an actual pump?
YOUNG BLOOD is blood karaoke: it follows a line and a rhythm. The blood is donated by anyone who wants to give part of themselves for the words they believe in. It is poured into the system where the pumps push the blood through the pipes and into the sculptures. The blood then circulates out through fridges, which have been specially adapted. The fridges must stay at a constant three degrees celsius—any warmer and the blood congeals, any colder and it doesn’t move so beautifully. You should think of the installation as a human system, with the heart beating the blood around the body. I have designed it as a replica.
Where does the blood go when you’re finished with it?
I try to donate it to the Red Cross and other charities but they don’t want it. I guess the blood has been corrupted by the subject matter.
How do you even begin the process of setting up a show like this in terms of health and safety?
I am a contemporary artist. I work with political materials. I don’t know what the concept of health and safety means.
But did you run into any legal difficulties setting up the show?
In Belgium, blood is treated as an organ. The museum director was quite clear with everyone that to use blood in this way could be seen as organ trafficking. People are nervous. I had the same in Northern Ireland when I exhibited Catholic blood. I asked Catholics to come forward and give their blood to a Protestant symbol. The board there were very unhappy and prohibited me from taking the blood—the main element of the artwork. I therefore have to have my own system, with my own blood source. In Belgium, I brought a nurse from Paris who I have worked with for over ten years. We made sure that the entire infrastructure was organised from another country, so that the museum was not affected.
Has anyone attending the show fainted at the sight of all the blood?
No, quite the opposite, most people feel a strong sense of being alive, feeling their blood pumping through their veins and being at one with the installation. Of course, we had a number of people fainting when their blood was being taken. Some had never been able to have their blood taken before for legal reasons and were nervous; others wanted to give their blood so much they put stress on their bodies. We also had professionals like artist Franko B donate, who had no problem at all! I make sure we have a drink and a snack waiting for people. We take quite a bit of blood from each person, I think more than they expect.
I heard large quantities of blood actually have a distinct odour. Is this true?
Large quantities of blood smell like metal and people can get addicted to it. I also work with crude oil. This has a very distinct odour and can make you quite faint. Me and the team have found ways to manage the smell to help us be more productive.
How many pints of blood have you drawn so far?
I don’t keep count. It’s about how much I need for the artwork to function. When I have a blood work at a museum, the staff don’t usually realise that they will be a good source for blood. I have to change the blood every few weeks so that it doesn’t congeal in the sculptures. At BPS22, each time I visit, I take blood from visitors who donate but I also leave with all the members of staff walking around like The Addams Family, completely pale. They had no idea this was what was expected of them, but are now understanding Russian humour better.
What’s up with you and blood, Andrei?
I lived in the small town of Bui in Russia, where there were a huge number of prison zones. The first culture I encountered was tattoo culture. In public baths, I used to see texts, icons, churches. There were a lot of former prisoners who picked out roses in plexiglass. For months, they would scrape transparent images into the block. That made an impression on me: if you fill the empty form with liquid—a politicised liquid—everything changes. As a solider in the Soviet military I was asked to give my body and my blood for an ideology out of my control, an ideology that failed. In YOUNG BLOOD, I don’t present people with an ideology, but with the language of the younger generation; today’s reality. The sentences are taken from what society censors or tries to conceal. I don’t make the choices. Pumping the language of the younger generation with their own blood in a museum space shifts the context from the underground. It shows the real spirit of the times we are living through today. Blood is our portrait, individually speaking. Don’t give your blood to the state, to your enemies or authorities—have ownership over what you give it to.
Are you a vampire and is your whole art career a brilliant ruse to get food?
Sometimes before the exhibition opens I use old blood to test the sculptures and I bring this blood from home. The only time I’ve been stopped was on the way back from seeing my mother in Russia. At the border, the men in uniform opened my flask and demanded to know what the red liquid was. When I told them it was fresh cranberry juice they asked me to prove it by drinking it. So, I drank it.
Luckily for me it was the one time it was cranberry juice, fresh from my mother’s garden. All the other times it has been blood.
What’s next for Andrei Molodkin?
We have just exchanged the sculptures in the installation to the lyrics of Skengdo x AM and Drillminister and are producing a new video for their track ‘The Media’. The track is about freedom of expression and about racial discrimination. These guys have become the scapegoats for governmental inadequacies through underfunding. They have made legal history for receiving a suspended prison sentence for performing one of their tracks live. They’re also not allowed to mention particular words in their lyrics.
It is crazy. I’m standing in solidarity with them as I too know censorship and have had to stand up for my freedom to speak on many occasions. We’re making this video with a/political, and we’ll organise an event for the launch to raise money for victims of knife crime. These musicians are putting things back into the community rather than criminalising it.
Right on. Thanks, Andrei.