Some Thoughts on Non-Conformity by Tom Kotik

Hello all. Firstly I’d like to wish everyone a Happy New Year! May 2022 be a joyful and safe new year.

The Non-Conform residency I’ve participated in with all of you over the last few months has been a really enjoyable “deep-dive” into issues relating to art and its place in our social fabric.  The concept of Non-Conformity has certainly certainly changed in a post Communist world, both in Russia and abroad.  I don’t think there is an easy answer to what is Non-Conformist when the idea of an “Official” aesthetic style is so undefined today.  As opposed to the recent past, where a government ministry in the Soviet Union defined the official taste for example, today that task has been left largely to an amorphous Art market system governed by moneyed elites or Art world insiders.  In todays context, art made for purely for arts sake, irrespective of its “market value” or critical appeal could be considered an act of non-conformity. 

For me, the most interesting aspect of Non-Conformity, especially as it relates to the Soviet period in Russia, is the threat of completely non-narrative abstraction to the official dogma of the time.  Just as the Nazis in Germany sought to outlaw abstract art, the Soviet Regime was similarly threatened by a narrative they couldn’t control because the art itself was not predicated on a narrative to begin with.  My grandmother in Prague used to tell me that official music of the Stalinist era had to simple enough for “proletariat to whistle the tune.”  Anything else wasn’t “real music.”  Though I understand most people’s aversion to pure abstraction because of it’s seemingly opaque nature, to raise this resistance to official dogma has always fascinated and frightened me. A society that doesn’t allow for cultural ambiguity is a society constructed on complete social control and vilification of what its elites don’t want to understand. 

Many thanks to Anastasia and everyone at the Museum of Non-Conformist Art in St Petersburg for hosting this residency.  It really has been a highlight of 2021 into 2022!

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