The punk feminist collective Pussy Riot translate new ideas by embedding them in the visual symbols of the target culture. With their short bright-colored dresses and tights they tap into the stylistics of the Russian female performance as non-threatening ambiance to take the stage and protest against misogyny and authoritarianism. In 2012 they performed at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral and asked the Virgin Mary to put an end to Vladimir Putin’s rule. They were captured and sentenced to two years in prison for instigating religious hatred. Welcomed in the West, they made a music video “I Can’t Breathe” (2015) using the case of Eric Garner to explain the tolerance for authority in Russia. We look at the eclectic mix of thinkers and artists Pussy Riot named as their inspirers, and use the collective’s work to examine the changing attitude to the translatability of cultures.
Unintelligible sequences of letters or words in today’s Russian culture are omnipresent: in slogans, such as “Hair is the best remedy,” “Stop grandma’s merciless feeding!”; on social media, for example #ifnotputinthencat and “LSDUZ and IFIAU9”; in satirical songs and poems; in films by Zvyagintsev, novels by Sorokin, Tolstaya, and Pelevin, etc. The appeal of gibberish and its repression by the Soviet and post-Soviet officialdom is rooted in the belief that art and word have the power to influence people and events. Avant-garde artists who pioneered this belief in the transformative power of art cheered the Bolshevik’s promise to create a new society, but were soon crushed by the Soviet state as dangerous saboteurs. Today, gibberish is again a strategy of aesthetic defiance. Erudite and inventive, gibberish eludes the grasp of state censorship. It builds communities of resistance, and spoils the authoritative discourse like a fly in the soup.