U: Nonsense-sized artistic humanism

U: Nonsense-sized artistic humanism

Daria Plaksieva
Daria Plaksieva

“Making illegal paintings in the city is always about overcoming the norms. I consider this path possible only if you are completely open; on the street I can be who I really am. Not a manager, not a brother, not a matchmaker, but an Udmurt. My name is the entrance into the aggressive space of the city naked, as my mother delivered me. ” 

Udmurt, October 2020

He breaks the dullness of the streets, elevates inconspicuous areas with poetic interventions, assigns new contexts to boring things – this is how on the Internet the city residents describe the art of the anonymous Yekaterinburg artist under the pseudonym Udmurt. This is the recognition: Udmurt is capable of changing the ethical and aesthetic climate of the urban space.

Street art is an elusive art that cannot be preserved in a museum archive. Being spilled into the streets, it belongs to everyone and speaks to everyone. Even if sometimes this conversation does not continue and is erased from walls. Udmurt had the tenacity to continue his dialogue with the city from 2014 to 2017. This conversation turned into an environmental project that gave Udmurt the fame of an anonymous author and the unmistakable recognition.

(what does one wall tell to another? I’ll meet you at the corner)

“Riddle”, 2017 

The very nature of street art suggested ideas generated in the “fresh air” – this drew Udmurt to the street from the gallery.

“Rowanberry pie”, 2016

The “Rowanberry Pie”, the ingenious combination of a manhole cover with crimson berries, is a perfect illustration for that. At first glance, such an urban readymade does not require human involvement. It could be the art of those very streets, and not of these very artists, but without an artist there is no conflict, and hence, no acuity of artistic expression.

Aptly cooked from the simplest inedibles by the author, “Rowanberry Pie” is associated with our grandmothers’ recipe books. But the age of the rowan is short, and the mood of something warm, autumnal, man-made is as fleeting as the swift streams that carry bright berries down the drain, as the letters on the sand are fleeting, or as a burning candle standing in a block of snow.

“The Strugatski”, 2016

Dead objects and dead places, which Udmurt chose for his interventions, came to life. His appeal to Latin is also symbolic: on the one hand, the artist himself called it a dead language, on the other, he revived modernity with his transition to Latin.

“Oho, decem!”. From the series “Dead Language”, 2017

“Luck is not a tail, you can’t hold in your hands” From the series “Dead Language”, 2017

Languages and cultures are not accidental in Udmurt’s path: even a pseudonym is a result of a dialogue that has become significant in the fate of his anonymity. “When I was still in school, a homeless man at a bus stop asked me what’s my nationality. The answer that I am Russian did not satisfy him; he said that I was Udmurt. I remember this dialogue. Later, when I became interested in this topic, his guess got confirmed: really, it is the nationality of my ancestors, and my grandmother spoke the Udmurt language.”

On the street, Udmurt became the one to whom “his mother delivered”. But this is an aggressive environment, and it requires obvious courage to reveal your roots, your history, your views in the broad daylight. Anonymity along with full exposure provides exceptional openness to the city, while in response it turns its discolored guts inside out: hardened cracks, boarded up windows, shabby buildings, written off stuff abandoned in the backyard of history by the residents. 

The artist deliberately chose depressed boroughs for his subtle intrusions, where absolutely nothing has changed over the past 20 years, “… where dullness, dirt and devastation have not changed since my childhood. Where roads, entrances, houses are not repaired, and people, not seeing improvements around them, drink too much. In such places, even a small intervention matters greatly.”

Udmurt was interested not only in a non-trivial context, but also in an untypical viewer – someone who would never come to the museum. The chance of a dialogue with them is what street art provides to Udmurt. And what did this give to viewers? “Humanization of space”, a tiny hint of magic, when Ivan Tsarevich pops up from the roots of a fallen tree; when a snow-white goose emerges from a crevice of a broken-off concrete slab in a crystal blue puddle; when the dirt suddenly becomes a bright umbrella capable of saving from acrid drops; when, in order to fly, it is enough to change the angle.

“Airplane”, 2016 “Ivan Tsarevich on the Gray Wolf “, 2015   

Untitled, 2016

In such an unobtrusive way, he builds his dialogue with those who are lost in the city, or forgotten “behind the garages”. Udmurt feels clearly related to them: “I remember myself well in the childhood, my perception of the city space. In the dark, you go to school, in the dark you return: dirt, pits, garages … When I saw the first graffiti on the corner of a building in my area – the most common thing today, I was stunned. Who did it? What for? What is written there? The plump silver letters of a tag glittered in the sun – for me it was something unearthly and magical …” 

Udmurt skillfully interspersed scanty miracles into the large-scale tediousness of everyday life and thereby changed the meaning of space. Thus, he brightened up the day for those who expected nothing from it.

“Riddle”, 2014

(What was tomorrow and will be yesterday? Today)Udmurt paused his dialogue with the city and its inhabitants in 2017 after three years of daily practice. The artist “said exactly as much as he wanted. It’s a super feeling to stop and start something new.”

“No news”, 2015 

And there probably won’t be.