Non-conformist art movement in Belarus. “Association BLO”

Artur Klinau became an active member of a non-conformist art movement in Belarusian art in the 80es. A founder of one of the first informal art groups in Belarus “Association BLO” (1987).

Artur Klinai

Artur Klinau

Belarusian Avant-garde of the 1980s

Volha Archipava. Belarusian Avant-garde of the 1980s album / pARTisan’s Collection. Minsk, 2012 

The decade of 1981-1991 isanoutstanding and propheticdecade for Belarus. There is no need to mention the series of social and political clashes that led to the change of a historical paradigm. But the transformation of a cultural paradigm wouldn’t have been less radical.

It was the time when a whole generation of young creative individuals entered the art movement. Their strength was in the freedom of choice and almost unbearable responsibility for it. These young peopled learnt new ways of existence, new traditions and were in a constant search of “the real art”. That was how the culture that did not accept any norms and rules imposed by the society was formed. Culture policy in the former Soviet Union was built on the perception of art as an ideological activity and demanded that it fully met state and political programmes. Those who did not accept these demands had to stay in the underground and their activities were announced an antisocial and anti-state thing. People of various art professions and from amateurs of various art movements were referred to as those who belong to  “the underground”. In order to work they had to create various independent organisations and publishing agencies as well as arrange informal exhibitions. The new had to be born in the state of contradiction and struggle for survival. Actually, this new has never been ideal and immaculate. However, it was exactly the non-official art that satisfied our culture’s need for revival and overcoming the stagnation stage. Wave of underground movement of the 1980s successfully turned into underground art, which possessed all the features necessary for the further development of our culture. That was the real meaning of that decade.


Independent exhibitions, which were taking place in the second half of the 1980s, were very different from the official ones. It’s worth mentioning such things ,for example, as an exhibition “Fragment event 87” by Ihor and Todar Kashkurevich, “Association ‘BLO’ ( Artur Klinau, Valer Pesin, Vitaly Charnabrysau, Siarhej Pilat etc.), “Perspective” and ;Panorama”. These were exhibitions – installations, exhibitions – actions, exhibitions – manifestations. Their atmosphere was created not only by means of art artifacts but also by means of the object of surrounding reality, performances and happenings that demonstrated a “symphonic structure” of the art process. The exhibitions “Studio of the Artist” and “Treasures of Belarusian Avant-garde “ were arranged by the amateurs and collectors  of avant-garde   culture  Andrej Plyasanau and Alexander Ivanov who even nowadays continue collecting the works of art. Their collections give an overview of what the art of 1980-1990s was like.

In the informal non –official surrounding there started a process of searching for the like-minded people. There were established such unions as “Forma”,”Halina”,”BLO”, “4-63”, “Square”, “Pluralis”, “Komi Kon”,”Bismark” and a great deal of various other organisations with various manifestos and programmes. These unions had flexible frameworks and the participants always changed. For example, the union “Forma” first  in 1987 include  about 30 artists which called themselves an Association of creative intellectuals , but later, when the union was registered in 1989, there were only 8 people who stayed.

Even in the official Artists’ Union of BSSR there started to happen drastic changes. Apart from the traditional republican forums with  such eloquent titles  as “The heroic deed of the people is immortal” (1980), “We are building communism” (1981),”37th Spring of Victory” (1982), “USSR  is our Motherland” (1982) there were more lively exhibitions devoted to the idols of the nation: “Mikola Gusouski and his times”(1980), an exhibitions in honour of the 90-s anniversary since the birth of Maksim Bagdanovich (1981), “The Pyesnyars of Belarusian land. Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas” (1982), an exhibition in honour of the 150 anniversary since the birth if Kastus Kalinousky and 125 anniversary of the riot 1863-1864 (1988), an exhibition in honour of the 100 anniversary since the day of birth of Yazep Drazdovich (1988). Some of the partners of the Artists’ Union refused a socio-realistic aesthetics of the Soviet times and turned to the traditions of avant-garde. The societies within the frameworks of the Artists’ Union started to form not on the basis of the fields of art (painting, sculpture, graphics)  as it had been before but in accordance with the interests or ideas. There was established  “Niamiha -17” – an association of creative and form building sources of art[1]. “Belarusian Academy of Art”[2]. – a circle of artists who decided to call themselves “academics” and develop their independent tradition of  national art. The major and mature ones which have been established in the frameworks of the Artists’ Union are “Pagonya” and “Verasen”. Although they are founded on the opposing principles, they still exist nowadays.

The 1980s are the years of establishing national identity for Belarusian art society. In search for the new basis of creative work, a great number of artists turned to the traditional folk art. It was exactly in this period of time when many of the Belarusian artists started to speak Belarusian, arranged art and ethnographic expeditions in order to investigate and study authentic Belarusian culture.

It was the most democratic decade in terms of forms and means of expressing creative ideas. Moreover, this period was important for developing an art process in Belarus which comprised of a lot of factors: art meetings in artists’ studios and apartments, dialogues, sessions, trips. Belarusian artists went to the underground exhibitions to Leningrad, Moscow (“Arefiev’s Circle”, “Mitsky”,”Pushkinskaya,10” and the Society of Experimental Visual  Art), took part in art-projects and symposiums in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia (“Narva -88”).

Nowadays there are legends and stories about the kind of creative atmosphere that ruled in Belarusian State Art and Theatre Institute, Glebov’s Art College, Ahremchik’s Art S and other artistic environments. Young artists appealed to new genres that allowed to establish interaction with the viewer (performances, installations, ‘meeting-art’ – an art of public campaigns). Even now, the activity of artistic society of those times impresses significantly with its intensity and scale. The air seemed to have been  filled with the electricity of creativity, every single word, every gesture, every action were aimed at changes and transformations of the lives and minds. Apartments, studios, cinemas, libraries, halls, streets, backyards and buildings were transforming into art platforms. Some of the auctions and sales exhibitions set up in that time by Adam Hlobus might not have had an astonishing commercial success, but at the same time, they made people sure that art can be an independent “business”. The main thing was to decide for you: «I am an artist” – and a miracle happened: a feeling of experiencing a real life emerged.

Many people remember the unbelievable inspiring “spirit of freedom” that filled that decade. Freedom of self-expression spread of course across other spheres: music, cinema, literature. Many people were trying to broaden the frameworks of their work, to master new fields of art. We can bring an example of Aleksej Zhdanov – a philosopher, a poet, an artist and an advocate of unbearable existence of social “mutants”.

Adam Hlobus – an artist, a poet, a writer, and of the founders of the Society of Young Writers “Tutejshyja”» (1986–1990). ArturKlinau, IharKashkurevich,LudmilaRusavaaretheartistswhohavealwaysbeenguidedby “anidea” thatiswhythere are no limits for the choice of the form of art. It could as well be painting, sculpture, performance, art-objects and literature. Andrey Pliasanau is a film director by his education, but also an a painter, a musician, a famous collector whose collection now count to more than 10 including the collection of paintings.


Adam Hlobus makes one of the first Belarusian graffiti in Minsk

The breakdown, the collapse of the Soviet system and the search of a new form of existence were accompanied by experiments and creation of a very specific subjective and individualistic myth of a new “post-soviet” art. This myth was based on the principles of absurd and establishing new conceptual systems. Uladzimir Lapo, Vitaly Razhkou (Bismark),Gennadzy Hatskevich are the artists who crated their own individual universes and are living in accordance with their inner laws. Lives of these people have always been covered by myths and the forms of their self-expression always go far beyond the borders of art. For such artists their lives are art itself, their personalities are works of art. It was such a marginal art environment where a new universal type of an artistic personality was shaped – a freelance philosopher, an artist, an individualist, a weirdo, a person with sophisticated life views. It influenced social consciousness, attracted people’s attention, made them look at their lives and views at another angle. Some people might call this type of art a destructive one, but the most surprising thing is that some of them ascribe to this notion a negative meaning, while the others the most positive one. Construction through destruction – an ambivalent phenomenon, an idea that was appealing and close to the generation of artists of the 1980s.

This time became a period of attempts to broaden the borders of art and the borders of “the human”. Artists’ manifestos, their conceptual platforms touched upon the burning issues which had not been a center of attention of the art environment before. Art proved that it could serve not only the ideals of beauty. It is capable of changing everything without exception: life and deaths, the consciousness,, the unconsciousness  and the subconsciousness. The borders between art and life, fantasy and reality, the professional and the amateur, the mature and the childish have disappeared. Art was helping to change the reality, but the most essential thing was that it was opening unlimited opportunities for self-expression and self-reflection. For instance, almost all the works of Vitaly Charnabrysau and Uladzimir Akulau could be treated as self-portraits of these artists where their feelings and emotions are fixed.

Among the artistic principles that were dominating in that period of time there could be mentioned such one as allegoric-realistic, spontaneous -metaphysic, grotesque – realistic, conceptual, post-modern, analytical, grotesque-epic. A great number of painters were at the same practicing experiments with forms and philosophical findings. Among such painters, we could name Valery Martynchik, Andrey Bialou. Their works are always recognized due to their  special individual style. From a great number of artists of the 1980s we have selected for this album those ones who had most actively expressed themselves in that period of time. Their works could be viewed as a reflection of that time which shows the most significant and drastic changes in Belarusian culture, The researches have not yet come up with a single general word which could define the activity of the artists of that period. This art is called in a number of ways: “non-official”, “non-conformist”,”post-avant-garde”, “underground”, “Belarusian Underground of the 1980s”. But whatever it is called, this art has become a real image of independence and freedom.

 Volha Archipava, culture researcher / Non-conformist art movement in Belarus. pARTisan’s Collection Minsk 2012

[1] Victor Astashonak, Ilona Baradulina, Andrej Bohush, Andrej Bialou,Siarhej Voichanka,Ranstantsin Haretsky,Alena Zhdakenia, Aliaksej Zhdanau,Aliaksandr Zabauchyk, Ryhor Ivanou, Marek Kazhdan, Aliaksandr Karpau,Siarhej Katranlou,Ihar Kashkurevich,Yauhen Kirylau, Artur Klinau, Todar Kopsha (Ryhor Katsapau), Uladzimir Kudrytsky, Uladzimir Lapo,Siarhej Lapsha, Siarhej Malisheusky,Victar Piatrou,Vital Razhkou, Anatol Rzhevutsky,Ludmila Rusava, Iryna Razhkova, Ihar Savitsky,Dzmitry Surynovich, Arkadz Stsepim,Natalia Tatur, Henrych Tsikhanovich, Uladzimir Tsesler, Uladzimir Shchalkun, Dzmitry Jarmilau (data from the archives of Andrej Pliasanau)

[2] IndifferentyearsthemembersoftheSocietywereValeryBuyval,MikolaBushchyk,HalinaHaravaya, SiarhejKirushchanka,AnatolKuzniatsou, ZoyaLitvinava, AlehMatsievich, AliaksandrMiatlitsky, IrynaStalnaya, LeanidChobatau, TamaraSakalova,AliaksandrTsyrkunou.


bloFrom the text prepared by the artists of “BLO” for the exhibition “The Cross – In Memory of Bruno Schulz” (Leningrad — Moscow, 1990):

Association “BLO” BLO! BLO! BLO! No matter how many times you repeat the word it is still unclear what it means, but there is no secret, it is very simple. “BLO” — is a name of a window cleaning detergent. Maybe the members of the association are specialist in cleaning house windows, offices and Augean Stables? No, they are not. The need for cleanliness, and perhaps considerable, have young and attractive artists because it is a sincere deed. Thus, “BLO”! Thus, the sign! Now imagine, dear viewers, the city of Minsk. The end of the twentieth century, reconstruction, transparency. The revolution from above and below. We also have a salutary opportunity to observe how quietly and softly there arose and exist another group of artists against the background of our informal artistic life.

— Well, It is so good! — said a St. Petersburg artist, Ihar Ivanou, albeit with a different reason.

While not denying the tradition, but rather following them, we can say that the artists from BLO” are in a kind of cultural vacuum. On the one hand-magazine information is booming, on the other no living tradition, the absence of carriers of these traditions. In this situation, an association “BLO” is oriented towards Leningrad each of us has made the necessary conclusions for themselves. The peculiarity of our situation lies also in the fact that both geographically and historically Belarusian culture is a wonderful fusion of East and West, which is still far from defined and has not yet become the achievement of today. And in the heart there is a knock of the ashes of Klaas!”. It’s about heritage and family history. You can see and feel it in the works of Arthur Klinau, where the bitterness of heart sometimes breaks down to cry. Siarhej Pilat suddenly makes people remember the quiet joys of Belarusian towns, already familiar to us by Chagall’s works.

In the works of Valery Pesin an ascetic thoughtfulness and lyrical mood dream of paradise. Andrej Darokhin is trying in his opinion to continue an old European, pro-historic (Celtic, Germanic) tradition.

Klee and Miro from the one side, Oriental traditions from the other one, and between them the work of Valery Viadrenka where the toughness of construction is paradoxically combined with a lyrical restlessness. In the works of Vitaliy Charnabrysau we can observe a clear attempt to break out of everyday life, it’s a kind of old disputes between life and art, although his manner of painting is fully mature. Andrej Lus who seems to be under a hypnotic spell of rock music, still stands strong on the ground owing to black humor, so familiar to us from the works of Daniil Kharms. In the painting of Aliaksander Rusanava there is always present a little man with his experiences, everyday worries, fears and unexpected joy. Paintings of Ludmila Krasilnikava, Anatoly Rzhevutsky are marked by a tireless search for themselves in the world.

Then what has united the painters? It is not a silly question. Time and life are both delicate and general. Human attraction? Hard way of the artist towards recognition? Similarity of artistic views? There can much more to that. The most important thing is good outcomes. Let us not characterize activities of “BLO” in terms of various “isms”. It is high time to identify the artists’ positions and the notions will come themselves. So, the association “BLO”! It is another try to answer the question “Who are we? Where are we from? Where are we heading to?