Russian artist uses oil, blood to make his point

LONDON (Reuters) - For Andrei Molodkin oil is at the root of many of Russia’s ills. It is no coincidence that the other material the artist likes to work with is blood.

Molodkin, who will represent Russia at this year’s Venice Biennale, believes oil is behind many of the world’s conflicts, from the 2003 invasion of Iraq to Moscow’s Chechen intervention.

“I tried to understand why some politicians -- (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin or (former U.S. President George W.) Bush try to kill so many people where there is so much oil,” the 43-year-old told Reuters in London.

In Venice this year his featured work will involve shining light through two small, hollow perspex casts of the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue, one containing oil from Chechnya and the other blood from Russian soldiers who served there.

The result will be a projected image several metres high. Molodkin admits the curator of the Russian pavilion in Venice is nervous about the work, to be called “Le Rouge et le Noir”.

The artist, who lives in Paris, is in London staging an exhibition called “Liquid Modernity (Grid and Greed)” which opens at the Orel Art gallery this week.

The main piece on show is a pair of cages. One is made up of hollow, transparent bars filled with oil and the second of bright light tubes fuelled by gas produced from the oil.

Both are based on the metal cage which held fallen Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a courtroom during his trial for fraud and tax evasion after which he was jailed.


Molodkin believes post-Communist Russia is an “oil democracy” as opposed to a true democracy.

“With the drop in the price of oil, we have less democracy, because more people will go hungry and more are likely to protest while the government is more likely to use the military to control them.”

He is aware of the irony that, however indirectly, oil could make him rich just as it has the Russian oligarchs he targets.

“Maybe I also will be corrupted by oil,” he said. “Everyone who works with oil begins to be corrupted by its power. Me too.”

Molodkin and show curator Victor Tupitsyn say his larger works typically fetch $50-80,000, and those on show in London are on sale, although not priced.

The artist’s fascination with oil dates back to his military service when he was transporting missiles often in sub-zero temperatures.

“We would take the oil from the cisterns and heat the (rail) wagons, and become filthy. We would go and ask villagers for food, covered in oil, and people would give us anything.”

Molodkin said he had not personally benefited from links between Russia’s super-rich tycoons, many of them involved in the oil business, and the world of contemporary art.

Russians like billionaire Roman Abramovich were instrumental in driving prices for rare paintings to record levels before the onset of the financial crisis, reports said, and Abramovich’s girlfriend Daria Zhukova has opened a gallery in Moscow.

“For me it is surprising how people with all this money are suddenly welcomed into this world,” Molodkin said. “Some of the biggest museums will do anything for them and it annoys me.”

Molodkin, whose conceptual works also touch on religion and the environment, intends to embark on his most provocative project yet by melting human bodies into oil.

“I have already done it using animals,” he said with a grin.