09.06 – 04.09.2022
Slava Nesterov
Keywords: ritual laughter, folklore, dance, partisanship, buffoonery, Scaramouch, skomorokh, disguise, mummery, double, doppelgänger, Middle Ages, New Middle Ages, games, fools, holy fools.

The Across Three Laughing Thresholds project examines the development of the culture of laughter, from the ritual laughter of Antiquity to mummery and buffoonery of the Middle Ages to the performance art of today.

Performing actions of self-deprecation and ridicule of those of higher ranks with a view to achieving certain goals, including political ones, were manifested not only in the activities of mummers and holy fools of yore but also in those of supreme rulers. The culture of skomorokh mummery through the prism of Russian history and folklore reveals one of its main functions – skilful manoeuvring of the political landscape of the state. Comic forms created an unofficial, out-of-church and out-of-state order of the world and human relations; they served as an alternative dimension, a second life on the other side of the strictly governed official one.

On the other hand, the culture of laughter is tightly woven with the theme of life and death. Laughter was considered a taboo in many ancient rituals that see the living entering the realm of the dead. These worlds are reflected in the idea of doubles (doppelgängers) to which skomorokh mummery could be directly traced. Court jesters, fools and slanderers that deliberately cause laughter, similar to actors playing protagonists, are seen as carriers of divine semantics; the king keeps them close to deliver him from death.

An action, performance or provocation by a holy fool whose purpose is to influence the viewer exists in a symbolic field. Had the society and the state been indifferent to the holy fools, this kind of mummery would have not existed in the first place and would not have had a chance to survive through the ages. Persecution of contemporary performance artists is but a link in a long chain of the tradition of persecuting holy fools in Russia. But it is they who, with their brash immoral behaviour and rebelliousness, point out human vices and social injustices, while bearing the brunt of the blame and suffering for sharing their honest insights.

Slava Nesterov
Slava Nesterov uses such visual materials as installation, sculpture, graphics and digital art. His works cover relationship between materiality, economics and technology: how economics and technology shape the physical and non-physical reality. One of the main principles of his work is mythogenesis, mysticism and post-history interpretation, on the wreckage of which new forms of life are born.