“Two men who defined post-Soviet Russia died within eight days of each other last month, both suddenly and far from home. On 16 March the body of Vladislav Mamyshev was found floating in a swimming pool in Bali. His death was blamed on a heart attack. He was 43. Better known as Vladik Monroe, Mamyshev was a pioneer of performance art in Russia, his status that of a sort of post-Soviet Warhol crossed with RuPaul. In the late 1980s he had hung out with the St Petersburg art group Pop Mechanika, who were famous for such stunts as going on TV to argue that Lenin was a mushroom, using the language and pseudo-logic of Soviet history programmes – at the time an unthinkable provocation. Mamyshev went on screen himself soon afterwards, impersonating Marilyn Monroe in a sketch called ‘The Death of Wonderful People’, and over the next decade he impersonated Russian pop stars, Hitler and Gorbachev (in the guise of an Indian woman); he turned up at parties as Yeltsin, Tutunkhamun or Karl Lagerfeld. It might be hard for non-Russians to understand why his work was felt to be so important, but in the post-Soviet world, where all the old roles and archetypes had disappeared, where no one knew how to behave and everyone seemed to be constantly trying on new poses, hysterically switching ideologies in a blistering progression from communism to perestroika to liberalism to nationalism to mafia state to postmodern dictatorship, the term ‘performance’ (a new Anglicism) became a buzzword and performance artists stars. No party was complete if Mamyshev or one of his fellow artists wasn’t there: Oleg Kulik, who impersonated a rabid dog to represent the brokenness of post-Soviet man; Andrei Barteniev, who appeared as an alien to demonstrate the weirdness of this new world; or German Vinogradov, who walked naked into the street and poured iced water over himself.”
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