Antin Mukharsky, a TV host, theatre actor and artist, told The Ukrainian Week about Russian mass culture in Ukraine, nouveau riche and booboisie art
Antin Mukharsky is a TV host, theatre actor, artist, leader of the Union of Free Artists and father of four. Bright, funny, observant and enthusiastic, he currently performs as Orest Lyuty - his last name translates as “outraged” in English – in a band called Lahidna Ukrainizatsia or Tender Ukrainianization. The band plays satirical covers of some of the most notorious Russian pop and prison chansons that flood the media and minds of Ukraine.
No state is possible without national identification. But we have always had our “big brother” right next to us, watching all these things very closely. They let us wear our vyshyvanky, sing patriotic songs and play at gentile protests, but that’s all. None of this has any outreach to the broader public.
Cultural expansion is one of the key tools of influence and struggle in the modern world. Ukraineis in a position in which most of its territory is under the influence of Russian mass culture. Over the past century, Ukrainian culture was barely integrated into the world cultural process, unlike the Soviet culture, for instance, which is replayed and promoted abroad by modern Russia. Soviet writers and artists were fairly well-known – as representatives of the Russian Empire. By contrast, Ukrainian art – young, unknown and neglected by the government – is now forced to work 10 times harder to gain at least some success compared to a similar product in countries that realize the importance of culture.
The average Ukrainian lives in the state of a slumbering slave who does not bother himself with “all that culture crap”. He’s perfectly happy withboring mothballed choirs and provincial pop music. Russian celebrities from the previous decades will work too, because they are so close and familiar. He wonders, why ask for more culture? To such a society, the artists trying to produce something real are outsiders playing instruments, writing books and reading poems. But there is no culture because the tradition is too weak and social demand for it is not big enough. Moreover, people do not realize the essence and the importance of modern culture. To most Ukrainian officials, it is obscure or even suspect.
The critical mass of the population in Ukraine is the biomass. We are a successful experiment in generating one. Nature has this circulation of biomass. It consumes, produces wastes; the waste fertilizes the ocean where the plankton grows. The fish eats the plankton, and the biomass eats the fish. This is the process in itself – and the purpose of its existence. Actually, we should finally admit that we exist in a country dominated by the biomass. And we can still be optimists saying that, even if we’re shit, we’re the best shit in the world because we are the country of black earth, fertile humus – including cultural humus, even if we don’t exactly know how to use it properly.
Fierce individualism is the main feature of Ukrainians. This is what the Russian empire has been trying to eliminate for three centuries (and it has failed) and Russia continues to try to get rid of it, backed by globalization. Ukrainian individualism is to keep one's middle finger in his pocket, as if trying to say that he knows best, no matter what anyone else says; that no matter what anyone does to him, he will still manage to survive and grow his garden of wheat or potatoes – anything that brings the most benefit now. Another trace is that Ukrainians always live with illusions instead of just standing up, cleaning the place around them, washing their shirt and painting the entrance to their building. “Feed your own family before you go and save the world,” my wife often says.
Currently, there is just a territory called Ukraine. There is no country. Is it the state we dreamt of in the 1990s or during the Orange Revolution? No, it’s a dumb Soviet rudiment frozen in time. There is no history, traditions or worldview that everyone in the country shares together. That’s why, after many years of banging my head against the wall in pursuit of success, I’m now thinking of emigration. I don’t see any prospects for my children here. I’m so fed up with the fact that nobody needs anything here. I’m Ukrainian, and I want to live here and fight for it, but every day I hear that I don’t exist and that my country is an illusion. What strikes me most is that most people don’t care — they don’t need this struggle.
I’ve had this Tender Ukrainization project in mind for years. The idea first came to me in my youth, when I was in the army. I worked on it from time to time, then dropped it, then returned to it again. The final straw was the notorious language bill and the Party of Regions’ Olena Bondarenko who said that Ukrainian music had to fight and compete on its own, with no help. That’s when I decided to create my own project as a rival to prison chanson, ugly pop music and other “accomplishments” of our big northern brother. I completed all the songs on the album in just two weeks or so. We didn’t expect the project to become a success. We uploaded the first video and a month later, we were invited to play gigs. The stuff we play turned out to be extremely popular — something of a trend-setter.
The modern world is made to suit the tastes and preferences of the booboisie and the nouveau riche. And it’s fake, not real. A representative of that class is a fake that has no essence of his own. Such an individual is forced to mask this personal shallowness under someone else’s ideology, culture or worldview. But when you talk to him, you can immediately see that this is fiction, in spite of his apparent humanity. This is why the role of artists is to help people tell the difference between what is real and what is fake. But the booboisie will do anything to hide its shallowness behind brand labels, cars and cash. This is how they create glamour and show business as a way to fool others. I have this project; it’s called Zhlob Art, which translates as booboisie art. It’s called on to replace the irritation with booboisie domination in Ukrainian culture with mockery. Whoever can irritate you, can also control you, and mockery and laughter is the best means of resistance.
Most Ukrainian artists are in deep shit but in their thoughts, they are walking around Paris or New York in a nice white suit. This is a kind of eternal syndrome common to 20-year olds who think that everything is nonsense and that everything can be changed by simply moving one finger. Ten years pass, and nothing changes. The artist is still sipping his cognac or coffee and prattling about the same things, while the crooks he thought would fail and disappear because they are so bad, are in control. They tell him what to do because they have the tools to manipulate him.
Our culture is unable to assess or respond to the things it encounters every day, including globalization, technical and scientific progress, and so on. We’re basically on the sidelines of modern civilization. Most artists who work in Ukraine now produce the humus themselves for the normal creative generation to grow on it sometime later.
I always knew that I wanted to be an independent artist. If you fail to fulfil your mission, you accumulate this negative potential from an internal conflict with yourself. Still, 90-95% of people live that way. They keep lying to themselves and blaming their failures on someone or something else – parents, circumstances, and God knows what else. But in truth, they are really smothering their real calling. Instead of fulfilling their mission, they become the slaves of the world.
ART VS SHOW-BUSINESS
I limited my cooperation with any products of mass culture on purpose, especially television as the plant of pop culture. I don’t act in soap operas, advertise detergents or host TV shows. If anyone invited me to host something as Orest Lyuty, I’d be happy to accept the offer. But there is not one TV channel that would take that risk and show the crazy and tense character that it is. The Internet is my only hope, so I’m open to any ideas. I could even invest my own money into a cultural project that I found really interesting.
Any artist must have some compensation for the work he or she is doing. Artists have to survive in this nasty world, support children and families, and somehow stay away from poverty, but most don’t want to sell themselves to show-business. And your kids will never understand your speeches about artists that must be poor and hungry, when they want dinner, toys and an iPad. So, artists are forced to exist in this material world. So, there is Anton Mukharsky, and there is Antin Mukharsky. Anton is a showman; he arranges corporate parties and weddings, and earns money. Antin is an artist and curator. See, Anton supports Antin who spends the money Anton earns on art. Orest Lyuty is Antin’s radical alter ego who lives in bunkers and doesn’t care if others like what he does or not.
Theatre is for young artists. It’s a cure against wrinkles. That’s why I’m no longer attracted to the theatre. It requires romanticism, lightness and inspiration – often with no proper financial compensation. It’s not that I’m too old or pragmatic. I just have a big family to support. Yet, they don’t forget me and keep offering me different roles in threatre. But I can’t afford to work on a play for two months for the pay I need for just one week.