Andrei Molodkin: black gold, blood red
Molodkin's obsession with oil began when he ate it on bread as a recreational drug.
Now he wants to make it from human corpses
From The Times
By Hugo Rifkind
April 14, 2009
Andrei Molodkin makes things out of blood and oil. And sometimes ballpoint pens. His work is viciously political, and if he had a theme, latterly, it would be that much of what we believe is hollow and empty and waiting to be filled with something. Such as blood. Or oil. He's a veteran of the Russian Army, where instead of taking drugs, he would eat bread smeared with oil and dried on a radiator. Recently he embarked on a project to reduce human corpses to oil by means of a giant pressure cooker in the French Pyrenees. If we can run our cars on dinosaurs, he says, then why not on people, too? He's got a few volunteers already, but he'd really like some public figures. Somebody such as George W. Bush or Nicolas Sarkozy or the Prince of Wales.
Molodkin is in London for his first British solo show, Liquid Modernity (Grid and Greed), at Orel Art in Victoria, with the curators Margarita and Viktor Tupitsyn, the co-curators of the Rodchenko and Popova show currently at Tate Modern. Then he's off to represent Russia at the Venice Biennale. He's skinny and dressed in black, with crazed artist hair and a face that seems to find everything terminally - indeed, morbidly - amusing. You should see how he laughs when I asked him where he gets all the blood.
“Blood, I take from people,” he explains, sounding very Russian. “From the medical. My friend, he is director of the hospital. It's not complicated in our world. It is much more difficult to take the oil.”
His work is explicitly, almost childishly, political. Sometimes he takes a word or phrase - “democracy”, “G8”, “human rights” and the like - casts it in see-through plastic and sets up a complex system whereby it is pumped full of oil. Usually, it's not hard to see what he's driving at. The London installation will comprise two cages, one made of transparent tubes, the other made of strip-light tubes. The cages are modelled on the ones where defendants are held in Russian courtrooms. “Exact proportions,” he says. “Two metres, two metres, one metre six.”
Oil will be piped through the one cage and into a miniature refinery, where it will produce gas. This gas will, in turn, produce electricity. Oil and electricity, both as cages. He got the idea from seeing stolen cisterns burning in Chechnya. Rebels and soldiers steal cisterns, start a fire underneath and sell off the gas.
Molodkin knows oil from his time in the army, from the two years he spent in convoys transporting the same huge oil cisterns across miserable and freezing bits of northern Russia. “You take the oil to heat the wagons,” he says. “You stay for 15 days.” Before long, you would be smeared black. In remote towns he and his comrades used to enjoy approaching civilians and asking them for food. “Because it is exciting,” he chuckles, “from country people. Please! Give me food! And they see you looking so f***ing terrible, they give you so much food! So much food that you cannot use! And this is what it means, oil for food!”
It's funny, the way he tells it, although the army wasn't a bundle of laughs. You lose your identity, he says. You get up in the morning and run. You have foot cloths instead of socks. And for fun, you eat oil-drenched bread and trip out. “It's good,” he says. “You start to do things crazy.”
Molodkin was born in 1966, in Boui, a small town 500km north of Moscow with nothing in it except the huge abandoned shell of an unfinished nuclear power station. Both his parents taught at the university. He went to art school, at about 12, because it was noticed that he had a talent and the state required such talents to be exploited.
The first art that inspired him was tattoos. In Russia tattooing was illegal. Only people who had been in jail had tattoos, made with customised ballpoints. “The only freedom you have is what you can write on your body,” he says. He used to go to the public baths to look at them. His favourite was a man who had a worker shovelling coal on each buttock. “And when he walked . . .”
In the army, when not guarding things, begging for food or eating oil, Molodkin used to draw with his army-issue pens. “You kill your time,” he says. Sometimes he drew for himself, sometimes he drew in other soldiers' letters, for their parents or girlfriends. Only ever in blue. Even now, he only sketches in Biro. “Not Bic,” he says, amused at the thought of such luxury. “Russian Biro.” When not sculpting, most of his work is still Biro-based. In 2006 he produced a huge ballpoint drawing of George W. Bush entitled Empire at War. In making it, he used 2,764 pens, which, at the time, was the number of troops who had died in Iraq. On the inside of his wrist, he shows me a weird, bulging muscle that nobody else has. That's from using pens, he says, and cackles filthily, because some people assume it's from something else.
“I not understand myself,” Molodkin says, “but when you do seven or eight metres and spend a thousand Biros, you kill a thousand Biros. Like this...” - he mimes drawing with a handful of pens - “It is good therapy for the brain. A new pen is a new life. And when the ink is finished, because of your exploitation, you make a garbage. Like somebody exploits our life until the last drop of the blood.”
For Molodkin, oil, ink and blood are all the same. Ink is the blood of a pen. Oil is the blood of Russia. Blood will one day be oil, which may be made into ink. Boiling down corpses into oil, he reckons, is just speeding up the process. “People say I should not show,” he says apologetically, calling up his custom-made furnace thing on his computer. “They say it is like a meat-shop. But it is a simple idea. From all organic things you can make vodka or spirit. It is just a measure of time and some chemical things.”
In the pictures there is a small amount of oil under a huge tank. Molodkin says that you should get 2.5 litres from a person, but this was his trial run, and there was an accident - the machine was opened too early and the transformation was not complete. “Still liquid,” he adds, reassuringly.
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Daneyal Mahmood, New York
Kashya Hildebrand, Zurich
Orel Art, Paris, London
Andrei Molodkin on wikipedia