On June 6, 2016, the artist Katrin Nenasheva launched the “Punishment” campaign, during which she walks around Moscow for 21 days with a hospital bed tied to her back. That is how long the forced imprisonment in orphanages lasts in a psychiatric hospital. They are sent to mental hospitals as punishment. In addition, Nenasheva is trying on other practices of punishment from orphanages. Life around met with the artist to accompany her while moving around Moscow.
Katrin Nenasheva and I agree to meet near the Smolenskaya metro station. I arrive at the place and walk around the district in search of a girl with a bed tied to her back. For some reason, it seems that such a person should strongly stand out among tourists walking along the Arbat. But no: in the end, I find Catherine on the corner of Arbat and Troilinsky Lane - and I don’t even immediately notice the metal hospital bed, which the artist wears like a backpack. Catherine looks confident: she smiles, sometimes looks at the smartphone screen and smokes a cigarette. While we are waiting for the photographer, we are talking.
Catherine Nenasheva from Krasnodar. Now she lives in Moscow and studies at the Literary Institute in the poetry department. For some reason, she laughs when she says that she is studying at LI, but, according to her, she adopted this reaction from other people: she always took her studies seriously. It is as if accepted to laugh at the poetry department of the Literary Institute in Moscow, but students like Catherine, in my experience with students and graduates of this university, are rare there.
The artist has always been interested in marginalized communities. She herself grew up in a completely prosperous family, so she can look at the social practices adopted in prison or orphanages as a classic researcher: from the outside. But in fact, her method is completely different: she is not a detached observer, but an experimenter who puts experiments on herself. In 2015, Nenasheva walked around the city in a prison robe for a month.
During the action, she, along with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, sewed the Russian flag on Yakimanka, and the artist shaved her head on Red Square. With this action, Catherine wanted to draw attention to the conditions of women in Russian prisons, to labor practices in places of detention, as well as to the adaptation of former prisoners at large. The performance documentation with the reactions of the townspeople was shown at the exhibition “I - art, F - feminism” (curated by Ilmira Bolotyan) in the ISSMAG gallery in Moscow.
The action "Punishment" is organized in a similar way. The action woman walks around Moscow with a hospital bed tied to her back for 21 days: the forced placement of an inmate of an orphanage in a psychiatric hospital lasts so long, where children are sent as punishment. A day later, Catherine conducts an additional action: with an invariable bed, she experiences one of the tortures to which teachers are subjected to punishment for orphans. Catherine ate salt, stood on one leg, squeezed out, squatted, lay face down on asphalt, stood on peas - all in volumes that make each of these actions painful. While we walk around the city, the sky over which is overcast, Catherine laments on rainy weather: this prevents her from carrying out one of the punishments. In orphanages, there is a perverted practice of punishment, in which the inmate is forced to look at the bright sun until he or she feels sick. It is amazing that human imagination is capable of giving birth to such sophisticated forms of torture, especially in relation to children.
We walk along the Arbat, then along Nikitsky and Tversky Boulevards. Catherine bends under the weight of the bed, she walks significantly slower than people free from shackles. In my perception, the artist fuses with the object: I apologize when I accidentally touch the foot of the bed.
Indeed, according to Catherine, a bed tied to the back is a kind of metaphor of the past, which accompanies former pupils of orphanages with a heavy burden. Having grown up in conditions different from those in which other children grew up, they fit differently into social relations. The problems they encountered in the orphanage accompany them all their lives. They remain collectivists and often rent apartments together with other people from orphanages, thus remaining in the community of orphans for many years. It is difficult for them to adapt to ordinary life, they do not know how much of what others learn in childhood, and usually this relates to healthy interaction with other people. It’s hard for families who have grown up in families to understand this, and therefore Nenasheva is trying on the Other's experience on herself. Otherwise, it is impossible to realize existence in other social coordinates.
I find myself thinking that this is all like Solzhenitsyn's “One Day of Ivan Denisovich,” which is essentially all written for the last lines, which indicate how many such days were in ten years of the protagonist’s imprisonment in one of the GULAG camps. In the case of Nenasheva, her shares must be extrapolated in the imagination from a few days to several years, or even a lifetime.
Catherine Nenasheva worked in charity organizations - including those that help children in orphanages. In general, “Punishment” is also dedicated to a very specific former orphanage (although Catherine did not meet him at work). This is Dima Zhdanov, whose brother, also a graduate of the orphanage, was brutally beaten by former orphans, who were accustomed to practicing mob law, but the criminal case was hushed up. To draw attention to the situation, Dima jumped from the fifth floor and has been moving in a wheelchair for two years now. On Russian Day, Catherine and Dima held one of the actions within the framework of “Punishment” in the Alexander Garden, near the walls of the Kremlin.
City, body and passers-by
On Nikitsky Boulevard, we decide to take a break: the photographer and I sit on the bench, but Catherine with her bed will not succeed. She habitually sits on the asphalt and rests from the weight of the bed, the weight of which is now transferred from the back of the artist to the curb. On the boulevard, passers-by begin to respond to the bed. Someone is actively waving, but Catherine is sure that this is not because she is already recognized on the streets. At least she herself is not familiar with this person. A man with a gray beard and a cheerful look shouts: "Good luck!" The artist suggests that he thought that Catherine just needed to drag the bed somewhere, but she didn’t have a car. A piece of fabric is tied to the bed with embroidered text “Hundreds of orphans are hostages of mental hospitals.” Some approach, bend over, read the text, but almost no one speaks with the artist.
We are approaching Pushkin Square. In this area, walking is difficult for ordinary pedestrians, and even more so for Catherine: everything is dug up. Nenasheva says that performance changes her attitude towards her own body. She has to look for new poses, to get less tired, to make it easier to go down the stairs, to make it easier to maneuver. It becomes clear how little space there is for a person in the city: often we have only the minimum necessary zone, which allows us to at least not push other pedestrians. Catherine has to walk along the pavement instead of the sidewalk, and look for ways around it. Transport trips are inconvenient. Not all metro stations allow the artist with a bed tied to her back, so she has to be unscrewed and folded. Catherine is not allowed into all the libraries in which she prepares for a session at the Literary Institute.
On the corner of Bolshaya Bronnaya and Bogoslovskogo we go to the Scarlet Sails store: Catherine will soon begin another punishment and wants to buy water. In a more relaxed than the rest of the city store environment, people don’t skimp on comments. Behind us in the queue, the guy tells the girl that people are doing "such" of nothing to do. They themselves clearly have something to do.
On Pushkin Square, Catherine is waiting for two people with cameras. The time has come for the action: Catherine squats down and plans to stand as long as she can. This is also a repetition of the practice of punishment accepted in orphanages. Nenasheva with a white bed looks spectacular near a red flower bed. We spend some time with her, watching how people approach her to read the inscription. The action itself interests them as if less. Prior to this, Catherine said that the most interesting thing for passers-by and readers of her Facebook was the action with eating salt. Then two girls approached her, who were brought up in an orphanage. One of them was sent to a psychiatric hospital as a punishment.
While Catherine is squatting, the photographer and I set off for lunch at the cheburechny on Bronnaya. Stupid thoughts come to my mind about Rosalind Krauss's article “Lattices,” objects of Saul Levitt and the irony of transhumanism. Art critics and philosophers could dig into the action of Nenasheva many unnecessary meanings, but this makes her performance surprisingly interesting. An hour later, we find Catherine in the courtyard of McDonald's on Pushkinskaya with a glass of coffee. She squatted for half an hour, by this time the police had arrived at the square. However, they did not touch the artist: by that time she was already tired of sitting and just fell. Having risen, Catherine sat another couple of tens of minutes and finished the action. She has to go to work in the Plan B space: she needs to prepare the premises for political debate.
We are heading towards Prechistenka. We go along Tverskaya in a gadget: there now we can’t disperse even without a bed attached to the back. We manage to go near Mokhovaya, and Catherine talks about her work (in “Plan B” she is responsible for the cultural part) and about the meeting with the Belarusian shareholder Yuri Urso. The latter staged an action in a psychiatric hospital: he made his way to a holiday for patients, took a microphone and began to read Michel Foucault (who, as you know, studied the history of the situation of people with mental disorders in European society). At this time, a man with wings poked at him with a huge syringe. During conversations, we reach the destination: Catherine arranges the rows of chairs in the discussion room and jokingly complains about feminists who have not tidied up the premises after the show. The promotion should last another ten days.