ANATOLI ULYANOV: THERE WILL NOT BE A SYSTEM A DIGITAL MAN WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO FOOL
Exiled art critic and cyberguerilla on evolution, sharks and cultural resistance
A journalist, a concept artist and a public freedoms activist, Anatoli Ulyanov has been widely regarded as a significant event on the 2000s Ukrainian media scene. Over several years of his career, he has been an editor-in-chief of the edgy and provocative Proza website as well as the leading force behind the Sho magazine, well known for its unconventional views on Ukraine’s art, culture and society. Speaking in his own peculiar language about things most of us are too afraid to even think of, Ulyanov manifested a new wave in Ukraine’s journalism. However, despite being popular in the intellectual circles, Proza has been shut down after a report by the National Expert Commission for Public Morality that accused the site’s editor of distributing porn. Ulyanov rejects all accusations saying that explicit images were posted exclusively as art objects. Shortly after that, Anatoli had to leave Ukraine due to pressure from radical nationalist groups. Having abandoned his former life he travels around Eastern and Central Europe searching for new answers and meanings. In between his journeys, both real and digital, he agreed to share his ideas... Tell us a bit about yourself. What gave birth to the Anatoli Ulyanov we know today? Was there some other Ulyanov?
I, as anyone else, was born in the depths of my mother’s flash that makes this everyday wonder possible - a human is born within a human. He grows inside as a holy tumor, making us think of ourselves as of magical bioplants. Due to the fact that a human, as any living organism, is not static and is subject to universal cosmic movement, I would say, yes, there was another Ulyanov. Every moment is new experience, new feelings and new thoughts. This means that you are different and everything affects everything.What events preceded your departure from the country? Tell us about your conflict with radical movements and the national commission for morality?
My conflict with them is a private manifestation of a global battle between Eros and Thanatos, froth between an urge for life and an urge for death. I am sure that at some point any society faces the likelihood of dominance of regressive trends. Opposing changes and progress, these trends represent the views of the agents of the past: conservatives, retrogrades, obscurants, nationalists, moralists, hypocrites and other likely wardens of concentration camps. Agents of the past love the image of the so called comfortable world, where people are herded by the omnipotent master, disguised by tales of pure righteousness. Agents of the past oppose nature, they fight true freedom in the name of the false one. You are offered high-status benefits providing that you will not leave the cage. I find this totally humiliating and unacceptable.
Agents of the past hamper society’s progress which is itself a perversion. Represented by the commission for morality, they, manifesting good intentions, impose censorship, which means that they threaten the freedom of thought and knowledge in its diversity. Represented by radical nationalists, agents of the past fix these “good intentions” with blood.
My departure from the country was forced. Having accused me of blasphemy and perversions propaganda, this bunch of conservative fascists proceeded to direct action: I was attacked three times, I was beaten, prosecuted, stalked and discredited, accused of distributing illegal forms of pornography. This all happened because I shared my ideas that oppose the world of slave-like submission and control.
As my physical condition reached the line when it became hard for me to do my job, I was forced to accept exile and continue my practices on the road. Tell us about the Civil Monitoring of the Commission for Morality, which you have initiated? Will you continue working in this direction?
Civil monitoring has been established because the Ukrainian society has a habit of not seeing its own sores. The monitoring involves journalists, people of art and culture, civil activists and free thinkers watching activities of the commission for moral and not letting this corrupt machine for pressuring dissident thinking act secretly. And as long as this Big Brother exists the civil monitoring will exist to watch the watchers. They just don’t understand that the more active they are the more powerful and effective are cyber-dissidents. My website was shut down by censors, my blog has been downtrodden politically many times, but what do we have in the end? In the end I just find new ways to bypass these obstacles. In the end there will not be a system a digital man would not be able to fool. What do you believe to be your place in Ukraine’s cultural space? Will your presence there end now?
I live in texts, which is why, as long as my texts exist, I exist. Virtuality has allowed me to get rid of my physical body. I feel myself a living biological code. I am sure that there will be more people-viruses on cyberspace soon.How do you perceive your exile: side effect or expected result of your activity?
My exile is a symptom and a consequence of those monstrous transitions, as a result of which the contemporary Ukrainian society and its citizens risk being deprived of basic rights and freedoms. Answering ideas with violence is a barbaric and regressive stand. It is disproportional and violates common sense.What is your definition of cultural resistance?
As for the cultural resistance… internal struggle, permanent revolt, endless resistance – I see that as a basic survival strategy in the world where everything is done to lull you, make you dry, normal and dull, deprive you of harsh angles and the will to be yourself. Resistance is a way to preserve personality. For me it’s like a shark’s life… a shark must move to breathe. So does a human. He should resist to stay human.What are your plans for the future?
I am going to create autonomous techno-media about the future and regressive trends that hamper progress. This future, in my utopian understanding, is based on diversity and knowledge. Currently, noble web volunteers are shaping this media, but it is still too early to speak about any possible launch date. Proza may return only as an archive. I prefer evolution, development and new platforms over restoring the past. My task is in helping a reader to form a revolting basis, which would allow him to resist regressive trends. I believe that we all should be concerned with the future and bright utopias. We should dream as publicly as possible, because if these bright utopias are not called into existence they will not happen and dystopias created by agents of the past will take their place.What awaits us in the future? Apocalypse?
Apocalypse takes place today. It is the agony of the old kingdom, which is falling apart and will soon lie in ruins: all the world’s troubles are just consequences of this stagnation. This is normal. I see the future optimistically. I don’t rule out that new problems will appear, but this is only a question of how we answer the challenge. We will succeed. I think that the final version of humanity is still to come. We are not formed yet, we are still walking around, ego-tripping, forming ourselves. And this is very inspiring. The future is the day when we shall find ourselves and see that we are truly beautiful and cannot be described with primitive ethical schemes and stone-age views on good and evil.
Interview and translation by Andrew Boborykin (postmortemist)
Photos by Nataliya Masharova