An Exhibition at Pushkin House by Yevgeniy Fiks 9th March – 11th May
Opening 8th March
Panel Discussion with Professor Dan Healey, Yevgeniy Fiks, Professor Sarah Wilson and Juliet Jacques 6-7PM
RSVP for panel discussion essential as space is limited to firstname.lastname@example.org
Pushkin House and Grad are proud to present Mother Tongue/ Родная Речь the first London solo exhibition by New York-based Russian artist Yevgeniy Fiks, exploring historical gay Russian argot. This coded language dates back to Soviet times and can be compared to Britain’s ‘polari’ jargon.
Through this exhibition Fiks elevates this ‘themed’ language into a poetic code, celebrating its wit and nuance. Mother Tongue/ Родная Речь reclaims and celebrates Soviet-era Russian gay argot as a unique cultural phenomenon and gives a historical context to today’s post-Soviet LGBTQ community whose language partially evolved from it.
The exhibition takes the form of an installation, recreating the environment of a classroom, equipped with a black board, alphabet charts, texts books, and a language instructional video, designed as formal introduction to the vocabulary and usage of the argot.
Soviet era pleshki - or cruising sites - are presented in a series of photographs of Moscow, empty of people - many of them famous tourist destinations – subverting standard perceptions of the city. Fiks envisions the 'language of the pleshka' as a complete and distinct language, separate from standard Russian.
A semi-humorous instruction video gives a lesson in how to use and construct phrases from this ‘themed’ language. Like polari, Soviet gay slang contributed to the sense of the separate identity of queer communities of the time, and allowed users to communicate openly about things that could have seen them excluded from mainstream society, or even imprisoned; thus it was a defense mechanism that provided safety.
The exhibition is accompanied by the recently published Mother Tongue/ Родная Речь a book by Fiks, both about, and written in, Soviet-era Russian gay argot.
In the book, Russian gay argot is conceptualised as a literary language fit for the production of high culture, including written literature. The book includes a linguistic introduction to Soviet-era Russian gay argot and a collection of conceptual poetry written by Fiks in that language.