FAQ: Portrait of 19 Million

1) Must every participant be a former member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union?

Anybody can participate and contribute portraits. However, the subjects of the portraits (the ones depicted in the portraits) must have been members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the last years of Soviet Union's existence.

2) Why are you doing this project?

This project is about people, about human narratives. The society still dumps much of the responsibility for the difficulties of the post-Soviet present and for the Soviet past on the former Communists. So who are those mythical "Communists"? Somebody's grandmother, a high-school chemistry teacher, a grandfather, who joined the Party during WW2, etc. Among Party members, there were people who believed in Communism. There were also conformists and opportunists. There were also those who were cheated. In reality, the Party wasn't homogeneous.There were 19 million people in the Soviet Communist Party by the beginning of Perestroika. This is a huge number and the difference between simply Soviet subjects and members of the Communist Party was minimal in practice. And when the official ideology postulated that "the people and the Party are one," it was probably true. They were the same people. "Portrait of 19 Million" is an attempt to share responsibility for the past and present. We cannot dump all the responsibility on the Communist Party. I want everyone, myself included, to recognize our own features in the portrait of 19 million--our own conformism, our own cowardice, our own hopes for a better future.

3) How are you going to judge the success of this project? What would constitute a success and what a failure?

When one works on a project which rests on open participation and communication, it's impossible to foresee what the result would be. I think that this project will be a success if participants attentively and thoughtfully look at the subjects of their portraits. This project is precisely about an individual inside of an impossible community. The failure would be if participants won't seriously look at their subjects, but will present some shorthand cynical deconstruction or the opposite -- a naive romanticism of Communism.

4) What type of reaction you expect from the audience?

I'm hoping for a simple human interest to faces and narratives of human beings depicted in these portraits.

5) It's not very clear what this small and sporadic sociological work can tell us?

Yes, this is a home-grown artistic/sociological survey, where Maria Chekhonadskikh, who's helping me and I pathetically try to collect portraits of 19 million people -- via inviting our friends and acquaintances, posting fliers, and via mailing lists. I think that making this project more institutionalized and professional would have been wrong, because this would have recreated the officialdom and deadness of the CPSU. The personal dimension is very important here for this project is about people, about the portrait as humanist representation.

6) What's the internal description of the project? I feel uneasy about "social-applied art," that is projects "about" collectivism.

An open call in this project is a gesture of my personal inability as an individual to make portraits of 19 million people. I could have made perhaps 20 portraits myself, but definitely not 19 million. This project becomes collective as a result of my personal as an individual artist powerlessness before this heavy historical legacy, this history, this ocean of people and individual human fates.

7) How do you explain to yourself that you delegate the process of portraiture to other people? Placing yourself outside the framework of creation of the portrait you remain an artist who sets the rules of the project as a whole, while participants who contribute portraits become so-to-say subjects of a portrait made by you?

Of course in a sense all people who will participate in this project become "subjects of a portrait." However, I want them to make a decision to participate in this project responsibly and consciously, with a realization that the way they will show former members of CPSU and the fact of their participation itself are an expression of their personal position towards what had happened during the Soviet experiment as well as towards events of the last 25 years in the post-Soviet space. And I think that when each participant has potentially 19 million possible subjects for a portrait -- it's democratic. For all that was uniting in the past and still unites former members of the CPSU is for the most part a single line in their biographies -- membership in the organization called Communist Party of the Soviet Union.