Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov was a poet, graphic artist, sculptor, creator of installations, performance artist, and philosopher during the tumultuous 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Prigov is one of the most famous figures of the “unofficial art” the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was born on November 5, 1940 in Moscow. His father was an engineer and his mother a pianist. After school, he spent two years working in a factory as a metalworker. As a teen in 1956, Prigov started writing poetry which was the medium he was most active in throughout his life. In 1966, he graduated as a sculptor from the Higher Industrial Art School.

From 1966–1974, he worked for the Moscow city architectural department as an inspector overseeing the painting of building and projects in municipal parks. During this time he developed an affiliation with other underground artist and poets. During Communist rule in Russia, recognized artists were very restricted in what they could produce. This time was very different from what we are used to. In the United States, people can say what they want; artists can paint whatever subject they like. During Prigov’s early career, this was not the case. The few artists that were supported by the state were told what to depict. This is part of what makes Dmitri Prigov such an interesting person. He challenged the commonly accepted beliefs and was one of the creators of the underground art movement. He was even briefly imprisoned for his work.

As an artist, Prigov was drawn to everything fragile, he liked using material like newspapers — which he considered a metaphor for human beings with a perishable body but filled with ideas and thoughts to create his art installations. (An installation is like a life size scene that uses everyday objects and that is, itself, the piece of art. For example in the pictures on the cart there is an arrangement of newspapers with the word “Glasnost” painted on them. Glasnost is the policy of more open sharing of information with the public that was instituted by the new government after the fall of the Communism. *Take a moment to talk about this picture with the older students. Consider Prigov’s use of newspaper to represent the fragility of humans and the bold way Glasnost is painted over the top. What do they think Prigov was trying to say?* This is usually what art installations (Which are a more modern art form) are usually about…making a statement and causing the viewer to think about a subject in a new way.

Dmitri Progov’s art was more about getting ideas and messages across to the viewer than being beautiful and artistic. He considered himself first a philosopher and used all of his different talents together to convey his message. For example, he would do several drawings of an idea or installation, and they would be part of the art. Then he would set up a scene from one of those drawings and often he would have someone film him reading his poetry in the scene. You can see how this creates several different pieces that are all part of the whole idea. Using so many different techniques is very impressive in itself!

Dmitri created interesting ways to record his poetry. Sometimes he cut out lines and stapled, taped, and glued them into interesting designs. He also made little books whose shapes added to part of the story or poem inside. Today we are going to do our own shaped books. While we are talking, think about a favorite story or make one up. You could also create a poem. Poems are often more threads of ideas or images than a fully formed story. (For the older grades, read Prigov’s poem below. It will be a little above what 2nd graders and bellow can really understand.) Think about your favorite things… like springtime, winter, fall or summer or an activity you like to do. Think about a shape that will help tell the story or show one of the important parts of it and cut your papers into that shape. Show the students the example and walk through the books to help them see how to do it:
1. Plan your story and design. Decide how many pages you will need.
2. Stack the pages together (up to about 4) and lightly draw the design then cut them out together. If you have more pages, you will need to cut the first batch then trace one of the papers onto the top paper of the second batch.
3. Trace the stack of papers onto the cover sheet of colored paper, giving a little extra room for an edge.
4. Write your story/poem on the pages and illustrate where desired, then staple everything together.

Unnamed Poem by Dmitri Prigov

It’s not important the recorded milk production
Cannot be compared to the real milk production
Everything that’s recorded is recorded in the heavens
And if it will come to be not in two or three days
Nevertheless it’s really important when it will
And in some high sense it’s already come true
And in some low sense everything will be forgotten
And it’s nearly been forgotten already
-Dmitri Prigov