Andrei Monastyrski:
Elementary Poetry

​Edited and translated by Brian Droitcour and Yelena Kalinsky
Preface by Boris Groys

In recent years Andrei Monastyrski has received international recognition for his work with Collective Actions, a group of artists who have organized actions in the fields around Moscow since 1976. Though his poetry is less well known, that is where it all began. After writing poetry in the manner of Russian modernists, newly available to Soviet readers during Khrushchev’s thaw, Monastyrski’s interest in John Cage and ideas about consciousness from Western and Eastern philosophical traditions led him to deepen his dialogue with poetry of the past through experiments with sound, form, and the creation of artistic environments involving carefully conceived objects and situations. Elementary Poetry collects poems, books, and action objects from the ’70s, tracing a genealogy of the art action in poetry.

Andrei Monastyrski (b. 1949) is a poet, author, artist, art theorist based in Moscow. He is, along with Ilya Kabakov, one of the founders of conceptualism in Russia. He graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in philology and worked for many years at the Literature Museum in Moscow. In 1973, he began to work with serial structures and minimalist sound compositions and in 1975, turned his attention to poetic objects and actions. He is best known as a founding member and chief theoretician of the Collective Actions group, which began to stage outdoor actions on the edges of Moscow in 1976. He compiled many of the group’s documentary volumes, Trips Out of the City, and participated in many solo and group exhibitions with his own work. In 2003, Monastyrski was awarded the Andrei Bely Prize in literature. He also received the Soratnik Prize in 2008 and the Innovation Prize in 2009. His poetry and theoretical writings have been gathered into several Russian-language volumes by the publisher German Titov for his Library of Moscow Conceptualism series.

Brian Droitcour is a writer, translator, and curator, as well as a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at New York University. From 2002 to 2007 he lived in Moscow, where he covered exhibitions for The Moscow Times, contributed to the Russian art monthly Artchronika and edited their English digest editions, and translated books for WAM Knigi, an art publisher. He has contributed essays and reviews to Artforum, Art in America, Rhizome, The New Inquiry, and other publications. In 2012 he won second prize in the Compass poetry translation competition for his rendering of Marina Tsvetaeva’s 1921 long poem, "Upon a Red Steed."

Yelena Kalinsky is an art historian based in Lansing, MI. She earned her Ph.D. in Art History in 2013 from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey with a dissertation entitled Collective Actions: Moscow Conceptualism, Performance, and the Archive, 1976-1989. In 2012, she edited and translated Collective Actions: Audience Recollections from the First Five Years, 1976-1981 (Soberscove). Previously, she worked as an archivist and Dodge curatorial fellow at the Zimmerli Art Museum, where she curated the exhibition "Performing the Archive: Collective Actions in the 1970s & 1980s." Her writing has appeared in ARTMargins, Russian Literature, Nova Galerija Newspapers, and elsewhere.


Monastyrski was interested in creating a small but attentive public in order to explore the laws of attention, the reaction to artistic action, memory, and communication about art. And Monastyrski was astonishingly successful at this. ... The Collective Actions group was a genuine school, not just for many artists but also for many writers and art critics. But the influence of the group, and in particular of Monastyrski himself, is much broader than the circle of those who worked with him directly. The explosion of performance art in Russia in the 1990s would have been inconceivable without the performance practice of Collective Actions. Today Monastyrski is considered a guru of the new Russian art in Moscow, and his decisive influence on its origins and development is indisputable." ——Boris Groys, History Becomes Form

He forces the reader to hold their thoughts together with material action...Monastyrski does not allow his work to be bounded by mere textual elements, but pulls in graphical elements, the form of text, the context in which the text is delivered, his readership, and the broader environment.——Katherine Beaman, DIAGRAM

Just like the open field in the woods where Collective Actions would site their happenings, the artist is clearing spaces in the realm of language. In his preface, Groys argues that this should be seen as a utopian gesture; the translators view it as reflexive, describing Monastyrski’s approach as ‘creating distance to look inward.——Kate Sutton, Artforum

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