Russian artist GLUKLYA states her aim plainly: “The place of the artist is by the side of the weak.” These words belong to the manifesto of Factory of Found Clothes (FCC), the artist collective she cofounded with Tsaplya (Olga Egorova) in St. Petersburg in 1995. FCC’s recurring motif of a diminutive white dress in early performances and actions conveyed the qualities—acceptance of fragility and brazenness—that FCC perceives as decisive in attaining social justice. In FCC, GLUKLYA has whetted her sewing needles on the Soviet Union’s failed promise of female emancipation through equal labor that reinforced tropes of ideal masculinity through strength and domination.
More recent FCC performances, installations, workshops, and videos extend to vulnerable social groups, particularly unskilled migrants from former Soviet republics and pensioners. This shift accompanies GLUKLYA’s transition to the helm of FCC in 2010 and her participation in the leftwing intellectual platform Chto delat? (What is to be done?) since 2003. FCC’s video installation Wings of Migrants (2012) brings together professional Russian dancers with illegal migrants from Central Asia working in construction to create a performance. As the gestures of Russian high art and punishing physical labor contaminate and enrich one another, a choreography emerges that negotiates the path to greater empathy on both sides. The video closes with one of the workers casting off his uniform and abandoning the dilapidated construction site for a self-determined, if uncertain, future.
FCC’s ongoing performance Utopian Clothes Shop (2004–) translates the stories of individuals, often young women, into words or images emblazoned across items of clothing, or sometimes concealed in their linings or tucked under flaps of fabric. In 2012, GLUKLYA transformed this project into a public action titled Clothes for the Demonstration (2012) that challenged the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin’s reelection to president. The vestments that had once disclosed private hopes and fears became public banners demanding recognition and change. If GLUKLYA’s earlier practice of collaborating in intimate, private settings was a means of protest and a mode of survival shared with other artists who came of age under Communism, then Clothes for the Demonstration suggests that today, in striving for social and political transformation in Russia, one must be seen to be heard.