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A NURSE breezily swabs at an arm and pokes in a syringe to fill another blood bag as hard drill vocals and bass rumble through the darkened Saatchi gallery in London.
Medical-grade tubes run from a refrigerated canister of blood — brightened by a conspicuously positioned fridge — into clear acrylic blocks and, as the blood fills the tubes, it reaches critical mass and fills cut-out messages such as “OFFICER I’VE DONE NOTHING” and “SAVE YOUR SOUL MOTHERFUCKER” blown up on the walls.
There’s no subtlety in the words, nor in the spurting blood collected from visitors to create this collaborative installation, which also launches the track The Media by rappers Skengdo, AM and Drillminister.
But, like blood itself, the visceral surface of Andrei Molodkin’s work conceals the essential and subtle unseen constituents that make it so vital.
The Russian-born conceptual artist is no stranger to entering fraught political spaces to interrogate how power structures divide and conquer. Catholic Blood at Derry’s Void Gallery used blood donated by local Catholics to fill a stained-glass window.
Critics “felt cheated that I had only chosen to use Catholic blood. It was never my intention to mix religions — the intensity is in the separation,” he said at the time.
His take on censorship and authoritarianism has the same intensity here, with the focus on Lambeth and Russia as victims of overzealous governments suppressing artistic expression.
In mixing the blood of drill artists, their allies and those in positions of power who may be uneasy with their work, the installation is an urgent reflection on the need to find unity beyond current separation.
Visitors give their blood individually, regardless of who they are, but it becomes indistinguishable from that of another as it pops and swirls into the acrylic as a blood pact illuminating the art of the suppressed.
The words cut into the blocks are drawn from Molodkin’s collaborators, London-based drill musicians Skengdo, AM and Drillminister. Skengdo and AM remain under a gang injunction which saw them cop a two-year suspended sentence last year for performing their music at London’s Koko.
Their performance feels defiant and illicit. The Media, their new track with Drillminster, has a video which forms part of the Molodkin collaboration.
Drenched in blood and incorporating oblique images of a slain policeman, it takes aim at the sensationalised responses of the mainstream media towards drill music, youth culture and their impact on crime.
The suggestion is that the government finds an easy scapegoat in young, black and underprivileged groups who loudly express their anger at inequality and openly condemn heavy-handed police and government responses.
That clampdown comes in place of investment in a long-term solution to keep kids out of trouble and music and sports charity Brixton Wings will be a beneficiary of the Saatchi launch in the vital work it does in support of that aim.
Where Molodkin once wrote difference large, he now presents an urgent cry for unity and it’s incumbent on those with power to fight for those under threat of authoritarianism. As this installation eloquently demonstrates, blood might be at stake for us all.
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