Inspection Medical Hermeneutics
Pavel Pepperstein

Inspection Medical Hermeneutics was an artists’ collective formed in Moscow in 1987 by Sergei Anufriev (born 1964), Yuri Leiderman (born 1963), and Pavel Pepperstein (born 1966). Together they made installations and performances which experimented with language and meaning, imagining their work as an investigation of their culture at a time when ‘Glasnost’ was opening it up to the West. They described ‘Glasnost’ as a moment when ‘the sky opened up’, akin to psychedelic experience, when a rupture between systems brings anxiety as well as the promise of renewal. Their work drew from Russian traditions and fairy tales – often relating these to objects from Western visual culture – as well as psychedelia and pseudo-scientific methodology. In founding member Pavel Pepperstein’s words, Inspection Medical Hermeneutics produced ‘a thick mumble, white noise and other incomprehensible, unclear things’.[1]


For this exhibition, Raven Row has revived the installations Amber Room,1991, and Klinger’s Boxes Cold Reduction, 1991. These works are specifically connected to Inspection Medical Hermeneutics’ psychedelic research, which led to the publication of a book, Psychedelic Counter-Revolution.

Amber Room, 1991

The title of this work refers to the ‘Amber Room’ which Tsarina Catherine II of Russia supposedly used as a secret hiding place from enemies, but is now lost, presumed stolen by the Nazis during their invasion of Russia. The smiling faces on the balloons and apples (rolling apples is a method of divination in Russia) depict ’Kolobok’, a character from a Russian folktale, who is always running away. The critic Ulli Moser has written that ‘the expression “to be like Kolobok”, which had initially been used in connection with Ilya Kabakov, therefore stands for “a specific attitude of artists… who have a penchant for slipping away when aggressive interpretation sets in”’.[2] The framed photographs of icons, together with cushions, resemble domestic orthodox shrines. The icons have been recorded sideways instead of frontally, thus demonstrating perspective, a Western invention which is usually denied in orthodox representations.

Klinger’s Boxes Cold Reduction, 1991
The display of eccentric and erotic etchings in this installation are copies of a series by the turn-of-the- century German artist Max Klinger, which all focus on the motif of the glove. Pavel Pepperstein has written about Klinger’s Boxes Cold Reduction for this exhibition:


The series Klinger’s Boxes is dedicated to the theme of Russia as a memory of Europe.

Russia is a northern country with a cold climate and this prevents things from quick degradation and decay. Therefore, traditional forms of European thought and orientation, now forgotten in Europe, have been preserved in Russia. Some elements of traditional Russian winter clothing act as the keepers of European memory. Elements of bourgeois and dated European culture are warmed up by typical Russian objects connected with cold.


These objects, such as felt boots, woollen mittens, hats with ear-flaps, downy (fluffy) shawls, which were elements of the basic peasant’s clothing, are still very much ‘alive’ and being worn to this day. Some objects have even become fashionable.


The installation’s idea is linked to the development of ideas and aesthetic practices related to the cold, freezing and warming. We explored the basic differences between Russian culture and other cultures in respect of how other cultures look at death. Russia’s cold climate makes the figure of a man dying from freezing cold a very important theme in Russian culture (in Russian fairy tales, in coachman’s songs, in poems by Nikolay Nekrasov ‘Grandfather Frost-Red Nose’ and so on...).


Death by freezing is one of the most blissful formsof dying. A person dying from freezing does not feel pain; he experiences euphoria and pleasant hallucinations. This characterises a more painless attitude towards death in Russian culture in comparison with the European culture which is in many ways built on pain and suffering. Here it is relevant to recall the work of Vladimir Nabokov, who considered that the message of all of his literary work consisted in the phrase ‘Death is sweet; this is a secret’. Nabokov enciphered this phrase into one of his stories.


St Petersburg, 17 December 2009
Dictated to, and translated by, Yelena Walker



[1] Pavel Pepperstein cited in Ulli Moser, 'Inspection Medical Hermeneutics' (trans. Patrick Kremer), Kunstforum, no. 118, 1992, p.372.


[2] Moser, 'Inspection Medical Hermeneutics', p.372.