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He operates in an interdisciplinary field. "Art for me is a single current," he has said, "and I don't care what forms it takes." His work can't be confused with anyone else's. Examples are his papier-mâché "eight-legged dog for high-speed transportation;" his performance “Black Caviar Road” – a line of Russians black caviar cans with car tires rolling by; and his sound installation "Say: I love you" which uses a computer to transform those three words into an echo bouncing through two hundred speakers.
Bartenev creates absurd, whimsical, racy, provocative, carnival fantasias. They are inspired by the mythology of art, by the dreams of scientists, by porno-anime. The artist, in his wild costumes and makeup, is an art-object himself. In this way Bartenev continues and develops the ideas of Russian Futurism.
At the crest of Russia’s wave of radical Sots Art, Bartenev was invited to bring his performances all over Europe: Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Austria, and France. Bartenev’s synthetic performance The Snow Queen (1993), a vivid avant-garde interpretation of Andersen’s fairy tale, traveled to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum Theater and Royal Festival Hall (SBC).
For all the apparent spontaneity and messiness of Bartenev’s shows, their internal shape and dynamics are always carefully constructed. He turns the chaos of a masquerade into a tightly run show. His performances have no plots. However, the many entrances and changing compositions are choreographed to music and rhythm. The most important part is not the concept, but the direct, spontaneous emotion and cheerful mood, which put his performances a cut above the usual melodramatic tone of art actions. His actors become biological engines for extravagant sculptural forms. The names of shows convey some of their bacchanalia of dance and color, the atmosphere that Bartenev creates on the stage: The Botanical Ballet, The Gogol-Mogol (Egg-Flip) or The Adventures of Invisible Warms in Russia, Underpants on The Stick, If My Mouth Were 160 cm Width, Invasion of the Bread Crumbs, The Sausage Goes Under Water, Wind From Flowers of Sun.
Bartenev has created costumes for theater plays: The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck in New York, Elizaveta Bam by Daniil Kharms in Moscow, Cinderella by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in Hamburg. He was an editor and published two books: People in Paints, an anthology of Russian body art, and Marvelous! - Russian Illustrators of the Glamorous Life, a history of Russian magazine illustration from 90-s. A main priority for him was a series of LED-sculptures: London Under Snow, Electric Aliens, Skriabin’s Light Music and Connection Lost - field of lonely hearts. The latter was exhibited in the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 2007 and became a big hit in London at Riflemaker Contemporary Art Gallery. Bartenev created a design of LED-watches for the fashion company Armand Basi. Bartenev made raw of performances for Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in US: The Ladder of Red (2002), Caution! Cats and Dogs on the Road (2005), Emily likes the TV (2006) and Animals Competition (2007) with Dita von Teese.
In 2009 among other activities he organized and curated The Third International Festival of Illustration (Moscow), created performance SunPool for Willem de Kooning Foundation (USA), did a workshop at an international summer academy at Domaine de Boisbuchet (Centre Georges Pompidou, the Centre International de Recherche et dÂ´Education Culturelle et Agricole (CIRECA), and Vitra Design Museum, France) and workshop at Theatrical Academy in Norway. He also participated at MIDI_E Festival (performance - Babbles of Hope, Spain).
In 2012 Bartenev made the design for the exhibition of treasures in The Royal Library, Denmark.