Category Archives: Current events

Holocaust Selfie

Migrants flood European cities, rape white women, rob taxpayers by living off benefits, and enforce their Sharia laws on the enlightened average Westerner.

Now, if this were true, as some right-wing media claims it to be, would you have at least a modicum of sympathy for anti-immigration rallies and the average Western strongman punching some sense into the unenlightened average refugee?

Don’t stand up indignantly just yet. Social experiments on the rise of fascism have proven that getting a “yes” to my question takes a few days of work in an average US classroom.

Recently, a group of refugees waiting to be transported to Finland from Russia were beaten up by local men for groping Russian girls at a disco. It was hailed nationwide as the right (Russian) way of dealing with the refugee problem.

I am sure a sizeable proportion of Calais residents would cheer up Frenchmen doing the same to the Jungle camp residents.

What comes next?

Vigilante militia and patrols, of course. Easily identifiable by their uniforms and shoulder bands. Strong men would patrol the streets without being slowed down by police regulations. That will order things up.

And next, obviously, a system of identification needs to be set up. Syrians would be required to wear, say, a yellow star. Afgans would be assigned a green one. North Africans… I don’t know, pink? And, of course, how could I forget, before their papers are properly checked, to prevent terrorists entering the EU, they all would have to be detained in some special places, let’s say, temporary migration camps. A simple electical fence, barbed wired, will protect them from justifiably hostile local populations.

If you think a reinvention of the Holocaust is impossible, think again. There’s a generation of people now who are barely aware of the dreadful events taking place more than 70 years ago. Collective human memory is, perhaps, as selective as the individual mind and tends to bury painful moments under the thick blanket of cute cats, X-Factor winners, and loan payment dates.

Alexander Mikhalkovich, a Latvian artist, who describes himself as a web-terrorist, set it his purpose to make people remember the Holocaust.

He inserts Holocaust photographs in web-services such as Foursquare or Google at the exact geo locations where the events depicted took place so that whenever a visitor checks in, they are getting a scene of mass execution or something similar innoculously inserted in the user-generated galleries of splendid views and relaxed passtimes.

This is his statement and some of his work:

I believe that the Latvians have begun to forget about the Holocaust. It is difficult to know about it if you are not interested in this topic specifically. People are often in places where terrible things happened recently, but they do not know it. Finding some terrible photo evidence, I wanted to remind people about the Holocaust in Latvia. I decided to bypass the security systems on popular photo hosting services on maps, such as Google Earth, Panoramio and Foursquare and dilute our usual photoblog of travel photos with examples of Nazi atrocities. On these giants, there is an automated system for testing the photos before making them available to the public. With the help of special programs I changed the GPS data about the location of my smartphone. So I make minor visual changes in the picture, trying to make it invisible to the verification system of copyright. Amazingly, the little Stamp tool – and Google Image (service to search for identical pictures) can no longer find the picture. But the trick of such a giant like Google is not so easy. My photos were uploaded to Google Earth, moderated during two days and as a result were not put in the public domain Perhaps at some stage of the inspection, the robot had suspicions and he sent the photos to the moderation man Because of this, I had to concentrate on Foursquare, because my elaborated algorithm perfectly bypassed secunty of the service. Now I feel like Abba Kovner, a member of the Jewish Avengers; a terrorist group after the war who dreamed of taking revenge on Germany by poisoning the Dresden water supply. I’m a terrorist, but in the name of Memory. I’m invading your world of sunsets, selfies, kittens and happy meals; reminding you of what lies beneath the beach you are lounging on.

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Once, Foursquare commented on a photo of a group of Jewish girls lining up to be executed, “You’ve got gorgeous hair today!”.

This is the kind of digital art that should make the headlines.

 

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Art Tests Religious Argument

Art has many functions in a society and one of them is being a litmus test of political, religious or social argument or policy. This function is not invoked very often, but when it happens the consequences are usually very dramatic. “Is this art” may seem a hollow and innocuous debate topic for glamorously styled critics with posh neck scarves and pocket kerchiefs, right up to the moment it folds into a dialogue between the hangman and his victim.

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet, to death the other day for apostasy, with the conviction based on a poetry book he wrote years ago and a witness who claimed he allegedly heard Fayadh cursing Islam and Saudi Arabia. There was also something about the long hair the poet was wearing at the time of the arrest.

For me, this is a test for all Muslims who say Islam is not a violent religion.

This is my logic:

Lately, ISIS terrorists blew up a Russian passenger plane with 224 people, killed 130 people in Paris, beheaded two hostages, slaughtered 20 people in Mali, and murdered numerous others in Syria and Iraq of whom we would never know anything.

As all of the atrocities have been preceded or accompanied by praise to Allah, non-Muslims inevitably develop Islamophobic feelings. Our brain is built this way. Once we know what a snake looks like, we recoil from it without thinking or rationalising why the hell did we jump away from something that looked like a snake.

Non-Muslims can’t escape fearing Muslims. 

A simple neuro test can prove, beyond any doubt, that even the most tolerant non-Muslims feel this fear even if they don’t admit it. Give me a most liberal Guardian reader, and his palms would start sweating when I show them photographs of Muslims in their traditional garb. There’s no cheating impartial electrodes, folks.

Non-Muslims can be blamed for their fear as much as gravitation can be blamed for not letting us somersault in the clouds instead of running on a treadmill.

But consciously, rationally following this fear with behaviour is a different story.

This is exactly what ISIS wants non-Muslims to do. Convert fear into hate; hate into behaviour; and make non-Muslims push the big red button of European apocalypse by raising the level of intolerance to Muslim communities, which will trigger its own chain reaction of alienation, protest, and more violence.

Hate-crime rate in the UK has reportedly surged 300% already. A few Americans were detained by police for making threatening calls to mosques in the States on the night of Paris attacks. A few mosques have been vandalized and even shot at.

Commenters, intent on preventing the escalation of violence, went online writing that Islam is a religion of peace; that if all Muslims were terrorists we’d all be dead by now; and that ISIS is not about Islam, but about their own version of it, which has nothing to do with true Islam.

Those are valid arguments, all of them.

But.

If we follow this logic, European Muslims need to raise their united voice now in defense of Ashraf Fayadh.

Is Twitter flooded with messages addressed to the Saudi king with the hashtag #FreeAshrafFayadh?

Do we read reports of European squares and streets being blocked by marching protesters?

Do we read embarrassed comments of Saudi officials who can’t get to their embassies around the globe because they are picketed by hijab-wearing true-to-Quran Muslim protesters demanding freedom for the Palestinian poet?

I am afraid the answer is “no” to all these questions.

Even an online petition to free the poet stands at 13,000 and not tens of millions of true Muslim votes.

If murdering people who live and think differently is not true Islam, then Saudi Arabia shall become the focus of European Muslim protest right this minute.

To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t happen.

And if it doesn’t happen, does it mean that European Muslims, who denounce ISIS methods, approve of morbid brutality when it is prescribed by the Saudi King? If Islam is a religion of peace, beheading a poet for his art is a crime against Islam, just as obvious as any of the terror attacks by ISIS.

So.

I want to understand (not criticize) Muslims who say Islam is a religion of peace but approve or fail to denounce its continued brutality.

It is time for true Muslims, who believe that violence is not an endemic Islamic feature, to start opposing and condemning non-true Muslims, who think beheading is good. Otherwise, the main argument about Islamists being of a different faith than Non-Violent Muslims loses credibility as a punctured hot air balloon.

If you are a Muslim and don’t sign this petition, you are making three errors in the word “PEACE” when you place it next to Islam, because it is, in fact, “DEATH“.

PS Tell me what you think, please, and don’t try to be correct politically or in some other way. Just tell me what’s on your mind. 

Art as hostage

 

A couple of decades ago, a petty communist bureaucrat managed to carve himself a hefty helping of the Russian oil industry. People who say he stole it are instantly reminded that any great fortune has a similarly disputed origin, “and see how noble it came out in the end for the Rockefellers”.

Many years later, or, to be more specific, yesterday, a long-awaited Chagall exhibition in Sweden was cancelled a week before its scheduled opening.

chagall

You may wonder how Chagall’s getting the finger and the young communist’s turning oligarch are related. What’s the connection?

The bureaucrat, you see, was none other than Khodorkovsky, who, after a brief confrontation with another ex-communist, then (and now) the President of Russia, lost his assets, his freedom, and ultimately became a man of the world with liberal views and a villa in Switzerland.

It’s the doubly stolen oil assets that are the problem now. While anyone can have their own opinion about the original theft two decades ago without so much as a thread of evidence, the late confiscation is there for everyone to see as a bank robber’s face after a dye pack explosion.

dyepack

So, international courts say Russia owes Khodorkovsy’s partners some USD 50bn, and if the money’s not paid, Russian assets will be arrested.

And this is why Chagall can’t travel anymore. Obviously, the State Russian Museum that was planning to loan the paintings fears they may not come back.

shagall

This is Chagall’s Promenade of 1918, but in its modified form it explains the connection.

Now, my question is, why has no one thought to exclude art from court decisions on state asset seizure? Yeah, I know, lawyers don’t care about anything except their share of the winnings, but still. Should state-owned art be hostage to claims made against the respective state and lead to cultural cut-offs?

Can religious fanatics be blamed for art destruction?

The other day, a group of Orthodox Christian activists burst into a sculpture show in the centre of Moscow to protest against supposedly blasphemous representations of Christ among dozens of artworks from three non-conformist Soviet sculptors exhibited there. They harmed a few graphic works but no damage has been done to the sculptures.

The protest outraged a number of Russian intellectuals who as one spoke against this mediaeval ISIS-style vandalism, expressing hopes the law would not dismiss the protesters unpunished.

Come on.

It is not the first time that it happens, and it will be happening more and more often in Russia. Don’t look so surprised and indignant. The rise of art vandalism in Russia is as obvious and predictable as Putin’s next presidential term.

Whenever a big idea takes hold of a collective mind, art that contradicts this idea gets destroyed. It happened when Christianity became the official state religion in the Roman Empire; it happened in the wake of the French Revolution; it happens today in the Muslim Caliphate of the ISIS; and it takes place in Russia, dizzy from its illusions of grandeur amid bulldozed geese and incinerated peaches.

As any religion is, ultimately, just a therapeutic practice to fight the fear of death, destruction of art is its unavoidable consequence. It’s like a lease of premises which is the fixed cost of running a shop. The more people believe in your version of god, the safer you feel about your own choice of religion, the more purpose and sense you find in life and the less you fear death. Anything that contradicts your version represents doubt, and doubt equals a renewed fear of death, and people most afraid their beliefs are in danger start crushing statues and burning books. This also explains why fresh converts are often more violent than established believers, and why religious fanatics are most dangerous immediately after they’ve won a war or went legal.

It practical terms, it means that artworks should be better guarded, removed to safe heavens, and not exhibited in places with a high concentration of religious activists (not religious people!), because you never know what their god may whisper into their activist ear tomorrow.

There are and can be no religions of peace, because a peaceful religion has a zero chance to survive.

It doesn’t mean, of course, that all Christians, Muslims, or Buddhists are intolerant of artworks created by people with a different worldview. It just means there will always be a varying share of people within these (or any other) religions who believe destroying art and killing unbelievers is their duty and a path to salvation and life eternal.

It is the reality, and artists need to adapt to it, just like European couples visiting Dubai learn not to kiss in public, albeit sometimes in the hard way. Leaving a country with a lot of religious activists for a country with a few of them is also an option.

In the very distant future, when the human life expectancy climbs up to 250 years, there would be less fear and more tolerance. What’s important is that we find practical ways to protect controversial art until then.

I welcome alternative opinions, unless they are accompanied by death threats, of course.

In the meantime, here are Vadim Sidur’s sculptures that made the Christian vandals go bananas:

Does any one of them seem blasphemous to you?

Once, I seriously contemplated buying a sculpture by one of the three artists (Nikolai Silis), but didn’t go for it because of value concerns (the price seemed too high given that uncountable copies of the original version had been made by the sculptor).

This is Don Quixote. The daisy in his hand can be replaced by a live flower. In fact, you can change flowers in his hand as often as you want. It is an interactive artwork that can be an icon of curiosity and interest in life in all its forms.

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Crazy news of hidden sanity

What do you do on the first day of your long-awaited skiing holiday if your nose is running like Usain Bolt on a cocktail of steroids? *

Your head is nailed to the pillow, and an attentive group of medicines on the bedside table is listening to your snivel and sneezes, expecting you to need more of them with each sniff.

What do you do then?

I read the news.

It is universally acknowledged that clever people read news while wise people don’t. Wise people read clever books or meditate. Yet, when I’m sick, the parts of my brain that are responsible for emotions and thinking are stuffed with only one big feeling and that is Pity for Myself. Any book drowns in this pity without a hope for salvation, so there is no point in reading anything else, but news.

I usually go for art/culture news (well, I run an art blog, after all), and news from home.

Home being, in my case, The Empire of Russia.

Did you think just now that I shouldn’t strike out “the Empire of”?

Yeah. It is hard to be a Russian outside of Russia nowadays. Other nations assume you pray to Putin, speak North Korean, act Zimbabwean, and want to prod with nukes anyone who’s not handing over their gas/heating revenues, a half of Ukraine, and not accepting Russia as a moral compass.

Russians are generally seen as a threat, except in places like the French Alps, or Bond Street in London, where they have been a source of both income and headaches for the last twenty years, and thus have created a class of sympathetic populace. But even there some store owners believe euros spent by Russians should come tax free becase servicing Russians is rather taxing in itself.

I can understand where the fears come from. The international media feeds you the news about Russia that they believe is important. News like Crimea, Putin’s interview on powering up nuclear arms in the Ukrainian conflict, or the killing of an opposition leader a few hundred yards from the Kremlin can be quite disconcerting.

I’d think Russians were a menace myself if that was my only news menu.

Fortunately, there is “local” news back home that shows Moscow is far from becoming another Pnompenh. Look at my yesterday’s “catch of the day”.

A man wearing a kilt was arrested in the centre of Moscow. He was participating in the traditional St. Patrick’s day parade, impersonating a Scotsman. Police officers thought the kilt was a skirt, and with anti-homosexual propaganda laws hovering over Russians, they classified it as a grave affront to public morals. A witness reported the Miranda warning sounded like, “Wearing a skirt? You f*cking homos gone out of your f*cking minds”, following which the man was handcuffed and taken to the local police station.

I am sure the police let him out after they googled up “kilt” and discovered the brave old world of Scottish clans. They probably even had a laugh at the no-underwear rule.

North Korean, you say? Come on! If Russia was North Korea, the man would be accused of spying on important government buildings while trying to distract the guards by the irregularity of his costume, and sentenced to 10 years in a labour camp.

Call it stupid, or dumb, but it is not another North Korea.

Another bit of local news was about a man in Vorkuta, a legendary city in the North of the North of Russia (it is as far north as one can get before heading south). The guy was put on trial for torturing his wife with an electric iron out of jealousy, all the time begging her not to leave him.

Isn’t this incident a perfect illustration of the Russian policies towards Ukraine? Yes! Indeed! Russia is not cruel to other nations out of its inherent rudeness. It all happens out of love. Is it North Korea? Of course not. As twisted as it looks, it is still love, not some paranoid aggression.

Oh, the art news is best represented by a story from Novosibirsk (originally a city of scientists in – no surprise there – Siberia)

A local Orthodox bishop continues his attempts to ban a local production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser opera as in his opinion it desecrates the religious feelings of Orthodox Christians. The first court ruling was not in his favour, but the case is now put on appeal. In the meantime, a group of people whose feelings appear to be desecrated picket the theatre entrance branding visitors as devil’s supporters and traitors.   

Is this a religious tyranny of the hardline ISIS or even the milder Gulf caliber? Surely, it is more of a parody on the latter. No one gets whipped or burnt at the stake.

The Russian news paradox is that crazy local news from Russia brings hope that behind all the madness of the recent times there is a layer of sanity.

Now, it’s time to start skiing, and writing about art appreciation again.

See you soon, and in the meantime, if you missed the crime documentary series about French art of the 15th century, it begins here.

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* I don’t want to imply Usain Bolt is using prohibited substances: I just want you to imagine the inhuman power he’d be if he was, for instance, a member of the East German or Russian team.

The Russian manifesto on crisis avoidance

Ideas have immense power over people.

I know an antique dealer who’d kill a customer for saying, “Oh, what a great baroque piece!” while pointing at a gothic chest of drawers. The guy believes dating is sacred. No wonder he’s single: his attempts at the other kind of dating failed because women he met were attributing themselves to a different epoch. You don’t discount 42 to 35 in front of a man whose profession is about pinning a proper age tag onto the object he is about to acquire.

I also know a president, who believes his country is surrounded by enemies, which can’t sleep properly until his motherland is destroyed. Wolves of evil circle the clearing, waiting for the lonely pilgrim to nod off. So he sets fire around his camp torching up all the surrounding countries, and shoots at the firemen coming to the rescue, taking them for the Hounds of Hell that lurk in the fiery darkness.

You’d say it is not rational, and hence unlikely. One of the firemen would shout out for the pilgrim to stop shooting. I am sure one of them will. But if you are certain they are the proverbial Hounds of Hell, you’d just murmur, “No, you devilish creatures, I can see through your foul tricks!” and keep shooting. It is not about what’s real or true and what’s not. It is all about beliefs. Irrational behaviour in otherwise normal people is just as common as rational actions of complete psychos.

If you are convinced that Anglo-Saxons and Zionists conspire to turn Russia into a failed state (which is the prevalent theory in Russia right now), Russian politics start making sense.

The problem is that Russian politics are represented by very real tanks, soldiers, and nukes.

Today, we witness the Russian belief in a global conspiracy against it materialising into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if originally it was a figment of Putin’s imagination, it becomes real as the world watches Putin’s actions. Other nations start thinking they indeed would be better off with Russia in a restraint jacket.

Is there a way out of it? No one wants a war, bloodshed, shelling, refugees, and sanctioned poverty. Surely, everyone has good intentions, including the Russian President.

In a situation like that, good intentions help as much as a bullet-proof vest on board of a sinking ship.

That’s how it works.

Ivan Shishkin, Konstantin Savitsky, Morning in a Pine Forest, 1889

Ivan Shishkin, Konstantin Savitsky, Morning in a Pine Forest, 1889

Imagine a bear wanders into a hunter’s lodge in search for food.

A half-naked hunter barely escapes, slipping out through a small window at the back. He picks up his rifle at the last moment. He then buttresses the door from the outside with a log, and makes a 911 call.

The call is received by an operator who is incidentally a PETA activist, and before she calls a team from the nearest zoo, she makes sure a group of her fellow PETA members is on site to prevent any harm that may come the bear’s way.

The bear is barricaded inside the lodge, and PETA activists create a shield around the hut, waiting for the arrival of a suitable transport to take the bear to a safe location in the forest.

peta-not-bear-skinThe bear sees a crowd of people outside. They are very loud and aggressive, chanting something about bears, hunters, and fur hats (here the bear shudders) in hysterical voices. The bear’s best guess is that it is going to be killed. Hunters are known to have killed bears before, you know, so in human terms, it is an educated guess. The bear wants to find a way out of the wooden hut and run, run, run back to the forest: any bear knows it is dumb to confront an army.

After an hour of thrashing around, the bear is seconds away from ripping the door off its hinges and storming outside.

There’s no gun with a sedative bullet yet, just a regular one.

The hunter wants to train his rifle on the door to catch the bear disoriented when it emerges from the lodge. He knows there would be no second chance to create the first impression with a bear that size.

PETA activists shout that a pointed rifle may provoke the bear to assault people, and that it is better to throw out the gun altogether, because the bear would simply run off to the woods.

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Now, add to the scene a bear cub that was discovered by PETA activists outside the lodge. It is a cute fluffy ball of fur, and very hungry. One of the activists takes a bottle of milk to feed the poor creature. The father-bear sees a human grabbing the cub and realises one of the cubs has been following its father to the lodge. The scary thought “They gonna take my son!” flashes through the bear’s mind.

The bear doubles up its efforts to break out.

The hunter cocks up his rifle.

PETA activists keep shouting at the hunter to lower the gun.

They all, including the bear, mean frigging well and are behaving noble-mindedly, god after all being on their side.

As the bear comes out with the door turned into flying shrapnel splinters, the hunter pulls the trigger, trying not to hurt a PETA activist, and… just wounds the animal. Wounded bear massacres activists, with the first to be ripped open being the one feeding the cub. Then the bear goes for the hunter. No one can outrun a wounded bear.

When the police arrive at the scene (which they see as a massacre site), they aim for the head and finish the bear with a dozen accurate shots.

That’s when they see a zoo van pulling in.

Oh, the important detail: the hunter was out there in the forest on a fishing trip, originally.

You may think it is now irrelevant, until you realise it was the surviving fish that benefited in this conflict, ultimately.


Now think of the bear cub as Ukraine.

Think of PETA activists, protesting that the gun is trained on the door, as Western “lefties” (that’s not difficult to imagine at all).

Think of the hunter as Western “righties”.

The bear itself is, well, Russia.

There’s no police within a thousand light-years.

The fish is somewhere in China.

The time is now.

What are the chances that the zoo van pulls in before the bear is out of the lodge?

Slim.


Could the whole mess be avoided?

Yes, and here’s my manifesto on crisis avoidance strategy:

a) Avoid people who want to impose their ideas on others. They are well-meaning bears.

If (a) fails:

(b) Make sure your bear is fed, whatever or whoever it is. If it is not your bear, install electric fence.

(c) Do not allow liberally-minded and well-meaning people to manage a crisis

(d) Shoot to solve the problem, not aggravate it

(e) If you can’t solve the problem, hide to not become a part of it

If (b) to (e) failed, RUN or put on a Justin Bieber song, or find its equivalent.

P.S. No bears, hunters, or PETA activists suffered while this post was being written, but some people actually died in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, which means the bear is not necessarily Russia, and the fish is not always in China. And no, I am not feeling light-hearted about it.

An open question to David Duchovny

David,

I write, generally, about art, its values, and, occasionally, its value, and how the latter was changing throughout history. Right now, I am working on Giotto’s Kiss of Judas, and as I love to show how art of the past can be relevant today, I need to calculate the current value of a Tyrian shekel (Judas sold out Christ for 30 of those, you know). I know how much silver costs, but I need to know the symbolic value of those 30 coins. I am sure you can help me out, and it will take a moment of your time.

You are starring in a TV advert for a Russian brand of beer (owned by a Belgian holding company) that talks about the pride of being Russian. It went live a few days ago and became an instant hit.

You are very sincere in this ad, talking of how proud you would be if you lived in Russia. You talk about Russia’s expanses, its space ships, satellites, bath houses, hunting trips, and ballet.

It should come as no surprise to you that Russian television went crazy over this short film, rotating it non-stop in its news programs as a proof that Americans support Russia at the time when Russia and the US seem to be edging closer towards a new Cold War. The part with the beer was tenderly removed, because beer advertising is prohibited on TV in Russia.

You are now a new Putin’s hero, I guess: a celebrity American who stands for Russia at this difficult time of a covert war with Ukraine.

And please, don’t tell me you didn’t know you were being filmed for a propaganda clip.

This nicely nationalistic advert was filmed in May this year: media cannons of war had been firing their deadly terabytes of lies and twisted truths for half a year by that time.

I am not challenging your convictions. it’s just that your granddad wasn’t even Russian.

He was a Jew from Ukrainian Kiev, who fled from the massacre of Jews tacitly organized by the Russian Czar to draw people’s energy away from the Revolution.

But you’ve known it since April, right? Before filming the advert. You were so convincing you were half-Russian, oscar-quality acting that was!

Рисунок1

I need help to understand how you can be proud now to be a prized spokesperson for the new Russian Czar.

Or, rather, I simply want to know, how much.

How much did it take, before taxes, to tell the world you would be proud to be Russian, descending from a Ukrainian Jew who fled an ethnic Pogrom? I mean, doing all this at a time when Russian media is successfully selling the idea of an armed Crusade against the “Fascist band of Kiev Jews and Ukrainian nationalists”?

Your answer would help my research immensely.

I don’t have much (at least as much as the Belgian beer group) to offer you for your generosity, except, perhaps, an insight into what really your life could be, were you born in Russia.

You imagine yourself to be an astronaut, a rock star, a hockey player, an actor or a ballet director (or at least someone who has unrestricted access to teenage girls training to become ballerinas).

Рисунок2

These famous Hollywood actors can testify that a copy-paste operation on a human soul does not work as smoothly as on a computer, when Russia is the final destination:

With your family name, Duchovny, meaning in Russian “soulful”, you need to take extra care to avoid exchanging “ful” for “less”.

Hope it helps.

PS If this post gets shared, the handshake rule of Facebook may help the real David read the rumblings 😉