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  2. Fly agarics rule the Internet. How an Instagram account with mushrooms took traditional media’s place in Ryazan

Fly agarics rule the Internet. How an Instagram account with mushrooms took traditional media’s place in Ryazan

Kseniya Bulgakova
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In Ryazan, anonymous Instagram account Amber Birch (Yantarnaya Beryoza), publishing illustrations — reactions to events taking place in the city, is gaining popularity. The author depicts anthropomorphic mushrooms in the drawings, giving subscribers a wink to the local saying "There are mushrooms with eyes in Ryazan". 7x7 tried to understand what message the artist puts into his illustrations.

Amber Birch has about 500 subscribers, but many residents of Ryazan know the artist's topical works. Caricature illustrations have an identity and a recognizable red-and-black-color scheme.

Художник изобразил арт-объект возле одного из баров Рязани — елку из противогазов, демонтированную в декабре 2019 года по инициативе городской администрации в связи с отсутствием разрешения на установку. Елку убрали на фоне пикетов горожан против загрязнения воздуха (активисты выходили на улицы в противогазах и масках). В конце прошлого года в Рязани массово гибли птицы, что художник так же отразил в этой работе.


The artist depicted an art object near one of the bars in Ryazan — a Christmas tree made of gas-helmets (of dead birds in this case instead) which was dismantled in December 2019 at the initiative of the city administration as there was no permission for installation. The tree was removed while citizens were holding pickets against air pollution (activists went along the streets wearing gas-helmets and masks). There was massive bird kill in Ryazan late last year, the artist having reflected this in this work, too.

The author of the Amber Birch account told 7x7 that he had decided to give a new meaning to proverb «there are mushrooms with eyes in Ryazan»:

— My fly agarics are city’s pucks, invisible spirits that catch and reflect what is happening in it, but at the same time live in their own dimension, rarely crossing people's paths.

На иллюстрации изображен один из двух железнодорожных вокзалов города — «Рязань-1», патрулируемый полицейскими в масках (отсылка к слухам о первом случае коронавируса в Рязанской области) и главный герой — мухомор, который надел медицинскую маску неправильно — на глаза (отсылка к новости о китаянке, которая надела медицинскую маску на глаза и мему «Если ты не видишь вирус, вирус не видит тебя»)


The illustration shows one of the two railway stations of the city — Ryazan-1, patrolled by police officers wearing masks (a reference to the rumors about the first case of coronavirus in Ryazan Oblast), — and the main character — a mushroom wearing a medical mask wrong — on his eyes (a reference to the news about a Chinese woman who wore a medical mask on her eyes and meme «If you can't see the virus, the virus can't see you.»).

The artist admitted that he did not like the famous formal and tiresome visualizations of this image — such as, for example, the sculpture in the Drunk Park (the Mushrooms with Eyes monument was installed in 2013 in the Nizhny City Park, it is one of the most popular attractions in Ryazan). His pictures depict fly agarics, because unlike other mushrooms they have healing qualities, but are poisonous and can kill if used carelessly. These qualities form a capacious image which connects the opposites.

— These fly agarics are everything which is good and bad, smart and stupid in our city. They just reflect what society is formed of. And yes, in addition to everything, fly agarics are simply beautiful, — the artist said.

There are several reasons why he wanted to share his works, rather than draw not counting on publication:

— Any creativity is first and foremost a dialogue with the audience. I am interested in seeing the way my ideas are refracted in the mind of the commentator, whether they are negatively or positively reviewed, correctly or incorrectly interpreted. Sometimes people give unexpected meaning to images that I didn't fully understand myself. My goal is to make a tired city dweller, who has learned his daily route, smile. He will pass by a familiar piece of infrastructure and think: "Damn! I've just seen an anthropomorphic fly agaric here." His routine will be slightly distorted. And it is up to him what to do with it next.


Working anonymously, the author of Amber Birch admits that with proper skill, almost any person "is brought up to the surface in one and a half clicks." This symbolic anonymity, he said, is connected with the image he tries to create in the viewer: "it's more fun to believe that these illustrations are drawn by a huge micellar network connected to the Internet than an ordinary bearded man with a can of flat beer".

The artist is already considering ideas for going offline: performances, graffiti, merch. The concept and ideas for implementing the latter are already in development and should be released soon.

— Not for the sake of trade, - Amber Birch says, - but for the sake of fun. After all, everyone knows that a dollar is a dirty green paper.

In addition to mushrooms and cityscapes of Ryazan, you can often see orthodox symbols, churches, as well as reactions to high-profile events involving priests. The artist explains this by the conservatism and patriarchal spirit of Ryazan.

— Let's say I was baptized as soon as I was born, without asking. I also attended the funerals of committed atheists over whom they read a funeral service in the Church. Here, Orthodoxy will overtake you both before and beyond the line of life. There are many temples around, the most striking symbol of the city is the three domes of the Cathedral of the Assumption. Life in the city is not easy, but the Apostle Paul taught: "through many afflictions we must enter into the Kingdom of God." The majority of the citizens follow these principles. I can't leave such a bright aspect of life aside, — the author of the Instagram account notes.

В центре илюстрации — Успенский собор Рязанского кремля. Один из самых ярких и узнаваемых символов города. Пять куполов этого православного храма изображены «Янтарной берёзой» в виде мухоморных шляпок.


In the center of the illustration is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Ryazan Kremlin. One of the brightest and most recognizable symbols of the city. Amber Birch represented five domes of this church in the form of fly agarics' caps.

Rector of the Ryazan Church in honor of the Icon of the Mother of God "Vsetsaritsa" Pavel Konkov commented on the works of Amber Birch in a rather positive way:

— The whole thing with the caricatures is quite relevant and up-to-date, because it allows you to focus on a problem through humor and half-joking illustrations. Such illustrations get the maximum distribution, because it's fun — as usual, cats rule the Internet. And the after-pains remain quite appropriate — but do not forget that this is a subjective opinion of a particular person, it is not the ultimate truth.

Anastasiya Krivosheeva, fine art expert from Ryazan, explained the growing popularity of Amber Birch by the following scheme: the symbol of the city + actual problems = popularity.

- Amber Birch touches people with sarcasm and openness of thought, to portray and convey your idea in an acute form is a valuable skill. The artist now plays the role of the author of those satirical cartoons from newspapers and magazines that have been famous from the XIX–XX centuries. This was a way of portraying social, socio-political issues that could concern the entire nation, but not many people could say it out loud. Newspapers have taken the backseat, smartphones have come to the fore, and columns and cartoons have been replaced by accounts in social networks with posts and photos nowadays, —  Krivosheeva said.

Vocalist of the Mexican Airlines band from Ryazan Alexey Mahataev admitted in the interview with 7x7 that he was planning to get a tattoo with an illustration of Amber Birch.

— This is a fresh approach for our city, most local media work lifelessly, they copy each other, they are not above cheap clickbait. And here you can immediately feel the individual approach, recognizable identity, minimalism in the color scheme, the image of the mushroom as an alternative mascot of the city. By the way, I have known the author for a long time, and he is a good friend of mine. I won't reveal his identity, of course. I asked for one of his specific works for a tattoo sketch — as soon as I have time, I'm going to get it, — the musician said.


Ryazan eco-activist Anna Kernosova admits that she likes the way Amber Birch depicts Ryazan:

— The city is drawn with love: lightning flashes are above it, it is full of negative characters, "mushrooms-criminals", but the city itself is so proud and all in white. This approach is in tune with my perception of Ryazan. He has his own style, and he is a talented interpreter of reality, the news of the city and the country. The city's media and public communities can't afford such liberty, and anonymous satirical comics can do anything.

The first publication of Amber Birch appeared in April 2018. To this date, the account has published more than 100 works, including 19 mini-comics, several animated illustrations, and even a New Year's video-address to the residents of Ryazan.


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