I am here now for nearly a month (by “here” I mean Saint Petersburg, Russia …). Right at that time, when I had the feeling life’s getting back to its usual track I’ve been kidnapped today …
Not that I have been lazy – I am currently working on a complex project, that requires extensive programming and sitting at the computer for many hours every day. But for know let’s skip that chapter … (hopefully I am able to reveal more on that soon).
My first month here in Saint Petersburg has been filled with a number of events. As already reported earlier I have witnessed a number of performance-related events. Not only that many of the people I learned know here are somewhat involved in this particular artistic discipline, there has also taken place a festival named Body Navigation: Artists from several European countries like Sweden, germany, Austria, Finland, Norway, Russia showed their work, reaching from classical dance-performance to music and furtheron conemporary media-related art.Yet I do not have a clear image about the meaning of performing arts in the contemporary Russian artscene. It seems there are traditions that do relate to a specificly Russian situation, but what I have seen was not the Bolshoi Ballett, rather a few young enthusiasts who are working hard to find their own expression.What did I see? First I visited the Akhmatova Museum, situated in an oasis-like garden on Liteyny Prospekt, not far from Nevsky Prospekt. Especially a performance by a Finish female artist (whose name I unforunately can’t find anymore on the festival’s website …) impressed me. A rather classical performance including dance and voice, which made it very clear to me, that, though we’re living in the age of virtual reality, art is about our physical existence or even more specific there is something like specific a female expression.
Another event happened at Kronstadt, a small town on an island off Saint Petersburg coastline. Originally built at a strategical position to protect Saint Petersburg the town inhabits a number of old, partially decayed buildings from the time of Peter the Great. In one of them, an empty small chapell, the Australian artist Lara O’Reilly staged her film and performance installation Absence Presence, a piece filled with strong images, though it remained somewhat unclear what the issue of the installation was. Rather it revealed in a probably unintended way a somewhat “nostalgic” access to the remains of Russian history in a contemporary field, but that’s to explored in depth …
Though this all happened within a festival organised by Russians in Russia, a definite highlight for me within what I have seen, was a piece by the Austrian director Willi Dorner and his company: Inbetween, a piece relating to contemporary media and its relations to our physical existence as human beings. Packed with irony, using a wide spectrum of human expression with some slapstick-like elements, this was much seemed to me much more to the point of the contemporary situation of society than anything I had seen so far.
Much more than anywhere else especially young Russians use the medium internet for bulding up communiction networks off the official media-scene. This may be related to the actual political situation, that restricts free media to a large degree. Nevertheless nobody seems to want to discuss the political aspects of contemporary self-made media openly. Rather this seems to be a great taboo. Out of painful experience? I don’t know. Yet this seems to have a powerful subversive quality, although strategically unguided.
Probably Willi Dorner did not have a specifically Russian situation in mind with his piece, though I cannot imagine any country that would fit better to the issue of this explicit work (well, I don’t know about any country …).
The small town Kronstadt was not only a location within the recent Body Navigation festival, it’s also harbouring one of the rare official artist-residencies (yes, even Russia has a National Center for Contemporary Art).
Currently the place is managed by Anna Kolosova, a media artist from Saint Petersburg. Situated in a park-like garden, the house is equipped with comfortable accommodations for artists and a media-lab. In a country, whose communictation- and information networks are based on self-produced more than perhaps any other other country, solid research and international exchange seems really essential to me … let’s see what will develop.
Last but not least I would like to mention two further institutions, that I have been able to visit: The already mentioned National Center for Contemporary Art and the autonomous art- and culture-center Pushkinskaya 10.
Though the National Center for Contemporary Art is based in Moscow (the economic center, also in terms of art-business) it has its own branch situated in Saint Petersburg. Managed by the artist Marina Koldobskaya, my short visit at the organisiation’s small office at Nevsky Prospekt gave me a good image about the difficult (somewhat “marginalized”) situation of young contemporary art. Unlike to western countries official Russian politics seems not to have discovered the opportunities of instrumentalising art … yet this shall be discussed in an another entry.
Pushkinskaya 10 originally emerged out of the local squatter-scene in the early nineties. Though this based on shaky ground, the movement behind it seemed to have had an impact strong enough to establish a now well founded organiisation, strong enough to preserve space for artsit-studios andvarious exhibitions. Especially the Museum of Non-Conformism finally made it to a widely known institution for contemporary art in Saint Petersburg.