Public Art a la Belorusse
I recently visited the Belorussian city of Gomel and was inspired by its wonderful public art. In Moscow, we tend to think in terms of art-districts and public-art programs, but in Gomel, which is typical of a post-Soviet city, art is everywhere. I saw so many murals and art-objects that it led me to think: “Gomel—is a city of art.”
Some of the urban, public art objects were playground figures, and this confused me at first. Yes, Belorussia does have some artists who create “serious” art. But the government of Belorussia has a strong Soviet legacy, and art here is often very decorative and non-controversial.
In any case, I found a few better art-objects. This sculpture is abstract, more site-specific and has a few points of view and different meanings. It is perhaps easy to situate within a European public art context, and maybe this is a first step in the development of Belorussian public art. Which in practice is very hard (for example: Mikhail Gulin was arrested for abstract art-intervention in Minsk).
In Gomel, I saw so many art-objects in public that while I walking around, I started to feel like I was in Disney Land. Which in a grey, post-soviet city is very strange to feel.
I found several thematic alleys—like “love alley” and the ”exotic benches alley”. “Love alley” is a landscape design alley with art-objects about love. Earlier, this place had been very dark and dangerous, but after they installed art it became comfortable, a place for people to spend their holidays and a meeting point for lovers. Art defeated the bad guys! But, my question is: “where are these criminals now?” I don’t think about how “love alley” stopped criminals, it just makes me think about where the criminals have now gone. (It’s a rhetorical question.)
The many benches were cool.
And I found some great playgrounds. In Moscow we now have lots of plastic playgrounds, but in Gomel this one is made of natural materials (i.e. wood). This is good, but I don’t honestly know how effective. I also randomly came across a huge and cool ship playground, which reminded me of the DIY-playground by Andrey Salnikov, who won the 'citizen of the year award' in 2012.
Gomel has a few Soviet-style murals which are thematic too. When I saw this, I thought about the Belorussian countryside and it reminded me of the USSR. It was very nostalgic.
In Gomel’s spalny rayons or 'sleeping districts', the front walls of buildings are painted one, bright color by government agencies. But only the one outer wall; inside these district, the rest of the walls are grey. This might be due to the fact that it is better visually (consistent!), but I think in fact it is just imagery promoting the fake perception of a “good and stable” situation in a country that is extremely totalitarian—with a strong KGB (like the US FBI) no independent art-galleries or centers. Film festivals about ecology, urbanism, art or activism were rejected without reason.
This is a big problem for active citizens, who want change the country and live better lives. The government is very conservative and rejects all initiatives, critics and even non-traditional art. Creative people have no public place to discuss culture, and they have to use hotels and flats.
These are true contemporary 'partisans' (for example, art-magazines have names like “Artaktivist.org” and “pARTizan”) and this confused me when I was speaking about our Partizaning project. But it also made me realize that we have more freedom and space for discussion.
Maybe I should write more posts about the difficult situation in Belorussia, but this is my first, inspired by simple public-art which led to a reflection about life in a post-soviet, totalitarian country.
This dinosaur is very cool!