New Urban Reality: Group exhibition of Russian Contemporary Public Art
Over the last few months we have been working on curating a group show in Berlin. The exhibition focuses on Russian Contemporary Public Art, including Urban Performance, Street Art, Participatory Art and Artistic Research. Here is an announcement of the show with a short description of the art projects, which will be presented there.
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New Urban Reality12.05—24.05.2017 / CLB Berlin / Oranienstrasse 142
The modern city is an infinitely complex system that does not allow for any failures or mistakes. Each place in the city is regulated, each object has its own function and trajectory. But what would happen if we broke this trajectory? What if we looked behind the concrete fence or vinyl pseudo-facade to reveal the construction going on for years? What if we interfered in the urban planning process, giving a voice to those who have been excluded from it? The list of such ifs can go on forever.
Urbanism has been repeatedly criticized since the mid-1960s: Henri Lefebvre pointed out that The right to the city should belong to all its residents, not just the ruling class. Guy Debord and Ivan Shcheglov pointed out in their books and manifestos that Urbanization is an effective means for preserving power, and a Slow ticking bomb. In the context of the 21st century, the issue is much broader than that of the 60s’ – along with motorization, the influence of information technology, creative industries and, to a large extent, the consumer approach to public spaces have significantly changed the city itself, as well as its perception. David Harvey, a contemporary critic of neo-liberalism, while expanding upon the works of Lefebvre, has even introduced a specific term – Disneyfication – to describe the process of raising capital by speculating upon the specific cultural traits of the city, including the ones that are local and independent.
There is much tension around the issue of democratization of public spaces – not only in the West, but in all countries. Russia is no exception to this: urban forums are being organized all over the country, grassroots initiatives aimed at involving local communities are emerging and Moscow is gaining the status of the country’s main creative cluster. Having said that, the Soviet experience of collective life with its wide avenues and Stalinist architecture often calls for an unconventional approach. That is why artistic and interdisciplinary practices play a leading role in changing the Russian city towards democratization and humanization of its spaces.
Independent art practices presented at the exhibition are but examples of such a nuanced study of the vital aspects of the Russian city – be it the infrastructure, ways of interaction with the inhabitants, or the flora and fauna subsumed as well as generated by the urbanized environment. In each case, these practices form a sort of an alternative system of reference, built by the artist in order to disengage from numerous norms and regulations and turn the study of aspects of urban life into an everyday practice, thereby changing the ways of perceiving reality.
Artists: Kirill KTO, 0331C & Grisha (Moscow), Isadorino Gore Collective (Moscow), ZIP Group (Krasnodar), Timofey Radya (Yekaterinburg), Urban Fauna Lab (Moscow), Partizaning Group (Moscow, St.Petersburg), Vladimir Chernishev (Nizhny Novgorod).
Kirill KTOCommenting (2011–2016) / Moscow
The recent works of Kirill KTO indicate a new point in his artistic development, critical in relation to places (in his own system of reference), his own creative journey and the chosen model of artistic production. His textual messages, in his recognizable cheerful hues, are filled with regret, and even a mourning for the street that has lost its counter-cultural role before our eyes and is never going to be the same.
The new series of works is united by a constricting sense of guilt for separating oneself from the street, which used to be a free media, and then suddenly, much to everyone’s surprise, morphing into a depraved monstrous facade manipulating the compliant population under the flag of independent art.
Kirill takes on a special role for himself with his characteristic ambitiousness: he feels he is personally responsible for the current situation on the streets. To illustrate that, the artist declares his Right to the city by revealing what’s hidden from a layman by removing vinyl advertising banners that have literally wrapped Moscow.
0331C & Grisha3016 (2016) / Moscow
It remains an undeniable fact that petroglyphs or graffiti are the first traces of human activity having survived to this day. However, in our contemporary context, it is widely believed that graffiti is short-lived. This ephemeral character fundamentally contradicts what the primeval graffiti were meant to be.
The stone is a classic material for sculpture, and these primeval messages carved in stone (petroglyphs) are the classics of graffiti. Combining these two ideas in our time – a time of high technology – the artists are trying to reach their own distinctive vision of graffiti.
In their work, 0331c and Grisha use the original form of the stone as a starting point, trying to realize the image set forth by the stone with minimal means. Then, as they work on transforming these images to future objects, they pay a great deal of attention to the location of stones and their history as suggested by these locations. Some of these images can be found in their street drawings.
Isadorino Gore CollectiveLaminar Flow (2015) / Moscow
In physics, laminar flow is a term that implies unidirectional fluid movement by the fluid in parallel layers in a given contour, without mixing and pulsations within the layers. A series of dance interventions of the same name by Alexandra Portyannikova, realized by a group of performers in the summer of 2015, was aimed at studying the behavior of people inside pedestrian flows formed by the urban landscape. To investigate this phenomenon, the group chose locations with large human traffic (exits from the metro, bus stations, pedestrian crossings). Interventions were conducted on weekdays from 9 to 10 a.m. by groups of 5-7 people. Blending with the crowd, the performers created spatial obstacles to the unidirectional flow of motion, but without blocking it: they aligned and moved perpendicular to the main flow direction, they walked along with the flow with their backs forward, continuously repeated certain common actions, or executed a sequence of common movements within the flow. Having set forth to ask the question of how the behavior and sensation of the body changes in an urban environment, Portyannikova, as a result of the performance, received an answer to a more complex question: how does public space appear and form through the active groups of people in the functional environment (traffic flow) of Moscow.
ZIP GroupOn the Road (2015) / Krasnodar
The project On the Road is a study of the artistic environment in different cities of Russia. The first trip with a traveling exhibition was made by the artists to the city of Armavir. They got acquainted with local artists, studied the local context and eventually made an exhibition in the community centre. Thereafter, having acquired their own vehicle – a 1981 Volkswagen Transporter wagon – they were not dependent on exhibition spaces anymore, and began holding open-air exhibitions. In this project, the artists set out on a multifaceted goal to share their experiences with other artists and institutions, involve the viewer, and interact with the urban and natural landscape. ZIP-mobile, as the artists call their vehicle, can be unfolded into an exhibition venue, and each time it can take absolutely different combinations and forms.
An artists’ collective from Krasnodar working with various layers of informal culture through the interpretation of the Soviet heritage and Moscow conceptualism. In 2010-11, in their native city, they established an informal institute of contemporary art (KISI), as well as the public art festival Mozhet (‘One Can’), which have had a significant impact on the cultural landscape of their city. These initiatives are largely based on self-organization and mutual assistance within the local artist community.
Timofey Radya2013–2016 / Yekaterinburg
A street artist from Yekaterinburg who works with monumental installations. Timofey has gained worldwide fame through his celebrated large-scale works, which for the most part are a response to the political situation in the country.
With his concise philosophical messages, the artist reflects upon timeless, vital themes and raises issues of the boundaries between the public and the personal, the political and the social. As a medium for his work, the artist often uses billboards, surfaces typical for urban advertising. Timofey substitutes familiar consumerist messages with his own in order to shake the citizens out of their everyday rhythm.
Urban Fauna Lab2014–2016 / Moscow
Urban parasites – pigeons and rats, nettles and dandelions – spring from a cultural, urbanized environment and at the same time, serve as a counterpoint to it. While remaining on the periphery of human attention, they outline their habitats, seize territories, fill the voids that arise during urban repair and improvement.
Artists from the collective Urban Fauna Lab give a free reign to urban parasites, carefully documenting the lives of stray cats, dogs and birds; they harvest urban weeds, trying to find their benefits along the way. Thus the artists begin to formulate a new urban landscaping policy, opening the hitherto closed doors to the wild urban nature, and thereby prepare the ground for the realization of a biopolitical utopia of inter-species harmony.
Partizaning GroupMay Interventions (2012–2014) / Moscow, St.Petersburg
The tactics and numerous actions of the activists of the Partizaning movement, organized over several years, reflect the ideas of collectivism, mutual assistance and responsibility. They are intended to restore citizens’ faith that global changes are possible even when working on a local level – be it a staircase, a yard or a neighbourhood – through the discourse of urban planning. The active use of media channels is one of the most important tools in applying these tactics, as media such as television, newspapers, magazines and social networks help to magnify the consequences of a local action to the federal, and sometimes even the global level.
In general, the group's actions are focused on viewing the city through the prism of its residents and making the residents realize their power to change things on their own. Also, through their actions, the activists often reveal the authorities' helplessness in solving everyday tasks of urban landscaping, while at the same time pointing out that many solutions are hidden in plain sight and do not require any major investments.
Vladimir ChernishevDerelict village (2013–2016) / Nizhny Novgorod
Through the technique of painting, the artist interacts with urban wooden textures, typical of Nizhny Novgorod. He continues to work with wood even in semi-derelict Russian villages, which are now on the verge of extinction in the aftermath of aggressive urbanization. Using monumental art as the artist’s habitual practice, Vladimir reflects on the boundaries of public art and tries to build subtle connections between the city and the dying out village.
Derelict village is a multi-disciplinary project-study that combines various media forms such as installation, drawing and photo/video documentation. Exploring the disappearing traditional rural culture in Russia, the author addresses the problems of memory and oblivion, transformation of myth and perception of death.
12–24 of May. CLB Berlin, Oranienstrasse 142.
Curators: Igor Ponosov, Aleksandra Yurieva-Civjane. New Urban Reality show is part of Coordinate System – an international platform aimed to enhance the dialogue and exchange experiences in the areas of public space research and public space transformation by means of artistic practice. More information: www.coordinatesystem.org Supported by: MitOst e.V., Robert Bosch Stiftung, Heinrich Böll Stiftung. Media Partners: Political Critique, taz, La Monde Diplomatique, Portal Kunstgeschichte, n-ost. Image on the top:
Kirill KTO, Cutting out eyes on a vynil banner, Moscow, Russia, 2015.