Submit your contribution
HERE
If you're interested in working with us or have written a text on a related subject, or had an interview with an artist you think might be a discovery for us, you can send it to us for a publication review.
Submit your inquieries
HERE
We're a team of eight artists, curators and critics with a broader network of art professionals on the post-soviet, post-communist and diasporic spaces. With our ability to grasp, to describe and to invert the sensable, we might be your best collaborator.
Subscribe to our newsletter
HERE

How to contact us

Mission

 

TransitoryWhite is a journal of overlapping, multi-voiced accounts documenting peripheral artistic productions.

The project was launched in 2017 by a group of curators, art specialists and artists from Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia living in Berlin/Vienna. 

We aimed to create an intersectional platform for discussing decolonization, post-neoliberalism trauma and the possibility of dispersive views on the so-called post-communist territories.

Since 2019, the platform has also operated in the trajectories of migrant and post-displacement discourse, expanding its activities from the geographical pole "East" to the global. In response to the growing nationalistic discourse, it is crucial for our investigation to represent artists and theorists with different identities and ideas for the future. In this way, TransitoryWhite emphasizes the productive interaction between different multitudes rather than dualities. 

TransitoryWhite understands whiteness as a metaphor for colonialism, or as a white, self-contained exhibition space where the hierarchy of discourses and images is prejudiced. Instead, we turn to the idea of White Noise; a signal or constant disturbance, something cacophonic, turbulent and restless which fluctuates and transforms our perspectives.

Contributors

Laura Arena

Laura Arena is a Level 3 Reiki practitioner certified and licensed in the state of New York. She's a graduate of the Art of Energetic Healing School located in Manhattan with spiritual teacher and master healer Suzy Meszoly. Next to being a Level 3 Reiki practitioner, Laura is a multidisciplinary artist, activist, designer, and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. Arena’s work encompasses photography, video, installation, writing, and social interventions with a focus on storytelling, human rights causes, gameplay, race, and identity. She has exhibited in galleries and festivals worldwide and has participated in events in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Arena has attended residencies and workshops in Greenland, Iceland, Romania, Hungary, Palestine, Turkey, and the United States. 

In 2021 she will be mapping the Chakras of Berlin as an artist in resident at Z/KU (Center for Art and Urbanistics).

Read her article: CHAKRAS OF TBILISI

Mariya Dmitrieva

Mariya Dmitrieva is an artist, independent curator, and cyberfeminist. She is a co-organiser of Studiya 4413 in St. Petersburg, Russia, a self-regulated, artist/activist-run platform functioning as an intersection of diverse social strata, queer-crip optics, artistic mediums, contemporary critical thinking, and adequate political action; Maria is a member of N i i c h e g o d e l a t ‘ (Donoothing), a network of flickering, horizontal laboratories of political imagination researching and redescribing ideas around work ethic, machine vs human relations, and connectivity between utopian and real, and initiator of Free mapping project, a digital platform calibrating alternative culture-political landscape of self-organised liberal associations/projects, and coordinator of p2p&hackercare, a translocal agency.

Read her articles: TRANSBOUNDRY MIGRATION OF CARE: PANDEMIA AFTER 8TH OF MARCH (EN), ТРАНСГРАНИЧНАЯ МИГРАЦИЯ ЗАБОТЫ: ПАНДЕМИЯ ПОСЛЕ 8 МАРТА (RU)

Ina Hildebrandt

Ina Hildebrandt is an art historian and cultural journalist.

Read her articles and interviews: ON THE LOOP

Ivan Isaev

Ivan Isaev is an independent curator, based in Moscow. He curated platform Start, Winzavod, season 2014-15, and “Leaving Tomorrow” exhibition (2015, Moscow), participated at Infra-Curatorial Platform at 11th Shanghai Biennale (2016). He is a co-founder of «Triangle» curatorial studio (Moscow, 2014-2016) and later initiated platform blind_spot. Ivan Isaev is now a curator of Garage Studios program at Garage MCA, Moscow.

Read his article: THE LAST SPARKS

Anna Kamay

Anna Kamay is an independent curator and cultural manager hailing from Yerevan, Armenia. Anna organizes community-based art projects with the goal of using public space and art to meet local needs and manages Nest Artist Residency and Community Center at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Yerevan.

Read her article: JUGGLING DINOSAURS, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE, (IT WOULD BE) NICE TO MEET YOU, TOO

Victoria Kravtsova

Victoria Kravtsova has studied International Relations in St. Petersburg and Berlin. In Berlin she is active in NGO projects in Eastern Europe, co-organizing seminars and exchange programs in the fields of environment, human rights, gender equality and civic education. Victoria receives a scholarship from Heinrich Böll Foundation and is engaged in writing her thesis “Between the ‘posts’, out of the void” where she traces the travels of the contemporary feminist discourses to and from Central Asia.

Read her articles and interviews: EMBRACE YOUR ANTITHESIS, WANDERING POETICS OF CENTRAL ASIAN MESTIZAS, WHERE THE ROSES GROW, Interview with Madina Tlostanova Part I and Part II, БУМЕРАНГ КОЛОНИЗАЦИИ

Melikset Panosian

Melikset Panosian is a writer and translator from Gyumri, Armenia. He participated in artistic projects focusing on the troubled past of Gyumri, borders, conflicts and consequent traumas since 2012. Panosian contributed to a number of literary magazines in Armenia such as Queering Yerevan, Gretert and Yeghegan Pogh. He also participated in the translation of Hannah Arendt’s “We refugees” into the Armenian language. Melikset Panosian’s published works include art book “Out In Head” (2012), “Silent Stroll”, a novella he authored in 2014, and the Armenian translation of Kardash Onnig’s “Savage Chic: A Fool's Chronicle of the Caucasus” published in 2017.

Read his article: (IT WOULD BE) NICE TO MEET YOU, TOO

Leah Peirce

Leah Peirce (b. 2002 in Berlin, Germany) is a Berlin-based poet, with Georgian and English background.  She works with words, sound, images and performative art. Her multilingual poems explore the fluidity of languages, the barriers they bear, how language holds culture and visa versa.

Read her poetry: LEAH PEIRCE

Daria Prydybailo

Daria Prydybailo is a curator, researcher, founder of the TRSHCHN platform and co-founder of the NGO Art Matters Ukraine.

Read her article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE, ВАГІТНІ РЕВОЛЮЦІЄЮ, ВЗАЄМОПОВ'ЯЗАНІ ТА ВЗАЄМОЗАЛЕЖНІ

Thibaut de Ruyter

Saltanat Shoshanova

Saltanat Shoshanova is currently pursuing her Master's degree in History of Arts at the Free University Berlin. Her research interests include art in connection to queer and feminist theory, queer migration, decoloniality and post-Soviet space. She is an activist and co-organized several queer feminist conferences in Vienna and Berlin.

Read her article: ON LANGUAGE OF SUPREMACY: MEDINA BAZARGALI IN CONVERSATION, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE, ÜBER SPRACHE DER VORHERRSCHAFT: GESPRÄCH MIT MEDINA BAZARGALI (DE)

Julia Sorokina

Yuliya Sorokina is freelance curator of contemporary art, lecturer, tutor, author of texts, lives and works in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

Read her article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Antonina Stebur

Antonina Stebur is a curator and researcher. She studied visual and cultural sciences at the European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania) and at the School of Engaged Art of the art group "Chto Delat? (Saint Petersburg, Russia). She is a member of the artist group #damaudobnayavbytu ("Woman comfortable in everyday life"), which examines the feminist agenda in the Russian and Belarusian context. She has curated a number of exhibitions in Belarus, Russia, Poland, France and China. Her research areas and curatorial interests are: community, re-composition of everyday practices, feminist critique, new sensibility, grassroots initiatives.

Read her articles: ICH LIEBE DICH!, ANOTHER PRODUCTION DRAMA, МЫ СЁННЯ ЗНАХОДЗІМСЯ Ў ІНШАЙ ВЫТВОРЧАЙ ДРАМЕ, 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE

Annika Terwey

Annika Terwey is a German-Italian new media designer & artist. She studied visual communication at the Berlin University of the Arts and graduated from the new media class. In her work, she is exploring new forms of communication through interaction design, video installation and exhibitions. Her interest range from environmental science, new technologies and human perception.

Read her article: ON LANGUAGE OF SUPREMACY: MEDINA BAZARGALI IN CONVERSATION, ÜBER SPRACHE DER VORHERRSCHAFT: GESPRÄCH MIT MEDINA BAZARGALI (DE)

Alex Ulko

Alexey Ulko was born in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) in 1969. After graduating form Samarkand University with a diploma in English he obtained an MEd TTELT degree from the University of St Mark and St John (UK). Since 2003 he has been working as a freelance consultant in English, Culture Studies and Art for various cultural organisations. Has been making experimental films since 2007 and is an active writer about Central Asian contemporary art. His current artistic interests: experimental cinema, photography, visual poetry. Member of the European Society for Central Asian Studies, the Association of Art Historians (UK) and the Central Eurasian Studies Society (USA).

Read his article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE, THE SHIFT OF THE PARADIGM IN MODERN CENTRAL ASIAN ART, THE OTHER EAST

Lolisanam Ulug

Lola Ulugova (Lolisanam) has been an activist in Tajikistan since 2000.  She was the founding director of Tajik Bio-Cultural Initiatives a non-governmental organization dedicated to Tajik arts and environmental issues. In 2013, she wrote and produced the nation's first 3-D animation film, a short designed to promote awareness of environmental issues among children. Previously, she has produced several cultural DVDs archiving Tajik dance and biocultural diversity; was a Field Production Manager on the documentary Buzkashi! By Najeeb Mirza (Canada); from 1999-2005 was the manager of Gurminj Museum. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Turin, Italy and an undergraduate degree in Russian Language and Literature. She was a Global Cultural Fellow at the Institute for International Cultural Relations of the University of Edinburgh in 2017-18 and participated in Central Asian-Azerbaijan (CAAFP) fellowship program at the George Washington University at Elliott School of International affairs in 2019.

Read her article: 2019 CURATOR'S CHOICE, NUDE ART AS A MIRROR OF SOCIETY

Katharina Wiedlack

Katharina Wiedlack is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Department of English and American Studies, Humboldt University Berlin. Her research fields are primarily queer and feminist theory, popular culture, postsocialist, decolonial and disability studies. Currently, she is working on a research project focused on the construction of Russia, LGBTIQ+ issues and dis/ability within Western media. http://katharinawiedlack.com

Read her article: IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO MAKE FILMS QUEERLY THAN TO MAKE QUEER FILMS

Олексій Кучанський

Олексій Кучанський - дослідник і критик експериментального кіно та відео-мистецтва, есеїст. Живе і працює у Києві. Цікавиться політиками комунікативного експериментування, екософією Ф. Ґваттарі, не-есенціалістською екологічною теорією, постгуманістичним фемінізмом, процесуально-орієнтованою філософією. Колишній учасник активістської ініціативи Occupy Kyiv Cinemas - руху проти комерціалізації і знищення комунальних кінотеатрів Києва. Співавтор художнього проекту komaxa. щоденник резистентності - лабораторії молекулярного страйку в умовах цифрової праці.

Читайте його статтю: КАМУФЛЯЖ. ПЕДАГОГІКА КСЕНОФІЛІЇ

 

Kundry Reif

Kundry Reif is an aspiring curator, artist and cultural sciences academic.

Read her articles: I am not toilet paper, ARTISTS FROM CENTRAL ASIA (EDITORS PICK)

People

Ina Hildebrandt

Ina Hildebrandt is an art historian and cultural journalist. Born in Kazakhstan, she grew up as a so-called Russian-German in the south of Germany. After spending years of total assimilation she developed a strong interest in her cultural roots. Several long travels and stays took her to Easter-Europe over Russia to Central-Asia. Thereby she started to focus more on those regions also as art historian and journalist. She lives and works in Berlin. 

Tamara Khasanova

Tamara Khasanova is an emerging art professional and aspiring young curator. Born in Ukraine into a Ukrainian-Uzbek family, and later moving to the UK and the US early in life, she was exposed to various social dynamics while perceiving everything through the lens of her cultural legacy. This experience led her to question ideas surrounding cultural hegemony, national identity, and globalisation in the context of Post-Socialist states. In her professional and academic practice, she is concerned with a lack of representation of Eastern European and Central Asian regions on a large scale and committed to developing a sustainable dialogue between parts of the world so dear to her heart. Currently, she is doing a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Studio Art in San Francisco, CA. She starts her M.A. program in Curatorial Practice at the School of Visual Arts, New York this Fall.

Ira Konyukhova

Ira Konyukhova is an artist, writer and instagram feminist activist. She studied Physics in Moscow and fine art in Mainz, Reykjavik and Media Art and Media Theory at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HFG), which she finished with diploma in 2017. In her practice, she explores the connection between female sexuality, pop-resilience and colonial technological practices which are embodied mainly but not only in video, sculpture and installation. Her works have been presented on various international festivals and exhibitions, including DocLisboa, Athens Biennale, Teneriffa Espacio del Arte, Exground Film Festival e.t. Konyukhova was a grantee of Rhineland-Palatinate Media and Film Promotion Prize, BS Projects Residence Program as well ifa travel grant.

Pavel Metelitsyn

Pavel Metelitsyn is a software engineer and developer focusing on interactive data presentation, user interfaces and web technologies. He is driven by the idea of making the information more accessible through interactivity and gamification. Working together with creative agencies he implemented interactive multimedia stations for Neues Historisches Museum, Frankfurt/Main, made a kiosk app for a permanent exhibition at Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Frankfurt/Main. Besides that, he works with a wide range of clients from FinTech Startups to national research institutions, helping them to collect, process and present the business information. Pavel holds an M.Sc. in Mathematics.

Daria Prydybailo

Daria Prydybailo is a curator, researcher, founder of the TRSHCHN platform and co-founder of the NGO Art Matters Ukraine. Her background includes +7 years in leading cultural institutions of Ukraine such as National museum complex Art Arsenal and CCA PinchukArtCentre, as well as independent curatorial practice with a strong focus on the body in contemporary art, sensual turn, sound art, and in-situ projects. She worked on large-scale international projects such as International forum Art Kyiv, the First Kyiv Biennale of contemporary art ARSENALE 2012, and Ukrainian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. During 2013-2015 she curated online-platform & collective of artists, curators and writers  (wo)manorial, who contemplate the ever-changing concept of femininity. Her latest research is focused on love and intimacy in the context of emotional capitalism. Originally from Kyiv currently she lives and works in Berlin. 

Sascia Reibel

Sascia Reibel is a graphic and product designer. Her focus lays on printed matter, especially books and posters, with a strong dedication for typography. She engages in projects within the field of culture, art, and education. She studies communication design at the University of Art and Design Karlsruhe and has also studied in the design master program of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, China. Her work has been honoured with several awards, including «Most Beautiful Swiss Books», «Most Beautiful Books from all over the world», «Bronze Nail, ADC», as well as the «Badge of Typographic Excellence, TDC New York.

Willi Reinecke

Willi Reinecke is a film director, writer, and researcher on Lev Vygotsky's Psychology of Art at the Institute for East European Studies (Freie Universität Berlin). He is teaching at Szondi-Institute for Comparative Literature and Institute for East European Studies. He worked as assistant director of the documentary film "Familienleben" which premiered at Berlinale 2018. The film was nominated for German Documentary Film Award and was awarded prizes at Saratov Sufferings Festival (RU) and Neisse Filmfestival (GER). He's currently working on documentary films for Institute of Contemporary Art Yerevan and Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V.

Thibaut de Ruyter

Thibaut de Ruyter is a French architect, curator and critic who lives and works in Berlin since 2001. In the last ten years, he has organized exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Bochum, Museum Kunstpalais Düsseldorf, Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, HMKV in Dortmund, EIGEN + ART Lab and CTM in Berlin, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and CRP/ in Douchy-les -Mines. One of his latest projects is a travelling exhibition co-curated with Inke Arns for the Goethe-Institut: « The Border », that calls into question the dividing line between Asia and Europe in the former Soviet states. Since 2017 this exhibition was exhibited in St Petersburg, Moscow, Tashkent, Almaty, Krasnoyarsk (u.A.) and ended its trip in Erevan in 2019. His areas of interest range from new media to spiritism via "exhibitions that are not exhibitions". Most of his projects are related to everyday, pop or underground culture. He has been the German correspondent for the French magazine artpress since 2003.

8th September 2020

День имеет право на конец

article

Вика Кравцова
ru

26th August 2020

Центр постсовесткой реабилитации

interview

ru

18th August 2020

Belarus streikt - Brief an die Arbeiter*innen

article

Anatoli Ulyanov
de

15th August 2020

Зварот культурных работніц і работнікаў Беларусі

article

by

14th August 2020

Within the borders

article

Olga Davydik
en

13th August 2020

Спусковой механизм

article

Антонина Стебур
ru

6th August 2020

МОЯ ВАГИНА. СВОБОДА ЕЕ ГОЛОСА

article

Галины Рымбу. Алина Копица.
ru

23rd July 2020

Adieu, Utopia

interview

Interview with Diana U
en

14th July 2020

Solidarity Asunder

article

Alex Fisher
en

8th July 2020

The Presence of Absence

article

Nadia Tsulukidze
en/ge

1st July 2020

The reality of real bodies

article

Sasha Shestakova
en

30th June 2020

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE GARAGE IN THE WORLD

article

Thibaut de Ruyter
en

26th June 2020

18 мая

article

Рух Зильберштерн
ru

18th June 2020

The Other East

article

Alexey Ulko
en

15th June 2020

Бумеранг колонизации

article

Виктория Кравцова
ru

9th June 2020

Hiding in a plain Sight

article

Sasha Shestakova
en

7th June 2020

Не-чужеродность чужих

article

Ира Конюхова
ru

6th June 2020

Аварийное оповещение

article

Тамара Хасанова
ru

5th June 2020

Вагітні революцією, взаємопов'язані та взаємозалежні

article

Дар'я Придибайло
ua

28th May 2020

ARTISTS FROM CENTRAL ASIA

text-only

our very special and very well selected editors pick
en

21st May 2020

Zero Line Of Sight

interview

Interview with Bella Sabirova
en

14th May 2020

PULLING OURSELVES OUT OF THE SWAMP

article

By Meder Akhmetov, Darina Manasbek, Philipp Reichmuth
en

5th May 2020

SLIT YOUR THROAT IN A SEMI-FICTIONAL FOG

article

Alex Fisher
en

30th April 2020

I am not toilet paper

interview

Conversation with Moldavian artist Tatiana Fiodorova
en

21st April 2020

Nude Art as a Mirror of Society

article

Lolisanam Ulugova
en

17th April 2020

Exit from the Colony Farewell to the Empire

article

Lesia Prokopenko
en

14th April 2020

Камуфляж. Педагогіка ксенофілії

article

Олексій Кучанський
ua

7th April 2020

The last sparks

article

Ivan Isaev
en

6th April 2020

Leah Peirce

article

en

29th March 2020

Трансграничная миграция заботы

article

пандемия после 8 марта
Мария Дмитриева
ru

25th March 2020

Transboundary migration of care

article

pandemia after 8th of March
Mariya Dmitrieva
en

9th March 2020

(It would be) NICE TO MEET YOU, TOO

article

Anna Kamay and Melikset Panosian
en

5th March 2020

Open Letter by PinchukArtCentre Trade Union members

article

en

26th February 2020

The shift of the paradigm in modern Central Asian art

article

Alexey Ulko
en

4th February 2020

Embrace Your Antithesis

interview

Interview with Slavs and Tatars
en

1st February 2020

Chakras of Tbilisi

article

Laura Arena
en

29th January 2020

2019 Curator's choice

article

en

17th January 2020

On the loop

interview

Interview with Gago Gagoshidze
en

23rd December 2019

"Мы сёння знаходзімся ў іншай вытворчай драме"

interview

Работай Больше! Отдыхай Больше!
by

5th December 2019

Another production drama

interview

Interview with WORK HARD! PLAY HARD! working group
en

20th November 2019

Wandering poetics of Central Asian mestizas

interview

Interview with Krëlex Zentre
en

6th November 2019

Conversation with Julieta Aranda and Anna Kamay

interview

en

1st November 2019

Über die Sprache der Vorherrschaft

interview

ein Gespräch mit Medina Bazargali
de

29th October 2019

Where the roses grow

interview

Interview with Almagul Menlibaeva
en

25th October 2019

On language of supremacy: Medina Bazargali in conversation

interview

en

10th October 2019

Madina Tlostanova on decolonizing the post-Soviet, exotization and political imagination(s)

interview

part two
en

1st October 2019

There Is Sex After Soviet Union! (German)

article

Ira Konyukhova
de

26th September 2019

Madina Tlostanova on feminism, coloniality, returned pasts and reimagined futures

interview

part one
en

6th September 2019

It is more important to make films queerly than to make queer films

interview

en

1st July 2019

Juggling Dinosaurs

article

The precariousness of motherhood in arts
Anna Kamay
en

24th June 2019

Interview with Elene Abashidze

interview

en

14th June 2019

Unfortunately, we cannot pay for your flight and accommodation

article

Thibaut de Ruyter
en

28th May 2019

Ich liebe dich!

article

Antonina Stebur
de

17th May 2019

Interview with Anna Vahrami

interview

en

23rd April 2019

Artist Portrait: Anastasia Akhvlediani

portrait

en

13th April 2019

Artist Portrait: Alisa Berger

article

Thibaut de Ruyter
en

21st March 2019

Faig Ahmed

interview

de

18th March 2019

There Is Sex After Soviet Union!

article

Irina Konyukhova
en

11th March 2019

Interview mit Samvel Saghatelian

interview

de

8th March 2019

Artist Portrait: Salome Dumbadze

portrait

en

4th March 2019

Interview mit Chinara Majidova

interview

Klang des Brunners vor einer Fassade
de

26th February 2019

East Wind - Art in the Former Soviet Republics

article

Thibaut de Ruyter
en
Showroom by art group Agency Singular Investigations, Moscow, Russia
 
Faig Ahmed, Gautama, 2017
 
Katya Isaeva. (Russia).
"Instadancer". 2016. Video. 15 seconds
Dilyara Kaipova, Batman, 2016
Photo by author
Dilyara Kaipova, Cptain Ikat, 2016
Photo by author

In 2014 I was lucky enough to go on a study trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (cf. art press 419). This trip gave rise to the first independent magazine of Kazakh art, ALUAN, and shortly afterwards the Goethe-Institut got back and asked me to organize a touring show of art in nearly all the former Soviet states. After a year spent travelling and meeting people, and then six months of production, the exhibition Die Grenze (The Frontier), co-curated with Inke Arns, started touring in January 2017. It will continue into 2018. Visiting artists’ studios in Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, nearly thirty years after the collapse of the USSR, in countries that were celebrating twenty-five years of independence, was an enriching experience full of new friendships. It also called into question our own Western relation to art, to its production and dissemination.

Showroom by art group Agency Singular Investigations, Moscow, Russia

First of all, we need to understand that what for a large part of the twentieth century we thought of as a union has given way to countries with economies, political setups, landscapes and everyday living conditions that are radically diverse. What these countries do share, however, is the search for an identity, a personal history and even, sometimes, a native tongue. The Soviet Union redistributed natural resources and imposed Russian as a common language. Today, everyday life in these countries varies widely from one to another, depending on the presence of gas, oil or uranium in the soil, and on the respective levels of corruption, press freedom and electoral transparency. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan export their raw material to the West, Ukraine is at war with Russia, Armenia is like an island on a drip feed, Georgia is trying to fashion itself as a charming tourist destination, and Belarus is a buffer state between Western Europe and Russia. The only solid connection between these countries is Georgian gastronomy, which is recognized as a safe bet.

“I WANT MY IDENTITY BACK”

“Identity” isn’t just a theme for end-of-dinner conversations in these parts. It is often at the heart of the texts written by critics and is used overtly in artistic practices, so much so that Alex Ulko, the only art critic in Uzbekistan, told me one day that “Whenever I hear this word nowadays my hair stands up on my head.” If a French artist says he is looking for his identity, we immediately assume that he is talking about a personal or sexual quest. In contrast, the artists of the former USSR are probing the past and playing games with ancestral social codes. In affirming a nascent national identity, they have no qualms about drawing on the popular traditions that were often denigrated during the decades of Soviet rule. In Uzbekistan, for example, Dilyara Kaipova makes clothes from the traditional Ikat fabric whose patterns, when attentively observed, turn out to weave in icons of American popular culture (Batman, Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader). Her subtle, ironic play on imagery offers a sharp commentary on the state of her country, which is both rediscovering its traditions in order to assert itself in relation to its neighbours, and undergoing the influence of globalization, including cultural globalization. That is also why, in Azerbaijan, many artists are interested in carpets, and make bold use of them in their creations. Faig Ahmed, for example, gets artisans to make rugs in which ancestral motifs join up with the digital world of pixels.

Faig Ahmed, Gautama, 2017

Unfortunately, though, looking to time-honoured traditions in the search for identity can also result in a kind of ethno-kitsch, meaning the use of seductive patterns designed to please a public that knows next to nothing about contemporary art. Fortunately, again in Azerbaijan, there are also people like Fahrad Farzaliev and his very effective Azerbaijani Burger (2015). The principle is simple and the work has the feel of a readymade. It consists of a crocodile-skin pocketbook, a packet of cigarettes, a gold cigarette lighter, a luxury smartphone and the keys to a car piled up on a pedestal. These are the status symbols that any Azerbaijani nouveau riche needs to possess. Like a kind of travelling resume, the “burger” is usually placed on the table at the beginning of the meal to signal the owner’s standing. Farzaliev’s work humorously makes the point that all around the world art has become a luxury product, in the same way as cars or watches. Often torn between pre-Soviet traditions and the vulgarity of the globalized world, the search for an identity is obviously a major social and political issue for countries looking for a role on the world stage.

BACK TO RUSSIA AND UCHRONIA

Of course, I make no claim to have seen everything in this territory that extends over eleven time zones. But the point here is to suggest structural and conceptual links. Speaking of Central Asia, I have already used the metaphor of uchronia, a form of science fiction that transforms a major event by reconceiving it in a counter-factual, alternative context. To travel in these countries is to call into question our own idea of art history and our criteria of judgment. Malevich is obviously more important than Duchamp out here, but very few artists refer to him with any regularity. The fact is that if you want to understand what it going on in these countries, you need to dwell on this “other” history, to enter an uchronia made up of avant-gardes, socialist realism, collectives and politics.

Katya Isaeva. (Russia).
"Instadancer". 2016. Video. 15 seconds

Many of the artists here put no filters between themselves and the world, with the result that their works sometimes come out looking like a journalistic caricature. In countries where press freedoms are almost non-existent, it falls to art to take up the critical, polemical role, even if that is sometimes at the expense of its autonomy and singularity. Art can even become a political cause, with the artists taking physical risks, as did Piotr Pavlenski, a performance artist whose provocations are sometimes a little facile. He set fire to the door of the Federal Security Services (and more recently to that of the Banque de France). He also nailed his own scrotum to the ground on Red Square. Then, of course, there is Pussy Riot and their trial, an unwelcome throwback to old times. But the finest uchronia is in Krasnoyarsk, in the heart of Siberia, 4,000 kilometres from Moscow.That is where the Soviet Union built the last Lenin museum in 1987, shortly before its own demise. A whole floor of this brutalist structure is dedicated to the life of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. Books, paintings, nobleg busts, facsimiles and reproductions of documents tell the official story, all the way up to the fall of the USSR. When the museum was transformed into a contemporary art centre in the 1990s, its head curator, Sergey Kovalekski, had a brainwave: instead of destroying the Lenin exhibition, he would open up doors in the plaster and cardboard picture walls and take visitors behind the official presentation, between the hanging and the building’s concrete walls. In this intermediate space are objects and documents showing a less sunny picture of the USSR, but also works by Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe (1969–2013), an insolent transvestite artist who was particularly critical of contemporary Russia. This architectural and museological palimpsest is quite unlike anything elsewhere in the world: an encounter between two different ways of narrating history, and an invitation to always read between the lines.

EDUCATION, INSTITUTIONS

In the second half of the 1990s, curators, journalists and gallerists travelled out to these parts and revealed a whole new generation of artists, from Oleg Kulik to Boris Mikhailov, the Blue Noses, Almagul Menlibayeva and Chto Delat. In contrast, the new generation is starved of attention. One reason for this is that its members are trying to get away from the purely Soviet and post-Soviet vocabulary and issues that still go down such a treat in Western Europe. Another is that there is no local support. Many of those who enjoy success are people who have left the territory (like the Slavs and Tatars in Berlin, or Saodat Ismaïlova in Paris), or whose studies abroad have enabled them to build up an international network (people like Taus Makhacheva, who had a video in the central exhibition at the last Venice Biennale).The problem that keeps coming up here is that of education: the reform of art schools since 1989 has been partial or nonexistent. Only the Rodchenko Art School in Moscow attracts Russian-speaking students and works in close relation with the capital’s very serious Multimedia Art Museum. Consequently, it is more isolated figures like Yana Gaponenko at the Zarya art centre in Vladivostok and Stas Sharifullin in Krasnoyarsk who have taken on the job of filling in the gaps by organizing summer academies or informal structures.

Dilyara Kaipova, Batman, 2016
Photo by author

As for the institutions, the list is fairly short. In Armenia, the very young Armenian Art Foundation has set up a residency program for Armenian artists and has begun to organize exhibitions. The NCCAs, contemporary art centres located in several Russian towns, are doing ambitious work but remain fragile and thin on the ground. Finally, the venues backed by real economic power, such as the Pinchuk in Kiev, Garage in Moscow, and Yarat in Baku, are trying to combine the somewhat blingy taste of the oligarchs with residencies and grants to support young artists and researchers.

INTERNET, AN EXHIBITION SPACE

Being an artist in these countries, therefore, means being marginal, and knowing in advance that you won’t get many exhibitions. That said, the social networks are flooded with images and, whether on Facebook or its Russian equivalent Vkontakte, many of these artists are active and are “exhibiting” on Vimeo. For those with a punkish, DIY approach, the internet is a perfect place for getting images, videos and projects out to a wide audience, and at a low cost. It has even begun to replace the exhibition space. The Muscovite artist Katya Isaeva, for example, has opened her own internet museums and posts a new video almost every day. Her Owl Museum, the Simferopolski MMOMA, is a personal homage to Marcel Broodthaers’s Musée d’art moderne - département des aigles. On Instagram, she uses the hashtag #instadancerkatya to post sequences lasting a few seconds in which we see her dancing in her apartment, in a kind of nod to Pina Bausch and Paula Abdul. Not that the artist is in thrall to social media, it is simply that she has a thorough and critical understanding of what they have to offer as an exhibition space open to visitors from around the world at any time of day or night.

COLLECTIVE NECESSITIES

Finally, it is important to note that out of the seventy participants at the Triennial of Russian Art  organized in Moscow by Garage in Moscow, some ten are collectives. In the West, this form of artistic adventure may have had its glory years back in the 1960s and 70s, but it remains an effective way of proceeding and creating. Where many West European artists are going it alone, hoping to secure their own little slice of cake, the artists of the former USSR have understood, strangely enough, that unity makes strength. Among these collectives, the Agency of Singular Investigations studies various strange phenomena including the meteorite that fell on Moscow in 1954, the existence of a French company called Readymade, and the construction of optical instruments to facilitate the observation of artworks. Where Dogs Run, based in Yekaterinburg, is a group of four who fashion scientific objects for studying the climate or making soup. In Vladivostok, 33+1 comprises thirty-three artists of all ages and from every kind of background united around an enigmatic +1, who is both their agent, their curator and their producer. This role of a conductor (or even “odd job man”) is no doubt one last common feature in this territory for, once again, given the weakness of the institutions, artists must be capable of organizing their careers themselves.

Dilyara Kaipova, Cptain Ikat, 2016
Photo by author

Many actors on the art scene are therefore at once artists, curators, critics, teachers, mentors, members of a collective, barmen, graphic designers and who knows what else. They are also inventing new formats. In order to develop networks and make up for the weak social environment, Yulia Belousova organizes dinners in Berlin, Moscow, Milan and Barcelona, inviting targeted individuals to gather around the work of a given artist and thus helping to create a bit of the social fabric still lacking in the art world. It remains to be seen when this zone will give rise to a trans-border and trans-historical project, an exhibition that would, at last, give an idea of the genius and quality of these artists, not in relation to their own territory, but to contemporary art globally. All too often, they tend to be put together based not on a concept but on a territory or a nationality. Such shows put the emphasis on the lowest common denominator of a shared home country rather than on affinities in the ways the artists practice art. Obviously, if they could be compared to their counterparts in the West, we would not fail to observe the conspicuous differences in the resources that go into producing their works, but we would also see that the flashiness in the making of certain works here is nothing other than ostentation. We would realize that our little contemporary art world is a neo-liberal, individualist, close to the luxury industry, and quite simply fascinated by success on the art market. Whereas in other countries, such as these, being an artist means exposing yourself to danger, trying to change the world, inventing and providing mutual assistance.

 

The article was first published in - "East Wind - art in the former Soviet Union", Art Press, No. 450, December 2017, pp. 61-68. 

 

Translation by C. PENWARDEN

Subscribe to our newsletter