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

Iryna Dzhava

Iryna Dzhava is a teacher, translator, cultural project manager and marketing specialist. Her vision is better and accessible education to everyone. She is emphasizing the importance of the Humanities in our education. Iryna is interested in art and literature. She is the one to show you, how to create your very first etching picture and to inspire you to look deeper into the biographies of some famous people of the last century. 

Born in Riwne, Ukraine, in 2006 has moved to Berlin to graduate from Humboldt University with a Master Degree in German Literature and to continue writing on the neverending story of self-education: Arabic Studies at Freie University and Management for Art and Culture in FH Potsdam.

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.

Chinara Majidova

Chinara Majidova graduated from the International Law Department of Baku State University in 2010 and has since worked as a writer, painter and video artist. She has been a contributing photojournalist and writer for the Ajam Media Collective, working on projects such as Mehelle charting the disappearance of the historic Baku district called Sovetski, and for Chai Khana, a multimedia platform covering diverse events and issues in the South Caucasus. She has also participated in a number of local and international group exhibitions spanning art and journalism and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Cultural Heritage Policy and Management at the Central European University in Vienna.

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 October 2020

Надия Кааби-Линке. Возвращение к себе

interview

ru

1st October 2020

Aqil Abdullayev ilə müsahibə

interview

az

28th September 2020

Snap Out of The Past

interview

Interview with Agil Abdullayev
en

24th September 2020

Unfinished protest

interview

en

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
The Boiler House at the Goetheanum, Switzerland
Photo: Alexey Ulko
The Goetheanum, Switzerland
Photo: Alexey Ulko
Madrasa in Bukhara, Uzbekistan turned into prison where Rostopchin and Zrazhevsky were kept before being transferred to Moscow
Photo: Alexey Ulko
"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams." The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969, installation view, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2020
Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy
"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams." The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969, installation view, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2020
Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy
"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams" The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905-1969, installation view, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow 2020.
Photo: Alexey Ulko

This article by Alexey Ulko draws attention to the very unusual path in the art history of the Central Asian region. Starting in the European part of Russia, he follows the anthroposophic wind from the West with first Russian and later Soviet migrants and Oriental scholars who later on arrived in Uzbekistan. Here, they encountered a rich spiritual tradition which stems from the mixture of religions and beliefs existed and experienced in the country for many centuries. How this tradition of esoteric art developed, blossomed, struggled and came to an apparent end - discover in the following text.

 

Although the exhibition We Treasure our Lucid Dreams is dedicated to Russian esoteric artists, their ethnic identity has been of no importance for my study. I was primarily interested in artists, poets, musicians and philosophers belonging to the broad European esoteric tradition who lived and worked in Central Asia in the 1900-1970s. Andrei Misiano, the curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art GARAGE, kindly invited me to choose a topic for research, which should be linked to Russia. Tired of the traditional repertoire of contemporary art themes with its obsessive materialism, I decided to take a step in the opposite direction. 

 

My interest in esoteric art is based on the conviction that the world is not confined to the physical matter spread across the 3-dimensional universe, which can be sufficiently and reliably perceived by the five human senses. I also hold the view that the ‘consciousness’ in one way or another extends beyond the human physical body and the 70 years of its material existence. Although I am personally inspired mostly by anthroposophy and Rudolf Steiner’s understanding of art, this is more a matter of personal taste and not a dogmatic position.

 

The Boiler House at the Goetheanum, Switzerland
Photo: Alexey Ulko

Therefore, I did not want to reduce my research exclusively to formal work involving archives and documents. At this level, the research was greatly informed by A. L. Nikitin's work on the persecution of members of esoteric and occult communities in the Soviet Union in the late 1930s.There were several fruitful visits to the Russian archives. Yet the main focus of the research was on the whole system of relations and connections between different artists and meanings contained in their work that could be only partly examined by a mindful observer.

The Goetheanum, Switzerland
Photo: Alexey Ulko

 

Obviously, I was interested in such things as Maximilian Voloshin’s impact on some heroes of our exhibition, who then directly influenced the formation of subsequent generations of creative intelligentsia. Nevertheless, I was more concerned about possible interpretation of this complex system of connections and meanings in the spirit of the Object-Oriented Ontology as a system of interaction between different objects in the context of implicit ‘dark matter.’ My recent research stemmed from an article I wrote for the Moscow Art Magazine in 2016.

 

Madrasa in Bukhara, Uzbekistan turned into prison where Rostopchin and Zrazhevsky were kept before being transferred to Moscow
Photo: Alexey Ulko

One has to be careful when talking or writing about the supersensible or esoteric as it is such a broad field that it is difficult to speak about it outside of a particular personal experience. I can speak, of course, only about most rudimentary forms of this experience, but it can sometimes be sufficient to identify a certain concept or mental object in order to return to it and explore it in a calm atmosphere. As an example, I want to mention here Isaac Itkind, who is usually remembered only as a brilliant sculptor, tireless worker and a grotesque ‘archaic Jew’ (according to Voloshin). Nowhere was his name associated with esotericism, and he himself never talked about it.

 

Nevertheless, when I came across his personality and his works, I felt that there was something deeper behind all these descriptions and started looking at his art and friends’ testimonies more closely. Gradually it became apparent that Itkind deeply, though mostly unconsciously, immersed himself in the artistic experience of how the ethereal, vital body reveals itself in the physical, and worked with sculpture very much in the anthroposophical spirit.

 

"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams." The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969, installation view, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2020
Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy

It was evident from his sensual experience of wood (‘the quintessence of light’), the interpretation of the head, based on the inner experience (according to one of the testimonies, he carried with him a mirror to remind himself of the relative position of nose, lips, eyes etc. on the face), a particular feeling for the tragical (his more positive works are also more formal) and a specific vital force, which was not related to his physical development but was akin to the forces used by another initiated person, Johannes Wolfgang Goethe. To be such a sculptor, Itkind did not need to formulate his views in rational occult schemes. He drew material for his art directly from the supersensible experience of the artistic.

 

Inspired by my own experience of living in Samarkand and by the interesting information about Voloshin’s ‘second birth’ in the steppes of Turkestan, I initially looked forward to discovering the impact Central Asia made on the esoteric artists I was researching. In general, however, their attitude to the region fits into the global Orientalist narrative. Central Asia had the most profound impact on Voloshin, evoking in him metaphysical reflections on his own cultural identity and stimulating the awakening of his artistic and poetic talent. The Oriental scholars Schutsky and Rostopchin were lured by the distant and abstract ‘Asia’, and Vasilyeva, who visited Tashkent several times, felt more and more detached from her native Petersburg. 

 

Of all the artists featured at the exhibition, Central Asia made the most visible impact on the artists of Daniil Stepanov’s circle, many of whom did not have anything to do with the spiritual and esoteric understanding of the environment they portrayed. This, however, is only a superficial observation. We can only guess about the deeper interaction of these artists with the Central Asian environment. 

 

Now, given that in 2005 the Russian curator Victor Misiano famously called Central Asia ‘the only blind spot on the international map of contemporary culture’, one may wonder why the region so prominently featured in this research, not just as a geographical or even cultural space but as an entity, an object. One of the possible answers could be found in its fluidity and profound historical heritage. Central Asia is an ancient zone of human movement along the east-west axis, be it migration or military campaigns, as well as a zone of contact along the north-south axis between more nomadic and more sedentary peoples. Various forms of animism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, varieties of Christianity, Hellenism, Judaism, different currents of Islam and atheism have interacted with each other in the region for centuries.

"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams." The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905–1969, installation view, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2020
Photo: Alexey Narodizkiy

 

All these forms of interaction have left their marks not only on the physical but also on more subtle plans of existence. When you stand on the ruins of the Samarkand citadel, you realise that you are surrounded by atoms, which once belonged to the bodies of Macedonians and Persians, soldiers of Kutayba and Genghis Khan’s armies, and that this active life ceased nine centuries ago. The Russian colonisation with its exiles, violence, torture chambers, deportations, camps and zones, has been just one episode in the long history of this land. This episode is interesting to us all only because we happen to live in its final phase, and that is why we are so sensitive to various contradictory assessments by our contemporaries.

 

Central Asia for several millennia was the scene of interaction of different peoples and religions, a territory where numerous mysteries and holy ceremonies took place. There were numerous esoteric groups long before Russian colonisation. However, early enough in the course of the study it was decided to limit it to the European esoteric tradition. The reasons included the immensity of "Eastern esotericism" and the ambiguity of its manifestation in art, and my unpreparedness for serious conversation, for example, about Sufism. It has become a common place to associate, for example, Usto Mumin with Sufism, attracting for this romantic poetry rumi and Khayam. But it is enough to ask: what tarikat included Usto Mumin? What evidence does there even have to say? And the whole story begins to crumble.

"We Treasure Our Lucid Dreams" The Other East and Esoteric Knowledge in Russian Art 1905-1969, installation view, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow 2020.
Photo: Alexey Ulko

 

Of course, initially all the fine art produced in Central Asia in the late 19th to mid-20th century was to varying degrees colonial, as such were the means and language of painting and graphics, the methods of working en plein air and in the studio. This is most clearly exemplified by Vassil Vereshchagin’s paintings and the photographic Turkestan Album. In the paintings made in the 1910s-1920s, the close attention to exotic details of the local costume and everyday life that characterises Vereshchagin's painting is gone. At that time, artists are more concerned about their subjective perception of the East and particular forms of its  exotisation that is closer to Paul Gaugin rather than Rudyard Kipling. This withdrawal of attention from the physicality of Central Asian life creates a beneficial stylistic environment for the manifestation of the artistic itself. The breath phase, the phase of attentive perception is followed by the phase of meditative exhalation, which is then rudely interrupted by the repressive impulse of the 1930s.

 

Another aspect of coloniality was the relations between the Russian artists and the local community, especially when you consider that different groups and individuals could be seen as ‘local’. For Voloshin, the Governor of Tashkent was ‘local,’ and the artists Alexander Volkov and Sergey Kalmykov, born in Fergana and Samarkand, were local by default. For Vasilyeva and Schutsky, Turkestan was a country of ‘yellow nomads’, which, however, should be understood metaphorically. It seems that their contacts in Tashkent and Samarkand in the 1920s were mostly confined to the local Russian colonial society. By the mid-1930s, the situation had changed. The Oriental scholar Fyodor Rostopchin, who worked at the Bukhara Museum of History in the mid-1930s and was arrested on charges of belonging to a ‘trotskyist-fascist hypnotic community,’ gave a detailed account of the persons mentioned in his notebook. These include Tajiks and Uzbeks, among whom the most prominent figure was Abdurauf Fitrat 1, the main ideologue of Jadidism, also shot by the Soviet authorities in 1938.

 

Most Anthroposophists suffered at the hands of the NKVD but why did Anthroposophical and other esoteric communities were seen as threatening the Soviet power? After the murder of Sergey Kirov in 1934, the wave of repression against the intelligentsia was completely thoughtless and chaotic. Soviet punitive bodies made up fictitious conspiracies, invented non-existent societies and forced people to admit being part of anti-Soviet plots. Once arrested and made to ‘confess’, many innocent people thereby committed themselves and others to death, accused of most shameful and ridiculous verdicts.

 

This massive violence had grave consequences for the Soviet government and the people alike. Whether these consequences are considered from the point of view of the criminal law, memory politics, social constructivism, so-called "genetic code" or collective karma, they are obvious. Today, looking at persecution of political opposition 2 in Russia and the hybrid war it is waging outside its borders, one can see that the oppressive methods combining lies and fabrication with coercion and violence have not gone anywhere. The seeds fell on fertile ground and have borne fruit in modern Russia.

 

 

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).

 

Editors Tamara Khasanova and Ira Konyuhova

 

Subscribe to our newsletter