On July 3, Russia’s newly-minted Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky met for the first time with his Council. The same day, Artguide published a list of this Council, which includes a lively mix of publicists, owners of television stations and even a “blogger,” alongside members like Biennale Commissar Joseph Backstein, Garage Director Anton Belov, MAMM director Olga Sviblova, Strelka board member Alexander Mamut, and controversial author Victor Erofeev.
As member Daniel Dondurei explained to Artguide’s Masha Kravtsova, so far, no sweeping cultural reforms are in sight, but “a maid has been invited to start scrubbing the old silver with tooth powder.” On a talk-show wrap-up, Erofeev pronounced the council an exercise in futility, although it would be nice to keep meeting if only “to chat and eat sandwiches.” Belov elaborated on the think tank nature of the project, adding: “We’ll all friends of Medinsky now.”
Not everyone. Of the sixty-something members, the only nominee to decline the invitation to join the Council is Irina Prokhorova, cultural historian, literary critic, director of the New Literary Observer magazine and co-founder of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. Prokhorova is shockingly modest, despite her tremendous influence (for an English account of her activities, check out the New York Times’ profile of her from when her brother was campaigning for president.)
On July 3, the same day as the Council Meeting, Interview Russia published a conversation between Prokhorova and Sergey Kovalsky, as part of a joint project with Strelka. We have translated sections of the interview below. [PLEASE NOTE: THESE TRANSLATIONS ARE OUR OWN, FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS BLOG, AND SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN AS DIRECT QUOTATIONS, WHICH CAN BE FOUND HERE.]]
In the interview, Prokhorova insists on the importance of encouraging a network of cultural hubs, rather than a centralized cultural capital (it should be noted that the establishment of such hubs has long been a goal of the Prokhorov Foundation.) And by encouraging this network, Prokhorova is clear she does not mean imprinting the constructs of the capital out on the provinces:
When we start to develop culture, we have this habit of building the exact same museum in every city. No one ever tries to access whether this city needs this provincial museum of not. We [at the Foundation] realized that we do not understand our country at all. We realized that first we need to undertake an anthropological study, to seriously research the town and the territory. Only then can we begin to think about a program for development of each individual town.
Prokhorova goes on to cite the specific example of Norilsk, a company town where, as the foundation’s research discovered, most inhabitants leave in a so-called “suitcase” state, always with one bag packed, eager to move on. In this case, the best program is one which encourages identification with one’s locality. “It doesn’t make sense to stick a statue of Pushkin in every city.”
When pressed about the Foundation’s young artists, Prokhorova confessed that contemporary art has been misrepresented as glamour and scandal. “Artists have always been the agents of social change. Today we live in a rough, absolutely volatile world. It is the artists who will serve as the main force to humanize this environment.”
The interview concludes with Prokhorova discussing the festival “Unknown Siberia,” which opened in Lyon in 2010, as part of the Year of Russia in France. She pointed to other projects, which had ensembles in “psuedo-national costume dancing in parks.”
Understand that I am not against folklore. But we are constantly exporting koshniki [a form of headdress traditionally associated with Russian folk culture] and exoticism – which only verifies the second-hand nature of these things. Only a third world country can export exoticism. Diagelev, in his time, found a metaphor by which we have defined and continue to define Russia: a country of passion, of feelings, of the enigmatic, tortured soul. But this tradition is over a hundred years old and it no longer applies.