While for the art world, August is typically a vacation month, in Russia, it is a traditionally a time of change (or at least, so argues Irina Prokhorova in the opening words to her recent blog for Echo Moscow.) This has certainly been the case the last three weeks, as the Pussy Riot trial has dominated the headlines (if you’ve somehow missed the news barrage, you can read Baibakov Art Projects’ Associate Curator Kate Sutton’s take on the trial here.)
While these girls have blanketed the press, it is useful to remember that they do not constitute the whole of the Russian art scene. And so VAC foundation offers a look at more subtle ways of resisting the state with “The Way of Enthusiasts,” a group show looking at the strategies artists in Russia have applied to public space.
In particular, “The Way of Enthusiasts” – the name of an actual street in Moscow – tackles the micro-rayuns (mini-neighborhoods) developed under Khrushchev. These more or less self-sufficient communities were built along the outskirts of the city, with an astounding uniformity. (And we mean astounding: these microrayuns inspired one of Soviet Russia’s most beloved comedies, The Irony of Fate (1975), whose plot centers around a man from Moscow getting too drunk in banya and “accidentally” boarding a train for Leningrad, where the cab driver takes him to “his” address, which, in Leningrad, turns out to be the exact same address for the exact same apartment in the exact same type of building – even the hapless hero’s key fits into the door. The only thing different, however, is that this Leningrad apartment belongs to a comely and implausibly lonely blonde, but we digress.)
To return to the exhibition:
The show’s title comes from Moscow landmark, Shosse Entuziastov, an old Russian avenue that connects the city centre with the residential districts. Once one of the main routes to Siberian prisons and exile, it was given the rather grand name of Shosse Entuziastov (the way of enthusiasts) in the 1920s, as a way of looking towards a new world whilst romanticising the past. Today, whilst the name still has a glorious resonance, the decadent residences that line the street, mask any traces of the great Soviet dream of public housing schemes, exposing the desperate gap between the plan and the ruins, the ruins and the plans.
With these would-be utopias in drab disrepair, it is clear government management of public space has not succeeded, paving the way for others to make a non-regulated use of the same space. The exhibition takes a look at some of these uses, with an impressive roster of artists, including Alex Buldakov /Anastasia Potemkina, Olga Chernysheva, Alexandra Galkina, Kirill Gluschenko, GNEZDO Group, Andrey Kuzkin, Vladimir Logutov, Andrey Monastyrsky, MUKHOMORY Group, Anatoly Osmolovsky, Yuri Palmin, Alexandra Paperno, Alexander Povzner, Dmitry Prigov, Anastasia Ryabova, Sergey Sapozhnikov, Stanislav Shuripa, Xenia Sorokina, Alexandra Sukhareva, SZ Group, David Ter-Oganyan, Vadim Zakharov/Niklas Nitschke, Arseniy Zhilyaev.
Fittingly, “The Way of Enthusiasts” is timed to coincide with the Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibition opens this Wednesday at Casa Trei Oci on the Giudecca in Venice, and will be on view until November 25, 2012.