CASH: IX Shiryaevo Biennale of Contemporary Art



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Back 2001: Tangibility participants

Неля Коржова | Nelya Korzhova

tangibility: between europe and asia

For the first time we were designating the situation "in-between" between Europe and Asia, between the Centre and the Province, as a biennial symposium.What made us organise this event one more time and even have a firm decision to stick to this schedule in the future?

In the beginning, of course, there was just a bunch of like-minded persons. It so happened,that they were artists from Stuttgart and Alma-Ata, hence: "between Europe and Asia ".Hans-Michael Rupprechter was the one, who implanted into their minds the idea of a biennial get-together. On a September night, when we were sitting on the Enbankment, stunned with our first success and failures in Shiryaevo, he was singing praises to everything: the climate, the location, the food and the idea itself.

golden proportion

A wise "old hippie" Yurgen Kierspel was the one, who found the first donation from Hopper-Ritter Fund and handed it to us right in the airport as easily sa one can give hope for a better future.

Rustam Khalfin. If it wasn't for him, nothing would ever happen at all. He's a "bor-derline hero": like a mirage, he appears only for some time, but always exists. He's a suitable person to cross borders with.

Friends of our friends joined us later. As it turned out, a biennial symposium on contemporary art is a thing, useful and necessary in all aspects: it helps promote local artistic community; it is the place, where Russian and European creative initiatives can come together; it helps reveal the vector of contemporary situation in art; and, last, but not least, it aids the development of cultural tourism in the region.

The Shiryaevo symposium was meant to be not just a new point of positioning within the framework of an artistic system, but rather a creative laboratory, where art is experience of living, and making a cultural product "here and now" is a top priority.

The Shiryaevo biennial symposium is organized as a 2 -week creative workshop with a final presentation of works of art and a theoretical part for discussing the current artistic event in the context of contemporary European and Asian art developments.

We hope that our symposium will unite artists of Europe and Asia in the future and that it'll help preserve mutual interest in exploring the borderline between the center and the province in the light of different artistic notions.

to touch? or to think, what to touch?

The desire to designate "the sincerity zone" and to try to reveal ingenious feelings resulting from a contact with reality induced the decision to call "Tangibility" the topic of the year. We were driven by the desire to examine 2 realities: ingenious touch and touch in one's mind. What is more important for contemporary artistic situation: a particular act or its mythology? What is the degree of perception of this fact among Eastern and Western artists, if any?

As usual (it was happening for the second time only, but it felt like something really "usual") - it was a swift getting used to repeated touch - momentary recognition of the past, almost daily occurrence.

We came to Shiryaevo.

The Volga, wooded mountains, a village in the valley, drawing closer to the river; they say, that in the Ice Age the mountains here closed up, but there was some air left between them, that's why nowadays one can find ancient plants, a «holy» spring and some "energy" in the air. But the history of this place was kind of behind our backs, as the windows of the wooden houses we lived in, faced the river, and people in the village were more inclined to talk over a sudden arrival of President Putin, that had happened a year, before and that it had taken the road workers only one night to lay the road from the pier to Repin Museum with asphalt.

The museum was another source of mythology, based on the fact that a great Russian artist Repin and hid friend Vasilyev had lived in this house in 1870, and that Repin was drawing sketches for his famous painting "Barge Haulers on The Volga". Actually, neither the house, nor the sketches have been preserved till nowadays, and the director of the museum has never seen the painting in the original… But this vagueness didn't seem confusing to anybody, moreover, it absolutely corresponds to local mentality, craving for corroboration of its uniqueness; everybody was waiting for a miracle here.
It was an advantage for us, only in such a situation could we rely on local backing: what if we were something they had been craving for?
We were waiting for a miracle, too: it seems, that we had come there to find "exclusive happiness", like a famous Tarkovsky's character; some of us had come to think something over, some - to do something or to keep from doing it. But one thing we had in common, was that we wanted to view the art artlessly.
Yes, as usual, for two weeks we had lived in the village,
Among cows, sheep and kind-hearted women,
They fed us and gave us shelter…
And everyone wanted to dissolve in the unhurried country life, to feel like a defenseless child among plants and bath-houses…
And there's always a secret hope to arrange "a little happiness", the happiness of communication, and everything will be the way it was before: the rain, the sun, what we ate, what we drank, and the phrase " now and only now"…

In this sense (to touch or to think that you are touching) Vanessa Henn's and Yerbolsyn Meldibekov's art-video "A Kiss" is very significant.
Sequence 1: an international couple. Close-up: he - Asia - dark-skinned, with a red shirt on; she - a typical Western student, one of the top ones, industrious, purposeful, a sporty type, with great career prospects.
Sequence 2: he's smiling and we can see his gold crowns.
Sequence 3: they are kissing each other.
Sequence 4: she's smiling, and we can see gold crows in her mouth, too.
That's all.
But she evidently seems to come from some Volga region village, Chuvash, maybe, and she looks like a fisherman's wife or a postwoman, too dark-skinned.

The spontaneously-formed duet, including Nata Morozova and Vito Pache, was elabo-rating the same topic. They virtually got "high" on each other, which resulted in the performance "Possible - Impossible", a three-minute training in the gym.

The crowd gathered in the school corridor, intrigued with a thin bar of light, coming through the keyhole, there was a smell of wet paint in the air.

I liked it there, it was cool, no wind, it was August the 16-th - the day when we showed our achievements, "an open day", a 7-hour marathon, a gala-performance, "The Doomsday", the events of it were later on TV and in newspapers. This day was a curator's trick: during the 2 weeks of peaceful country life the artists got so relaxed, that, when they saw a crowd of a hundred people, disembarking from a ship, who had come "to taste fresh art", this sight was very mobilizing. This day is usually analyzed in great detail, as it crowns the whole event, and all, that has been done before, is aimed at its success, though later, after having read all the responses in newspapers, I was lead to believe, that the whole crowd had been brought especially for the artists' inspiration (which, of course, was not true).

It was the third hour of the projects' demonstration and the public was not tired yet. The door opened and on the folds one could read: a text on a possibility of touching a body, the consciousness of which has been installed between B. Gates, Mickey Mouse, Juan…Ramiro Sanchez. The public entered an empty sunlit gym with blue walls, where everywhere, in accordance with sporting marking-out, one could see school desks with chairs. On each desk there was a white sheet of paper with printed words: mail, femail. The characters were at the opposite walls of the gym in the postures re-minding the ones before a race begins; then came the warming-up, an attempt to syn-chronize movements, gestures, looks, exclamations. Then the contact was found, they met in the center - a sort of a computer "ring". They were looking into each other's eyes and touching each other only virtually, each one of them holding a computer mouse in the hand, that's why all tactile activity was performed via the monitor. He was stroking her body with his hand, and she was doing the same to his.

Natasha was jerking and looked especially attractive with that feminine defenseless-ness of hers, when anybody can abuse, but no one dares to.

Vito looked angry, but didn't lose dignity (he thought that his personal work, which he had shown some time ago, hadn't been appreciated properly).

Quicksilver Vito, reminding of all Italian paintings at once, a sweet tooth and a "Casanova', who had miraculously managed to avoid a fight with Shiryaevo's thugs, opened a "World Office" in the village's Palace of Culture, where anybody could send a letter to an unknown friend, to write or to draw something, in a word, to express oneself. Though he couldn't speak Russian at all, his "World Office" was crowded every day and something was always going on. This strange activity looked like re-animation of Communist times, when clubs belonged to the people, and the people be-longed to clubs. I would doubt that anyone of the visitors of his office was giving himself account, that they were participating in a modern game in a "real life" style. But this "World Office" is operating now and you can visit it on the site with the adress:

Tangibility "between Europe and Asia ", inner and outer contacts, a gap between the signifier and the signified is hard to feel at once.

One can't say "No" to a man from the East, you say "Yes", when the implication is 'No'. In Russia everyone knows, that when we write "2", we keep "3" in mind.

The Westerners can't understand the irony of this statement, their irony is more personal and more pragmatic. For instance, Hans-Michael Rupprechter designed a per-formance with the participation of all the artists under the title "Do what you like": the public was on the stage, the performers - in the auditorium, it was funny and noisy, without any rehearsals, just there and at that particular moment and on behalf of those who had come.

For comparison: German Vinogradov - a leading figure of Russian performative actions - is prone to refer to elder Porfiry Ivanov in his mythology. But, actually, there's no need, as he himself is an object of love and reverence for thousands of people. Like a prophet, he managed to take a crowd of people to the caves of Shiryaevo, cast a magic spell on them and when he had ordered to touch some allegedly healing piece of iron, the crowd eagerly obeyed.

The original simplicity of Yerbolsyn Meldibekov's work - "Pol Pot 5" can serve a bright example of Asian world outlook, when one perceives himself a part of something 'Huge" and "Great". Crumbled mountains, buried people, living heads, enclosed with stakes, horrifying preciseness of an artistic gesture, contiguity with a ritual context, exalting the paradox of deformity to the category of the spiritual,? that was an unforgettable, epic sight, obviously intended to cause a collective emotional experience.

From the point of view of the "European" character and personal attitude Martin Rod-gers's performance "Home Acoustics" was very significant. In the specific interior of a public canteen, with big cans and cookers, looking like factory equipment, one could see luminous projections of cans and basins - necessary things for the preparation of any kind of celebration. Above the overhead there was a wet cloth, and falling drops made the image blurred, which required personal concentration to discern it.

Andreas Bear wrote a poem after A. Tarkovsky, ending with the word "light", on the wall. When I asked him, if it had anything to do with tangibility, the answer was: " I want to touch the soul with it". Indeed, for each of the visitors he performed a small trick with a photo flash, when eye muscles contracted and "the light" illuminated the consciousness.

Western individualism, Russian "spirit of collectivism", different ideas of "one's own" and "somebody else's"… What draws us together? Where does the contact take place? Maybe, in the realm of imagination, where the art system of the East and the West are neither social systems, nor political institutions or age-old dogmata, but just a tactile sensation:

Like sand,
And breathing in my palm.

Nelya Korzhova