A group of young Russian-speaking artists intervened in Amsterdam’s public spaces, changing the perception of Russia through contemporary art.
The ‘First Person’ project, which took place in the Dutch capital in November and December, presented the works of eight artists who were brought up in the post-Soviet space and aimed to show contemporary Russian art 100 years after the Revolution of 1917.
Russian curator Daria Kravchuk and Dutch curator Robbie Schweiger embedded the exhibition into the context of the city instead of going for the ‘white cube’ practice.
‘First Person’ investigates and tries to deconstruct and redefine the first person perspective - the ‘I’. It shows the first-person perspective isn’t necessarily human: everyone and everything has a say from its particular point of view on the world. The artworks offer an insight into the perspectives and experiences of objects, animals, plants, fungi and machines. It is not easy to empathize with someone or something else, but you can at least try.
The exhibition comes at a time when political tensions between Russia and the West are hampering the perception and proliferation of Russian culture. As such, the curators decided that “the only correct solution is to talk about a pluralization of perspectives and to explore how other entities see this world.”
“The artworks open up the theme of failure, not only of the ‘Western’ perspective, but of the human perspective in general,” Kravchuk said.
First Person also tried to fight stereotypes, Schweiger said. “In Holland, even 'professionals' mostly confirm stereotypes surrounding Russia. The same with Russian contemporary art: a lot of times it gets filtered by different media until only an explicit flat political critique is left (Pussy Riot, Petr Pavlensky, etc.). First Person showed that Russian contemporary artists relate to the global art world and contemporary global concerns,” he said.
Yet the perspective of these artists is different from that of their Western colleagues, Schweiger said. “Their work seems more gentle and nuanced, but not less strong. It seems to be that their stance is more patient than that of their colleagues’, in, for example, Holland. I think I see this patience also on a broader level. At least, the Russian people I know are less judgemental and less focused on imposing their ‘right’ opinions on others.”
Hanna Zubkova – ‘I saw you in a life-long dream, I woke up and realized it lasted some minutes,’ 2017
Born in Moscow, Hanna Zubkova is a Paris-based Belarusian artist who presented a site-specific intervention on the ferry connecting Amsterdam Central Station and IJplein. Her performance consisted of stopping the ship’s movement, intervening in regulation and routines which structure public space.
“I scripted a three-second glitch into the timetable, which I then induced into each trip. As a unique event in the movement of the ferry this little lapse was so tender and minimal that it didn’t produce much significant effect for human perception, but it grew into a fractal accumulating consequence for the whole system. It all started to shift after a while,” Zubkova told Strelka Magazine.
“I am interested in potentiality for change, whether within the field of human
perception or out of it. What is it, where does it come from, and what does it have to do with conditions?” she told Strelka Magazine.
Zubkova’s artistic practice develops on the junction of research, intervention in public spaces, and work with communities. Creating protocols and inducing them into mundane routines and rituals, she often steps out of art spaces and into non-artistic public spheres.
“Art is engaged with everyday things, I believe. Everyday things are engaged with art too. It is a way to reveal something that is not obvious about the everyday and the habitual. It is a way to arrange space for something that was out of sight, to give it a voice. The voice might be given to something that has no representation and that eludes it, so it is usually more of a fluctuation, a murmur, rather than an efficient speech.”
Alexey Buldakov – ‘Roost Study,’ 2017
Roost Study is part of the ongoing research project Urban Fauna Laboratory, formed by artists Alexey Buldakov and Anastasia Potemkina in Moscow, Russia, in 2011. It is dedicated to interspecies relationships in human-designed landscapes. The project focuses primarily on ‘invasive’ animals and plants.
“Interspecies altruism is very rare in wild nature. Humans, unlike other animals, tend to care about alien creatures even though they may carry disease like pigeons or may be harmful for the native environment like feral cats. This counter-adaptive human behavior reveals the irrational nature of individual human self-consciousness,” Buldakov told Strelka Magazine.
Pigeons sat on the metal installation and the bird droppings formed “99%” on the ground. With Roost Study, Buldakov investigates possible ways of collaboration between ‘parasitic’ pigeons and humans in places where they encounter each other.
“Pigeons can be found in every part of the world. They beg for food and then shit all over the place – monuments, architecture, people. I thought it would be nice to have special roosts to sit pigeons to prevent them from littering,” he said.
Buldakov was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, where 99 percent stood for the majority of people vs the richest 1 percent. In this case, “99 percent” represents all other entities in the world, versus 1 percent of human beings.
“The balance of power might be the other way around here: the 99 percent literally doesn’t give a shit about the 1 percent,” Schweiger said.
Text: Timur Zolotoev, Ekaterina Motyakina