Garage International Triennial in Moscow is the first survey of Russia’s extensive contemporary art scene.
With the inaugural Garage Triennial having recently come to a close on 14 May 2017, Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights of the event.
The Garage Triennial of Contemporary Art and extensive Russian contemporary art scene, hosting artists and projects hailing from anywhere between the Baltic Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The challenges of such a project are daunting: the land mass of Russia encompasses 100 languages and nearly 200 nationalities, and borders 14 countries. The curatorial team finally settled on 68 artists and art collectives to participate in the Triennial.
A hot topic of this inaugural triennial is the recent annexation of the Crimea peninsula. The triennial opened just a week before the third anniversary of President Putin’s incursion into Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Crimea’s tense relationship to Russia is being explored by a particular branch of the exhibition, including artist projects and events selected for the way in which the artists explore the current status of the geopolitical reality. The triennial organisers have received some criticism for the way in which any programming on Crimea as part of the Russian Triennial to some extent naturalises the government’s action.
Grouped into seven self-explanatory categories the curators call “vectors” – “Master Figure,” “Personal Mythologies,” “Fidelity to Place,” “Common Language,” “Art in Action,” “Street Morphology,” and “Local Histories of Art” – the exhibition’s various artworks occupy every inch of the Garage Museum as well as the surrounding area of Gorky Park. Art Radar takes a look at a few stand out projects from the sprawling exhibition.
1. Chto Delat
Multidisciplinary art collective Chto Delat are known for thoughtful, provocative reassessments of socialism’s past, present and future, finding new methodologies for presenting and activating the archives of past resistance. Their re-politicisation of the exhibition space has caught the attention of critics and art historians throughout the last decade. Their 2016 film work It Didn’t Happen to Me: Safe Haven (2016), present at the Triennial, can be considered one of a number of projects across the exhibition event to explicitly address the situation of Crimea and its tense relation to Russia. Chto Delat’s film is set on an imaginary island-cum-refuge for artists facing censorship. Exploring the theme of the plight of artists seeking a safe haven from oppression, it includes a narration of the story of Oleg Sentsov, a Crimean filmmaker who opposed the Russian annexation and is currently being held in a Russian prison.
2. Victoria Lomasko
Russian artist and activist Victoria Lomasko uses graphic reporting to explore and document the diverse, “invisible” communities of Russian society – from enslaved Kazakh migrant labourers to the sex workers of Nizhny Novgorod. When people went to the streets in 2011, Lomasko became a fixture at many protests, documenting individual Russians striving to be heard. These stories and more are compiled in her most recently published book Other Russians. At the Garage Triennial she presents her project Chronicles of Resistance (2011–12), a collection of illustrations of protest in the style of the documentation of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
3. Alexey Iorsh
Widely known for his comics and caricatures, Iorsh also engages in street art, performance, installation and activist work. At Garage Triennial he presented his History of Art Activism in Comics 2014. Like Victoria Lamasko, Alexey Iorsh’s project also departed from the mass protests in the winter of 2011-2012 in Russia. Iorsh used both research and his own experience, and was deeply informed by an encounter with the radical protest and feminist group Pussy Riot, whose persecution and judicial process appeared while he was working on his art project. His contact with the group not only influenced the project, but also his own artistic process. Iorsh joined the group campaigning in support of Pussy Riot; he worked on the visual materials for actions of solidarity while Pussy Riot was under investigation. Art Activism in Comics (2014) reimagines Pussy Riot’s infamous 2012 performance as an anarchist-chic comic.
4. Anastasia Bogomolova
Anastasia Bogomolova’s projects, from photo and video performances to fashion photography, examine the subject of memory: family, individual, collective or historical. Much of her work relates to the Urals, the region where she lives and works. Focusing on repressed stories that have not yet achieved a visual incarnation, she strives to bring taboo themes to light. At the triennial Bogomolova presented a group of photographs documenting her efforts to inhabit both the landscape and day-to-day routine of forced labourers in the Bakal labour camp, a postwar gulag constructed for the prisoners who built the Bakal Metallurgical Plant and was part of the GULAG system. The photos’s greenish tint reflects their immersion in nettle soup, the wild grass that was the steady diet of most of the camp’s inmates.
5. Artem Loskutov
Artem Loskutov’s “Monstration” work was included in the “Art in Action” section of the exhibition. The work is a public happening that has taken place every May Day since 2004. The gathering deploys flags, placards and banners to promote various causes. The controversy of the work lies in the fact that the organisation of the event lands the artist behind bars every year, converting the symbols and slogans employed into absurd and darkly satirical markers of Russia’s authoritarian regime.
6. ZIP Group
ZIP group is a multidisciplinary think-tank and production house drawing inspiration from its immediate environment, the histories of its local communities, communal living and the creative process, as well as the myriad ways art can infiltrate reality. The collective organises exhibitions, artist residencies, workshops and discussions, an approach which is closely reflected in its often interactive and DIY aesthetic. At the Triennial, ZIP Group produced 1.5 ×1.5 School (2017), an immersive installation that was originally shown in Krasnodar in 2016. It functions as a compact series of schools where visitors can learn about art history through guided tours and workshops on movements, with unexpected titles such as Ancient Humor and Realism, Futurism and Martial Arts and Pop-Conceptualism.
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