Salon of Conviviality | Moscow
Despite the manifold ways exhibitions take form in the contemporary world, the fundamentals of art literacy addresses to the Western Salons as their seminal starter. Since then, many changes took place, passing through the white cube and trying to look further. Salonnières initiatives were a display of economic and intellectual power that developed into institutionalization, yet they fostered a direct exchange between individuals by opening up their private spaces to the public. Before the export of that model, Eastern salons were public places enlivened by intense inter-religious, inter-ethnic discussions and scientific exchanges, serving as an information and educational hub for young and adults. Mainly combined with cafés, they functioned also as a loci for performing oral history, merging verbal art, cultural memory, and daily life.
Driven by such concept of historical Western and Eastern salons, and by their understanding as a-statal platforms, this project addresses to its convivial inception by sharing aesthetic experiences that vehiculate intellectual exchange, social interaction and sensory involvement by gathering a group of international artists to collaborate in formats of exhibition, talks, concerts and workshops. Embodying the understanding of conviviality as joyful yet complex togetherness and as a continuous reinterpretation of cultural identity, the project aims to explore in three editions the different contexts of London, Berlin and Moscow, their poetic, architectural, political and social cityscapes through the work of contemporary artists.
Contemporary theories address to new forms of power in our hyperconnected world where everyone has the “ability to produce intended effects” not only through technology (as the movement #metoo clearly demonstrates), but mainly through the activity and participation of the crowd. The Salon has a clear intention to include the audience’s initiatives and opinions offline and inaugurates its journey at the very heart of the city of Moscow in partnership with art center Tverskaya 15. The specificity of the location and its activities have inspired a discussion about the different forms of horizontal relations – both in terms of human and power relationships - and about the efforts of mutual trust in the contemporary society, a trust which is diminishing but nevertheless is the premise to a multiplication of possibilities within communities. The realization of the studio’s artworks is chosen collectively, the topics democratically debated and each person focuses on a detail that, collected, partakes to a common background. This technique is that of the artist Maria Eliseeva who, since many years, creates the present works together with disabled and orphan children in an attempt to establish a horizontal, collaborative methodology. This vector continues through the exhibition with Daria Neretina, whose project “Transformation” led to a pedagogical practice similar to the Gestalt therapy: starting from a visual input from the artist, patients are inspired to associative discourses that become parts of an unfinished sculpture made of clay, a material that recalls to a common ground, playfulness but also the fragility and mutability of intercommunications. Grounded on a less participatory ground, Zina Isupova uses paper collages to elicit visually minimalistic, highly characteristic evocations of the symbols known by all Moscow inhabitants, pointing at a collective knowledge that crosses social, economic and gender groups. Another artist referring to trust and to the strong relationships based on it is Matthew Wang. His travel throughout Europe was guided by his hosts, who addressed him to the next one. Following a chain of relationships from one city to the other, his travel diary is filled with their condition reports, treating these experiences as artworks carefully examined after being moved from one venue to the other.
Anna Fobia’s two light installations interact with the visitors through collective memory or physical presence. “The lights of Moscow” uses the city’s old tram lamp signals: losing their function, the lights become a sign of the past which navigate us to the space of Tverskaja 15, suggesting the mutability of a citizen’s environment but also the possibilities that open up in their urban life. More physical is “Secret Radar”, a tactile installation functioning only through the visitor who activates it though their body temperature, pulses, etc. Everyone can be assigned to the radar, which figuratively traces the inner and hidden possibilities inside each participant.
In the video installation “Where has the sugar come from”, London based artist Shinuk Suh explores the topic of trust and reality by placing next to real objects a TV screen with a sharper, more vivid look than the installation itself. This schizophrenia of representation perceived in the social pressure of both Korea and West Europe lies in the work’s mirroring effect between reality and dream. As refined, sweet, addictive white sugar, human is obsessed by a digital realm towards which desires are projected yet can’t be realized nor explained offline.
Zip group contribution, on the contrary, draws the attention to the offline world as the habitat of substantial, inclusive realization of the voices sublimated in digital reality. Including a collective collaboration with the visitors of Tverskaya 15, Zip turn their glances outside the space, through the windows facing the City Hall, currently covered by a refurbishment fabric that simulates its actual façade. A white crowd of plasticine people meet to look outside in their infantile materiality, which is soft and fragile enough to come back to an amorphic shape at anytime. Created from a democratic cooperation in the attempt to obliterate the limit between art’s elitarian institutionalization processes and its displacement in Other spaces, they target an inclusion meant as a medium of offline association between people. If the main instrument of participation is becoming the smartphone and the sense of power that its apps allow, ZIP try to draw back and substantiate to the reality of proximity the potency of cooperation that is virtual only.
Another way to explore the nuances unfolding between these two perpendicular vectors of power is that of Mitja Churikov, based in Berlin. Supported by an international and loose group of artists and cultural practitioners, the project “We Are Here” aimed to obtain bureaucratic permissions to re-enact a settlement in the institution that hosted the exhibition in Ukraine. The performance, agreed upon and purely symbolical, looks realistic through the media of the documentation, thus amplifying the interaction of power between artists and institutions and its possible deformations. Most importantly, the dynamic enacted becomes an ironic comment that such relationships imply domination and submission, perseverance and compromise: as in the codes of roleplay (Ролевая игра) practices, the exchange of power (domination and subordination) are based on mutual agreement and security procedures: “Ask for permission before entering/ Remember who you belong to/ Always ask/ Dominate and obey”. Not only this relationship between individual and institution is based on the recognition of each other; what emerges is also a question upon the limits of uncompromising radical gestures and an affirmation of the necessity of dialogue also within institutional critiques.
In their video installation “A Passage”, Pejvak (Rouzbeh Akhbari & Felix Kalmenson) focus on the topic of proximity and neighborhood in the context of Southern Armenia’s border infrastructures, which have been heavily restructured by processes of rapid militarization and neoliberalization. A clear example is the recent erasure of the historical Yerevan-Baku Railway, now replaced with the construction of an industrial Free Economic Zone in Armenia's Agarak region adjacent to the Iranian Aras Free Trade Zone. The complex socio-political dynamics of capital superseding movement restrictions and borders is thematized in Pejvak’s video installation through the metaphor of wind. Another way to explore the nuances unfolding between these two perpendicular vectors of power is that of Mitja Churikov, based in Berlin. Supported by an international and loose group of artists and cultural practitioners, the project “We Are Here” aimed to obtain bureaucratic permissions to re-enact a settlement in the institution that hosted the exhibition in Ukraine. The performance, agreed upon and purely symbolical, looks realistic through the media of the documentation, thus amplifying the interaction of power between artists and institutions and its possible deformations. Most importantly, the dynamic enacted becomes an ironic comment that such relationships imply domination and submission, perseverance and compromise: as in the codes of roleplay (Ролевая игра) practices, the exchange of power (domination and subordination) are based on mutual agreement and security procedures: “Ask for permission before entering/ Remember who you belong to/ Always ask/ Dominate and obey”. Not only this relationship between individual and institution is based on the recognition of each other; what emerges is also a question upon the limits of uncompromising radical gestures and an affirmation of the necessity of dialogue also within institutional critiques.
“Oberflächenunterstützung” presents a life work that, evoking the movement Supports/Surfaces, questions the conditions of contemporary artistic production and the art system’s centralization, standing for a unity of theory and praxis. The project focuses on the schizophrenic working conditions of many artists and seeks to defend urban open spaces for artistic production against the dispersion of gentrification. The two artists, employed in Berlin’s construction sites, turn them into temporary ateliers and exhibition venues, hosting more than 20 artists from 12 nations. Not meant to last, the artworks are produced exclusively with material found in loco, functioning as fugitive but powerful comments and ironic distortions of the conditions of work under which they are created. On the other hand, these conditions become part of the artwork and gain a specific visibility within them: to document the process, an instagram account was created, through which anyone apply to partake to the project. Enacting the role of artists, curators, directors and producer, Eastern Bunny and Francois Duchamp take the liberty to undermine with humour the demands of daily working and living conditions by playfully reclaiming their freedom to create and associate in a non-hierarchical modality.
A more intimate approach towards the tension between the centre of power and its marginalities is embroidered in the piece of Hoa Dung Clerget, who focuses on the roles of colonised and coloniser. Starting from her identity both French and Vietnamese, the ancient handcrafts of embroidered painting recalls both the Western male imagery as Judd’s minimalism and the undervalued infulence of traditional techniques.
Artists: Hoa Dung Clerget, Rouzbeh Akhbari & Felix Kalmenson, Oberflächenunterstützung, Mitja Churikov, Zip group, Shinuk Suh, Anna Fobi, Zina Isupova, Matthew Wang, Daria Neretina
Curators: Giada Dalla Bonta, Sona Stepanyan
GIADA DALLA BONTÀ is an independent researcher and curator from Italy. Specialised in contemporary art practices and conceptualism, she has won various scholarships and grantswith Moscow NCCA, VAC Foundation, members of Bard NY, Valand Academy/Göteborg University and others. Throughout her career, she has collaborated, amongst others, with Mondriaan Fund, HNI Rotterdam, Venice Biennale. She is based in Berlin, where she has been organising exhibitions and music and artistic performances.
SONA STEPANYAN Born in Armenia and raised in Russia, Sona Stepanyan is an independent curator based in Moscow and Yerevan. She graduated from Svobodnie Masterskie Curatorial
School (Moscow), Critics and Curatorship program of UNIC Institute (Moscow) and State Moscow Pedagogical University. From 2016–2018 Stepanyan held a position of Curator in Armenia Art Foundation. Previously, Sona worked at Education Department of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.
“TVERSKAYA 15” MOSCOW
It is a studio for orphans, children with special needs and graduates of boarding schools. The center contributes to the rehabilitation of pupils by organizing various types of creative lessons for their development.