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The Russian Album as a Field for Artistic Endeavours

Thomson Olga
Fund President
"Russki Album" Foundation
Adress: 21, Dekabristov, S.-Petersburg, Russia
Fax: 812-315-08-01
E-mail: rusalbum@online.ru


The Russian Album as a Field for Artistic Endeavors

It is over three years since the Russian Album site (WWW.RUSSKIALBUM.RU) was set up. It represents the art of contemporary St Petersburg artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Initially, at the very outset, the site was reserved for an information base to serve as the ground for the establishment of the Center for Modern Culture to be housed at the Warsaw railway station, the event scheduled for the tercentenary of St Petersburg in May 2003.

Today it is quite evident that it will be a long time before such a center can emerge and that all efforts made by the organizations supporting the development of the Russian Album project in that direction appear a bit premature.

Yet, on the other hand, no experience proves redundant, and the accumulation of knowledge together with the proposals made in the process and the numerous conceptions on how to make use of the Cultural Center and to present contemporary art in it proved invaluable and serve as lodestars in the choice of a course the Russian Album (Russia) and the St Petersburg Art Project (U.S.A.) may take.

In 2001, a multi media laboratory was established and it triggered the setting up and demonstration of the network projects initiated by artists from St Petersburg and New York.

Considering all difficulties which arise when artists from different countries try to communicate with one another (here we have to take into account financial reasons, language barriers and different technical bases), we still have a unique chance to offer people who do not know one another a possibility to exchange their art designs and their experience.

So, today the Russian Album is a virtual space for experiment where, apart from the traditional art forms, new forms of art as such and new forms of its presentation may thrive.

The Encyclopedia Section provides information about contemporary artists of St Petersburg of the second half of the 20th century. Special attention is paid not only to every artist but also to creative associations, art groups, schools both officially recognized and still unknown.

In my view, it is of great interest and value that the site contains articles written by art critics who depict the artistic life of our country by decades, outline the specifics of art development arising from the changing political goals. Recently there has been an opportunity to present opinions not only of the traditional art criticism, but also those of artists, literary men who have lived and had great impact on the cultural evolution of our city at a given moment in its history, which gives a lively touch to the strictly academic description of artistic events.

The site is generally visited by art students of our country as well as by their counterparts in the U.S.A., Canada, Israel, Spain, Yugoslavia and also by those who appreciate contemporary Russian art. Many visitors offer cooperation in presenting the Petersburg art in galleries and museums of Modern Art in different countries of the world.

Unfortunately, there are no institutions holding the same status as museums of modern art do, and the non-profit organizations, though enjoying a long standing, are still deprived of the possibility to respond to many of these offers. Nevertheless, attempts have been made to represent the Petersburg art in galleries of New York and St Petersburg. One such gallery was opened in October 2001 in New York, and in January 2003 another will open its doors to the public in St Petersburg. Yet, there are more proposals than ripe opportunities.

With no administrative decisions taken on the setting up of a museum of modern art, we have to search for different solutions.

When organizing exhibitions, we do our best to present an event in the traditional way (catalogues, brochures, invitations) and we also resort to the Internet and place a special electronic account at the Russian Album site by offering animations, flesh-performances, which makes a favorable impression on both participants and visitors of the site.

This can be found in the Exhibition Section.

If, quite recently, we were enchanted with the idea of a retrospective show of the traditional St Petersburg and at the very outset held exhibitions of this kind, today we have adopted a new strategy, which is to present the traditional art with the help of new technical possibilities.

At the end of the past year, the Russian Album Fund together with the State Russian Museum presented the Moving Objects project in the framework of the Abstraction in Russia. The 20th century Exhibition. The point was that contemporary artists, whose works were displayed in the Russian Museum, appeared at the opening of this exhibition donned in costumes, objects of their own design, thus translating the artistic idea into a real three-dimensional space.

The whole process of making artistic objects had been carefully recorded from the very start to include the drawing of sketches of a costume and finally the making of an object as such equipped with authors detailed annotations. Then the artists taking part in the Project directed the splicing of a Moving Objects film. The film was shown at the Exhibition Hall of the Marble Palace at the Russian Museum as part of the installation presenting costumes as objects. Let alone the impressions produced at the opening of this exhibition (held in the context of the Abstraction in Russia, the 20th century Exhibition) by the moving objects themselves, the idea of recording the process of making artistic forms appears extremely enticing. It is hard to imagine what a fabulous treasure we would possess today, had we had a chance to see Kazimir Malevich making costumes for his outstanding project of Triumph over the Sun. The Moving Objects installation consisting of artists works and accompanied by the film reproducing the process of making a piece of art was a deserved success. Later this project was presented at the site in an electronic form and proved to be in great demand for further exhibiting. In February 2003, it will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in Baltimore (U.S.A.) at the festival devoted to the tercentenary of St Petersburg.

Another project presented at a gallery in St Petersburg at the beginning of 2002 was an international project bearing the name of The Language of the Symbol in the Art Space. At its face value, the idea may look rather simple: to depict, in the language of international symbols, the artistic understanding of space, infinity, the tragedy of the world and man.

Petersburg artists entered for this exhibition with pictorial works reflecting their inmost feelings, which were supplemented by authors diaries where they dwelled upon categories of time, space and the like

American artists produced an animation based on the photographs of works by Petersburg artists (who later took part in the exhibition), which had been sent by electronic mail to New York, by transforming the abstract image into a system of symbols (the symbol of infinity, the cross, etc.), which thus revealed the initial form of the artistic image to be subsequently returned to reality by relating it to its source (forests, water, etc.)

The joint project manifested fundamental differences in the cultural codes of artists of different countries. Russian artists emotions, their inspiration and experience thrown onto canvas were welcomed more heartily by the Russian spectator than the fact validating the existence of categories of time, space, etc. by the interpretation provided by American artists.

This exhibition opened up lots of interesting issues, but the principal conclusion was the belief in having art critics who would be able to analyze at least semi-professionally such projects and, without going into philosophical filibustering, to get to the bottom of things and to estimate the artistic value and the unique nature of an event.

The American press published a rather interesting article about this international project, while the Russian press came up with nothing but numerous advertisements and never made any critical analysis of the project.

In our view, this testifies to the need for specialists who would be capable of evaluating the already existing art, the so-called other art.

Random courses given at colleges and universities that qualify art critics are ineffective for a simple reason that colleges are so badly equipped with appropriate facilities that it is a dead matter to try and show any network project in such a way that intending art critics may take any interest in it. Another hurdle, which can be cleared, is the short-sightedness of the majority of our art critics who do not believe that art is rapidly changing both fundamentally and in presentation.

Thus, we are facing now a very important problem of searching, selecting and training art critics who will be capable of seeing and evaluating the emergent forms of a new art. So, in addition to the already existing sections, the Russian Album site will open a new one featuring articles by Western art critics on novel tendencies in the contemporary world art.

Olga Thomson

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