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April 23, 2014

Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara

  • Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara
  • Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara
  • Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara
  • Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara
  • Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara
  • Russia in Vogue exhibition goes to Samara

A collection of photographs from Vogue magazine is now on display at Samara’s Regional Art Museum, with images spanning over a century of the magazine’s history. Russia in Vogue documents the multifaceted influence of Russia on the magazine’s style and content, with the country and its figures presented across a number of different eras. From images of Christy Turlington posing in front of Moscow’s St Basil cathedral to portraits of Vladimir Nabokov, Russia’s cultural influence on the publication is balanced between high fashion and highbrow.

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Russia in Vogue intersperses fashion snapshots of Russia model Natalia Semanova with images of some of influential literary and artistic figures from Russia, including Wassily Kandinsky, emigre writer Erté and Gala Dali (the artist's Russian wife and muse), showing off both the intellectual and aesthetic richness of Russian culture. 

The exhibition will be on display until 30 June.

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 22, 2014

Russian artists take neon art to Zurich gallery

  • Russian artists take neon art to Zurich gallery

    Egor Bogachev, Untitled 1 (2013)

  • Russian artists take neon art to Zurich gallery

    Egor Bogachev, Victory (2014)

  • Russian artists take neon art to Zurich gallery

    Egor Bogachev, Untitled 6 (2013)

  • Russian artists take neon art to Zurich gallery

    Katya Krasnaya, Colourful Happy Animal (2013)

  • Russian artists take neon art to Zurich gallery

    Egor Bogachev, Untitled 7 (2013)

Marilyn Monroe, Madonna and Vladimir Lenin are just three of the subjects on show at a new exhibition which brings the neon work of Russian artists Egor Bogachev and Katya Krasnaya to Erarta Galleries in Zurich. Russian Neon features a number of familiar faces, including Sophia Loren, in the artworks whose images are transformed by intoxicatingly bright colours.

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Bogachev’s series Russian Crusades takes contemporary pop culture idols and reworks them as religious icons, combining tsarist garb with neon halos to create works which are “symbols of the ambivalent cultural self-discovery of Russia after the end of the Soviet Union”. 

In his second series, Lenin Line, Bogachev’s work centres on the Russian leader, whose face is merged with a number of spiritual symbols. Inspired in part by the photography of Russian artist and constructivist pioneer Alexander Rodchenko, the neon colours present psychedelic images of the historical leader intended to “neutralise the pathos of Lenin as a historical figure”.

The work of Krasnaya serves as a counterpoint to that of Bogachev’s, combining the artistic techniques of Pop Art with that of street art, for instance by combining an image of a pig with graffiti tags. 

The exhibition will run until 20 May.  

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 22, 2014

Pavel Durov, founder of social network VK, fired as CEO

Pavel Durov, the founder of Russian social networking website VK (often known by its original name VKontakte), has said he was fired from his role as chief executive officer of the company, just weeks after a resignation U-turn that exposed tensions with shareholders. Writing on his VK page yesterday, Durov claimed the dismissal was linked to his refusal to shut down Rospil: the War on Corruption, a group that had been set up on the social media website by opposition activist Alexei Navalny.

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The request to shut down the group, which promoted the activities of anti-corruption orgaisation Rospil, came from the general prosecutor’s office. Durov wrote: “Judging by the news, as a result of my public refusal last week, I have been fired from my post as general director of Vkontakte.”

Durov further claimed that he found out about the dismissal through the press, criticising VK's shareholders for “not having the courage to do it right”. The entrepreneur's continuing conflict with VKontakte’s Kremlin-friendly shareholders — investment group United Capital Partners (UCP) and Russian internet company Mail.ru, headed by metal magnate Alisher Usmanov — is no stranger to media headlines. Durov’s commitment to supporting free speech over the years, including his refusal to close opposition groups during the 2011 anti-gvoernment protests, has resulted in strained relations with both shareholders.

Durov’s dismissal comes just weeks after he announced his resignation on 1 April, a decision he rescinded two days later, claiming it was an April Fool’s joke. In his latest Vkontakte post, he said: “It is reported that the board of directors of VKontakte today ‘suddenly’ found about that my decision to stay on as general director on 3 April (which prior to now they had publicly accepted) turned out not to be filed ‘according to the rules’, therefore I have been automatically fired from my position.”

Earlier this year, Durov’s position at Vkontakte further weakened when he sold his remaining 12% stake in the company, which was acquired by Mail.ru in March. Nicknamed “Russia’s Facebook” by western press, VK has grown to become one of the world’s largest social networking sites, with the site claiming to feature as many as 239 million accounts as of January 2014. 

In his closing statement on VK, Durov wrote: “Thus, today VKontakte goes under the complete control of Igor Sechin and Alisher Usmanov. Probably, in the Russian context something like this was inevitable, but I'm glad we lasted for seven and a half years. We managed to do a lot. And part of what we have achieved hasn’t been reversed.” 

In an interview with TechCrunch today, Durov said he had left Russia with no plans to return, adding: “Unfortunately, the country is incompatible with internet business at the moment.”

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 17, 2014

Elena director Andrey Zvyagintsev nominated for Cannes film award

Andrey Zvyagintsev, director of Leviathan (2014)

Award-winning Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, best known for his 2011 film Elena has been nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, breaking the long absence of filmmakers from Russia in the festival's main competition. Zvyagintsev’s film Leviathan (2014), one of 17 selected this year, will run against productions by heavyweight directors such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, David Cronenberg and Jean-Luc Godard.

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The film is based on the Old Testament tale of Leviathan, the mythological sea monster killed by God and fed to the Hebrews in the wilderness. Melding together a biblical story with themes concerning social issues in contemporary Russia, the director told Variety: “It is a story of love and tragedy experienced by ordinary people and both stories are universal and will be appreciated by people around the world.”

Zvyagintsev’s debut film, The Return, made a name for itself on the film festival circuit, was awarded Venice’s Golden Lion in 2003.  His second film, The Banishment, competed in the main competition at Cannes, with Elena, his third film, receiving the Jury Prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section of the festival in 2011. 

Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan, a documentary about the Ukraine, will also have a special screening. The documentary filmmaker has twice been nominated for an award at Cannes. His film My Joy competed in the main competition in 2010 while In the Fog was shortlisted for a Palme d’Or in 2012.

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 17, 2014

Vladimir Putin denies persecution of cultural figures in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin rejected claims today that culture and education in Russia had suffered from government funding cuts and that cultural figures were being harassed. In response to comments by Irina Prokhorova, the leader of the Civil Platform party, at the annual Q&A session with the president, Putin said the current climate was in no way comparable to the Soviet Union in 1937 when persecution was rampant and more than 1.5 million people were killed as part of Stalin’s Great Purge. He said that while there were “some conflicts of motives and points of view at the moment … nobody was going to be shipped off to a camp like in 1937."

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Direct Line with Vladimir Putin is a yearly, televised call-in in which the president answers questions from Russian citizens from around the world. Widely believed to be choreographed, this year's questions ranged from those on the economy to the fate of the Tartars in Crimea.

In response to questions from science fiction writer Sergei Lukyanenko, who recently made headlines after announcing a ban on Ukrainian translations of his books to protest against the demonstrations in Kiev, Putin said: “Sergei, you don’t have to ban publication of your books, even in Ukraine. You’re part of Russian culture, and you should promote culture there.” The president followed by answering a question about his favourite film, replying that it is wartime classic Chapaev (1934), which propelled the figure of the civil war hero into a champion of Soviet culture. 

After the Q&A was over, Putin was asked about the future of Rain TV, the beleaguered independent television channel. He said: “I will do everything to relieve you of the excessive attention of those in control.” Earlier this year, the future of Rain TV was threatened after numerous major cable providers decided to drop the news channel following the publication of a controversial poll about the Siege of Leningrad. The move was seen by Rain TV’s management as a bid to silence independent journalism in Russia. 

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 15, 2014

Eifman Ballet perform Anna Karenina and Rodin in London

Anna Karenina performed by the Eifman Ballet

St Petersburg ballet company the Eifman Ballet is in London this week with performances of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the UK premiere of Boris Eifman’s Rodin. The namesake of the ballet company and a prolific choreographer, Eifman’s ballets are known for their depictions of love and anguish.

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Anna Karenina, a story which follows the inner struggle between love and lust experienced by the protagonist, will be performed with a focus on her relationships with her husband, Karenin, and her lover, Vronsky. Set to the music of Tchaikovsky, the ballet is true to Eifman’s choreographic trademark, with the exploration of lust privileged over Karenina’s maternal affection for her son. 

Rodin’s accompaniment takes a different approach, with music from French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saёns and Jules Massenet providing the score. The story is devoted to the work and fate of French sculptors Auguste Rodin and his student, lover and muse Camille Claudel.

The Eifman Ballet was established in 1977 under the name of the Leningrad New Ballet, and the company tour internationally with performances of Russian and world literature classics. Both performances will be at the London Coliseum, with Rodin performed from 15 to 17 April and Anna Karenina on 19 April.  

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 15, 2014

Russian film festival of debuts returns to Omsk

A still from (2013), the opening film of the festival

A Russian film festival specialising in debut films will return to the Siberian city of Omsk for the second year in a row, providing a platform for the country's emerging cinematic talent. Movement: the National Film Festival of Debuts will premiere seven works spanning film, documentary and television in the main competition. 

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Speaking to The Calvert Journal, Stas Tyrkin, the festival’s programme director, stressed the importance of the event. He said: “The Russian film world is largely indifferent. Nobody takes much care anymore. Everybody is endlessly partying and it’s always the usual suspects. There’s a need for renewal so we try to introduce completely new names into the mix and draw attention to films that would otherwise be ignored.”

While many of the directors in the main category are unknown there are also more familiar names such as Andrei Proshkin, who has been nominated for his debut Second World War television series The Translator (2013). The main programme will be judged by veteran director Vladimir Khotinenko, actors Antoly Bely and Daria Moroz, and producer Elena Yatsura.

The second edition of the festival now includes a competition for the shorts programme. Director Sergei Loban, best known for his cult 2011 film Chapiteau Show, features in the lineup with his latest short film New Distance (2013).

Movement opens on 23 April with the Russian premiere of Alexey Uchitel’s Break Loose (2013), a gritty crime thriller. Based on the novel Eight by Zakhar Prilepin, the film had its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September and will be released in Russian cinemas in early May.

  • Text: Samuel Crews
April 15, 2014

The history of Russian avant-garde art according to Peter Greenaway

Visionary British filmmaker Peter Greenaway has digitally reproduced more than 400 masterpieces of the Russian avant-garde at Moscow’s Manege exhibition hall as part of a large-scale multimedia project that aims to immerse viewers in 20th-century art. 

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Together with Dutch artist Saskia Boddeke, Greenaway created The Golden Age of Russian Avant-Garde, a multi-screen installation using light, sound and projection across the 5,000-square-metre space as an alternative guide to the history of Russian art in the 20th century. The result is a thoughtful and compelling animation of some of the most iconic works of this epoch that introduce the viewer to the artistic developments of this time through a contemporary lens. 

Emphasising the importance of historical interpretation, Greenaway told The Calvert Journal: “There is no such thing as history, there are only historians. History cannot be revisited … What we can do is take eyewitnesses from certain periods in time and their evidence, which comes in the form of artworks and anecdotes.”

Neither Greenaway nor Boddeke make a claim to objectivity within the show, instead asserting that subjectivity, like history, is fluid and vital to any exhibition. Greenaway said: “There is no such thing as an objective exhibition, and we have to treasure that. Your subjectivity is very important. There has to be a change of frame here, a change in the way we look at the vast cultural heritage we all enjoy and experience.”

Boddeke added that the installation could not be described as either documentary, film or theatre performance. She said: “It’s something of everything together. It’s an emotional experience. People do not get the story from A to Z. Everyone who goes into the space will make his or her own story, and the experience will be different for everyone.”

The exhibition will show rarely seen avant-garde artworks from museums within Russia but also the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece; Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; Centre Pompidou in Paris; the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York; and from private collections. 

Greenaway, who won a Bafta this year for his outstanding contribution to British cinema, is renowned for his integration of Renaissance art into his films. In 2006, he began work on Nine Classic Paintings Revisited, a project that directly examines the relationship between the language of film and painting. The project comprises video installations that reinterpret artworks such as Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and Rembrandt’s Night Watch

The Golden Age of Russian Avant-Garde is one of the main exhibitions in this year’s UK-Russian Year of Culture and will run until 18 May. 

  • Text: Nadia Beard
  • Additional reporting: Inna Logunova
April 14, 2014

Blogger Anton Nossik to launch raft of new media publications in Russia

Blogger Anton Nossik

The founder of Russian news website Lenta.ru, the popular blogger Anton Nossik, has announced the launch of at least four new online media publications in collaboration with former Lenta.ru staff who resigned en masse in March over censorship concerns. In an interview on Rain TV yesterday, Nossik said he would not recreate Lenta.ru but use it as a guide for his new project. He said: “It will be at least four projects that reflect some of the most unforgettable parts of Lenta’s history, like Lenta-science and Lenta-technology. Basically, it’ll feature the projects that need to be revived.”

Investors for the new projects have already been found, with sponsors offering more than what is necessary, according to Nossik. He said: “I’ve figured out that the most expensive project to be would cost $2m. Last week, investors who I’d approached offered me $6m.”

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Nossik made reference to the unexpected dismissal of Lenta.ru’s editor-in-chief, Galina Timchenko, last month, which prompted his decision to launch a raft of new projects. In mid-March, Timchenko was replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, the former editor of pro-government newspaper Vzglyad which led to the resignation of scores of Lenta.ru journalists. The decision was taken by the newspaper’s owner, oligarch Alexander Mamut. 

“Out of a team of 83 people, 75 resigned,” said Nossik. “The people who have left Lenta have not gone away. These are top-class professionals who will be part of the launch of at least four projects come 1 September this year. Naturally, nothing relating to Lenta.ru will be in our name, though I have yet to come up with our projects’ new names.” 

Russia’s media landscape has seen numerous changes in recent months, with a number of editorial reshuffles at some of Russia’s best-known independent news outlets seen as growing censorship from the government. Following Lenta.ru’s change in editor, the blocking of numerous opposition websites and blogs, and the dissolution of state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, many journalists have expressed fears of government interference in the media sphere.

Yesterday, opposition activists held a march in central Moscow calling for freedom of speech and an open society in Russia. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people attended the rally which featured speeches and an award for poor journalism, which mocked news coverage by Russain state televsion. The rally was organised by Novaya Gazeta columnist Dmitry Bykov.

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 11, 2014

Experimental music festival kicks off in Kaliningrad

An experimental music festival opens in Kaliningrad next week, offering up a platform to Russian and European sound artists. Sound Around Kaliningrad will feature a number of prominent experimental musicians including British art group Wet Sounds, who stage underwater audio performances, and Carl Michael von Hausswolff, a Swedish visual artist who has feaured in the Venice Biennale and Manifesta. 

The festival, which will play host to a range of activities including concerts, workshops and sound art installations, is just one of many similar projects organised by the Baltic Branch for the National Centre of Contemporary Arts, a Kaliningrad-based institution. Others include Sound Art Camp, a residency for sound artists from around the world; and Acoustic Diagnostic, a project that explores sound landscapes within Kaliningrad. 

Sound Around Kaliningrad will take place from 17 to 19 April at venues across the Russian enclave, including Kaliningrad zoo, Zarya cinema and the roof of the Kronprinz barracks. 

  • Text: Nadia Beard