A guide to creative Russia


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
April 11, 2014

Architecture competition for Pushkin Museum renovation announced

Photograph: Vladimir V. Burov

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow has announced a new competition to develop the architectural concept for the expansion and reconstruction of the museum. The competition, organised by the Ministry of Culture and supported by the committee of architecture and town planning in Moscow, will only be open to three major architecture firms: Project Meganom, Reserve and the studio of Sergey Skuratov, all based in Moscow.

“We came to the conclusion that the time has come to conduct a new architectural competition, which is based on new concepts so we can come to new architectural solutions,” Moscow’s chief architect Sergey Kuznetsov told state news agency RIA Novosti. 

Projects will be accepted between 12 and 20 June with the winner selected by the end of the month by a panel. With only two months to complete their project, Kuznetsov noted that time is of the essence, reminding the public of the deadline set by the Russian government to complete all work on the development of the Pushkin Museum by 2018.

British architect Norman Foster had been brought on board for the redesign but resigned from the $670m project last year after a dispute with Kuznetsov. A letter from his bureau stated: “Foster+ Partners took this action because the museum, for the last three years, has not involved us in the development of the project, which was being carried out by others. This was despite numerous attempts by the practice to continue working with the museum.”

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 10, 2014

Russia’s Innovation prize announces winners

Sasha Pirogova, Biblimlen (2013). Image: courtesy of the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow Yuri Albert, In My Work a Crisis (1983) Dmitry Gutov, Shostakovich, part of Elena Selina, Reconstruction (2013). Image: courtesy of Ekaterina Culture Fund

Conceptual artist Yuri Albert and curator Ekaterina Degot have won the main Innovation award, Russia’s equivalent of the UK’s Turner Prize, for their exhibition, What Did the Artist Mean by That?, a retrospective of Albert’s work.

Albert, one of Russia’s most celebrated artists, is known for his preoccupation with the nature of art, in particular conceptual art, and its public perception. In the past, he has created paintings in Braille, museum tours for blindfolded visitors, and monochrome works of art smeared with his own blood, faeces and ashes of burnt books from his collection.

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Ekaterina Kochetkova, the executive director of the competition, told The Calvert Journal: “We chose Albert and Degot as the winners because the entire exhibition was a work of art. There haven’t been exhibitions like that before. The name of our competition is innovation and so we chose the most innovative project.”

In the other categories, Elena Selina was awarded a prize for best curatorial project for her exhibition, Reconstruction, a window into the Moscow art scene from 1990 to 2000. The exhibition explores the significance of this post-Soviet decade that gave rise to movements such as Moscow actionism led by key figures such as Oleg Kulik and Anatol Osmolovsky. Other winners include artist Sasha Pirogova in the new generation category for his video project Biblimlen, a behind-the-scenes looks at Moscow’s Russian State Library, and art critic Dmitry Bulatov in the best art theory and criticism category for Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-Biological Age, a book about modern technologies.

This year’s award for the best regional contemporary art project went to Krasnodar-based ZIP Group and the Krasnodar Institute of Contemporary Art, an independent private institution created and run by artists. Kochetkova said that the jury looked for a submission that not was not only good artwork but that also raised the profile of contemporary art in the local area.

An out-of-competition prize was awarded to Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, the legendary St Petersburg performance artist who was found dead in a swimming pool in Bali in 2013, for his contribution to contemporary art in Russia. A second went to Shalva Breus, the founder of the Kandinsky Prize for art, and his cultural foundation, ArtChronika, for their ongoing support of Russian contemporary art.

The winners of the ninth annual Innovation prize were announced at an awards ceremony in the Museum of Moscow on 9 April. The prize was launched in 2005 to support Russian contemporary artists, curators and writers, sharing a total of 2.4 million roubles among the winners. An exhibtion of the nominees runs until 4 May at the National Centre for Contemporary Arts in Moscow.

  • Text: Aleksandr Malakhovskii
April 10, 2014

Video art festival opens in Moscow and Samara

The international festival of video art, Now&After, has kicked off at both Moscow’s Museum of Gulag History and the Victoria Gallery in Samara, featuring work that explores this year’s theme of memory. Videos exploring how memory is passed on from generation to generation and across time will be screened as part of a multi-channel video installation in both museums. This year’s theme is linked to the location of the festival in Moscow’s Museum of Gulag History with many of the videos looking at memory and trauma. 

In an interview with The Calvert Journal, Marina Fomenko, the curator of Now&After, said the festival received more than 1,000 submissions. She added: “We dedicated the festival to the concept of memory, in particular related to gulags, because this symbolises one of the most tragic pages in Russian history. We focused on memory because it migrates from generation to generation, from person to person, between social groups and nations.”

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The exhibition features work from video artists from around the world who explore topics such as childhood memories of Father Christmas, Japanese comfort women during the Second World War, the relationship between photography and memory, and the human need to conserve memory.

Now&After will be in Samara until 20 April and Moscow until 30 April, after which the festival will go on tour to the Angelholm International Video Art Festival in Sweden.

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 10, 2014

Yuri Gagarin exhibition in Irkutsk celebrates Space Day

An exhibition dedicated to Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, will open in Irkutsk tomorrow to celebrate Cosmonaut Day, a national holiday in Russia dedicated to the first manned spaceflight in 1961. Multi-Faceted Space at the Irkutsk Regional Art Museum comprises 59 black-and-white photographs and video footage of Gagarin who would have turned 80 this year.

While much of the exhibition is devoted to Gagarin, some of works on show chronicle the development of Soviet space programmes, including photographs taken by cosmonauts inside of Soviet space bases, laboratories and the mission control centre. Multi-Faceted Space runs from 11 April to 18 May.

  • Text: Nadia Beard
April 09, 2014

RT documentary about Caucasus wins New York Festivals award

A documentary film produced by RT (formerly Russia Today) won the prize for best film in the human concerns category at the New York Festivals Television and Film Awards in Las Vegas last night. Blood and Honour, which documents the tradition of blood feuds and revenge passed down through generations in the Caucasus and Ingushetia, was up against documentaries from other prominent news networks including CNN and Fuji Television Network.

Investigating the strength of revenge as a judicial norm in some communities living in the Caucasus, the film reveals a changing social narrative in which seeking forgiveness is becoming more ordinary.

RT also received two bronze awards for films in the categories of News Promotion and Science and Technology. New York Festivals is one of the largest film festivals in the field of journalism, film and advertising, with participation from major national and international news broadcasters from over 50 countries, including CNN, BBC and Deutsche Welle. 

  • Text: Nadia Beard