Watching how art institutions closed their doors for the quarantine made me wonder what happens to self-organizations in this situation. I questioned participants, trying to embrace as many of them based in different Russian cities as possible. This material is not a large-scale, comprehensive study. Its importance for Garage Archive and Open Systems lies in it being a model cast from the current condition.
Studio 4413, St. Petersburg
Vanya Shatravin: The Studio closed down of course, for the quarantine, and I went to Tuapse and encourage everyone to come here, come!
Maria Dmitrieva: We are quarantined, of course. It is too early to estimate the “effect”: many of us are glad to take a forced pause. From a long-term perspective, however, we will be switching to online regimes and hybrid formats.
Ruslan Polanin: We keep a lot of stuff online, but generally it affected us. Although it is hard to judge. In short, it did not affect the moral spirit, or creativity, and even not so much our strategies: from the very beginning we did a lot of things aimed at the intervention into real life rather than at some special displays in art pennages. The only problem is that because of the quarantine all of Gosha’s shooting sessions have been canceled, Masha was sent to work from home with salary provided, but all of our additional book projects are frozen. To sum things up, we currently risk losing the studio.
Olga Klimovitskaya: Obviously, it altered our plans, just like the plans of others. We cancelled a trip to London (in April), where the exhibition has been moved indefinitely. Our activity within the factory workshops has also been put on pause for a while. We have been practicing online communication since the beginning. There are many of us, so it can be problematic to get together. Some of our members live in Europe. We often make calls via Facebook, and our little chatroom, even despite being cursed, is actually our main means of communication and discussion. We feel ok about the quarantine, like many introvert artists. We keep on working, because the project that we submitted to the Center for Creative Industries Fabrika was initially conceived as virtual.
Danya Orlovsky: Since we left the NIIDAR space and until we received a studio at Fabrika, we operated without a space for six months or so. I mean, we not only had no venue for exhibitions and events, but also could not organize any meetings, which is the key element of our practice. We partly compensated for this with the opportunity to meet in apartments, but since everyone lives in different parts of the city, communication mainly took place via the Internet, as if we had been rehearsing today’s situation. But once we thought that our gypsy lifestyle had come to an end and we would finally settle down at Fabrika, as normal people, boom, here goes the pandemic and quarantine! Our experience of existence without a physical space instigated expansion into the digital realm. The virus situation closed access to the outer world for everyone, this is why we see how social life is being rapidly digitalized, meaning our forced practice suddenly becomes a common norm. What is new to us is that, even though we are used to communicating online, most of our events are organized primarily in reality and are based around live interaction with the audience. This lack of “warm” communication needs to be reflected somehow. But there is a feeling that the virus simply accelerated all the “life-digitalizing” processes dramatically, which had been taking place recently on their own.
Viktoria Chupakhina: We keep on thinking about our experiments [shows], they are just slightly postponed… It is likely that our collaboration with artists from Rotterdam and a few photo shoots will be cancelled. We began thinking about transferring communication online and will make a conference call to discuss a new project later today.
DK Rozy, St. Petersburg
Natalia Rybalko: The School of Engaged Art, DK Rozy’s main resident, switched to online mode. And this semester, the school is financed by a grant from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, meaning we have to report every lecture that has been given as well as overall attendance. Accordingly, we had to decide how to deliver reports in the new circumstances and how speakers can read online lectures so that we actually have something to report. Many speakers had technical problems: not all of them know the necessary programs, and we have to make quality recordings. The loss of interactive formats is also a pity, because asking questions and making comments is not so convenient online. Good that we have sorted out the rent. In April, Sasha Shestakova had planned to visit us from Moscow as part of the school’s program—the trip had to be cancelled. The show they planned to do will most likely be held online. DK, meanwhile, is not on full-time quarantine: workshops remain open at their discretion, but most of them preferred to pause the work. The suspension of public events and workshops doesn’t earn us any donations. And donations are something that helps the self-organized group which includes me and Anya, to cover some expenses, such as travel. So, this is how things are now.
Anna Averyanova: To cut a long story short, we, as a group of self-orgs, recommended DK to cancel workshops at their discretion if it is possible, even though its practical classes form the very counter-cultural program we are so proud of, so we are hopeful that it won’t last long. As for the school, we switched to the online lecture and Zoom conference format. Public events have been cancelled by the organizers. Next is putting together a schedule of April’s events, we will have to come up with some ideas. The exhibition program and preparation for DK Rozy’s fifth anniversary are the most intriguing plans, as we thought about putting up a group show. Actually, within our self-organization’s group, we previously discussed the strategy of translocality and the exploration of DK Rozy beyond the physical space of its rooms at the Krasnoe Znamya plant. Now it has acquired an even narrower optics, but remains interesting: where DK Rozy is located when it takes root. I am hopeful that the rewritten topology can solve the problem of capitalist flows—through the possibility of bypassing the authority imposed through their management. At least it is possible to stop appealing to the local space for offline meetings as a sufficient basic element that ensures the survival of collectivity. And at the same time, new circumstances emphasize the issue of invisible (post)labor and taking care of the place. As DK Rozys resident Mikhail Fedorchenko noticed, coronavirus acts as our global accelerationist today.
Egorka, St. Petersburg
Anna Tereshkina: We do not run any public events now. The last one took place on March 14, and even back then we hesitated whether we should do it. But we constantly discuss the nearest (desired) projects.
Nastya Makarenko: We planned an Olga (Tsaplya) Egorova show, but due to the current situation, want to try to make it online. However, we haven’t worked online so far, except for Skype sessions with curators maybe, because Anya is currently away to a residency in Kolomna.
Oksana Budulak: Self-isolation did not affect self-organizations at all. Yes, we talked about it in the Pushka chat as we worried that the venue (KOiKA barbershop) will cancel the agreement. But since it is a private business, they continue to run events and do not close their doors because of the quarantine. The event scheduled for March 22 took place according to plan. Fewer visitors turned up—but on the other hand. we had a lot of new artists. Pushka has been invited to a new club space, the opening coincided with the quarantine but they still plan to do it. Summing up, emerging Krasnoyarsk based artists are not afraid of anything yet, drink beer, think of exhibits, go to bars, hug each other and wipe themselves with antiseptics. After week one of self-isolation, they self-organized themselves even more and made a coloring book. Either we are too bold, or art makes us superhumans.
Svetlana Shlyapnikova: We are totally fine! We had been preparing a technology-based project for our 19th birthday, so we managed to reconstruct our work process and opened on the planned day, even though as an online project. We have launched a publication of the gallery’s chronicle. The first publication was uploaded yesterday. It is hard to comment what’s “next”. Our next project is also technology related, it involves an artist who does experimental cinema. Perhaps, we will do something in that direction, for example, video screenings. But we haven’t discussed it yet.
Elektrozavod team: Obviously, the situation affected us just as any other public space. We had a scheduled show by the Taiwanese media artist happykawaiifriends This Is Not A Starfish (這不是一隻海星). We ran the first part of the show on March 20, pretty painlessly, in the form of broadcasts on the gallery’s Facebook and Instagram pages. In his works, happykawaiifriends works with the context of social networks, investigates the influence of mass media on society, and people’s self-perception. As you can see, a show in the broadcast format emphasizes the artist’s creative method rather than contradicting it. Up next is an interview with an artist who is also quarantined, so we consider different broadcast modes from the site—in order to diversify our events. Planning exhibitions further ahead is problematic. The next couple of shows have been moved indefinitely at their authors’ request. They are not ready to exhibit online without the audience. Another planned event will take place online. The artist is currently rebuilding the show for a broadcast. Rostan Tavasiev’s exhibition/conference Designing Planetary Nebulae dedicated to the search for a place for art and artists in outer space is due to open on April 22. There are also several projects which can be broadcast online but haven’t been approved by the gallery’s collective. As we do not know how long the situation is going to last, we are thinking about transferring the gallery’s activity to the Internet. The financial side of running the space is also critical as never before.
Vladivostok School of Contemporary Art, Vladivostok
Yana Gaponenko: Vladivostok School of Contemporary Art’s spring curators’ school caught the last train prior to self-isolation, by a whisker. We managed to bring together fourteen cultural workers from Omsk, Barnaul, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Tomsk, and Yakutsk in our space and “make some noise” in situ. It is very important for us to get together online, because a large part of the program was initially composed of Skype lectures. Now we are awaiting this fall’s curatorial school to gather as members of a new team.
FFTN, St. Petersburg
Irina Aksenova: We have been forced to cancel everything we planned for the end of March and for April, that is five projects, plus a major project in Krasnodar. Some international and cross-city initiatives have also been called off: a Danish artist was supposed to visit us in June, another guy from Lipetsk in the summer. We are under quarantine like everyone else. First of all, I think it is important to comply with the quarantine rules, and our space is too compact, it is hard to circulate around it. Attendance had also decreased significantly, so it didn’t really make much sense. I am hopeful that we will be returning at the end of April but it all depends on the overall course of the pandemic. It is good that we have few external commitments and all our partners responded positively to the projects being postponed.
Elena Ischenko: We had to postpone all events—exhibitions, talks, some field trips. We accept it like a well-deserved holiday: we did a good job, opened the space, so now we can take a break and there is no need to rush. We were granted rental holidays for the duration of the quarantine (our landlord produces disinfectants and antiseptics so his business is not going to suffer). But the problem is how to pay salaries now, as we usually earn this money by renting out the space and selling exhibition tickets. Honestly speaking, we haven’t thought globally about how to do it yet, because nobody knows when this will end.
Art Critics Circle, Yekaterinburg
Anna Litovskih: We chat all the time these days and feel closer to each other. We had a reading group in the Piotrovsky bookshop that was cancelled because the Yeltsin Center closed. At the same time, it is easier to make Zoom calls now, when everyone stays at home, more or less without any plans. Anya Ustyakina launched a diary channel dedicated to the life of the workshop’s circle of people during the quarantine. Nadya Rastriga wrote yesterday that the increasing amount of unread messages in the circle makes her feel uncomfortable and suggested switching to slow mode. Everyone agreed calmly, so now we have limited people’s messages to one per minute. I think, with the feeling of emptiness from constant rush and socialization, the circle turned into such a system of support for all of us, where we discuss who cooks what and share links all the time. We have recently watched a performance via an online chat and discussed it all together. We also had a conference call on Friday and started writing a manifesto, because previously, we tried twice to write a text collectively (for Syg.ma and the Kuryokhin Award), and both were very nice and successful. So we would like to come up with more collective texts in the future. In short, everything is fine, but we wish very much to meet in person, hug and sit around the same table soon.
Levaya Noga (Left Leg), Omsk
Kira Gazova: We still have a busy exhibition schedule in the Levaya Noga space, and there are no good excuses for not attending them. The only reason can be the person’s literal death. If you are sick they should bring you on the stretcher ☺ One of our group shows, Grachi Nogoy (The Rooks with the Leg) inspired by the painting The Rooks Have Come by Savrasov, featured an installation named Vrachi Prileteli (The Docs Have Come) and, responding to the question “Why do they heal the right leg, not left?”, he replied “Cuz the left one is fine!” ☺ I wish you creative success and good health! ☺
Antonina Trubitsyna, senior archivist at Garage, curator of the project Open Systems