Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Photograph by 'NARODITSKIYALEXEYM', Creative Commons 4.0
By Nina Egorova
A Beautiful Night for
All the People
28th September 2021
"Anything but classification. Let it be blind wandering in symbolic thickets and deranged patterns, but not classification" ~ Roman Mikhailov
Occasionally I get random thoughts in the middle of the night and most of the time I wonder about them relentlessly as I lie awake, unable to fall asleep. Unfortunately, I always feel embarrassed to ask others about these. I believe that others know the obvious answers to my questions, but that somehow, I am not able to spot them myself. “Who is our contemporary Flaubert or Canaletto who will make history by producing such powerful works of art and literature?” This was one of my latest questions. To clarify, by ‘our’ I am referring to the country where I grew up; Russia, a nation defined by very contrasting and emotional people.
The other week I got a chance to attend the “A Beautiful Night for All the People” triennial exhibition at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. The main goal of the exhibition was to support Russian artists and to expand the Triennial’s presence outside Moscow. It also aimed to provoke discussion of issues such as the development of relations between the regions of Russian and the concepts of corruption and love. When a non-Russian asks a Russian where they live, if the answer is neither Moscow nor St. Petersburg, the answer will more often than not be meaningless to the non-Russian ear. Although it is hard for me to imagine, outside of Russia, few are aware of where Yaroslavl is, let alone how culturally and historically significant it is. We are so used to reading about artists, politicians, writers and musicians who have come to Moscow, or indeed the ex-capital St Petersburg, and have become famous there. It is too easy to overlook the little towns that still hold centuries of history, and indeed that are still making history that few are aware of.
Notably, the exhibited artists didn’t seem to follow any one set of aesthetic criteria. In a country of such great cultural and social diversity as Russia, there cannot be a single set of criteria for evaluating art. What brings these artists together is the importance of personal connection. Having survived several wars and several episodes of forced modernisation together, personal connections are assigned a particularly strong weight in Russia. This can and has led to some corruption, but also provides protection from bureaucracy as well as economic and social pressure. In this exhibition, these artists were allowed to voice their opinions, ideas and beliefs about life and Russia, without having to face any restrictions of self-expression.
The exhibition is inspired by the book After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (2004) by the British sociologist John Law. He writes about a crisis in the social sciences in today’s polarised and multicultural world, whereby restrictive classifications may be replaced by a non-coherent method, which brings social classes, religious communities and subcultures together with ontologies (pictures of the world). With this in mind, A Beautiful Night for All the People has been created as a meeting point for artists deriving from varying backgrounds and social classes across all of Russia. Furthermore, each exhibited artist has a profile, which states who has recommended them to the exhibition and what relationship they have to them; a godson, godmother or simply a colleague. This allows for the appreciation of the visual representations of corruption, love and destruction of hierarchies, whilst exploring the friendly, professional, romantic, and sporadic connections which drive contemporary Russian art.
We learn about an imaginary micro-town, Bachikistan, which slowly developed into a khanate-state, acted out in various forms, from excursions and photographs to performances and collective herbal gathering. This khanate is made up of three spaces. The first is the art-residence Ladno., a resort and garden, which is the foundation for the project. Next are the sculptures of Lekha G., who unites post-folklore with art. Lekha’s work’s closest relatives are wooden toys. One work in particular, that of a man and a bear knocking on a log with hammers, most clearly evidences this toy-like aspect. Yet, in fact this sculpture deviates from the traditional toy, with the bear pounding not on the stump, but a keyboard, which references the modern themes which have begun to pervade such souvenirs. Finally, these sculptures have a connection to the stories supported by watercolour drawings, collages and a film made by Anna Tereshkina; another artist of the exhibition. These two artists are united by their interest in memory. Tereshkina tells the story of her grandmother’s past through her memories, memories which are at different times tragic and comedic. Not only does Tereshkina depict the cold winters that her grandmother endured, but also the better times when she worked the land on a collective farm before being evacuated.
The opening quote of this article serves as the mission statement of the Triennial. It was borrowed from a 2017 book by Russian mathematician Roman Mikhailov, written in a special, process-based language that uses no symbols and allows for many readings without a definite plot. This allows us, those who engage with the book and, more importantly, the exhibition, to be able to respond to the exhibition in our own way, as well as for the artists to retain complete creative independence. This kind of openness, in exhibiting such a wide range of artists, and in allowing them such freedom of artistry is what makes this exhibition both great and important.