Student expedition to Vladimir
From the 24th to the 30th of October 2019, a group of fifteen students and three professors from the National Research University Higher School of Economics, had the opportunity to participate in an ethnological expedition to Vladimir. The reason that led the group of students to this city was the local clash of ideals – if not mentalities - related with its central museum. During six days, with the support of the members of Vladimir’s independent journal, Dovod (“Argument”), the group of students, under supervision of their professors, was responsible to interact with the local population, interviewing entities connected with the museum, social communication, and the regional educational institutions.
‘Every work is, so to speak, made twice, by the originator and by the beholder, or rather, by the society to which the beholder belongs’
Pierre Bourdieu. Outline of a Sociological Theory of Art Perception
What role does art play in the development of society? How do traditions and modernity, traditions and freedom of expression fit together? Is censorship in art permissible, can limits be set for it?
On July 11, 2019, the exhibition of contemporary art OUT was opened in the Russian city of Vladimir. The curator was a graduate of MMOMA (Moscow Museum of Modern Art), a native of Vladimir Anastasia Vavilova.
The event, which in Moscow would attract a certain circle of art connoisseurs and interested audience, but would definitely not play the role of shock therapy, in the former (in the 12th-13th centuries) capital city of Russia made a splash and became a real social catalyst. The organizers of the exhibition really played in contrast: on the one hand, there is the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve, which owns some of the most ancient architectural monuments in the country (many are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List), preserves and popularizes history (only the pre-Soviet period), dedicates entire halls to the icon-painting; on the other, there is the art of the 21st (and sometimes even 20th) century, trying to occupy its niche, to break through like grass through an asphalt crack.
The position of contemporary art in a place where people are accustomed to look into the past, to live in the past, became obvious almost immediately after the opening of the OUT exhibition.
It was placed in the underground parking of the shopping center, not claiming (and not hoping, however) to gain access to buildings and premises, in large numbers belonging to the main museum and mainstay of art of the whole region.
It is very significant that having such privileges and access to funding sources, neither museum workers nor the regional authorities are interested in and are not involved in the promotion and development of contemporary art, continuing to preserve the public consciousness at the pre-revolutionary level.
At the same time, people like Anastasia Vavilova solve for them the problems of searching and discovering modern Russian talents, providing people with alternative sources of art knowledge.
What is the reason for such prioritization? Why do certain cultural and spiritual traditions of Vladimir not allow local residents to come to terms not only with the 2019 exhibition, but even with the “Green Bar” by Olga Rozanova, another Vladimir native? Is there a request from at least part of the population for a “software update” of the art field?
‘The work of art considered as a symbolic good (and not as an economic asset which it may also be) only exists as such for a person who has the means to appropriate it, or in other words, to decipher it.’
Anastasia Vavilova claims that the exhibition aimed at breaking the artificial constraints imposed by public consciousness, ‘People are curious… the more something is hidden, the stronger the interest. When we are sure that nobody sees us, we can do things that are unconventional in the general understanding and sometimes even condemned. However, the imposed norms of behavior, lifestyle, silhouettes in clothes make us hide everything that is inappropriate behind walls and doors: a person is subject to stereotypes and firmly clings to the rules accepted in society.’
And that is true. ‘When the message exceeds the possibilities of apprehension or, to be more precise, when the code of the work exceeds in subtlety and complexity the code of the beholders, the latter lose interest in what appears to them to be a medley without rhyme or reason, or a completely unnecessary set of sounds or colours.’
In other words, the only conclusion we could come to was that Vladimir and its citizens did not succeed in creating the environment in which something new, fresh and future-oriented may develop and prosper. In the end, we were witnessing a typical situation of a clash of mentalities, conservative versus progressive/liberal. Why? There are no clear answers yet, but on one matter both conservatives and progressives can agree — Vladimir is not being able to keep its young generations, especially its young artists. The last are unable to develop their talent and work in a city where the population remains clinging towards the values instead of giving room to new ideas and perspectives. Not surprisingly, the new generations will roam to bigger cities where diversity and new opportunities are more easily found, and most of times those generations will either end up building their lives in Moscow or in Saint Petersburg.