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‘The HSE ART GALLERY Is Not Just a Place You Visit During the Semester, but a Full-Fledged Gallery’

September marks the one-year anniversary of HSE’s gallery of contemporary art, HSE ART GALLERY – an exhibition space for the HSE Art and Design School. HSE News Service spoke with gallery participants about the gallery’s first exhibition of the new season, the gallery’s future plans, and student art.

The opening of the season was a big event: crowds filled the gallery halls, and a festive energy filled the air. This year’s first exhibition, entitled ‘Utop-top-topia’, is dedicated to the theme of utopian constructions and features works by second-year students of the School of Design’s programme in ‘Animation and Illustration’. The exhibition’s theme was chosen by well-known artist and writer Pavel Pepperstein, who explores this theme in his own work. Last year, upon the invitation of the School of Design, Pepperstein designed and taught a course for first-year students. As Yulia Yusma, director of HSE ART GALLERY notes, it was an educational experiment; the students weren’t expecting to try their own hand at creating contemporary art, but when presented with the opportunity, they enthusiastically got to work.

The artists behind the exhibition: second-year students and gallery director Yulia Yusma (left) and Pavel Pepperstein (right)
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

Were the students up to the task? Pepperstein confidently answers in the affirmative. ‘It’s good that they are not involved in modern art, a rather rotten area. But here you can tell that the art was not created by minds that have been spoiled by the miasmas of rottenness; everyone approached the project with a fresh frame of mind.

The resulting exhibition was diverse: it included installations, video art, painting, and graphics. Dasha Shevchenko’s project, for example, portrays a civilization that exists on the tip of a cat’s nose.

I thought that utopia should present solutions to certain problems, such as water shortages, for example

At first, Dasha had the idea of using a pineapple can for her project, but then her gaze fell upon her cat. ‘I remember thinking that there was a lot of water on her nose, which I love to kiss.’ According to the student, her project brought her family together. Her parents helped with the construction, and they brought the project’s inspiration – Dasha’s cat – to the opening.

Dasha Shevchenko and her cat
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

If Shevchenko’s work solves one of the main problems of mankind, then Sonya Chelysheva’s project, as she herself notes, turned out to be ‘critical’. She created an installation with décor of a typical post-Soviet apartment: a rug, an icon, and a cat. But instead of displaying the objects themselves, she displayed QR codes in their place, each of which can be scanned. It wasn’t difficult to make the installation, she says. ‘A creative person is capable of any kind of experimentation.’

Sonya Chelysheva
© Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

Sonya Chelysheva, 2nd year undergrad student  of Animation and Illustration programme:

‘When you scan the codes, you can choose one of the available objects: rugs with deer, icons, etc. It’s about people’s desire for convenience, turning everything into an app. My installation is the quintessence of our quest for virtual reality. The only QR code that doesn’t enter into the competition is the cat. You cannot choose him, he is by himself. In other words, we can’t replace something living; you can’t play with the cat like you play with objects.

Yulia Yusma, director of the HSE ART GALLERY, told the portal’s news service about what the future has in store for student projects and the gallery.

On the Educational Process

Arseniy Meshcheryakov, the head of the HSE Art&Design School, dreamed of creating a gallery here, probably from the first year the School itself was founded. He understood that hands-on experience is important for the artist. Designing an exhibition project in detail ‘on paper’ and successfully realizing it in reality are two very different processes. The gallery provides a training ground for students as well as instructors, invited artists, and curators. Working in this gallery gives students the experience of working in a real gallery—they learn how to communicate with a cultural institution, how to submit and defend projects, how installations are carried out, how estimates are drawn up, and how to solve complex and sometimes unanticipated technical issues.

The HSE ART GALLERY is not just a place you visit during the semester, but a full-fledged gallery, aimed at a wide audience

Working here gives students tremendous experience.

From project to project, the educational component changes. When students create their own projects, they, of course, become completely immersed in the process: from conceiving the idea, writing the texts, to the final realization of the project with active participation in the installation and even in the promotion of the exhibition. A collaborative format with invited artists to the gallery, who display their own works, is also possible. For example, last year the ZIP art group came to HSE and students worked with them to literally build one of the halls of their exhibition.

On the Uniqueness of the Space and the Students

I know that there are galleries at universities. But their work is generally aimed at an internal audience: university students, teachers, and employees. It is usually a community of students and their friends who visit these galleries. We did not want our gallery to have this kind of hermetic quality; we wanted a wide audience. Our gallery is distinguished by the fact that we always welcome visitors from beyond the HSE community. Last season, about 30% of the gallery’s visitors were not affiliated with HSE—local residents, professionals, and employees of nearby businesses. I like working with our students. Every year, people with new ideas and perspectives come to the School of Design. The perspective of each new cohort is different from the previous one. It is extremely interesting to see how modern culture is reflected in the youngest participants of this process and what they can offer us as artists.

About season plans and dreams

This year we will hold more exhibitions. Last season we held six, and this season we will have ten. We already have agreements with several Russian artists who will prepare new projects especially for the gallery, and we also have several student exhibitions are planned, which will be curated by HSE instructors or invited experts—all of whom are active professionals in the field. We will try to get involved with the promotion of our students in partnership with the Sample Auction House, we will conduct several portfolio reviews, and we will put on exhibitions and auctions of student works. A multimedia exhibition, a painting exhibition, and much more are also in the works.

In the future, we would like to be more involved in international projects. I think this will happen in a season or two –we are currently establishing contacts. Our long-term plans include large-scale collaborative projects with famous foreign and Russian artists, as well as even institutions, and establishing a store.

Now we are still in semi-test mode. In practice, step by step, project by project, we are learning how to best integrate students into the life of the gallery. There are a lot of options: working with famous artists or curators, holding long courses or short intensive courses, holding open calls (whereby students independently prepare for exhibitions), or providing assistance with projects at all stages of their creation and implementation. The main task is to educate our students and give them the opportunity to become a part of the professional environment.

On Contemporary Art

Artists can now use any materials and techniques, or even invent their own technology. Art is created out of anything that you can imagine: parts of spaceships, neural networks, hair, nails, stuffed animals, and so on. At the same time, the classical formats also have not disappeared – graphics, painting, and sculpture are still interesting and in demand. Moreover, the most important thing in any work remains its idea, its concept. Despite the fact that artists today are often inclined to shock and even provoke their viewers, they can pursue popularity and commercial success by imitating artistic activity – globally, the task of art remains what it has always been through the ages – seeking and creating new meaning, reflecting modernity, and designing new kinds of social institutions and relationships. Art is reality’s most responsive medium. It is the first to express what later becomes popular and mainstream for society.

Arseniy Meshcheryakov, Head of the HSE Art and Design School

The gallery is an important example of project-based education, showing how effective and desirable it is for students. The HSE Art Gallery has a big impact on the educational process. The exhibition space is becoming the most important stimulus of development for both our students and instructors. And with regard to our programme in Contemporary Art, it meets the demands of the current moment. Art and design provide the main skills that, in my opinion, are needed in the 21st century: the ability to think creatively, develop hypotheses and test them in practice, learn independently and look for the right materials, quickly recalibrate in response to sudden problems, manage one’s time efficiently, fulfill your customer’s needs, or independently design a task.

The ‘Utop-Top-Topia’ exhibition will run until October 6th. Admission is free.

Gallery address: Malaya Pionerskaya, 12. (Metro Paveletskaya.)

Schedule: Wednesday-Sunday 12:00 - 20:00.

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