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HSE Gets in on the Show: The Creative Present and the 'Fear of the Future'

HSE Gets in on the Show: The Creative Present and the 'Fear of the Future'

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

The Telling Stories festival, organised by the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design, has come to an end at HSE University. During two days, anyone could attend open lectures, discussions, master classes, performances, concerts, exhibitions, and screenings. Experts discussed the state of creative industries and tried to outline an image of the future by understanding the main challenges, prospects, and anxieties it presents.

Space, Performance, and Media

The ‘Telling Stories’ International Festival of Communication, Media, and Design was founded by the Faculty of Communication, Media, and Design at HSE University in 2018. It is dedicated to trends, innovations and the latest developments in the creative industries. This year's festival took place on May 21st and 22nd in a hybrid format, with participants discussing a wide range of topics from the future of Russian cinema to the transformation of museums and NFT technology in the arts. The events were organised for the first time at the Porkrovka complex of HSE University. Events were held in the central atrium, as well as in the large and small halls of the HSE University Cultural Centre.

The Telling Stories programme was structured around strategic themes that allowed the organizers to explore ‘distinguishing signs of the times’: new frontiers, generations, space and life after death. The festival included dozens of lectures, discussions, performances, exhibitions, and shows.

Visitors could take part in a public talk with bloggers on how to make a million roubles, join a discussion on how to speak to Generation Z in the media space, attend master classes from the ‘ComMission’ Comics Festival, join master classes on landscape astrophotography or space journalism, and take a quiz as part of the ‘Open Space’ session. Students and curators from different areas of HSE’s Art and Design School held a fashion show called New Borders, theatrical performances ‘Morning Team’, ‘Neandersen’ and ‘Mission 1917’, and exhibitions dedicated to ‘Images of the Future’ and ‘Life After Life’. The festival was rounded off with an electroacoustic concert with elements of sound and plastic performance called ‘Reversibility and Butterfly’ by students and curators of the ‘Sound Art and Sound Design’ profile.

Plasticity and Creative Consumption

A key discussion at the festival was ‘Images of the Future’ with Marina Loshak, Director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of HSE University; Alexander Etkind, writer and historian, Professor at the European University Institute in Florence; and Tatiana Rivchun, General Producer of the Festival and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Communications, Media, and Design at HSE University.

Today it is crucial to talk about the ability to predict, to identify future trends, and to visualise the future, said Tatiana Rivchun, opening the discussion. What will happen in 30 years? What about 50 years from now? That is the time when today's students will live and create. That is when they will build this world. And now they have to set a trajectory for their development. ‘It seems to me that in 50 years, our planet will be inhabited by people who will not die, but live and care for our planet, unlike now. But unfortunately, we won't escape some big cataclysm, because there are a lot of people, and our planet is hardly happy with us now. I don't know whether you should consider this prediction pessimistic or optimistic,’ she said as she shared her image of the future. ‘You are simply overflowing with optimism, Tatiana,’ Yaroslav Kuzminov said humorously.

‘I don't know what the art of the future is. And frankly, I don't even want to think about it,’ Marina Loshak continued the conversation in a rather unexpected way. She is convinced that everything we can do should be done today. ‘In order to do that, we need to be open, clear, and not arrogant or plastic.’ 

It seems to me that the main characteristic of today's times is maximal plasticity. Not plasticity in terms of changing one's principles and one's morals, but plasticity in the creative sense

‘Inviting the director of one of the most traditional and conservative museums to talk to them about the future is a funny story,’ remarked Marina Loschak with a touch of irony. But she admitted that there is no coincidence in such a choice. ‘I keep thinking about the fact that today there are no traditional and conservative museums. Today only museums that are perceived as museums of contemporary art can work,’ she said.

We need to change the paradigm whereby people come to a museum and are ready to just listen to a monologue by some specialist. ‘We need to make it so that people come to a museum to interact, and this is no easy path.’ There are a lot of visitors to museums now, a lot of very young people who come, who are ready for very complex interaction, and what is important to them is ‘contextuality — there isn’t a masterpiece in sight, just a story put together from the various attributes not only of art, but of life and time.’ The director of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts says that many visitors have ‘long ago developed the occipital part of the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for visual impressions.’ She thinks that in 50 or 100 years' time, the shape of people’s sculls will change — ‘there will be less forehead but more area at the back of the head,’ because ‘we are all visual people already.’

Speaking about what a museum should be like, Marina Loschak said that it should first and foremost be ‘a repository of human features with a capital “R”.’ ‘Human emotions, human interaction, human ideas, human touch, human mistakes, and human imperfections, which are very important. Because human imperfection is a very strong, very powerful motivational movement. It seems to me that this is the most important thing we can preserve,’ she believes.

‘It seems to me that when we talk about the future in terms of economics, and economics is the science of choice in the first place, we forget that the future is frightening rather than dazzling,’ Yaroslav Kuzminov continued the discussion, no less ‘optimistic’ than Tatiana Rivchun. The future is not frightening in terms of lack of natural resources, which are becoming fewer and fewer. The future poses a threat in terms of the shrinking of the space of freedom, the narrowing of the space of real choice, which is already felt today, the Rector continued. The space of choice has narrowed because we are overloaded with masses of information.

Our brain capacity is not limitless, and we start ‘Googling’, stopping, as a rule, at the first answer we find. According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, only 3% look for other answers. This is a massive space for manipulation, imposition of choice, opinion — in politics, aesthetics, any other sphere.

In my opinion, the shrinking of the space of conscious, aesthetically and ethically justified choice is the main challenge for humanity. We are now, conditionally speaking, entering into this horror of the future

To counter this, we have to learn how to consume, which today has become just as creative as production. ‘For the new generation, it's no longer about making more money. It's about enjoying one’s work, and it's about not buying the same stuff your idol has got, not following generally accepted rules, but adjusting one’s consumption to suit oneself. This is creative consumption. The individualisation of consumption,’ says Yaroslav Kuzminov.

When it comes to choosing a profession and education, then, in the HSE rector’s opinion, it is more reasonable to choose the one that is interesting. ‘The worst thing is to get an education that you do not like. And if you like it, you should, as Sadovnichy (Victor Sadovnichy, Rector of the Lomonosov Moscow State University — ed.) teaches us, do the fundamental things.’ Then there will be ‘that reference point through which you can save your sense of ‘self’ and filter what is being imposed.

‘What should we invest in now? I would invest in other languages. Not English, French, or Italian. Other languages of knowledge — the language of mathematics, the language of history, theatre, the visual arts. Each language opens up a huge field of enjoyment. For some, it will be a body language, like those who practise fitness. This is the main challenge, and someone who comes to university faces this challenge as well,’ summed up HSE University’s Rector.  

‘I have a more positive outlook on many things than many colleagues,’ Alexander Etkind joined the conversation from Italy. Yes, the future is scary because it is uncertain. But it's also attractive for the same reason.’ In his opinion, no one knows the future better than those who know the past. It is not about extrapolating it to the present, but about the experience that historians gain from studying long historical processes. Sad things were said, but there were also many positive things, such as the idea of creative consumption.

He does not believe that the hope for a better life is linked to robots and artificial intelligence, but he does believe in green energy and the digital public sphere: ‘I believe that all this really does change the everyday life of everyone, especially the intellectual, the artist, the creator, the communicator.’ These changes are followed by completely new opportunities and at the same time new challenges, new burdens and new responsibility. And that's great, says Alexander Etkind. For example, green energy will free the world from its dependence on oil, because now ‘humanity is enslaved by nature and its vagaries and quirks.’ In creating green energy belts around every centre of human life, he sees a decentralisation of the socio-economic order. ‘I think that's great, too. It will change politics and culture and university life. In these ways I see the key to a good future.’

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