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‘Call Me Back on My Home Phone’: Master’s Students of the HSE Art and Design School Present Their Work Online

‘Call Me Back on My Home Phone’: Master’s Students of the HSE Art and Design School Present Their Work Online

© HSE Art and Design School

The HSE Art and Design School has launched a digital gallery, the HSE ONLINE GALLERY, for displaying the work of its students and instructors. One of the first projects completed by first-year students of the master's track in ‘Contemporary Art’ is entitled ‘Call Me Back on My Home Phone’. The online exhibition is curated by Russian artist Vladimir Dubosarsky. HSE News Service takes a look at the students’ creative process in self-isolation and the future of art online.

‘Call Me Back on My Home Phone’ is a series of 12 self-portraits that reflect life in the difficult spring of 2020: being in closed quarters at all times, fears, new routines, and a new reality. The artists are students of the ‘Contemporary Art’ track in the master’s programme, ‘Practices in Contemporary Art’. The exhibition was supervised by Vladimir Dubosarsky, a well-known Russian artist and the supervisor of the ‘Contemporary Art’ track.  

An Installation Born of Fear

‘My Desktop’ is the name of the Olya Austreich’s installation, created for the online project.

‘I felt the pressure of a new art mission, but at some point, I realized that I just need to document this state of feverishly searching for ideas,’ Olya says of the fear that led to her creative idea. ‘We’ve all begun to spend more time on our computers: we used to paint in the studio, and now we sit on Zoom filling out tables. Therefore, I moved the space of my desktop from the virtual world into the physical.’

The artist completely freed a white wall in her home and filled it with elements of a new way of life. She admits that she decided not to use traditional surfaces (such as canvas or paper), but others, such as polyethylene, bags, origami paper, and plastic from food and clothing delivery packaging (something that is also ‘part of the new everyday life’).

‘First, semi-absurd naive slogans came to me, which I created as if in a text editor window. I came up with them in English, because I feel immersed in Western pop culture—90% of the information I consume is from foreign sources. Sometimes it’s easier for me to think in English,’ she says.

An additional motivation for the work, Olya admits, was procrastination, which prevented her from being able to watch the new season of her beloved reality show, Keeping up with the Kardashians. She also did not get by without the new habits imposed by our coronavirus world: ‘Two pieces were inspired by the new ritual of thorough hand washing—I made them out of construction foam, because it resembles a soap cloud.’

Olya created the installation, which consists of 15 elements, in four days. Post-production took two more: ‘My boyfriend photographed me against the background of work where I lay only in my underwear and a mask made from cling film.’

We are all naked and helpless at the same time. We want to take refuge and protect ourselves and our loved ones 

Despite the fact that Olya has been working with digital formats for a long time, this is her first time participating in an online exhibition. When asked about what the future holds for art, she says, ‘The current times have given rise to this demand, and now it will be the most popular format.’

Olya notes that she has not yet gotten bored with offline work. In fact, in self-isolation, she has more projects and interaction with artists and curators than she did before. Therefore, in general, she enjoys online creativity, despite the drawbacks. ‘The work, of course, suffers: everything always looks 100 times cooler in real life.’

Vladimir Dubosarsky, Head of the Contemporary Art track, curator of 'Call Me Back on My Home Phone’

Vladimir Dubosarsky, Head of the Contemporary Art track, curator of 'Call Me Back on My Home Phone’

Of course, online projects have a bright future. This is what is inevitably happening, and the pandemic has nothing to do with it. I’ve been talking about this for a long time. But in the world of art there is tactility. Lectures on the history of art, conceptual things, discussions, even certain compositional tasks can be done successfully through distance learning. But it’s the painting that needs to be done in the workshop together with the instructor and one’s classmates who are also deeply involved in the process, because everyone spurs each other on to reach new levels in their work.

As for online museums and galleries, they have all been digitized for a long time. I think some part of contemporary art will go online, and some part will remain tactile: the presence of the viewer is often necessary, for example, during performances, and this cannot be replaced. Now we are all online and we all terribly miss human interaction and being in contact with reality, and this suggests that no online projects can replace live events. This is human nature. As long as we are people, not robots, this is how it will be.

A Synthesis of Painting and the Digital

Zhenya Milyukos devoted a series of her works to people’s interactions with themselves in today’s world. ‘I wanted to talk about what I see and what, it seems to me, many people are now experiencing. And in what other project can I do this?’

Her ideas always come to her quickly, Zhenya says, but their execution is not always successful.  ‘This is great, because the pursuit of some ideal image is a false religion. I don’t like talking about inspiration. I like that I am mistaken, that I am constantly searching. This process itself is my main source of movement,’ she says. Zhenya admits that at first, she planned to create videos and digital images, for which she even set up a tent in her room. However, due to self-isolation, she had to change the format. ‘My boyfriend helped me. And after 5 minutes of shooting, any non-professional photographer gets tired, so none of us were happy with the work. As a result, I combined painting and digital formats. Maybe it's good that everything turned out very differently.’

Despite the fact that the whole world, including the world of art, is moving online, Zhenya is certain of one thing: you need to view paintings in person. The online gallery, in her opinion, merely facilitates documentation of art. It does not create art. ‘Pure paintings that have been created and uploaded online are torn from their natural environment. You are just viewing a copy of the work without its original setting. Yes, you can see more photos of the environment in which the painting was created, but not the environment itself,’ Zhenya says. Nonetheless, Zhenya does not reject working with art online. She already has several ideas for the HSE ONLINE GALLERY.

Yulia Yusma, Director, HSE ONLINE GALLERY

Yulia Yusma, Director, HSE ONLINE GALLERY

We now have more than 30 projects for the online platform in operation and we continue to receive more applications. I like the idea that, through our joint efforts, we can work out appropriate strategies for displaying the artistic works digitally in a very short period of time while strengthening our presence. We have started with extremely simple approaches, and we will continue developing more complex formats. We are thinking about how we can bring together students of different programme tracks to work on joint projects. Even before the launch, it was obvious that the HSE ONLINE GALLERY is not only a platform for this time of crisis, but, in general, the direction we need to pursue. The project will continue to exist after our physical gallery space opens. In general, the online transition was relatively easy for us. The School has a large and close-knit team, and everyone is actively involved in the work — developers, designers, and marketing specialists. Something that has been especially important and pleasant for us is that we received a very positive response from students and teachers.

View ‘Call Me Back on My Home Phone’

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