Art on the border: Where Europe and Asia Collide

By Dirk Vanduffel - Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Art on the border: Where Europe and Asia Collide

Opened in 2013, the ZARYA Centre for Contemporary Art is located in Vladivostok, a city occasionally described as Russia’s answer to San Francisco. The city is located in the far Eastern enclave of Russian soil, set apart from other major Russian cities and geographically closer to Japan, China and Korea. The museum represents a unique insight into the colliding worlds of art on different continents and across different cultures. Artdependence caught up with Alisa Bagdonaite, chief curator at the museum to find out more.

Art on the border: Where Europe and Asia Collide

Opened in 2013, the ZARYA Centre for Contemporary Art is located in Vladivostok, a city occasionally described as Russia’s answer to San Francisco. The city is located in the far Eastern enclave of Russian soil, set apart from other major Russian cities and geographically closer to Japan, China and Korea. The museum represents a unique insight into the colliding worlds of art on different continents and across different cultures. Artdependence caught up with Alisa Bagdonaite, chief curator at the museum to find out more.

Artdependence Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about the history of the museum?

Alisa Bagdonaite: The ZARYA Center for Contemporary Art is a young institution. It was founded in 2013 as an initiative by Alexander Mechetin, a Russian businessman, collector and patron. The center is located in one of the halls of a former sewing factory, which had gone bankrupt and lost its original function at the beginning of the 1990s. By the end of 2014 we started an international artist residency at the center. This also marked the start of the ZARYA Collection of Contemporary Art. 

AD: What is it like to run a museum in Vladivostok?

AB: Vladivostok has 700,000 residents, with more than 20 consulates from different countries. It is also home to one of Russia’s largest university centers. There’s a lot of interesting history and architecture here, and the city is quite conveniently located, logistically speaking. The real issue is that, territorially, it is really far from Moscow and St Petersburg, the most concentrated scenes of artistic production in Russia. There is still very little interaction with the art scenes closest to the museum (Japan, Korea, China.) But these conditions are not obstacles for our work. If anything, they help to define our most immediate objectives: to connect to the mainland and foster cultural exchange within Russia, to start an effective discussion and to explore Asia.

© Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA 

Ivan Gorshkov, Street Sculpture, 2015. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA 

Elena Kovylina, TSE ZARYA, video still, 2015. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA 

Dmitry Bulnygin, Udege's Nightmare, installation, 3D-mapping, 2016. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA 

AD: What do you want to accomplish through the museum?

AB: We want to provide support and be a reliable partner for artists – whether they live in the Far East (and this is an enormous region!), or they live in Russia, as this project is obviously created for Russian inhabitants. For us, it’s important to be an institution that contributes to the recognition of Europe and Asia, which are intertwined here. We would like to foster cross-cultural studies. Naturally, the most important task is our ability to commission. On the one hand we want to commission work that showcases the very best in Russian art, while maintaining a line of communication with the global art scene, and on the other hand the work should also offer an intensive experiment. Combining all of this is not easy, but it’s certainly exciting.

AD: Who are your visitors?

AB: Primarily people from 16 to 40 years old who are open to new things and fairly intellectual. Basically those who are looking towards the future, not the past.

AD: Is the location (the border of Asia and Europe) visible in the exhibitions?

AB: If we’re talking about the present moment, then our location and the border of Asia and Europe are two very different things. In Vladivostok itself, for very specific reasons, you’ll find a homogenous European population that doesn’t come into much contact with any other civilizations here. What’s fascinating is the fact that this bit of Europe is sited well within Asia, but communications with the rest of Asia (or, for that matter, the rest of the world) are somewhat limited. That is due to a number of political and social factors, but also because Vladivostok was a naval port and thus a closed city until 1992. However, if you look at the history of the region over a broader time span, then actually, there was a kind of border here, which was redrawn several times; people lived here, then the land was deserted, then the Asian population was replaced with a European one, and all of these changes were quite dramatic. Generally, we still know very little about all of this, and we are trying to find the means to help pull these histories to the surface, to engage with them more directly. Right now this is mainly happening within the research and exhibition projects of the residents, but soon we will be gathering enough information to make this part of the exhibition program.

AD: Can you tell us about the residency program?

AB: The ZARYA Residency is one of the first professional residencies to accepts applications on the basis of an international open call. Over the last three years, we’ve hosted 56 artists and curators and helped realize their projects. At first, the decision to create the residency was motivated by purely practical concerns: to realize these projects artists had to travel from far and wide, and we needed to provide a place for them to live and work.  At the same time, there were also other reasons for working more intensively with the residency and developing it as a separate project. We wanted to understand more about Vladivostok, to gain different perspectives on the city as a site, but also to discover new possibilities for problematizing place. An artist is often the first to notice a lot of things, which is why creating a flow of artists here has become our main means of developing dialogue and a deeper immersion into the context.

Alexander Kiryakhno, Untitled, 2004-2008. Installation for exhibition “Rebels at the edge. Contemporary art in Vladivostok 1960s-2010s”. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA, 2015

Mikhail Pavin. Untitled, 2015. Installation for exhibition “Rebels at the edge. Contemporary art in Vladivostok 1960s-2010s”. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA, 2015

Vitas Stasyunas, Coverage Area, 2016. Installation for exhibition “Badlands”. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA, 2016

Installation view. Perpetuum Mobile: Russian Kinetic Art. © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA, 2017

AD: How do you decide on your exhibitions program?

AB: Our mission is clear: to show the very best Russian contemporary art. At the core of our exhibition program we’re mainly showing the “classics” of Russian art, but it’s important to note that many of the things that we’re doing have never been done before, either in the region, or in Russia in general. Among these projects are exhibitions like “Perpetuum Mobile,” which embarked on the first real attempt to trace the history of kinetic art from its roots in the Russian Avant-Garde to the present day. Whatever topic we’re tackling, we have to take a wider historical perspective, because ZARYA is working with many issues, which – while quite well known in the central region of Russia, and even in the West – are being addressed in Vladivostok for the very first time! If our viewer hasn’t done much traveling, if he or she hasn’t been to the museums of Moscow or St Petersburg, then these issues and this history wouldn’t have been available in the same way before ZARYA. Besides, it’s really fantastic to talk about dynamism, to touch on the Supremacist compositions of Malevich, Tatlin’s tower for the Third International, or Rodchenko’s mobiles. We need to start, as is fitting, from the very beginning - from the sources themselves.

AD: What are you most proud of in what you have accomplished so far?

AB: One of projects we’re very proud of is “Rebels at the Edge: Contemporary Art in Vladivostok, 1960s-2010s”. It takes a deeper look at the local art scene, showcasing the artists of the Primorsky Krai. On the one hand, it was a little uncomfortable for us to be branding artists according to geography, but on the other, the project allowed us to discover more than twenty amazing artists, to be the first to describe their works and biographies and to present them altogether in the same space. For us, this exhibition wasn’t so much an attempt to create a single representative snapshot of the local scene, as much as an attempt to share more about the individuals included. Now we’re working on bringing “Rebels at the Edge” to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and are thrilled that these works will finally be seen on the “main stage.”

Outside view of ZARYA with the work of street artist Timothy Radya "Hey you, love me" © Center for Contemporary Art ZARYA 

AD: What are your future plans and exhibitions?

This winter, we will show exhibitions dedicated to the Underground and the Unofficial Art of the 1980s-1990s (curated by Misha Buster) and the “New Artists” group (curated by Ekaterina Andreeva). In the summer, we will produce a big project dedicated to the ideas of Russian architecture (curated by Maria Fadeeva), and then in autumn, we will collaborate with the State Tretyakov Gallery on “Metageography” (curated by Nikolay Smirnov and Kirill Svetlyakov.) Regarding “Metageography,” this is an exhibition that has already been shown in the Tretyakov. For Vladivostok, we’ll have to substantially rework the material, because the history of the geography and political geography here is entirely different than on the other side of the Taiga. Each one of these exhibitions offers more than enough of a reason to travel to Vladivostok.

Dirk defines the overall policy of ArtDependence Magazine, in addition to conducting interviews. He specializes in valuation and auctioning.

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Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Earshot, 2016

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