Sunday, May 31, 2009

Art in the public realm in Nizhniy Novgorod

I have been invited by CEC Arts Link, an international Arts organization to visit Nizhniy Novgorod, one of the third largest cities and also one of the oldest ones, situated at the beautiful Volga River.

CEC Arts Link is an organisation which encourages and supports creative cooperation among artists and cultural managers, enriching communities in the United States and Eastern and Central Asia and the Caucasus.

It's now been almost a week that I have spent here in Nizhniy with a group of absolutely lovely and admirable young students. They have been all so unbelievably courageous to question and face themselves and finally to come up with a project which both speaks about themselves and and the city they live in. Some of these young people have lived here in Nizhniy Novgorod all their lives and some have only recently arrived; but what unites them all is that they are all looking for a new, deeper and more meaningful connection with this city they call their homes. 

I want to thank all of the people who have made this project possible and especially I would like to express my thanks to Jane Lombard, Susie Katz, Fritzie Brown, Anna Gore, Sasha Suvorkov, Olga Tatosyan, Nastya Tolstaya, and last but definitely not least the lovely and passionate Masha  Zveleneva, my faithful and supportive translator!

This blog is divided in four parts. The first part is this introduction. Then each project by each student is introduced with a text and accompanying pictures. Then chronologically backwards, in the third part, one can find out the story of each student, how he or she came up with the project and why this is a specifically meaningful thing for them to do. Then finally, in the last part, which in fact was written shortly upon my arrival in Nizhniy, you can read an account about my travels from New York to Nizhniy Novgorod and how it felt for me to arrive there and get introduced to the city and it's people.

The Communicator: Anna Tolkacheva

Anna Tolkacheva's project is based on the idea of a communicator. Inspired by Masha, my interpreter's position, Anna realized that she would like to do a project which would help people in Nizhniy communicate things, they don't easily manage to get past their lips.
Anna's idea consists of her going up to a random person in the streets of Nizhniy and ask him or her if they could help her with something she has a hard time letting go of; that there is a certain phrase that she would like to tell someone specific, but for various reasons she is unable to say this particular message to this particular person. Anna would now like to say this particular phrase this person, she just met, him or her being a random coice, to practise saying it and to let it go, and also in hope to eventually get back the answer she has been waiting for, for so long. After saying her phrase, Anna then invites this person to say a phrase of their own to her; a phrase, which they needed to communicate, but couldn't, and she would then take this phrase and bring it to the next random person.

After having gone up to the next person, Anna would then only say the phrase she just heard from the last person, and then in turn invite this new person to give her a new phrase which she would then carry to the next person. 

Anna would do this action until she finds a person who happens to say what she herself is looking for; an answer to her own phrase with which she had started the whole project.

Anna can now be found on the square outside the Nizhniy Contemporary Art Center. 

After offering the person she just approached an opportunity to relieve her mind as well, she thanks her and walks on to take her phrase to the next person. 

In that way, she is giving the people and also herself a chance to practice, what seems too hard to do and perhaps, if the phrases travel long enough, they might end up at last with the persons they were meant for in the first place.

To me the simplicity and purity of this project are really wonderful and I am very excited when I hear later, that the mere act of performing such a service in the streets had filled Anna with tremendous joy. In fact, later, as she walks into her university for class with a bright beaming smile, she gets asked by her classmates, whether she had already found out about marvelously good grades from her final exams, which, as we know was not the reason for her happiness.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Wishing Well: Julia Novikova

Julia Novikova's project is to bring a wishing well to Nizhniy Novgorod: She wants to be an angel in the streets carrying a magical mirrored box around into which people she meets, can toss their wishes. Every time someone is ready to throw the piece of paper onto which he or she has written a wish, Julia raises the box so that in the moment of tossing the wish, the person is faced with his or her own reflection, as an indicator, that really only oneself can ever make one's wish come true! 

This project is one I am especially excited about. Above all, as she at the beginning of the workshop claimed that she was someone without her own images, but could only describe things, she had seen somewhere else before to describe her feelings.

After a great deal of discussions, whether she should dress up as an angel or just be herself, she ends up wearing her own clothes, but throws in some adorable angel wings; the kind, a little girl would wear in a school play. With her cute skirt and her perfectly white socks, she goes around the streets to introduce herself as the angel, who is here to help their wishes come true. 

Many write down their dreams and some who want to write BMW get all caught up in arguments with their friends about the right spelling. 

Many people are excited to make their contribution. 

These girls with the white flowers in their hair, have just graduated from high school.
In the moment a person is about to throw a wish into the slot of this magical box, Julia raises the box, so that the luck seeker's face reflected. 

This shocking confrontation hits one in the face with the statement, that no one besides oneself can ever make one's wish come true.

Certainly I also want to place my wish and although, I was prepared of every aspect of this project, I am truly shocked when suddenly my own face is thrown right into my face. This is such an intense experience with a long lasting effect. I walk on thinking about it for a long time!

The Mirror of Childhood Fears: Nadja Lebedeva

Nadja's project is meant to help people confront their childhood fears, a burden, many people carry around for most of their lives. Dressed as an artist from a bygone era, she goes up to people and asks them to help her draw or sculpt an illustration of their fears. Then, after the ghost has been named, it is up to the person to say what should happen with the representation of it.

As I was very curious how Nadjas’s experience of meeting people NOT through her vast knowledge of words in various languages, but through drawing people’s childhood fears would be, I am very excited to walk up to a entire crowd of people where she is stationed. 

Nadja, has brought along an array of utensils along, to be ready for any need the interpretation of those fears could ask for. Plenty of people are in need of an opportunity to tell their stories in great detail. 

A young man elaborates on descriptions of the headmaster of his high school, who must have been a very intimidating figure. Together, they draw her portrait and make great fun of it. 

One woman tells about her fear of darkness while an other tells her of a terrible dream. 

What happens with the artwork inspired by those stories is entirely up to the person sharing the experience, but in any case, it should help the purifying and liberating process. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Liberation of a Repressed Man: Katja Shugaeva

Katja's project is a liberation project for repressed people who struggle with the pressures of society. People who are trapped in a world between things they feel they HAVE TO do and things they feel, they NOT ALLOWED TO do can now watch how someone liberates herself from these burdens. Dressed up as an average business man, her hair strictly pulled back and wearing a tie, Katja hits the streets. Approaching people randomly, Katja holds out a roll of tape to to them and asks them to write down with a marker onto her tape, all the things that they feel like they HAVE TO do. Finally, when her tape is used up and she is completely suffocating and trapped in all those imperatives, Katja searches for someone who would tie her loose and liberate her.

People are very receptive to this idea, as everyone loves it, when they get a chance to talk about their struggles!

Especially the children who have just come out from class: they literally attack her and want to use up her whole roll of tape at once, as they feel there are so many things they are forced to do.

As she manages to free herself from the hord and move on to also give an other social demographic a chance, she finds many more people from most various backgrounds. 

Some people are too busy, or too important to participate in such silly things, They have to work!!

Otherwise, the list consists of studying, going to school, washing the windows, to even having to deal with the consequences of not having married the man one truly was in love with. 

People are cooperative and thankful and again, walk away with a smile and a lighter heart. 

At one point when Kaia’s body is so wrapped up in tape that she can’t move anymore and the roll of tape is almost used up. So she waits until the right person walks by, the person who can free her from her shackles and burdens!


It feels good not to be tied up by duties anymore, she says!