The first day was overwhelming to say the least! But also touching and inspiring to the point that I am wondering whether we might be wasting the money on the hotel, as I am not tired at all but feel endlessly inspired and excited about the days coming.
In the morning I am being picked up by Olga who again is so lovely and caring that I completely loose myself in her presence and feel like floating on her cloud. She brings me to the office of the Contemporary Art Center, where all the fabulous contemporary cultural programs of Nizhniy get organized. On our way there she tells me once again that she is worried that I might be disappointed, as the people that I will be working with are no artists!! At this point I am a bit confused, as I feel like I need to find out more about her definition of artist. For me an artist is an individual who is ready to take some risks, who wants to think outside of the box, an individual who is interested in new life experiences and last, but not least who wants to think and comment on his or her situation and on society and the whole world around us. One friend who is very dear to me has only recently begun painting, but in my mind he has been an artist all his life, as he is constantly searching and pushing the limits. The first part of his adulthood he spent as a caveman, by trying to live as closely to the way people used to live, when they had nothing except, what nature provided them in each and every moment. Then he went to China to completely immerse himself in a new, totally unknown world, again to start again from point zero. Every experience of being completely overwhelmed with the task of surviving is when he seems most fulfilled and happy. Now he started painting and his paintings are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen!
Now, I don't want to talk about this friend of mine but want to say, that I think everyone is a perfect artist when he or she is completely honest and searching. Keeping the moment always fresh and never taking anything for granted but seeing every situation for what it is. I think the people from Nizhniy Novgorod can be as amazing as anyone, perhaps they are even more tailored for it, as they are so wonderfully passionate and emotional (something I am to find out soon)
As Olga and I enter the Contemporary Art Center office, the organization Olga works for, I am impressed to find a place occupied by countless beautiful Russian women and some fortunate men! The ravish Russian women are no myth indeed!
No wonder this fortress has to be guarded by a security system as high tech and invisible as one would find them in a James Bond film. Look at how she opens the door!
Finally, I am being introduced to Masha, my translator. Now Masha is really a true gem! She has such a lovely open face and is so completely honest, as I have never experienced before. As we start chatting about my work to prepare her for the translation of my talk in the evening, she admits that she had been hoping that I would turn out to be a person with a positive energy, as otherwise she would understand my work as way too depressive, and in that case she would NOT want to do the translation work! She tells me about her struggle when being confronted with my work that she did not understand who I was trying to address. Her father who is a very famous theater director in Nizhniy is always her last resort when she does not know how to deal with a situation, as she and her mother are for him, when he struggles. This time, she tells, that she showed him my website and then asked him how she could possibly love such a person; so negative and hopeless she felt was my message! But then he showed her one specific image, a picture depicting a moment towards the end of my performance Inside-Out, the moment of my liberation and resurrection. He says that this is no coincidence that I had chosen this very specific image!Wow! There is a passionate Russian individual! I am very touched and impressed! I respond that not until you can embrace and love also your dark sides, can you truly live the light!....
Whew I am glad! It seems I passed the test with excellence, in fact, after our talk she proofs to understand and believe in my mission so thoroughly, that she could give the talk herself, explaining the work as well as I can and comparing it to her own life. It feels wonderful to connect in such a way! A very rare experience indeed!!
Then we go for lunch in a very wonderful restaurant! Very Russian style! I feel like Anna Karenina might walk in any minute! They introduce me to the special Russian beer and other delicious treats. The food is almost shockingly authentic and each luscious space filled with music, as are the streets!
In the afternoon we visit the Arsenal, a part of the Kremlin which has been allocated to the contemporary art center among some other cultural institutions for the purpose of displaying art and other aspects of Nizhniy's historical treasures. Anna, the director of the Contemporary Art Center takes us together with some very important governmental decision makers on a tour through the spaces of the Arsenal, which are being renovated. This tour is to inform us about the urgent need of the very important role of this place and the Contemporary Art Center and also the importance of preserving such a fabulous example of architecture.
The walls of the Kremlin are so thick, that even now in mid May, when outside the sun is already pleasantly warm, we can still experience the icy cold of Nizhniy's ruthless December nights; these five months later!!! I really hope these VIPs will give the funding! This is really a marvelous place! It will hopefully become the house of cutting edge video art, sight specific installations and other new impressions by and to the inhabitants of Nizhniy who are, as I am told, terribly starved for cultural experiences! In fact there is not even a contemporary art education program in town! This is why the work of the Nizhniy Contemporary Art Center, which Anna runs, is so very important!
Now, we have to run back to get ready for the talk. As the students look at the images and videos of my work, I stress that it is their reactions and comparisons to their own lives, that are most important. Through my work I talk about fears, feelings of vulnerability and the desire of hiding and armoring oneself with heavy protective skins and shields. I talk about my own struggle of not knowing how to deal with unkown situations and my desire to heal and liberate myself and to find contact with the world therough my art.
At the end of my presentation I am very excited, to find out that my talk evoked feelings of deep kinship in all the listeners. Once again, it shows that the theme I have been working with for decades is a theme that is very universal, a theme that speeks to everyone: The human struggle of becoming acquainted with one's individual voice and finding space to exist in society.
Now I am interested in each of the participants personal experience of awkwardness in the rigid structure around us, a construct, which often seems too tight to even breathe in. Wea are ending the night with individual dialogues, one by one with the first four of each of the students. Amazing Masha is holding up so well, translating each and every thought and even enriching the process of discovery with her invaluably sharp observations. Everyone seems to respond so unbelievably well and is eager to come up with a project of their own. They have identified with the theme I presented so unbeliavably well, that they are applying it already to their own lives and are eager to challenge their deepest fears and to share their very individual voices with the people in the streets of Nizhniy Novgorod; a process which should help them to feel more at home in this city.
This was a long day! I feel like I deserve my cherished tongue salad in the lavish restaurant in the hotel while writing down my thoughts.... good night!