TEXT: ADEL KIM
IMAGE: The new space of the Golubitskoye Art Residency (photo by Dmitry Yagovkin, 2022)
TEXT: ADEL KIM
IMAGE: The new space of the Golubitskoye Art Residency (photo by Dmitry Yagovkin, 2022)
DISCLAMER: We are responsible for our own words and actions, as well as for the well-being of people we invite for a dialogue. In this text, I restrain from publishing anything that could harm my colleagues and use euphemisms adopted in current Russian discourse and legislation.
REDEFINING THE CONTEXT
When we started the Reside / Sustain project, we focused on the potential of art residencies in enabling sustainable development practices in Russia and Finland. Due to Russia’s foreign policy and the "special military operation" launched in Ukraine in February, the activities we planned at that time became irrelevant overnight. Article releases, videos, inviting Russian actors in the residency field to exchange experience and practices with Finnish colleagues—all this became impossible, inappropriate, and meaningless.
Since then, every day we have been asking ourselves what else we can do, and how to talk about it. This does not exclusively apply to our undertaking: a significant part of the art sector in Russia came to a standstill, going through crisis and experiencing frustration. Opportunities for open expression have been sharply curtailed, independent media are recognized as foreign agents or undesirable organisations, and social networks of the Meta Platforms, Inc. are considered extremist. The economic situation remains alarming, and the consequences of the recent sanctions have not yet manifested themselves fully.
The atmosphere of fear, guilt, and despair is not compatible with the promotion of cultural production. In the early days and weeks of the tragedy, the idea of focusing on one's own activities seemed escapist and blasphemous; after more than three months, the possibilities and limits are seen in a more realistic light. One of the key subjects of study for our project—Russian art residencies—still exists and continues to operate. Sustainable development and environmental issues have not lost their relevance either. As long as the topics that belong to our area of focus remain relevant, we can and must continue the dialogue—primarily to stay in touch with people, context, and a sense of reality. It goes without saying that research questions posed at the beginning of the project require tuning. Similarly, all project activities must take into account the current needs and respond to the situation. It is also apparent that the project needs a revision of its key concepts—residing and sustaining.
Initially, 'reside' in the name of the project referred, first of all, to the nature of the art residencies— enabling cultural professionals to stay, or reside; and creating the conditions for them to interact and work productively. Today, mobility of Russian artists and cultural professionals happens for different reasons than before: for some, it is a chance to flee political persecution, for others—an opportunity to escape frustration, an upcoming economic crisis, and a vague understanding of what the future holds (according to recent data, around 3,8 million citizens have left the Russian Federation since the beginning of 2022. Among them, there are many artists and cultural professionals). With international projects being cancelled and opportunities (financial, among others) to relocate reduced, "cultural mobility" is losing its relevance for people at an alarming pace. Some are unable to deal with the stress of big cities and accompanying economic difficulties and opt for internal migration. Some cannot find the strength to participate in the residency programmes they were invited to.
What does "residing" mean for a Russian cultural professional today? What does being and working in Russia mean for those who do not support the government? What does voluntary (or even involuntary) immigration mean? What can residencies and other contemporary art actors offer in response to the changed demand from the artists?
Another aspect of the project—sustainability—calls for a need of being looked at from a broader perspective that goes beyond environmental and climate issues. Essentially, sustainability has never been only about ecology. First on the United Nations' list of sustainable development goals are those that deal with social and economic issues and aim to eliminate factors that hinder well-being, as well as equality and human rights. First and foremost, security and peace are required to implement these goals efficiently.
In Russian, the literal meaning of the word "sustainability" is "the ability to (with)stand", not being dependent on external and internal circumstances. This interpretation of the word refers to stability. In the context of modern Russia, stability has been among the basic values proclaimed in the past decades. However, I see sustainability as something totally opposite to stability. It has to do with plasticity, adaptability, capability of reassessing the existing circumstances and changing plans and actions accordingly, since any independence is illusory.
How to stay resilient right here right now? What can be lost, changed, or cut in order to survive? To what extent is adapting to circumstances possible? Is it possible to lose everything—and still remain sustainable?
"WE" AND DIVERSITY OF PERSPECTIVES
Since February 24th, everything has been divided into black and white. Depending on people's attitude towards the situation, they tend to give unambiguous assessments of the gestures, actions, and statements of others, attributing them to one of the opposite poles. However, the division into favourites and outcasts cannot be made for the sake of a seemingly good goal—the rehabilitation of common sense. Ultimately, it leads to segregation, separation of those who disagree or those who do not fully agree with the subsequent appropriation of the right to verbalise their position, and the devaluation of their positions. The social divide cannot be remedied by the further widening and strengthening of mutual hatred. Instead of dividing people, one can try to unite them, and look for common ground and values.
The challenges of polarised thinking are apparent in the ambiguity of the use of the word "we" in public discourse. With the beginning of the military actions, it has been getting more and more difficult to understand where one stands and what “we” one belongs to. Assuming the responsibility to decide what qualities are characteristic to the representatives of each party, "we"-statements claiming failure, collective responsibility, or insufficiency of the previous actions cause a powerful negative response primarily from those who share the position of the authors on the main issue, i.e. the rightfulness of the "current events". There is a fundamental problem with unambiguous judgement: it ignores the variety of shades between the poles as well as disregards the circumstances in which particular people and organisations find themselves.
Similarly, it is problematic to talk about "us" in the field of contemporary art. Differences in context, conditions of existence, views, and resources are only becoming more obvious. How to determine who falls into the "we" category? We who continue to work? We who have chosen to stop? We who deliberately remain silent until free speech is allowed once again? We who are willing to speak out and take risks? We who stayed in the country? We who left? We who experience despair from inflated meanings and shattered hopes? We who have just started our journey in art? We who see crisis as opportunity? We who can't find the strength to get out of bed in the morning?
It is obvious that such a broad category encompasses many voices and circumstances. Referring to as a single whole means to blur the differences between those who belong to it. But in this case, should one use "I"? Can this lead to even greater atomization, caution, concealment? Is it possible to avoid the trap of segregation, the trap of expertise, try to abstain from knowing and evaluating what is right and what is wrong, and instead practise the ability to listen, put oneself in other’s position, and explore different perspectives?
Here, it seems paradoxically appropriate to refer to the concept of "perspectivism" that anthropologists who study the culture of the indigenous peoples of South America extensively write about. Perspectivism is mentioned in the book How Forests Think by Eduardo Kohn. The author defines it as a position that implies a fundamental similarity between selves (1). Kohn's predecessor, Viveiros de Castro, writes in Cannibal Metaphysics: "…peoples of the New World share a conception of the world as composed of a multiplicity of points of view. Every existent is a center of intentionality apprehending other existents according to their respective characteristics and powers." (2) Kohn deciphers that selves are in all respects “the product of the ways they represent and interpret the world around them and the ways in which others in that world represent them”. Thus, the understanding of other organisms comes from a careful attention to the point of view inherent in other organisms (3). For the Quechua people (indigenous to South America) referred to as "Runa Indians" in Kohns writing, simultaneously perceiving two points of view and looking at oneself through the eyes of another self means to survive, to hunt successfully, and to avoid predators.
In turn, "perspective" is the ability of a human or non-human agent to have a point of view and recognize the unity of the soul and the difference of bodies, which results in the difference of opinions. In European culture, souls are separate, but bodies are alike, and one's own humanity is exalted to the detriment of the humanity of others. “Amerindian shamanism is guided by the inverse ideal: to know is to "personify," to take the point of view of what should be known or, rather, the one whom should be known.” writes Viveiros de Castro (4).
In this context, it is clear that we are talking primarily about the interaction of human and non-human agents, just as the indigenous peoples of South America practice their perspective primarily in order to understand and effectively use the living and non-living selves around them. The analogy with mutual understanding within human society may seem strained here, and yet the application of perspectivism to the phenomenon under study allows one to go "beyond the pernicious dichotomies of modernity." (5) Here, I myself find a liberating idea about a possibility, even a need, to put ourselves in others' place, especially in the shoes of those who are unfamiliar to us and those we do not understand; learn to interact with other selves and different points of view, to hear what you have not heard before. Perhaps this is one of the goals that I set for myself within the field and context known to me as a member of the professional community and the Reside / Sustain project.
ART RESIDENCIES IN RUSSIA IN SPRING 2022
Coming back to our research subject in its current state, we see that despite the crises of meaning and alarming economic prospects, the majority of Russian art residencies (currently, there are more than 30 of them) continue their operation. Moreover, their organisers, curators, and managers are looking for ways to communicate and share experiences with each other. The initiative comes from various actors within the professional community.
In March, Maria Sarkisyants and Polina Egorushkina, the organisers of the POMIDOR home residence located in the Moscow region, gathered for a curatorial weekend for artists and residency curators from Moscow with the support of Reside / Sustain. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the situation residencies find themselves in, further work, changes in the residency field, means of mutual support, and to identify who is in most need of help at the moment. The next meeting of the residency curators and artists took place at CCI Fabrika by invitation of the residency curator Kristina Pestova. It included a working session with associative maps developed in the framework of the Reshape project.
Communication among actors also happens online. Internal communication within the Association of Artistic Residencies of Russia has been on the rise. In addition, VYKSA Artist-in-Residence hosted online reading groups as a continuation of the conference "The Art and Practices of Hospitality" that took place in November 2021. During these sessions, participants discussed the texts chosen by the curator, as well as some pressing matters. Nadezhda Nayborodina, the head of the residency, calls these meetings "a therapeutic place for discussion and reflection".
VOICES OF ART RESIDENCIES
In April-May of 2022, I invited organisers, curators, and managers of some art residencies to comment on the current situation of their institutions or programmes. The list of my respondents is by no means exhaustive in terms of the variety of residential initiatives, but I have attempted to cover different stages of growth, organisational models, resources, geography—in other words, to vocalise different perspectives and find common ground.
By the end of 2021, several new initiatives were launched. Among them are rhIZOme (Moscow) and AyarKut (Yakutsk). rhIZOme is a project launched by the MaxArt Foundation for the Support and Development of Contemporary Art founded in the beginning of 2021. According to organisers' statement, "the residency is to become an excellent opportunity for artists to focus on their projects, broaden horizons, and build networks in the art community." The art residency program is essential but not the only line of work: additionally, the foundation organises exhibitions, and events; and promotes artists.
The opening of residencies under the umbrella of the AyarKut Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art was scheduled for 2022. Their names—"Indigenous Knowledge", "Soundscape of the Arctic" and "In Dialogue with Nature"—reflect "the ambitious task of putting Yakutia on the world map of contemporary art by enabling a new creative environment in the republic and creating favourable conditions for the development of professionals in the field of art." Last year, a residency call took place and the results were announced on the 22nd of February. Plans for the year, besides residency activity, include creating own media, educational programmes, international residency exchange programs, distributing grants, and launching exhibition initiatives.
Two other residencies that I interviewed are in the process of updating their infrastructure. Soon, they will present the results of their work. Here, we talk about VYKSA AIR that we already mentioned, and the Arts Foundation Golubitskoye Art Residence. VYKSA AIR, founded by the OMK-Uchastie Charity Fund (5) in 2017, is located in the city of Vyksa in Nizhny Novgorod Region. The residency offers its guest artists accommodation for up to 2 months, a grant, materials, covers their travel costs and acts as a meeting space for artists and the local community. This year, the residency is planning to move to a new building—the newly repaired space of the former cafe "Volna". According to Nayborodina, the head of the residency, the positioning of the institution is changing. From now on, it is no longer some building behind a metal fence, but a modern urban centre in a residential area amidst urban recreational space that people can come to freely.
Golubitskoye Art Residence is located on the Taman Peninsula in Krasnodar region. Launched last year by a private initiative (6), the residency accepts applications from artists, curators, writers, musicians, and researchers of various disciplines all year round. There was a plan to open a new space with living and working premises in March. As part of the Contact Zones exchange programme, Golubitskoye conducts bilateral residencies with the institutions of the countries neighbouring the region (Turkey in particular).
I also approached experienced residencies that have been operating in the field for more than 5 years—for example, the museum residence "Artkommunalka. Erofeev and Others" located in the city of Kolomna, Moscow region. It celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. The residency operates in the format of a public-private partnership, combining the resources of the State Autonomous Cultural Organization of the Moscow Region "Center for Cultural Initiatives" and the Autonomous Non-Profit Organisation "Kolomensky Posad" that receives support from the Ministry of Culture of Moscow Oblast. It is located in the museum dedicated to the history of Kolomna in the Soviet era and is firmly connected with the history of the genius loci—the dissident writer Venedikt Erofeev. Following its history, Artkommunalka invites artists and writers through open international competition to interpret the heritage and modernity of the city.
CCI Fabrika in Moscow is an independent space and art cluster operating since 2005. The residency programme launched in 2008 is designed for foreign participants. Throughout the years, the residency welcomed artists, curators, performers, and writers from different countries, mainly Europe and the USA. Over the past four years, the residency has been able to develop a partnership programme with the Austrian Department of Culture. This allowed them to host Austrian artists on a regular basis. One of the goals of the residency was to create a continuous chain of interactions: artists came one after another, forming a resident community by bringing artists from different geographical locations together.
The Polar Art Residence (PolArt) launched in 2016 is located in the city of Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Region, above the Arctic Circle. The residency is a part of the Norilsk Museum exhibition complex that apart from running the residency, museum, and art gallery, is in charge of starting the Arctic Museum of Modern Art (AMMA). The residency favours projects dealing with the topics of urban environment exploration: exploration of the territory, forecasting the future, and designing the North with the help of science-art and media technologies. The residency hosts only Russian artists since foreigners need a special permission to come to Norilsk.
I also received comments from the Moscow office of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia that has been working on a programme of bilateral art residencies for several years. This initiative offers opportunities for professional development, assistance in working on projects dealing with the cultural contexts of both countries, as well as professional networking for artists and cultural professionals from Switzerland and Russia. Since Pro Helvetia does not have its own infrastructure for accommodating residents, the programme is using the venues of its collaborators in Russia and Switzerland.
Finally, one of the residencies I interviewed asked me to exclude them from the article due to safety concerns.
A CURRENT SITUATION OF THE ART RESIDENCIES
A part of the residencies I interviewed continue to operate with their programmes changed to different degrees. VYKSA AIR reports that it is proceeding with the reconstruction as planned. After the new building is opened, it will "head into town, interact with the local communities and enthusiasts, and focus on micro-ethnography and mutual pollination." Apart from events for the residents, there will be events for citizens and tourists. The organisation is also working on a collection of texts on hospitality to be published as a result of the November conference. It is planning to celebrate its fifth anniversary by opening an exhibition showcasing the works of its residents in the Arsenal (7) in Nizhny Novgorod.
PolArt in Norilsk does not foresee major changes this year either, provided that external circumstances are favourable. “We continue to work with artists, so far no one cancelled their participation” says Natalia Fedianina, director of Norilsk Museum. According to the art director of "Kolomensky Posad" and director of the museum residence "Artkommunalka" Ekaterina Oinas, the situation for them is quite similar: the programme remains the same, despite several cancellations by artists in the early spring that have been rescheduled for the same year.
Polina Mogilina, co-founder and chief curator of the MaxArt Foundation, also reports that the foundation is continuing to develop its activities and planning to fulfil the scheduled programme in its entirety, although minor adjustments are unavoidable in the current circumstances. It looks like they are right on schedule: in March, the second round of residency applications took place, the final exhibition of the previous residents was held, and new artists moved in in May.
The curator of the CCI Fabrika Kristina Pestova says that they are expecting serious and, probably, long-term changes in the work of the residency: "From the very first day, we realised that it would be impossible to continue working on the programme as before. Still, we naively hoped that we would be able to relaunch by the summer or autumn. Now I believe that this is the most optimistic and therefore unlikely forecast." At the same time, the difficulties are not so much related to the institutional features of the residency or the system of its financing: CCI Fabrika is not dependent on state grants and private capital. Pestova notices a change in attitudes towards cultural exchange in general: "The airspace closure, inability to get an insurance to cover costs on the territory of the Russian Federation, lack of recommendations from the embassies, closures of the visa centres—all this seems to be a lesser evil compared to what can happen to cultural connections in the future."
Golubitskoye Art Residency has suspended its operations for some time. "Spring was supposed to be a joyful time for us: the construction works were almost finished. In the first few weeks, we planned to have an exhibition and show the work of architects and designers, bring guests, announce the program",—says Alisa Bagdonayte, curator of the foundation. “Now our work is suspended.” She does not reveal the reasons behind it, but it is worth noting that the residency is located in the Krasnodar region, not far from the state border. The nearest airport in Anapa, like many other airports in the south of Russia, it has been closed since February 24 for safety reasons. However, Golubitskoye still hopes to continue welcoming residents when it becomes possible again.
Irina Bugaeva, AyarKut Foundation manager, reports the suspension of the residency project: "At the moment, we are working on a new strategy, accommodating it to the current realities. The art residency project is still on hold. Perhaps we will change the format and launch it later: around new topics, in a new form." Although the winners of the residency calls have been announced, there is no information about whether AyarKut Foundation would be able to go through with it.
The Directorate of Pro Helvetia and its Moscow representative office made a joint decision to temporarily suspend their support for projects taking place in Russia, as announced in the official statement of the Council. "Despite this, we continue to work and maintain a dialogue between Russian and Swiss artists—the program of bilateral art residencies continues and is currently being adjusted to the current conditions,"—says Natalya Ruchkina, Residency Program Manager.
READJUSTING THE RESIDENCY PROGRAMMES
In the current environment, a key challenge for many residencies is responding to changing demands. Some organisations were able to quickly adjust their programme according to the needs of their target audience. For example, respondents repeatedly mentioned the cancellation of artists' arrivals in early spring for various reasons. Some residencies showed flexibility by allowing the visiting artists to stay longer (for example, in the case of the PolArt residency, the stay has been extended by almost a month); or letting someone else to come instead of the residents who cancelled their participation (Artkommunalka decided to host an artist who did not participate in the call). VYKSA AIR is changing its schedule for this year: "We understand that there will be practically no foreign residents this year, and many Russian artists have left the country, so we are reconsidering and rescheduling."
Organisations are looking for ways to redirect resources for other purposes. For example, CCI Fabrika decided to find a new use for the studio apartments so that they would not stay empty in spring and summer. One of the apartments became an artist and performer Alina Gutkina's studio, and the other hosts therapeutic and educational projects (8). Kristina Pestova shares the position of the institution: "We try to give space for those who need it to express themselves. Do not forget that now it is very important not to be alone, but to continue building a loyal community for you to feel safe, among other things. We want to continue to support artists, curators, and art practitioners in general who, despite everything, find the strength to make projects and share their views."
The MaxArt Foundation analysed the current demand in the art field and launched new initiatives, in particular, professional psychological support. Mogilina says: "[We] started psychological support groups for those who needed help. At these sessions, professional psychotherapists helped participants to adapt to new conditions and shared tips for maintaining the psychological balance." The AyarKut Foundation, focusing on the pressing issues for Yakut artists, held a workshop on creating a portfolio. According to the organisers, it is now easier to build professional ties individually rather than through institutions.
Many residencies face practical challenges. Some of which have to do with mobility. For instance, the PolArt residence can only be reached by long-haul air transport. Today, the situation is further complicated by the sanctions imposed on Russia that do not allow companies to supply spare parts for aircraft leased by the Russian airlines, nor offer them help with maintenance. This may result in air transport not being accessible and safe anymore and creates an alarming prospect: "In terms of mobility and the arrivals of artists, the residency helped to open up the cultural community," says Natalya Fedianina.—So far, the possibility of flight cancellation exists in name only, but there is simply no alternative mode of transport. We do not know what will happen next and how much the tickets are going to cost, but we are seeking funds to allow travel in advance."
It is also apparent that economic sanctions have already caused an increase in prices. The residencies mention the increase in the cost of not only logistics, but also art and office supplies, including paper, paint, and printing services.
At the same time, the budget for operational and programme activities has not changed yet, although it is difficult to predict what the future holds. For example, the economic model of Artkommunalka seems to be financially stable: grants for residents are paid from the own funds of "Kolomensky Posad". For the last two years the residency obtained additional funding in the form of a subsidy from the Ministry of Culture of the Moscow Region that covers earlier expenditures. Subsidy is not guaranteed, and yet Ekaterina Oinas believes that the cluster's economic model has adapted to the needs of the residency, and even in the absence of support, the program can be continued.
The situation is different for CCI Fabrika. It also finances its operational and project activities from its own funds and does not rely on any public or private capital: "At the moment, we do not have any obvious holes in the budget, but there is no guarantee of safety in this regard," says Pestova.—Our economic model is close to the umbrella mode: the money that comes from the rent of the premises constitutes the general financial base of the entire cluster. These are the funds that go to the maintenance of the whole complex, salaries, and cultural projects. Our tenants—creative businesses that rent spaces from Fabrika —are still figuring out the scale of their financial losses. Obviously, the perspectives will become clearer in the upcoming months."
Many Russian residencies are financed from a single source, so the task for them is to diversify their income to make their organisations more stable. VYKSA AIR, supported by OMK-Uchastie Charity Fund, is planning to achieve greater independence by monetizing the residency activities to reach partial self-sufficiency. The MaxArt Foundation expects to get the support for its initiatives from several business partners and hopes that their operations will not be reduced or terminated (something that is for the most part not up to them and does not depend on their actions).
Another problem that residencies mention is the threat of international cooperation being terminated. This has been made quite tangible by a series of cancelled projects and partnerships. Thus, Fabrika sees it as absolutely impossible to plan any work with foreign artists. MaxArt had planned to start closer cooperation with foreign artists, but has already come across certain difficulties. AyarKut formulates its concerns directly: they are worried about the "cultural cancellation of Russia".
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
The issue of further planning is of particular importance. Institutions have different approaches to planning. The MaxArt Foundation, as a young institution, has large-scale development plans: it is planning to create a network of residencies that would not be limited to rhIZOme. CCI Fabrika is committed to creating interaction formats based on the requests from artists. Possibly, the scheduled research projects of the residents will be implemented remotely. However, the strategies are being developed and reconsidered, so the organisation is not yet ready to share any specific plans.
Two new venues are being created on the basis of Norilsk Museum that runs the PolArt residency programme. Planning the future is difficult now, but Fedianina notes that they are used to it: "The experience with the pandemic taught us that one can put a lot of effort into redesigning something that will remain unused as new circumstances arise and a different trajectory is chosen. Therefore, we try to proceed with caution, avoid sudden moves, and focus on the immediate without trying to look beyond the horizon. The strategic is gone, the tactic remains."
Alisa Bagdonayte remains optimistic and believes that Golubitskoye will soon be able to continue its operations and host Russian residents, as well as foreign ones in the framework of international exchanges, expanding the possibilities of publications. In the future, the residency will also settle in a new place and solve staff issues. A worst-case scenario where operations stop in one or more areas of work is also possible, albeit hypothetically.
Natalya Ruchkina believes that with the public events on hold, Pro Helvetia team in Moscow gains an opportunity to review and comprehend the prospects for intercultural exchange, wishes and interests of their partners, as well as their vision for the future and the role of the Council in it. "Given the significant changes on the cultural map of Russia, the answers to these questions can only be found in direct co-existence and co-reflection with artists and partners in both countries," she says.
COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE RESIDENTS
Residencies continue to communicate with both former and potential residents to different degrees. "Fabrika’s communication with the latter is still quite rhetorical with an aim of not losing touch, continuing to hope and plan something. Conversations with the former are a friendly, comforting dialogue, which, frankly speaking, is also therapeutic in a sense," says Pestova. The MaxArt Foundation, one way or another, is keeping in contact with all the authors it collaborates with.
Artkommunalka does its best to offer former residents work tasks whenever possible, supporting them financially in the face of project cancellations and reduced sources of income. PolArt turns to the residents for advice or information about their projects. Most of the residents keep in touch, but not all of them. Some artists asked to get their names removed from all the lists and not to mention their names in the context of Russian institutions.
Most of the residencies could not and still cannot freely express their views on changes in the foreign policy (9) in their official channels. Moreover, on March 21st the key platforms—social networks Facebook and Instagram—were recognized as extremist organisations. Most organisations have readjusted their communication strategies for other social media—Telegram, VK, and Odnoklassniki.
Natalya Fedianina comments on the decision of the institution: "We have chosen to remain silent because speaking out can harm our cause and other people. You have to do your job, move forward. We will create projects that bring diversity and polyphony of voices, as long as it is possible."
"We cannot openly express a civil position in our communication channels, this is burdensome and tormenting," admits another residency organiser.—"I got a message from last year's resident asking why their favourite residency does not take a stand. But we cannot. It threatens not just us, but the common cause, and we do not know if issuing a statement is worth sacrificing many years of work."
The curator of Golubitskoye does not experience any direct pressure or censorship. However, since her work requires dealing with new and unfamiliar audiences, she tries to be careful and polite when speaking about the current situation, although this is not always possible.
CCI Fabrika has previously shown activist and social projects on its premises, as well as exhibitions of artists who openly express their political views. In this regard, the policy and agenda of the institution have not changed. Compared to the time "before", the difference in terms of monitoring and censorship is not yet visible. Nevertheless, Pestova notes the organisation is cautious and monitors new legislative restrictions that come into force.
The MaxArt Foundation is also cautious in its statements and shifts the focus to its activities: "Until now, we have not experienced any outside pressure, but observing the current situation in the cultural (but not exclusively) field, we understand that we and our colleagues may receive some attention as public organisations. We outlined our position at the very beginning, the preservation of artistic production remains important for us."
Perhaps only international organisations could express their positions openly. Pro Helvetia's Moscow office posted a statement on its website stating that the Council "strongly condemns Russia's military intervention in Ukraine."
Most residency organisers note that they feel support from the professional community not only from Russia, but also from abroad. Throughout the years, organisations created networks of partnerships, so the specifics of the context, as well as the values of these organisations, are well known to their international colleagues.
The Kolomna Museum Cluster that hosts Artkommunalka continues to communicate with foreign colleagues on projects that are not directly related to the residency. Oinas says that reactions vary: "[Colleagues] are ready to participate in our events and support us, although the community there is divided. We cannot deny that there are those who are no longer ready to cooperate. Everyone makes their own choice. There are people who have not changed their attitude towards us. We try to stick together and do mutual projects."
Almost all interviewees mentioned that professional networking programmes can be a tangible help to residency organisations. Examples are joint collaborations, educational and inter-residential programmes (VYKSA AIR), solidarity, support, and communication projects (Golubitskoye), preservation and maintenance of the existing connections and relationships (rhIZOme). Sometimes an open dialogue is enough, says Irina Bugaeva from the AyarKut Foundation.
Moreover, residencies and other art institutions can support each other with resources. Polina Mogilina says that now it is especially important to provide all possible assistance in the implementation of various projects, and the MaxArt Foundation is constantly looking for partners. Ekaterina Oinas also points out that any kind of cooperation is support in itself: "I think that looking for partners will require more effort. If the search is successful, the cooperation will be stable and lasting. If relationships with an organisation are established in such a critical situation, this shows basic trust".
Kristina Pestova expresses her hope for social cohesion, pointing out that the circumstances in which institutions find themselves today should become a factor of rapprochement, not discord.
Residencies are institutions aimed at supporting artists and the artistic process. In this sense, their very essence is rooted in the ideas of support, care, and hospitality. In the face of conflict, fear, mutual hatred, and an uncertain status of the previous values, helping others is the only thing that makes sense for many. Obviously, this support should primarily be directed towards millions of people in distress whose lives are in danger; who have lost their loved ones, property, prospects, and home. However, if due to certain limitations institutions cannot aid those affected by the war, they can still support others who are in need of help.
Many Russian art institutions find themselves in an ambiguous situation. They are frustrated by the inability to speak out and influence the situation, as well as the risk of losing the resources for support and creation. As one of the residency organisers says: "If we want to continue working and use the available resources, we have to make a number of concessions. This is a difficult question from an ethical point of view. However, we understand that our goal is first and foremost to help artists, and as long as we can do this, we will help. We understand that even the fact that we continue to operate and act is moral support for them."
All institutions work in their current context, with their resources and challenges. The practice of mutual care could be strengthened if Russian artists and curators, already vulnerable and precarious, can be supported by these institutions. Of course, this support is not without its reverse sides and requires reflection: it should only be provided taking into account the request from those we want to help. It also seems that it has the potential of creating a chain reaction and allowing people to regain their humanity and faith in basic values.
Although this is a drop in the ocean, residency professionals may strive to achieve peace through artistic means. As one of the representatives of the residencies says: "In the context of art, we do not use self-censorship, and it gives rise to additional meanings. We are striving for peace by our internal means—we continue to do what we have been doing." Even though it is evident from the previous experience that "soft power" is disproportionate to brute aggression, courage is required to make even small steps in one's field today.
In the book cited previously, Eduardo Kohn mentions the classification of signs according to Charles Sanders Peirce who divides them into primary (potential events), secondary ("brute reality") and tertiary ("habits" of the world, patterns that arise in the relationships between elements). It is the latter that allows us to comprehend the environment and anticipate events based on our own knowledge and experience—as Kohn puts it, they make "the world potentially predictable." However, they do not work as laws, and the moments of its breakdown and crisis could become key: "The world is revealed to us, not by the fact that we come to have habits, but in the moments when, forced to abandon our old habits, we come to take up new ones (10). According to Kohn, semiotic dynamics is the product of disruption or upheaval.
The shifts that we are witnessing today are most likely pieces of a larger whole that we have minimal control over. These shifts contradict everything we know and things that seem predictable. Perhaps it is precisely due to this breaking of the "habit" that new interactions and new patterns, and new "emergent realities" where everyone can find their own role will be created. Art residencies will also be involved in the process of redefining roles and opportunities, and I see their potential as spaces that allow one to take the place of another and try on a different perspective, as well as be an active driver of this process. But quite possibly, there are many other roles that we can't think of yet.
(1) Kohn, Eduardo 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press, 95.
(2) Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, 2014. Cannibal Metaphysics. Univocal, 55.
(3) Kohn, Eduardo 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press, 97.
(5) OMK-Uchastie Charity Fund is founded in 2008 by the initiative of the leaders and employees of the United Metallurgical Company (JSC OMK, Moscow). OMK owns the Vyksa Metallurgical Plant, a local city-forming enterprise. The Foundation is engaged in social projects, supports people with disabilities, families and children, as well as projects in the field of contemporary art.
(6) The project was launched by the philanthropist and collector Alexander Mechetin who previously started similar projects in the Centre for Contemporary Art and Zarya Art Residence in Vladivostok. Mechetin is the founder and co-owner of Russia's largest alcohol company BELUGA GROUP.
(7) Volga-Vyatka branch of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (Nizhny Novgorod), formerly known as Volga-Vyatka branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Art.
(8) «Workshop of care» (moderator Tatyana Volkova), project "Feminine gender» (Lena Balakireva and "Yezhevika" Foundation, lectures "Conversations in Dark Times" (Lena Skripkina and Maxim Kalinin), etc.
(9) On March 4, 2022 Russia's parliament passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally "fake" news about the military.
(10) Kohn, Eduardo 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press, 66.