Ekaterina Sharova on the Russian North

Ekaterina is from Arkhangelsk, she studied aesthetics, performance, art history, management of the organization at the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Institute in Rome. Now she is the director of development in Arctic Art Institute, co-curator of Arctic Art Forum that is taking place in Arkhangelsk, as well as a freelance curator who implements projects on art sites in Norway. She gave lectures in NARFU, in the universities of Norway and Finland. Despite many projects, she loves the Russian North and believes that its creative potential is not fully disclosed.

Author: Do you love Arkhangelsk region since childhood?

Ekaterina: What does “love of your country” mean? Perhaps this is due to pride. But how is it grafted? Is it possible to make you love something if you see around the streets that are not well-groomed?

For culture, the heritage of the region known in narrow circles is the potential, an important reference point. Everything goes on its own. If during the Soviet era it was a question of building factories, the dictatorship of the proletariat now the attention is also growing to the non-material potential of the North and the necessity of studying the history of the region immediately becomes obvious. Having visited different cities and countries, it can be useful to look at the usual from the outside and see the unique. It’s amazing that back in the 1980s in Pinega scientists wrote down epics about Ilya Muromets. It’s amazing when you read the ancient visual codes of northern embroideries and murals. For example, in Moscow or St. Petersburg mainly profile specialists know about this but the interest is growing.

A: How did you feel about Arkhangelsk as a child?

E: The opinion that Arkhangelsk is the city from which people have to leave is probably the legacy of a troubled economic situation that began back in the nineties. You grow, and generational complexes are transmitted on an everyday level. This is due to specific fates. On the other hand, the growing attention to the Arctic is the potential for young people to remain. The question is how to build a dialogue between those in Moscow who understand the growing interest in the Arctic and the youngest, especially creative, talented youth? If there is an opportunity to leave when it wants, if there is resources for it, then perhaps more youth would remain in this climate. People working at a rate in the region receive a salary that does not allow them to leave. And if you are young and talented, you want to see the world, you want to develop. Is this not natural?

A: Did you move to Norway or did you know that you are going away for a while and will definitely return to your homeland?

E: In 2004, I just applied for a contest, I was sure that I will not go through. I remember we went to the Norwegian courses, in this building now there is Bulatov’s library. To be honest, I did not have much Norwegian knowledge at that time. Paradoxically, I passed. Then Arkhangelsk was not as it is now, there even were no exchanged students. Therefore, after six months of life as an exchange student, you return and think: ” Oh, my God.” Silver medal, red diploma — and from workplaces was a smart opportunity — something like a dispatcher in a taxi. Well, if there are no jobs and comfortable living conditions for the young and able to live, then there are other cities that can provide all this.

A: Why did you return to Arkhangelsk?

E: Well, I can not say that I’m directly “back.” I’m still a global resident living between Norway and Russia, constantly on the road. When you choose some time to be a freelancer and do your projects, it is more convenient to be in a place where the cost of living is lower. On the other hand, it is interesting to solve challenges that are close, to discover new things in their history.

My colleagues and I are conducting several projects with Moscow and St. Petersburg museums. To inscribe the region in the history of art is a big task, but this is a common, not a private matter. Here the task is not only to bring an exhibition of artists who lived in Spain and the Netherlands more than a hundred years ago. Undoubtedly, it is important to see the masters. But it’s important to remember that the potential Dali and Van Gogh are every day around us. Talented young people are constantly around us, depending on how you get the context, what resources you have and teachers. A lot of talented youth in Arkhangelsk, but repeatedly you are convinced that the most difficult, the best — without support or depression, which causes a sense of horror. Non-standard, talented people want to realize their ideas, but they are often alone, not sure of themselves. For them, there are no conditions — but after all, Dali or Van Gogh in childhood were also non-standard.

The artist needs freedom, creative boiling, the encouragement of intelligent teachers, and not the actions on the order. The development of modern education, which is associated with the development of their own ideas, independent thinking, new forms, which are also related to the needs of society – is the task of subsequent work.

Young people are creative, but when they say “you can not make a mistake”, “do it only like that”, it kills creativity. It is necessary and important to make mistakes, we need to try, this is the process of learning, then a new one appears. Here we are talking not only about art, but also about innovations. Art and innovation have much in common – it’s about the emergence of something that no one has done before.

A: In your opinion, what are the reasons for the absence of art education and the low quality of aesthetic disciplines in the region?

E: Well, not that it would be low, but if contemporary art is Malevich, who lived a hundred years ago, it seems that something is not right … There are schools and secondary education, but this, of course, is not enough if the region has ambitions to declare itself … In Arkhangelsk there was not and still there is no art academy. Important work is being done at the cultural college, plus there was a bachelor’s program in art history in NARFU, but it is no longer there and it’s unclear what is happening with the personnel in the region. Many specialists have an education from St. Petersburg. A lot of interesting things are done, but they need their work, their artists, and there are not many of them yet. Although many proposals for cooperation come from colleagues from capitals, everything is ahead.

A: When did you realize that the Russian North is a real treasure?

E: In 2012, when I graduated from the Master’s Degree in Art History, I started to realize myself as an expert in this field. I arrived then in Arkhangelsk in January 2013, and it was a little funny when the newspaper recommended that “the Norwegian curator came”. Held several seminars in NARFU, where probably 50 people came. There were very interesting discussions. We cooperate with many artists today.

A little later, Swedish artists from the Raketa team wrote to me on Facebook and invited to the Darwin Museum to be moderator at a seminar that took place at the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. The museum itself has about two hundred people in the state — and it was bold enough to give the task of moderating the seminar with the participation of the director, representatives of the University of Stockholm. But they offered me, and I had something to say. I was interested in the issues of education and museum mediation — by that time I had worked for several years in art pedagogy and there were a lot of questions. After that there was a talk about the project in the Arkhangelsk region and I proposed the name of the project — “Mobile Institute”, where visitors and local students learn from each other, and he advised colleagues to submit to the program of the Biennial “Manifesta”. It entered the parallel program of the Biennale. Actually, the idea of ​​the Arctic Art Institute grows from here: research, mutual learning, free experiment, development, dynamics.

As a result, an exhibition was made. Artists collected during the trip various artifacts. At the exhibition there were no typical paintings or sculptures — it was a completely new form of artistic expression for Arkhangelsk — an artistically organized archive. The objects were put on ordinary showcases on the shades, themes and texture of the material itself. A sound was recorded during the trip. At the exhibition there was a QR-code that led to the webpage on which you could listen to the audio collected in the research expedition.

A: Have you traveled in our region before?

E: I was in Pinega and even in Emetsk, where my parents come from. You seem to live in your region, but you do not know it … We went to Ustiany, Kotlas. It was beautiful, new discoveries. We also went to Solvychegodsk with the “Mobile Institute”. In Moscow there is the Stroganov Academy, and in Solvychegodsk the Stroganovs had its own patrimony. Interesting objects are in this small museum. With the advent of social networks, many began to study their history, of which there were not so many before and knew.

Here many churches were demolished, this was not even in Vologda. My friend and I went there when we were still in the second year. Especially memorable was the St. Sophia Cathedral. I will never forget the trip to Veliky Novgorod. I was struck by what I saw there in museums: elements of ancient wooden pavements in the archaeological museum – after all, in Arkhangelsk, you can still find this way of covering roads — for example, on the islands.

Until the XI-XIII century. in the North lived Chud’ Zavolochskayaб now this nation is called “Veps”. Recently colleagues in Petrozavodsk advised a young Vepsian artist. So interesting! Vepsian language is listed by UNESCO in the register of endangered languages. No one is involved in the art of Veps, and the artist was disappointed in everything and abandoned his work. What is the difference from Norway, where they understand that artists use their senses to process and recreate the meanings of the place! Modern art is associated with the meanings that were cleaned during the Soviet Union. This attitude to their own talented people is simply inexplicable.

In the twenties of the last century researcher Voronov wrote about peasant art. These years, despite their complexity, were the most progressive in the history of the culture of the USSR, they know about Malevich and Tatlin all over the world. Voronov, possessing a wide outlook and a great interest in folk art, in fact predicts to some extent what later Joseph Beuys says: “Every man is an artist.” Boise, unlike Warhol, is little known in Russia, but this is a very important figure in the history of twentieth-century art.

A: Does the city have a chance to get rid of the idea of ​​”you have to leave this town”?

E: There are cities where no one talks about it — but it’s fun, there are places to meet talented people. For capable people to stay, they need opportunities for development, jobs, a comfortable environment and a quality of life. The question is what is happening in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk: what opportunities will be provided to local talented youth, primarily creative professions? Will competencies related to design, sculpture, architecture be developed? What will be the pace of infrastructure development? So far, the bus station of Arkhangelsk has no site, stops on the Sea-river are not signed, the city’s public transport schemes are not clear to the visitor. In the districts of the region there are many unique objects of wooden architecture. How can a tourist from Moscow get there? However, the changes are taking place, a lot of information can be found on the excellent website of Archangelsk tourist information center. In any case, everything changes.

A: So the city has a future?

E: It’s obvious. This is just the beginning.

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