Voices (Towards Other Institutions) #26
The theme of the now postponed biennale theme disturbs me. How will We live together? The question feels too nice. There is this united We and a kind of promise of an afterlife, as if the right answer were happily ever after. The theme is promising a resolution whilst not unveiling the conflict. Who is We? Do We really want to live together? Does this We include young protesters from Paris or Russian pensioners as well? Does We overcome income and race divides?
As some sort of tagline this question has more in common with themes from the architecture domain of the early 2010s, like David Chipperfield’s Common Space and Kazuyo Sejima’s People meet in architecture. It’s not right to talk about an exhibition that never opened. So let’s leave it at a purely philological acquisition. The theme just sounds like an attempt to catch the zeitgeist of a gone time.
The notion of time is an important one. Even besides Covid it seems like the 2020’s are going to be very much different from the recent decades. To think of an analogy: we aren’t in the 50’s in the West, with economic growth and political consensus; we are rather in the rebellious 1960’s. Yellow jackets, BLM, protests in Belarus and Poland… May ‘68 is knocking at our door. So how are we going to live together?
Aside from politics, generations and race, how do conflicts affect cultural institutions, if at all?
Conflicts don’t bring different groups together but do the opposite. It’s the very nature of any conflict. The same is true for spaces of culture: in a divided society, spaces of culture are also divided.
There are different sorts of division. The Russian sort is political oppression. At its worst it creates an asymmetry in the design of cultural life. Spaces of culture are divided between major mainstream institutions and nonconformist spaces, just like in the Soviet Union of the 1980’s, which had a net division between the official and the nonconformist domains. Dull official culture established itself in state palaces of culture while exciting, resonant nonconformist events took place in semi-legal venues like the Leningrad Rock club.
The 2010’s in Russia was the time of mainstream, an era of productive compromise. The idea was that you could do any innovative thing you liked as long as they didn’t venture into politics. A lot was achieved: for instance, the audiences reached by the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art were bigger than ever.
It feels like this time has now come to an end. Of course the space for cultural compromise is still there. But it is not going to attract new or young audiences. Compromise will not be a hot thing in the 2020’s.
Asymmetry draws attention to places or venues that do not belong to the official culture, happening in plain daylight. Its gravitation draws people into the night.
Mutabor became the main techno venue in Moscow from day one. All the must haves of a techno club are there: music, smart young crowds, abandoned factory spaces. But a lot of unusual stuff goes on as well. tThe opening was much more like an art event with performances by the theatre director Oleg Glushkov and contemporary academic musicians Kymatic. Mutabor is an art space standing on the shoulders of techno music.
The Urvakan festival which took place in Yerevan in 2019 explored the same path. Promoters from Moscow lined up a major techno event in a city that wasn’t used to these things. What was interesting once again was the ambition to grow bigger. Urvakan carried on like a major cultural event with things going on around the clock all over the city. Promoters curated events you would expect to see at art institutions. Contemporary musicians were commissioned to write new pieces to be performed in Yerevan’s best concert hall.
It’s also interesting to think about the possibility of moving in the opposite direction. Is it possible for a space of compromise to step into the night? In 2017 the V-A-C Foundation brought the Geometry of Now festival into the abandoned GES-2. It was a cool way to say goodbye to the former power plant about to be transformed into a modern art centre. Will a next edition of the Geometry of Now still be possible when the Foundation launches its new home?
The 2020’s will be the time of all sorts of fights. These fights will affect cultural spaces. In the upcoming decade the most inspiring spaces will be the ones which find a way to deal with asymmetries and gravitations. Modern art centres that invite techno audiences into their premises or move outside their hallowed boundaries. Underground nightclubs which recognize themeselth as major art venues.
Konstantin Budarin is an architecture critic and independent consultant. Member of the Kultura architectural collective. Graduate of Strelka institute.