Winzavod cancels The Sochi Project exhibition one week before opening

Winzavod cancels The Sochi Project exhibition one week before opening

10 October 2013

A Dutch photography exhibition documenting the extreme makeover taking place in Sochi in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics has been cancelled by Moscow’s Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art a week before it was due to open. News of the cancellation comes a week after the pair behind The Sochi Project exhibition, photographer Rob Honstra and writer Arnold van Bruggen, were denied visas to enter Russia. A statement from Honstra and Van Bruggen said: “The Russian side ultimately lacked any will to make the exhibition succeed.”

A statement from Winzavod, a former wine factory that now houses a number of galleries, said that neither Hornstra or Van Bruggen had signed a contracts or sent any of the works intended for the exhibition. It said: “This prevents us from organising an exhibition in the chosen space to a high standard and at a sufficiently professional level. We are prepared to look at a new date for running this exhibition at Winzavod if all contractual obligations are fulfilled.”

In an email to The Calvert Journal, Van Bruggen said the contemporary art centre had been looking for a way to axe the exhibition for some time by raising a series of obstacles, in particular with the contract. “They had ridiculous rules, €5,000 fines if the exhibition wasn’t exactly according to the contract between them and the Russian Ministry of Culture — a contract we never saw … In the end there was a good contract, Rob signed it and sent it via email. Then they wanted the original contract and we were about to send it by DHL but then Winzavod said they wouldn’t accept this contract anymore and broke off all contact.” He said that a large number of the artworks for the exhibition were about to be transported to Russia with a member of The Sochi Project team who already had his visa, travel tickets and hotels booked.

He added: “Their press-release was quite kind-worded. I don’t think they like this situation either. They were maybe forced by the owners or investors of Winzavod. They offered another exhibition for another time, but exhibitions are expensive and this one was sponsored by the Dutch and Russian governments so I think it’s just a way of saying sorry.”

Hornstra and Bruggen have travelled to Sochi and the surrounding areas a number of times since 2009 to chart the changes taking place in the city as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics next year. The outcome is a critical collection of photos and articles published both online and in book form as The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus.

But last week, Hornstra told press that the Russian authorities had declined to renew his visa and press accreditation, making him the first Dutch journalists to be refused entry since the fall of the Soviet Union. Van Bruggen’s visa renewal application has since been turned down. The decision to cancel the exhibition comes amid a growing breakdown in diplomatic relations between Russia and the Netherlands despite it being a bilateral year of cultural exchange between the two countries.

In the latest in a series of incidents, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans apologised to Russia on Wednesday for the arrest and detention of one of its diplomats in The Hague on the weekend, admitting the act was a breach of diplomatic immunity. Police were called following concerns by neighbours that the children in Dmitri Borodin’s flat were being mistreated. Russia responded by hinting that it would ban the import of Dutch tulips and dairy products.

The incident comes after the arrest by Russian authorities of 30 Greenpeace activists last month following a protest against an Arctic oil rig owned by state-controlled energy giant Gazprom. The Dutch government responded by launching a legal suit to free the activists who have been accused of piracy and recover the Dutch-owned Greenpeace ship that carried them to the rig.