Despite being the largest country in the world, Russia still remains centralised, with most cultural life concentrated in Moscow and St Petersburg. While the state struggles with strategies to invigorate the arts in the so-called “regions”, local artists are doing the hard work on the ground, creating unique projects with little or no funding. As they struggle to find venues that will exhibit contemporary work, they create their own, or kickstart much-needed conversations on the current scene by working in the public space. As part of Russia Z’s special project Curated, we’re spotlighting five artists who have built their careers away from Russia’s main metropolises.
Sisters Axinya and Nika Sarycheva date their artistic partnership back to 1999, when the younger of the pair was born. But the duo began actively working from their base in Tomsk in 2018, carrying out their own brand “beauty-vandalism”. The sisters decorate public spaces, often drawing attention to cracks and imperfections in the city’s streets. The artists have also opened a gallery — in their own room. It is a fitting setting, since family and kinship are an important topic in the duo’s work. The 2019 project Me and My Sister is an exploration of sibling ties, where two ponytails signify the artists’ differences.
Based in Nizhny Novgorod, Artem Filatov creates projects which are closely connected to his home town, and its cultural and environmental landscape. He founded Tikhaya Studio, a self-organised working space for artists that is open for visitors, and, co-created a therapeutic memorial garden at a local crematorium along with artist Alexey Korsi. His love for the city is best professed in his 2017 work Et in Arcadia Ego (“And I, too, once lived in Arcadia”). A plaque with the Latin inscription, usually interpreted as a memento mori, was placed in a Nizhny Novgorod street.
Alexandra Melnikova lives and works in Tyumen. An interdisciplinary artist and designer, she works with a range of media, but is perhaps best known for her street and land art projects. Interested in our relationship with our everyday surroundings, Melnikova often uses bright colours, creating iridescent works right in the city centre. Recently, she has painted the building of Tyumen College of Economics, Management, and Law for her Street Morphology project. Here, you can see her untitled work from 2018, where she brings a splash of colour to a private house.
Nizhny Novgorod-based artist Andrey Druzhaev works with books, photography, video, and sound. His The Phantom Casuality of the Urban Landscape (2017), seems like a fantastic portal into another world — or maybe even as a something taken from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
But the piece, like its title, questions the nature and organisation of our cities by disturbing the mundane landscape. For the Novgorodians who are familiar with local history, the object is also a sober reminder about the cemetery that used to be where the park is now. Made of asphalt paste with reflective qualities, the door serves as, quite literally, a black mirror for passers-by.
Seen here, Anna Cherepanova’s work Soldier was made in 2018 for the New Ural Toys project. The show saw artists celebrate their heritage by recreating traditional crafts with non-traditional materials, from papier-mâché to waste. Cherepanova’s soldier is a sculpture surrounded by nature, making a figure more contemplative than combative.
While a lot of us played with toy soldiers as children, Cherepanova’s handmade work both elevates and questions this familiar object.
Until recently, Masha Grigorieva was based in her home town of Chelyabinsk, where she explored the lives of local young people. In her project Scream Louder, My Friend, Grigorieva shows the art that people create for themselves, hidden in their apartments: graffiti painted on their own balconies, a heartfelt portrait of a friend, a DJ-set played at a house party. Working on the project from 2018 to 2020, Grigorieva wanted to tell the story of her friends, and other people from her generation who had decided to stay in Chelyabinsk. Recently, the artist herself moved to the more metropolitan Yekaterinburg — but as it’s still only a 2-hour-drive away from Chelyabinsk, her new residence is not too far from home.