The best things in contemporary art often happen outside of the white gallery walls, and Vasya Run is one such example. The Moscow-based performance project merges contemporary art, theatre, street subcultures and rituals of spiritual emancipation. Enter the world of emerging Russian youth with the help of Vasya Run’s anonymous participants in this photo shoot produced exclusively for The Calvert Journal.
The Vasya Run project started about a year ago with a verbatim script written by Vasya, a Russian graffiti artist, based on his experience of being arrested and charged for vandalism in Paris. His first name became a part of the project’s title, and a night in a cell came to inspire the narrative of self-discovery on stage. What makes Vasya Run different from any other performance artists, however, is not the story, but the participants: the curators of the project cast young men between the ages of 16 and 23 who had previously nothing to do with the art world.
Found on the street, in shops, or on the Moscow metro, performers-to-be signed up for months of intense self-reflection. Becoming something like a commune or a family, they dedicated over six hours per week to a carefully curated set of exercises assembled from various theatre schools, spiritual rituals, and methods of physical self-development. One of the key influences on their program is George Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher of the mid-20th century who focussed on overcoming boundaries of self-awareness through movement and choreography.
The Vasya Run team insists on complete anonymity: the performers hide their faces behind scarves and bandanas, and curators and artists prefer not have their names on the credits. It creates a mystical air but also brings a certain equality between the teenage participants and art professionals involved in the project. The space they are aiming to enter on stage is a place of complete equality: there are no social distinctions there, just bodies in space and time.
Vasya Run’s concept is inextricably linked with youth, that transitional moment of formation before one gets weighed down by social conventions. Contemporary youth, of course, comes with its own uniform and codes, as seen in various urban subcultures. If the first part of the project borrowed aesthetics from skateboarding and graffiti community, the new performance, entitled Special Edition, is set on a street basketball court.
During Special Edition the space of the basketball court becomes a metaphor for the cage we all spend our lives in — a system of opinions and judgements. We observe the boys discussing fights, cars, friends, problems with police. When they are confronted by a shadowy observer, a dynamic emerges between the watcher and the watched. The performance aims to unveil how we act and perform during our daily lives and to break apart the vicious circle of socially imposed behaviour.
Vasya Run is about utopia, family, unity, and the search for inner freedom. It is also the way to a special state of mindfulness. As the collaborators explain, “During the actual performance the aim is to perform in a state of self-awareness, inner spontaneity, and freedom of physical expression.” The project’s been bashed by artists for being too commercial, by subcultural groups for being too public, by the press for being too vague. But maybe this is how it should be: it’s about freedom from opinions. The best thing is to go and see for yourself.
Text: Anastasiia Fedorova
Styling: Artur Lomakin
Photography and production: Vasya Run team