Tuesday, 22 February 2011

feeding the defenders

It is a public holiday tomorrow - Defenders of the Fatherland Day - and today the women at work made lunch for the men in celebration.

In the Soviet period this was first called Red Army Day and then Soviet Army and Navy Day. Now the connection has been shifted from military valour to men in general, so it has become known generally as Men's Day. In some weird version of equality this is offered as a counterpoint to International Women's Day coming up on 8th March. Whilst women elsewhere in the world will campaign for equal rights on this day, in Russia the men give women flowers.  

Sunday, 20 February 2011

grey (2)

Spent more time than I wanted in this small blank room at Moscow Domededovo airport yesterday. It is the Consul, on the wrong side of passport control, where I arrived quite late in the evening to be told that my existing work visa (dated to May 2011) was no longer valid; the ins and outs of which are quite dull to recount. After some negotiations  and the payment of a new fee I left with a new - single-entry 10 day - work visa. This is because multiple entry work visas are not issued on first entry (despite the fact that my old passport was already filling up with quite a number of multiple entry visas, and I already had a up-to-date visa.) So now another visa will have to be obtained to allow me to stay longer.

I realise this is nothing compared to the Guardian corrrespondent Luke Harding's experiences recently (when he was not only put in a cell but also deported before being allowed back a week later), so I am not complaining, only giving it as an example of some of those 'different' aspects of Russia.  Maybe people coming the other way - into England - have similar stories to tell about getting into the UK.

And, mentioning Luke Harding, I am sorry that he and his family are going back to England for now; although this is entirely for selfish reasons as I have still never managed to go on one of Phoebe Taplin's amazing looking walks. I do keep most of the double-page spreads she has written in the Moscow News, suggesting places to go and things to see. She promises to return, so lets hope so. 

grey (1)

A few (lovely) days in London with my family and friends. Miss them badly, but not the weather....

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

a bit of gossip

So, got the latest gossip at Garage Centre for Contemporary Art. Everyone knows that Roman Abramovich and Daria Zhukova - who currently run Garage - have just bought themselves an island off St Petersburg called New Holland and are planning to build an art museum, hotel, retail, etc., etc., there. So, the question for Moscow is, what happens to гараж? We have already seen that the most recent shows are touring ones, indicating a little losing of interest...

Well, it turns out that Daria said just this Saturday that they will keep the place for a year or two and then move to another Moscow location. This is because the existing space, a conversion of Melnikov's famous - and fabulous - constructivist bus garage is only rented. All of it, including the art collecting and the football club, revealing a way of operating beyond the ken of ordinary (non-billionaire) minds.


Witnessed more people falling over today - with varying degrees of bump - than in all the time I have been in Moscow. Total of 10 (separately, not together).

A combination, I think, of truly treacherous conditions created by the ongoing cycle of mild days, cold nights and continual layers of new snow which I have mentioned before: and of being in one of those places (which seem quite randomly arranged), where no pavements get cleared - this time, Novoslobodskaya, on my way to a lecture at Garage.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Handy hints for travellers 17: not the Bolshoi...

I may get myself into trouble here, especially because I have only been to one performance of the Bolshoi 'round the corner' from their base (too expensive, and the main building only just renovated);  and have come to an unsupported opinion that the shows at the Novaya Opera are too cheap and uneven (!) But, I would strongly recommend seeing the ballet or opera at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre as a key part of the Moscow traveller's experience.

Why you may ask? Well because the tickets are inexpensive (under 20 pounds/$30), the theatre is small but interesting, and the performances I have seen - Stone Flower and Madame Butterfly - have been very moving. Several important provisos here. I don't know much about music, ballet or opera. I saw Madame Butterfly sung in Italian with Russian surtitles so I did not understand a thing, And it has to be admitted that  the scenery had a miscellaneous quality, tending to wobble, whilst the staging asked some odd and distracting 'business' of the performers. But still I cried. Which has never happened before (to me) in an opera. Ever.

So that seems good enough reason for a recommendation.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

10-of-the-best 9: Museum of Architecture

Finally found my way to the Schusev State Museum of Architecture today - a brilliantly tumbledown and miscellaneous, artifact-filled set of buildings (an old aristocratic estate) just next to Biblioteka Lenina metro station. For those interested in the subject there is a stunning exhibition of architectural drawings and photographs of 1930s Stalin-approved projects by the State architecture department Mosproekt -1 (finishes 10 February 2011); some conceptual work from, I think, architectural students; and then a show of photographs in what is rightly called 'the ruined annexe' where the temperature inside was colder than outside, but the space is extraordinary.

Like many provincial English museums, the place is staffed by old ladies, all of whom were extremely helpful. I recommend a visit, if only to see the (unfortunately rather picturesque) effects of underfunding of museums like this in Post-Soviet Russia.

For Soviet/Russian architectural groupies, the museum also has virtual exhibitions


The snow may be melting, but there is still lots of it piled up, where it has been scraped off roads and paths all winter. And - at last - an example of the snow-cleaning my landlord insisted was the best way to get the dirt out of my carpets. This bloke is doing his winter coat, alternatively hitting it with a stick and a broom, and then turning it over again and again. Brilliant. Wonder if this is still a normal past-time, or just left over from the 'old times'?

Friday, 4 February 2011


Half the States covered in snow, cyclone in Queensland, Moscow unseasonally mild, with temperatures fluctuating just across zero degrees. Everything is dripping. Which makes me fed-up - if I had wanted damp-aired and grey-skied English weather, I could have stayed in London.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

contemporary Russian video art

Went recently to the third in a series of exhibitions entitled 'The History of Russian Video Art' at MMOMA. The first of these was held in 2007, and has only just got up to the current period.

All the usual suspects - Blue Noses (above) AES+F, Iced Over Architects, Victor Alimpiev, Olga Chernysheva - were there, and then both some seemingly banal work and some really unexpected and interesting pieces. In the first group came rather a lot of water-based work, including the BlueSoup Group (who look more interesting on their website) and Dimitry Gutov. His Thaw (2006) is a literal interpretation of the gradual shift out of the Soviet period's 'cultural freeze', presented as a man stumbling about in melting snow, supported by a wonderfully grumpy poem about getting into a fight.

Despite a generally literal translation between art presented here and its meaning, I really liked a couple of slightly surreal, laugh-out-loud works. One  involved a series of minature model house interiors into were projected tiny animated  people, doing silly things. The other showing a blue, cloudy sky into which you could make two people appear by working old-fashioned hand pumps. If you pushed long enough they inflated like ballons, grinned and floated away. Embarassingly I don't know who the artists were for either of these pieces, so any help here appreciated.

The whole thing has clearly been a huge research project, curated by Antonio Geusa, with the aim of finding and reclaiming video art in the Russian context. As the MMOMA website says: "Video appeared at the same time when contemporary art emerged from the semi-clandestinity of the underground and was shown in the first independent contemporary art spaces." The first recognised work was only in 1985 (Andrey Monastyrsky’s Conversation with a Lamp, in case you wanted to know). The very shortness of video's art's history here together with, as Geusa says, the need 'to shout' outside of a the previously rigid control of art, helps to explain something about both the literalness and the maudlin, gaudy belly-laughing humour.

The show finished on January 30, 2011 and was at the  Moscow Museum of Modern Art at 17 Yermolaevsky Lane.

yes, yes, yes!

So it has happened; the roof of our building has become an ice-rink for the winter. So excited - although I haven't been on it yet, its very basic and they do play bad music extremely loud. But, still,  what a great thing...

To find out more go to http://artplay-katok.ru/