Belarus: Between Europe and Europe

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Belarus

Belarus: between Europe and Europe
Many years ago, when I started to hold international theme- based curator exhibition projects in Belarus, together with the curator Mikhail Barazna we asked the invited foreign artists, half jokingly, half in earnest, the same question: where is Minsk? We discovered there was a whole array of answers: some said “Oh, it is just around the corner, you take the E-1 and go ahead”, some supposed it was “somewhere a short distance from Moscow”, and others were convinced it was in Russia or in Ucraine. Then we decided to find out where our respondents placed Belarus. The result was pretty much the same: some were sure there were no other countries at all between Poland and Russia, some placed it, strangely, in the region of the Ural mountains. But there were also those who knew that Belarus “is in Europe”, and some others who were genuinely bewildered by the discovery that it actually was in Europe. Belarus is not a big country indeed, but it is not smaller than Switzerland.

Sergei Ashukha, Ekaterina Shimanovitch - We are happy (2016)


Over time, we stopped trying to explain that Belarus is the centre of Europe and Minsk is the capital of Belarus. We just keep asking questions, hear the answers, and comment on them through our projects. But, presenting exhibitions, holding lectures, taking part in seminars and conferences abroad, the first illustration I show is always a picture from a 1924 geography textbook, which illustrates the exact position of Belarus in Europe.

Alexander Konovalov - Sail (2016)


Europe is where the Europeans are, so there are so many mini-Europes scattered all around the globe. Though there are actually many more Europeans’ Europes than the European geographic centres, which grow in number every year in a progression that is not so clear. Every European has his or her own private centre of Europe, be it the village “America” in Belarus or the very authentic French Paris.

Yuriy Yakovenko - Unicorn (2016)


Many fundamental notions of European culture long ago became part of street signs, the shops’ names became familiar, even if an impartial observer sees them just as another strange image of the contemporary art.
The change of the reality gives a new meaning to the image. Of course, reading that meaning can provoke in the viewer feelings different from those that the authors expected. But that only makes things more interesting, because subjective perception creates new realities, unknown before.

Pavel Tatarnikov - Head (2016)


There are different ways of getting to know a country’s art and culture. One can travel in its cultural space, moving from one site to another. One can visit artists’ workshops, galleries and museums. One can search for information on the Internet, or ask around. Or one day, without any preparations, one can just find oneself in another cultural space, for instance in Belarus, and entrust one’s fate to an art curator or an artist who offers a specially created itinerary with stops in the most interesting and unexpected places.

Kristina Baranova - Birds (2016)


Stop One: Nauka (Science)
The artistic space we propose – Belarus – is historically situated on the crossroads of the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, on the crossroads of the territories of Eastern and Western dominance. The art of Belarus has always had distinctive traditional European traits,
and after the country became independent in 1991, they got more pronounced and visible.

Ekaterina Kenigsberg - Export (2016)


Thanks to the common European roots, in the first 1990s the contacts between Belarusian and foreign artists were established in a relatively easy and fast way. Belarusian artists were eager to get, absorb and re-elaborate creatively all information about the actual state of the Western art, mostly European. And such information was relatively available even before: there were German, Polish, Czech art books and magazines sold freely, there were Polish and other Western radio transmissions accessible anyplace in Belarus, exhibition catalogues artists brought from their trips abroad, which became really frequent after the Chernobyl disaster. Even if it was much harder to try and leave the Soviet art utopia than to find the entrance into the new realities, the national art school received strong impulses for development and growth in the fine arts field.

Anatoliy Kleschuk - The pain goes away slowly II (2016)


The key concepts in the development of the Belarusian fine arts after 1991 became the experiment and the synthese of different artistic movements. Artists who received a classic academic education, kept using the traditional classic techniques in their work, but started to try actively other forms, such as performance, installation, happening, conceptual art, festival movement.

Valentina Shoba - Kiss (2016)


The flourishing period of the gallery movement in Belarus was in 1990-2000. It saw the appearance of the first Belarusian contemporary art curators, and a wide and growing international exchange in the fields of art and culture. It permitted Belarusian artistic culture to make a huge quality leap and pass to another level. Independent nonprofit art galleries, created on artists’ and art historians’ initiative, became an alternative to the widely used form of presentation of artworks in museums and art halls. It was then that in the newly created galleries in different Belarusian towns, among them A.V., Verkhniy Gorod, U mastera, U Pushkina, Medea, 6-ya Liniya, Nova, VILNUS, Solyanye sklady, Alter ego and others, new forms of art were being studied and some brand new and unheard artistic actions were held. Most galleries were created and functioned as nonprofit ones, which means that their main purpose was the presentation of the contemporary art. The works of art they exhibited, if sold at all, were not sold on a daily basis, and the gallery did not see selling them as its aim. Independent nonprofit art galleries played an important role in the establishing of new art forms in Belarus. Subsequently, most of those galleries ceased their existence.

Yuriy Pevnev - Urban Dream (2016)


Nowadays there are quite a lot of institutions that represent the contemporary art in Belarus. Among them museums, galleries, exhibition halls and other institutions, holding art exhibitions on a regular basis or once in a while. But there are no biennials nor triennials held in Belarus, as well as no other big interna- tional contemporary art events. In Minsk, some small local biennials are organized by the Union of Artists of Belarus with the participation of artists from bordering countries. In Vitebsk, an international student art festival called “Art-Sessiya” is held. The only important event of internation- al significance is the Navinki International Performance Festival, held annually in Minsk in the beginning of Autumn, since 1999.

Maria Kosheleva - The dreams of Neptune in Gdańsk (2016)


Stop Two: Ostrov (Island)
Of all the art galleries the most interesting was the 6-ya Liniya, an independent art gallery which was active from the end of 1992 until 1998, at the highest floor of one of the buildings of the Belarusian National Technical University in Minsk. It was there that the works of the Belarusian underground artists Ludmila Rusova, Igor Kashkurevich, Viktor Petrov, Olga Sazykina and the representatives of the Minsk photography school Igor Savchenko, Galina Moskalyova, Vladimir Shakhlevich, were openly exhibited for the first time. At the 6-ya Liniya, if you stopped there to see the opening of an exhibition and successfully made your way through the crowd, you could witness the first week of a performance, bright and unusual curator projects, see the most up-to-date German or French photo art, Polish painting and drawing. For many years, the independent art gallery 6-ya Liniya set the course for the contemporary art movement in Belarus.

Mikhail Barazna - Illusion of distance (2) (2016)

Stop Three: Energhia (Energy)
In the years 1997-2008 six theme-based international exhibition projects were held in Belarus: “Texts”, “Illusion of Distance”, “Windows of a City”, “Illusion of Time”, “Stop Europe”, “Travel Notes. Europe”, which actually became something like contemporary art biennials. Each project was created and fulfilled following a precise idea of curators Mikhail Barazna and Ekaterina Kenigsberg. Traveling project exhibitions were held in all the big cities of Belarus and were accompanied by round tables, international conferences, seminars, master classes, meetings with artists and curators, competitions and other events. International theme-based exhibition projects became not only a form, but a tendency of the contemporary Belarusian art, which adopted the methodology of the Western European art, without breaking with the local traditions.

Viktor Petrov - Father and daughter (2016)

Stop Four: Pravda (Truth)
The last 25 years for Belarusian artists and curators have been the time of non-participation in the leading events dedicated to the contemporary art held abroad. With the exception of the 54th Venice Biennale, where the curator Mikhail Barazna presented his project “Kodex”, in which took part Belarusian artists such as Yury Alisevich, Artur Klinov, Konstantin Kostyuchenko, Viktor Petrov, Denis Skvortsov, Belarusian artists were not represented at any of the most significant contemporary art exhibitions. The “Kodex” project, which presented an interpretation of text layout as a general composition, arranged using different tools of three-dimentional plastics, tonal and colour graphics and media art, became the authors’ (artists’ and the curator’s) polilogue. It resulted in a synthetic composition, that was created according to the traditions of the art of idea, and that presented some aspects of the development of the contemporary art in the Republic of Belarus. At the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, Belarus presented an historical archive project without artists’ participation.

Fedor Shurmelev - Hen or egg (2016)

Belarusian art of the last decades still needs more study and understanding, and needs to be included in the international cultural context. The process of more active participation of Belarusian artists in international exhibitions is extremely slow, even if their works are up to the standards of contemporary art tendencies. Thanks to their artistic achievements, prizes and rewards, exhibitions in Belarus and abroad, Belarusian artists start getting more attention and acceptance outside the country Unfortunately, this is not true regarding Belarusian art historians, curators and art critics, whose presence in the international artistic space is quite insignificant.

Valery Slauk - Untitled I (2016)

The contemporary art curators from Belarus are known only to some scholars. The Belarusian State Academy of Arts recently started courses for the future art curators. The Academy is the alma mater of the absolute majority of Belarusian artists, being the only art academy in the country. During their studies at the Academy the students, magistrates and doctorants not only receive a solid academic base, but get acquainted with the most recent tendencies in the contemporary art, science and culture. In the recent years, a contemporary art center has been created at the Academy. It holds local and international contemporary art projects and exhibitions; it prepares and conducts educational and divulgative programs, public lectures and master classes, analytical, scientific and informative work in the field of contemporary art, and it helps to integrate contemporary Belarusian art in the national and international context. The Center also houses an art union called the Student Center for Contemporary Art “Alla Prima”.

Konstantin Kostyuchenko - Circles on the water (2016)


Stop Five: Kraski (Colours)
The picture of the Belarusian contemporary art scene we propose here is of course fragmentary and incomplete. The artists’ works are re- thought, invented or almost photographically true fragments of impressions, feelings, events, personal stories. The artist does not think of the possible ways of changing or adjusting the optics, it is just not in his power. He works the way he sees and feels, making things he sees pass through the prism of his view of the world. The paradoxal way of thinking, this precious and rare gift, can be seen in the works of Mikhail Barazna, Igor Savchenko, Yuriy Yakovenko, Valery Slauk, Konstantin Kostyuchenko, Yury Alisevich, Olga Sazykina.

Vadim Dozmorov - Explication from my favorite lm (2016)


Art lies in the field of analysis. There are no ready recipes, formulas, magic alchemy symbols. The important thing is the ability to analyse, think, interpret. An artist or a curator, creating their own art project, as Taras Kuchynski-Parovoy, Elena Rusakevich, Sergei Ashukha, Ekaterina Shimanovitch and others do, in most cases wants to invite the viewer to take part not only in the looking at the work of art, but in the dialogue, in the act
of creation.

Ales Famenka - Menu, Exit (2016)

The attempt at fixating the reality inevitably turns into its comprehension. The fragments add something to the real world. Impressions become information (concrete or not) about time, space and state, which can clearly be seen in the works of Vladimir Zinkevich, Pavel Tatarnikov, Viktor Petrov.
The sphere of the contemporary art is international, and to some extent influences the image of the country being formed abroad. Behind any kind of activity there are specific people, and it is the young elites who later will take the decisions on the scientific, cultural and artistic potential of the country, questions of cultural politics, etc. That is why for this project the works of many young artists who were awarded scholar- ships, prizes, diplomas, participants of artistic events on different levels, sometimes ones being at the very begin- ning of their artistic career, were chosen. Among them Fedor Shurmelev, Ekaterina Krishtopik, Alina Prostak, Sergey Rubashko, Pavel Grebennikov and others.

Yuriy Podolin - Dream (2016)

The contemporary art has more questions than answers. Belarus, also because of its geographic accessibility, could become a quite recognizable place on the map, where some important international art events are held. But while we are waiting for that to come true, in order to draw the attention to the Belarusian contemporary art, any traveller entering the country could be offered a special map with a cultural itinerary traced on it, passing through some towns and villages in different parts of the country. Our very brief overview of the contemporary art of Belarus included the stops at Nauka (Science), Ostrov (Island), Energhia (Energy), Pravda (Truth), Kraski (Colours).

Alexandra Dyatlova - Night air (2016)

Even if the times of the great geographical discoveries are long gone, our country, if we have an attentive look at it, turns out to be an immense gallery of contemporary art. The variety of visual experiments in the Belarusian contemporary art can initiate the birth of new artistic initiatives, and to those who successfully complete at least some of the itineraries across some absolutely real Belarusian towns and villages that we proposed here, a stamp saying “Art Gallery Belarus” on the map would remind them of Belarus, situated between Europe and Europe.

Irina Bankovskaya - Time (2016)

Credits: Story

Art Direction, Photography and Production
Fabrica

Project Management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd.

Curators
Ekaterina Kenigsberg
Enrico Mascelloni

Project Coordinator
Oriano Mabellini

Editorial Coordination
Enrico Bossan

Texts
Luciano Benetton
Ekaterina Kenigsberg
Enrico Mascelloni
Alexander Guryanov (Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to Italy)
Stefano Bianchi (Italian Ambassador in the Republic of Belarus)
Editing and Translation
Emma Cole
Valentina Granzotto
Service Scibbolet: Tiziana Dandoli and Robin Ambrosi
Francesca Stopper
Pietro Valdatta
Organization
Barbara Liverotti
Giorgia De Luca

Art Direction
Roberta Donatini

Production
Marco Pavan

Artworks Photography
Marco Zanin

Photography
Enrico Mascelloni

Special thanks to:
Alexander Guryanov
Stefano Bianchi
Fondazione Sarenco
Oksana Ignatush
Mikhail Barazna and Belarusian State Academy of Arts
Anna Bizhyk
Taras Kuchynski-Parovoy
Elena Rusakevich (Curatorial team of Students’ Centre of Contemporary Art “Alla Prima” at the Belarusian State Academy of Arts)

Cover
Mikhail Barazna - llusion of distance (1)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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