Sunday, December 13, 2009

Project Summary: Krasnoyarsk

In Krasnoyarsk, I spent a week working every afternoon/evening with a master class of teen and young adult students to produce a thematic mural at a local public school. The group was assembled by project manager Irina Ulanova through a partnership with the Krasnoyarsk Museum Center--many had done a similar CEC ArtsLink workshop a few months prior and some were experienced art students. I began the project with a slide show lecture introducing a wide range of public art in NYC and across the United States, and my own work. I presented a general project theme of "Ideal Krasnoyarsk," based on a series of exhibits I had just finished curating in NYC, "Brooklyn Utopias," which had invited artists to respond to the theme of Ideal Brooklyn. Given the short time frame of the project and especially upon learning that street art and graffiti culture is of great interest to young Krasnoyarsk artists, I decided to make quick and low-budget street art techniques like stenciling the basis of the project. I showed examples in my presentation to inspire students.

The group was extremely proactive in collaboratively planning and executing the project under my guidance. In two planning workshops, the participants narrowed down the "Ideal Krasnoyarsk" theme to address the specific importance of preserving the architecture of the past and encouraging a vibrantly artistic future. We divided the mural composition into three main sections: past, represented by black and white stencils of demolished Krasnoyarsk buildings, on pages flying out on either side from a central book where two adjacent walls intersect; present, represented by solid green and brown skylines of current-day Krasnoyarsk and a river; and future, represented by freestyle, abstract graffiti landscapes by the more virtuosic artists in the group--these seem to overtake the present-day skyline, suggesting the importance of youthful artistic expression in an ideal future. The mural's title, "Ideal Krasnoyarsk," appears in several places, including the central book pages. The title and participant names are written side by side in both English and Russian, symbolizing the importance of global cultural exchange in an ideal society. To enhance this message, we also included two stencils of important NYC landmarks.

I was extremely impressed by this group of young artists who took so much initiative over the project, but at the same time was very open to discussion and direction from me. Special thanks to project managers Ira and Slava, for not only administrative and translation support, but for giving me a place to stay in their home, and the most fun introduction to Russia I could have hoped for!

Project Summary: St. Petersburg

This project, whose title translates to "From Our Windows," builds upon a recurring theme in my own artwork: combining multiple views in one picture and using windows as compositional devices. The project transformed an upstairs corridor in public school 33 in St. Petersburg through inserting painted windows on its walls. The school serves deaf and hearing-impaired students aged 7-16. The hallway runs through a dormitory for younger students who live at the school, and the administration wanted the art installation to relate to the thoughts and interests of these young children, and involve the participation throughout of a core team of about 10 students in the upper grades.

Six resulting "windows" (or window groupings) were created over about two and a half weeks of working nearly every day with this core team of students. Each window structure is made of wood with three-dimensional frames carved by a professional sculptor according to my design specifications. The carvings suggest the style of traditional Russian folk art windows, alluding to the importance of historic preservation. Each window shows different interior or exterior scenes based on drawings by both all of the younger classes and the core mural team in response to the question, "what would you like to see inside and outside your windows?" Three "outdoor" windows display an improved version of the actual neighborhood outside; an juxtaposition of faraway lands students might like to visit (including NYC); and a fantastical, fairy tale world. Three "indoor" window sets show different warm and welcoming household interiors; a museum gallery (based loosely on the famous St. Petersburg Hermitage museum); and a classroom. Rather than showing people in each scene, I incorporated playful, cartoonish cats, dogs, and birds based on the students' renderings of homes and neighborhoods full of animals. For each window frame, students designed stencils specific to the content of each window, and used them to create decorative patterns around the windows; such patterns are a traditional component of all Russian household objects.

There were some obvious challenges in undertaking such a complex public art with young people who not only speak a different language from me, but for the most part have very limited hearing abilities even in Russian translation. However, I also discovered universal ways of communicating through gestures, pictures, and visual demonstrations, arguably the most essential components of collaborative art-making. Most of the students had a prior interest and background in art but had not previously worked on this type of project. Yet some had highly developed artistic talent, and all showed tremendous commitment, staying late after school and coming in on their weekend to work. I also owe a lot to CEC's highly organized and dedicated project manager, Nastya Tolstaya, who worked alongside me with the students, acted as the translator and facilitator between all parties involved in the project, and did essential hands-on work too!

My hope is that the project not only speaks to my own artistic interests, but reflects the ideas of the children at the school and breeds a sense of both ownership and imagination. Windows often serve as metaphors for new possibilities, and I hope that these windows will inspire future students to think beyond their immediate surroundings and take advantage of all their capabilities.

Final meals in St. Petersburg: Traditional Georgian Food

Chicken shish kabob dish...with a side of lavash bread and a variety of pickled vegetables...also a traditional walnut sauce that tastes a little like Tahini. The other chicken dish also has a walnut cream sauce.

Final meals in St. Petersburg: Traditional Ukranian food (and music!) this case stuffed with potato. comes in several varieties!
Chicken kiev.
This dessert has a really long name I have since forgotten, but it was really good! I think these little pancakes are stuffed with some kind of cottage cheese and served with berry cream sauce. Yum!

A walk from the Hermitage to the Church of the Spilled Blood

Outside the Hermitage...I had already been there, but it's really necessary to go 2-3 times to see the whole thing!

St. Petersburg has a lot of bridges...

and canals!

Too bad it's already dark at 3:30pm...but it's a beautiful city at night too!Souvenir shop...I think a lot of these are based on Baba Yaga, a witch who shows up in a lot of Russian folk tales.
Visit for more info on this famous building, the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood.

This footware is all the rage...

Russian Ethnography Museum

After doing a whole public art project based on traditional Russian windows, carvings, and patterns, I have come to really love Russian folk art. This museum was great--documents the traditions of more than 150 different peoples living in the Russian territories.

Russian windows: the real thing!


They make you pay to take photos in most Russian museums...but in this one at least you get to wear a cool badge!