Daily life after the discotheque: what worries Nordic art, and what is it dissatisfied about
If one were to schematically describe the development of art in post-soviet St. Petersburg, the history could be divided into two opposing stages. The first – the turbulent rebuilding of the 1980's; after that, the bitter 1990's of Yeltsin: a time when the youth subculture actively acknowledged itself and was oriented towards radically rejuvenating the core of the city's art life (see “the new artists”, “the new composers”, “the new critics”, “The New Academy of Fine Arts”, etc.) The artistic environment's aspirations of attaining unprecedented creativity, together with a faith in underground and unofficial cultural values, allowed the city to become a center of intense bohemia and art for more than a decade and a half. In the 90's, St. Petersburg turned out to be especially fertile ground for various groups of artists extolling alternative life-style scenarios and the creation of existential forms through squats and non-commercial galleries. It was at this time, the 1990's, when the mythological image of St. Petersburg as a territory of creative freedom came about; a place where the artist is not bounded by market dictates and, instead of realizing concrete projects, he can play character games (such as be a dandy, a loafer and a much-loved guru, all at the same time).
The second stage – the Putin “slowdown” years of the 2000's; the famous time of economic stability and then the following financial crisis, which was governed by the flow of money from raw materials. With few exceptions, St. Petersburg's art at this time looked inert and stagnant; its potential for creativity had been practically lost. The function of social critique, so characteristic of today's politically armored Western art, was pushed to the peripheries of St. Petersburg's public attention. In masses, artists turned to the financially rewarding work of creating objects of design for the post-soviet middle-class. That's why, in the second half of the 1990's, St. Petersburg's art was rather isolated from world trends; in addition, it gave off an air of provincialism when compared to the pompous and fiscally inflated situation in Moscow.
Grigory Yushchenko. “Don't Rip That Off, It's Important!” 2020-2011
It seems that it's not always possible to translate the local problems of St. Petersburg into the language of the world's cultural society. In the same way, not all issues important in the world cultural process are always adequately recognized and understood in the context of local art. Even though information technologies (firstly, the internet) may be well developed in St. Petersburg, especially among the youth, a certain “cultural famine” can be sensed. That's because in the first decade of the 21st century, structures for art education were practically non-existent (although there were liberal educational institutions such as “Pro Arte” and “Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences”). In such a troubling situation, the vast exhibition, “Nordic Art Today: conceptual debts, broken dreams and new horizons”, is a hopeful sign of belonging to the international context.
Loft Project Etagi
It is interesting that the exhibition is being hosted by Loft Project Etagi, which is found in what used to be an old bread factory; following the example of the Moscow Wine Factory, in 2007 Loft Project Etagi converted the space into a modern art center with several galleries, design studios and a hostel. At the time of Loft Project Etagi's founding, its segment of the cultural audience was socially transparent: they were the new specialists in the industries of design, fashion and nightclubs, among others. The phenomenon of contemporary art was centered by its growing prestige in the market – the aura of the surrounding rule of commercial success. After the financial crisis of 2008, this glossy environment wasn't as socially homogenous as it once was; in addition, its burning interest in modern art was quickly extinguished. In short – the glamorous public from the “upper floors” moved to other places, where hipsters gathered, but the Loft began attracting an extremely diverse public. Even though it wasn't swarmed by crowds every day, it was good to see that the exhibition was never lacking in visitors. I'm not sure if any monitoring of the public went on, but I believe that most of the visitors were students provoked by the cultural famine and young people associated with art, trying to fill in the gaps in their educations. >>