Drorinel Marc. A Better Life Soon. 1998-2001


It should be taken into account that the Scandinavian curators mostly invited artists born in the 1960's and 70's, therefore, they had attained their professional maturity around the year 2000, after long years of study in academies and art schools in Europe and elsewhere in the world. When choosing artists from St. Petersburg, Ana Bitkina used principally different generational motifs. She included in the exposition artists born in the 1980's, who grew up in Putin's 2000's; their pragmatic views and career ambitions are in stark contrast with the idealistic and strongly romantic views of people whose ethical development happened in the full-of-hope-and-change 1990's (generational paradigm change in post-soviet Russia – that's a separate and long story).

The “Putin generation” artists consider the late introduction (just in the middle of the 2000's) of the post-industrial consumer generation into Russia, with its universal ideals of senseless consuming. But they don't reflect it critically or in a removed sense, but with an enthusiastic delving into the ideals of this society, with a slightly naïve consumer ecstasy, as seen from today's perspective. Many of the works of the new artists, whose careers began at the end of the 2000's, are meant for immediate cultural use, for a momentary reading of the whole code of content. That's why they try to be wrapped in bright and loud packaging, full of positive bravura and at the same time, give a  slightly mocking “sting” (the Russian version of “fun”). Tatyana Ahmetgalyeva's video installation, “Cardboard Childhood, Paper Life” (12 monitors show paper dolls circling around), and Vlad Kulkov's sculpture, “The Order of Metamorphosis” (incrementally growing polyps of plasticine) are eloquent examples of new Russian art cultivating colorful, watchable entertainment, relaxed content of meaning, perception without effort, etc.

Tatyana Ahmetgalyeva. “Cardboard Childhood, Paper Life”. 2011

Obviously, the new Russian artist gives preference to the genre of effective and colorful shows, in the hopes that he will be noticed and will quickly ascend into the awards system, maybe even gain world-wide acclaim. But it is this tendency towards momentarily perceptive visual effects, instead of towards sympathetic social critique, that gives today's Russian art a kind of conceptual “immaturity” (in the exhibition's catalog, Ahmetgalyeva's work is described as a “pathological unwillingness to grow up”, that is, not taking responsibility for social faults). I think that the generational cross-section represented in Ana Bitkin's exhibition is very, very precise and symptomatic.

Tatyana Ahmetgalyeva. “Cardboard Childhood, Paper Life”. 2011

Pessimism, confusion, uncertainty of the future, mistrust of the competent institutions of authority – these are the main dominants that may not speak of outright tragedy, but they do speak of the anxious feelings of Nordic inhabitants in the situation when the social state has collapsed and neo-liberalism has come in its stead. I must admit that the project's curators vigilantly react to challenges faced by today's people in this unpredictable and inescapable era of transformation.

And so, Simon Sheikh asks: “What does the future have in store for a society that is in love with itself and just recently proclaimed itself the happiest country in the world – the Danes? <...> And what does this society expect in a time of global economic changes and the downfall of sovereign nation-countries?” Aura Seikkula sees as the goal of her curatorial work “to ensure a process of criticism and questioning which is not dialectically opposed to an answering process, but affirms truth as the relationship and interaction between thought and reality.” A more dour analysis of the present is offered by the Swedish curator, Power Ekroth, who says, “The “new horizons” of today's Nordic art – that is something like a sober weekday after a fun discotheque”.

It's hard to predict what will be the daily life of art for all of post-industrial civilization in the  explosive 2010's – will it be industrious or full of protest? Happy or sad? To the project, “Nordic Art Today”, which is planned to continue for several more years, I would like to wish the ability to come up with in-depth answers to these as-of-yet unanswered questions. Another important wish – that this project, as it evolves, gives increasingly clear and precise specifics of the social and cultural differences that characterize (and will continue to characterize) today's art in the Northern regions and beyond.