Monday, February 16, 2009

The Playfulness of Installation Art

Yesterday, I finally ventured out to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The exhibition of Irina Korina's "Installations" at 17 Ermolaevsky, a gallery of MMOMA, allows the viewer to walk through and on the art. Korina creates installation art that communicates emotion, feeling, experience, and place. Her playful work tantalizes the senses and activates childlike imagination and fascination with the "ordinary". And because of the art's structural and conceptual simplicity, the overall effect is a feeling or a sensation of playfulness and joy. The exhibition space is transformed from rooms in a museum, to a journey with the artist's imagination.

After wandering through the first floor of installations ("Smiles" and "Back to the Future"), I climbed the stairs to the next two installations. I enjoyed the strange familiarity of "Night Rate", essentially the view of an open window at night from outside (TV flashing, curtains waving). Then I curiously walked through the dimly lit forest of "Positive Vibrations", inhaling the scent of fresh pine needles and sap, and giggling inside as I walked up to a human size peep box filled with bright colors. Because the gallery was fairly deserted, I was alone and felt as if I had "discovered" someone else's secret fort. What would be the surprise? I walked up to it feeling excitement, joy, and anticipation. And then, though the colors were cheerful and it felt wrong, the peep box jolted me out of the calm. This fear was purely irrational because as I stood there trying to sort the feelings out, nothing lined up. So, I stepped back into the reverie of the "forest" and out of the installation.

"Positive Vibrations" back of the peep box without trees

One other installation, in particular, fascinated me - "Urangst" (German for primeval fear). This installation was made up of short wood planks attached to the floor in such a way that as I walked over them they rocked back and forth, making noise, and creating an interesting sensation of silliness for me. I was filled with trepidation when I first saw the piece. (The guard had to encourage me to step into the piece.) And I could never quite kick this feeling, so I only really enjoyed the piece for it's structural quality. I knew I was supposed to walk on it, but this runs counter to all museum etiquette I know (stand away from the work, don't touch, keep a safe distance, etc.) This piece, more than the others, challenged my understanding of museum space, but unfortunately, because of my inability to truly step into the work - I walked on the planks, but didn't relax - I didn't experience the sensation of "primeval fear" which "Urangst" seems to have been intended to communicate.


"Urangst" picture of planks

Though sometimes the feelings that are meant to be communicated fall flat (usually due to the viewer's inability to let the art take them), I love installation art because it emphasizes art as experience and generally challenges the perception of art as a single "piece" that the viewer is unable to truly interact with. But because of this experiential quality, most installation art is essentially ephemeral. Its effect cannot be fully felt through photos, and time and place dictate which installation art a viewer can experience.

You can read more about Irina Korina's work (in English!) at MMOMA's website

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Russian versus American Fairytales

Sunday I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in Russian. While the play was lovely, included fascinatingly elaborate props, sets, and costumes, and was understandable because I knew the story, I still have mixed feelings about seeing a Disney production in Moscow. While I am daily hit over the head with the idea that the a globalized world basically means American culture has saturated everything (McDonalds, Starbucks, Pepsi, Coca-Cola), and am also occasionally comforted by this idea, sometimes I’m a little unsettled by it. I still haven’t put my finger on exactly why.

With Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the only thing that was Russian about it was the language, the actors, and the location (in Moscow). Other than that this play could have been performed anywhere! It stayed almost too true to the Disney original. The songs were the same, only in Russian, the story was exactly the same, and the “Happily ever after” ending was about as unRussian as it gets. Not to say that Russian fairytales never end with happily ever after, because I have read many that do, but the path to happily ever after is never as simple as Disney has made it. Additionally, the audience was never exposed to Gaston’s comeupins, so his only consequence for being a jerk is that he doesn’t get the girl. The only moral we are given is something like be true to yourself, be beautiful and overwhelmingly kind and you will be happy.

From what I can deduce from the Russian fairytales I have read, the moral is never that simple. Most Russian fairytales are about being strong, proving yourself, and maybe somehow making it to a happy ending … if there is a beast involved, he already has the girl and someone ends up killing the beast and taking her from him – I haven’t found a story that makes you sympathize with the beast. I have yet to figure out what these types of morals say about Russian culture. American fairytales emphasize the importance of beauty (in the end … the ugly duckling did become a swan) and the idea that good will win. They emphasize the idea that we should be happy with our lot in life or do something to make it better. Russian fairytales are hardly ever this basic or straightforward. Perhaps, the meanings have been lost in translation, but sometimes the lazy man, who just lets life happen and gets lucky wins (“At the Pike’s Behest”).

In Russian fairytales hard work is not always rewarded, and self-reliance may be rewarded, but no matter who you are in a Russian fairytale, you will face trials and things might not turn out wonderfully. You never know if the lady you help is a wise woman or a witch, if the firebird you steal will help or hinder you, if you should ask for help or refuse it. One choice will make you miserable and the other will make you happy. In this way, Russian fairytales seem pretty fatalistic – you have no idea what will come across your path or what the right action is, but your best bet is to refrain from envy of others.

Monday, February 2, 2009

-10 C: Time for a walk

Добро Пожаловать Dobra Pozhalovat "Welcome" - a nice invitation into the forest

The sun shone in my window this morning, waking me up and making me realize that cabin fever had finally caught hold. I forced myself to bundle up and head out into the frozen outdoors. At minus ten degrees Celsius, with the sun shining and snow on the ground, the beauty of winter comes through. You no longer fight with the slush, the snow stays powdery rather than turning to ice, most people stay inside, and if there is any wind at all, it is a very light breeze. Of course, with minus ten in mind, I was only able to handle the cold for 45 minutes max. Regardless, the forest I have looked at from my window since I arrived in Moscow is gorgeous and huge, not to mention a quiet and ominous wintry landscape. In a city the size of Moscow, it is remarkable to get ten meters into a forest, only a maximum of 20 meters away from a major road, and realize the only sound you hear is snow crunching under the weight of your boots.

When it warms up and the days are longer, I will explore this forest to my heart’s content. With benches lining the path, it would provide a nice quietish spot for reading. Yet, I’m sure that when the weather warms up more and more people will frequent the forest because while the forest maintains a elegant monochromatic theme in the snow, the light greens of early spring, along with the wildflowers that are sure to appear, will be wonderful.

Aside from the forest, I saw a little more of the neighborhood in which I live.

4 Akademik Kapitza Ulitza (The building I call home)