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Future Lab. Kinetic Art

Yulia Aksenova on being a curator and the most interesting projects
04.07.2021
Future Lab. Kinetic Art

Yulia Aksenova is a curator and co-curator of major all-Russian and international exhibitions. The expert has worked at the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. She has been involved in the fulfilment of major cultural projects. Recently, a large exhibition called ‘Future Lab. Kinetic Art in Russia’ was launched under the curatorship of Yulia Aksenova. Now the exhibition takes place in Moscow.

Юлия-Аксенова_0T3.jpg Yulia Aksenova
curator of Russian and international exhibitions, art historian, curator of the ‘Future Lab. Kinetic Art in Russia’ exhibition

Curator is a person involved in the full process of carrying out the project from the formulation of the idea to its physical installation. A specialist in this field is an important intermediary between art and society. It is curators who choose those artworks, which will be presented to the public, create the exposition, and reveal the works to the audience from one perspective or another.

Yulia Aksenova has always been interested in the curatorial profession. Already when she entered the Faculty of Art History at one of Moscow universities, she knew for sure that she would be involved in fulfilment of projects in the sphere of contemporary art in the future.

– How did you go from art history to being a curator of contemporary exhibitions? Is there a special education related to curatorship?

– Today, such an education exists. However, when I chose my university, there were no curatorial schools in Russia yet. In the 2000s, art education in our country was limited to the training of artists or art historians. However, I was interested in the very idea of curatorship, of conducting and fulfilling contemporary projects.

After receiving education in art history in Russia, I was lucky to enter De Appel, the international curatorial school in Amsterdam.

De Appel accepts only six people a year. Those are people from all over the world. I was the first student from Russia to receive a curatorial diploma of that level.

During our studies, we met and talked to outstanding people including artists, curators, and directors of leading world institutions. That immersed us in an incredible atmosphere and gave us new networking opportunities. We prepared a real curatorial project as the graduation work.

The training programme was quite challenging, competitive, and demanding. At the same time, I am happy that I managed to acquire such an international experience. It gave me a unique knowledge base, a powerful charge of energy, and most importantly, the ability to establish effective communication in the professional community.

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– ‘Future Lab. Kinetic Art in Russia’, one of your recent projects, has gained great popularity. What is particularly interesting about it?

– The exhibition was opened in February at the Manege Central Exhibition Hall in Saint Petersburg. We prepared it together with the State Tretyakov Gallery in the shortest possible time. We had only four months to fulfil our project. I was lucky to have a great team of co-curators. Anna Koleychuk and Andrey Smirnov are amazing, highly professional, and talented people.

Kinetic art is a complex phenomenon that emerged after World War II. This trend was based on the processes of transformation as an artistic form alongside the thinking and consciousness of people. Kinetic artists invented visual systems of transmission of information by experimenting with new technologies and materials. In fact, they formed a large creative laboratory, which influenced modern authors as well. Interestingly, many of the ideas and concepts of kineticism are still reflected in the works of young artists.

To show the scale of this influence, the Manege Central Exhibition Hall gathered about 400 exhibits including the works of Soviet kinetic artists, Russian avant-garde masters, and modern authors.

The idea was to present kinetic art in a rather concentrated form making it possible to show the relations among different generations and spheres of activity. We divided the project into 4 blocks: Vision Lab, Art Metrics Lab, Environment Lab, and Synesthesia Lab. The architecture of the exhibition was organized in such a way that, while exploring some of its sections, the visitor could watch others out of the corner of his or her eye. For example, when concentrating on optics and vision, the viewer felt a direct connection with the influence of science on art. The kinesthetic direction did not have clear dividing lines.

We managed to find a new trajectory in the development of art originating from the avant-garde and developing to this day. When working on the project, we saw an incredibly advanced level of thinking of the last century’s artists. For a long time, the avant-garde movement was associated with a revolutionary perception of reality. However, we demonstrated this trend from a different perspective and thus revealed its deep relationship with scientific concepts of knowledge.

The exhibition literally ‘unfolded’ our consciousness. When starting to work on that project, no one expected that we would manage to consider the art of the 1920s and 1960s from such an unusual angle. The audience perceived the artists not as revolutionaries or designers of social space but as people who deeply and subtly comprehended the connections of different layers of the world including mathematical, cosmic, poetic, and visual ones.

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– The exhibition is dedicated to artists of the past. Why does its title put an emphasis on the future?

– Kinetic artists thought using categories of the future, just like the avant-garde artists. They had a sense of absolute freedom and detachment from ideology, for which they were often oppressed. However, they continued to live following their idea of positive transformation of the world.

Kinetic artists believed that science and new technologies could bring great benefit to humanity and contribute to the transformation of the environment.

The same thing is happening now. Contemporary artists are very interested in the topic of the future. In their artworks, they often turn to the concepts of the world’s development. If we look at the exhibitions taking place in Russia and in the international community, we will see that most of them are devoted to the future. However, contemporary artists see not only opportunities but also dangers in science and new technologies. Contemporary art balances on that intersection of positivity and skepticism today.

Although our laboratory is a project about the avant-garde, kinetic art, and ideas of the 1960s, it is also important for us to see how these trends are reflected in the works of today’s artists.

– You often use the word ‘transformation’. What meanings does it have in the context of the ‘Future Lab. Kinetic Art in Russia’ project?

– Transformation is the basis of kinetic art. The change, the movement of not only depicted object but also thought itself is the main thing in the works of artists of this movement.

We can consider transformation from different perspectives in the context of our project. Some of the objects in the exhibition are mobile and presuppose interaction with the outside world and the viewer. Other artists’ works are static but they can transform a person’s consciousness and change his or her view of certain things.

– You talk a lot about kinetic art in Russia. Did this movement exist in other countries of the world?

– Interestingly, kinetic art emerged almost simultaneously in different parts of the world: South and North America, Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. The movement was born in the post-war years and spread around the globe quickly.

There was a stunning exhibition in Paris, which brought together the pieces of kinetic art from all countries. That was a project of incredible scale.

– You studied in Russia and Europe. You also were a curator of international exhibitions. What does this intercultural interaction give people? How important is it for the modern world?

– Several years ago, I took part in a large-scale international project at Manege. It was called ‘Our Land / Alien Territory’ and was partly timed to coincide with the reunification of Crimea with Russia. At that time, the issues of border space were particularly acute. I found that very interesting.

Upwards of 50 artists from all over the world took part in the project. Of course, we noticed that political issues including those of disputed territories are interpreted in art not only in our country. Those are personal stories that cannot help but concern artists. Those are stories about the separation of families, the destruction of nature, the alienation of native land, which is valuable and significant for a particular person.

International exhibitions and cultural projects help people from different countries share common joys and sorrows, exchange their ideas and experience. Thus, they can speak the same language without knowing foreign languages.

Intercultural projects bring together artists from different countries making it possible to create a single cultural community. I believe that these ties are much stronger than official signatures on paper. Art is always about ethics, humanity, and universal values.

Considering an idea from the global perspective makes it bigger and more meaningful. This evidences that all people are alike. We are all interested in similar problems and issues. We can solve them only together. This is what gives art its special meaning and value.

– Can culture and art affect human consciousness?

– I can’t give specific statistics but I think intuitively that art and culture can have a very strong influence on human consciousness and the future of humanity as a whole. At least, I know many examples of individuals who have talked about being strongly moved by the works of certain artists.

For example, on average 1.5 thousand people a day visit exhibitions in the State Tretyakov Gallery. That’s already a significant indicator. After all, it is impossible to immerse yourself in the world of art without learning something from it.

There are a lot of art projects dedicated to environmental problems. Many authors are genuinely concerned about what is happening to the world around them. They reflect that in their works, their approaches to art, and their choice of materials, thus drawing attention to the subject and influencing the viewer. This is another bright example of how art can have an impact on society.

– What would you wish women of the world?

– Be courageous in your plans and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I am guided by the following life principle: it’s better to do and regret what you have done than what you haven’t. So I always wish people not to be afraid of experimenting and changing and to be open to new events and opportunities.

Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency

Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov


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