DOCA 2022: What Is Your Name?
On April 16, the preview exhibition of the Days of Contemporary Art (DOCA) international festival took place in Moscow. ‘What is your name?’, a simple but profound phrase, became the event’s topic this year. It is a question that people exchange at the beginning of a dialogue as a sign that they are ready to talk. Within the festival, young artists reflected on how people identify themselves and those around them in the modern world.
Dean of the Design College of the International College for Arts and Communication (MKIK), curator of the Days of Contemporary Art (DOCA) international festival
Russian contemporary artist and photographer, honorary member of the Union of Photo Artists of Russia, curator of the Faculty of Photography of the Institute for the Humanities and Information Technologies (IGUMO), curator of the Days of Contemporary Art (DOCA) international festival
This year, the 10th Days of Contemporary Art festival took place in a reduced format. It was a preview of the upcoming major anniversary of the festival scheduled for 2023. As it traditionally happens, DOCA featured the works of both experienced artists and talented students. However, this time, the preview festival brought the projects of young artists to the forefront, which became the highlight of the event.
Two famous experts and artists, the designer Elizaveta Zemlyanova and the photographer Vadim Gushchin, became the festival’s curators.
The students were engaged in creating works for DOCA for several months. They worked in the workshops of the renowned contemporary artists Valery Chtak, Vasilisa Lebedeva, and Evgenia Malysheva. Under the guidance of professionals, the young artists visualised their thoughts through their art. They reflected on how much a person’s behaviour, habits, belongings, and archive images can tell about him or her. All the projects were very different thanks to the fact that the aspiring artists used a variety of formats. The genres ranged from illustrations, photos, and video clips to large installations and interactive projects.
Interestingly, the students decided to devote some of their photographic projects to photography as a profession. For example, the authors reflected on the role of the camera lens. Today, a camera is no longer just a tool: it is also one of communication means and dialogue participants. Sometimes people look at the camera and talk to it more than to all those around them. Moreover, photographers themselves perform a subtle and challenging job. As artists, they find it important to create an artwork without dragging the focus onto themselves and their personality. That requires not only external but also internal effort.
Another interesting project at DOCA was related to digitalisation and infoglut. The photos demonstrated real people and their digital copies. The viewers had to watch the picture carefully for a long time to distinguish between a real image and an artificial one. In today’s real life, it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other as well.
A number of photographic projects were directly devoted to the topic of self-identification. For example, the ‘Presence’ series was a visualization of human fear. Using symbolic images, the author strived to convey the feelings and states common for everyone irrespective of their age, gender, or any other criteria. The ‘Inner World’ project touched upon the issue of prejudice. The author reflected on the fact that people often consider themselves to be different from who they really are. The series titled ‘From the Inside Out’ presents photos where the same character was portrayed in different moods in the same picture by means of montage. Thus, the author turned to the topic of suppressing one’s true emotions.
One of the students suggested the idea of considering a person’s breakfast as a way of identification. According to the author, one can learn a lot about people from not only what they eat but also the way the dishes are arranged on the table. The pictures demonstrated tables with empty cups and plates. The viewers could use their imagination and add any objects they considered appropriate.
The project titled ‘There’s No Cure for This’ was another attempt to tell the story of a person by looking at the objects around him or her. Interestingly, the project had a second layer of meaning. Not so long ago, the author faced COVID-19. In the course of her illness, her sense of taste and smell was transformed. In the photo, the author depicted objects with scents important for perceiving them properly.
DOCA paid special attention to one’s roots and kinship ties. For example, the young authors devoted several projects to their dearest people: their mothers. The photographers presented their photos from different periods of their lives and supplemented them with installations and illustrations.
As emphasized by Vadim Gushchin, curator of the exhibition, the most interesting artistic projects are those that can be interpreted from different perspectives and on different levels. Many DOCA projects proved that once again.
Within Valery Chtak’s workshop, students created a large project in the genre of monumental painting. Under the guidance of the artist, they painted the walls of the institute’s classrooms. The concept of the painting of the space was based on illustrations from Viktor Dragunsky’s ‘20 Years Under the Bed’ and O. Henry’s ‘After Twenty Years’.
As noted by Valery Chtak himself, the project is not a direct illustration of the stories but rather something ‘based on their motifs’, as it often happens in cinematography. The artists shared their impressions and associations, which may or may not turn out close to the viewer. That is how art always introduces us to ourselves. It can either awaken something in your soul or leave you indifferent and therefore become even more interesting.
Within the workshop of the artist and researcher Evgenia Malysheva, the students created a number of interesting conceptual projects. The installations were made of various materials and objects including improvised ones. For example, the author of ‘How Should I Address You?’ used abacuses to visualize her ideas. She researched the way friends, colleagues, and other people of different age addressed her family members. These included diminutive names, full versions with a patronymic name, names with the addition of different epithets, positions, and social roles. We can transform the form of a person’s name by adding or detaching its constituent components. It can be compared to moving the beads on the abacus, as shown by the author in her project.
Different forms of the same name can tell us a lot about a person as well as his or her appearance.
Another student created a ‘mobile’ for adults, which is a child’s toy often placed above the baby crib. That very mobile was a pendant that reminds a person of the goals he or she would like to achieve. The artwork included different objects: the house keys, a telephone, a photo of a loving family, and other things symbolising different values. Each person can have a different ‘mobile’. Such an educational toy teaches us to focus our attention on specific objects. Such an ability is valuable not only for a child but also for an adult.
The majority of the installations had an interactive format. The festival guests could assemble a Rubik’s cube with national patterns of different cultures intertwined with one another on each side of the cube. The visitors also had an opportunity to look in a mirror with special changeable transparent layers. Those layers contained the images with attributes of famous historical characters. Another project invited the audience to use modern technologies, scan QR codes, and literally ‘animate’ illustrations of the artist.
‘Journey to the Cube’ was not just an interactive installation. It was an entire research in the real-time mode. The project’s author invited viewers to enter a dark space with LEDs and shift registers one by one and then share their impressions of what they saw and felt. A curious object in the middle of the room attracted the audience. They wanted to look into it and try to discern all the nuances of light, reflections, and refractions. The author believes, that people experience something similar when getting to know one another.
Getting to know a person is like a journey. Some properties of his or her personality can be seen clearly on the surface while others are hidden ‘in the depths’. They refract, become difficult to discern, and take on an illusory form.
As noted by the artist Vasilisa Lebedeva, the very topic of DOCA 2022 sounded to her as a call to create a workshop. The author has long been engaged in creative research in the fields of personal mythology, self-identification, and self-reflection.
The workshop processes were divided into two phases. First, students experimented with different materials, developed their own style, and thought about the concept of the projects. Within the second phase, the young artists put their ideas into practice. In the process, the students developed their inner world and personal mythology and considered the festival’s topic in various ways. Some focused on the idea of dialogue and getting in touch with oneself, others reflected on human psychology, and still others turned to large-scale topics, for example, the human soul and its connection to space and nature.
Vasilisa Lebedeva believes that one can hardly consider the question ‘What's your name?’ without taking into account the person asking it. In any creative statement, the personality of the author with his or her personal mythology, soul, and experience of interaction with the world is important.
Several art objects were dedicated to the matters of self-acceptance and discovering one’s inner world. For example, one project was embodied in the form of a sculpture of an abstract shapeless character. It symbolised the desire to ‘be comfortable’ in communication and be liked by absolutely everyone. At the same time, the viewer could notice something irrational and incomprehensible about the character. It was difficult to understand at first glance what the sculpture was made of. That is how the author tried to convey the following idea: in pursuit of society’s approval, people often give up their true qualities and important individual traits making them different from the ‘grey mass’. Another student reflected on the issues of inner world and identity of a person and created a dramatic sculpture with a mask. That mask revealed many interesting details to those looking at it.
In another project on dialogue with oneself, the author considered the relationship of a person to his or her own subconsciousness. Sometimes people think they do not know what to do. In fact, their subconsciousness already has answers to many questions. It provides people with answers in the form of dreams that we do not always take seriously or simply can’t decipher. The artist visualised her creative statement in the form of characters resembling either complicated mathematical signs or images of woven voodoo dolls.
The author compared the knowledge hidden in the depths of the human soul to a secret language, scientific facts, and magic. She demonstrated that the people’s inner worlds are complex but very interesting and sometimes inexplicable.
Two artists dealing with the topic of human nature and presenting opposing viewpoints created independent projects. One of them compared the soul to the space. According to her, it is self-sufficient, deep, and full of tranquillity and serenity. The author created a sculpture of a person lying in an embryo pose. The second artist captured the inner world of a person as a burst of emotions and dreams. Her project had the form of a sturdy upward-oriented structure. Symbolically, both projects were made of the same materials: plastic and wire.
An interesting interactive work was devoted to unique individual ‘traces’ that each person leaves behind. The artist was inspired by the Hall of Mesopotamia in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts where ancient seals were included in the exhibition. People used them as a distinctive mark and a sign of responsibility for their words. The author created a set of her own unique seals and invited everyone to leave his or her imprint on a piece of dough. That material was chosen for a reason: bread served as a symbol of cultural code associated with warmth and communication.
A separate part of DOCA’s programme was dedicated to an exhibition of small-circulation magazines. They were created by the students of the Journalism and Publishing College of the International College for Arts and Communication (MKIK). The projects touched on the influence of music on a person, micro-interactions with strangers, and personal stories of the authors.
Artists from different countries who are friends and regular partners of DOCA also presented their works within the exhibition programme.
They included Ulrike Bolenz (Belgium) and Jean-Philippe Deugnier (France, Germany). The renowned photographers Valera and Natasha Cherkashin, the street artist Marina Zvyagintseva, the painter and collage artist Kira Mrik, and the curator Natalia Udartseva became the festival’s honoured guests.
Despite its preview format, the festival gave its guests and participants many impressions, a charge of creative inspiration, and experience. The latter was most important for aspiring artists. The invited experts highly evaluated the students' works and highlighted their depth and scope. As noted by the experts, the topic of the festival was very broad, multi-layered, and relevant. That made it especially interesting to see how the younger generation would reflect it in its works.
As emphasized by Elizaveta Zemlyanova, curator of the festival, all 33 individual and 3 group projects elaborated during the workshops were created exclusively for DOCA and were never presented anywhere else.
“We can say that the place where the viewers meet art has formed a special kind of social relationship. We call it ‘the newest subjectivity’. This meeting is that very topic explored by this year’s DOCA participants”, she concluded.
Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov