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Alisa Prudnikova on the art of Immortality at the Ural Industrial Biennial in Russia

The Commissioner of the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in Russia talks to STIR about the theme of Immortality, the participants, and the impact of technology in art.

by Sukanya Garg Nov 20, 2019

The Ural industrial Biennial is the largest international project of contemporary art in the Russian Federation, and the main project in the fifth edition features 75 artists and collectives from 25 countries and regions. It explores industriality as historical heritage and a current practice using contemporary art as a vehicle. This edition delves into the concepts of ‘Immortality’, and is on view until December 1, 2019.

Here, STIR speaks to Alisa Prudnikova, the Commissioner of the Ural Industrial Biennial and Director of Regional Development at the Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO. She explains what inspired to have the theme of Immortality, and what influences the choice of artists and artworks at the Biennial.

Alisa Prudnikova | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | Alisa Prudnikova | STIRworld
Alisa Prudnikova Image Credit: Alexey Ponomarchuk

Sukanya Garg (SG): What is the inspiration behind the thematic focus on ‘Immortality’ in this edition of the Biennial?           

Alisa Prudnikova (AP): The Ural Biennial is engaged in a constant process of examining industrialism, and considers this phenomenon from a new angle each time. The fifth Biennial explores the notion of results: what remains of industrial and art processes after their conclusion? A product? The outcome? Traces?

Reflecting on the question of what remains after us and whether it remains at all, the Biennial curatorial team selected the theme of ‘Immortality’. This admittedly broad topic need not be taken literally, but instead, should assist us to move in the appropriate general direction for reflection. The concept of ‘Immortality’ makes it possible to move from a fairly literal discussion about the outcomes of production and the specifics of industrial processes that are concluded in mass-produced repetition, to the consideration of universal phenomena and broad concepts. Immortality does not oppose death. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in its totality, immortality is broken down into the totality of life and the totality of death. And here a natural question arises: how can we overcome not death, but immortality?

Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai. The New Versailles, 2016, Video installation, 36’, mixed media. Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, Installation view: 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | STIRworld
Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai. The New Versailles, 2016, Video installation, 36’, mixed media. Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, Installation view: 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Zoom Family

SG: How has the industrial lineage and historical background of the place influenced the festival over the years?

AP: The Biennial works with the industrial specifics of the region and explores industriality as historical heritage and a current practice, which involves many people and spaces. Using contemporary art as a vehicle, the project analyses current changes around the world and integrates the region into the global artistic context. Due to its focus on always finding new perspectives to understand the phenomenon of industriality, the Biennial itself becomes a kind of industry —­ an industry of ­­meanings.

The Ural Biennial’s main exhibitions are held on sites that are monuments of industrial culture. For instance, the location of exhibitions in the former Ural Worker’s Printing House and the Iset Hotel as part of Chekists Village (built between 1929 and 1936, was designed to serve as dormitory of local Cheka/KGB officers and their families) results in the Biennial attracting the interest of the local and global research community to constructivist monuments in Ekaterinburg. We can see how constructivism has been gradually taking place in the official agenda of the city's promotion.

Alisa Prudnikova and Xiaoyu Weng, Courtesy of the 5th Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | STIRworld
Alisa Prudnikova and Xiaoyu Weng, Courtesy of the 5th Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Zoom Family

SG: What influenced the choice of artists for the Biennial? How has the local context influenced the artworks exhibited?

AP: The Biennale’s structure consists of several programmes: the main project, the artist-in-residency programme, research projects, special projects and the intellectual platform. The policy of the Biennial is to give an external curator an opportunity to immerse in the local context as much as possible. In this sense, the curator of the fifth Biennial’s main project, Xiaoyu Weng – Associate Curator at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York – had a huge block of information about Yekaterinburg at her disposal, when more than 80 artists came to the portfolio review, and in addition to that, she was a participant of the travelling symposium NEMOSKVA in the summer of 2018, having travelled with the world's leading experts in contemporary art on the train from Moscow to Vladivostok, studying the modern art scene during 13 stops in cities along the way.

I think that this journey has greatly influenced Xiaoyu’s approach to the selection of artists and her prioritisation of creating works on the spot – there are 75 artists in the main project, and 23 of them are Russian. After all, for the first time the exhibition of modern art is located at an operating plant! We can say that the idea of industriality of the fifth Biennale has been realised 100 per cent.

Also, the Biennial has commissioned more than 10 new works to respond critically to the fifth edition’s theme.

Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov. Exo-Bud, 2019, Video, 8’, mixed media installation. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist, Installation view: 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | STIRworld
Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov. Exo-Bud, 2019, Video, 8’, mixed media installation. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist, Installation view: 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Zoom Family

SG: The man-machine hybrid and the accelerated use of technology is not just changing the landscape of our daily lives but also art. How then do you expect technology to transform the art scene in terms of process, output as well as viewership?

AP: It’s true that technology and art – often in tricky, amusing and frustrating ways – define and continue to reshape the world we live in. The change of artworks’ nature along with the shift in the public interaction and the reshaping of the museums and exhibition spaces are making more room today than ever before for some of the most amazing examples of digital art, kinetic pieces, and works that explore the internet and online human existence. The sci-fi mysteries of various movies that were mind-blowing just a decade or so, today shape the face of our reality. Regardless of what your opinion concerning the relationship between science and art is, it’s a genuine fact that technology offers something that young aspiring authors are keen to explore, and to push the established boundaries.

Jill Magid. The Exhumation, 2016. HD Video, 6’07’’, Courtesy of the artist and LABOR, Mexico City, Installation view: 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | STIRworld
Jill Magid. The Exhumation, 2016. HD Video, 6’07’’, Courtesy of the artist and LABOR, Mexico City, Installation view: 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Zoom Family

SG: What is the underlying purpose of the Ural Industrial Biennial? What impact have the previous editions created?

AP: The effects of the Biennial are numerous. Firstly, the Biennial has created a new competitive cultural environment around itself. Thanks to the constant presence of international artists, opportunities for communication and exchange, the city has a new generation of curators, who now work not only in Russia, but also around the world. Secondly, the Biennial has shown the potential of many scenarios of interaction between plants and art and for the whole territory of Russia this is becoming an actual practice. Thirdly, the Biennial has created a programme of artist-in-residence for artists from all over the world, who come to an existing enterprise of the Urals and Siberia every year, and now there are the Biennial’s special tours and routes that include not only monuments of industrial heritage, but also works by contemporary artists.

  • Ustina Yakovleva. Untitled, 2016–2019, Synthetic and cotton fabric, natural and artificial leather, synthetic and silk thread, beads, pearls, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, Installation view 1 at 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | STIRworld
    Ustina Yakovleva. Untitled, 2016–2019, synthetic and cotton fabric, natural and artificial leather, synthetic and silk thread, beads, pearls. Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, Installation view 1 at 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Zoom Family
  • Ustina Yakovleva. Untitled, 2016–2019, Synthetic and cotton fabric, natural and artificial leather, synthetic and silk thread, beads, pearls, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, Installation view 2 at 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant | 5th Ural Industrial Biennial | Ustina Yakovleva | STIRworld
    Ustina Yakovleva. Untitled, 2016–2019, synthetic and cotton fabric, natural and artificial leather, synthetic and silk thread, beads, pearls. Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, Installation view 2 at 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Zoom Family

SG: Could you talk about some of the highlights of the festival? What can viewers look forward to?

AP: The most important feature of this year's Biennial is an interdisciplinary conversation on the topic of ‘Immortality’. It had been deeply analysed by the curator of the main project, Xiaoyu Weng, who invited artists to the operating enterprise and to the old cinema Coliseum, that became a real pavilion of Russian cosmism and a platform for a powerful discussion about this phenomenon. This is a unique experience of creating a scientific and theatrical laboratory 1000 years together, which resulted in a performance based on interviews about death and immortality with residents of Yekaterinburg aged 68-93 years. We are proud that we invited Nobel laureate in physics, Konstantin Novoselov, to the Biennial’s Symposium, who also became an artist and develops practices on the basis of graphene material and neural network capabilities.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Master's degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased at multiple exhibitions.

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