Sunday, January 13, 2008

The public art projects in St. Petersburg

In the fall of 2007, Susan Katz, the director of CEC Arts Link in St. Petersburg, Russia wrote to me to ask if I would be interested in coming to St. Petersburg to head a week long seminar in public art projects for the Pro Arte students. I didn't think twice and I said "yes!" Then I asked, "so when will it be?" and she replied, "December". That's when it hit me: Russia? December? Public Art? I'm a wimp when it comes to cold and I have no problem admitting it. I grew up in the warmth of Brazil and facing winter in New York is already a challenge which I barely make it alive every year. But winter in Russia? I was frightened. My immediate question was: "Any chance we can do this in Spring perhaps?". Susan's response was short and clear: "No, not really..." Me: "OK... cool. I'll see you in December then (gasp). I'm so excited!" (gasp)

This would be my second collaboration with CEC Arts Link, an international arts organization which supports the exchange of artists and art programs between the United States and Eastern and Central Europe. My first collaboration happened in the summer of 2007 when I was invited by Kendal Henry, an artist, curator, a frequent collaborator with CEC, and now a good friend, to work in a public art project in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This experience was so amazing, I had to dive in again, although it meant enduring the real terror: the Russian winter.

After two days of lectures, the Pro Arte students had about three days to come up with their ideas for the public art piece, then install them on the last day of the seminar. Here is the outline of the assignment:

Conceive, produce and install a public art piece for the streets of St. Petersburg.

1. The piece should not exceed the size of 30 cubic centimeters.
2. The piece should be made in multiples of at least ten.
3. The piece should be inexpensive to produce and easy to install
4. The piece, when installed should disrupt and engage the viewers.

Considering many of the students had full-time jobs or classes during the day, this was truly a challenging task. They worked very hard to produce their pieces in time. For the remaining sessions, they presented their ideas and we all critiqued the pieces and we had very intense discussions. Our interpreter Olga Berg did an amazing job translating everybody and she was one of the main reasons for the success of the seminar. Thank you, Olga!

So on the last evening, we all went out to the cold street and installed the pieces. It was an exciting moment for everybody. Here they are...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Hello Stranger." by Olga Lovcus

The texts describing the projects were written by the students. Translated into English by Anastasia Tolstaya from CEC.

"100 wallets are found on the streets of St. Petersburg. What is inside of them? A photo with the words:"Hello stranger, nice to meet you!"

Olga Lovcus /

"Street Museum of Garbage" by Pavel Rotts

"What is art? Why does art have to be in the museums and galleries? What is beauty? People usually associate art with institutions and context rather than the pieces of art themselves. Scraps of metal inside an art gallery with a tag is perceived as art. The same piece in a junkyard would be perceived as a junk. So, art is about creating a context, a frame. For my project, I collected interesting objects (slice of dried bread, plastic bag, crushed spray can) from the garbage bins on the streets of St. Petersburg. Then I created small transparent boxes to contain the objects. My inspiration for the boxes was Damien Hirst. Hirst is a master of framing objects with beautiful boxes. The objects, which alone may not be so amazing, gain a striking new appearance and status by the heavy, industrial boxes. I wanted to do the same with the garbages on the street. These small boxes are placed all over the streets of St. Petersburg attracting the passersby to stop and look at the newly framed garbage. So they will see the garbage in a completely new way and even find beauty behind it."

Pavel Rotts /

"Fake Flowers" by Alexandra Fadeeva (Sasha)

My project is devoted to the museum scandals on the subject of falsification of the works of the Russian Futurists, which were found in some of the Russian museums. There is even a special office album of the falsifications and the list of the forgery artists.

"I secretly placed fake plants and flowers next to the real plants in the flower pots of the museum halls and lobbies. The fake flowers are almost imperceptible to the unsuspicious public eyes, but that's the exact point of the project: Most of the visitors will not notice the difference, in the same way they the cannot distinguish the original paintings from the fake ones. Only the most attentive ones will notice the substitution and think about the difference between falsification and original and about the gap between something alive and dead."

Alexandra Fadeeva (Sasha) /

"Pick me!" by Olga Lovcus

Olga, the artist behind "Pick me." ended up doing two great projects. Here is her second project:

Olga was always dressed in very colorful and bright clothing in contrast to most of the people in St Pete who dress in dark, grey colors. Her project, like her bright clothing brings a fresh joy and smiles to often very serious and somber minded Russians.

"People are living their everyday life. They go to work, earn money, and spend them in supermarkets and shops. They buy things automatically. They keep their minds and faces self-possessed and serious. But when they notice smiling fruits and vegetables with different characters and souls on the supermarket shelves, they can realize that this fruits are even more alive than customers themselves. "Hi, guys! Pick us and smile!"

Olga Lovcus /

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Bombs as Garbage" by Rozalina Turovskaja

"Garbage is everywhere around us. We do not pay any attention to it. Most of us think this is not our business. Someone cleans the garbage but not us. And the streets remain dirty.

The aim of the project is to attract people’s attention to the question of war and peace and to the possibilities of addressing the world’s conflicts. The paper bombs on the street become garbage that we need to clean from our lives, something that is unnecessary for our world."

Rozalina Turovskaja /

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Supremacy Censorship" by Pavel Rotts (Pasha)

Pasha, the artist behind "Street Museum of Garbage" was very productive and ended up producing two great projects. Here's his second project:

"Censorship usually creates a mysterious aura around the censored subjects. By placing the iconic black censorship strips on top of the featured products in the banal street ads, I let out the fantasies of the spectators who wonder what's behind the black strips. The censorship strips create the illusion of the forbidden fruit and provokes curiosity among the viewers.

Mystery and the freedom of fantasy produced by the censorship strips relates to the boundless supremacy space of Malevich’s works."

Pavel Rotts (Pasha) /

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"Hand" by Anton

My first lecture was open for general public, however the following seminar and the public art project was open only for the Pro Arte student. Anton, the artist behind "Hand" project was not a Pro Arte student, but he was very eager to participate in the project so we made an exception for him.

Anton made life size hands made of plaster cast from his own hand. He went around the streets and glued them on poles producing a surreal installation.

Monday, January 7, 2008

"Rapunzel" by Rud'eva-Ryazantseva (Vero)

"My project is based on a famous scene from the fairy tale Rapunzel: trapped in a tall tower, a beautiful young girl waits for her freedom. She lets her long braid out the window and a prince climbs up to her and saves her. My idea is to bring an element of fairytales, mystery and a little miracle into the ordinary, daily life by hanging long braids coming out of the windows of the buildings in St. Petersburg."

Rud'eva-Ryazantseva (Vero) /

Note: The last two pictures are computer renderings.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"Frame" by Maya Paykina

"The idea behind "Frame" targets the attention of passers by showing interesting and sometimes even beautiful objects which surround us in everyday life, but get often unnoticed. Golden frames draw attention to the hidden beauty of many details of the street by turning them into an art piece in an open museum."

Maya Paykina /

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Arriving in St. Petersburg

I arrived in St. Petersburg on a Sunday morning under a gloomy, grey weather. And it was cold. Sergei the driver picked me up at the airport and we headed to CEC's office, located in the beautiful and spacious apartment of Jane Lombard, the chairman of CEC. Jane's place was absolutely beautiful, decorated with antique furniture and Russian and Easter European artifacts. I felt like I was in "Dr. Zhivago". The only bad thing about the place was that it was so pleasant and warm that I didn't feel like going out at all.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The first lecture

On the following day (Monday), I finally met with everyone at CEC: Susan, Nastya and Anna. I was told details about the week-long seminar. I was going to work with the art students from Pro Arte, a well known art institute in St. Petersburg. We drew the plan: Day 1: Lecture on my projects including the Bubble Project, Univers Revolved, Abstractor, among others. Day 2: Lecture on street artists around the world and preparation for the public art project for each students. Day 3 and 4: Presentation of students' proposals and critique. Day 5: Installation of the projects on the streets of St. Petersburg.

All lectures took place in the evenings. From 6 to 9pm because most of the students were busy during the day. I was ready for my first lecture. I was excite to meet the students and I felt a bit nervous at the same time. I didn't know what to expect. Will there be many people? Will the translator do a good job? For my pleasant surprise, the room was full. There were about 40 people, mostly young. Some were Pro Arte students and others were a mix of art enthusiasts, artists and journalists. The title of my lecture was "Bombing the Matrix. A lot of my projects challenge the fundamental systems in society, not often questioned. The Bubble Project transforms ads (corporate monologues) into public dialogues. Univers Revolved challenges our linear and 2-dimensional reading system into a new, 3-d reading experience. Abstractor transforms TV into an abstract art piece. Nine Circles Numbers offer alternate way to perceive and interact with numbers. I wanted to encourage the students to start questioning their own systems and create projects which ultimately would disrupt the mundane.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Second Lecture

Next day, I showed the works of different street / public artists. Many images were gathered from the Wooster Collective site. Most of the works were done with very little budget and a lot of creativity. What I like about these projects is that they transform an existing space by introducing a new, simple element which shifts completely the way people perceive the same space.

The traditional public art such as a bronze statue of a politician or a giant iron, abstract shapes usually don't relate to the space they're placed. That's because these pieces are not about transforming a public space, but rather communicating the sponsors' messages which are usually corporate or governmental. By contrary, these unauthorized public installations are artists' individual expressions and their attempts to transform the public space by offering an alternate perception of the same space to the passersby. They're subversions of the reality and challenge the status quo by disrupting the order and sameness. The artists often use humor and mystery as ways to attract their audience.