Friday, July 2, 2010

K Smith in Moscow

Kathryn Smith is the only South African-based participant in Qui Vive? II Moscow Biennale of Young Art, which opens in Moscow on July 1. The biennale will present the work of some 500 artists from all over the world, the majority from Russia and Europe, in a number of venues all over the city of Moscow. See

It was towards the end of 2009 when I received a notice requesting applications for a biennale in Moscow I had not heard of before. Called Qui Vive?, it was to be the second presentation of a biennale of ‘young’ art. I immediately warmed to the title, which means to be on the alert, vigilant; historically equivalent to “To whose party do you belong?'” or “Whose side do you support?” It seemed like the recipe for an interesting collection of work that would have something to say, a position to declare. I made an application without thinking too much about it. I was interested to visit Moscow (who wouldn’t be) and also to think about another version of my project ‘In Camera’ where I could work specifically with the story of Andrei Chikatilo (watch Chris Gerolmo’s haunting film Citizen X before you stumble onto any weird websites).

Some months later I was notified that the project was accepted, and would feature on Darya Pyrkina’s exhibition ‘Glob(E)scape’, to be installed at ArtPlay Design Centre. Some online research attempts did not produce very much, and having to rely on Google Translate to understand the Russian made for some amusing interludes. My communication with the organisers and their assistants was prompt and detailed, but did occasionally end up being a bit confusing, what with technical matters being discussed and translated back and forth between Russian and English. There was to be no support for flights, but the biennale would cover accommodation. Although they also offered to ship works, I wanted to make a new suite of drawings, which would mean carrying them as part of my luggage as their work would not be complete in time. After a pretty terrifying experience in Stockholm last year, presenting the same project (it worked out wonderfully but the communication with the gallery was extremely difficult), I also realised I would have to make what was an extremely hardware-heavy project much more portable and flexible than its previous iteration, and so set about trying to find out who could assist and I was confident that it would be an amazing experience regardless of what could go wrong. The biennale team are very young – in their early twenties – but seem to possess an admirable energy and will and I want to be a part of this.

June 14, 2010
It’s less than two weeks before I am supposed to arrive in Moscow and the promised support for my flight has not yet materialised. And I must still apply for a visa. What to do? Coming very close to cancelling the whole operation, the Dean’s office at the University of Stellenbosch comes to the rescue and I suddenly have a flight. They have never once let me down and I am grateful for such a supportive environment in which to work. The visa is no problem - the biennale have organised it through the Russian Ministry of Culture and the Russian consulate in Cape Town has a telex about my participation, so the process is hassle-free.

June 22, 2010
My flight departs on June 25 (3 days away) and I have just received an email from the biennale to say they have moved my venue to a space called Proekt Fabrika (the Factory Project). I check it out online and it looks great. Instead of staying in a hotel, I will now stay in the residency apartment of the project. This sounds perfect to me. I had never seen images of the other space, so it’s no real problem. The only worry is that I was initially planning a room of 20 sq/m, and this space is now 120sq/m! Fortunately I went a bit mad with the drawings and ended up making them far bigger, and making more, than I had anticipated. Now it seems I will not have to edit them. I still don’t have photographs of the space, only a floorplan, so I cannot see if there are clean walls, windows, or what condition it is in. I have assurance of technical support, but just in case, I pack a mini-toolkit and every conceivable manner of fixing the unframed drawings to whatever surface I can imagine.

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