Posted by: roamingolivia | October 31, 2011

Calvert 22: an art exhibition from the ‘Stans


I am considering turning this into a site I use to review things I read, see, visit, etc. That is mostly because I think it will make me do more cultural things. We shall see. I will aim to do a couple a week. That means I have to read, see or do something cultural a couple times a week, right? So far, I am doing okay (I did a lot of cultural things this weekend), so we will see.

On Saturday morning(ish), David and I started off on a cultural wander with Calvert 22, which is a gallery in East London that exhibits contemporary art from the former Soviet Union. I saw an exhibit about Russian art there, and I think I blogged about it.

This time, we saw the exhibition “Between Heaven and Earth: Contemporary Art from the Centre of Asia”. A description of all the works is linked here.

We were first gripped by the film “Revolution” by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev (more on them here), mostly because it was about Kyrgyzstan, which is where we met. I thought the film had a clear narrative – starting with people protesting and chanting, and ending with the charred-out insides of shops that had been looted (a trajectory that may resonate with many people whose countries have seen revolutions). But I thought it could have been developed more effectively.

We also watched a film by Natalya Dyu, Happystan (2007), but I liked this much less. But on the plus side, you can watch it on YouTube.

There was a lot of film in this exhibition, but we didn’t watch all of it (we would have been there several hours). I stopped by the film Transoxiana Dreams by Almagul Menlibayeva, and then stayed to watch all 23 minutes of it. It was one of my two favorites there. It seemed to draw heavily on the semi-personal, surreal/postmodern work of Sergei Parajanov, although I have not seen any mentions by her that reference him. But in the same way that he takes traditional images and infuses them with implied violence, this work took a traditional nomadic and folkloric references to centaurs and spirit-like foxes in western Kazakhstan, and infused this with a story about the disappearing Aral Sea. Sounds weird, and is weird (see some stills from the film here). But it is also somehow evocative and effective.

The other favorite was The Defragmentation of History (2010) by Galim Madanov and Zauresh Terekbay (interview with them here, probably about something entirely different). I didn’t take any pictures of this, and there’s not much information on it online. It was essentially dozens of canvases, in uniform sizes and all painted a uniform army-like green, tacked to the wall. All had been imprinted with names and authors of books (real books) about Central Asia that use the phrase “Great Game” or “new Great Game” in them. It was effective if you know anything about the current literature on Central Asia, which does tend to over-do it with Great Game references.

If you have any interest in Central Asia, it is worth going (it’s free) and seeing how some of the region’s artists express themselves. (Whether these are the best works or artists from the region is a whole other question, which I’d love to hear debated.)

(Viktor Vorobyev and Elena Vorobyeva – Kazakhstan. Blue Period, 2002-5)

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