Hi, my name is Maria, and I’m an Early Stage Researcher #3 (or ESR3) on the FEINART training network. In a month from now I’ll move from Moscow to Wolverhampton and will start a three-year PhD programme. Actually, when I anticipate the amount of activity FEINART has to offer, I guess this might as well become a travel blog!
I’m writing this also being away from home. I’m in Norilsk, a city located above the Arctic Circle (and it’s —35℃ outside now), and I came here for a project in the local museum. It’s an ethnographic museum that tells a story of the territory of Taymyr Peninsula from the bronze age till Gulag. It’s definitely worth a visit, but people would hardly visit it more than once. In order to change this and become a vibrant and engaging city museum, instead of a permanent exposition with stuffed animals, shaman tambourines and minerals, they decided not only to reorganize the space but also to change their attitude towards the objects, the narrative and the strategies of public engagement. This last part is the reason why I’m here. Together with a team of people we are helping to create a support structure that would allow the public to participate not only in the programmes but also in the decision-making and in the production of exhibitions, events and artistic projects in the future. It looks good on paper but we’ll see if this utopian project survives the harsh conditions of the northernmost industrial city, the climate, and the established communication paradigms.
I’ve been interested in the role of the public within the system of art for quite a while now, but it was not until a certain moment when I noticed that people have value as exhibition visitors. As a graduate of the Art History department of one of the Russian universities I was trained to build hierarchies and take them as measures, and one of them was between the expert and the public. It was not obvious to me that the interpretation of art can be communicated by people with different experiences and backgrounds, and that knowledge can be produced collaboratively and shared. Neither was it obvious how to be an expert in such conditions.
I developed this interest further through the curatorial work and public programming; and I’m very excited about the opportunity to dedicate the next three years to researching an array of questions around participatory art, it’s production, distribution and reception.
It is the common idea that participation is a universal good, and that institutions must engage with the public by all possible means. My goal is to study the mechanics behind this statement, the choice of certain “languages” for conversations with different groups of people and the impact from socially engaged art practices on institutions.
Can an institution become a universal public space for everyone? Can it speak multiple languages and be truly engaged in a conversation with people? And would you go to the museum at all when it’s —35℃ outside?