Memory as an attitude: artistic practices of territory research


Nowadays we can witness the rising interest in exploring territories among artists and scholars. However, in the context of revising center—periphery relations, how can artists work with the territory? They often become strangers when going to someplace new, or they are accused of speculation when working with personal stories. How can we find a special position to the local history?


The interaction between artist’s experience and personal memory of the locals becomes the main instrument of work. And by personal experience, I mean the process of rethinking the place with everyday life actions: interacting with locals, finding random routes, and shopping. At the same time, personal memory is concentrated in local history museums, the stories of locals, and found photographs and letters.


In the paper, I will state the question of combining these aspects of exploring the territory on the example of two projects: “Ozero school” and “Expedition”, in which I participated as curator and artist. These projects constitute two approaches of working with the territory based on the personal experience as well as on representation of documents of local memory. Both “Expedition” and “Ozero school” are travel projects which require continuity and collective work, shifting from creating a product to exploring shared experience.

“Ozero school” (2018) is a project organized by the Swedish art group Raketa and the Moscow group “Enter and Permit” in the village Ust-Pocha in Kenozero National Park. Within the project, the participants arranged workshops, interviewed locals, and collected artifacts (letters, pieces of porcelain, old posters). For example, participants met Svetlana Alekseevna Fokina, the Pocha resident, who collects naive biographies of locals. Also, the group organized a workshop at school where pupils drew maps of their favorite places in the village. The project states the question: where is the boundary between using someone else’s stories and incorporating these stories into your artistic experience?


Another case — “Expedition” is a project organized by an artistic group which focuses on the research of the Russian regions. In 2017, participants traveled to the Altai region (Altai Krai) and organised an exhibition in the local museum. In 2018, the project included two expeditions to the Kaliningrad region and Lake Elton. During the trip to the Kaliningrad region, participants documented both their conversations with locals and visits to the museums. The complexity of the project that includes artistic interventions and the process of rethinking the history of Kaliningrad makes participants focus on jokes, conflicts, conversations as forms of representation of the group experience. As part of this project, we can state the question: how to combine the everyday life experience and the history of the place?


So, two projects are examples of attempts to find artist’s position in relation to the territory. The work of artists is based on interest in local history as well as on the understanding of their own experience of the territory. So the border between the past and the present determines what methods of representation of the collected material the artist chooses.