It is hard to believe that we were in Russia only a week ago. I haven’t had a chance to write about it yet because it’s been busy setting back in: laundry, unpacking, visiting people and going to work. While you are reading this, please bear with me and imagine that it is a week ago.
Our last week in Russia was one of the most exciting weeks. My husband and I had tried to visit Kizhi Island once already, but the boats weren’t running because the weather patterns changed and ice had drifted in, blocking the passage. This time we were successful. And it was worth the wait! Kizhi Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The island is an open air museum showing the best examples of rural Russian architecture built entirely out of wood. The Karelia Artist Residence and the Karelia Ministry of Tourism and Culture arranged for a guide to meet us on the island and give us a tour (in English) of the buildings and history of Kizhi. It was a fabulous day trip and it gave me a new appreciation and understanding of Karelian history and design.
I also had the pleasure of leading a workshop for a group of young arts students. The workshop was related to my residency project Waterland. The workshop project was about outside form. I discussed with the group about how you can add additional meaning to your work by addressing the way that it is contained–its outer shape. The students created small drawings of people/places/things that they feel are personally meaningful to the city of Petrozavodsk and the surrounding region. Then the students cut out the drawings and collaged them together to create the shape of Onega Lake. During the summer the students will continue to work on this idea and create individual pieces that will be presented in an exhibition at the Media Center.
We also went on another excursion during our final week to Kivach waterfall. It was about an hours drive into the forest from Petrozavodsk. We went with Varvara and Irina, two of the amazing ladies that work at the Media Center and the four of us were greeted at the park gates by the lovely nature guide and her translator. We were given a fabulous tour of the ecological museum, a interesting nature trail and the famous Kivach waterfall–the main attraction. It was good to get deeper into the Karelian countryside and learn about the natural habitat… we also were surprised to see a wonderful collection of sculptures made out of wood hiding in the forest!
During our last week the Sergei Terentjev (Сергей Терентьев), the Director of the Vyhod Media Center, did an interview with me; I spent two more afternoons drawing in the gallery and I have a tour/had a Q&A time with a class of young journalists. I was also thrilled to have a studio tour with Sergei of his studio. He talked about the avenues his art has taken before and after Soviet times and showed examples of the diversity of the different projects he had been working on. Sergei and his wife Maria have been fighting for the presence and acceptance of contemporary art in Petrozavodsk and they are both directors of the two contemporary art galleries in the city. It is amazing to see the art community that comes to the galleries and to know that this is because of the tireless work that Sergei and Maria have invested into it. Despite differences of language, culture and generation, I feel connected to Sergei and what he is working towards. It became a little clearer to me when Sergei told me, “I had traditional art training and yet I create contemporary art, you are a contemporary artist with contemporary training.” I realized in that moment how lucky I am for the art education I received and how strong this man’s determination must have been to make the leap from one side of the scale to the other. Contemporary art was an underground movement for a long time in Russia, and it’s relevance is still being fought for in the Russian art communities. Sergei poetically explained that as a contemporary artist he “is like a wild tree, or a flower growing underground.” I feel privileged to have met Sergei and for his studio tour. This was a highlight of the residency!
It is always hard to come to the end of something good. My experience in Petrozavodsk exceeded all my expectations! I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to share my work with so many people, to have seen a little bit of the beauty of Russia, to feel a deeper connection to my own history and past, and to have made relationships and friendships that will continue. Coming home I feel like I am not exactly the same person that left, but have changed through this experience. Grown. Russia and the people that live their hold a special place in my heart. And so rather than saying “good bye” I say, “До свидания (do svidaniya)”, until our next meeting.