Central Asia will freeze Venice

On February 20th, 2013 in Almaty (Kazakhstan) the space L.E.S. has hosted the presentation of the exhibition “Winter” that will be presented at the Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Bien­nale of contemporary art on June, 2013

On February 20th, 2013 in Almaty (Kazakhstan)  the space L.E.S. has hosted the presentation  of the exhibition “Winter”  that will be  presented at the Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Bien­nale of contemporary art in June, 2013. I would like to give a short information about the content of the event.

The presentation was led by the curators of the pavilion Ayatgali Tuleubek (Kazakhstan) and Tiago Bom (Portugal). Ayatgali and Tiago have presented the concept of the exhibition and the program of the Central Asian Pavilion of this year. Some artists participating in the exhibition have also visited the presentation: Kamila Kurmanbekova (Kazakhstan), Vyacheslav Ahunov (Uzbekistan), Sergey Chutkov and Anton Rodin (Tajikistan)

I had a unique chance to be in Almaty this day. I came to the place of the presentation much earlier than the official beginning of the presentation and found there the organizers with the artists discussing the wording for the presentation of art works for the press and general public.  I did not bother the meeting but took several pictures.

The presentation itself was visited approximately by 17 people with journalists and artists among them. I have to say that the discussion between the journalists and the curators\participating artist was week.  I would identify several reasons for this. Fists possible reason is that local journalists that came to the meeting have no idea about art in general and contemporary art in particular. Second reason may be the fact the journalists needed minimum of information with some pictures to place\broadcast it fast.

Still there were some relevant questions but they assumed  general answers of the educational character in the sphere of contemporary art. I believe that the journalist did not fulfill their “homework” to be prepared for the meeting. Or maybe I am too demanding.

Let’s get back to the main point of the presentation. As far as I understood the curators together with 6 artistic projects of 8 artists will reveal  their concept  with the “Winter” exhibition that was inspired by a poem of a Kazak poet Abay:


Broad-shouldered, white-coated, powdered with snow.

Blind and dumb, with a great big silvery beard,

Granddad Winter plods on with a frown on his brow,

By everything living hated and feared.

The grumpy old fellow does plenty of harm.

His breath stirs up blizzards, brings snow and cold.

With a cloud for a hat on his shaggy head,

He marches along, all the world in his hold.

His beetling eyebrows are knit in a frown.

When he tosses his head-dismal snow starts to fall.

Like a crazy old camel he acts in his rage.

Rocking and shaking our yurt’s thin wall.

If the children run out to play in the yard

He pinches their noses and cheeks with cruel hands.

No sheepskin can keep out the freezing cold;

With his back to the wind, the shepherd stands.

The horses in vain try to shatter the ice-

The hungry herd scarcely shuffle their feet.

Greedy wolves-winter’s henchmen-bar their fangs;

Watch, or disaster your flocks may meet!

Drive them off to safe pastures-don’t wait until day.

You won’t die if you sleep less-come, quicken your step.

Kondibai and Kondai aren’t as wicked as wolves

Don’t let old man Winter, feast in our steppe.

Abay, 1888 Translated by Dorian Rottenberg

By the curator’s idea WINTER will stress the complexity of the current con­text of Central Asia by employing poetical and meta­phorical language as a tool – inspired by a poem by the influential 19th century Kazakh poet and thinker Abay Qunanbayuli – to achieve a deeper understanding of the regional situation. WINTER represents a social, political and cultural climate in which analytical and inquisitive public discourse is frozen, or nearly absent. The natural phenomenon of winter embodies a poten­tially transformational character, as winter precedes spring and the snow gives way to a full blossoming; in a similar way one may say that a frozen public dia­logue has the potential to develop into a more vibrant one based on openness and participation.

Besides mentioned above, “Winter” seeks to engage art within the exhibition, the cata­logue and a cycle of film screenings and conferences in Oslo and several places in Central Asia prior to and during the Biennale, to serve as a catalyst for creating a genuine public debate to end the state of hiberna­tion.

At the presentation Ayatgali Tuleubek and Tiago Bom  have presented their curatorial statement. I will not share it fully but will highlight the most important and conceptual aspects:

As curators for the Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Bien­nale, we put forward the possibility of analysing the socio-political context of the region, for which the metaphor of Winter serves as a starting point. Abay Qunanbayuli’s poem, Winter, was chosen to embody this transference of meaning because of the poet’s impressive body of work dealing with the questions of social justice. Abay’s work and his strong convictions about social fairness make him a controversial figure and thinker, who is revered by all across the political spectrum.

Our interpretation of the poem is not limited to an illustration of the winter months and the traditional lifestyle; we view its elements as metaphors for a broader political context. Some elements of the poem, as well as Abay’s other works – particularly the essays within his Book of Words – can be related to the current political-economic situation in Central Asia, specifically with regards to the fusion of oligarchy and politics.

Most of the cultural production comes to surface in the shape of institutionalized forms of art, following the legacy of the Soviet rule, that served the interests of the State. This state-run artistic production has been pointed out by many as the cause for the decay in cultural debate, characterized by the lack of motivation to explore more socially-pressing issues, or by the negligence of real social challenges.

Evidently, contemporary art and other forms of cultural produc­tion (literature, music, film and theatre) tend to be in the form of pure light entertainment, promoting a one-sided view of the social climate. Furthered by the lack of intellectual exchange, they are not in direct contact with the international currents of the field. Though they have adopted Western stylistic qualities, they lack a more mul­tifaceted social dimension in terms of content.

An open call inviting artists from and living in the region was announced in order to reach as many voices and diverse practices as possible. The project received 73 applications in total. From these applications, we selected six artists and artist groups from Kazakh­stan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to be showcased in Venice and some others to contribute to the catalogue and website.

Our selection includes a group of works that offer specific, national perspectives but at the same time are able to convey a meaning relevant to the entire region. It is divided into three cores. This division was made based on tangential and narrative similarities, without neglecting distinct regional characters.

We strongly believe that the selection above has the strength and relevance to represent all of the mentioned Central Asian countries, in terms of artistic production. We think that each part can critically raise important and relevant questions for a public debate on and in Central Asia. It would be rather presumptuous to assume that these works cover all the political, social and cultural issues in need of contemplation and discussion. Nevertheless, from our point of view, these are urgently relevant topics for today’s situation and have the ability to lead on to other, equally-important issues.

The curator’s concept is clear and relevant. Artists’ reflections on the current processes in our countries are necessary. Perspective of these processes are uncertain and maybe the artists will help us to understand and realize our context, help to understand what expects us in the future and the way they see it.

 In the following posts I will tell more about the artistic works of the participants of the the Central Asian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Bien­nale. I will try to analyze them and will devote most rest of the text to the guys from Tajikistan. Their socio-artistic project “Letters from Tajikistan” is in the active phase of realization now and as they mentioned at the presentation they are ready to share any information.


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