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THE FIRST URAL INDUSTRIAL BIENNIAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART

Ekaterinburg, Russia

September 9 – October 10, 2010

«Shockworkers of the Mobile Image»

Ekaterinburg, formerly Sverdlovsk, is the capital of the Soviet Union's industrial heartland, the Urals. When the USSR collapsed, the city's many heavy industries fell prey to economic malaise. But today, Ekaterinburg has become one of the hubs of Russia's resource economy, a site of accumulation following an era of shock privatization, a place where people dream with the BRICs and awaken to the harsh realities of economic crisis. How should we understand all this new investor architecture, empty as of yet, all these new service industries, all that new imaginary “symbolic capital” produced by "creative professionals” and their underlings? What role does and can contemporary art play in such a place, when it comes to the half-operational spaces of Soviet industry? Can it be more than a fast-moving consumer commodity, a medium for   gentrification, a plaything of the superrich?

The biennial's title is "Shockworkers of the Mobile Image," and its main venue is the Ural Worker Printing Press, a constructivist building in the center of Ekaterinburg. Built in 1929–1930, this space prompts a dialogue with the most contradictory period of Soviet history, the time of rapid industrialization, the time that gave rise to shockworkers and Stakhanovites. Their superproductive contribution to socialist construction was supposedly voluntary, heroic, based on enthusiasm and affect, but overseen by a growing security apparatus. Foreign experts and internationalists participated, reproducing and implanting mobile images of Fordist modernity. Their engagement was genuine, but remained blind to the harsh reality of intensifying exploitation. In many ways, Russia's transition to global post-Fordist capitalism is no less drastic, and today's global artists, filmmakers, and architects are shockworkers, too, and internationalists, no doubt, capable of an affective solidarity much like that of the pre-fascist 1930s. They come to distant cities, working nights to build temporary factories that reproduce images, affects, and social relations. In Ekaterinburg, this temporary factory comes to a context where the Soviet economy of free time and amateur creativity is still strong. Is there is anything about “Soviet creativity” that resists the endless workday of post-Fordism? Or it yet another resource of Russian resource capitalism?

The biennial's main project “Shockworkers of the Mobile Image,” is curated by Cosmin Costinas (Amsterdam/Utrecht), Ekaterina Degot (Moscow), and David Riff (Moscow/Berlin). The curators have opted for a thematic exhibition with a wealth of historical material. The show draws together 59 artworks of 54 artists and groups in a dense narrative that unfolds around the themes of "Shockworkers,” “The Circulation of Images,” “Building Capitalism,” and "The Economy of Free Time,” among others. Each work is accompanied by extensive commentary. The curators are departing from the idea that the art system has minimized the quantity of unique art objects; this is why the exhibition largely consists of reproductions, works executed according to long distance instructions or taken from internet-archives, as well as copies and prints, even when painting is involved.

There is a strong weighting on film and print as the mobile media of choice. A film screening program of longer features is also part of the show. The production details for all works and the copyright questions that emerged will be present in a special reading room, and have also been included in the catalogue. The biennial will feature a large number of new works made especially for Ekaterinburg. Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have contributed a new performance and installation, while the Blue Noses group are present with a research-based installation on the fate of the working class that opens a completely new period in their work. The international group Kolumne Links makes its debut with a narrative installation on the time of Stalinist show trials in the Urals, while Lebanese artist Rabih Mroue addresses the involvement of the Soviet Union in the civil war in Lebanon. The majority of works by Russian as well as international artists, even those made before, are being shown in Russia for the first time. Several works that have recently becoming famous on Youtube have also found their place at the exhibition.

Aside from works by contemporary artists from Hungary, Germany, Israel, India, China, Lebanon, Lithuania, Peru, Russia, Romania, the USA, Thailand, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Croatia, and other countries, the exhibition includes work by artists of the avant-garde and the epoch of cultural revolution in the USSR, Europe and the countries of Latin America (Tarsila do Amaral, Joris Ivens, Amshei Nuerenberg, Mikhail Okhitovich), underlining the role of Soviet film and architecture as one of the roots of international contemporary art. These works are complemented by special programs of documentary film from the Urals (curated by Lilia Nemchenko, Ekaterinburg) and from Hungary (curated by Livia Paldi, Budapest). The exhibition also includes works by Soviet amateur authors who realized the Marxist program of creativity during free time, and they are complemented by collages made in the 1990s by the printers, and kept intact by the curators for the show, along with the venue as a whole. Objects and photos found in now-defunct museum of the former Printing Press have also been included in the exhibition.

The biennial's program of special projects is curated by Alisa Prudnikova. These site-specific projects are placed in some of Ekaterinburg's largest operating industrial plants, engaging the space of over 40,000 m2. Artists from Ekaterinburg and elsewhere in Russia as well as from Great Britain, Spain, Mexico, the USA, France, Finland, and Sweden turn these production sites into a heterogeneous territory for experiments with the industrial environment. Factory spaces themselves become objects of artistic interventions that pursue a diversity of aims, be they critical, poetic, or social. By placing contemporary art into a working industrial environment, into the immediate vicinity of workers and production lines, the biennial's special projects program probes the possibilities for interaction between industry and contemporary art, material and symbolic production, creative and mechanical labor, physical and semiotic consumption. The special projects venues include Verkh Isetskiy Metallurgical Plant, one of the city's first factories, its technologically advanced branch OAO "VIZ-Stal", a giant of the Soviet era The Ural Heavy Engineering Plant – Uralmash, and Sverdlovsk Worsted Factory. The constructivist building of the former Uralmash Palace of Culture also houses some of the special projects. After the end of the biennial, several special projects works will remain in Ekaterinburg's industrial locations thereby altering their place in the symbolic map of the city.

The opening days of the biennial are September 8th to September 12. To meet the occasion, the biennial is holding an international symposium dedicated to discussion of the industrial past and the post-industrial present from philosophical, sociological, and artistic points of view.

On the occasion of the opening, the biennial will also publish a catalogue in two volumes, one of them dedicated to the main venue, the other to the special projects program.

The biennial also features a parallel program of events and thematic exhibitions at 20 museums, galleries, and a library in Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Tagil, and Nev'yansk. It runs from September to November 2010. The biennials of 2012 and 2014 will take place in working industrial enterprises in the historical industrial centers of the Ural region.