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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

From soap opera to art: why the Moscow Museum is recreating Santa Barbara

MOSCOW – The elegant new cultural center opened its doors on Saturday night with the art event Muscovites have been waiting for for years. But the spectators at the opening of the huge new museum of HPP-2 did not come to see paintings or sculptures. They watched Santa Barbara.

Every day until March 22, 2022, a team of 80 actors and technicians bring the vision of Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson to life, recreating, filming and editing episodes of this American soap opera in front of a live audience at the museum. … Kjartansson said he hoped the performance would become a “living sculpture” and that the 98 videos he and his team recorded would become a “historical painting” for posterity.

On the day of the premiere, the audience gathered around the sets built in the nave of GES-2, when two actors in tuxedos filmed the scene in multiple takes. Dramatic music marked the climax of the plot, and the technician snapped the clapboard.

“It was all a lie!” the actress exclaimed a few moments later, before the director stopped her and asked her to repeat the phrase again, more slowly. On another stage, just a few feet away, the team edited the footage in real time, in front of the audience.

Forgotten by many in the United States, Santa Barbara is a cultural touchstone in Russia, where it became a television hit after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For many Russians, the soap opera, dubbed into Russian and broadcast since 1992, was the first exposure to American culture and the human face of a Cold War enemy.

In the ten years until it stopped airing in 2002, Santa Barbara became a national obsession: the streets were empty when it aired, people named their pets after characters, and the show’s Californian interiors inspired Russian families to renovate their homes, install arches. instead of square door frames. It has also become a part of the Russian language: even now the phrase “some kind of Santa Barbara” refers to a chaotic situation.

“We all watched it, the whole country,” said Natalia Golubeva, 55, who attended the opening of HPP-2 on Saturday. “The actors were part of our family.”

Her daughter, 30-year-old Maria A. Golubeva, said that it was “unexpected and very cool” to see the recreated show live and remind her of her youth. “I grew up on this story all my childhood,” she said.

Kjartansson, 45, is known for performing pieces that stretch out material over long periods of time, often with repetitions such as “A Lot of Sorrow,” a six-hour recorded performance at MoMa PS1 in which The National sang the same thing. song over and over. At the end of 2020, Kjartansson directed Heaven in a Room, for which he hired performers to sing a popular Italian melody in a Milan church, accompanying himself on the organ. This went on for hours a day, every day, for a month.

When Kjartansson was asked to create a new work to commemorate the opening of GES-2, he was looking for something equally monumental, he said in a speech at the museum-museum on Saturday. “I read Pushkin and imagined snow falling from the ceiling,” he added, but realized that if he continued in this vein, the work would be “a very soft Western fetishization of Russia”.

After reading an article in the Foreign Policy news magazine about settlements in Ukraine and Russia called Santa Barbara, he was amazed at the role soap played in post-Soviet society, he said.

Santa Barbara seems unlikely in a former Soviet space that emerged after decades of a planned economy, queues for bread and restrictions on freedom. Many of the series’ characters enjoy privileges that Russia could not have dreamed of in the early 1990s: private helicopters, luxurious outfits, decadent cocktail parties.

Kjartansson said in an interview that for Russians at the time, talking about stocks and private companies must have been “a kind of explosion of the mind.”

Anna Belyak, 63, a literary translator who watched the play in the 1990s and attended the event on Saturday, said that when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russians “did not know capitalism.” But when they turned on the Santa Barbara, she said, “This is it, with a human face: beautiful, elegant, modern. ” Watching this film helped Russians come to the conclusion that Americans are “just like us, with children, intrigue and infidelity,” she added.

While Russian TV viewers were absorbed in the vicissitudes of life in Santa Barbara, artists exploited previously unavailable freedom to experiment, said Teresa Yarocchi Mavica, director of the VAC Foundation, which owns GES-2.

“Contemporary Russian art was born in the late 80s and early 90s,” she said. She added that she would like GES-2 to investigate and understand its evolution, so it would be appropriate to start with Santa Barbara, which would remind many in Russia of that era. According to her, Kjartansson’s work was a “mirror” that could help “understand how much our world has changed in 30 years.”

Since then, however, Russia’s relations with the West have changed dramatically. Saturday’s launch of GES-2 came as President Vladimir Putin raised geopolitical ante on Ukraine and NATO and stifled political dissent within the country.

Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of GES-2, said he wants the institute to deal with Russia’s difficult relationship with the West and the country’s own conflicted identity as an integral, but also quite distinct part of Europe. “Santa Barbara” is the headline of the first season at the museum, titled “How Not to Become Colonized?” – a question and a call to Russian artists to join Western culture, creating something of their own.

Manacorda described the attitude of Russian society towards the West as “admiration, but also rejection, but also fear, but also seduction,” and added that this has been the case for centuries, starting with Peter the Great’s travels in Europe, which inspired him to create named the city of St. Petersburg, to the rejection of Western capitalism during the Cold War and controversial attitudes today.

“To a certain extent, these are the contradictions that Santa Barbara is highlighting,” Manacorda said.

HPP-2, where access to all events and exhibitions is free, is funded by the VAC Foundation and funded by Leonid Mikhelson, billionaire art enthusiast and CEO of Novatek, the largest private gas group in Russia. Mikhelson gave Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin a private tour of the institution on Wednesday before it opens to the public.

Mikhelson and Putin meet regularly to discuss matters. This link between the sponsor of HPP-2 and the Kremlin, which sits across the river from the museum, has led some visitors to wonder how it is possible for a museum to promote creative freedom on the same level as the era that Santa Barbara recalls. …

Maria V. Alekhina, a member of the performing arts group Pussy Riot, said in an interview Sunday that opening a new establishment during a period of harsh political and social repression was like “having a feast in the time of the plague,” a reference to the play by Alexander Pushkin.

“It’s not easy for me to walk through any major art centers in Russia,” she said. She added that Pussy Riot performed all over the world, but knew that she would not have a chance to perform in Russia until Putin left the Kremlin.

Alekhina, 33, spent over a year in prison on charges of “hooliganism” after performing a “punk rock prayer” in 2012 at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow; Pussy Riot said the art action was aimed at criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting Putin in the election campaign. Alekhina was jailed again this year after an Instagram call was posted in January for Russians to protest the poisoning and subsequent arrest of opposition politician Alexei Navalny. She is now under a curfew and is prohibited from leaving Moscow.

She added that she was disappointed that Moscow’s newest and trendy cultural institution was ignoring the current political situation in Russia. “It’s really cool what they do, I really like it. We just have reality, not just Santa Barbara, ”Alekhina said.

On Sunday, Kjartansson gave Alekhine a tour of HPP-2. In an interview, Kjartansson acknowledged the complexity of modern Russia, but said there are many creative talents worth celebrating.

“There are many things that can be criticized in this country, but we cannot ignore the fact that Russian culture is absolutely amazing,” he said. This feeling only intensified during the preparations for Santa Barbara, he added.

On Saturday in the nave of GES-2, as the cast filmed several takes of a scene in a backdrop that suggested a rich man’s office, 36-year-old Anna Shepel watched, thinking about how relevant the show three decades ago is today.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it was strange – why?” she said. “But then I thought it might have something to do with our story. We do not sufficiently understand our modern history, although we have had several decades to think about it. Foreign artists and similar projects can help us with this, and not just throw it aside. “

World Nation News Desk
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