Urals Industrial Art Biennale: 8 highlights

Iset Hotel is hosting the main project of the biennale. Source: Vyacheslav Soldatov

Iset Hotel is hosting the main project of the biennale. Source: Vyacheslav Soldatov

The third Urals Industrial Biennale of contemporary art is being held in Yekaterinburg until November 10. Around 70 artists from 21 countries have presented their work. Among them are international stars like Yoko Ono, Alfredo Jaar and Tino Sehgal. RIR lists eight must-see event highlights.

Iset Hotel – Ivan Antonov

The main exhibit of the biennale, prepared by two international curators, Li Zhenhua (China) and Biljana Ciric (Serbia) is being hosted at the former Iset hotel. The 10-storey building is one of the best works of art at the biennale. The constructivist edifice was built in the late 1920s-early 1930s as a home for young employees of the NKVD (The People's Commissariat of Interior Affairs) and became the key element in the set of buildings which constituted the ‘Cheka’ compound.

This semi-circular building represents everything the biennale organizers are hoping to re-create: the city's industrial past and the large-scale construction projects of its present, and the collective memory of a difficult period in history.

“Ai Weiwei” – Li Zhenhua (China)

Li Zhenhua, one of the biennale’s main curators, is a media artist. His artwork at the exhibition comprises a room packed with TV sets showing, on a loop, a video of the most famous Chinese artist, dissident and public figure, Ai Weiwei. This could well be Li’s best work. 

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei by Li Zhenhua. Source: Press photo

"Three Women" – Alfredo Jaar (Chile-U.S.)

Three tiny photographs on three black walls prompt viewers to come up close to study the portraits, each lit by several powerful spotlights.

The renowned Chilean artist's installation is devoted to three courageous women and human rights fighters in three different parts of the world; Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Ela Bhatt from India, and Graça Machel from Mozambique.

Three women by Alfredo Jaar

Three women by Alfredo Jaar, 2010. Source: Press photo

“Biennale Security” - Vladimir Seleznev (Russia)

This series of drawings by Urals artist Seleznev consists of portraits of security staff accompanied by quotes from them about their perception of contemporary art, which is often at the opposite ends of the spectrum: from "art is useless, they would have done better had they just reopened the hotel" to "in order to understand contemporary art, you have to switch on your brain.”

The series has become part of a research and education project "Methods of Art" that was launched in 2013 at the University of Cologne.

“Biennale Security” - Vladimir Seleznev (Russia)

“Biennale Security” by Vladimir Seleznev. Source: Sergei Andreev

“Mothballs” – Wang Yiquan (China)

This installation consisting of glasses filled with colored mothballs spread around the room is about the illusory, transitory and fleeting nature of time. By the end of the biennale, the mothballs should evaporate and the glasses become empty. The young artist's work is also homage to his older colleague, the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, with his huge wax sculptures.


Mothballs. Source: Press photo

“Impression 1/1” – Zhenya Machneva (Russia)

While studying the process of copying works of art, Machneva spent several weeks at the art residence at the Kaslinsky Iron Casting Plant in the Chelyabinsk Region. There she created a series of tapestries, “industrial” still lifes, depicting the everyday objects that surround the workers of the plant.

Impressions by Zhenya Machneva, 2015. Source: Sergei Andreev

Random purchases on the Dark Web – Mediengruppe Bitnik (Switzerland)

 This project, which created quite a media storm last year, tells the story of a bot that was created by artists to make random purchases on the so-called Dark Web, a series of online networks that require special configurations or software to access. The bot's weekly budget was $100 converted into the local "currency," bitcoins. The purchases were delivered to the artists' gallery until the bot randomly bought 10 ecstasy tablets in Germany, thus creating a conundrum for the police who had to investigate a wrongdoing committed by a robot.

Mediengruppe Bitnik Accidental Purchases in Darknet, 2015

 Accidental purchases on the Darknet, 2015 by Mediengruppe Bitnik. Source: St. Gallen art gallery

“Doing it with Mrs Kwan … Making pepper spray” – Kwan Sheung Chi (Hong Kong)

One in a series of video clips in which the artist takes an ironic view at the influence the media have on the audience. Disguised as an ordinary cooking show, to the accompaniment of lounge jazz, a charming TV presenter teaches the audience how to prepare pepper spray, an offensive weapon that is very harmful to the eyes. 

Mrs Kwan

Mrs Kwan. Source: Press photo

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