Voices from the Underground

On 15th November 2014, the Institute for Contemporary Arts (ICA) presents Voices from the Underground, an afternoon of films and discussion that explores the artistic environment in Russia during, and just after, perestroika. Bringing together documentary material, most of which has never been shown in the UK, it charts a crucial period in Russian contemporary art and a breaking point in the country’s history.

The three films in this programme uncover some of the key events that defined – and shook – the Soviet cultural underground. Shown together for the first time, they create a starting point from which to explore the defining characteristics of a generation of artists, musicians, designers and creative thinkers working together, or at least in proximity, during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Although perestroika and glasnost – the two politically loaded terms that defined 1980s Soviet Russia – long ago entered the mainstream lexicon, they remain abstract when applied to culture. Synonymous with political reform, a relaxation of rules and impending freedom, relatively little is known or understood about this singular and short-lived period in cultural terms. It came and it went, leaving behind a new country but few material, cultural traces. Voices from the Underground asks: How can we understand the cultural specificity of the perestroika years and its impact on local artistic circles? What differentiates this unique historical period? And, what is its significance for us today?

Timur Novikov: Zero Object (2014) and A House on Furmanny (2010) celebrate the dizzyingly creative but wildly disparate psychology of St Petersburg and Moscow. Against a backdrop of political change, which brought hope but also uncertainty, the documentaries serve to shed some light on to a world that moved in tandem with mainstream society but also existed in parallel to it.

For many, both Russians and non-Russians, the first Sotheby’s sale in Moscow in 1988 was both symbol and catalyst of the changing times. For better or for worse, it marked a point of no return. USSR Art presents valuable footage of the sale and the protest action that followed, while exploring the effect of the market’s free and open entry into the USSR on its fragile artistic infrastructure.

The screenings are followed by a panel discussion with Alexandra Obukhova (Head of the Research Department, Garage Museum for Contemporary Art), filmmakers Andrey Silvestrov and Alexander Shein, music and cultural critic Artemy Troitsky.

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