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Russian Artists Rep The New Media Scene At The Venice Biennale

The Capital of Nowhere exhibition charts technology's impact on Russian art.

Alexandra Dementieva's Breathless

Over the years, we've spilled considerable ink over the lack of digital art at major contemporary art fairs and venues around the world. Looks like that won't be the case at this year's Venice Biennale, in part thanks to a group of Russian new media art organizations that are joining forces to exhibit 13 works covering the “effects of industrialization, urbanization, revolution, wars, construction and reconstruction.”


Curated by Silvia Burini and Matteo Bertelé, Capital of Nowhere is being held at Università Ca' Foscariand features the work of artists from St. Petersburg-based Cyland, a cyber media arts lab, and CSAR (The Center for Studies on the Arts of Russia).

“In traditional societies, generations would come and go much faster than habitat would change,” note the folks from Cyland. “Catastrophes changed landscapes, be it natural or human in origin — from volcano eruption to migration to asteroid and cultivation. In contemporary times, variety is introduced quickly into landscapes by prosperity or adversity.”

In Russia, of course, there is the interplay between the immediate post-Soviet years and the introduction of heavily-mediated capitalism. That is, the antiquated industrial existence of late Soviet Communism colliding with the West's technological, market-driven prosperity--no doubt a huge influence on a generation of Russian artists. The impetus of City of Nowhere therefore calls to mind the sci-fi literarture of Victor Pelevin, whose novels Homo Zapiens and Hall of Singing Caryatids might be most representative of the Russian psyche as past met future in hyper-capitalization.

Two of the more eye-popping and technologically-inspired works come from artists Anna Frants and Alexandra Dementieva.

Frants, one of the founders of Cyland, is exhibiting Cloud That Smelled Blue, a title that is as evocative as the work itself. This large-scale installation is an attempt to cross “boundaries between art, design and cinema” and while may not be groundbreaking in itself, Frants does succeed in gracefully weaving sound, video programming and robotics together into an immersive new media whole.


Anna Frants, Cloud That Smelled Blue

In Cloud That Smelled Blue, a robot moves along a track, pulling sheets of reflective material atop a rectangular vein of projected light that resembles the sky. The effect is that of a futuristic fantasy. And that is Frants' intent, as a lot of her other work aims for a similar synthesis of the fantastical and futuristic.

With Breathless, Alexandra Dementieva worked with Aleksey Grachev and Sergey Komaro to engineer and program an installation that looks a bit like a teleportation machine. Vertically-oriented rings of light move up and down. People can stand inside these three “light objects,” though the light patterns are fully automated. Two of the objects are connected to an RSS feed via computers, while the third provides wind, temperature and noise from the street via an anemometer (airspeed sensor).

Alexandra Dementieva, Breathless

According to Dementieva, the computer searches the RSS feed for all words related to the concept of “fear” for one light object, and “desire” for the other. The greater the number of related words that are found, the brighter the objects' LED lights grow from bottom to top. The person inside the third light object can blow on the anemometer, which then alters the pattern of the object's illumination. “The simple act of breathing becomes visible and important,” notes Dementieva.

Two other Capital of Nowhere works worth highlighting are Vitaly Pushnitsky's Waiting and Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov's Flirtation of White Noise. 


Pushnitsky, known for his skill in mixed media and provocation, offers up a hybrid painting-projection. In it, the artist juxtaposes a projected sunrise over painted archaic columns.

Vitaly Pushnitsky, Waiting

“Max/MSP was used on the technology end,” Pushnitsky told The Creators Project. “I worked with technicians off-site and on-site at the exhibit to create a digital video of a sunrise/sunset, which was then mapped to project onto and specifically juxtapose areas of the painting.”

Gubanova and Govorkov's Flirtation of White Noise is a video and sound installation. Like Pushnitsky, the duo used Max/MSP, but supplemented that with sensors controlled by an Arduino. The video also involves stereo panorama. According to Gubanova and Govorkov, the physical action of the viewer triggers static (white noise) to form birds. If enough physical action is triggered, an entire flock of flying birds will appear. (The footage of the birds was shot on the island of Crete in Greece, while additional footage was shot in Rome.)

Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov, Flirtation of White Noise

The exhibition runs until July 10 and also features work by Marina Koldoskaya, Peter Belyi, Alexander Terebenin, Petr Shvetsov, Ludmila Belova, and Kurvenschreiber Collective.