Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art
Alisa Prudnikova is the Director of Regional Development of ROSIZO-NCCA (National Centre of Contemporary Arts), Commissioner and Artistic Director, the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art. From 2005-2016, she served as Director of the Ural Branch NCCA; from 2013-2016, she was Director of the New Art-Regional Public Foundation for Contemporary Art Support and Development, where she was responsible for the New NCCA international architectural competition of building a new museum in Moscow. She has lectured at the Department of Art History and Cultural Studies at the Ural Federal University, curated numerous exhibitions in Russia and widely abroad. From 2002 to 2008 she served as the Editor-in-chief of ZA ART—an arts and culture magazine devoted to embedding the local cultural and art scene into an international analytical context. She served as an expert (2006-2008, 2011)2013) and a juror (2009) for Innovation, the first Russian national award in contemporary arts. She is a winner of the Silver Archer Ural (2014, 2015) and Caryatid (2013) Awards, and laureate of the Innovation in 2015. Most recently, she has worked to promote strategies for regional development through contemporary art practices in the framework of the national project of the Houses of New Culture. She is a member of the Advisory Board for the Minister of Culture, Russian Federation, for the Governor Of Ural Region, and a board member of the International Biennial Association (IBA).
Elizaveta Yuzhakova is an art historian, art manager, and editor. She is affiliated with the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art: assistant to commissioner (2015— now), coordinator of the intellectual platform (2012—2015), coordinator of the main project (2015), editor of the catalogue (2017).
1. What was your motivation to work on a biennial? What was your position/task?
My main motivation to work on our biennial was to create a big project that would integrate the region into a global cultural agenda. The format of a biennial seemed at that time the most appropriate in comparison to various festivals, forums, etc. At that moment, Moscow had the most famous—the Moscow Biennale (established in 2005)—and there were several regional biennial projects (in Krasnoyarsk, and in Shiryaevo) that were not so visible to the international community, while Yekaterinburg had some ambition to work with the local identity on a fundamentally different level compared to all other institutions before that. So, there was a clear academic demand on talking about the local identity on a global level, and out of this academic interest there appeared a project.
The regional institutions at that time faced a lot of problems related to their programming policies, their abrupt immersion into a global context, and the lack of exhibition spaces. So our biennial was born also thanks to several years of experiments of integrating contemporary artistic practices into industrial spaces within the Art Zavod festival held in Yekaterinburg in 2008. An interest from the public, local and international artistic and academic communities inspired us to make something bigger.
My initial task was initiating and creating the biennial. And the task was to create a project that would not just belong to a place due to its name (we didn’t want just the Yekaterinburg biennial or the Ural biennial), but that would have a definition (the Industrial) as its identity, as a basis for working with the heritage and industrial practices of the region, so that it would be representative for the location, and globally, from the point of view of development of industrial and post-industrial society.
2. How can you describe the model of the biennial you worked for? Also compared to other biennials?
Structurally, the model we implemented was not new: it consists of the main project, special projects, and a parallel program, but there are two quite distinctive features. The first is the Artist-in-Residence Program, which from the very beginning made it possible to work with operating enterprises, and since then it has constituted an attraction for the artists from all over the world. It is difficult to find any other biennial project that would have the same specifics of working with various operating plants, from porcelain to heavy machinery, in the format of a residence. Second is the intellectual platform, which is a sort of umbrella program for all the other projects within the biennial. This is again a reference to the academic background of the project. Formerly, we would start the research part of the project (seminars, symposia, etc.) a year before launching the next biennial edition. But now the biennial team implements new research projects on a stable basis, and what’s more important, it chooses the biennial theme. This is another distinction from the most common biennial model, when an invited curator brings her/his theme into the project, defining the rest of the program. The figure of the main curator is fundamentally important for our project as well, but here the format is more a collaboration with the team of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, its organizer.
3. What goals/wishes are connected with your biennials? What should be achieved? What were your personal goals?
The goals change over the years. Today, we are almost at the end of the ten-year cycle, and we can probably divide these goals into four levels: municipal, regional, federal, and international—each of them having their own agents and impact, defining further goals. Regarding the situation in the city, we’d like to achieve a total adoption of the biennial as a format of joint experimentation and a platform for new potential initiatives. Regionally, I’d like to achieve a strategic format of working with partners. The initial idea forming the basis of the biennial was that this format allows us to work with large industrial businesses as financial partners, and I’d like to reach a new level of budgeting and production, and see more ambitious projects realized. Federally, there is a demand on such a format from many regions besides Ural, which have an industrial background. And this proliferation of the Industrial Biennial in the regions seems to have a potential, so we have to think about the proper format.
Internationally, gradually we are developing an ambition to work with the top-notch curators. And reciprocally, for the international art community the Ural Biennial may become a sort of springboard for possible inter-biennial cooperation—this is what the International Biennial Association is currently aiming at. And regarding my personal goals, I am very much concerned with whether there is a possibility to create a network of cooperation among the institutions, or associations like the IBA, or ICOM, for working as sincerely interested counterparts.
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organizations. Can we compare biennials at all?
There is no certain set of rules that would define whether one project could be called a biennial and another couldn’t. This matter has been discussed many times by the IBA. But in the end, biennials emerge when the organizers call their project a biennial, and only thereafter do the communities decide whether it’s true, or whether this naming does not relate to some biennial ambition.
The question is quite interesting in terms of why we should compare biennials at all. The main question asked by the biennial organizers is in what way it may have an impact on the territory, what it brings to the location where it is held, and how it changes the environment around it. To my mind, what’s interesting to compare is what biennials can change around them. In many countries, it is either the museum format or the biennial format that drives cultural development. Due to different geopolitical conditions, in some places this role is taken on by the museum, in other places it is the biennial, while the museums are more traditional and conservative, not open to experiments. It seems to me that it is this aspect for which it would be interesting to make comparisons.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
I think that the biggest problem here is that not all the biennials can calculate this impact and work the results into the form of impressive marketing reports. At least in Russia, stakeholders still measure the result by the number of visitors. Yet, the biennial’s impact is deeper than just that. We have just started to use methods that allow us to discuss the indirect effects of the biennial. But its effect in the Urals is hard to overestimate. We have already received three national Innovation art prizes—according to the assessment of the professional community and the international jury, we won the award for best curatorial project, best regional project, and the main award—Project of the Year—this year. The biennial develops the cultural environment of the region, and also it has become a platform for a big amount of new initiatives from all over the world integrating Russian and international artists and curators.
6. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think this affects the biennial? Does it affect it at all?
This affects it in a huge way, of course. And as a public institution, we openly talk about our funding. Our basis is resources of the initiators—the Federal Ministry of Culture, the Regional Government and the Municipal Government—and we always specify these amounts. In the same way, we specify the amounts we get from other sources. In our case, we have a positive dynamic: at the first biennial, it was something minuscule like US$300,000, while by the 4th edition we had US$1.5 million. We always talk about funding, about its shortage, and about the importance of support of cultural initiatives by businesses. As a fundraiser, I can say that the biennial has been a format that more easily attracts money than the everyday activity of an institution. The biennial working with various audiences is more attractive to sponsors than some museum patrons program.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
In our case, we might need some curatorial innovation that would allow us to be less dependent on a venue—because one of our main dramas is the search for a new relevant venue every time, and turning it into an exhibition space. On one hand, it is the impulse of our biennial related to its industrial specifics—to find an industrial site, or a constructivist monument for the main venue. But on the other, it is a permanent struggle between the space and the art. So, it would be cool to find some curatorial move that would free us from this struggle.
In general, the biennial format itself is an ongoing innovation, an experiment with the newest trends, possibilities, and so on. Any biennial tries to apply everything new that appears and test it. In this way, a biennial can be called the main springboard for any kind of innovation, almost in any field.