AYARKUT Yakutia: “It doesn't matter where you are - in Kolyma or New York, the world is open to everyone.”

In July, by invitation of the art manager and inspirer of AYARKUT Yakutia, Nadezhda Zinovskaya, an independent curator of contemporary art, the head of the course "Curatorial Practices" of the Moscow School of Contemporary Art Alexander Burenkov visited Yakutsk.

Earlier, Alexander Burenkov worked as a curator in leading Russian art institutions: V-A-C Foundation, Cosmoscow Foundation, State Center for Contemporary Art. He is a laureate of the State Innovation Award in the nomination "Curator of the Year."

In June, within the framework of the AYARKUT Yakutia project, with the financial support of Sinet Spark, a cycle of research trips of Russian art curators to Yakutia was launched. Representatives of the Museum of Modern Art “Garage” were the first to visit the capital of Yakutia.

Alexander Burenkov, independent curator of contemporary art

According to Burenkov, he traveled a lot in Russia, including the Trans-Siberian railway, and knows the cultural life of different regions in Russia. But before his trip to Yakutsk, he did not have a clear image of the art scene of Yakutia.
"Speaking of Buryatia, for example, I clearly understand what inspires local artists and who they are, how they, having received education in other regions or even countries, come back and try to formulate the visual language of modern Buryatia. Unfortunately, I did not have anything like this in relation to Yakutia, despite the fact that I have been following the development of the Yakut cinema and the Yakut rock and punk scene for quite a long time. The image of the deserted Arctic landscape, which is covered with snow in winter and smoke from wildfires in summer, conveyed my perception of the Yakut cultural field before the trip, which fundamentally destroyed it, filled it with meanings and images," Alexander Burenkov said.

Burenkov admits that before the trip he had read an issue of the Art of Cinema magazine dedicated to Yakut cinema, as well as individual articles and materials about Yakutia from Russian and English-language magazines. According to him, as a visitor, it would be difficult for him to figure out where to go, where to start getting acquainted with modern Yakut culture.

"There is no accessible bilingual educational website where you can find all the necessary information about Yakut culture in Russian and English. After arriving in Yakutsk, with the help of friends, I managed to find a telegram channel and an Instagram page telling about the Yakut culture, but only in the Yakut language. I did not find enough resources in Russian to prepare for the trip," he believes.

To discover the modern art world of Yakutia, Alexander Burenkov visited the leading museums of Yakutsk, the Gagarin Cultural Center, and also met with cultural figures of Yakutia.

"Territorial specifics, natural and climatic features make Yakutia an absolutely unique region. I had an incredible talk with the ethnographer, anthropologist, and employee of the Arctic State Institute of Culture Ekaterina Romanova about the sounding Arctic landscape, which remained underestimated by world culture. Unlike general stereotypes, the Arctic is not a deserted space. It turns out that it is filled with the sounds of nature and musical instruments, melodies and rituals. Once in Yakutia, you realize how distinctive this environment is with an incredibly strong national identity."

Alexander Burenkov also managed to visit the Lena Pillars National Park. According to him, a four-hour one-way motorboat ride through orange smoke made this journey both dangerous and absolutely cinematic, in the style of the film "Blade Runner" by Denis Villeneuve.

Receiving an SMS every morning from the Ministry of Emergency Situations with another warning, Alexander admitted that at such moments it is impossible not to think about climate changes in the Northern Hemisphere and that Yakutia is at their very epicenter.

"We must all understand once and for all that the ongoing climate catastrophe is not a topic for discussion, it is a fact proven by science for a long time, which will affect the Northern Hemisphere severely. With an annual increase in the number of fires and an increase in the rate of permafrost melting, Yakutia is becoming a hotbed of global environmental problems, which are particularly acute here. These problems concern not only municipalities and eco-activists, but also cultural figures who work in such conditions, and with the right use of resources and cultural programming, Yakutia can become the center of artistic understanding of environmental problems, inviting artists from all over Russia and the world to residences.

Having got acquainted with the creative collective of artists "Archetype", I became a participant in the performative ritual of calling rain in the forest near Yakutsk. Local artists respond in a very non-trivial way to current events and the environmental agenda, subtly interpreting the historical and spiritual heritage of the people. The interest in the knowledge of small indigenous peoples is what can enrich our society now. Artists in Canada, Finland, Norway, and the Republic of Sakha actively comprehend them and try to put them into practice, reducing the gap between nature and man in order to restore the lost balance to us," Alexander Burenkov said.

In Yakutia, cultural isolation is imposed on geographical remoteness. “Many people draw inspiration from this fact,” notes Alexander Burenkov. For example, musical punk and rock bands have managed to develop largely out of a desire to find new strategies for escapism and developing their own reality.

At the same time, Alexander Burenkov became one of the experts of the Open Call (open portfolio collection competition), which AYARKUT announced in June. He evaluated the finished works, as well as the ideas of about 80 young artists that have not yet been realized.

"There were not only participants from Yakutia," he says "but also the Yakut diaspora living abroad. For example, artists living in Berlin, students of the California Institute of Art (CalArts). This Open Call was organized in order to get acquainted with the authors who form the cutting edge of modern Yakut art. This will help build the program and strategic vision for the development of the new AYARKUT institution."

In addition, such trips are extremely important not only for the regions, but also for the curators themselves. They are culturally enriching and help to get rid of various prejudices and stereotypes, open up a new perception of the context in which the works of artists were created.

Summing up the trip, Alexander Burenkov noted the saturation of the Yakut cultural scene, which involves world-class specialists working at the National Art Museum, and the Gagarin Center for Culture and Art. There are many worthy initiatives being held in the republic: from the Land art festival (an art direction in which an artistic work is inextricably linked with the natural landscape) to public art and various exhibition spaces, but the community is quite divided and lacks horizontal connections and a permanent platform for dialogue. According to the expert, the artistic world of Yakutia faces problems similar to the difficulties of any other region of Russia.

"One of the main problems is infrastructural: the lack of workshops and modern exhibition halls, artists simply have nowhere to work. There is no grant system to support artists for their internships and training in international residencies and art foundations. There are very few qualified art managers and curators in the Yakut environment who could constantly help local artists in practical matters of organizing their careers, monitor the activities of art residencies around the world, monitor specialized sites like , apply artists for Open Call, internships, which often fully cover the cost of a trip, accommodation and training. An integrated approach to collaboration would help Yakut authors integrate into the international context and develop a strategic vision for integrating Yakut art into the all-Russian and global contexts," he believes.

In modern realities it is quite possible to exhibit the works of Yakut authors all over the world, as well as to receive additional education for free in Russia and abroad.

"The world is open, artists quickly find themselves and declare themselves through the Internet. Now educational courses are available online, there are all the tools for career growth, even residences are being reformatted online now, anyone can participate in them! It doesn't matter where you are — in Kolyma or New York, what matters is how good your art is, how you speak on important topics through your art, how well you understand the international artistic context, and how well you speak English. Education for any artist should not be a superfluous notion. If a cultural institution or foundation appears ready to take on the mission of not only supporting Yakut artists and developing the local art scene, but also structurally integrating it into the international context, bringing exhibitions to Yakutia from Moscow and St. Petersburg, opening international residencies for artists from other countries, it would be so wonderful. It would resist the cultural isolation of the republic. I hope that AYARKUT will become just such an institution," concluded Alexander Burenkov.