Baltic Branch of NCCA / Kaliningrad, Russian Federation

Baltic Branch of NCCA / Kaliningrad, Russian Federation

for visual artists in the fields of contemporary, sound, public and social art

The arts to occupy former military precincts
…in post post-Soviet times

The Baltic Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Kaliningrad, Russia, is currently rebuilding a huge areal of the ‘Kronprinz’ barracks in order to locate there the state museum of contemporary art.
This former military place, built in the 19th century to accommodate the royal garrison, includes a three level tall tower – even four, when the roof and café are constructed.
The Kronprinz tower, with its handsome fasade, is welcoming visitors at the front entrance to this brick complex.
The round tower itself is a ‘looker’ – surprising with a straight wall towards the inner side. It shall host Russian and international contemporary art when it is finished, as well as a wide window framed cafeteria on top. Spreading out its seductive charms, several pre-opening events already took place here, as long as it was fine with the safety regulations.

The highlighted parts of the Kronprinz barracks show where the reconstruction and restoration take place. The mansards on the eastern side have a total space of 1445 sqm. Exhibitions will be shown on an area of 600 sqm. The other space will host offices, a cinema, two studios for artists, an area for art education workshops for kids, a library and a media archive.
The scheduled opening was postponed several times, also due to practical issues, like the need of individual access for water, electricity and gas supply, missing original foundation documents, which were probably deported to German
archives and are hardly traceable, etc.
Basically, there was no architectural contest. To save money, the director of NCCA in Moscow, who is an architect himself, did the concept and the planning with a small team involved.
Even though budgets are tight, the thinkers and cultural developers wanted this museum building to represent a role model for its society – in terms of sustainability and historic reconstruction.
As far as possible, original materials are used, wooden instead of plastic framed windows are chosen, and an extra staircase including an elevator is attached to the outer wall.

Here, and of course at other places within the city of Kaliningrad and beyond, the Baltic Branch of NCCA has realised a strong cultural programme.
Its aim is to promote and support contemporary arts in Russia and the Kaliningrad region within an international art context. Through exhibition, collecting, information, education and research activities, the staff actively engages with the citizens and the community of the Baltic region.
Lively collaborations and exchanges are launched and maintained. Just presently, 10th October, an exhibition at Klaipėda, Lithuania, was opened, marking another intercultural cross-border art project.
Due to Kaliningrad’s special geopolitical situation as enclave of the Russian Federation within European Baltic States, one thematic focus is ‘Heritage in actual context’.
Central aspects are furthermore the rich and complex historical background regarding the German legacy or the closed Soviet region, experimenting both: being the Russian Federation’s display window in Europe, and also traumatised by double periphery and remoteness.
Certainly, there are other interesting and interdisciplinary topics on NCCA’s agenda too, like ‘Contemporary architecture, spatial development and environmental design’.

Until the new entrance is finished, the only access to the mansards is via the corner staircase, also used by a school and the college for management.

Much more than just boosting a construction site, the work of the NCCA staff is of course about fostering contemporary art and about cultural involvement. Focussing on the engagement with the people and on current developments reflected through the arts, the personnel realises social interventions, events and workshops.
The division was honoured with the National Award of Innovation in 2008 and 2011, as I get to know at the office asking what these wooden-metal things with Cyrillic letters are. “And there must be a third trophy somewhere,” Yulia says unexcitedly.
The team of all together 15 persons, including accounting and facility management, is gathering together at transitional offices, rented at a co-working block in the centre of Kaliningrad. Since ten years already they are operating from this interim place. It looks like anybody ever really installed here to stay.
There is a lack of shelves and cupboards, to store materials and papers. Only the certificates are neatly framed and hung.
Within an hour, things could be packed and brought to the new place – to their proper and tidy offices, which are awaiting their creative and intellectual forces.

This artwork below, titled ‘My golden contribution to ornithology’, is hanging on a wall in the shared office of Elena Tsvetaeva, Director, and Yulia Bardoun, Vice-Director, of the Baltic Branch NCCA.
The artist Anatoly Belov (Moscow, RU) investigated on birds, why and how to ring them, and on their tracks – tracing their migrations. The golden plaque in the middle of the picture shows that he used the gold of his melted wedding ring for scientific purposes.

The AIR-programme:
Another way of promoting the intercultural network and exchange surely marks the residency programme.
So far, they were hosting artists from abroad in externally rented apartments, and sent local artists to other countries. A reciprocal exchange e.g. was realised with the ‘Künstlerhaus Lukas’ in Ahrenshoop, northern Germany by the Baltic Sea.
Mainly self-financed or with the support of funds, artists and thinkers could be hosted till present, helping them with visa matters or language difficulties.
Clever enough to overcome practical issues like using public transports, mini-buses and tramways, without being able to ask where actually to get off or to change, guests are provided a bicycle… and a big smile in the face tells: That works out well!
Knowing about the benefits of AIR’s for the artists as well as for the local audience, they are looking forward to the completion of the two artists studios at the Kronprinz mansards. Maybe then they also will host curators and combine residence and research, to expand their offers in terms of thematic exhibition and education.

The last image before leaving Kaliningrad to keep in mind was the ‘Cosmonaut Memorial’, a symbol for reaching out to the unknown, for a brave step beyond – on untrodden paths. Maybe it is a metaphor for unvain role models, opening up the opportunity to find national identity and pride – apart from defensive military structures.
Now it’s time for contemporary art to reach out for less galactic, but rather urban spaces.

Cosmonaut Memorial: Three cosmonauts grew up in Kaliningrad, including Alexei Leonov, who in 1965 became the first man to walk in space.
(Neither being cosmonaut nor astronaut, but also a great man of the town: Philosopher Immanuel Kant was born and buried here.)

большое спасибо, good courage and much persistence to reach your goals!

More info on the BB NCCA homepage and on social media, like Facebook, TwitterVK or Instagram.

Photos: A.M.; Interview with:
Elena Tsvetaeva, Director, and Yulia Bardoun, Vice-Director,
as well as with Alexander Zuenkov, Supply Manager, and Andrey Efits, PR-manager,
of the Baltic Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts,
(two last-mentioned not on the team photo on top)
Kaliningrad, Russian Federation, 6th October 2014.