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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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!
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.