Kirill Zhilkin: “The Problem Isn’t That the World Considers Us a Province, but That We Do It Ourselves”

Moskvaer spoke with the artist and curator of the new Moscow art space “Polygraphichesky ceh” Kirill Zhilkin on the isolation of contemporary Russian art from the global context and how he should avoid bias, spinning in a small art coterie of the city.

MOSKVAER: Kirill, the art space “Polygraphichesky ceh” which just opened in February, is under the patronage of the state educational institution, and that is a definite plus–the possibility of a priori to be built into the system. However, there seems to me, an obvious negative point as well–location. “Polygraphichesky ceh” outlies from the center, it’s a 20-minute walk from the Lublino station. You consider this arrangement to be a unique feature and a chance to become a cultural center on the periphery of the city, but how can you attract people there? You do not plan to exhibit Serov, do you?…

KIRILL: I made it in 16-minute walk, but it’s just details. Of course, we all lose Serov, but it simplifies the situation. Seriously, I can clearly see only pluses. You can focus on the creative process, without spending money on rent premises and such, you can build a dialogue with the art community and students and locals.

Any new site initially encounters difficulties, be it public relations or lack of attention. But if you hold exhibitions and other events regularly, and develop the site, people will come more often.

At the opening of our first exhibition, we had many people and I’m sure there will be more eventually. We are not a commercial institution and not going to monitor the market and ask celebrities to illuminate the art space with their glamorous lights. The new site should represent new artists; this is what attracts connoisseurs. But, of course, modernity–is not synonymous with inexperience: each participant of the first exhibition had a wide experience of creative activity and a serious education.

Photo by Victor Novikov
Photo by Victor Novikov

To open the art space was your personal initiative, if I understood correctly, and you were supported by your leadership of the Krasin college. How did the Department of culture react to such an undertaking? Are city authorities interested in such projects? Do you rely on their financial support?

KIRILL: Yes, that’s true. The Department of Education sets the task to the college to develop creative and educational environments on its basis, so they support us. And we plan to initiate a dialogue with the Department of Culture as well.

The art space operates on the basis of “Lublino” filial of the Krasin college—it is one of the three branches. We have the idea to carry out activities related to contemporary art based on other filials, but Lublino is the main direction so far. I see here a great educational resource for the promotion of contemporary art and culture. Let’s see how it goes, it seems to me, this experience can be translated to other educational institutions, because now even in the specialized high schools there are almost no actively operating showrooms. An exception is the gallery “Tunnel” in the Stroganov Academy.

Krasin college students visited the exhibition, and I told them about artworks and artists, and it was very interesting for me, and I saw a counter-interest from their side.

And in general, how did the audience take to the art space? Are some modifications coming or is it totally finished for now?

KIRILL: Those who came were not disappointed. I am glad that curator of The Moscow Museum of Modern Art Daria Kamyshnikova supported the project. Of course, we will technically improve the site, but also a lot of work has been done in preparation for the first show. I think we will put a little more padded stools to make it easier to watch video art and participate in public talk.

I will announce an open call for the next exhibition project soon, I plan to alternate indoor and outdoor activities, hold meetings and invite other curators to cooperate and, of course, implement the whole complex of educational initiatives. Here I do not invent anything new, I’m just guided by successful experiences of self-organization.


The art community in Moscow–it’s a small community where everyone knows each other. As curator of the new art space, and the curator of exhibitions, how do you avoid bias in the selection of artists to the projects?

KIRILL: Indeed, it’s a small community, and it’s impossible to completely avoid bias. This is a delicate question, all the institutions have their own activity, their own ideas about the art and beauty. I know what I was missing at our art scene and, of course, I’m not going to do an on-site exhibition about whatever, or put the same artists all the time, or hold 10 of my own personal exhibitions. There are topics that are interesting to me as to any curator. In addition, we will try to show artists that no one knows yet. So, at the “Crime scene” exhibition we presented Michael Levius – an author who had not been previously exhibited in the context of contemporary art. This is also the task of the curator – to find new artists or invite them to express themselves in a different capacity.

Kirill, it is not a secret that contemporary art in Russia is in a kind of isolation from the global context. Even at the Moscow Biennale there were very few local artists–we can count them on the fingers of one hand, and I doubt that someone except art critics knew their names. Do you think that artists are able to change this situation? How?

KIRILL: It’s a sore subject, and the problem, as I see it, is not that world considers us to be a province, but that we ourselves consider us a province. The fact that at the Moscow Biennale there were more foreigners than Russians is nonsense. This, obviously, is manifested in many ways: for example, we have a lot of bands who sing songs in English, with no chance to get into the Western industry. I myself am an Anglomaniac, but I still think that not to take into account our own context and language–is a mistake. We should remember more often that despite the lag periods Russian culture made enormous leaps, such as avant-garde. Moscow used to be the capital of the art world, and now in front of us (Russia and the West I mean) is a set of universal common problems: it is the influence of the Internet, and terrorism, and, to put wider–the erosion of culture.

Achievements of civilization is a fragile thing. I always tell my students that one day we may wake up in a completely different world. Decolonization was held 70 years ago, we got rid of slavery 150 years ago, and all that is just a moment. I say “we” because I imagine myself inside some general cultural paradigm, be it Christian civilization and humanism, or semiotics, and we within this context. Our task is not waving hands in front of the New York critics calling “please, notice me,” but realizing, if there is a sense in what we do, ever.

In summer school of the Institute of Contemporary Art I spoke with students from Goldsmiths–one of the largest art institutions in Britain. One of them said: “The problem is that fashion is changing every month, and we can’t adjust to it.” I do not understand and am actually indifferent to such activities. I am guided by the artists who work thoughtfully like Louise Bourgeois or Anselm Kiefer. In general, the German school is a good example, being one of the most successful national schools in contemporary art. German artists are constantly in dialogue with the difficult history of the nation–it makes their art strong. Our history is not simple as well, we need to think more and talk about it. Who, if not us.

About Yana141 Articles
Journalist by education, barstool philosopher by heart. Moskvaer. Rebel. Frustrated hedonist.

Be the first to comment

What's on your mind?