I am always searching for unconventional art initiatives, especially those that make space for artists in places far away from the vibrant cultural scenes of megacities. It is always admirable to see a project aimed at creating artistic opportunities in small towns.
In August 2022 I attended an event I think I will never forget about. In the small town of Vyksa, a new cultural centre, "Volna", was opened as a part of the "Vyksa AIR"-an art residence that was named an "Institution of the Year" at the international contemporary art festival COSMOSCOW in 2021. I was fortunate enough to meet the art director for the opening of the cultural centre, Elena Anastasieva, who opened to me deeper contexts related to this event and this unique place as a whole.
The new cultural centre is situated in the building of an old Soviet cafe called "Volna", hence the name. The word means "wave" in Russian, and it is an important one in the Soviet naming tradition. There are infinite places and items called "Volna" in the post-Soviet states, and it has been so commonplace, that in itself has become a phenomenon. It creates an interesting juxtaposition: such a common name for such a unique place. And it is truly a unique place: with its own inexpressible feel, fascinating past, and bright future.
The opening of "Volna" was marked by the exhibition of local artists with the Moscow Design Museum, "Soviet Public Catering. Dreams and Reality". The exposition presents more than 200 iconic items from the history of the Soviet food service. Through such a mundane thing as food one can track the key moments of Soviet history as a whole in a peculiar way. The exhibition also included masterfully crafted performances. Each element of production was on point: lighting, music, and coordination of artists. There was also a whole day of lectures and open forums for public discussions about art and more. Elena managed to create an unforgettable experience for me and, I am sure, many other attendees, a place to discuss and learn. From the first day in "Volna" I fell in love with the place, and I am certain I will return.
The cultural centre is situated in a unique Soviet building designed by architect Sergey Medvedev. The construction of the cafe ended in 1985, and it welcomed its first visitors. It was operating that way for nearly 25 years. In 2010 the cafe stopped working and the building stood empty until it was reinvigorated as a new cultural centre. The exhibition hall overlooks the beautiful scenery: monumental trees overhanging the pond, birds tweeting and peace is in the air. The studios of the resident artists are nearby. The residence hosts ten artists from all over the world every year on an open call basis. The venue is intended to host exhibitions, seminars, master classes, and workshops for children and adults. The project is also dedicated to the creation of a barrier-free environment, building an inclusive public and residential space. It is a unique venue: a place of artistic power in a small Russian town. There is a special place in my heart for such projects, and I highly recommend any art-goer to visit the "Volna" cultural centre.
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