Solyanka Gallery's Director Katya Bochavar: We want to show that it is possible to communicate in the language of contemporary art

July 6

Solyanka State Gallery opened in 1989 in the house on Ivanovskaya Gorka. Over the 30 years, it has changed greatly, turning from a naïve art gallery into a major contemporary art venue. Today, it is going through another development stage under the management of the new Director Katya Bochavar. Read about the Gallery's prospective in and Mosgortur Agency's collaborative article.

You first got to know Solyanka in 2005, when you came from the United Stated to participate in the exhibition, and a few years later you finally settled in Moscow. Was it homesickness or the exhibition that made you come back?

I didn't feel homesick then, but later I started missing New York (laughs). I had lived there for almost 14 years, after all. During that period, I had lost all connections with Moscow, so I came to a completely different city. It was an absolutely new Moscow with new opportunities. I was very interested in its life, and I had a great desire to work here in contemporary art. And everything happened so fast, as if I had not taken part in it at all.

Those days, the situation in art was completely different. Now we have architectural studios focusing on contemporary art exhibitions. But at that time, there were no exhibitions at all, so I had an opportunity to create a new profession, in some sense. In New York, I turned from a designer into an artist, and in Moscow I turned from an artist into an exhibition space architect (although I didn't have a diploma in architecture), and later I became a curator. Now I have four professions I have fully mastered. And sometimes I even act as a director.

What was your impression of the Gallery in 2005, and what has changed since you first saw it?

The Gallery was completely different. I was on friendly terms with Boris Pavlov (he had been Solyanka's Director for 10 years) and his son Fyodor Pavlov-Andreyevich who succeeded his father and managed the Gallery for nine years. As a curator and an architect, I arranged a lot of exhibitions during Fyodor's management.  The most interesting and insightful projects I value very much have been implemented here.

I invented the name 'State District Artistic University of Independent Talents' (GROUND) as a joke. As a result, GROUNDs have existed in the Moscow Exhibition Halls Association for almost five years, as two regional galleries: GROUND Khodynka and GROUND Peschanaya. Solyanka Gallery is also to be transformed into GROUND. It is to be an experimental cross-disciplinary space, not just a gallery, but a workshop, a cauldron of various art genres and styles, and for me it is a very important event.

Has the offer to head the Gallery surprised you?

Yeah, that was weird. It's true. From now on, I have to communicate with officials, with utility officers on sewerage, fire protection and air ducts matters, and this role is very strange for me, as I'm rather carefree about these things; for example, if I have some bricks fall out of my house, I wouldn't care a bit and won't even have it fixed. But in this case you have to do it on your own. So, this is also a kind of practising modern art.

Solyanka space is like another home for me, I know it very well. And when I became its Director, I realised the things to be done. There was no need to come to the Gallery and think over its arrangement, as all happened quite naturally, since I have taken advantage of my achievements made in the previous GROUNDs.

What will the updated Solyanka Gallery operate like?

Solyanka will be arranged as an independent state with our own radio station, our own printing workshop (a mini-printing house), we will have a kind of 'universities' offering training programs and lectures, and entertainment venues with performances and concerts held and films screened. There will be shops, galleries and, naturally, workshops — sound art, modern dance, performance. Every inch of our space is to be used for experiments.

Just like previous GROUNDs, the Gallery will live under the motto 'Come to us to make mistakes!' We want art to be alive, we want to develop it, and you cannot do it without making mistakes and learning. We want our audience to help an artist to understand his or her own nature, to help in moving forward. For us, the most important thing is the symbiosis of the audience and the artists. We want these edges between them erased. It is possible to communicate in the language of contemporary art, and we want to show it implemented.

You have mentioned some training programs. What will the Gallery teach?

We want to open a school to train tour guides as experts in contemporary art. Last year, we have already started to move in this direction together with Mosgortur Agency. I think this is extremely important.

When an organisation intends to arrange something like an exhibition of contemporary art, it has to make significant investments, so that art experts could tell visitors about the exhibits they view. And that means 50 percent of success. It is one thing to come to the exhibition, walk around without any understanding of what is going on and then leave, and quite another thing to visit the exhibition and get some extensive knowledge. Further, you may accomplish the things you have learned one way or another, but there must be an initial trigger to do this. In my opinion, it is very important to have a school training such experts, and we want it to open in the Gallery.

How do you make contact with Solyanka visitors?

We reduce the admission cost from RUB 300.00 to RUB 200.00. Accordingly, prices and discounted tickets for students and schoolchildren get reduced, too. Having this ticket, you will not only view 150 meters of exhibition space, but also take a look at all our small formations to exist in Solyanka, for example, the Niche Young Art Gallery. Visitors may also use their Gallery tickets to attend some of the events.

Tell us about some upcoming exhibition projects.

We have not so much time left to the end of the year since our Gallery's launch. But we already have confirmed some upcoming events, that is the 'Find a Jew' quest exhibition we arrange in collaboration with the Jewish Museum and the Tolerance Centre. Anna Narinskaya is the author of its concept and its curator as well. The exhibition is to cover all the Gallery space, even the wardrobe and the space under the stairs. It is dedicated to the Aesopian language spoken by Jews in the 1960s. Its visitors are to find and decipher these messages.

We expect to open with an exhibition dedicated to visual scores. A visual score is a score recorded otherwise, not by notes. A rug pattern, for example, may become a score of the dance. It's a never-ending story showing how statics turns into motion, and line become a sound, and so on.

Does your Gallery have some themed preferences?

No, there are no certain preferences, but there are a number of taboos I adhere to. I don't arrange solo exhibitions, I don't even accept applications and try to avoid them. When people talk about solo exhibitions, they mostly mean that they have accumulated some number of works they would like to show. There's nothing wrong about that, the thing is that we're engaged in a kind of different stuff. But there are exceptions such as a one-man exhibition represented as an installation created by one artist.

All other taboos are rather simple to adhere: we do not show naked bodies without prior notice, and we cannot allow obscenities without prior justification or notice. We don't want to break the law, but we are open to everything else.

What is the team you restart Solyanka with?

'Our team is great' is already a hackneyed expression, but our team is really great. First of all, I would like to mention Alexandra Maleyeva, our Executive Director. I'm very grateful to her for everything she does, because she is the person who, with her sleeves rolled up, without fear and beyond reproach, from the early morning deep into the night, brings the Gallery to an impeccable document order. I could not do without her.

Marta Ryazanova, the GROUND Khodynka's former Director, got a job in Solyanka. Marta is the only person who has worked in the GROUNDs since their launch. Now she is the Programming Director of Solyanka Gallery and Head of the Exhibition Department. We have an outstanding team: Katya Umnova is a designer, Inna Logunova is in charge of public relations, she used to work in the former Gallery's team. So, our team mainly consists of women, with only three men among fifteen employees.

Last summer, you became the curator of a large-scale 'Here and Now!' exhibition held at the Manege. What can you say about this project after almost a year passed? What was your personal experience?

I value this project more and more over time, as the exhibition meant for me the first recognition of contemporary art. It was an urban project, and it was a very important step to legalise contemporary art. Until now, many people, me included, don't understand how I came to be the curator of this exhibition. But I'm happy and very proud of it.

It was not an easy task to bring together 56 projects and arrange an exhibition covering 6,500 sq m within two and a half months. In addition to the exhibition part, there was also an educational programme, including a huge number of lectures, performances, film screenings, concerts to extensively cover Moscow contemporary art.

This year, I am not engaged in this project, but I want this exhibition to have the same scope comprising interdisciplinary, relevance and democracy. It has to show Moscow's development,  art works that have been created in Moscow over the past year.

To be an artist, curator or Director. What would you choose?

To be an artist. Although, in fact, it's all the same. It may sound strange, but it's the way I feel. I do not feel like a Director, architect or curator, I don't even fully comprehend the meaning of these words, because they are of no interest to me. You may call me one way or another depending on what you are expecting from me. You call me Director, so, I am authorised to endorse a document to make it legal. But for me, all of this means a practice of an artist.


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