We Need to Talk About Erarta
I should probably start this article by saying that I really know nothing about art. Of course, it’s fun to pretend – wandering aimlessly around galleries and regurgitating snippets you’ve read online or on the painting description to those around you to try and sound clever. However, Erarta (29th line, Vasilievsky island, 2) is a museum of contemporary art with a difference. The exhibits are not designed to make you feel inadequate because you’re not sure exactly what’s going on in front of you, they simply want to reach a wider audience and get people loving and thinking about contemporary art.
One side of the museum is for the permanent exhibitions and the other side is for the temporary ones. Clear your schedule for this one: there are five floors and about 2,800 works of art by over 270 artists. A sign challenges the criticism many throw at modern art – “your kid can paint like this?” Yuri Tatianin doesn’t just paint a man at a table drinking vodka and eating gherkins, but lays out a plate of gherkins and a bottle of vodka on a table in front of the painting. The sign points out to anyone who comments that this art isn’t “for them” should know that means there is art for them somewhere, which can definitely be found at Erarta.
Several themes run along the permanent exhibition of Russian art, but the one that grabbed me the most was that of the future. For example, the ever-increasing role of the digital in our everyday lives. An artist called Aljoscha shot to fame with his biomorphic forms which resemble giant white corals and which sprout from buildings – his aim is to bring natural life to man-made objects. Or Dmitri Kawarga’s installation “The Model of Bipolar Activity” representing the brain – one side orderly and geometric as the left hemisphere is responsible for logical thinking, the other chaotic to show the right hemisphere which does all the creative bits (those who read my articles may wonder whether mine works at all). You can place your fingers on it and have it read which side of your brain is dominant, because the installation makes louder sounds on the relevant side.
The role of the past and the future also make up a large part of the permanent exhibition. Russia has a particularly turbulent history, and many have turned to art to find a way to process their memories or those of their families. For example, Eduard Sharipov’s autobiographical painting “The Germans” draws on the stories his mother told him of her and her brother’s experience of escaping their native village due to the German invasion in 1941 – his work is just a small piece in the enormous jigsaw puzzle of various testimonies and accounts which make up the Soviet Union’s extraordinarily harsh and difficult experience of war. As for the future: who can know what we should expect? A particularly striking piece was a projection of a pavement on top of a display of rubbish tightly packed together, to show our continued effect on the environment.
While the permanent exhibition offers many unique additions which you might not find elsewhere: a theatre without actors, audio installations and short animated films, if you’re keen to go one step further and truly connect with your arty soul the U-Spaces are a must. There are eight spaces in total, each exploring a different theme, and each promises to completely immerse you into the particular world they’ve created. I visited «что остаётся, когда все проходит» (what’s left when everything’s gone) and «седьмое небо» (cloud 9), the first was a philosophical space exploring the passing of time and the feelings of loss, and the second about reaching true happiness. It’s an interesting addition to the museum visit and includes a different dimension to experiencing what Erarta has to offer.
The temporary exhibitions change all the time, but I particularly fell in love with the photography exhibition which was running when I visited. A group of Russian and French photographers had travelled all over Russia and photographed ordinary people in every day situations. From the most remote Siberian villages to central Moscow, from battling the wind and snow on the way to the supermarket to children playing on the beach in the sun. it showcased the continued shared importance of religion and tradition, but also private moments between friends and family – one photograph which particularly captured my heart was of an elderly couple embracing, from Kukushka village in the Kirov region.
If all this deep-thinking and self-exploration tires you out or leaves you feeling peckish, Erarta has its very own café and restaurant, where you can order teas, coffees and cakes or fish and pasta dishes in a creative and modern setting.
I think we both know how you should spend the next rainy afternoon that comes along in St. Petersburg.
This post was written by Claire, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz.