Friday, May 1, 2009
More Student Exhibit Ideas
Although I'm back in the US, and will be posting about sessions I attend at AAM, I've still got a pile of potential posts from Ukraine. So before I get too far behind, a look back at some of my other student exhibit projects from my course at Kyiv-Mohyla. Their final assignment was to develop an exhibition around some aspect of Soviet life--any aspect. They had to consider a big idea, interactives, design concepts and how the exhibit would be evaluated. And although I probably won't get time to write about them all, each and everyone would have made a fascinating exhibit. It was a major shift to go from imagining exhibits that are strictly chronological or encylopedic, to these more conceptual ideas with many avenues for audiences to engage in the subject matter. My students all approached the projects with interesting eyes, diverse perspectives, and a sense of humor--great qualities in exhibit developers!
Two Types of Appearances
This exhibit analyzed the two ways in which Soviet women were portrayed--one, the worker, and the second, the more fashion-conscious woman called "artistic." The second was a look denied to most, and really only available to party bureaucrats.
Podstakannick (The Glass Holder)
This served as the title for an exhibit about Soviet train etiquette and culture. Having taken overnight train rides here, I can attest that much about the Soviet system, including the podstannick, still remains, although the class thought that one aspect of the trains--conversing with compartment-mates--had drastically changed with the advent of cell phones. You no longer passed the long ride talking, playing cards and sharing food with strangers, you now talk on the phone to people at home.
Nadiya thought this exhibit should be installed in a train itself, a sort of moving historic site, and that each class of car be interpreted in the appropriate place. She developed interactive contests, including the speed spreading-out of bedding, and wanted interpreters, in costume, to portray typical "Soviet types," engaging the visitors in conversations.
I didn't see, anywhere in Ukraine, re-creations of workers flats, houses or communal farms--and I'm hoping some of them get saved and restored and that some version of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum takes hold here. But here's an idea for the recreation of Flat #5, a communal flat--that, as Katya said, embodies the idea of Soviet ideology--that you are always under surveillance, always being watched. These flats were spaces where families had individual rooms, but the kitchen and other areas were shared communally. You would have the chance to fully inhabit the space, with living history actors portraying characters such as the babushka who sweeps the floor and asks you to wear your slippers.
And the most interesting concept? That had the end, you would have the opportunity to spy on your neighbors--other museum visitors--as they visited the flat.
Soviet Tourism as a Resistance Strategy
I enjoyed it when students looked to their own family history as a source of inspiration for these exhibit projects. Oksana looked to her mother's history as an avid hiker and outdoorswoman for this project. (That's her mother above, I believe). The Soviets organized hiking and tourism, but then, it become popular to hik and enjoy the outdoors outside of the Soviet system--so hiking and kayaking became ways for people to be together, to share ideas, and to operate, in fact, outside of those watchful eyes in those communal houses. Oksana found a nice selection of objects--including those family photos, but also cameras, tents, medals, and clothing. Singing--a very popular Ukrainian pastime--also had a part in this resistance--and so Oksana, Sasha and the rest of the class sang songs by popular "bards" from the 60s as part of this presentation.
Another exhibit about fashion--and about the dichotomy between what fashion was promoted, what fashion was available, and how the culture and the state viewed differences. The push and pull tension with the West is always evident, not least in this image from when Christian Dior showed his designs in Moscow in 1959.
The Human Sides of the Cold War
An impressionistic exhibition, made even more so by the Bob Dylan sound track that accompanied the presentation. The goal, I think, was to show, to both countries, different sides of life, inspired, in part, by the story of the young American, Samantha Smith, who visited the Soviet Union in 1982. The only project to produce a poster (above)
One of my students has a longstanding interest in Esoterica--which in Soviet times evidently means an entire grab-bag of alternative practices--yoga, pyschotherapy, magic, shamanism--all sorts of things. She designed an exhibit in several spaces that both presented the objects, the people involved in the esoteric underground and then provided a space where current practicioners of all these elements, still not wholly understood or accepted, could meet and share information about their beliefs and practices.
The best intro label came here, from Katya:
In this exhibition, you will meet those you have likely only heard about. People who live on the edge of official culture. People who retained their identity despite being pressured into silence. People who did not officially exist. This is their story.
And I should say, by the way, that I taught in English and that my students produced all their materials for me in English--so not only did they have to think in different ways that they were used to, they had to produce the ideas and information in another language. Quite an impressive achievement.
There were some great Soviet Realist wedding images in Anna's presentation, but I choose this one because it's an image I saw repeated in Kyiv over and over, particularly as the weather got warmer. Anna looked at the way the state controlled marriage in Soviet times and the ways in which ethnic traditions received a sort of controlled nod of the head in the ceremonies, and proposed that today, the tyranny of the state has been replaced by the tyranny of the wedding photographer--which she illustrated using a video of her own wedding.
The tradition of wedding couples visiting monuments still holds true--I never found out exactly when this started but some thought that it started after the Great Patriotic War (World War II) as a way to recognize and honor those who had died so others could live. At any rate, at every statue in Kyiv, every spring weekend can be seen brides, grooms and a full bridal party.
His Labor Made
This last one was fascinating...and hard to explain. Really more an art installation than perhaps an actual exhibition, but absolutely about Soviet times and the uses of memory. The exhibit would be installed in a round space. Projected on the floor would be large photos of Soviet citizens posing in groups (my student used photos from her own family collection). Mirrors on the ceiling would be endlessly reflect those group photos. Moving around the circular walls would be an endless loop of images of Soviet leaders, overlooking all those Soviet groups. In the center, a large flat-screen TV would show a music video that uses Soviet objects and images in a form of kitsch, I guess. Interestingly, this project, the most conceptual, provides the visitor with many, many opportunities for individual meaning making.