North by Northeast

The Continental Unconscious

13 March – 18 May 2008

Curator: Anders Kreuger (Sweden)
Curatorial Assistance: Ragne Nukk (Kumu)

The first component of the title, North by Northeast, is descriptive and geographical, while the second component, The Continental Unconscious, is metaphoric and speculative. These approaches all seem appropriate for an exhibition about contemporary art and culture in the Finno-Ugrian republics of European Russia: Komi, Mari El, Mordvinia and Udmurtia.

Around three million people belong to these nations, which are linguistically and culturally related to the Estonians, Finns and Hungarians. They are the residue of a once much more widespread population of Finno-Ugrian peoples in north-eastern Europe.

The Continental Unconscious alludes to the ongoing repression and self-repression of this cultural substratum. The title also refers to the strong interest in spiritualism and transpersonal psychic practices among Finno-Ugrian artists and intellectuals in today’s Russia.

North by Northwest: The Continental Unconscious is a fusion of an art exhibition and a study in visual culture. It aims at introducing a cultural scene that will be unknown to most viewers. Yet it also aims at narrowing the gap between some of the most distant regions of Europe with contemporary art as it is known and practiced throughout the continent.

The Komi, Mari, Mordvins and Udmurts are presented through their contemporary professional and popular culture rather than through ethnography and folklore. The exhibition contains artworks by artists from European countries and Russia as well as audio-visual documents of contemporary culture in Syktyvkar, Yoshkar Ola, Saransk and Izhevsk, the capital cities of the four republics.

Language ecology is another motivation behind this project, which wishes to demonstrate that contemporary culture exists also in marginalised languages. Contemporary culture in the Finno-Ugrian republics is of course strongly influenced by Russian and Soviet culture, but it also has specific traits.

One example is the ‘ethno-futurist’ movement in visual art, an attempt at fusing ethnographic tradition with formal experimentation. Another example is popular music in the indigenous languages, a burgeoning scene that borrows not only from post-Soviet estrada but also from Finno-Ugrian folk music and neighbouring Turkic-speaking peoples.

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