Ordinary heroes and handmade tales
Vladimir Arkhipov travels around Russia and its borders, collecting hundreds of items from ordinary people’s homes and gardens for exhibition in his Museum of the Handmade Object. On finding a suitable contribution, he interviews and records audio or video footage of the object’s creator talking about his or her invention. His project privileges individuality amid the growing standardisation of culture, seeking out and giving voice to the artistic ingenuity of those usually alienated from the world of contemporary art. Although the venture has been developed specifically in response to Russian society, Arkhipov has also showed its relevance to and value in other countries such as Britain. He is currently developing an online version of the museum.
‘Only socially responsible art … in which people become not just spectators but immediate participants, authors and heroes is acceptable. Not heroes as in banal soap opera plots, but heroes of their own histories, histories that have unique illustrations – the self-production of everyday things.’
Since the early 1990s, Vladimir Arkhipov has been travelling around Russia and its borders, visiting cities and provinces to seek out and gather together what presently amounts to a thousand or so objects from the homes of ordinary people. The vast project is not merely a play on the amateur anthropological collection however, but gives expression to the artist’s fascination with a particular phenomena of modern culture that is often forgotten in today’s voracious consumerist society: the hand-making of everyday objects.
Every item that makes up ‘Post-Folk Archive’ or ‘Museum of the Handmade Object’ has been crafted, constructed or assembled from whole or fragments of other objects to form strange but functional contraptions – watering cans, baskets, pitchforks, ladders and go-carts. The artist describes these items as ‘unintentional folklore’ or ‘everyday folk creation in its contemporary form’, explaining that the objects have been made ‘by specific people under specific circumstances’ and are ‘united by the one and same aesthetic – the aesthetic of a compromise between individual possibilities and needs, which is based on ethical choice’.
In this scenario, rather than locating a cohesive ethnocultural or national identity, ‘the supposed single history of the country comes apart’, as Arkhipov puts it, and is ‘measured not by events and fulfilments of national scale but by human deeds’ such that ‘history acquires normal human scale’.
The beauty of these objects, paradoxically, lies in their utilitarian purpose – or, in the absence of artistic intention, in their inadvertent poignancy. The artist describes some of the unexpected metamorphoses: ‘The hammer upset on the press no longer spikes but chops, the toy pot turns into an ashtray, the fork expresses itself as a bath plug. Objects with different mythologies exchange parts or suddenly unite, forming amazing metaphors.’
Each object stands as an original invention, often inspired by a lack of instant access to manufactured goods within Russia. With the onslaught of capitalism, however, not only does deficiency to some extent disappear, but so too the resourcefulness born of it. As such, Arkhipov’s collection pays homage to – yet also reveals the persistence of – individual creativity in the face of standardisation.
He explains, ‘In the epoch of globalisation, the presence of such items, items that are not alienating, not products, seems impossible, seems to be in the realm of fantasy. Nevertheless such everyday items can be found in any country in the world, which says a lot about the depth of the essence of the process that is this folk phenomenon. These processes have psychological, artistic, social, historical, cultural and geographical dimensions. At the moment they remain undiscovered.’
Writer and curator Viktor Misiano, too, has suggested, ‘Today the vacuum once filled by ideology is starting to be filled with media values … in a situation of exaggerated individualism Arkhipov doesn’t see the sense in creating big installations with penetrating commentaries. Instead he tries to preserve the value of individual "things".’
Indeed, Arkhipov identifies the journey of the objects in his collection: ‘everyday things become art objects during their exhibiting and, when the exhibition is over, the items are returned to their owners in their original condition. An amazing transformation takes place: from everyday item to art object and back to everyday item.’
Not only individual ‘things’, however, but individual people. For, a central part of the project is Arkhipov’s interviews with and recordings of each creator speaking about where, when, why and how his or her handmade object was made. This process of giving voice to ordinary people, who have ‘neither the chance to become Cinderellas or Lady Dianas, nor smile from luxurious glossy magazines’ stems, Arkhipov says, from a ‘deliberate moral position’ and the belief in the social necessity of such an exercise.
The project is, firstly, democratic, as ‘anyone who made a functional everyday object with his/her own hands and is ready to give (sell) it to museum and to talk about it can become an exhibitor’. More specifically, participants are, the artist explains, ‘grateful for the attention paid to them, for the questions asked of them and for the time that devoted to them’. He believes that such a process raises the self-esteem ordinary people, by ‘awakening in them the possibility of active cooperation’. And, by working with a discourse that is ‘as yet absolutely unclaimed by any cultural community’, he sees his work as an opposition to ‘conservative conceptions of anthropology, history and art’, and instead ‘serving a free civil society’.
This collaborative element has a special relevance for Russia for, according to Arkhipov, the country currently ‘combines the worst features of socialism and capitalism, and … lacks social dialogue and a common society for all citizens’. Despite this, however, the artist says that ‘Taking into account the global character of the phenomenon \of hand-making and its national features, such a museum can be claimed by any country.’
Indeed, in 2001, Arkhipov was invited by the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK to take his project beyond the borders of Russia for the first time. The exhibition, staged in 2002, partly funded by Visiting Arts, was commissioned by Ikon as part of its offsite programme, which aims to develop relationships between art, artists and audiences in projects outside the gallery.
This time, Arkhipov visited different communities in Birmingham and the West Midlands and searched homes, gardens, farms and allotments in order to accumulate an archive of over fifty British ‘post-folk’ objects. Among the creations found were a Chinese bird-table fashioned from old picture frame and a portable telescope and Star Wars-style light-sabres constructed from broom handles and Lego.
Here too hand-making was prompted by economic prudence, despite the relative wealth of Britain. Ecological concerns also played a part, but so too, significantly, did the satisfaction derived from the process of creation and from the nature of the handmade objects themselves.
The project is ongoing. Arkhipov is currently in the process of developing an online version of the Museum of the Handmade Object, which will allow viewers to access – and add to –the information that he has gathered over the years. This will include video footage and photographs of participants with their handmade objects and audio links to their narrative tales. Each object will be linked to the geographical place where it was made. Eventually, Arkhipov’s collection will transform into an electronic world map of handmade objects, thanks, as the artist says, to ‘the possibility of \each participant being able to tell a little about him- or herself to the rest of the world’.
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts
Vladimir Arkhipov was born in Ryazan, Russia in 1967. He is a self-taught artist who trained in technical and medical fields and worked as an engineer, a doctor and in the construction business before he began exhibiting as a visual artist in 1990. Since then he has held solo shows and participated in numerous group exhibitions in Russia, the Czech Republic, the UK, Belgium, Germany, Lithuania and Australia. He is currently based in Moscow.
CATALOGUES (GROUP EXHIBITIONS)
Exhibition / Installation
“Art without intentions. Preamble to the configurativeness”. Moscow, 1992.
“Al-manac”. Moscow, 1993.
“Europe’94”. Munich. 1994.
“Festival of Modern Art”. Sochi, 1994.
“Moscva swimming-pool”. Moscow, 1994.
“Werkstatt Moskau 3, Ergebnisse – Itogi”. Berlin, 1996.
“The guests of a tail”. CCA. Moscow, 1996.
“Open museum”. CHA. Moscow, 1997.
“Every day. 11-th Biennale of contemporary art”, Sydney, 1998.
“Fauna”. Maly Manege. Moscow, 1999.
“Instrumenta. Art for use”. Maly Manege. Moscow, 2000.
“Iskusstwo 2000”. Kunstverein. Rosenheim, 2000.
“Poor Art”, State Russian Museum, S.Petersbourg, 2000.
“From Arkhipov to Zittel” -Selected IKON Off-site Projects 2000-2001. Birmingham, 2002.
“Centre of attraction” – 8th Baltic Triennial of International Art. Vilnius, 2002.
“Horizons of reality”, M HKA - Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, Belgium, 2003.
“Ha kypopt!” / Russische kunst heute, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 2004.
“Here and now”, Contemporary art in Russia, NCCA, Moscow, 2004
“Berlin-Moskau/Moskau-Berlin 1950-2000”, Moscow, 2004.
“Shrinking Cities” Berlin.2005
1st Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Special Projects, Moscow, 2005.
CATALOGUES (SOLO EXHIBITIONS)
´What have you done, kolomentsy?!´, Liga Gallery, Kolomna, Russia, 2005.28p.
´Folk Sculpture´, text by V.Sofronov-Antomoni, Kunstverein, Rosenheim, Germany, 2004. 48p
Born out of necessity. \105 thingumajigs, and their creators` voices, from the collection of Vladimir Arkhipov. M., 2003. 224p.
2003 “ВЫНУЖДЕННО/NOTWEHR”, text by A. Osmolovsky, text by M. Fineder, E.Kraus, FACTORYkunsthallekrems, Austria.
2003 “Post-Folk Archive Wales”, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno, Wales.
1999 “Welded”, text by A. Sergeev & N. Allakhverdieva, Guelman gallery, Moscow
1996 “Post-Folk-Archive”. MXM-gallery, Prague.
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS AND PROJECTS 1995–2005
Exhibition / Installation
2005 ´What have you done, kolomentsy?!´, Liga Gallery, Kolomna, Russia
2004 ´Folk Sculpture´, Kunstverein Rosenheim, Germany
2004 ´I have been making a museum´, State Schusev Museum of Architecture, Moscow
2003 ‘Post Folk Archive’, Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno, Wales
2003 ‘Post Folk Archive’, Kunsthalle Krems-stein, Austria
2002 ‘Post Folk Archive’, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK
2001 Expedition, Birmingham and West Midland region, UK
2000 Folk-laboratory, Stroganov Institute MGHPU, Moscow
1999 ‘Welded’, Guelman gallery, Moscow
1998 Expedition, Wulkania region, Australia
1998 Expedition, Wulkania region, Australia
1998 Expedition, Orlov region, Russia
1997 ‘Museum of handmade object’, project for ‘Project Russia’ magazine
1996 ‘Post-Folk Archive’, MXM Gallery, Prague
1995 ‘Forced objects’, L-gallery, Moscow
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 1995–2005
Exhibition / Installation
2005 Tirana Biennale of Contemporary art, Albania
2005 ´1st Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art´, Moscow
2005 ´Functioning forms´, Festival der regionen, AFO, Linz, Austria
2005 ´In Another World´, Kiasma/Musuem of Contemporary Art, Finland
2004-6 ´Berlin-Moskau/Moskau-Berlin 1950-2000´, The State Historical Museum, Moscow
2004-6 ´Ha kypopt!´ / Russische kunst heute, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden
2004-6 ´Shrinking Cities´, Ivanovo - Berlin - Liverpool THE SEVEN SINS / LJUBLJANA - MOSCOW, Moderna galerija Ljubljana, Slovenia
2003 ‘Horizons of reality’, MHKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, Belgium
2002 ‘Centre of attraction’ – 8th Baltic Triennial of International Art, Vilnius, Lithuania
2001 ‘International Forum of Artistic Initiatives’, New Manege, Moscow
2000 ‘Iskusstwo 2000’, Kunstverein, Rosenheim, Germany
2000 ‘Poor Art’, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
1999 ‘Fauna’, New Manege, Moscow
1998 ‘11-th Biennale’, Sydney, Australia
1997 ‘Vodka’, Guelman Gallery, Moscow
1995 ‘Itogi’, Berlin Academy of Arts, Berlin
Marie-Pierre Subtil, “Systeme D au temps des soviets”, Le Monde 2. 25-26 Avril 2004 numero 15; Page 44.
Susan B. Glasser, “Handmade Versions Of Soviet History”, Washington Post Foreign Service. Sunday, January 11, 2004; Page A18.
F. Romer, “Museum of very needful things”, Every week journal, #48, 2002; Page 54.