There are probably hundreds of museums in St Petersburg, but there is no other like Street Art Museum: a truly unique institution, combining functioning factory and a museum in one huge space. Culture Trip has caught up with the team of Street Art Museum to find out more about this project.
We have spoken to Alexander Mushchenko, the technical production director of the museum. An artist and a curator, he is working at the museum from the first day and was deeply involved in the project before the museum even started.
Tell us the story behind opening Street Art Museum at the factory.
“It was kind of a mutual decision between the factory owners and artists. Back in 2011, the creative group of artists existed in some of the spaces inside of the factory. First, it was all just about creating our own art, but later we started thinking bigger to step out of this “art group” formation and try to broaden the scope of work, to invite some artists and create the art works impacting the view of post-soviet factory buildings. Luckily, the owners of the factory were on the same page, since from the beginning they got interested in art and the ways to change the space and environment of the factory. So, first artists were invited creating their first murals, and as several years passed, the museum got established.”
What is special about the place?
“Well, this project is really unique to the fact that it is it co-existing on the same territory as the active factory. There is no other project like this in the world.
“The major impulse for the museum was received during Manifesta 10 when Street Art Museum was included in the parallel program. This helped to open up the place to visitors, which before was not that easy as the entrance to any functioning factory is very restricted.
“Participation in Manifesta 10 also helped to define two directions of the museum: first is the permanent exhibition, and the second are temporary exhibitions which get painted and re-painted over and over, just like in the real life of street art scene.”
What are the challenges?
“Well, as mentioned, the restricted access used to be one of the challenges. Also, the perception of street art and the whole project by the factory workers was not always positive. In the beginning, since art doesn’t have a functional purpose, there was a misunderstanding of the project. Although, as the museum was developing, getting media attention, all the workers also got involved and interested in ongoing projects, and currently they take it as something organic and totally natural.”
What is the relationship between the art and the factory?
“Since the museum got started and we were creating more and more projects, the art was also changing: more often the topics of the connection between art and factory were observed, the art started really impacting the factory environment.
“Sometimes, factory workers are participating in the creation of mural or installation, collaborating with the artists in this way. From artistic perspective, many artists that come to the residence, also reflect on the topic of this connection and co-existance.”
Which street artists have you worked with? Which works made the strongest impression?
“Oh, really a lot! It is very difficult to distinguish someone, but I will name a few that I personally remembered most: “Casus Belli” by Escif during our first exhibition, “Growing Up Practices” by Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, “Go Home” by SPY, “If capital can move so freely why can’t bodies?” by Gaia & Mata Ruda, and “Hermitage is ours” by Kuril Chto from our latest exhibition.
Is Russian street art a work in progress? If so, what else needs to be done?
“From my point of view, there is no more “Russian” art, or any other country’s art—everything became pretty much globalized, so the role of the artist is more to work in a global context.
“Of course, there are some artists that are tied to one country due to the topics that they observe in their art, for example Kirill Kto in Russia. This artist is mostly working with text, so his work is not just visual, but also textual, understandable only in Russian cultural context.
“Generally speaking, Russia is still developing some areas of street art, meaning the quantity and the quality of production. Although, in some ways it is still following the global trends.”
What are the most common topics / subjects / themes in Russian street art?
“Mostly social—street art started as a reaction to social or political questions, in many ways. But in general, I would say street art is now fusioning with contemporary art, and each artist is taking his own direction and style to explore.”
Does the St Petersburg street art scene have a distinctive style compared to the Russian / global scene?
“Honestly, there are not so many street artists from St Petersburg. Probably, this city is just not the easiest one for street art: the city center is a preserved site, so it is almost impossible to create something there. Meanwhile in more remote districts such art wouldn’t really get seen.”
Why do street artists work on the streets instead of on canvas? What ties their work to the place?
“Well, it is difficult to say for all as ultimately each street artist has his own reason. Although, as the whole movement started in the beginning of 20th century on an international scale, the idea behind it was bringing the art closer to people and stepping out of the gallery’s polished white walls. For many, this still remains the main motif.”
Does art define the place or does the place define the art?
“Both. But surely, art defines the place in many ways, as with any action that we do in the city, we change it. I think street art as a practice should be considered as a positive one, as it shows some signs of activity and communication with the city.”
Who is your dream street artist to work with?
The dream goal of Street Art Museum?
“In short, we really want to be the one, or among several major institutions in the world which study and develop street art: publications, art residencies, projects in other countries and many more.
“Speaking locally, we want to stir the boundaries between the factory and the museum, so that the audiences can get freely on the territory and enjoy the museum in a way which won’t impact the work of a factory.
“Getting outside of the walls of the factory is also one of the goals—working together with the city to improve the environment and open the dialogue between the city and art.”