Aliens invade bizarre Russian arts ceremony: 8th Sergey Kuryokhin Contemporary Art Awards

Daughter of Igori Shubin receiving the prize for the musical category Etnomechanica on his behalf.

On the evening of Wednesday 26 April, a conglomerate of St Petersburg’s artists, art critics, curators, musicians, and journalists crowded into the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre to attend the 8th annual Sergey Kuryokhin Contemporary Art Award Ceremony

The first annual ceremony was held in 2009 and has maintained its status as one of the most important contemporary art award ceremonies in Russia ever since. The nominees fall under a variety of categories and include musicians, visual artists, painters, and multimedia artists.

Upon being seated, the attendees of the ceremony were handed whistles and were instructed to blow them when the winner of each category was announced. Several trigger-happy audience members began to blow their whistles before the hostess, Anastasia Kuryokhina, was able to finish the opening speech. With a stern remark, Kuryokhina silenced the whistlers and said her concluding words about the importance of the ceremony, before scurrying off the stage for the ceremony to commence. The curtain then opened and what ensued was—to put it mildly—a bizarre spectacle.

The stage was immediately flooded with neon green aliens. Some of them held signs that instructed the audience to clap or to whistle, some them maniacally danced in rhythm with the varying music that echoed throughout the remaining hour. Spotted in between the green aliens were members of a choir, a pianist, a harpist, and Valery Alakhov, one of the members of Petersburg’s first electronic music duo The New Composers. The musicians played music that ranged from the compositions of Sergey Kuryokhin to the music of Bach, and at a certain point, even dubstep.

Signs dropped from the ceilings indicating the categories and nominees for each category. At the forefront of the stage, TV screens displayed the winners of each category. Unusual bucket-like objects stood in front of the screens, under which the trophies, in the form of a silver bear, waited for their recipients. When announced, each winner quickly ran up to the stage, took their prize, and returned to the audience. No formalities, no speeches, no tears. The fact that this kaleidoscopic affair was taking place in one of St Petersburg’s most prestigious imperial era theatres—the very physical embodiment of St Petersburg’s high culture—made the situation all the more jarring.

It was the very absurd nature of the performance, which was conceived by Andrei Barteniev, that made it so fitting for an awards ceremony that carries the name of Sergey Kuryokhin.

“The main trait of Russian and Soviet culture is madness,” Kuryokhin once remarked in an interview with a wide grin on his face. “In what way does Glinka differ from Verdi? In no way, just that he [Glinka] is mad. Mad to such a degree that he becomes an emblem of Russian national culture. And Tchaikovsky, how does he differ from Bach? In no way, he is just mad, and automatically becomes part of Russian culture.”

Madness is what often typifies the work of Kuryokhin in the eyes and ears of his followers. He was first and foremost an avant-gardist. A legendary composer, a brilliant pianist, an artist, an actor, a performer, head of the Pop Mechanics orchestra – to this day it is still impossible to pigeonhole Kuryokhin into a particular medium or genre. His ability to break the boundaries of artistic mediums, to continuously challenge the ways in which music and art are perceived, made him into the iconic figure that he is today. The winners of the ceremony are therefore often chosen for their ability to create something totally revolutionary, straying beyond conventions and canons.

In 2004, almost ten years after Sergey Kuryokhin had passed away, his widow Anastasia Kuryokhina founded the Sergey Kuryokhin Center of Modern Art and the Sergey Kuryokhin Foundation. The Centre is a multidisciplinary space for visual art exhibitions, art events, and music festivals. Currently, the main centre is under renovation, and a small gallery belonging to the centre is open on 73 Ligovsky Prospekt. The works of the nominees and winners of the awards ceremony are now being exhibited at the space.

Winners of the 2017 Awards:

Best Media Object: Sergei Filatov for his sound sculpture Orpheus: Song for the Whales

Art in a Social Space: Dimitry Kavarga and Elena Kavarga for their project Inhabited Substance

Best Curatorial Project: Vitaliya Patsyukova and Anastasia Kozachenko for The Moscow festival DADA

Best Text on Contemporary Art: Ivan Chechota for his compilation of texts from From Backman to Breker

Best Work of Visual Art: Alexander Shishkin- Khokusai for his work Vannu Marata

The Grand Prix Pop Mechanics: Dimitry Shubin for his improvisational orchestra Gadgetphonia

Music Award Ethnomechanica: Sergei Starostin

Music Award Electromechanica: Igor Starshinov

Special Prize for Contribution to the Development of Contemporary Art: (The late) Alsan Chekhoev

The Prize from the Institute Francais in St Petersburg: Pavel Otdelnov

Event: Exhibition of the nominees for the Sergei Kuryokhin Prize for 2016
When: From 25 April to 20 May
Where: Ligovsky 73, 4th Floor
Price: Free
Language: Russian, English

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