It’s Tuesday, July 15, 2015, and this travel report which is long overdue reaches you from Chelyabinsk. This is going to be the last city in Russia before we arrive in Kazakhstan.
The last report finished with the hint at us having an appointment with the co-director at the Pushkin Museum. This visit was very pleasant, very optimistic, we will meet her again in Berlin. You know we plan to open the Action Blue exhibit in Russia at the Federal Russian Museum with Sascha Borowski, then we would like to transfer it to the Pushkin Museum or to an institute that is connected to the Pushkin Museum.
We took magnificent pictures at the press conference at a former factory site, this thing is that popular but I can’t recollect its name at the moment, Anna will tell you hopefully. It is kind of an alternative venue to the Garage, I find the Garage to be too fancy whereas this hatchery of art could be compared to New York’s SoHo of the 70s, late 60s, this hatchery, this factory site which you could technically find in Bielefeld, Paderborn, and Wanne-Eickel, to say nothing of Karlsruhe. The one in Moscow is very nice.
Which was very nice as well was the reception, the press conference, the many journalists, all of this is captured in pictures. We established lots of contacts that took us to Nizhny Novgorod. In Nizhny Novgorod, we had a great TV presentation. This was a very detailed presentation and above that, Nizhny Novgorod welcomed us with loads of water. The pictures show that Action Blue literally drowned. The car raced through Nizhny Novgorod and made massive waves. These pictures are amazingly made by our photographers, you can track our journey by them, quite hot stuff. Nizhny Novgorod, the yellow press, then the water. The water accompanied us in massive waves pouring down from the sky on our way to Kazan.
Kazan turned out to be more than pleasant. They also had a hatchery of the modern, the underground art that we encountered quite differently compared to in the Pushkin Museum, in the east of Moscow, it was a huge difference to the Pushkin Museum which is very top notch, on a par with the Louvre or the Washington National Gallery or the New York Metropolitan Museum. Just like these museums, in these cities, there are also what we sought, the young art. That we found in Moscow, we did not find it in Nizhny Novgorod, but here in Kazan, it was delightful.
We organized a press conference at an art studio. Many, many young artists came, many, many young journalists too. This was a nice press conference featuring a joint bucket toss from the bridge to the canal from which we pulled a vile swill up in the bucket. We got the findings, you can track what we found there. It is not much worse than the puddle of Paris which brought up nice findings for the pictures under the microscope.
From here we took off taking really unlimited exciting roads if you will. No GPS could track them. We went from Kazan – and I do not regret this – to Ufa. We arrived at our hotel only one day after a Chinese delegation including their President left the hotel. Even the Chinese flag was still there at the night we arrived with a huge delay, dreadful streets, and adventurous floods of the streets. All of the pictures complement the report which have been taken by Anatole and Gianluca who stood in the mud up to their knees, what a selfless effort they put into them. We entered the hotel where nothing was left, the Chinese had eaten all of their food. It wasn’t just the Chinese who stayed there, but a delegation of 10,000 people – I think the number I told you the last time, 100,000, was wrong – visited the city. Allegedly, there were 100,000 people from every corner of the eastern world in the city to attend the BRICS states conference. The Chinese President came, all the heads of state of the East, the one from Belarus. Putin staged it ingeniously and 45 per cent of the Russian inhabitants stated to countervail against the West.
We came to Ufa into this political atmosphere. A city, just like the one Angie owns as her election city right at the border to the East – I can’t recollect its name again – it is for sure a little smaller but doesn’t look much worse than this here Ufa. Ufa has a strong underground art scene though, we encountered that the next day since in a usual house in an industrialized apartment block thing, they had a great museum of Russian contemporary art in the basement.
But I forgot one city in all this hustle and bustle and all this stress, I forgot Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky, named after the composer Tchaikovsky who was born there. Tchaikovsky is a somewhat smaller city that has a dam. This dam reserves the water from the river Kama that passes Tchaikovsky, into a huge reservoir. They really use the water to generate energy. This is phenomenal, we took great pictures on which you can see how water gets transformed into energy. We got the not unattractive Olga who is a famous TV show host there and who interviewed us in the hotel as well as at the reservoir. We strolled about the area there to take some photos.
Even the local police officers knew us because I think we drive the only car coming from Germany driving through the whole of Russia. At least the only car from Cologne, or our two cars from Cologne are – this is safe to say – known to the important police officers since we passed the Russian border who are standing at the roadside once in a while. I had an odd feeling when my foot got caught under my car in Moscow and all of a sudden there were helping hands whose owners knew their way through my type of a car who rescued me in this situation. This is not common in Moscow. Anna believes they were actually there to observe me. I don’t know, doesn’t need to be the case, that’s the typical paranoia that you develop in such countries. It doesn’t matter too much though because I am most interested and fascinated by how far Putin pushed this country forward. He is really playing on world class level, some presidents should follow his furthering lead here, despite any dirty things, like all the heads of state have, except for Mrs. Merkel and the French one, the Italian one, and the Luxembourg one, what skeletons they might have in their closets. This seems to be part of politics, it’s said to be not the cleanest of businesses. That’s not my task though as an artist, to judge politics, let’s leave it to Ai Wei Wei and some others like Klaus Staeck who has been struggling with it for 50 years now and who even outlives Franz Josef Strauß.
This art form is not my art form but I concerned myself with Tchaikovsky, with the city with eyes wide open when I saw the reservoir and realized what can be done with water. We took a water sample, very fertile, pictures are taken. We then went on to Kazan.
Wherever we went, we met new friends and these friends and their faces that will stay in our minds are also part of this report. Sometimes it’s is quite sad knowing that you won’t meet the person you are spending the evening with or who you are interviewing ever again because they are living so far off the centers where life is being shaped. Well, that was Kazan underneath the earth. They were wonderful people. I took a toy car type with me that is not a Trabant – I can’t remember its name, again – it looks like a Trabant but made of metal. This one used to be a cult car in Russia, I took a model car of this model with me, I bought it in the shop that the curator owns. She runs the alternative museum whose name I don’t know right, we have her picture and we’ll tell you her name later.
And again it rained cats and dogs. There was water everywhere. We had a television crew and they interviewed us in the car while the car was flooded from the outside. We performed the bucket toss at the White River, the White River of Ufa. Now I’m talking about Ufa, the Ufa that everybody talked about because, at Putin’s wish, all leaders of the East were invited there. Just like they do it in Switzerland on an annual basis just to portray themselves.
Then we left Ufa. The departure wasn’t an easy one, we departed with a tear in our eyes. This city that seemed so repellent, somehow similar to when you come to Paris, to La Défense. That’s exactly what we said the moment we approached Ufa, wow, this is the La Défense of the East. Just much, much, much, much, much bigger and, of course, they didn’t have the Eiffel tower. From Ufa, this city whose name is so easily pronounceable in contrast to others’, we went to Chelyabinsk at night because the journey was long and we arrived at the hotel in which I am sitting now at 1 a.m.
These journeys are of course quite dramatic because on every corner there are holes in the concrete and this hole can easily and fast lead to an axle fracture. All along the roadside, there are tire dealers who can change your tires and who make good money by it. In front of us, a truck burst a tire and I was a little scared for a moment because I was afraid it was our second car that was driving in front of us that burst the tire. Sometimes I let him drive up front because the car is sturdier construction-wise. I have to admit though that up to now, we haven’t had to do anything about the car. It’s a little dirty and we have it washed today. That’s all that had been done to it this far and we refuel it with gasoline, that is 94 instead of 98. When we’re lucky, they also have 98, presumably that’s octane which is not Super Plus gasoline but the car swallows it because it also has an engine that is run electrically which helps us on steep mountain roads and which almost doesn’t make any noises when starting the engine in the city.
This is the report from Chelyabinsk, it is the last Russian city before we head to Kazakhstan. We are currently preparing the journey from the Chinese border onwards. We shouldn’t have any visa related problems when entering Kazakhstan, I believe we won’t need a visa. There seem to be regulations that say you can enter until the 15th of the month without visas. Unfortunately, tomorrow’s the 15th, we’ll see how we will be doing entering the country then because we still got lots to do because we’re going to meet the curator of the Chelyabinsk Museum, we’ll go to the museum because we take the water sample here of a lake at which I am looking right now and where Anatole and Gianluca are going to take pictures of the bucket toss. The bucket toss is a gesture that has developed into a thing and which reminds me of Georges Mathieu’s brush mopping of the 50s. It is almost a real toss when the little blue bucket flies through the air as if you were throwing paint at a canvas. I really like that, it is a gesture that is established and we’d like to see how it goes at the lake that is surrounded by factories as well as a recreational paradise.
That’s it for today and I hope this report is written down neatly in some kind of format and in an even better way translated into English without too many errors. I wish you all a nice day in Karlsruhe, I’m off to start the bucket toss. Bye.