—We have Putin to thank for our ever-expanding audience. People come to us because they feel something is definitely wrong, even though they are not yet ready for radical gestures in public squares. They feel that the Memorial
represents the axiological set they can relate to. The Memorial is a society open for collaborations, volunteering, and freelance. In any project budget we strive to allocate some funds for fees so that people are able to do odd jobs for us for small wages. On top of that, anyone can attend our events, take part in hackathons, and join educational initiatives. It is a two-way transit: we take credit for opening the doors, and the public for coming.Media Communications
students of the Higher School of Economics are our best audience. We are also popular among literature and history students, but the ones at Media and Communications are the most active. They come asking if they can do an internship of 36 hours, finish their thing, get their evaluation report, and come back after six months: "May I work with you again?" Apparently, they make friends here. "May I do something for you? May I write my thesis with you?" People who come during their studies do it because they are looking for a supportive environment and fulfilment. Those who come as established experts often propose collaborations and joint ventures. Some of them work in galleries or commercial chains. They are young people in their thirties who work flexible hours (like curators or managers), and they are always in for any kind of action: public programmes, guided tours, exhibitions. At times they cheat on their own management that has stronger ties to the system. A major library came a while ago: "We just love what you are doing, let us work together, please!" We developed a tailor-made programme around thor location, and then they got back to us: "We are so sorry, our legal department told us we are not allowed to work with foreign agents." The legal department does not actually care, but for the curators it was hard.
We think of exhibitions in terms of mediums. They are not about artworks to be admired, as in "Wow, look, a Michelangelo!": we do documentary projects that engage the public in ethical reflections.
Our exhibition designs have always been modest at best. But then we decided that we could engage world-famous artists with daring ideas: this way, the items and objects pre-selected by the curators in line with their concepts become more engaging: participative elements are always an added value. In 2014, we invited Yuri Avvakumov
to design The Right of Correspondence
, which he did free of charge. The total budget of the Afternoon. 1968 project
(2018) was 200,000
roubles. I met Alexander Brodsky
, the architect, to interview him about 1968, and he plunged into some convoluted story. I said, "We are actually working on an exhibition," and he said, "I'd like to make it!" He did everything and never charged us, he even sent some interns to paint the installation. As our shows grew more eye-catching and state-of-the-art, they engaged more people. Of course, one can always visit alone, read the explanations and leave, but we focus on a different scenario that involves meetings, public talks, curatorial tours tailored for various audiences, discussions touching on postexperience and postmemory. All in all, the space becomes versatile, lending itself for complex, diverse challenges.
In 2017, we showed A Story of an Old Apartment
based on an illustrated book by Anna Desnitskaya that features nighttime arrests, Stalin’s death, the troubles of the dissidents in the 1970s, Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, but only in passing. Our exhibition, on the contrary, was focused on these issues, and every school of the neighbourhood came to visit, including those who had always stayed away, institutions with deeply rooted Soviet traditions that had educated children of Communist leaders.
The Memorial is a nationwide network, and we really care about engaging the local Memorials from every town and region outside Moscow, so that they take the driving seat and become our real project partners.
One of our major actions is Returning the Names.
There is a web platform, october29.ru
, where I collect the contributions from across Russia and the world. October 30 is the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions, so everyone is bound to pay a tribute, commemorate a repressed author or artist, visit a memorial site, bring flowers and say a few words. In Tambov, Tyumen, Kirov
and other places it is often a struggle: activists are held up, brought away in paddy wagons, and yet they never fail to show up, inventing subterfuge methods to deceive the police. But in some small towns there are peaceful societies of the victims of repressions, and nice elderly people that join the local authorities in low-key celebrations: three carnations, five speeches, and done with it. But we collect every bit of information jointly with the 7×7 Horizontal Russia web project, placing a banner that invites everyone to find Returning the Names in their own city. So in the city of Biysk
three oldsters still living in 1989 decided to hold a commemoration. When 7×7 put up the notice, I was contacted by other guys from Biysk, members of the Vesna movement: they wanted to take part in the action and get in touch with the organisers. But the Memorial oldsters did not want them: "These Vesna people are always in trouble
, if they get anywhere near, our nice little Returning the Names
will get in trouble as well." What were we supposed to do? There is no other Memorial in Biysk. Vesna could have done their homework better of course, but while facing colossal risks all the time, they do not have the capacity to befriend the local Memorial in the run-up to the 29th of October, a bit earlier than the actual date. This is a problem that does not seem to have a solution.
At the same time, we have to get over the image of the 1980s rabid radicals in baggy sweaters. Our target audience is 144 million large. It includes people of every generation and sweater size. But we prefer focusing on the youth because their perspective is less rigid. They are more open. Many of them reach out to us online.
One of my favourite projects was the Gulag Tourism summer school of 2019. Some background: we learned that the Military Historical Society
was launching a new excavation campaign in Sandarmokh
. We realised we had to counteract, so we launched an open call for travel bloggers from across the country: people who explore far and wide, picture cities and oceans, and have no less than ten thousand followers. We received applications from Astrakhan and Belgorod, Tambov and Novosibirsk. We had to select 16 participants out of 160, because it would have been impossible to find lodgings for a larger group. And off we went. First we held a kind of a conference in a hotel: we tried to determine the right tone of voice, establish the difference between "repressed" and "executed", and looked for ways to avoid the objectification of victims. We dwelled on the infrastructure of memories, Holocaust tourism, cafes and parkings at Auschwitz. And then we travelled to Sandarmokh on Memory Day
, and then onwards to the White Sea Canal
. It was just amazing. They were all in their late twenties or early thirties, with an established mindset that suffered some severe blows along the way. One of the girls said she wanted to join us, so she curated our Instagram for a while. They all agreed that the initiative could be taken up on a commercial basis and urged us to sell tours. But our financial department was against it.