Text-based curatorial project by Ekaterina Degot and David Riff “Monday begins on Saturday” for Bergen Assembly 2013. Author: Natalia Shapkina.

This project is a very interesting initiative which is a big exhibition that took place at 11 venues. It is neither a biennial, nor a festival, but an assembly, which is already interesting as a format for large-scale contemporary art exhibition. Formally it is a triennial but with its specific features. The question of triennial’s international advisory board was: “With more than 200 biennials worldwide, what can Bergen Assembly do that hasn’t been done many times before”? At the year of 2013 curators of project were well-known Moscow-based art-critics and curators Ekaterina Degot and David Riff.

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As a guideline for the whole event they took significant  science fantasy and science-fiction novel “Monday begins on Saturday” written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky in the peak of Cold War. Of course it is not only example of curatorial practice based on text. But more often curators takes literature or philosophy as starting point of their own or artists’ reflections that can be attached to the text superficially or even simply take another direction of thinking. This sort of treating text in curating was quite a reasonable decision for plenty of different biennials and others contemporary art shows.  Here we see something different. Curators claim to rewrite and rethink famous novel using language of contemporary art.

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By the way, what does it mean “famous” in this context? The story was extremely important for 60-80s soviet people generation, but it is obviously not so known and understandable for western public. And it is also necessary to take into account that now there is a whole new generation of people who grew up in global European world. Young people now have no experience of living in really ideologically divided and struggling world.   They watch pretty much the same movies, adverts, wear the same brands, have opportunities to travel etc.

We all live in world of transnational corporations. If we think about contemporary art system, one of the most influential exhibitions is Manifesta established in 90s, which claims that it can cope with problems in almost any European region by building contemporary art network. So politically and socially many things have been changed. Then why “Monday begins on Saturday”?

Lars Cuzner and Fadlabi, exhibition view
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The questions raised in this novel go far beyond simply functioning of Soviet science system. It is obviously has to do a lot with this specific soviet institutes and research centers. But it can be taken also in wider perspective as an enigma and power of knowledge itself. One can think of  magnificent attraction of high-level intellectual work. Let’s recall the title of the book. “Monday begins on Saturday” means that scientist is such an enthusiastic, deeply involved into work person, who has no any other desires and simply doesn’t like Sundays because he or she gets bored of rest.

Another dimension of scientific work is its institutional bureaucratic mechanism which brings a lot of stupidity. This mechanism as a social system can cover cheaters and not very decent and smart people.

And the last but not the least feature of science is its exposure to ideological and political manipulations. Science is not neutral in politics. Which concepts dominate in the society is also very much political an ideological question, even now in so-called “post-ideological” era.

I think that this kind of collaboration between literature and contemporary art is very successful way to raise certain number of questions important today. Also it is a way to reactualize to elder generations and to make familiar to emerging generation unique heritage and experience of Soviet Union.

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