Touch is a joint project by Museum and Exhibition Association Project Manege (Moscow) and Manege Central Exhibition Hall (Saint Petersburg). It aims to demonstrate a new type of relations between art and its audience as well as to review the dominating take on disability in the contemporary cultural context
Revisiting norms and abnormalities in arts and culture in the 20th century is closely associated with gradually overcoming dated views on them. The new type of flexible and critical mentality helped change the way disability was interpreted before. In many ways, this mentality has been created within modernist art, perpetually focused on developing its own language as well as on inventing new forms and practices that open up new inclusivity possibilities for a much broader range of people. Today, disability does not mean deficiency any more. However, it points out the problem of social and material barriers that people with special needs face.
There's a number of utterly interesting cases within the unofficial Soviet culture that emerged as a response from a large swath of intelligentsia to the system of bans and limitations that existed in the Soviet public culture back in the day. Those phenomena of unofficial art, literature, samizdat and independent civil rights groups were closely interrelated during Brezhnev’s Stagnation Era. These cases include a few self-organized groups for people with disabilities (Initiative Group for Handicapped People’s Rights in the USSR; Prometey, Iskra, Feniks) – they all strived to break public silence about people with special needs.
Vadim Sidur, a Soviet artist and sculptor, a World War II veteran with disabilities (1924-1986) revealed partial alignments of these contexts. His works are the primary part of this exhibition. He was among the first ones to address disability in the post-war art as his response to the tragedy of the war that distorted millions of people including Vadim Sidur himself. And broadly, he created sculptural solutions that transformed real physical and psychological trauma into generalized images of exclusion, inability and ostracism.
There was a real episode related to Vadim Sidur's art that became truly symbolic. After his death, Vadim Sidur's personality and art enjoyed an outburst of public attention. His studio and recently established museum offered a set of tours for current and former foster children from Zagorsk care home for deafblind people. For the first time ever, those tours gave people with severe combined hearing and vision impairments a chance to experience and learn about the so-called formalism in art. During a visit to the famous sculptor's studio, Alexander Suvorov, a deafblind alumnus of Moscow State University and later a Professor of psychology, mentioned: “I would’ve loved to talk to Vadim Abramovich [Sidur] and discuss the dialectics of the abstract and the concrete… These works are not abstract. They are ultimately concrete due to their symbolism”. Unique videos of those tours and visits are also part of our project.
Within our project, Vadim Sidur's work starts a dialogue with sculptures by artists from Leningrad and St. Petersburg – both his and our contemporaries. They include pieces by Lev Smorgon, Robert Lotosh, Anlexander Pozin and others
The exhibition is made of four conceptual blocks. They are formed with works by different authors using various styles and materials. Each of the blocks strives to interpret universal human experiences on a number of levels. A gallery of faces and portraits tells us about forms of individual understanding of others. A group of single figures demonstrates various types of their (others) social identification: who is this person in a traditional social frame of reference (sex, age, occupation)? What does this person do? What feeling does this person have? Group compositions open up shapes of human interaction. And the final block focuses on retrospection experiences and abstract interpretation of outside images.
This project strives to make these topics and concepts a platform for an experience shared by all people – no exception and no division by physical or intellectual abilities. It's an experience where an art work does not have senses and concepts fixed once and for all, but becomes a source of new social situations and equal ties and connections.