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Saturnaliy Foundation for Cultural Innovation

2012-2014 | Moscow

Saturnaliy Foundation was launched by Denis Kryuchkov, Hermes Zygott, Sergey Anufriev and Mitya Nesterov in the late Autumn 2012. In the two years of its existence, the Foundation has grown from a small curatorial board into one of the largest and most notable artist-run projects. About 200 artists, musicians, performers, videographers and literary workers participated in the activities of the Foundation.

The only authorized capital of the Foundation was the combined "intellectual capital” of its members. The Foundation was meant to be a new type of community with a unique way of organizing, idiosyncratic motivations, rather unusual set of goals and objectives, with daunting strategies and tactics carried out across the cultural continuum in order to create an informal reference frame. Establishing such a community of professionals from various fields of culture in order to integrate their art practices into a single collective “life-creating” complex, for the formation of a new cultural universe that lives according to the laws of art, was the first mission assigned for the Saturnaliy Foundation.

The unifying task necessary to fulfil the mission was the intention to revive the traditions of ancient holidays associated with solar cycles, the main of which was the Saturnalia, celebrated in one form or another in all cultures, Western and Eastern. Astronomical events, connected primarily with the solar cycle, have always controlled the existence of all life on Earth. The winter solstice was especially significant, and its celebrations have been known since the Neolithic era. The winters were harsh. But on this day, after the longest night of the year, the Sun was said to "turn towards spring." The fear of winter hardships, the animal fear of death was overcome by faith, by collective consciousness, in other words, culture. Absolutely all businesses were canceled on Saturnalia, children did not go to school, criminals were not executed, slaves received a brief freedom and sat at a common table, everyone gave gifts to each other and distributed money to the poor.

Saturnalia was such a holiday, during which the life of people was sharply distinguished from the social life surrounding them in all other time. The life of creative professionals is similar to Saturnalia in its isolation from the social context, the desire to create their own living conditions for an artistic commune, alternative to the surrounding situation. In the XIX century, the artist was perceived as a romantic madman, the bearer of a destructive, revolutionary onset, in a rigidly structured society with a minimum degree of freedom for citizens and a low standard of living. Now the whole society is showing rampant insanity and progressive pathology, and with each decade, these trends are intensifying and now, perhaps, they have reached the peak of maximum instability. The Saturnaliy Foundation stated that today the artist must be the guardian of order and ethical principle, the champion of morality, the engine of world harmony, leading civilization along the path of perfection. The artist is an example of modern life.

In the winter of 2012, the Foundation got its first site, an original industrial building of the XIX century in the historic Baumansky district of Moscow – three empty floors of a thousand square meter each, without windows or heating in the factory area, guarded by real Cossacks. The site was named MosChaos or, if read backwards, Chaosmos.  

The First Moscow Saturnalia started on the day of winter solstice, December 21st, 2012. The installation was prepared by less then 30 artists, who formed the artistic core of the Saturnaliy Foundation. The organization of the MosChaos space was based on the ludic principle. Each artist was building his own game, and all games combined, organized a higher level of the game. The viewer, having bought a ticket, was entering the space of choice, where he was forced to use intuition. This turned the otherwise passive viewer into a responsible participant. 

In the following year, MosChaos hosted three large-scale group exhibitions, a series of musical events organized together with the largest Moscow underground sound system named PZDC, a traditional Mayday Rave. An edition of “Structurality” festival of experimental and avant-garde music helped gain younger audience and then, more than 3,000 spectators visited the special Nights at the Museum program as part of official Museum night in Moscow.

Tetractys, held in September 2013 as a special project for the 5th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, became the culmination of MosChaos space and marked the completion of the first stage of Saturnaliy Foundation’s creative work.

During the first year, activity of the Foundation attracted attention of many institutions and functionaries of the contemporary art system in Russia, many of whom visited the MosChaos events – director of Multimedia Art Museum Olga Sviblova, gallerist Marat Guelman, theatre producer Eduard Boyakov, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Moscow Simon Mraz, to name a few. Denis Kryuchkov was invited to co-curate another special project for the 5th Moscow Biennale at  Guslitsa, one of the largest artist-run international artist residencies located in the former abandoned factory in the Moscow region.

The Second Moscow Saturnalia was held at the Center for Contemporary Art Winzovod on December 21st, 2013 in collaboration with the “Cultural Alliance. Project by Marat Gelman”. In addition to the gallery, the Saturnalia occupied the whole courtyard of Winzavod and “Platforma” space, performance and dance project mostly associated with the theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov. The second edition of the Saturnalia focused more on the carnival component of the celebration, with all the participants and engaged viewers wearing masks and carnival costumes. Compared to the first Saturnalia, the number of participants has almost tripled. It was at the time when the Saturnalia became an annual event that the idea arose to go beyond the boundaries of the artistic field, to make the Saturnalia a city-wide holiday, a true celebration of the arts.

The next chapter in the history of the Saturnaliy Foundation is connected with the invitation received from Eduard Boyakov, then appointed rector of the Voronezh State Academy of the Arts, to take part in the activities he was developing in the region. Den Kryuchkov and Mitya Nesterov took part in a comprehensive study of the artistic environment of Voronezh and the region.

A charity exhibition "Winter night’s dream” curated by Boyakov and Den Kryuchkov opened at the Government House of the Voronezh Region on Christmas Day, 2013. At the same time, Voronezh Academy of Arts received at its disposal the old building of the Mariinsky Gymnasium, the opening of which was timed to coincide with the summer art festival “Otkryto” (“Open”). Saturnaliy Foundation curated the exhibition “On Kupala Night” as a part of the festival.

Meanwhile in Moscow, artists of the Foundation were invited to provide a number of artworks and sculptures for the first edition of “Outline”, one of the biggest Russian festivals, dedicated to electronic music, contemporary art, urbanism and eco-consciousness, held in Mnevnikovskaya Floodplain in July, 2014. Before that, a session of simultaneous creation was organized at the Design center “ArtPlay”. During the session photographer Kate Kobzar made portraits of participants and some of the viewers. This session happened to be the last event of the Saturnaliy Foundation for Cultural Innovation.

There’s no one simple explanation why the Saturnaliy Foundation ceased to exist. For one, political, socio-economic and cultural climates in Russia started changing drastically, however, not entirely unpredictably. There were no major disagreements, no clashes or scandals within the Foundation. Everyone peacefully dispersed, and continued to apply the Saturnalian principles of collective action in their personal work.

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