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Relics is a look at lesser-known museums of Moscow – specifically, the state- and city-financed science and industry museums – and their denizens both dead and alive. Institutions as diverse as the Museum of Revolution, the Museum of Darwinism, and the Moscow Lights Museum (devoted in its entirety to the city’s electrification), they are all equally out of sync with the frenetic beat of modern Moscow, and all share the same state of dreamlike stasis. In here, time stands still – and not a particular era, but many jumbled into a frozen puzzle. Most of these museums were created in the late 19th century; maintained (often without renovation or change) by the Soviet state throughout the 20th; and persist on a scant mix of public and private funding in the 21st.
This series thus concentrates on how one era chooses to represent itself to another. In looking at non-art as art, it examines the political and aesthetic choices one must make when picking out an artifact for posterity, be it a piece of rock, a bird skeleton, a video loop of a presidential inauguration, or the jumpsuit of an Intel factory worker. Often, an anonymous curator’s framing forces a veneer of beauty on objects of science and research: for instance, the Polytechnic Museum arranges a perfectly balanced nature morte out of old radios, a scale model of a radio tower, and a bust of inventor Alexander Popov. Elsewhere, art is found where none is intended: the Museum of Darwinism’s curious idea of a representative “modern life” tableau – a human mannequin seated inside an IKEA kitchen holding a stuffed lapdog – could easily be a gallery installation. Same goes for another group of taxidermied dogs at the Museum of Zoology, these ones juxtaposed against paintings of seemingly the same dogs alive and frolicking. In fact, the intended gallery setting for these photographs would continue the chain of recontextualization — performing upon the already-curated compositions the same process that the museums had once performed on the artifacts involved.
This unilateral reframing of the museums’ “official” narrative also includes the museums’ visitors, guards, and docents. Most of the latter have spent decades confined to these rooms, and their personal environment has begun to interlace with the curated worlds they inhabit, creating unauthorized hybrid spaces. The worn chairs; the potted plants clinging to life on windowsills and landings; the elderly ladies dressed in the same color scheme as the rooms they are guarding; Relics regards all of them with the same remove and respect as the artifacts on display. In doing this, it both comments on and embodies art’s dismal tendency to make relics out of everything it touches.