“Digital Reality No Longer Seems Abstract to Us”

Open Lectures “Culture 2.0” have ended: St. Petersburg hosted discussions about technology and innovation in the cultural sphere. “Culture 2.0” on November 11–13 was organized by the Russian Culture Foundation. Professional discussions involved 53 experts from 13 countries; they discussed new visual art, most expensive artworks, urban culture, technology in fashion, marketing in culture and more.

For three days, Mayakovsky Library on Fontanka Embankment hosted ten “Culture 2.0” events that were broadcast online. More than 575,000 people watched the discussions online, asked questions to the experts in the chat and discussed topics that concern cultural figures and influence the development of the cultural process in Russia.

Broadcasts of all discussions are available on the website of the Russian Culture Foundation and the official VK page.

On November 11, the first day of Open Lectures, a discussion “Why We Need Storytelling?” brought together academics, representatives of the museum community and creative studios. Participants included Yan Vizinberg, Partner & Creative Director at Lorem Ipsum; Alina Saprykina, Chief Curator, Deputy Director at the All-Russian Decorative Art Museum; Olinka Vistica (Croatia), Co-Founder of the Museum of Broken Relationships; Maria Grigorieva, PR Director at the Museum of Russian Impressionism; and Michael Wilson, Professor of Drama, Head of Creative Arts at the Loughborough University.

“Storytelling has changed: a lot of it has been due to changes in technology. 30–35 years ago, stories were most often told one-on-one when we met in person, but then things started to change. In 2004–2006, with the advent of Web 2.0 and social media, we all suddenly started communicating over the Internet, we all became able to interact with each other: a so-called information highway emerged, which transmits information very quickly. Everyone got the ability to post information online, and people started telling stories,” explained Michael Wilson.

A story is, above all, a convenient tool for presenting information; people remember a coherent story more easily because they are used to perceiving the world through stories with a beginning, a middle and a logical ending. This is what Yan Vizinberg said at the beginning of the discussion. A museum, or any other cultural institution, chooses what to use storytelling for: to build an exhibition, for marketing purposes or to attract an audience.

“Our visitors become protagonists, heroes of stories. If you read carefully, get to know the story, it is as if you are witnessing a conversation between two strangers, and the stories of the object and the visitor become intertwined,” said Olinka Vistica about her museum.

Participants of the discussion “Museum & City Dialogue” included Joana Sousa Monteiro (Portugal), Director of the Museum of Lisbon; Kate Sikic Cubric (Croatia), Director of the Betina Museum of Wooden Shipbuilding; Irina Donina, Deputy Director for Cultural and Educational Activities at The Russian Museum of Ethnography; Artem Silkin, Director of the Museum-Reserve Island-City Sviyazhsk; and Sergey Kamensky, Director of the Yekaterinburg History Museum.

As Kate Sikic Cubric said, “The success of any project depends on the quality of the efforts made, and in this case the relationship between institutions and local people is very important.” Representatives of museums from the capital and the regions agreed that cultural institutions can change urban spaces, while city administrations can help develop museums, but a clear system needs to be put in place.

“You can change your place, you can research your place, you can make stories about it, you can do redevelopment projects. In Russia, there is very little optimism about people’s ability to change something. We create little points of social optimism and the theory of sets, where people change the way they see the city. We talk about visionaries of the past, but why have we forgotten that we are like them?” concluded Sergey Kamensky.

Experts of the next discussion tried to dissect the phenomenon of mass culture, whether it should be opposed to elite culture and whether mass is synonymous of low quality. “Mass Culture: Is It Kitsch or Boon?” Kathy Merlock Jackson (USA), Professor at the Virginia Wesleyan University; Malcolm Garrett, Creative Director of the Images&Co; Lyudmila Zaporozhtseva, Professor at the National Research University, Higher School of Economics; Vsevolod Lisovsky, Director of the Center for Theatrical Research Transformator; and Arseny Gonchukov, Film Director and Screenwriter, tried to answer this question.

“Mass and elite cultures complement each other, if we understand them both, we become richer. For example, street fashion influences high fashion, makes it more interesting. Mass culture is dynamic and diverse,” said Kathy Merlock Jackson.

Lyudmila Zaporozhtseva expressed a similar point of view; she emphasized that culture is our environment and described how mass culture has given the world many new tools to realize creative ideas.

“Now we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, it is the concept of a metaverse: a space where the structure of the physical world is supplemented, complicated and expanded by the structure of the virtual world. Mass culture now has so much capacity to create products of a different order that it begs the question: which of these cultures, high or mass, is now more complex. Which one gives us more potential to make sense of and interact with it? The technologies used in popular culture offer tremendous opportunities to create interesting cultural products,” commented Lyudmila.

On November 12, the Open Lectures program began with a discussion “Museum Marketing: New Effective Solutions”. Participants included Lara Kotreleva, Director of the branch of the Tretyakov Gallery in Vladivostok; Daria Chudnaya, Deputy General Director of a private Russian space corporation Success Rockets; Anna Malenkova, SMM-specialist at the Joseph Brodsky’s “Room and a Half” Museum; Marina Zatsepina, Head of the PR Department at the New Jerusalem Museum; and Maurice Seleky (Netherlands), Head of Communication and Marketing at the Amsterdam Museum.

Experts told about the most unusual marketing campaigns in culture: samizdat merch, a bar from the Brodsky Museum, the golden carriage of the Dutch Royal Family, letters from Soviet cosmonauts and more.

“The cool museum marketing is the one that is embedded in all the non-obvious points of contact with people, although in terms of organization, structurally, it is not always easy. The role of a leader is very important here, someone who can see at the strategy level that the visitor service, not very visible work, is the real marketing that makes up the overall image, brand and reputation of a museum,” said Lara Kotreleva.

Experts also spoke about marketing being a dialog with the audience, where the museum hears its visitors and discusses issues that concern them.

“We are trying to organize a public dialog, to talk to the public about cultural heritage and to include as many people as possible,” commented Maurice Seleky.

The topic of museums continued in the discussion “From Performance to Installations: Practices of Interaction Between Theatres and Museums”. Its participants included Jacqueline Kornmüller and Peter Wolf (Austria), representatives of Wenn es soweit ist; Stefan Kaegi (Germany), Theater Director at Rimini Protokoll; Kate Bailey (UK), Producer in the Theater and Performance Department at the V&A; Elisabetta Bisaro (France), Head of International Development at La Briqueterie – Centre de Developpement Choregraphique National du Val-de-Marne; and Ilya Kukharenko, Theater Expert and Producer.

The main question in this discussion was how museums and theaters can cooperate effectively and mutually enrich their spaces. Peter Wolf spoke about the project Ganymed, where he engaged galleries as part of a performance. And just recently, Jacqueline Kornmüller staged the Flora project at the Hermitage, where actors help us better understand the works in the museum’s collection.

“Performance emphasizes works of art in a museum. When we go to a museum, sometimes we do not see the paintings, we get used to them, but this way we see them better, look at them from a new angle. We work with artists who look at traditional works of art very differently: art historians want to preserve these works and the space around them, preserve knowledge, preserve interpretation, whereas in theater we do not want to interpret anything, we constantly need new images, new content that helps us look at our lives now in a new way,” shared Jacqueline.

Thus, directors get spaces and a new context for their theatrical work, while museums can reinterpret their collections and attract audiences.

Participants of the next discussion tried to answer the question: “How Technologies Shape Cities?” Speakers included Alexander Kamenev, Urbanist; Svyatoslav Murunov, Urbanist; Irina Ilina, Professor at the Higher School of Economics; Boris Volpe, CEO of MaximaTelecom; Soumaya Ben Dhaou (Portugal), Research Coordinator at the United Nations University; and Leo Hollis (UK), Writer, Urban Historian.

Boris Volpe sees the goal of technology in creating “citizen’s continuous, natural and comfortable experience.” This can be done through face pay at the underground, offering a convenient coffeehouse based on your geolocation, upgrading public transport, not to mention comfortable courtyard areas and functional infrastructure both in the city center and on the outskirts.

Alexander Kamenev presented some interesting studies by Strelka KB lab: tourist index, city’s noise pollution, popularity of urban spaces and more.

Svyatoslav Murunov summarized the discussion this way: “Technologies should develop both the city, the individual and the community. And these technologies should be aimed not only at consumption, but also at creation of something new.”

On November 13, “Culture 2.0” presented four professional discussions. It began with a discussion of opposites: “Traditional Theatre vs. Virtual Theatre”; participants included Semen Alexandrovsky, Director of Pop-up Theater; Oleg Nikolaenko (Finland), Co-Founder & Creative Director of AXiiO VR Studio; Tupac Martir (UK), Creative Director & Founder of Satore Studio; and Jack Lowe (UK), Artistic Director of Curious Directive.

“Virtual theater should in no way be compared to or said to be a replacement for 'live' theater. It is another, parallel world. A few years ago, we opened the door to a completely new, unique space where you can create anything,” commented Oleg Nikolaenko.

Indeed, directors in their discussion agreed that virtual theater will develop in parallel with the traditional one. It is important that virtuality should not be the only highlight of a performance, technologies should supplement ideas and meanings of the author.

As Semen Alexandrovsky explained, “Everything we do appeals to the viewer’s brain, and a spark is ignited there. A kind of play structure appears that provokes me as a viewer to investigate, immerse myself, explore. I think this is a working tool for augmented reality, and we still have a long way to go, because so far a vast range of AR technologies is still in its infancy, it does not allow us to be fully engaged, we are constantly stumbling over technical issues.”

The next discussion, “The Art of Collecting”, brought together Egor Altman, Art Dealer and Founder of Altmans Gallery; P. C. Neumann (Germany), Cultural Entrepreneur, Film Producer; Denis Khimilyayne, Collector of Modern Art; Bogdan Berkovsky, Senior Expert at The International Numismatic Club Museum; and Inge Reist (USA), Director Emerita at the Center for the History of Collecting at the Frick Art Reference Library.

At the beginning, Egor Altman very clearly explained the current state of affairs in the collectors’ world: “Almost every second purchase is from the Modernist period, artists such as Chagall, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Schiele, Klimt. In second place is post-war art, mostly from America’s 1960s, pop art that is so beloved all over the world: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Basquiat, Hockney, Rothko. In third place is 19th century art: the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists; then modern art: Hirst, Kusama. And in last place are the old masters with whom we are familiar from the Hermitage collections; there is basically no movement there, because all works are in museums and do not end up on the secondary market.”

It is important that the field of collecting applies technology to facilitate the transaction process for artists and buyers. Inge Reist cited the example of NFT, which can easily authenticate works, lower the price of a work and simplify the purchasing process, resulting in a win-win situation for artists and collectors alike.

The discussion “Video Art and Visual Trends” posed the following question: has video art become as common as classical painting, sculpture, mosaics and others? The Open Lectures venue brought together Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky, classics of Russian video art, artists of the AES+F group; Gary Hill (USA), internationally recognized pioneer of video art; Antonio Geusa, Head of the Curatorial Projects Sector of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; and Polina Kanis, artist. The experts agreed that video art has not only become an art movement in its own right, but is already part of history.

Tatiana Arzamasova: “An artist today does not have to hold a camera. Works are created with other technologies, on the computer, on the phone. Today we are talking about media art.”

The person and their ideas come first, and technology only brings them to life. The artists also discussed the commercial side of art; in their experience, video art is currently in demand as an exhibit in museums and exhibitions, but private buyers are just starting to interest themselves in the media. However, NFT makes it easier to buy and attracts more and more collectors to video art.

“I would remove the word ‘video’ altogether. What really matters is the artist and their work. For me personally, the interesting idea of the new digital world is the artist’s ability to get as close to the present moment as possible, to create 'here and now'. This, among other things, has happened thanks to online technologies, AR, VR and 3D,” shared Gary Hill.

The concluding topic of the Open Lectures brought together representatives of the fashion industry and technical experts. Speakers at the discussion “Modern Technologies That Are Changing the Fashion Industry” included Alena Rusakova, Head of the Laboratory of Innovative Design; Svetlana Belousova, Co-Founder of Malivar; Cat Taylor (Cattytay) and Leanne Elliott Young (UK); Co-Founders of the Institute of Digital Fashion; Morten Grubak, Global Executive Creative Director at Virtue Worldwide; and Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency.

“We created the Institute of Digital Fashion to bring about change, because the existing fashion system is very archaic and outdated. In our metaverse, we do not sell clothes, we sell creativity, using every possible technology: VR, avatars, NFT. It seems to us that digital reality will not only democratize the fashion industry, but also create a new world,” began Leanne Elliott Young.

Svetlana Belousova told how at Malivar they create “synthetic people,” namely, they can make a digital avatar based on photos of any person. Such avatars are then used to rapidly create photo and video content, run blogs and produce ads. And avatars need clothes too.

It is important that technology is used not only for the development of the metaverse, but also for the improvement of physical clothing. Alena Rusakova told how in the future 3D models and neuronets will create perfect suits for people with disabilities and professional athletes and will be applied in other areas.

And as Leanne concluded, “So far, brands are only starting to show interest in the digital technologies, but the audience is already using them. The idea of a digital reality no longer seems abstract to us”.

Open Lectures “Culture 2.0” is an ongoing discussion project about technology and innovation in the cultural sphere. Open Lectures regularly hold traveling sessions in cities across Russia, collaborate with regional cultural forums and present an annual discussion program in St Petersburg. You can follow the project’s news and watch past discussions on the website of the Russian Culture Foundation and the official VK page.

Open Lectures “Culture 2.0” include lectures, discussions and interactive formats such as open workshops, talks, intellectual marathons and more. “Culture 2.0” is open to everyone who is interested in the contemporary cultural process and wants be its active participant. “Culture 2.0” focuses on technologies in the contemporary Russian culture in its broadest sense: from digital and virtual technologies to social practices, technologies for organizing public spaces, developing local communities and promoting inclusive and educational cultural projects. Open Lecture discussions on November 11–13 were organized by the Russian Culture Foundation.