During these grey winter days, the city’s many shades of yellow and gold catch the eye and bring a little light to the darkness. Follow the golden road to the big gate, traverse the yellow tunnel, and you will find cool cat hangout Coop Garage Pizza & Garden, the setting for SWS Shoot #2 with Polina and Arseniy and Arseny. After Arseny (aka The Actor) splits, we talk about growing up in small towns in the Russian Far East and Siberia (“Film school? They don’t even have McDonald’s out there!”), the drive to be a respected director, Arseniy’s past films and his desire to make better ones in the future, the mysteries of Transcendental Meditation, and Polina’s love for David Lynch and Lars von Trier. Currently I’m saving all my love for a pear-thyme latte served alongside a slice of carrot cake with popcorn on top… Shine on!
SNOW + SOUND WE SEE + SUNDAY = AMAZING DAY
Leda is an artist, an activist, a mom, a theater director and a cinema student. She’s also part of a fabulous feminist art collective called Eve’s Rib and today they’re doing a women’s rights action in Ovsyannikovsky Garden. A perfect start to The Sound We See #18!
On the way, we talk about how protests work here: you need a permit from the police who will never issue one for the city center but only for some park on the outskirts which tends to make these actions small, fringe events. Sometimes the lack of progress on feminist issues gets her down but Leda reminds herself “at least we’re still free!”
Sure enough, it’s a relatively modest gathering but the spirit is warm and feisty. There are speeches, songs and amazing signage. The police take pictures of the protesters. The protesters take pictures of the police. Families and old folks passing by show minor curiosity. Leda gives a rousing speech and then has to head back to the theater in time for the 3 pm toddler matinee. All in a day’s work!
It seems like what most locals want to do on a Sunday is SHOP! We pass the old man brass band and cut through one of the city’s many fancy shopping malls: Christmas trees, Starbucks and Swarovski abound! The Kuznechny Market is more our style… we opt for some Taiga forest honey (divine!) and smoked string cheese, which brings back fond memories of summer days in Legedzine with Naomi. Outside there are ladies selling everything from cranberries to dried flowers on the sidewalk but we’re late for a special sold out screening of Samsara at the Avrora Theater so the browsing and bartering will have to wait…
It’s not all wine and roses when first you find yourself in a new city/country/continent. In fact, there are times when everything goes just a bit haywire. Why? Who knows? Do you think our plans to visit the Sad Garden put a hex on us? Let’s review the evidence:
The caffenol let us down. (Should we blame the tap water???)
Both Super 8 cameras stopped working at the same time. (Is it the “30F-feels-like-17” weather?)
Lisa got hit by a taxi. (She’s fine.)
Paolo fell down the stairs in the dark. (He’s fine.)
We gave a party and nobody came. (We’re fine. We ate all the cookies ourselves).
And, as mentioned, we made our way to the Sad Garden only to find it completely locked up! Later we realized that the word сад, pronounced “sad”, means garden. Ding dong!
But on even the most dubious of days, what can turn it all around?
Besides being the super efficient and helpful manager for CEC Artlink’s Back Apartment Residency, Liza Matveeva is also a talented independent curator, art advisor and founder of a Saint Petersburg artist fair. Her current exhibition–featuring ‘zines and corresponding artwork by a group of young local artists displayed at a secret art book library–is a total knockout. Of course these kinds of publications exploring and celebrating feminism, queerness, fringe cultures and protest politics are just the latest iteration of Russia’s long and storied history of underground literature, dissident distribution and anti-censorship activity. The actual library is chock full of cool art books and even more ‘zines and artist books. We shall return!
In the early evening, also on Liza’s recommendation, we made our way to another nondescript building in another corner of the city intending to check out an opening by FFTN but instead we got whisked into the wonderful world of an artist named Серге́й and his merry band of photographers, opera singers and assorted other bon vivants. Серге́й showed us his amazing body of work while we sipped champagne and talked about war and peace, still life paintings, Ukraine, and love. As we were leaving, he gifted us my favorite work of all: a sketch of a woman representing Springtime. Beautiful.
Cherry on top: we discovered a basement full of raccoons on the way home!
Not such a Sad Day after all…
December 7 is free day at The Hermitage aka The Winter Palace! Each year this grand museum–one of the biggest and the most famous in all the world and also the official home of the Russian royal family from 1732 to 1917–invites everyone in free of charge to honor the collection’s founding by Catherine the Great way back in 1736 and also the Russian Orthodox Saint Catherine’s Day. Though some back in the day may have poo-poo’d Catherine II’s collecting style as eclectic, haphazard or even quantity over quality, there’s no denying that the objects (3 million+) and the opulence (check out those chandeliers!) contained within these seemingly endless rooms are both impressive and overwhelming.
What then to focus on? Forget about the throne room (large or small) and that golden peacock clock. Here are my top 3:
1. Duchesses, dresses & dogs. Preferably all in the same painting.
2. The War Gallery of 1812. A truly wild hair era!
3. Gallery guards. The real superstars of any museum.
Afterwards, you can leave the crowds behind and stroll over to the Singer Cafe above The House Of Books for some nice raspberry-thyme tea and slice of foxberry cake to fortify yourself for the chilly walk home…
Here is your Saint Petersburg style report for December 6: balloons caught on wires, pineapples (fresh and candied), bronze stars, bronze men, working gals, welders, weird Santas, anthropomorphic busses, ladies who look like matryoshka dolls, bears, and cats in courtyards are IN. Please plan accordingly.
Something that is ALWAYS in style is excitement over analog film!
Our visit to the Saint Petersburg School of New Cinema was full of delightful surprises. And I’m not just talking about rad linoleum, lonely suitcases, a secret film processing lab hidden behind a bookshelf and more wood paneling than you can shake a stick at. No, I am talking about a whole room full of students spanning the entire school who are PASSIONATE about the idea of creating a collaborative analog film together. Heck, one of them has a film WAVE tattooed on his arm! PASSIONATE!
The Sound We See: Saint Petersburg is off to a great start. Special thanks to Nastya and Lera for getting this student body connected with Super 8!
Ah, Saint Petersburg! It’s so good to see you again! We were here way back in 2006, playing music and showing films with our friends Pierre de Gaillande and Hilary Downes and then again in 2010 as the end point in an epic Trans-Mongolian train journey with The Metabolic Studio. But both those encounters took place during sultry summers when the days were warm and the white nights stretched twilight into the wee hours of the morning.
This time we’re here to experience your dark side.
This beguiling city is our home for the next month thanks to the generous invitation of CEC Artslink, an organization founded in 1962 at the height of the cold war with the goal of bringing American and Russian creatives together and the belief that “the arts are a society’s most deliberate and complex means of communication and that the work of artists and arts administrators can help nations overcome long histories of reciprocal distrust, insularity and conflict.”
Their Back Apartment Residency–the “back apartment” is the former servants’ quarters in a glamorous apartment furnished with a wild mix of patterns, quirky communist lamps, a silver samovar, a penguin and a Lenin–brings artists and curators from around the world to Saint Petersburg to meet and collaborate with their Russian counterparts and hopefully plant lasting seeds for continued engagement. We can’t wait to get started on The Sound We See #18 where there will certainly be a few surprises in store. Stay tuned!
When sunrise is at 9:40 am and the sun sets a few minutes shy of 4 pm, you get OUT THERE during the daylight hours, jet lag or not! And so a few images from our first day back in the arms of our old friend…
We’re calling Saint Petersburg home for the next month… Here comes The Sound We See #18!