Taking part in a Contemporary Art Biennial is something that always brings up many different queries and questions. The Biennial discussion is more than ever on the radar, after many years of analysis and debate. In addition to all of these problems, Manifesta 10 Biennial includes the current situation of the Russian policy about LGBT groups and the conflict with Ukraine.
Frankly, my participation in Manifesta 10 started with an intense personal process: To go or not to go, boycott or not. My intention of visiting Saint Petersburg as part of Manifesta 10 parallel program of events started with a question of morals and ethics. Should I participate in an art model of Manifesta in such a context? My final positive decision on attending happened thanks to the comments of different Russian friends from Saint Petersburg close to the gay rights movement and from the art scene, who supported and encouraged me taking part in order to develop my project, “Mobile Discotheque”, in such a difficult and tricky context.
My project idea was to develop a mobile sound artefact inspired by the traditional Caribbean Colombian sound systems. It would circulate through the public space, and would work as a megaphone for different collectives which inhabit the city. Roman gypsies, musicians, those of the LGTB collective, skaters and immigrants were the people I had in my mind as possible users of the artefact. I invisioned that these people would use the platform of my project for open public discussion about the problems they face in their everyday lives.
After my research period on the city I met with Olga Yitlina, a Russian artist with whom I overlapped with two years prior while she was making a residency at HIAP, at the same time as I was curating the exhibition “The Worker´s Hand” at HIAP Kaapeli Gallery. She was developing a project in St. Petersburg within the public program of Manifesta 10, related to the problems of Central Asian immigrants arriving to Russia. Persecution, poverty, interminable bureaucracy and police violence are some of the countless problems they face everyday in order to have a better life for themselves and their families. The merging of both projects, her’s and my “Mobile Discotheque”, appeared immediately as the best way to help this collective, and we took the claim “HUMOUR IS THE WEAPON” as our main project statement.
The project toured through Ligovsky Avenue and Nevsky prospect, Saint Petersburg’s main arteries. Different claims about migration as well as Central Asian and Caribbean rhythms were shouted and spread by the powerful sound system carried on top of an old Lada car. The sound system was made from wood and decorated with colours from the Latin Caribbean countries.
We went through different streets and city areas, getting stopped by the police every 20 minutes. We stopped at the main central Asian market. There, many people followed us, dancing and enjoying our performance of an illegal immigrant hitting a police officer, making a parody of the sad everyday life for many Central Asian immigrants. From there we continued our caravan and we finished at a backyard with a final humour contest performance of the Nasridin character represented in the sound system.
Such an amazing day was closed with a popular open party where we were sharing, eating, dancing, and celebrating the power of humour and solidarity. Different media such as newspapers and a popular TV channel reported about the project, creating public debate and a visability of this collective that is normally marginalized and isolated on many different levels.
Sometimes risks are worth taking.