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Art in Russian media during the 1960s – Crystal

During the 1960s, Bulat Galeev already experimented with the intersection of art and science with his light organ. By the time of Polytech.Science.Art Week, Natalia Fuchs, curator of the event, will have restored this musical instrument to life. 1964.

The Soviet Union. In Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev is nearing the end of his tenure as party and government leader. Bulat Galeev, 24, designs a light organ in Kazan, a large city east of Moscow. It took Natalia Fuchs and her team more than 50 years to bring “Crystal” back to life.

During the Polytech.Science.Art Week in Moscow in December 2015, an audio-visual musical instrument was displayed at the Polytechnical Museum. “Crystal” and Bulat Galeev were the topic of Manuela Naveau’s conversation with the curator Natalia Fuchs of Ars

Electronica Export and thus also gave her some insight into the Polytech.Science.Art Week features workshops, discussions, lectures, audiovisual performances, and an exhibition on the topic of interdisciplinary creative collaboration between art, science, and technology.

As part of the Polytech.Science.Art Week you presented the light organ with the Prometheus bureau founded by Bulat Galeev…

Fuchs: Yes, the machine’s name is Crystal and it’s quite beautiful. In 1964 Bulat Galeev, together with engineers from the Prometheus Company in Kazan, designed the building. It was exhibited in 1966 at the VDNKh Exhibition center,

formerly the Polytechnic Museum, where it stands today. The Crystal light organ was not the only one created in Russia at that time, because Prometheus was one of the leading audio-visual research centers. In early 2015, I developed an interest in the archives of Prometheus after meeting Anastasia Maksimova.

Is there a construction plan or documents?

Considering we didn’t have schematics to work from, only fragments of old machines, and a photo of their design, after speaking to some artists I decided to give it a try. My guests will be a Russian media artist, the first batch of music and video synthesizers produced in the post-Soviet area- and a German media artist,

Peter Kirn, an audio and video visual artist and composer from Berlin who runs Create Digital Media. In collaboration with them and Alexey Shcherbina, my long-time friend, and co-curator, we held a five-day workshop entitled “Synesthesia machines” to explore media archaeology,

light technology, and comparative approaches to synesthesia. The Polytech.Science.Art Week in June is our first opportunity to present the reconstruction we have been working on for the past few months.

What are the differences between the original and the copy?

In the modern machine, Natalia Fuchs says, you do not use the same regulating system as in the 1960s, of course, but the machine itself is analog; even all the lamps are completed by hand, as they were in 1964.

The Prometheus was fortunate to have engineers of older generations as consultants. Young artists were also involved in the project. The “Crystal” belongs to all of us.

As part of the “reconstruction” project, we will make Crystal portable, and we will have the first performance with a portable Crystal on January 27, 2016, in Kazan, along with the village where Crystal was born.

Did you think that Bulat Galeev’s artwork was important to Polytech? Science.Art week?

A pioneer of light music and enlightened in terms of science and technology, Bulat Galeev was a pioneer in Russia and an avant-garde artist.

The research Galeev conducted in the realm of light architecture, lighting design, abstract film, video, laser, and computer art, with accompanying performances of theatre sound and light, is indispensable to the Russian media art movement.

Soviet history is preserved in this treasure. Galeev, an artist, engineer, and researcher who was truly interdisciplinary, summed up all the traditional and experimental arts into the “periodic system of the arts” in relation to technology and science. The interdisciplinary nature of Russia’s revival is, therefore, very important for us.

I am involved in the Polytech.Science.Art program for the Polytechnic Museum, I am developing international connections, I am participating in experiments designed to identify “white spots”. “Crystal” is presented. During the Polytech.Science.

Art Week I wanted to showcase the interdisciplinary approach to art, technology, and science as a complex approach, which impacts a great diversity of communications from different generations and different cultures as well as influencing how we build the future.

How would you rate the 2015 Polytech? Science.Art Week?

In the program, Natalia Fuchs emphasized a series of dialogues on contemporary ethics problems in science and technology. The department of New Media and Communications at the Goldsmiths University of London was the venue for the exhibition, which was curated by my colleague Dmitry Bulatov, who is a leading expert on science and art in Russia.

The dialogues I held with researchers and artists in public were very successful. A conference dedicated to contemporary ethics in science, technology, and development will be organized in 2016 to bring researchers together to discuss these issues.

In summer 2015, Olga Kiseleva, Head of the Art and Science Department of Sorbonne University, started the project “Self-organization” about oil, which received its world premiere on our stage.

I was lucky enough to collaborate with debutants, young artists, and renowned electronic musicians each night for Polytech.Science.Art Week’s final happening – a multi-media audiovisual performance.

Live visualization of each music performance was created directly during Polytech.Science.Art Week by video artists Alexandra Gavrilova (Stain) and Ekaterina Dmitrieva.

In collaboration with Ars Electronica, Polytech Museum will develop an exhibition called Authors as Catalysts for 2016. Can you tell us more about why the Polytechnic Museum might be interested in working on this catalytic approach in the future?

Scientists in the Soviet Union of the 1960s/1970s had full access to all the information and advanced technologies they needed to conduct research despite the “iron curtain” at some point.

As a result, avant-garde artistic communities in Russia have historically been linked to the technologists and scientists who develop new technologies.

Since 1872 it has been possible to communicate between interdisciplinary fields at the Moscow Polytechnic Museum.

A strong connection to humanities and social sciences means that it has always served as the place for popularizing science and technology. As a catalyst for the Russian Futurist movement,

Polytechnic Museum acted as a catalyst for the movement from its very beginning. For example, the first lecture by Marinetti, “About Futurism”, was held here as well as many other meetings and events.

Hence, the importance of the catalytic approach was recognized by the museum way back in the 1990s-2000s, but we are again in the process of modernizing one of the largest and oldest science and technology museums in the world at the moment after some pause during this time.

Art and culture management, international public relations, and social media are the specialties of atalia Fuchs. She holds a degree in Cultural Management from Manchester University, UK (2008), and she was a Leonardo scholarship awardee from Donau-Universität in Austria (low-residency program).

She created our interdisciplinary program Polytech.Science.Art in 2013 in collaboration with the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow, which is part of how she currently curates exhibitions and runs Electronic Livingroom, an experimental multifunctional space.

A researcher and practitioner of contemporary culture, media art, cinema, and sound, she is involved with various international projects on a variety of topics.

It was not only in basements, dachas, and households that Soviet unofficial art took hold, but also right in front of the authorities, in government facilities. Until recently, the Kazan “Prometheus” Institute was known only to a few specialists, and Bulat Galeev was their visionary innovator.

Pioneers in Tatarian synesthetic arts became popular suddenly last year. Karlsruhe was the first city to host an exhibition and performance. NII x Alpbau, run by the architectural company Alpbau Struktura, opened in Moscow in a pop-up gallery and attested to a musical policy more appropriate for the venue.

It is in an art club called Science and Art. We learn why the Prometheus heritage is worth preserving, how Kazan’s engineers produced discotheque guides and illuminated the Kremlin, and how the light organ for the New Russians was constructed.

In the late 1960s, the experiments of Bulat Galeev and his team, “Prometheus”, were at the peak of the modern art scene. Various institutions have mentioned their desire to work with this archive, to hold an exhibition, or publish a study on this subject.

Media art is remembered as one of his earliest works. They pioneered video installations, light organs, and elaborate lighting setups, which was unthinkable on the Soviet Union’s scale.

Unlike other Soviet experimenters, Eugine Murzin, designer of the first photoelectronic ANS synthesizer, Galeev considered light more important than sound. In the early 1970s, GALEEV made its international debut.

Despite the inventor’s absence from exhibitions abroad, or the lack of opportunities to see his work at film festivals, he maintained contacts with European artists and composers.

As a symbiotic adept of the symbiosis between modern technologies and artistic minds, he corresponded with Nicolas Schöffer, Frank Molina, Iannis Xenakis, Léon Theremin, and Stelarc.

As no one on “Prometheus” had formal artistic training (Galeev himself had not been accepted to art school), the team subscribed to its own understanding of beauty. Galeev claimed that he was captivated by abstract images since childhood, though he had no knowledge of avant-gardists or Kandinsky, for example.

For a long time, Soviet Union suppressed the works of the former. “Prometheans” did not allow this to stop them from gathering information on him, searching for copies of his works in available libraries, and ordering them from abroad.

Lunachersky’s review of Kandinsky’s works, in which much of “Prometheus'” own logic is explained, is still remembered by “Prometheus” veteran Rustam Saifullin: “A coordinated symphony of color and linear melodies is easily discernible,

especially when combined with sound. But the dynamic is what drives the music. It must also become dynamic so that the subtle kaleidoscope of the best Orphist painters can match it.

“Prometheans” was inspired by the abstract art of the early 20th century and made a series of films reminiscent of Dali, Miro, and Kandinsky in order to grasp and appropriate nonrepresentational aesthetics.


The Underground

The omission of “Prometheus” from the Soviet or global history of media art was partly a result of its semi-official status. Antonio Geusa, the leading researcher of “Prometheus,” believes that Galeev never attempted to attain artistic recognition. Crystal

The Soviets had a unique method of communication. People who lived in different cities were barely aware of each other as they lived in monolithic blocks, crudely disconnected. St. Petersburg and Moscow appear to have the best underground connections.

Furthermore, Bulat himself claimed he was not longing to show his works in Moscow, and even if he wanted to do so – it would not be in galleries, but in scientific conventions, outside of modern art’s system, according to Geeta.

In addition, many Kazan artists contributed to “Prometheus.” For example, well-known Soviet artist Konstantin Vasilyev frequently worked with the Special Construction Bureau (SCB). He used abstract forms during his early years. Crystal

Afterward, Soviet graphic artist Nadir Almeyev joined in – Galeev consulted with him on design issues regarding the installation. Additionally, he contributed to the creation of “The Small Triptych,” one of Galeev’s most important works.

The Archive

There is not much left of “Prometheus” today: the remnants include an engineering building, an archive, and the Kazan Center of Audiovisual Art. A real mecca for modern artists and art historians, who just happen to find “Prometheus” here: meters of filming tape,

hundreds of building and device models, and a number of scientific articles, since Galeev produced more than 500 pieces. ‘I couldn’t appreciate what I saw when I first visited,’ said Antonio Geusa. It is now clear that 20 or 30 dissertations could be written about this archive alone.”

The file-sorting began many years ago, but it has gone slowly – the research team consists of only four people, with occasional helpers. A number of times, they succeed in drawing attention to “Prometheus”.

SMENA Center for Contemporary Culture hosted a demonstration of Crystall lighting set in 2016, the first time it had done so in decades. “Prometheans,” Peter Kirn and Dmitry Vtol, performed a synthetic symphony on the reconstructed set.


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