Works and Days

Presidents Summer Fellowship 2015 - Orla O'Sullivan - Part 2

Visual art installation. Large sheets of white fabric draped on walls and floor stained with many colors.

yes no why later by Katharina Grosse, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow

Orla O'Sullivan '16, Russian major, is diving deep into the extensive collections at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, conducting research on visual culture and responses to controversial exhibitions for her President's Summer Fellowship.

I’ve held off on my second post, because I’ve been struggling with the realization that my project, which had originally aimed to document others’ responses to contemporary art at the Hermitage, has had to take a different track, one which has been both more personally difficult and fulfilling than I had expected.  

A few weeks into my internship, I realized that implementing my project per the original plan without going completely rogue was going to be nevozmozhno, impossible. What previously seemed like a fast-paced, ever-changing series of projects revealed itself as a series of events that should have been planned months ago, but were instead hastily assembled four days prior to their official presentation date. We could complain of a lack of helpers, but that would be inverting the truth. There’s no lack of helpers (the museum pumps out visas for students from impressive European universities like clockwork); there’s just no available record of them. So when some of the more determined volunteers do make an attempt to draft a project schedule or add a little logistical infrastructure, they usually become completely overwhelmed with the scale of their endeavor, the difficulty of contacting people, and the list of unfinished projects barreling toward their deadlines. 

In short, moving through the Hermitage, as a physical and conceptual space, is quite a challenge as an officially documented member, let alone as a foreign individual trying to probe the intellectual boundaries of already-controversial art. To be fair, what the service lacks in organizational structure, it makes up for it many times over by providing a platform for dialogue, cultural exchange, and friendship among volunteers and interns. Moreover, even though our schedule is often hectic, we frequently plan events, such as an exhibition closing for The Black Square of War, a tribute to both Malevich’s Black Square and the museum’s WWII (The Great Patriotic War) history. We also planned the scavenger hunt and masterclass series for EuroQuest 2015, a September-long and museum-wide celebration of the European Union.

An ornately decorated room called

With these thoughts in mind, I began my renovated plans to work on the various intern projects at the Hermitage and to spend as much time as possible exploring contemporary Petersburg literary and art culture and working to develop critical, disciplined thought in Russian by attending museum visits, lectures, book readings, and tutoring sessions. Furthermore, I decided that if I was not documenting others’ responses to contemporary society, then it would be a good practice to work on expressing my own through three essays, which respond to the Zaha Hadid retrospective and Hermitage renovation. And, more specifically, to respond to the process of immersing as fully and completely as possible; learning how to swim, rather than tread, within the Slavic world, because ultimately that is the point at which my previous plans had intended to depart.

Tags: presidents summer fellowship, PSF, art, russia, visual culture, curation, Hermitage, archive