Aleksei Shinkarenko: "It is worth engaging today in creating projects that would motivate a person to search for his future"

What do artists look for today in Belarus? What issues preoccupy them? Belarusian photographer, creative projects manager and director of the Minsk-based Center of Photography shares his thoughts on these questions.

It is important for me to express my thoughts in actions rather than in words. It is possible to discuss at length the subject of “what the photographic medium should be”, but it is also possible to simply create it oneself. For 10 years, I have been doing what reaffirms my thoughts, gives answers to questions that preoccupy me. What does photography need to develop? Infrastructure. That is why we founded the Center of Photography. This is our answer.

Symbolic capital

What does the cultural, creative process need to pay off? I am very interested in this issue. How to convert symbolic capital – reputation, talent, a unique vision, image, experience, recognition – everything culture produces? For these are values that do not take shape in a material shell.

Symbolic capital is present in any cultural product. Every artist has symbolic values to which he gives material shape in the creative product, and by doing so, interacts with society. The artist’s skills, experience and knowledge are embodied in material forms. The artist exchanges something, communicates with the audience. How do you make this communication more effective? Engage more participants in dialogue.

War as a national brand

The most notable Belarusian brand today is war, curiously enough. Given our historical experience, what the Belarusians have gone through, we have a lot to say to the international community on this subject.
We lack other brands that could have become our “cultural currency” on the world market and that would help us become recognisable on the international cultural space.

I believe that there are brands that we can develop and export. But this is quite a complicated process. Competition in the cultural values market is very strong.

The Venice Biennale is an international artist forum of contemporary art where national participation has been maintained. In 2015, the Belarusian Ministry of Culture picked our War Witness Archive project to be presented in Venice. In this project, historical events are conceptualised by our contemporaries. It is art in which the work is created from the interaction of the viewer with the photograph. The viewer becomes a participant in world history on the basis of local documents, photographs, memory and unfinished events. A unique archive, never seen before by anyone, was used for the project.

The War Witness Archive is a curatorial project; it is not associated with the personality of a particular artist. Such projects are carried out by a team of like-minded people. It is quite a difficult task since art and the creative product are generally associated with a specific person – the artist, the master.

Prior to 2015 the Belarusian pavilions at the Venice Biennale were represented by state organisations, such as the Belarusian State Academy of Arts. The Center of Photography was the first private, non-governmental organisation to implement a project of such a scale.

I would like for this tradition of the state passing international projects to private organisations for implementation to continue. This will enable the distance between the state and the private sector to be reduced and to use our common resources more efficiently. For there is no “state” and “non-state” culture. There is culture, full stop.

The language of pragmatics

There is one weak link within the state as a whole: bureaucracy. It exists everywhere. It is the natural state of any complex system. It is regrettable when bureaucracy hampers the process, as is so in our case. But it can be overcome. How? Through interaction. To begin with by delegating part of the procedures to flexible private structures.

We are used to thinking that the state is separate from people and communities. In fact, this is not so. We own a common symbolic capital. The state cannot effectively manage everything, to be in everything and everywhere. Public-private partnership is, in my opinion, the search for nodal points and processes where we can be useful and beneficial for each other. The language of pragmatics in this collaboration is the most effective approach. If it is beneficial, excellent. If not, or you cannot prove its benefit, no interaction is possible.

Cafe Cultura”

In 2015 a new space was opened in Minsk with the support of the Center of Photography. "Cafe Cultura" is a space of visual impressions and experiments. The first exhibition at the cafe was created jointly with the Belarusian State Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Lifestyle. We have already implemented several joint projects.

What is unique about this work? The Center of Photography and the museum have different symbolic capital. The museum owns great cultural values. To create a private museum of the same scale and intangible capitalisation is very difficult. But we can have an exchange. We have different experience and different capabilities. For example, the museum cannot open a cafe in the centre of the city and run it efficiently. We can. We have the tools to carry out a project quickly, reacting to the actual situation and the current state of society.

Our advantage is management, flexibility and speedy reaction.

The cafe is my personal search for a form for a creative business and monetisation of symbolic capital. It is necessary to invent new mechanisms, to come out of historical inertia, from the habitual actions offered by the rigid system.

The added value of drinks at our cafe is formed by the space and what is happening there – the regularly changing exhibitions, the visual themes offered, set up the viewer for conversation. It is a discussion space. This is the feature of “creative industry”: the added value of the product is formed by the value attached to it by the personality of the creator, creative collective and presence of symbolic capital in the end product.

It is impossible to develop a national creative economy in isolation from the world creative economy. Because the creative economy is not confined to the framework of borders. It is a world process. The creative economy is not a dependency economy, but rather an interaction economy.

The future

The subject of archives and memory is still of relevance for me, as are unfinished conflicts, consumer economy alternatives, etc. What is of relevance today is building models for the future in the creative product. It is still the other way around with us. I feel that we have plunged into the deep pressure of the past. People are living without seeing any prospects. That is why it is worth engaging today in creating projects that would motivate a person to search for his future.

It’s true, the future is unstable, and it scares many with its problems, crises, wars. But it is not frozen like the past in the present.

Contemporary culture should not create illusory space and show what in fact is not really there. On the contrary, culture has to be the driving force, a bridge from the past, where it is so hard to escape from. When you often hear “we are far behind, in economy, technologies, everything...”, culture should offer a way out. And there is a way out, and not just one. To see it, it is necessary to work hard, to think and use one’s imagination. 


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