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19 August 2022

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čt, 11.10.2018


BUSINESS MIR, Business mir #19 - 0000-00 MAIL PRINT 
Irina Prokhorova is well known to art lovers as she created the New Literary Observer (NLO) magazine and publishing house. She also co-founded and heads the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation that is named after her brother, the famous businessman who founded ONEXIM. Mrs. Prokhorov discussed the state of contemporary Russian art, philanthropy's role in developing and supporting Russian culture as well as her foundation's activities in an exclusive interview with Business Mir.
How would you describe Russian modern art? Can you give us your opinion on how Russian artists are expressing the sense of hopefulness and change in contemporary Russian society?
Russian cultural life is going through a tense period at this point in time. Russian modern art is experiencing a new surge in creativity; actively seeking the means to describe both its new reality and create a new collective identity. The 20th Century was the most tragic period in Russian history. Our country suffered the catastrophic consequences of two world wars along with the rest of Europe. However, Russia also endured the horrors of revolution, civil war, political terror, the collapse of ethical values as well as the death and suffering of millions of people. Despite these adverse circumstances, Russians demonstrated their fantastic will to overcome the odds, preserve their cultural heritage, revive their prostrated dignity and eventually overthrow a totalitarian regime. I believe that modern Russian artists consider their main objective to be interpreting and describing through artistic expression the dramatic, unique experience of the Russian people's capacity for survival and conveying their national ordeal on a global scale. After World War II, many European intellectuals questioned how poetry could be written post-Holocaust and how they could possibly go on living with such a horrific past.
Modern Russian society is currently wrestling with the same issues and is likewise trying to understand how, despite so much suffering and loss, it can summon up the inner strength to further its development and how it can create a positive model for the future – despite the lingering shadows of a horrific past that still haunt it. Rusian modern art is doggedly seeking the answers to these questions by creating new social and artistic metaphors.
What is your opinion on how Russian art is perceived by the international art world?
A definite paradox is discernible in the international art world's perception of Russian art. On the one hand, Russia's rich classical heritage is universally acknowledged. On the other, Europeans view Russia as a distant and exotic land, rife with enigmas, mysteries and atrocities. Due to various historical events during the 18th and 19th Centuries, this ambiguous myth about Russia developed and has become so firmly rooted in the collective consciousness that it’s extremely difficult to break it down.
One is involuntarily lured to exploit this stereotype, to play with the oriental cliché à la Diaghilev. Naturally, any real familiarity with Russian culture was very difficult during its long years behind the Iron Curtain. We are striving to span this cultural gap and demonstrate how contemporary Russian culture is evolving as part of the wider European culture.
You were the driving force that led to creating the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation back in 2004. Are you satisfied with the results that you have achieved over the past 7 years?
We have good reason to be proud of what we have achieved and always take great pleasure in presenting the Foundation's successes every year. Over the past 7 years, the Foundation's budget for charitable works has increased tenfold and we have broadened the geographical scope of our activities. Therefore, we are able to offer our support to an increasing number of talented and enthusiastic artists. Although the Foundation worked exclusively in Norilsk during its first few years – becoming the first philanthropic organisation in Russia to work systematically in a given region – we decided to expand our activities a couple of years later to include the Krasnoyarsk Territory, Urals, Siberian and Far Eastern Federal Districts. By 2010, we had established activities in Russia's central regions and launched international projects. The Foundation is unique in that we develop individual programmes for each of these areas, tailored to specifically suit their local cultural characteristics. We call this the local approach principle.
We believe to have been quite successful in our attempts to create attractive regional intellectual centers. For example, our 5th annual KryaKK – Krasnoyarsk Book Fair will be held in November of this year. This demonstrates that even remote regions like the Krasnoyarsk Territory can become a centre of literary culture, uniting the fragmented cultural communities in Siberia and the Far East. This fair attracts not only the best Russian literary publishers – but foreign publishers are demonstrating an interest in the annual book fair as well.
How has the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation become involved in supporting and developing Russian culture and the arts both in Russia and abroad?
The Foundation’s main aim is to support culture in Russia and promote Russian creative initiatives in the international art world. Anything that is genuinely original can only be generated by intersecting ideas and influences whereas isolation leads to cultural provincialism. It is more difficult for talent to be recognised in remote Russian regions. This is partially due to Russia's age-old custom of excessively centralising its financial and intellectual resources, that are traditionally usurped by the nation's capital city. The Foundation systematically supports culture in several of Russia’s larger regions, including Krasnoyarsk District (which we consider to be our priority), the Urals and Far East Regions. The main focal points of the Foundation’s charitable activities are education, sport, health and modern art. In so far as supporting Russian culture overseas is concerned, the Foundation has a network of programmes providing travel grants for students, young academics, journalists and talented young artists.
Our financial support allows them to attend international conferences, music competitions, art festivals and travels for educational purposes as well as improve their qualifications by taking courses. We also support theatrical companies and symphony orchestras that tour internationally as well as Russian modern art exhibitions. In 2009, the Foundation was the official partner of the Russian Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, the Russian Dreams exhibitions of Russian modern art at Art Basel Miami Beach and extensive tours by Lev Dodin’s Theatre (the Theatre of Europe) in Paris' Bobino Theatre.
Last year, the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation established the first – and what is still the only – Russian programme patronising the translation of Russian literary works into various foreign languages. In the 18 months since the programme was implemented, more than 50 books have been sponsored by the Foundation's activities. In mid-November, 2010, the Foundation initiated its own project within the context of the France and Russia Year celebrations by organising the Unknown Siberia Festival of Russian modern art in Lyon.
What statement was the Foundation trying to make by organising the Unknown Siberia Festival?
When it was announced that 2010 would be a year of cultural exchange between France and Russia, the Foundation proposed to hold its own festival as part of the official cultural programme. We took on the task of creating a new context for viewing art, a new system of aesthetic reference which would make judging the status of Russian contemporary art possible.
The Foundation was endeavouring to introduce the French public to Russia's new image by showing a different, littleknown aspect of Russian culture. We wanted to break down the preconceived stereotypes of our country, which is generally seen as having no more to offer than the cliché Russian nested dolls, vodka, caviar, furs and so on. To briefly summarise our goal, we sought to present Russian modern art's rich potential – its exuberant development in different areas and fearless conquest of new ground – to underscore the constant evolution of Russian culture. Unknown Siberia was a metaphor for Russia as the region has always been a central symbol of Russia as well as its historical and cultural paradoxes. We viewed the festival as more than an educational exercise and largely considered it to be a research project. Any international art event requires its organisers to both review and seriously analyse how their national culture is usually portrayed. Creating the concept for Unknown Siberia actually led us to rediscover our own country – which gave us greater insight and knowledge of ourselves.
In your interviews, you have frequently expressed your concern about the plight of philanthropy in Russia. Have you noticed some positive results in this area? Have Russian businessmen noticeably altered their moral values in terms of philanthropy? Could the example set by Western art patrons stimulate philanthropy in Russia?
I believe that philanthropy is growing rapidly in Russia at this point in time.
For example, our Foundation initially supported initiatives in remote Russian regions and has gradually expanded its activities to include much of the country.
Although we were among the first to focus our activities on a regional level, we are not the only ones to have played a role in this cultural development. New museums, contemporary art centres and theatre festivals have sprouted up in various outlying regions – thereby making access to contemporary culture more available in remote parts of Russia. The local populations are developing a growing sense of trust in philanthropic foundations, their activities and the organisers themselves – which is very important. Contrary to when we first began our work in these remote areas, we no longer sense any hostility from the local people and aren't subjected to resentful “what are you coming here for” attitudes as was the case in the past. We frequently receive letters from individuals asking us to include their area in one or another programme so that they can be eligible to apply for a grant. Approximately 35,000 people attended our activities at the Krasnoyarsk Fair last year. As far as the role philanthropy should play on a larger scale, charitable funds should not involve business policies.
As philanthropy only began to take root in Russia little over a dozen years ago, it is still too haphazard and we lack a systematic, established custom of philanthropy and patronage. In order to make a real impact on people's lives, it's crucial to understand who you are helping and how you are going to do so.
Carefully assessing the situation in a particular territory allows you to decide how to invest money and where to develop philanthropic activities. Private funds are the basis of contemporary culture and art in the rest of the world – and we are undeniably still far from achieving that in Russia at this point in time.
We consider one of your most interesting initiatives to be the Foundation's support of provincial theatres in small Siberian towns.
Is that project expected to continue in the future? Can you tell us more about this aspect of your Foundation's activities? Have Siberian provincial theatres had the opportunity to tour in Europe?
Not only Siberian theatres are implicated. We are pursuing our "New Theatre" Competition Programme this year and foresee that it will continue to have a significant impact over the next few years. We also plan to extend its activities to theatres in the Ural and Far East districts. The Foundation allocates funds for creating theatrical productions, many of which are subsequently invited to perform in Krasnoyarsk. The competition was called “New Theatre” for a good reason.
The Foundation Advisory Council receives numerous applications and has to choose innovative projects – including dramas of an experimental nature, modern reinterpretations of the classics or expressive means of theatrical performance.
We are additionally always open to supporting young directors who wish to train in other theatres with different troupes. Theatre has always been one of the Foundation's main activities. I have often said that due to its artificial nature, theatre can act as a sensitive gauge for measuring creative environments as well as providing a clearer overall understanding of social issues.
It is no secret that you have managed to establish close ties with Russian expatriates in Europe.
In 2003, you became a Liberty Prize winner – an award given for outstanding contribution to developing cultural relations between Russia and the United States. Are you currently planning any joint projects involving Russian émigrés in Switzerland or France?
No projects of the kind have been planned for this year. What happens next year will depend on the applications submitted and be based on the expert council's decisions. But I am convinced that cooperation with these countries will continue in the future.
BUSINESS MIR, Business mir #19 - 0000-00  MAIL PRINT 
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