23.03. – 11.05.

ALMAGUL MELIBAYEVA

AN ODE TO THE WASTELANDS AND GULAGS

Almagul Menlibayeva, Kurchatov 22, 2012, 5 channel high definition video installation with surround sound, 27 min, courtesy Priska C. Juschka Fine Art © Almagul Menlibayeva. All Rights Reserved.

Almagul Menlibayeva, Kurchatov 22, 2012, 5 channel high definition video installation with surround sound, 27 min, courtesy Priska C. Juschka Fine Art © Almagul Menlibayeva. All Rights Reserved.

Almagul Menlibayeva, Kurchatov 22, 2012, 5 channel high definition video installation with surround sound, 27 min, Foto: Wally Witsch

Almagul Menlibayeva, Kurchatov 22, 2012, 5 channel high definition video installation with surround sound, 27 min, Foto: Wally Witsch

Almagul Menlibayeva, Kurchatov 22, 2012, 5 channel high definition video installation with surround sound, 27 min, Foto: Wally Witsch

The Kunstraum Innsbruck, with "An Ode to the Wastelands and Gulags," is the first art institution in Austria to present a comprehensive selection of video works by the artist Almagul Menlibayeva (b. 1969), who lives in Berlin and Kazakhstan. Making use of highly poetic images, Menlibayeva portrays the disappearing culture of shamanism and nomadism in the context of the post-Soviet identity of her homeland and casts a critical eye on the process of social and political change in Central Asia. The title traces a geographical line that, as it were, connects all three video works, "Kurchatov 22" (2012), "Milk for Lamb" (2010), and "Exodus" (2009). While "Kurchatov 22" shows the deserted and contaminated nuclear test sites and barracks in the steppe, the two other videos describe the persistence of the spiritual world of the nomads in the face of the ruins of labour camps, that were built by the inmates of the gulags also existing in Kazakhstan. In the days of the Soviets, the nomadic and shamanist culture was suppressed and the people forced into a sedentary life.

The video works evolve into cryptic and mythological narratives providing an acute insight into the fate and the living conditions of the nomadic people, while at the same time examining their world of beliefs, their gender roles and codes of behaviour. In this way, the many religious, cultural and political facets of the nomadic and shamanist heritage as well as the socialist past of Kazakhstan become the principal starting point for Almagul Menlibayeva’s works. The video entitled "Milk for Lambs" (2010) explores the emotional and spiritual traces of the old Central Asian belief systems, that are inspired above all by the meeting of the Zoroastrian ideology of ancient Persia and Tengriism (Sky God religion), the erstwhile belief of all Mongolian and Turk peoples of Central Asia. With her camera, the artist accompanied the former nomads ‒ who nowadays assemble only on special occasions in the steppe in order to celebrate their rituals ‒ and has captured stunning visual impressions which, very subtly, distinguish the different tribes’ stories and myths and the ways in which they touch on the lives of their male and female members. In a similar manner, the video "Exodus" (2009) grants us a deep insight into nomadic culture.

The central component of the exhibition, however,

is the five-part video installation "Kurchatov 22."
The title refers to the eponymous town, named
after the nuclear scientist Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov
(1902‒1960), and situated in the north-east
of Kazakhstan. In the days of the Iron Curtain,
the town was the nerve centre for the nearby
nuclear test site of Semipalatinsk. As one of the
three "Closed Cities" of Kazakhstan, Kurchatov
was under strict surveillance and known in the
Soviet heartland, among insiders, as Kurchatov
22. The number refers to the fact that, due to
reasons of secrecy, the inhabitants had no
individual mailing addresses, so that all items
of mail had to be sent to P.O. boxes. From
1948 to 1993, under direct orders from Josef
Stalin (1879‒1953) and the head of the secret
service, Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria (1899‒1953),
at least 456 nuclear tests (around ten per year)
were carried out, above and below ground, on
the test site extending across 18,400 square
kilometres, without forewarning or protecting the
population in the vicinity. Almagul Menlibayeva
visited the current inhabitants and spoke to them
about their experiences and, above all, about
the physical after-effects of the tests. As a result,
"Kurchatov 22" is a powerful portrait of Kazakhstan’s
political present, of a country that is only beginning
to come to terms with its socialist past and at the
same time is searching for the roots of its social
identity.

Karin Pernegger, curator of the exhibition

Almagul Menlibayeva (b. 1969)

lives and works in Berlin and Kazakhstan. She studied at the Art & Theatre University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and became known internationally thanks to her participation in the 15th Biennale of Sydney (2006), the 51st, 52nd and 53rd Venice Biennale, the 10th Sharjah Biennale (2011), and, in 2012, the 4th Moscow Biennale, the First Kyiv International Biennale ARSENALE, the 18th Biennale of Sydney, and the Mediterranean Biennale of Contemporary Art, Sachnin, Israel. At the same time as presenting her videos at the Kunstraum Innsbruck, the artist takes part in the 7th Asia-Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Australia.

For the radio interview with Almagul Melibayeva by Karin Pernegger on Radio Freirad (in English language) click here

 




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