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From Pussy Riot to Dan Perjovschi, cultural figures share the lessons they’ll take from 2020 into 2021

A global pandemic, economic recession, and government oppression have all made 2020 one of the most difficult years the world has recently in generations. Yet, change also brings about opportunity. The Calvert Journal spoke to ten cultural figures and collectives from Eastern Europe about the lessons learned this year that they will take into 2021. From new artistic practices, more collaborative work, and maintaining local focus, to lessons about solidarity, being alone, or playtivism, the responses below take a hopeful, and sometimes humorous spin, on the year to come.

28 December 2020
Top image: Fine Acts

Narine Abgaryan, writer


“Perhaps this year turned out to be one of the most difficult for both me and my people: Armenia lost a war, and found itself in a difficult situation, morally as well as economically.

But. My great-grandmother Tamar used to say: “If one door closes, another must open. The main thing is not to stand in front of a locked door, mourning your failures, but to look for the one that has already opened.”

We now need to gather our strength and look for that open door not only to Armenians, but to the whole of humanity. What matters is not to doubt that this door exists. It really exists and it is waiting for us.”

Nanna Heitman, photographer


“This year taught me quite a lot. Photographically it taught me once again what an important medium photography is, to witness and document history in the making, and draw awareness on life-changing issues like the coronavirus.

The doctors and nurses working nonstop in hospitals left a lasting impression on me. Their perseverance impressed me and showed me how fast humans can adapt to the most difficult situations.

Because of my [photography] work in hospitals, I came very close to death and my vulnerabilities this year. I learned, more than ever, how important it is to spend time in and with nature, to process, heal, and stay healthy mentally and physically. The pandemic has also reminded me to spend more time with my loved ones.”

Dan Perjovschi, artist


“During my 60 years of life, I have survived many ‘pandemics’. I had to learn to always adapt. 2020? I didn’t think I would ever stop. Every week, I was in a different city. My mind was always here, there, beyond there. In 2020, I discovered what it means to be local. Anything that was once banal has suddenly become important: a coffee with a friend, a live chat, an exhibition, an idea.

I learned to give up. To “delegate” drawings — someone re-drew my works where I couldn’t get physically [such as the show in New York]. I cooperated. I was in flux. I learned once again what it means to have time. To sit. I haven’t become more profound. But I have turned more stable.”

​Yuri Andrukhovych, author


“There are 5 lessons I have learned during the year 2020 and all of them are related to the coronavirus. Each of them is both negative and positive at the same time:

1. Distance yourself from your loved ones. There are no loved ones – just vectors of infection and the walking dead.

2. People over 65 are a group at risk, although more recently, people under 65 have become one, too. Everyone is a group at risk. “At-risk group” is another name for humankind.

3. Don’t touch anything, especially your own face. Temporarily imagine that you don’t have one.

4. Forget about shaking hands, hugging, and kissing, but don’t be surprised when there’s no one at your funeral.

And the best news for all of us:

5. The virus is the Spirit of the World, or more precisely its game of purifying and correcting us. The virus believes that it is possible to purify and correct us. We’re lucky that it still believes this.”

Nazira Kassenova, DJ and musician


“2020 was a year that changed my perspective on a lot of things. My life got super busy thanks to touring around the world as a DJ over the last few years. I enjoyed that life, with its super high speed intensity, a lot. But 2020 slowed it down and kind of returned me (and everyone else, really) to a starting point. It made me look inwards and find the balance within, taught me how to be alone but not lonely. It also made me look at myself from a new angle creatively. I started to look at myself as a musician rather than solely as a DJ, made music, and learned about sound installations. I opened my own DJ school in Almaty, something I have wanted to do for a long time. The DJ school is an opportunity for me to share my knowledge and grow the Almaty music scene. I get very inspired by the enthusiasm of the students who come to learn here and get so excited by music. So all in all, 2020 was a difficult but good year for me, and I’ll take a lot of its lessons into the future.”

Nadzeya Makeyeva, editor of Chrysalis mag


“The big lesson we Belarusians learned this year is solidarity. It’s not a lesson we had learned before but it is one we will take into 2021.

This applies to Belarusian artists as well, of course. Due to the 2020 pro-democracy movement in Belarus, interest in Belarusian art has increased all over the world. Within a few months, the protest artworks of our creators appeared in leading international media. This is a new experience for our artists.

Of course, Belarus has its own distinctive school, and our artists make their worthy contribution to international art by exhibiting all over the world and winning prestigious competitions. I think this is a common practice for every nation. But what is really exciting is that we are seeing a surge of interest in our art at the moment. And this fact has already been good for the way Belarusians see themselves as a nation. The downside is that only protest art is of such keen interest. Still, this is a good opportunity for our creatives to move to a new level of recognition.”

​Nadya Tolokonnikova, founder of Pussy Riot


“2020 has taught me that we don’t need to travel as much as we used to. In this way, our CO2 emissions can be much smaller without ruining our art, education, and economy. Many things can get done well virtually. I’ve given numerous lectures, speeches, master classes, and have made music recordings and video shoots remotely, and they’re not any worse than those I did in person. I really hope that we will embrace this realisation and that we’ll still be able to do many jobs without air travels in the post-pandemic world.

2020 has also taught me how to record my voice without fearing that I’m not good enough, or not professional enough. It was a big step forward for me.

2020 helped me be much more rooted. I have not seen many people this year, but I had time to appreciate and love those whom I did see.

2020 made me stop running around like a chicken without head for a moment.

But I know this year was a tragedy for so many, and my heart goes to all those who were affected by the global pandemic.”

Maxim Polyakov, artist and curator


“As my international collaborations have been put on hold in 2020, I learned to work with local practices this year.

Together with my brother, photographer Anton Polyakov, and artist Viktor Vejvoda, we set up the collective Kolxoz in February 2020. Viktor moved from his native Prague to Chișinău — where we worked this year — partly as a pragmatic decision and partly in response to the migration trends from Eastern to Western Europe, rather than the other way round.

Our collective’s leitmotif this year has been “The Potential of Limits”. When we look at limits, not only as problems, but also as opportunities to discover new ways of working, resources for productivity, and platforms for interaction outside the elitist bubble of the traditional art world.

The lack of international mobility has allowed us to explore our local context more, and to create a work model for areas that are not formally intended for artistic practices, from abandoned houses to flea markets, local shops, oil stations, post offices, or open spaces. We transformed these public spaces and infrastructure into spaces for сultural activity, improvised exhibitions, and meetings with the general public and our collaborators. Everyday practices such as cycling and food have become our forms of artistic expression. For us, experiments with different forms of collectivity are not just of pragmatic necessity, but also works of art, and a search for alternatives, a practical response to challenges that cannot be dealt by a single person.”

Image: Fine Acts

Image: Fine Acts

Yana Buhrer Tavanier, co-founder & executive director of Fine Acts


“In 2020, we have learned to love the unknown. Each victory and each great story cuts through the waters of the unknown, so there’s no point in dwelling on the shores of the predictable.

We have learned to enjoy moulding opportunities out of the clay of crises. In 2020, we had to cancel events and formats but this gave us the space and time to think, and then create projects beating with the pulse of the times, such as Spring of Hope, 12/24, Surviving Blackness, Postcards from Forever, Artists for Countdown, Reimagining Human Rights. We have learned to not be afraid to stand still for a while – stillness can be a hurricane in the making.

And lastly, time and time again, we’ve seen the value of playtivism. In 2020, what gave us life were our spontaneous collaborations with the global creative community. There are only winners in multidisciplinary play – as it bursts joy, as well as better ideas. And honestly, what more do we need when trying to change the world?”

Edmundas Pučkorius, co-founder of Antidote Community


“The year 2020 was full of surprises, to say the least. On the one hand, the mundane as we know it froze. On the other hand, we were offered an opportunity to re-evaluate what is meaningful to us, and focus on it.

The same applies to Vilnius’s electronic music scene. Before Covid-19, electronic music was consumed more superficially in nightclubs and other venues, and consumers weren’t really digging into it. Now that parties are literally illegal, the attention of both the public and the producers has shifted towards the creative rather than the commercial aspects of music. Electronic music creators, DJs, and other people on the scene are starting to see themselves as cultural figures and genuine creators, rather than just party facilitators.

Antidote Community, launched in May 2020, is a reflection of this paradigm shift. We have released ten videos where DJs played their sets in public spaces across Vilnius, from the airport to the TV tower in the city. Our latest release, a collective Christmas album, Re-Xmas, where respectable Lithuanian electronic music producers reinterpreted Christmas jingles, is an attempt to actualise electronic music in other contexts than parties and raves.

So, for me, 2020 haw created more space for art, creativity, and purpose.”

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