Street art, a popular and important form of expression among Russian contemporary artists, yet also an ephemeral one, is one medium in particular that will be given a longer life by the digital archive. The 68 artists of the inaugural Triennial, plus around 130 or more who didn’t make the final cut, compose the core of the archive, which lives on the Garage’s site and is continuously updated.
While this part of the archive will have the “Garage voice,” explains Fowle, it will also have a crowd-sourced platform where artists can upload their own information and photos via a template.
“The aim is to find a way that you or I or anyone around the world can go onto this website to learn about the different practices that artists have in different places around the country, and it comes from those artists rather than being mediated through some kind of institutional voice,” she says.
As if that project weren’t daunting enough, Garage is also working on a separate digital archive of its traveling exhibitions of Russian art collectives. It’s an extension of the museum’s physical archive, a collection of thousands of items—catalogs, letters, newspaper articles, and other documents—related to Russian art since the 1950s, culled together from acquisitions and gifts from artists, galleries, and collectors.
To manage such a massive undertaking, Garage is working with two other institutional archives in the process of being digitized—the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, and Bremen University’s collection of underground materials from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc—to create what’s being called the Russian Art Archive Network (RAAN).
“In the next few years you’ll be able to sit anywhere and access those three archives,” says Fowle. “We’re basically trying to make a history of Russian contemporary art, because there are so many art objects that might have disappeared or are less available.”