Pedagogical Poem. The Archive of the Future Museum of History

The project «Pedagogical Poem» conceived by Arseny Zhilyaev and Ilya Budraitskis and organized by V-A-C Foundation is a unique interdisciplinary research conducted at the intersection of the history, contemporary art and pedagogy. A series of over 100 meetings took place between March and November 2012 at the Presnya Historical Memorial Museum. These series consisted of lectures and seminars led by Russian and international artists, historians, cultural theorists as well as master-classes of various artists. The project led to the formation of a group of permanent visitors and auditors of the series who had diverse professional interests. They were united by their interest in this project and common practices of creative cooperation.

The project culminates with the final exhibition «The archive of the future museum of history» devised by the participants of the «Pedgogical Poem» series. It takes place at the museum as an outcome of the educational program and independent research work at the archive.
A museum as an institution is the most important educational instrument of disseminating knowledge about cutlure and civilization, and it is vital for the development of personality capable of interpreting the cultural heritage of society, producing contemporaneity and acquiring an active civic position. A museum of history is a place that represents memory; it always enters into unique and essentially important relations between the past and the present. On the one hand, the collective experience of the previous generations represented at the museum highlights the similarities between then and now and the knowledge of history based on the way history develops. On the other hand, it is an institution created by the state with the purpose of realizing its cutlural and educational politics that limits and frames the visitor's experience. This paradoxical position of history museums can either be a distinguishing factor that illustrates their own historical time or, on the contrary, it can be a sign of continuity that purifies the museum of the passions of its contemporaries.

That is why museums do not always become spaces for open discussions; despite the considerable democratization that took place in the last century, the level of freedom and the competency of the exposition curators is still limited. The role of museums of modern history — the former Revolution Museums in Eastern European countries - is even more ambiguous. At the start of the XX century, they demonstrated to the world an unprecendented example of democratization and innovation — the formerly limited access for the public has been removed, workers have participated in creating museum expositions, private collections have been opened to the public and, at the same time, scientific approach to history has been developed. In addition, museums have incorporated statistical data and created thematic installations devoted to the history of the oppressed. Unfortunately, during the post-revolutionary period and the years of political stagnation, the museums have turned into the dogmatic tool of expression of the official ideology of the party. But at the end of the XX century after the collapse of the «real socialism», East European museum institutions not only lacked any novel methodological bases for their work but they have been forced to deny the reasons of their own creation.

The final exhibition «Archive of the future museum of history» is devided into the several zones that reconstruct the atmosphere of an archive. Thus, a professional museum excursion through memorable historical locales of the Presnya district engages in a dialogue with an improvised walk through places that are important for the personal histories of the participants of the Pedagogical Poem in the form of a documentary film. Central investigations have been devoted to the history of the transformation of the Presnya Museum. One important part of the exhibition is a public library, where anyone can get to know the lecture material and a collection of books connected with the central themes of the project. As a supplement to the exposition materials, dedicated to the event of the beginning of the 1990s, a miniature museum has been created of opposition print materials from 1991 to 2012.

We are aware that, most probably, these proposals would never be implemented due to the objective limitations of the activity of contemporary museums. However, we can discuss them through the concepts of contemporary art and will continue to do so.

Collective of the project: Alena Artasheva, Katerina Beloglazova, Gleb Napreenko, Konstantin Novikov, Alexandra Novozhenova, Alexander Povzner, Elizaveta Slavina-Mirskaya, Pavel Bulgakov, Yakov Kirillov, Yegor Koshelev, Valeria Dobrokhotova, Irina Melnikova, Paraphrase theatre, Katerina Chuchalina, Asya Klescheva, Isabel Makgoeva, Ilya Bezrukov

Initial statement

“Denial of risk may cause fault of creativity”– said famous, yet now forgotten, Soviet educator and author of the book “Pedagogical Poem” Anton Semenovich Makarenko. He worked with orphans during the first years of consolidation of Soviet Union, in politically unstable environment, and strived to substitute “decrepit Adam” by a new person of communist future.

Contemporary Russian society lacks this confidence in utopian future of the humanity, which requires upbringing of free individuals; it does not believe in education as an important human right, instead considering it a way of personal capitalization that gives advantages on labour market; it does not understand history as a continuing process, related to everyone.
Due to all these circumstances we accept challenge of our epoch and take a risk of creating a new “Pedagogical Poem”. Our goal is not to train skills for cultural industry but rather to suggest creative co-exploration of the world of history and knowledge.

The value of history as a general subject and of a museum as a place of cultural entertainment is underestimated in todays Russia. Apprehension of history is limited to the idea of a dusty catalogue of the past, alien and minor to the present. Rare historical references only occur within political speculation or pulp fiction, and what’s even worse, in “learn a lesson” didactic allusions.

This dehistorizational approach contradicts with the idea of history as continuing human experience and sensory perception, which Philippe Aries called “aesthetic side of history”. Exposition in historical museum is aimed provide aesthetical impact and unlike in art museum, it becomes historical, and dethrones the illusion of airtight work of art. By creating an effect of Bertold Brechts’ “alienation”, works in a museum of past deliver different conscious of the present.

In Soviet Union the result of artists work in a historical museum was manifested in panoramas and dioramas – giant total installations, which referred to historical imagination of the viewer and called for analysis and empathy with the event.
Dioramas appeared in the beginning of XIXth century as a reaction to experiments conducted by Louis Daguerre – the inventor of photography. In countries of communist block dioramas became extremely popular as an extent to revolutionary tradition of art and life barriers overcome.

One of the significant examples of such creativity is diorama “Heroic Presnya. Year 1905” by E.I. Deshalyt, which takes central place in the exposition of “Presnya” museum. Combination of aesthetic effects of realistic art and analytic approach (dioramas were always followed by detailed historical description), bring to us the idea that Soviet dioramas anticipate many contemporary art methods. Close connection between history and art perception and an opportunity to explore it by collective pedagogical effort lies in the core of our project. The result of it will be a collective installation, integrated into the museum space.

Arseniy Zhilyaev
Ilya Budraitskis

Video Channel