Cloudy Christmas

Days have passed – probably the hardest days of our time in Moscow. Slowly but surely, we creep towards completing this project, and when we get there, it’ll be a huge relief.

Christmas at Garage was a little bit bleak and sad – Wayne and I were both missing our families, and Russians don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Instead, Orthodox Russian Christmas is celebrated on December 7th, and Canadian Christmas is treated like any other work day. Which would have been okay, I think, if we weren’t both missing our families in other places, stuffing themselves with turkey, exchanging gifts, spending time together, and generally doing what families do on a major family-based holiday. You know - family stuff.

New places are always lonely, but I think Russia in the winter can be particularly so. Russian winters have won and lost wars, instigated incredible literature, and driven people mad. Though Wayne and I are still as sane as any other artist(s), the language barrier and cultural differences here are, in the immediate present, driving me batty.

There are things about being here that I love, but it’s been hard on my sensitive soul that public customs between strangers are seldom friendly (especially in the winter, I suspect). Often it seems like smiles are not returned almost anywhere – on the streets, in the metro, even with people we see everyday (security guards at the hotel, etc). To me, while subtle, this is a giant cultural difference, and it can be a disconcerting and discouraging one. Certainly there are customs and kindnesses of a different sort, but open enthusiasm is a rareity, and there are times where I just can’t stand it.

On the flip side, perhaps there’s a certain type of sincerity in this behavior. Clearly I feel the need to reflect about public interactions in general – nature vs. nurture, how social climates change and evolve, the biases of my own limited understanding, etc. But I can’t help but wonder how this will effect CLOUD. Remember all those smiling faces looking up at the first edition during Nuit Blanche Calgary? I think that the second edition, while an altered replica of the first, will be an experiment not just with interaction, but cross-cultural languages.

And perhaps that was the crux of my Christmas dissatisfaction. Here we are in Moscow, missing out on Canadian Christmas (and my Mom’s amazing cinnamon buns) working really hard to create a giant, interactive sculpture that might not even overcome cultural barriers. We’re stuck asking ourselves this: Can the second edition of CLOUD transcend even our own bad attempts at Russian, and touch Muscovite audiences in a deeper, more delightful way? Can it ask local viewers to think about art/energy/objects/play and even each other in a new light? Or will the second edition of CLOUD be, as one teacher at ACAD put it, “merely beautiful”?

Just so you don’t feel too sorry for us, internet-land, I should reassure you that Christmas in Moscow was by no means a total loss, but rather, it was another seminal step in this CLOUD-Land Adventure. I think it was probably high time for a minor crisis of meaning, and everything from here on up will be smooth sailing. At the end of the night, Wayne and I ended up in our favourite Georgian restaurant, eating a scrumptious meal and drinking giant beers with with our new friend Shriya. When we wandered back out into the world beyond, it was snowing like crazy. That’s the power of Russian Winter – it might make you crazy, but it’s beautiful and complex and totally fascinating. But then, that’s not unlike Russia Herself…

Dec25_5

Shriya and Wayne doing a snow dance on Christmas day!

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