Artists and the new urban aesthetic in Almaty

September 2007 -

The city of Almaty in Kazakhstan recently was the scene of a special exhibit. 'The Transformation of Space in Almaty' was put together by the international collective 'Artpologist' at the Soros Centre of Contemporary Art, and open to the public between the 15th and the 25 of August 2007.


Installation by Georgi Tryakin-Buharov

'Artpologist' has three artists and an anthropologist: Gaisha Madanova, Daniel Gallegos, Aminatou Echard and Zhanara Nauruzbayeva. Their exhibit in Almaty had as its subject the hyper-construction and transformation of urban spaces in that city. Its point of departure was local artists' studios. Gallegos and Nauruzbayeva: "The study of the studios just brings to life the city at a micro level."

The exhibit comprised of multi-media installations that used canvas, video footage, photographs and text, accompanied by a 'processual artwork' – daily blogs – on their website. Documenting and artistically rendering the work spaces of several local artists, the authors essentially drew attention to the transformations in artists' spaces and methods of work from the time of the Soviet period until the present. The world of the artist's studio, moreover, is located in and intertwined with an urban site of indiscriminate demolition and relentless construction activity. The exhibit tells you of a city where busy cranes and metal fences have become iconic of urban transformation. Here, many old buildings and public spaces considered unworthy of preservation are giving way to business centres and elite residential complexes at a frenetic pace. Furthermore, the state-directed aesthetic transformation of Almaty has little room for museums and art galleries.

Nauruzbayeva explains the need for the 'Artpologist' exhibit: "I remember how the director of the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art, Almaty, said that it is surprising how all the artists who paint Almaty's urban life always fail to see and portray those metal fences that are everywhere in the city! Indeed, there are many artists who portray the contemporary city but everyone treats the subject of transformation in a romantic way. Among younger artists we have noticed a more urgent concern for their city."

Reviews about this contemporary approach to viewing art in its urban context have been generally encouraging. One reviewer recommended that artists use their work to remind authorities of what makes Almaty unique, rather than turn 'creative encounters' into political acts. But in general, the exhibit has had resonance with an audience concerned about Almaty's dizzying changes. Nauruzbayeva: "People were grateful to us for raising this issue – it is something that affects everyone in Almaty."

The exhibit will soon travel to museums and galleries in Europe and the United States.