Academy Summer Residencies 2016: Russia

Our final dispatch from Russia comes from Sarah Hall MFA 2017.

It was an honor to be chosen for the Russia Residency and after being here for almost a month I am even more grateful for the opportunity. We have gone to many tourist destinations in Moscow and St. Petersburg that have blown us away in both the art and the beauty of the architecture and I would recommend the museums and cathedrals to anybody. But the honest uniqueness that I have experienced on this residency has been defined by the paths and places we didn’t expect to find ourselves.

In Moscow we stayed in a beautiful apartment with one of Russia's prominent architects. Andre Cheltsov comes from a long lineage of architects one of whom designed the Tretyekov Gallery. About 4 days into our trip his family took us to their country house to celebrate a birthday, a two hour train ride outside of Moscow. We stayed only a short time but the experience was well worth the travel. The cottage style house we stayed at was positioned on a hill surrounded by forest. From what I gathered, the house was built in a traditional Russian style, which is built so that large areas of the house could be opened up to the outside. An entire section of the house was completely open to the elements and this is where the gathering was held in honor of Andre’s 13 year old son’s birthday. It was an amazing experience to help gather and cook food in preparation of the party. Andre’s wife and mother of seven, had made the currant-flavored vodka that we were drinking all day long. Chopping and smoking and drinking and laughing on the Russian country side with about 15 other people all practicing their English, whilst learning a little Russian too was one of the more intimate experiences of my life.

Our week in Moscow ended and we traveled by night train to St. Petersburg. It took 9 hours in a sleeper cabin. The 4 of us and our luggage were crammed in a tiny room with 4 bunks and no window. Nikita shared a similar cabin with a family of 5. The first few days of St. Petersburg were spent drawing and taking in the environment around our beautiful apartment. It is five stories up looking down on a canal.

The street that our apartment was located on is lateral to one of the many canals that wind through St. Petersburg and the location is littered with cathedrals and old Russian architecture. The Hermitage Museum, which is a fifteen minute walk from our door step, is one of the best collections I have ever seen. I could spend days in the Rubens room alone. But the most impressive thing for me were the small mosaics located above the fire places that were scattered about the museum. At first glance they look like tiny paintings but once you get closer you realize that each stone which makes up the mosaic is no bigger than a millimeter.

Much of St. Petersburg’s beauty is interpreted by the magnificent museums and cathedrals but I would like to explain another more honest beauty, a beauty that would not be found in any tourist book. During my stay I was able to make several friends that were excited to show me this side of Russia and it was these experience that I will remember most fondly. This side of Russia I am referring to is the more humanistic side. The dingy Muslim alleyway with the best lamb kebabs in town or a bar that serve you plastic cups full of vodka and will throw you out if they know you're American. Experiences like hanging out with a bottle of wine on a roof top that overlooks the poorest part of town but it happens to be next to a canal that giant cruise liners go through to dock their ships. These short moments in time that create a feeling which can describe so much about an unknown culture and having honest people with you who can explain and translate this culture is an amazing and humbling experience. I will remember it forever and am excited to return. 

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