Design


There was a wonderful reception on Monday night (5/14/12) hosted at the Ekaterinburg History Museum in honor of the two Americans visiting the Ekaterinburg Academy of Contemporary Arts. In addition to myself teaching in Cultural Journalism, another American scholar, Constance DeVereaux arrived here last weekend from Northern Arizona University and who will teach cultural management.

It was a very exciting event as Constance and I were feted as guests of honor. The US Consul General, Michael Reinert, who gave a speech on the importance of this cultural exchange, and two of his staff, including the Deputy Press Attaché Zsofia Budai, were in attendance.

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D. Michael Reinert, US Consul General (left) and Professor Sergey Krepotov, EACA Rector (head of the institution) give presentations at the reception.

Also scheduled to be there, but absent, was the city mayor for Ekaterinburg. It was explained – and any inaccuracies are mine alone – that there had been an emergency in the mayor’s office due to the apparent firing of the governor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast (state/region) by the newly sworn in president Putin. A certificate of welcome was presented on behalf of the mayor by the academy recot, Professor Sergey Krepotov. So I can honestly say that Putin has had a direct impact on my experience here in Ekaterinburg.

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While I’m not entirely certain of everything it says, I can definitely see that it says my name in Cyrillic, and under that it says “professor Mott College” in Russian. In addition to the certificate, we received several books and also a few EACA souvenirs.

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But probably the best part of the reception for me was seeing nearly all of my students there and seeing how enthusiastically they put together their own presentation. One of my students, Aleksy, served as a very competent Master of Ceremonies, and another of my students, Maria Kozlachkova did her own fearless rendition of Chuck Berry’s hit “I Feel Good”. When I asked if she’d heard of Motown and Aretha Franklin, she shook her head. So I returned the treat the next day in class by playing Aretha’s classic “RESPECT”.

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Two other students, not from my class, also gave wonderful performances one playing the saxophone, and another young lady sang a lovely ballad. All in all, I think they were the highlight of the evening’s reception.

Here is a group photo with all of the students, me, and Constance.

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Pipe Organs in Grecian Concert Hall

So… As if the evening were not already full, I continued the night with another concert at the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall for an organ concert featuring Bach on a pipe organ. Unfortunately I couldn’t make out the other composer.

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The concern hall was just gorgeous, an interesting mix of ornate Grecian columns and ornamentation and Soviet era images and symbolism. My host for the evening was Olga Balueva, an English faculty at the academy and the same lovely lady who hosted me at her sister-in-law’s dacha on Victory Day the week before. It was wonderful to share this with her this evening and I prayed for forgiveness when the occasional coughing fit left me scrambling for a cough drop from a mild cold I’d developed over the weekend.

A few photos of the hall are shared here.

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All in all, the evening was a good one and took my mind off things back home. But the next day would be my last class, and I had grading to do before heading to bed. This cinderella would soon be turning into a pumpkin for the night.

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Okay… It’s early on my post-public talk day 2 and I hit the refresh on my Google search for my name in Cyrillic. Lo and behold there was something knew at the top of the search results… a YouTube video. Oh dear. Now I would see for myself how it went.

Overall, I could pronounce it not too bad, at least as far as the English language part. Since it was edited for a Russian audience, there are no English subtitles or translations offered for the Russian… And I have no idea how bad it was interpreted. But I have some people back in the USA who I will ask for their perspective on this since I already have a notion that what I or the other said wasn’t always directly translated. And, apart from my failure to look up enough (I was listening so intently to the interpreter that I failed to realize this), I had to stifle a laugh at how my hair had gone back to its natural but still damp curls from the rain. As an aside, today it is apparent that my sore throat is a consequence of this.

Back to the video, they played most of the lecture editing out three main areas: large portion of the “brief history” part, then cut out the section on the challenges, benefits, and responsibilities that came with access and authorship online, and the closing section (my favorite) which also addressed responsibility of the cultural journalist (i.e. the subtitle of the talk – “Journalism in the global age of cultural responsibility“). And honestly, I have no idea if this was simply edited out for time, or if there was a mistranslation, or a cultural resistance to this aspect of the talk. And I currently have no idea how it went in the little mini interviews that are at the end since it is only in Russian.

So, taking the chance that someone out there may be kind enough (and gentle) to share with me their translation or at least impressions, I offer you this link to the YouTube video… Risking potential humiliation, I guess I’ll just have to smile and laugh… Can’t help it! The theme music they used was “New York, New York!”

Мара Фулмер. Круглый стол
Me on YouTube

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People mill around outside the library after the event and the sun-cleared skies. The American Information Office was a sponsor for the event. Translation issues aside, I hope that the dialogue that we started will continue!

Meeting the Ekaterinburg Public

Having just performed the latest great milestone in terms of my duties here as a Fulbright, I wanted to share some quick impressions since my time is short.

Yesterday evening I gave a public talk at the local library and which was sponsored by the American Information office which is in the same building. Titled: “Rock, Wood, Paper, Pixels: Journalism in the global age of cultural responsibility”, it was more about the role of journalism in promoting cultural understanding and creating an informed public, rather than writing about the arts. This distinction is an issue since in Russia, cultural journalism is seen as purely about coverage of Arts and Entertainment. But, while there is some connection in the American media to this, cultural journalism is also recognized as a deeper sort of writing that goes beyond the isolation of arts coverage and can also provide a more meaningful context for a subject, even (and especially) if the subject is not necessarily rooted in the traditional arts. My focus was on the democratization of media, challenges, benefits and responsibilities of both the author/creator and the consuming public.

The presentation itself was not without its challenges, sometimes humorous, sometimes just frustrating. First, writing it. I found myself dissatisfied with my original direction and its length, especially after coming to understand that a translator would have to interpret everything I said, sentence by sentence. But, after this past week of reading student assignments, watching the news, and talking with my new colleagues, I finally felt I could give this a more complete voice. But I had run out of time after other unrelated issues pulled my attention away. Sleep deprivation didn’t help either. But enough excuses. It came together on time and I felt good about going to the presentation with a reasonable product that could be both sensitive and thought-provoking at the same time.

Heading to the event

I rushed to get dressed now to meet the public, getting down to the hotel lobby a few minutes late. But, then it rained. Not just a light rain. Thunder and lightening, downpours, almost blinding rain. And then there’s me, dressed up for a public talk, hair, makeup, dressy shoes… Just running to and from the car, even with an umbrella held over my head, I was soaked. A trip to the bathroom toilet was only mildly helpful. I’d brought my own roll of TP because I’d noticed it wasn’t common in public bathrooms. But without paper towels or a hand dryer, I just tried to make the best of it. My once dry smoothed hair was now damp, and as curly as ever. A light hair brush didn’t help either. Breath deep, I told myself, and I headed out and back up the stairs to the room.

A bottle of water sat at my designated spot, and as I waited for our hosts to move a large screen television where my presentation would be seen, I opened the bottle…only to be soaked again since it was warm sparkling mineral water. Who knew? I thought to myself as my host desperately tried to find something to dry the table, as I tried to swallow my exasperation by wiping down the cover of my iPad.

We waited a bit until the rain subsided as I chatted with the interpreter and fine tuned a few things on the presentation. Then, suddenly before I realized it, the event had begun, and I realized we were no longer chatting. He was interpreting what the moderator was saying to the entire room. The event was set up as a round table which must have seated 20-25 people and more sat around the walls. Oh dear, I thought. Time to shut up and try and listen to two voices speak at the same time. I had developed the technique of trying to listen carefully to the Russian for familiar words in Russian, or some that sounded similar in English.

As my turn came, I had to overcome my more comfortable style of speaking, and instead I read and then waited. The interpreter had to translate, and I wasn’t always sure when he was done, or if he was just at a loss for the right word. But after awhile, we seemed to find a rhythm. I tried to remind myself to look around. And when I did, I saw many interested faces. As I took a break during the translation, I tried to gauge their reactions, but also to listen to see if I detected anything wrong.

As it turned out, he was oversimplifying what I said, sometimes severely, and thus changing the meanings at times. This proved particularly frustrating for my host who, during the round-table discussion that followed, was actually upset enough to tell the interpreter how his translations were “atrocious”. At one point she tried to help. Instead, we went back to the old pattern and I took some comfort in knowing that at least half the people in the room understood most of what I said in English, without the incompetent interpretation.

If I could use any measure of success, it was this. The talk provoked much discussion and numerous direct questions, the nuances of which were a true challenge for me to understand. Although most of those asking questions were extremely friendly and engaged, at one point a rather arrogant fellow began asking about whether people in the USA would actually want to read “truth” versus “culture”. This was a bad interpretation and I indicated I didn’t understand the question and asked another in return. Later, it became clear that he was asking two separate questions. And “truth” was really “objectivity”, while “culture” was really arts coverage. I think my answer sufficed regardless…saying that although there were some consumers of information were lazy or ignorant of the relative credibility of a source, Americans, in general, craved information of all sorts.

So now the scary part…

Having access to my name in Cyrillic, I decided to Google it to see what had been written about the event. Using Google’s translate function, my heart sank a little bit.

Although I’m not sure how much the bad translations can be blamed on Google, my interpreter, or how the writer further interpreted what they heard, but a few basic facts that were reported would cause credibility issues back home. So I’m here to set the record straight:

1) My MFA in Studio Art/Graphic Design is from Michigan State University, not University of Michigan.

2) I teach Graphic Design and Visual communications, not journalism, at Mott College.

3) Although I have been a writer, designer, and educator for many years, I do not consider myself a “guru”, simply someone who has a passionate interest in the role of arts, media and communications in society.

In the meantime, I enjoyed a lovely dinner afterwards with my extremely gracious host who patiently answered my prodding questions about the event and shared stories of other more or less successful translation events. It was educational to me to hear how my Russian audience expressed their questions about American media and I was curious how well my replies addressed their questions. At one point during dinner, I expressed my sudden horror at the realization during the earlier event that these people in attendance were looking at me as if I could answer for the entire American media culture. Oi vey.

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I fed my still rattled nerves with two variety of pismeni (a sort of Russian tortellini) and some blintske with butter and caviar. Later that night, I cracked open the Armenian Cognac I’d picked up at the grocery store and nibbled away at the Obama pie which I’d broken down and bought, mostly out of curiosity rather than any desire for pie. Overall I’d say it was right on… full of promise but with room for improvement. 🙂

Earlier, on my walk after dinner to the car which was parked a block or two away, the sun hit the clouds just right over the city administration building. Two rainbows appeared and I made my wish figuring it was a good omen. Here’s hoping this is true.

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Note to my readers: This post is a little out of order. I intend to also write about Victory Day and other activities that have occurred through the week. But I have been kept busy between the cultural activities, grading, teaching (yes… all part of being here!) and some news from home that has lead me to change my extended travel plans, and instead go home earlier. I’ll get back to some of this later in this blog website, or another one entirely if that is deemed more appropriate.

Old building in EkaterinburgChevy AveoSoviet era manufacturing logoView of main city business centerView of rowers on Iset RiverMisc. Graffiti
Street Art BridgeStreet ArtBicyclistsGraffiti artStreet ArtStreet art alley
Street artOld brick buildingOld brick buildingStreet artConstructivist buildingStreet art
Street artStreet art19th C. Ol building19th C. old Brick BuildingBrick entry gateSymbols for "Holiday" provider

More photos from around the city, this group has special attention to street art. Much of it is done with permission, while other pieces are not. The tags are not appreciated. But conceptual works are especially admired. My tour was arranged with my hosts and two students who work as volunteers for a guerilla marketing firm.

One street artist, Tima Radya, does especially planned and admired work, his philosophy studies providing a strong conceptual mindset. The old WWII era hospital was a project that utilized bandages and selective burning of the wood panel surface to create portraits of soldiers from the period. Although he did not have permission to install the work, once he explained its meaning to the caretaker, they allowed it to remain.

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To see all 100+ photos, just click on one of the thumbnails above to take you to the Flickr set.

Today has been a very full day of tours and conversation. My hosts from EACA have been extremely thoughtful in showing me the elements of the city they feel are important. Not many Western tourists come to Ekaterinburg which was a closed city to the west, especially Americans, until fairly recently. And in spite of the language barriers, my hosts were always considerate to bring along at least one person – a student, staff member or faculty, who could manage translations.

Art from the Urals
The first part of the day was spent at the Fine Arts Museum where I was most interested in art from the region. I will be visiting St. Petersburg later where the international reputation for their art collections is renowned. But this museum contained some very special collections from Ekaterinburg and Russia, in general, that were excellent for someone like me to become at least a little more familiar with art of the region. An interesting note is that it is also in one of the oldest buildings in the city, with a portion of the building dating back to the 18th C.

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[sidenote here: as I write this Halle Berry is rattling off in a Russian-dubbed version of Cat woman playing on the TV. Good thing I know the plot!]

Chills and Awe

After lunch, my guides changed to another group from the academy who would give me a tour of Constructivist Soviet-era architecture. Ekaterinburg is a gem for its collection of still-standing early and mid-century buildings reflecting the aesthetic of the period. Much of it has been destroyed since Perestroika in other parts of Russia. But my passionate new friends saw this as an affront to an historic period of design. And I can’t help but agree that there is merit in keeping these, at least some of the more definitive examples.

As we walked around, our driver parked not far behind us, the weather challenged even Michigan’s old standby motto (“If you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes.”). At first, it started out cold and rainy, followed by sunshine, followed by a sleet/snow pellet storm, followed by more sunshine, and then another brief appearance of the snow pellets. All in the space of a few hours. The dark clouds would sweep through the region quickly and be gone before you could settle into a nice pot of tea or coffee.

In the meantime, my well-informed guides took me from place to place – Cheka City – a planned community that is going through some stages of redevelopment, and which demonstrates an almost quaint Soviet aesthetic.

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At one end of the square is a building now used as a hotel, but was a former officers housing, built in the shape of a sickle.

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But the one building that really created chills and spawned a heartfelt dialogue between my guide, Misha, and myself was a Soviet-era military office building that had additions of neo-classical touches done in a constructivist interpretation. In the center of an open area out front was a sort of memorial display to WWII and the cold war that followed. A small missile, a tank, and a couple of transport vehicles filled the space, while behind them were granite walls that featured round seals with the hammer and sickle.

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Standing there, I couldn’t help but recall how cold relations had been between our two nations, and how much that the children of my generation had been taught to fear that symbol. Yet standing next to me was a young man, nearly half my age, a product of the post-Perestroika generation, who looked upon this symbol, and the buildings they adorned as simply historical buildings to be admired for their spare aesthetic and an old promise of a new world order. I stood there staring at this symbol behind the military evidence of an era, as we swapped family stories, comparing the histories written by our respective countries and families. I couldn’t help but think that this was why I was supposed to be here… to have this conversation.

The Dance Lesson

Next to this building was another – the Academic Theatre, a name he said meant that it was used for traditional performance work, not that it was associated with any university.

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We entered this building which still featured much of its original interior, including dramatic paintings featuring Lenin, Trotsky and others. The upper mezzanine level had a beautiful curved hall with classical columns which had been blocked off by benches with a sign that very clearly indicated that there would be dance lessons there. And sure enough,a young couple of probably only about 8-10 years old practiced a tango on the granite floors as their dance master provided stern instruction. When they finished their lesson, we made our way quickly across the space to view a painting of Trotsky on the other stairwell. But as the music began again, this time it was a waltz and the new couple of child dancers made their way gracefully around the dramatic space, their dance master instructing them to respond to the emotion of the music. Remembering the stories my grandmother told of her childhood dance lessons, I admit to choking back a tear as I watched the children dance.

You can watch them, too, and view other photos from this travel journey by visiting the Flickr set I posted here.

Enjoy!

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