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Professor Kayiatos' class on "Camp, Kitsch, and Poshlost'" (RUSS 294) had a good taste/bad taste "last supper" on Sunday, May 4, thanks to the students' domestic labor and the generous support of the Tom Leonard Fund. They feasted on a kitschy meal that was also cooked collectively, with plates and table-settings inspired by the Betty Crocker Junior Cookbook; played thematic party games, like hipster bingo, while eating deliciously lowbrow dessert; and clinked their nostalgically-packaged soda-pop bottles together to toast a truly terrific course!
On Wednesday, March 5, Professor Von Geldern gave a presentation in the cutting-edge “pecha kucha” style at a panel discussion titled “What is Siberia?” at the Weisman Art Museum in connection with the photograph exhibition Siberia: Imagined and Reimagined taking place there. Other panelists included Piotr Szyhalski, professor at MCAD and Polish-born, Minneapolis-based artist; and Tom Wolfe, professor of History and Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Earlier, on January 31, Professors Chadaga and Kayiatos and Katya Efimenko attended a preview party at the Weisman Museum to celebrate the opening of the exhibition and mingled with guests taking in the artwork and posing for photos with local reindeer while a DJ played electronica in the background.
Professor Kayiatos flew to LA at the end of February to participate in a two-part series of events she co-organized remotely with the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, the largest collection of LGBTQ materials in the world, and an affiliate-institution of the University of Southern California (where she was a postdoc last year). She kicked off the first night of "Queer in the Other Europe" with general remarks on the history of homosexuality in the erstwhile Eastern bloc, posing generative questions to the international trio of 'proper' and 'other' European co-panelists--artists slash activists slash academicsand friends (no-slash) including Ira Roldugina, Moscow-based historian, feminist arts curator, and co-organizer of Petersburg's 2013 Kvifest; Paweł Leszkowicz, Polish LGBT art historian, curator, rights activist, and co-author of many radical works of queer scholarship with his partner, Tomek Kitlinski, who was also in attendance; and Anna Viola Hallberg, a Swedish artist who has tried to capture the untold stories of Russian queer communities in her collaborative, multi-sited, multimedia installation, State of Mind (begun in 2006).
The panelists spoke about the specificities of place, time, and queer representational tactics throughout "the Other Europe," in a collective attempt to inflect the otherwise incurious, West-centric discourse of global gay liberation, that has flattened the map of the former Second World into a monolithic zone of repression during and after the Cold War. The enthusiastic participation of the USC community and wider Angeleno audience spilled over into the second night, for The Secret Years, a documentary about Hungarian lesbians in the last years of state socialism. After the screening, Professor Kayiatos led a Q&A session with Mária Takács, the film director, and Anna Borgos, the editor of a book by the same name in which these personal stories of female intimacy and sexual politics are collected in text. Interested members of the wider Macalester community can catch the first seven minutes of the movie here. And the lucky students who sign up for Professor Kayiatos' "Socialisms and Sexualities" course in Spring 2015 (cross-listed with WGSS) will not only watch all of it, but they'll get to Skype with Anna and Mária, too!
On Friday, February 21, Katya Efimenko organized a hand-on wood-painting workshop at the Russian House where students learned about several distinctive Russian folk designs, including the colorful floral Khokhloma style, and then got to decorate their very own wooden eggs, birds, and other objects, using the traditional styles as an inspiration or coming up with their own designs. Even though they had to wade through tall drifts of freshly fallen snow, over 30 art-loving students came to the event—fortunately, there were just enough supplies to go around; we had fun painting, enjoyed Katya’s delectable baked goods, and watched pop music videos for a more modern take on Russian visual culture.
On Tuesday, February 11, the Russian House hosted Chai Chat 2, an informal discussion of major recent and ongoing events in the post-Soviet sphere: the Olympics in Sochi, the revolution in Ukraine, bombings in Volgograd, amnesty for members of Greenpeace and Pussy Riot, and more. Professor Peter Weisensel from History took part in the discussion, which began with a viewing and critique of a Saturday Night Live sketch that brought to light the cultural stereotypes of Russia, and Russians, that circulate in American society today. Katya Efimenko provided an illuminating presentation on the history, culture, and geography of Sochi, and our discussion also benefited from the many insights contributed by students in attendance, some of whom shared first-hand knowledge regarding current events in Russia and the region.
On Thursday, December 12, Professor Kayiatos and Professor Chadaga hosted an informal discussion of sexism in Russian culture, inspired by recent student debates about the representation of female characters in the Macalester staging of Gogol’s Government Inspector as well as troubling developments related to gender identity in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. We were delighted to see students attend this event even though it was during exam period, and we hope that this will be the first of many such gatherings to discuss topics of current interest over treats and hot tea, which will help us get through the snowy winter.
On Saturday, December 7, students in the course Making History: Russian Cinema as Testimony, Propaganda, and Art, taught by Professor Chadaga and Professor Weisensel in the History Department, went on a field trip to the Museum of Russian Art to see the exhibition titled “The Romanovs: Legacy of an Empire Lost.” We listened to a docent-led tour that took us through centuries of Russian history, and got to see an incredible collection of artifacts from the Romanov’s reign plus rare film footage (including Lenin cuddling a cat) from the turn of the twentieth century. There was also a lovely exhibition on the lower level of the museum titled “Around the Tree: Holiday Traditions in the Soviet Era.”
Also on Saturday, December 7, Katia Efimenko organized an evening of Russian music at which audience members enjoyed songs in a broad range of genres, from folk to classic rock, to music from films and contemporary pop. The highlights of the evening were performances by students in Elementary and Intermediate Russian, as well as by Katia who sang and played guitar. Katia thoughtfully provided lyrics to many of the songs in English and Russian so that audience members could sing along; and she also brought delectable homemade cakes, including the now-famous “anthill” made of condensed milk, crushed cookies, and chocolate. Stay tuned for more musical events next semester!
On Friday, November 8, a post-show discussion took place after a performance of Nikolai Gogol’s great satirical play, The Government Inspector, presented by the Theatre and Dance Department. Taking part in the discussion, which was moderated by Professor Beth Cleary of Theatre and Dance, were Robert Rosen, the director of the show, who shared with the audience the backstage story of the artistic decisions that he had made in adapting Gogol’s play; Lisa Channer, co-founder of the Theatre Novi Most, who spoke about Vsevolod Meyerhold’s famous 1927 production of the play (which had influenced Robert Rosen’s own staging); and Julia Chadaga of Russian Studies, who provided background information on Gogol’s life and times--a historical period which, though remote, resonates in curious ways with our own.
On Saturday, November 2 at 8 pm, Macalester hosted a performance by the Russian folk music and dance ensemble Belozer’e (whose name literally means “region of white lakes”; according to director Elena Kallevig, the group chose the name to reference both the mythical land of milk and honey that appears in Russian folklore and the unique lake-filled geography of Minnesota). The event, co-sponsored by Russian Studies and the Music Department, was attended by students, faculty, and members of the community. The performance began with a fashion show of
ornate nineteenth-century peasant costumes (replicas of the originals hand-made by members of the ensemble) modeled by students from Macalester and St. Thomas; then followed a demonstration of Russian musical instruments and a performance of songs and dances--featuring our own Salman Haji ‘14-- that transported us to the Russian countryside. The show concluded with audience members joining the ensemble, learning a few steps, and whirling around the room together in a circle dance known as the khorovod. Afterward everyone enjoyed tea and pastries in the Arts Commons Lounge and chatted with the performers.
Belozer’e is part of the Russian Soul Cultural Center, a local non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting Russian culture and art as well as supporting Russian-speaking emigres in the Twin Cities community.
On Friday, October 18, the Russian House hosted a hands-on workshop where students made their own traditional lucky-charm dolls. These dolls are known as берегиня (bereginya, from the verb meaning "to protect") and травяница (travyanitsa, named for the healing herbs out of which the dolls are often made). The dolls' voluptuous figures represent the fertility that they bestow upon their owner. After making the dolls, guests enjoyed tea and homemade treats: apple-raisin pie and chocolate potatoes (the latter do not actually contain potatoes, but they do contain condensed milk, a popular ingredient in Russian desserts).
Every November, Russian Studies faculty take part in the conference organized by the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)--a chance to share their research-in-progress, learn about the latest developments in scholarship and pedagogy, see old friends and make new ones, and sample the nightlife (if they are so inclined). This year, the conference took place in Boston, MA, and the theme of the conference was “Revolution.” Professor von Geldern served as the discussant on a panel titled Legally Soviet: Law and Legal Consciousness from the Revolution to Khrushchev. Professor Kayiatos served as the discussant on a panel titled Revolutionizing Your Changing Bodies: Categorizing, Controlling, and Memorializing Red Army Men and Women and spoke at the roundtable that she had organized, Revolutions in Theory: The Queer Turn in Slavic Studies. Professor Chadaga served as the discussant on a panel titled Nabokov and History and presented a paper titled Fight the Power with the Feminist Wedge: The Gender Dynamics of Russian Protest Art at a panel on Counterculture and Protest in Contemporary Russia.
After ASEEES and apropos of Russian art-activism, Professor Kayiatos published a short piece on NYU's "All the Russias" blog about Pussy Riot, Petr Pavlensky, and forms of bodily protest practiced in the Soviet gulag titled "Penile Servitude and the Police State."
When we in Russian Studies found out that the Guthrie Theater was offering an incredible discount for college students to see a new production of Chekhov’s classic play Uncle Vanya, we organized a field trip to the theater on Saturday, September 21.
The acting was outstanding and the story, tragic and comic at the same time. Chekhov was a major innovator of the modern theater, and his greatest contribution was to replace on-stage melodrama with “life as it is,” in all of its complexity; as Chekhov described it, “People are sitting at a table having dinner, that's all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart.” Students were struck by the play’s ecological consciousness (as articulated by the character of Dr. Astrov), and Chekhov really was an environmentalist before the term was even invented. After the play, we checked out the amazing view of nighttime Minneapolis from the Endless Bridge, and paid homage to Chekhov, whose thoughtful, bespectacled visage graces the front of the Guthrie Theater.
On Friday, September 20, the Russian House hosted its first party of the year to welcome the college community and give everyone a taste of Russian culture and hospitality. Students and faculty sipped tea and enjoyed scrumptious home-made cakes (one made of layers of blini, fruit, and jam, and the other a mix of cookies, condensed milk, and chocolate). We relaxed in the cozy living room, watched a funny video about Russia through the eyes of Americans, and then Katia organized a fun board game in which teams of students competed with one another by answering trivia questions about Russia and Russians (example: name 5 Russian movies).
Professor Kayiatos was one of four professors from around the world invited to speak at “De-colonizing Disability Theory I: Cripping Development,” the first in a series of international interdisciplinary conferences held on September 19-21, 2013, and organized jointly by the University of Vienna and the Charles University in Prague, the latter of which played host. Though the weekend was dense with activity, Professor Kayiatos was able lose herself a little bit (if sometimes unintentionally) in the maze of cobblestone streets connecting the conference center to the Old Town Square, and even modestly sample from the abundant cultural and historical offerings of the Czech Republic’s vibrant capital. She was also honored that her first appearance on the program took place in the new building of the National Theater, where she responded in conversation with crip-theory Professor Robert McRuer to “Haute Couture,” a performance piece by Ines Doujak and John Barker which might fairly be called a queer-crip hauntology for industrial and late capitalism. The following day she delivered a talk on the American reception of Russia’s recent ban on intercountry adoption entitled, “Global Gays/Local Crips: Or, Why Neoliberalism Needs Russia’s (Retarded) Orphans.” Links to the abstract and the conference program are below:
Macalester’s first-ever World Languages Fair took place on Friday, August 30, 2013 in the Smail Gallery at Olin Rice. At the Russian Table, Professors Jim von Geldern and Anastasia Kayiatos, our new Lab Instructor Katia Efimenko, and Ruxi Zhang ‘14 chatted with students and parents about the Russian program and the joys of learning Russian language and culture, handed out cards with mini-Russian lessons and treated students to Russian candy and delectable pastries baked by Katia.
Students who showed extra initiative by collecting words in different languages for their World Language Resumes received a stamp with the word “Молодец!” (a term of praise for a job well done). Besides the tasty treats, our table featured Russian books, magazines, postcards, menus, and posters; artwork and material culture including matryoshki, musical instruments, toys, amber, vinyl records and a vintage Soviet dress courtesy of Professor Kayiatos.
On Tuesday, September 24, Russian Studies teamed up with the departments of History and Political Science to convene a lunchtime panel discussion on the interrelationship among Russia, Syria, and the United States, particularly in response to current events, as the U.S. had recently accepted Russia’s offer to work with the Syrian government to destroy the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, thus narrowly avoiding a military strike that had been dreaded by many all over the world. Carnegie 206 was packed as students and faculty came to hear different perspectives on the crisis in Syria and ideas about what the future may hold for this troubled region. After Julia Chadaga from Russian Studies provided some opening remarks, the audience heard from Alexey Khlebnikov, International Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota; Peter Weisensel from History; Wendy Weber from Political Science; Wessam El-Meligi from Classics; and Jim von Geldern from International Studies and Russian Studies. We were able to field a few questions from the audience and wished that we could have had much more time for discussion, but we were happy to build on the conversation begun in the previous week with the presentation by Syrian first-year student Farah Al-Haddad and to discuss the crisis in Syria within an international framework, giving the audience a more complex account of the situation than they would get from the mainstream media.