MOSCOW New media and depictions of financial turmoil were on display at Moscow's fourth Biennale, which kicked off on the weekend across the capital giving a much-needed boost to Russia's modern art scene.
Called "Rewriting Worlds," many of the 64 featured artists, from 33 countries, are exhibiting for the first time at Russia's largest art show, in a plush department store and trendy galleries dotted across Moscow.
"We wanted a digital piece of art to show how we are both fueled and dominated by the computer age," said German artist Uta Kopp, who produced "Remote Words" with partner Achim Mohne.
Specifically created for the Biennale, a Google map of Moscow five meters (yards) wide is stretched across the floor, which viewers can take aim at with a flying machine that magnifies parts of the city on an iPad and projector screen.
Thirty silver life-sized dogs with red digital clocks gaze forward in Indian artist T.V. Santhosh's "Houndington" from 2007. Beneath them runs a digitalized text by a teenage boy who has suffered from radiation.
Biennale commissioner Joseph Backstein said globalization -- by way of the Internet -- had forced art go more digital.
"The Garden of Error and Decay," a large video installation by Czech artist Michael Bielicky, is reminiscent of a computer game and invites the viewer to shoot at the piece with a joystick, either eliminating or multiplying disasters spurred by the stock exchange and Twitter updates.
"It's a metaphor showing how helpless we all are," Bielicky told Reuters of why he chose the new media format. "It is a data driven narrative. Like in real life, things that happen actually take place in another sphere."
Pieces mocking financiers are likely to strike a chord with Russians, who were hit hard by the 2008-9 global financial crisis.
Dazed businessmen are stranded in a field where pigs graze out of briefcases in U.S. artist Casey McKee's painting "Free Market Economists," from 2008. In the 2001 video "Fusion," by Germany's Ingeborg Luscher, men in suits play football.
Much excitement surrounded a request to the Chinese government for dissident Ai Weiwei to participate, but the Biennale was turned down by Beijing. Instead, a 2005 video piece by China's leading social critic is on show.
MODERN ART STILL STRUGGLING IN RUSSIA
Curators had hoped a personal visit by Weiwei would boost its reputation as an international center for modern art, which Moscow is struggling to establish.
"Life for an artist in Russia is not easy," Biennale commissioner Backstein told Reuters, naming infrastructure shortfalls and a lack of funding for art education as the main hurdles they face.
Around a third of the artists at the Biennale are Russian.
"Moscow's contemporary art world is still very marginal compared to other world capitals," said Backstein, who is also the director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Moscow, a non-profit organization set up 20 years ago to further the alternative Russian art scene.
Moscow has around 15 modern art galleries compared to New York's plus 200 and London's 150, Backstein said, saying state funding is focused on "archaic budgeting."
The founder of the prestigious Kandinsky prize, whose jury is currently considering 40 Russian artists, said earlier this month that Russian contemporary artists lag behind their European peers in the use of innovative materials.
The Biennale runs until October 30.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Paul Casciato)