About TOK

TOK gives a pesentation at Small Projects Space, Tromso, April, 2014

ABOUT TOK

TOK is curatorial collective based in St Petersburg and founded by Anna Bitkina and Maria Veits in 2010 as a platform for conducting interdisciplinary projects in the fields of contemporary art and design and social sciences. TOK’s projects have a strong social component and deal with current issues that are widely discussed both in Russia and internationally such as migration, public space and citizens, development of education, deprivation of social resources, forming collective memory, use of natural resources, growing role of the media in the global society, changing political climate and many others. TOK curators have also always been largely interested in exploring the concept of public space in post-Soviet Russia and the former Soviet Union, as well as perception, understanding and mechanisms of use of public spaces and open areas by residents of post-Soviet cities. One of the current interests of TOK is reaction of the media to global sociolopolitical processes. 

TOK was started as a grass-root initiative, a research-based art organization by the two graduates of Smolny College in St Petersburg (first liberal arts school in Russia founded by Bard College and St Petersburg State University) Anna Bitkina and Maria Veits. Working previously in different fields (visual arts and academia respectfully) the two decided to form a collective that would give them a possibility to create, curate and organize their own artistic and research projects. One of our initial motivations is to create a dialogue between Russian and international artists and curators and promote exchange of knowledge, concepts and approaches in order to generate and continuously develop a vibrant field of ideas that lead to joint projects engaging artists, curators, researchers, designers, architects, local governments and various urban communities. 

All publications of TOK (book, brochures, exhibitions catalogues) are available online for free downloading.

SELECTED PROJECTS

Fast Forward to the Future initiated by Grafikens Hus (Södertälje, Sweden) and TOK is a polyphonic platform where young people can express their opinions about the themes that they find important and engage into a public discussion with people of different ages and background. Invited participants - artists, performers, journalists and educators - help them use various artistic formats for that - from large-scale posters, zines and videos to sound installations,  performances and public actions.
The main idea of the project  is to support young people in obtaining and strengthening their voices in the public realm.  We encourage them to speak openly about their future and their role in the society as well as the legacy of older generations they have to deal with, be it culture, politics, gender roles, or the state of the planetary resources. High speeds and information overload fuel the competitive race among people that requires a lot of energy and self-confidence and might lead to stress, burn-out, and depression which rate is becoming very high among young people today. In that context, the idea of a safe and creative space open for off-line discussion and actions sounds like a solution for relieving tension and exchange with other people using art as a medium and supporting the idea of ‘art for all’. The team of Fast Forward to the Future consists of curators and participants from Sweden and Russia, who have previous experience of working with young people at the territory of art and would like to enhance their knowledge and be a part of an international network of professionals focusing on cutting-edge art and social practices.
 
‘The Russian Bar’ is a multidisciplinary research-based project by TOK aimed at creating conditions for curatorial and artistic research to formulate new approach to neighborness within Russian-Finnish relations by analyzing the new wave of emigration of Russians to Finland. By looking at the Russian-Finnish case the project curators intent to facilitate a discursive platform to contribute to the studies on global processes of migration and its local implications, concept of citizenship, state and statelessness and the role of art in creating social connections. It will be presented as a series of performances, talks, artistic interventions and small-scale exhibitions in different venues in Helsinki in June and August-September 2018. In their existing and commissioned works Finnish and Russian participants will address current and historical cases of exile and displacement, roots of nationalism and social acceptance, communication and exchange, disappointment and civil powerlessness, social and cultural clashes and reciprocity. By looking at the Russian-Finnish context, TOK intends to contribute to the studies of global processes of migration and its local implications, rethink concepts of citizenship, state and statelessness and the role of art in creating social connections. With the project, the curators also raise a question about extending borders of curatorial and artistic practice: they see The Russian Bar as an instrument for self-reflection and conceptualization of a new political reality.   
 
The project ‘States of Control’ brings together artists, researchers and curators from a vast geographical background: Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Sudan, Ukraine, Poland, and the USA. They refer both to recent and historical phenomena spanning a wide spectrum from opposition of the USSR and the US during the Cold War and controversial position of Finland during that time to espionage tactics in Egypt and Israel in the 1960, and the recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In their projects artists use diverse methods to address the multiple ways in which facts (or fiction?) are conveyed by media, mass culture and education to shape the realities we exist in. Focusing on different historical periods and current events the project participants create their own tactics of speaking about the past and the present to force a ‘memoryless’ society out of its comfort information zone. ‘States of Control’ aims at constructing a continuous dialogue between artists and the public of different ages and generations in order to stimulate critical thinking around the topics of information manipulation, the history of propaganda, post-truth and constructing news during times of political unrest. The project proposes and tests different methods of historical analysis, journalistic investigation, and creation of additional media discourses. What are the limits of control when it comes to controlling media and who actually owns information? Is it possible to avoid propaganda at all? Or will the ones in power always impose their vision on the oppressed and rewrite facts and history according to their interests? The initiators of ‘States of Control’ create a safe and censorship free environment where these questions can be discussed and opposing political statements can be accepted and taken under consideration for further analysis. The project took place in Helsinki at Akovi and HIAP Gallery Augusta and consisted of en exhibition and a series of public events. States of Control continue the research TOK started in their previous project 'Propaganda News Machine'.
 
'Propaganda News Machine' explores the notion of propaganda, the news construction and designs of multiple realities in the media today. The project attempts to present, analyze and unveil some of the strategies that governments use in order to create specific images/views of political and social events and influence audience’s opinions when it comes to broadcasting cases in the global political arena.With the growth of mass communication channels, media wars have become a strong and powerful machine of creating, conducting and escalating conflicts between countries, nations and communities. In the current political agenda, when global relations between main players on the world’s political arena are again being reconsidered, the power of media in forming and broadcasting ideologically charged discourse becomes especially obvious and disturbing. Since television the Internet have become easily accessible and embraced by the masses, they have influenced our world views and fed us with selectively constructed news in order to shape our thinking and prevent us from critical analysis of the information we are being delivered. First exhibition in the framework of the project and accompanying it public events took place at Flux Factory, New York, where TOK curators were in residence in 2016. 
 
'Young Curators & Art Operators Network' is a curatorial network of young and emerging curators from the North-West Russia and Sweden/Nordic countries to be started by Intercult (Stockholm) and Creative Association of Curators TOK (St Petersburg). The main objective of the network is to stimulate a dialogue and cooperation between art professionals interested in sustainable curatorial and artistic practices in public spaces as well as research-based multidisciplinary projects that bring together and connect various communities. The methodology elaborated by the network will include description of different ways of how artists and curators using art projects in the public sphere can increase the awareness of the citizens of the influence of, for instance, grass root movements on various urban processes and maintain a dialogue with city authorities for a joint discussion of the city problems and challenges. 
 
Local history museums located in many public schools in contemporary Russia are the Soviet heritage - back in the USSR they served as additional ideological and information instruments. Today most of them represent small museums organized in a rather old-fashioned and outdated way so children cannot relate themselves to the message these museums broadcast. TOK curators together with the museum of local history in a school in St Petersburg work on updating the approach to school museum curating and exhibition-making by involving children and local communities into creating exhibitions  in order to make school museum be more contemporary, relevant and inclusive.

Сritical Mass (2010 – current time)
“Critical Mass” is the first large-scale art project in St Petersburg based on the principles of research of the urban environment, locating problems and potential of various pubic spaces and suggesting scenarios for their revitalization and development within the dialogue between curators, artists, researchers, local communities and governments. Since 2010 TOK has produced two public art exhibitions in different public places and open locations of St Petersburg for which a wide range of Russian and international artists from Denmark, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Iceland, Latvia, Estonia and Norway commissioned new works or adapted their existing pieces. For both exhibitions that were held in 2011 and in 2013 there were produced bilingual publications were the results of curatorial, artistic and social researches were reflected.  Critical Mass 2015  focused on preservation of historical heritage and studying of collectives and personal memories. Therefore, the central venue of the project was the Gromov’s dacha, a wooden mansion built in the 19th century, that had been numerously threatened to be demolished, and the Lopukhinskiy garden that surrounds the building and is loved by the local community who had been protecting it from destruction.

The “Mobile Archive” is a unique traveling collection of Israeli video art that belongs to the Israeli Center for Digital Art and contains more than 2500 titles. The project has traveled more than 20 countries including Brazil, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, UK and the USA. In Russia the project was curated by TOK.  The project was on view in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Nizhniy Novgorod, where all exhibitions were accompanied by screenings and artists talks. This is first project in Russia of acclaimed Israeli video artists of such scale.

TOK at Manifesta 10
TOK was a local contributor to Manifesta 10 that took place in St Petersburg in summer 2014 and curated three and produced two projects in the framework of the public and parallel programs of  the biennial. Represented artists included Jeremy Deller (UK), Olga Jitlina (Russia), Glyuklya (Russia), Emily Newman (US), and Maya Zack (Israel).

Design Platform (2011 - 2013)
“Design Platform” is an international project of socially oriented design launched by TOK. It is aimed at bringing innovations into the learning environment of Russian public schools and make it more interesting, interactive and open for pupils using contemporary design practices and solutions.

Towards the Other (2011)
The international art project “Towards the Other” offers the audience a wide range of perspectives on migration, which has become an essential part of Russian and European reality.  The project was organized by The Netherlands Institute in St. Petersburg and Creative Association of Curators TOK. 

Nordic Art Today (2011)
The project “Nordic Art Today” initiated and organized by TOK brought contemporary artists and curators from Nordic countries to Russia. Its mission was to introduce to the local audience the most interesting examples of artistic and curatorial practices dealing with critical approach in contemporary art.  A bilingual catalogue in Russian and English was produced by TOK in 2011 for the exhibition Nordic Art Today: Conceptual Debts, Broken Dreams, New Horizons.