Alina Saprykina: Museum of the Future is about education and orientation in a big and complicated world

Alina Saprykina: Museum of the Future is about education and orientation in a big and complicated world
General Director of the Museum of Moscow Alina Saprykina tells about the future of museums, the city in the 22nd century and differences between a local visitor and a foreigner.

The Museum of Moscow is a place that unites history and our times, and shows visitors what is happening in the city right now. The museum combines museum formats, educational programmes, theatrical performances, films and concerts, it hosts flea markets and food markets, festivals, competitions, and fashion shows. Alina Saprykina, General Director of the Museum of Moscow, tells about it all.

Alina Saprykina, General Director of the Museum of Moscow

Question: A large festival, 2017 Intermuseum, has just ended in Moscow. It was attended by representatives of more than 150 museums from all over the country. The festival’s theme this year was Museum of the Future. How was this reflected by the Museum of Moscow?

Alina Saprykina: At the festival we gave a presentation called Museum of the City — a Look into the Future, in which we reflected on the uniqueness of city museums and their role today. A city museum is a special format. On one hand, it’s a museum, and on the other, it is a platform to present a city, which is dynamic and changes all the time. The main memes of a city museum are events that happen in the city and to its residents. In our case, the museum is entirely dedicated to the city of Moscow, its uniqueness and diversity.

We are located in the city centre, in one of the best architectural complexes of the capital. The provision warehouses are an architectural landmark of federal importance. The following small museums — The Old English Court, the Archaeological Museum of Moscow, the Lefortovo History Museum are also under the management of the Museum of Moscow as well as the Vlakhernskoye estate in Kuzminki. Currently, the Museum of Moscow includes a storage space and exhibition halls which can also be visited with a guide, as well as a multidisciplinary educational centre, which hosts lectures, workouts, discussions, and educational programmes. The museum combines not only museum formats, but also theatre, cinema, and much more. The museum often hosts theatrical performances, films, flea markets, food markets, festivals, various competitions, and fashion shows.

Urban fashion, art, music, and literature — all of these find their way to and live in the museum

We think not only about what the museum will be like tomorrow, but are also turning into a reflection of it, a mirror. Our task is to link the capital’s past, present and future.

Tell stories and look into the future

Question: The contemporary museum tries to cover as many areas as possible: exhibit projects, lectures, and scientific research. Can one complement another and how do you combine research without losing visitors?

Alina Saprykina: Research is never isolated. It is always a study of a particular subject, which should be implemented within a certain museum’s product. For example, we will soon open an exhibition titled Moscow Through Foreigners’ Eyes, and our curatorial group is engaged in research in this area, they are collecting and analysing the sources related the 18th -19th centuries (the exhibition will cover this period), systematising the information and looking for something new on the topic.

The concept and content of the project are always primary. They are followed by a list of items to be displayed and detailed research. And not vice versa, like showing collected items and archives just because they are there.

If we talk about a museum as an educational institution, then it works with the most sophisticated objective of modernity — it helps a person navigate the great amount of information and independently form a complex understanding of the world. For instance, in the urban environment, we are helped by design and navigation. But a 21st century person is living in two worlds — real and virtual. The virtual world in its size is comparable to the real one and provides a huge amount of information, and the amount of this information is growing, which makes it more difficult to digest.

Over time, museums as places to store artefacts of the real world and as places systematising information of the virtual world, as I see it, will turn into platforms that link these worlds. For instance, we are trying to look into the future and see what Moscow will look like tomorrow. Why? So that today we can do everything in our power to make life in the future better, to pass into the future the history of Moscow, which our museum has been keeping for 120 years.

We are trying to look into the future and see what Moscow will look like tomorrow. Why? So that we can do everything in our power today to make life in the future better, to pass the history of Moscow into the future, which our museum has been keeping for 120 years

Question: Should a museum be a storyteller?

Alina Saprykina: The stories should be told by the museum's exhibitions. It is like creating film scripts. Then, it depends on the technical potential of implementation and a lot of other factors.

Question: If we imagine we are, for example, in 2047, what will Moscow look like?

Alina Saprykina: A cartoon was created for the 120th anniversary of the Museum of Moscow; it goes like this: “The Moscow Mayor is an artificial intellect, the twenty-fifth ring road has been opened, while the museum remains the city's main museum.” Or here, in the corner, there is Konstantin Batynkov’s work titled Moscow, 2117. At our request, the artist painted the capital the way it might look in a hundred years. This is futurology, an artistic personal statement, but that is why it is valuable for us: we can see a perfect space metropolis – at the same time we still recognise Moscow.

The Museum of Moscow collects everything that is related to Moscow, its unique collection consists of a million items, including maps, plans, paintings, drawings, photos, models, prints, documents, objects of everyday life, books, and more — the museum also preserves how our ancestors tried to answer questions about the future look of Moscow. For example, there is a famous series of postcards titled Moscow of the Future, commissioned by the Einem Factory in 1913, the postcards show Moscow the way it might look in 2013. This is one of my favourite exhibits in our collection.

What do I personally think about the future? The city will continue to develop; the pace will accelerate. The city will retain its heritage and architecture. New technologies will be put into practice. People will become more tolerant of each other, there is no other way. By the way, what foreigners find most striking is that Moscow provides so many opportunities and combines a lot in itself. As if it were not a city, but a layer cake, in which very different people live, where history and modernity coexist, and new ideas are born at the intersection. I think it’s this uniqueness that leads us into the future.

Museum of Moscow – the city’s museum, a micromodel of Moscow

Question: Could the museum’s platform turn into an urban environment, go out into open spaces and into a “non-sterile” environment for exhibits and projects?

Alina Saprykina: There are various museums: art, science, music, military-historical, literary, and memorial museums... And a city museum – there can be one in any city or town. There is one in every metropolis or capital – in New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Shanghai. By the way, city museums are very different, and each of them, like a mirror, reflects its city. Imagine a city’s micromodel that reflects the city’s structure in miniature. This is what a city museum should be like. It does have to go out in an open environment, both with exhibits and ideas.

Residents of the city feel in this museum like at home, while for tourists the museum offers an opportunity to come into contact with something real, alive

Question: How do you compare the city’s main art gallery and the city’s main museum, for instance?

Alina Saprykina: Let's take travel, for example. As we know, there are two common types of travel: the first is to buy a trip and travel to another country with a package of tours plus a guide; and the second, which is to stay with local people. The latter means an opportunity to visit a birthday or a wedding, to try home cooking, to feel the place’s singularity and energy. Likewise, an art gallery gives you an opportunity to see the best masterpieces stored in the city, while a museum of the city is a platform that plunges you into the history, as well as the modern atmosphere of the place. City residents feel in this museum like they do at home, while for tourists the museum offers an opportunity to come into contact with something important for understanding, real, alive as well as with what is currently happening in the city.

Muscovites and foreigners

Question: What exhibitions or exhibits interest visitors the most – historical or modern?

Alina Saprykina: A difficult question. Is our Moscow Thaw exhibition historical or modern? This project explained why we have become what we are now, what we think, how these concepts have been formed, what our current ideals are and why. The exhibition answered these questions, how certain events influenced people: the first manned flight into space, the first Moscow film festival, the first rock festival, the opening of the Genetics Institute, and so on. The exhibition was a project about today’s Moscow, but it also told people about the Thaw as well.

Currently, we are working on an exhibition titled Three Festivals dedicated, on one hand, to the future Global Youth and Students Festival to be held in Sochi. On the other hand, the exhibition will present the generations of the 1950s and 1980s and what earlier youth and students festivals, held in Moscow, were like.

The Moscow. Fashion and Revolution exhibition, which ended recently, showed the 1917 revolution, events which took place ten years before and ten years after it, covering the period from 1907 to 1927. This was presented through modern language, but it was about a past historical period. A connection is always there. The connection is most interesting.

Question: Is there something that makes Muscovites different from other visitors at the museum?

Alina Saprykina: We always say that the museum's mission is to unite different audiences, given that everyone has his/her own preferences. For example, Muscovites, aged 60 plus, are often nostalgic about a bygone era and like exhibitions dedicated to their time, to a Moscow that is no longer there. Children are interested in everything that is happening in the city right now, especially where they can be active participants.

Muscovites see the city through their own life. Adults do it through their memories, children – through active experience. Our exhibitions always offer separate routes for children and for adults, for example, our exhibition titled History of Moscow for Children and for Adults. These two groups look for different things, and the museum seeks to help all visitors find what they need.

Muscovites see the city through their own life. Adults do it through their memories, children –through an opportunity to participate in something

Question: How do foreigners see the museum?

Alina Saprykina: Foreigners that visit our museum come in contact with the city, which they, as a rule, have seen in films, photos and about which they have formed a certain idea. Visiting us, guests find themselves behind the scenes of a diverse metropolis with a rich and interesting history and they re-discover Moscow. Tourists experience a feeling of discovery, while Muscovites experience a feeling of belonging.

Opportunity to touch, create, or participate

Question: Speaking of belonging, are visitors allowed to take photos and touch exhibits?

Alina Saprykina: Taking photos is allowed in the museum, and there are also exhibitions, where you can touch the items on display. These are replicas, which are often indistinguishable from the originals. Currently, museums have items that you can touch, costumes that you can wear. On top of this, there are exhibitions in production of which you can participate.

To participate in the most unusual tours around the museum or the local area, to illustrate a book, to create a cartoon, to organise a theatrical performance and take part in it – all of this is currently possible in the museum

You can also explore an exhibit with a guide. There is a lot to choose from – you can ask for a guide, or a candidate of the sciences, or even the curator-author of an exhibition, and maybe even the keeper, and afterwards go with the person to see how the museum’s archive works. In the museum you can watch a film, attend a lecture, buy rare books at a souvenir shop, have a good lunch. You can also celebrate a birthday with an intricate quest for guests around an exhibition. This summer, the museum also offers a children's camp. You can lie on the lawn in the yard and simply enjoy the sun. Recently, newlyweds have come to take photos in the yard against the Provision Warehouses, whose buildings, a rare specimen of the empire style, were created by the architect Vasily Stasov in1835, and it seems to be a good sign.

To participate in the most unusual tours around the museum or the local area, to illustrate a book, to create a cartoon, to organise a theatrical performance and take part in it – all of this is currently possible in the museum.