Towards Luminescent Ethnography of Creative Work: Purity, Dirt and Social Inequality in Russian Art Institutions
This article investigates the idiosyncrasies of creative work in Russian art institutions through a study of their materialities. As identified in previous research (Gill 2002, Mcrobbie 2015, Hesmondhalgh and Baker 2013), social inequalities are a significant feature of creative work. I argue, however, that in order to reveal inequalities that are constructed performatively, i.e. in the ‘here’ and ‘now’, we need to further develop the existing arsenal of methods that is employed in critical creative work studies. In the Russian case, art institutions display a wealth of techniques for constructing and maintaining hierarchies, which of necessity must frequently be re-established due to conditions in the local context. In particular, the following explores two perennial paradigms of cultural production: ‘high culture’ and ‘creativity’. As these paradigms co-exist in the economy of the Russian art world, they compete for resources including funding, public attention and legitimation. In the struggle, a binary of purity/dirt develops the social space of institutions, organizational identities and hierarchies inside and between organizations. This paper primarily focuses on an ethnographic study of cultural producers from the visual arts sector in Russia’s two largest cities: Moscow and St Petersburg.