What is Tselinny Online?

Self-isolation during a pandemic is a difficult task and it doesn't necessarily come easy to people in general and to all of us in economic, social and cultural sense. Many museums, contemporary art centers, galleries, universities and other institutions, whose operation processes always revolved around certain spatial relations between subjects and objects, are now forced to seek alternative ways of interaction. As of today, WHO claimed that COVID-19 to be the first controlled pandemic to hit the world, since office workers and students have the opportunity to isolate themselves during this difficult time, while continuing their educational and work related activities. Self-isolation, first and foremost, is a personal responsibility not only for oneself, but also for others people around.

Courtesy of Matter Of

Main view. photo of 1960s

The main task that Tselinny Center of Contemporary Culture sets for the future is to adapt the building of the former cinema into new functions and projects in the framework of exhibition, education and research programs, so that our audience could get acquainted with local and international cultural processes. Our team, much like other cultural institutions, questions the main goals of a museum space in current circumstances, especially when the formal space of the institution, as it is, disappears, becomes temporarily unreachable. Current pandemic helped many questions, which were emerging since the tech boom of late 90’s, resurface, one of these questions being directly related to culture.
What is happening to the culture with the development of the Internet and what role do centers of culture have in this process?
It is important to understand that this question stands open. We do not have an answer yet, However, there is an emerging dynamic of a certain shift towards the online that we see in some services of local and international cultural institutions. Right now more than ever we are witnessing resources, access to which was confined in physical space, getting opened for a wider public. For example, Bolshoi Theatre, while being unable to host an audience for the shows during quarantine resorted to online translations through YouTube. A precedent that before only existed in an experimental key.

Now, while observing other spaces, we understand the importance of an experimental approach towards the matters of culture in present circumstances. Our team is not opening this portal to obey some sort of conventional stereotyped museum orders, we are doing it to share, crate and, most importantly, interact. Removing the space from the equation, we are opening an experimental field, where interactions are not limited by any rules.
A bit on the history of the building and its transformation from a cinema into a center of contemporary culture. Originally created as a replication style building, Tselinny cinema quickly became one of the most popular places in the city where students would go to skip classes and young people had dates. Its unique visual image facing Alma-Ata ‘Broadway’ with the luminous glass facade of the foyer developed because of the Evgeni Sidorkin’s sgraffito visible from the street.

The construction of Tselinny was completed in 1964 and marked the beginning of the city’s westward movement: there still were huts around the area. The author of the replication project was S. Rosenblum, architects V. Katsev and B. Tyutin, together with engineer V. Semenov were involved in its adaptation to the site.

According to the urban planning tradition of that time, religious buildings were usually given the role of closing the perspective of the street. So, Kabanbay batyr street or former Kalinina street (one of the central oldest streets of Alma-Ata, called Broadway among the locals), ended with Nikolskaya church. The second wave of the anti-religious campaign was liberal: instead of tearing down the church, it was decided to block its view with the first panoramic cinema in the city.

For this purpose, the rear wall of the cinema was raised as much as possible, expanding the space of the hall and visually following the beam of the projector. However, it was difficult to look away from the unusual for Alma-Ata glass facade: for the first time the borders between the building and the city were erased, and the street flowed smoothly into its interior. Undoubtedly, the most valued decoration of the cinema was the sgraffito made by one of republic’s main graphic artists, Yevgeny Sidorkin, who gave Kazakh traditions a modern interpretation in his works.
Unfortunately, despite a carefully thought-out visual image, immediately after the opening the architects' oversight became obvious: the modest foyer area of 300 m2 simply could not accommodate everyone who wanted to get into the session. This problem was even highlighted in 1966 by the ‘New World!’ magazine: “before the start of the sessions the audience accumulates directly in the hall, the administration is forced to increase the breaks between the sessions and, therefore, reduce the number of sessions themselves, [...] therefore, the daily incomes of spectacular enterprises are reduced.”.

Nevertheless, it did not prevent the citizens from becoming the part of Tselinny’s history: once having bought a ticket for 50 kopecks, they still remember what kind of a session it was, how they went to the movie club for high school students and played the sea battle in the foyer. So, the cinema hall meant for one and a half thousand seats reached a record for those times mark of two million viewers in 1982.

The building underwent many modifications since the 2000’s. The first extensive reconstruction significantly changed the looks and functional layouts of the building. The panoramic cinema was made into a normal cinema with two film halls with capacities for 255 seats each. A night club was added in the building. All of the further modifications extended the secondary functions. Tselinny’s sgraffito was replicated outside of the building on the south facing facade.

In 2017, it was decided to transform the cinema into the Center for Contemporary Culture, and in the summer of 2018, Sidorkin's sgraffito that was previously considered lost was found in the lobby of the building - it was simply covered up with drywall. Despite the damage (substructures were driven directly through the drawing), , the restoration concept is currently being developed with the damage taken into consideration.
1.Bronovitskaya, A., Malinin, N., Palmin, Y., - “Alma-Ata: architecture of Soviet modernism 1955-1991. Guide” («Алма-Ата: архитектура советского модернизма 1955-1991. Справочник - путеводитель»), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, 2018, Moscow, - p. 44-48.
The first project of Tselinny Center for Contemporary Culture ‘The Beginning’ was an important event introducing the audience to the future center.

The three parts of the exposition - architectural, artistic and cinematic - were closely related to the history of the building in particular, and the architectural context of Almaty overall, and reflected the program and objectives of the future center. The two-part project ‘The Beginning’ was created with Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Ekaterina Golovatyuk (‘Open Archive. Almaty’) and Meruert Kalieva (‘On the corner: city, place, people’).

The exhibition also featured the presentation of the Almaty Architecture Guide, compiled by Anna Bronovitskaya and Nikolai Malinin, which introduces the readers more closely to the history of the building and modernist Alma-Ata.

After establishment of a new vector for the building itself in ‘The Beginning’, Tselinny, now as the Center of Contemporary Culture, was closed for the reconstruction. For that task, a London-based architect Asif Khan, a master of interdisciplinary projects and innovative technologies and materials, was invited to the project.

In 2007, he founded an architectural bureau where Asif and his team explore how innovation, nature and human perception can be used to denominate and improve the atmosphere of the space. Some of his famous projects include the project of the new Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki, which became a finalist in the international competition among 1,700 anonymous works, as well as the summer pavilion of Serpentine Gallery in London (2016), located in Kensington Gardens.
While changing the new space and working on the future projects, being caught up in a pandemic, the team of Tselinny Center is facing a question of the ways we could interact right now while being distanced and denied access to the physical space. In the new conditions there are no rules, there is only a desire to explore the course of our interactions, their transformation, results and conclusions.
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