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New gallery flaunts Russia's love for US series Santa Barbara

AFP logo AFP 12/3/2021 AFP
Visitors in the GES-2 contemporary arts centre on the banks of the Moskva River in Moscow © Dimitar DILKOFF Visitors in the GES-2 contemporary arts centre on the banks of the Moskva River in Moscow

After fading into obscurity in United States where it was conceived, the 80s hit TV series Santa Barbara became an unlikely success in post-Soviet Russia during its pivot towards US-style capitalism.

Now, with the opening Saturday of a grandiose contemporary art facility in Moscow, GES-2, the show is claiming its hallowed place in Russia with an exhibition that will see episodes recreated in a series of single takes over several months.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (c) and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin (l) touring the GES-2 on Wednesday with Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson, who funded the new art gallery © Mikhail Metzel Russian President Vladimir Putin (c) and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin (l) touring the GES-2 on Wednesday with Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson, who funded the new art gallery

One day before opening, the corridors of GES-2 -- designed by Renzo Piano and funded by Russian oligarch Leonid Mikhelson -- were bustling with actors in 1980s costume.

The project by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson will bring back to life nearly one hundred episodes of the series -- one per day until March -- with the help of a cast that includes acclaimed Russian actors.

The new contemporary arts centre has been created in the shell of a century-old plant that used to supply the Kremlin with electricity © Dimitar DILKOFF The new contemporary arts centre has been created in the shell of a century-old plant that used to supply the Kremlin with electricity

"It's a historical painting" of a time when Russia was "obsessed" with the series known for its kitsch, Kjartansson said, in suit and sneakers with a red beard protruding from his mask.


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"Santa Barbara had huge importance in the post-soviet times and created capitalistic aspirations for people living in socialism".

"But it's also just fun. It's Santa Barbara!"

"Russian culture is more than cliches. And to talk about cliches is the best way to counter them," said Teresa Mavica, the director of the VAC foundation of which the new museum is a part.

The TV series was launched in the United States in 1984 and arrived in Russia in early 1992, as the country entered into a period of historic economic instability following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

For many Russians, Santa Barabara was their first contact with Western pop culture and an important mode of escapism, with Californian love scandals breaking the mundanity of everyday life.

But the craze for the series also marked a rejection of all that was Soviet in a Russia that was beginning to find its post-Soviet identity.

The performance nods to politics, posing the question through its title: "How Not to Be Colonised?"

The programme notes describe Santa Barbara as the first US series to appear in Russia and also the running longest series on television in the country.

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