Artist Olga Grotova is in residence at Studio Voltaire until July 2023, continuing and expanding her practice-based research project, The Friendship Garden. This project explores the land cultivation practices of Soviet women under the authoritarian state. The residency will comprise a public programme of events, workshops and talks, and will culminate in a display in the Project Studio in 2023.
The Friendship Garden takes the history of the artist’s grandmothers’ garden in the Urals as a prompt to explore alternative economic systems based on friendship, cooperation, and care across diverse communities, diasporas and generations. Through this marginalised female history, Grotova will explore gardening as means of resistance to patriarchy and oppression and open up public discussions about the consequences of Soviet and British colonialism, the body’s connection to the land and friendship as an alternative economic force. Whilst women and marginalised people still have to carve out spaces for themselves, gardens serve as a powerful tool to express oneself and thrive.
The project’s starting point is the history of ‘Friendship’, an allotment cooperative where Grotova’s great-grandmother, Klavdia, and her grandmother, Marina, had a plot for three decades from the 1960s, in the aftermath of their return from ALZHIR – an all-female gulag camp for ‘Wives of Traitors to the Motherland’. Friendship was situated on the border with the vast forest that camouflaged a myriad of nuclear research towns. The garden’s timeline ran parallel to the Cold War but existed outside the official history, instead existing in sync with the lunar cycles, plants, and lives of the female gardeners. The allotment garden became a site where the women’s trauma could be processed through engagement with the land. Since the garden also served as the main source of food, the wellbeing of all the neighbours depended on collaboration and friendship.
Through this residency, Grotova will explore multiple aspects of gardening with diverse communities of allotment tenants, horticulturists, artists and thinkers, with a particular focus on the East European community and the Caribbean diaspora. Together, these participants will explore and intensively consider caring cultures and their implications for anti-extractivism, resistance and solidarity. The residency will prioritise inter-cultural dialogue and exchange, horizontality, friendship and experimentation.