There’s a new cultural platform in town that’s bringing Eastern European art and culture to Berlin. Founded by Saint-Petersburg born Boris Schneider and Elizabeth Short, a native Brit, preparations for ЧТО’s debut are under way ahead of their first event at the beginning of April.
Boris was born in Saint-Petersburg – called Leningrad back then – in the late 1980s. When he was around the age of six, his family relocated to Cologne, where he spent most of his adolescence. His parents would always speak in Russian to him and expose him to music, film, and literature in his mother tongue. Until this day he remains equally hooked on artists as diverse as Viktor Tsoi and Daniil Kharms. In 2012, Boris moved to Berlin to study economics, political science, and Eastern European studies, and has been working in Berlin’s political sector for a few years. He quickly fell in love with the former walled city’s unique blend of East and West and its eclectic cultural intermixture. Not least due to the geographical proximity, he started traveling the former Eastern bloc, which – symbolically – began in Berlin: from Estonia to Georgia and most of the countries in between.
Elizabeth moved to Berlin about five years ago after getting a job at an international news agency. Her affection for Eastern Europe however, rooted itself long before. On one of her first trips, she took the train from Budapest to Novi Sad in Serbia. “You didn’t have to travel far to witness sharp cultural contrasts”, she says. “Coming from a post-industrial town in northern England, at times the landscape feels almost familiar, so there is this strange feeling – a nostalgia towards an unknown place” It wasn’t long before she began hopping on trains, planes and marshrutkas to Poland, Bosnia and Moldova. Soon she started to go further afield, chronicling her journeys to her favourite destinations, Ukraine and Georgia.
One summer’s day, Elizabeth and Boris were walking around a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. They realised that while Berlin is home to an infinite number of creatives from ‘the East’, it lacks a venue specialized in music, books, and art from this endlessly diverse space.
They began describing their perfect hangout place – somewhere that was like nowhere else in the city. They decided that there wasn’t really any one place where you could get a good selection of English and Russian books about the region. There were no such places that simultaneously had art, clothes, and knick-knacks, where you could listen to eclectic playlists while supping on wine from Ukraine and Georgia. So thus, Shto was born!
Speaking about the artists, Elizabeth says that Boris and she were very lucky to have gathered such a talented and diverse group of people for the first event. Some are friends of friends, others were found through social media. “It’s a bit out-there – showing work from some people who we only knew through Instagram, but it’s nice that social media can be utilised like this – being super well established or having loads of connections doesn’t matter so much.”
Among those participating in the upcoming event is photographer Carolina Dutca, who will be displaying her series ‘NO SILENCE’. The photos explore the challenges faced by the LGBT community in Transnistria, an unrecognized territory located between Moldova and Ukraine. Another photographer, Ekaterina Bodygina is presenting a project called ‘Dachas’ – a collective portrait of holiday homes found in a village near where her grandmother lives in Russia. Then there’s Eugene Tsymbalyuk, from Ukraine, who has taken photos of avant-garde style shapes that have been painted by public sector workers trying to cover graffiti.
One of the artists, Olesya, will be selling ceramics made using traditional methods and materials all the way from Siberia. She’s brought her own handmade pieces over 5,000 km away from Krasnoyarsk. There’s the Goldman Sisters – Yulia and Jane, who are making hand-painted leather jackets and DIY tees. Then there are the works by Monika Kalinowska from Poland, who crafts textile art – in the form of beautiful wall-hangings and pieces of tapestry. She also makes macrame-style plant holders and will be selling a range of rare and exotic plants with her other project Plant Circle. All works are diverse, unique, and all from the East.
It’s set to be a special weekend like no-other in Berlin!
Lizzy and Boris from Shto Berlin will be happy to see you on Friday and Saturday, April 6-7 at 82 Reuterstrasse.