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The House of Culture

GES-2 House of Culture is a cultural institution and urban space, the main platform of V–A–C Foundation in Russia.


All photos: Gleb Leonov

V–A–C Foundation, a non-profit set up in 2009 by Leonid Mikhelson, seeks to develop a new language for contemporary cultural processes through exhibitional, educational, publishing, and performative programmes run in collaboration with artists, researchers, and the public. Transcending disciplinary boundaries through experimentation, V–A–C rethinks systems of cultural production and undermines conventional hierarchies (expert vs. non-expert, local context vs. global context, etc.) in the dissemination of knowledge.

The opening of GES-2 House of Culture in 2021 was a defining moment for V–A–C. GES-2 is a space capable of showcasing contemporary culture in all its diversity, and it has enabled V–A–C to invite a broad audience to participate in collaborative cultural production. The name of GES-2 House of Culture references the Russian “people’s houses” of the late nineteenth century and the Soviet “houses of culture,” these institutions were found in nearly all of the country’s towns and cities and provided the space and resources for anyone to take part in cultural production. Like its antecedents, GES-2 is a place where art and culture become part of everyday experience. Ideas of involvement, participation, co-creation, and filling a space with human energy were of central importance to the architect Renzo Piano when, along with his team at the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, he transformed this historic power plant at the centre of Moscow into (in Piano’s words) “a snow-white factory, a greenhouse of art, a temple of light,” that is always open to all.

GES-2 House of Culture is not a museum in the traditional sense. It is also not an exhibition space, a theatre, or a concert hall. The exhibitions, performances, concerts, educational programmes, workshops, laboratories, book presentations, and film screenings that take place at GES-2 transcend the limitations traditionally associated with events of their kind. GES-2 is a single living space that shapes contemporary culture and takes it forward, a space where audience, artists, and institution interact with one another as equals.

The House of Culture brings together exhibition halls, a cinema and concert hall, a central promenade (the Prospekt), a library, the Vaults Centre for Artistic Production, studios and residences for artists, play and creative areas for children (the Atelier), spaces for public and educational events, a bookshop, a restaurant and several cafés, a multi-level car park, an observation deck with a view over the Moscow River, and a birch forest behind its main building.

The activities run by V–A–C at GES-2 are as numerous and varied as the House of Culture’s premises. Alongside its five principal programmes—exhibition, film, music, dance, and theatre—the House of Culture actively works with children, teenagers, and urban communities and collaborates with schools, universities, and cultural initiatives in towns and cities all over Russia. Mediation, inclusiveness, and playful practice run through everything that takes place at the House of Culture. A system of open-calls and grants, special residency programmes, and programmes for public use of the facilities of the Vaults Centre for Artistic Production widen cultural opportunities for creative people from all walks of life. We support research initiatives in architecture, sound, fashion, science, literature, and olfactory studies, at once encouraging experiment and building on our past experience. V–A–C Press, the publishing programme of V–A–C Foundation, works in two complementary directions: it provides Russian readers with access to important new or untranslated foreign works and supports Russian authors by promoting their work in Russia and abroad.

The polyphony of contemporary culture that fills GES-2 is organised around three core values:

Accessibility, by which we do not just mean the accessibility of the building to all visitors but sincere openness and interest in every person that visits the House of Culture and the communities each of them represents.

Cultural production as a living process in which the participants are not just the artist and the institution, but also the audience. Every project at GES-2 House of Culture is a space for dialogue between professionals and non-professionals from different spheres.

Interdisciplinarity, which is present in everything we do. Our projects go beyond the limitations of specific genres and bring together the most diverse areas of artistic creativity.

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