The ten objects presented here were chosen from hundreds of objects from historic collections in a collaborative and participatory way facilitated by curator Irina Leifer. Although these objects served as a point of departure for the contemporary artworks they could not be present in the workshops and the exhibition. Therefore Virtual Reality provided for an exciting substitute. The 10 films hereunder are made from the programmed 3D experience of the objects. Here is some historic context:
In 1668, the Dutch seaman Jan Struys lands in Russia. At the time the country is ruled by tsar Alexey Mikhailovich Romanov, father of Peter the Great. The voyager gets well acquainted with the everyday life of the Muscovians that he would eventually describe in his travel accounts in much detail. This catalogue features several exhibits of the second half of the 17th century that belong to the Museum of Moscow. All of these items have been discovered during archaeological excavations that enhance the Museum’s collection every year. Struys must have used similar objects.
All riders were familiar with iron stirrups. The cross guard of a sword was designed to protect the hands of the swordsman. Cruciate guards were very popular in Eastern Europe: these sabers were known as Polish or Hungarian. Battle axes with long shafts and wide semicircular blades were also widely used as cold armes. Their Russian name, berdysz, comes from Poland. The streltsy, or the infantry units, were thus armed. Jan Struys calls them the Strelitzers, or Soldatesque. Battle axes were quite common in Western Europe but the sheer size of the Russian ones amazed foreign travellers.
For common citizens, an iron axe would come in handy both in building and defence. Struys describes a quarrel where the adversaries of the Dutch company used axes against the sharp teeth of a dog. Soldiers and battle scenes appear frequently on Russian tiles that sometimes feature mythical warriors such as centaurs. Tiles were made of clay shaped by wooden molds while pottery wheels were used to produce jugs. The Dutch voyager describes the utensils of the Russians, “which are Earthen or Iron Pots, Wooden Dishes, Brandy-and Metheglin-Cups”. In a wealthy household drinks were offered in silver tumblers, cups and goblets. The Museum of Moscow has an entire hoard of precious 17th century vessels discovered during excavations of the Gostiny Dvor, or merchant yard, next to the Kremlin.
Potters in Moscow favoured animal shapes. The ewers often had horse-head or ram-head spouts, normally either one or two. Four lips were extremely rare. Bird figurines were whistle toys for children who also liked to play with toy bears made of clay. The triangular iron padlock used to lock jewellery boxes is so tiny it also seems toylike.
Flat-soled porshen shoes were made out of single pieces of leather tied around the feet with straps. Ordinary citizens wore porshen-shoes instead of bast shoes. As for peasants, according to Struys, “their Boots and Shooes are made of the Barks of Trees cunningly plated”. Bast was also used to make baskets and wicker boxes for storage and floats for fishing nets which were essentially frames of thin branches banded with peeled bark. “The Rivers and standing Lakes are stored with Fish of all kinds, which are throughout the whole Land incredibly cheap,” remarks Struys. Curious details in the writings of the untiring Dutchman and the exhibits of the Museum of Moscow seem related.