Telling the World about Russia Through Art
Anna V Medleva can be called a legendary person without exaggeration. She was among those few professionals who stood at the origins and development of design in Russia in the 1990s. The expert was involved in the design of large buildings and sites of cultural and aesthetic value as an architect. As a collector and artist in the broadest sense of the word, Anna V Medleva has carried out many unique international projects.
Anna V Medleva
architect, designer, curator of international cultural projects and exhibitions, winner and prize-winner of contests in architecture and design
Anna V Medleva received her first education at the Department of Reconstruction and Restoration of the Moscow Architectural Institute (MARCHI). Then she studied at the Italian Department of the Moscow State Linguistic University and at the Politecnico di Milano. For Anna, Italy remains a country of inspiration, incredible experience, endless creativity, and love to this day.
The professional community knows Anna V Medleva for her courageous solutions and experimental methods. The expert also worked in the field of big architecture and took part in the design of Moscow Hotel, development of park zones in Minsk, creation of an equestrian complex in the New Riga, and project development of other no less large-scale and significant objects.
Anna became fascinated by the exhibition process simultaneously with her professional activities. At the end of the 1990s, she held her first European exhibition in Milan. She demonstrated a unique 3D film depicting the interior of the apartment, which included a collection of decorative objects and furniture that she had personally designed. Real samples of that collection were shown in Italy in 2000. Anna has always wanted to destroy the stereotypes about Russia concerning ‘bears in the streets’, ‘poor education’, and ‘ignorance’.
Anna V Medleva’s studio was the first to show an exhibition of Russian design in Milan. It helped to destroy the myths about the absence of design in Russia. Anna became Russia’s pioneer in the ‘international orbit of design’ in 1999. Interestingly, the opening of the Milan Salon coincided with the Day of Cosmonautics in Russia.
Today, Anna continues to carry out projects in various fields working as an architect, designer, and artist. In her interview with the Global Women Media news agency, she spoke about her most significant initiatives and shared her vision of the design and architecture of the future. The expert explained how art and cultural projects can change society. In addition to her great professionalism and multitude of talents, Anna V Medleva amazes people with the depth of her thinking and wisdom. Talking to her is a wonderful experience and the Global Women Media journalists couldn’t afford missing the chance to interview her.
– How did your love of architecture begin?
– My parents are architects. Although that influenced my decision when choosing my profession, my true love of architecture was born when I came to Moscow and saw the Melnikov House on Krivokolenny Lane. As a student, I often went there, leaned against the fence, admired the building and saw someone living inside. However, I was always very afraid to ring the doorbell. For me, the house was the embodiment of some incredible magic. I understood the brilliance of the man who created it. His thoughts and ideas were ahead of their time. I really wanted to learn to do the same. That’s why I decided to dedicate my first exhibition project in architecture to Konstantin Melnikov.
That decision caused a series of happy accidents. I realized that if we do what we are destined for, the right people and opportunities will certainly appear.
When I decided to create a project related to the Melnikov House, I started calling all my friends in the cultural sector. I tried to find contacts to get in touch with the owners. I wanted to get there with a photographer and take a series of beautiful architectural shots. That same day, a friend of mine who worked at Radio Kultura helped me find the phone number of Ekaterina Karinskaya, Konstantin Melnikov’s granddaughter. However, he warned me that she did not accept anyone at her house and my idea would hardly succeed.
After dialling the number, I told about myself and my particular interest in the house. I heard something that I didn’t expect: I was invited to come at that very moment. Ekaterina Karinskaya had a guest. That was a photographer from St. Petersburg named Aleksey Konin. He took amazing pictures of Melnikov House. Of course, I gave up all my scheduled meetings to fulfil my dream.
After that meeting, Aleksey Konin photographed all the other nine buildings by Konstantin Melnikov. Ekaterina Karinskaya found drawings and sketches designed by her grandfather. So we had a unique exhibition project, the first part of a great trilogy about the past, present, and future of architecture.
– Konstantin Melnikov’s architecture symbolized the past in your project. What symbolized the present and the future?
– The project was created in 2012-2013 and there were a lot of new buildings in Moscow at that time. So everything was quite obvious with the architecture of the present. Concerning the topic of the future, we have another interesting story based on an amazing coincidence.
The future is always related to the younger generation. In my project, I wanted to draw attention to young professionals and show their fresh visions of architecture. I decided to create and hold an architectural contest named after Konstantin Melnikov. I had no experience in such a field and wrote a letter to my friend Bart Goldhoorn, Editor-in-Chief of Project Russia. Together with Sergey Gordeev, the current owner of PIK Group, he had been running a contest for several years. Within its framework, they awarded young architects. Bart Goldhoorn said that they had held two similar events and didn’t know how to present the third one in an original way. That’s how I was invited to join. The very next day, he arrived from the Netherlands to Russia. Another day later, we jointly came up with the task of the first phase of the contest while sitting in my kitchen.
We invited the young professionals to design a bus stop for a bus-only lane. It is a small but socially significant object, in which design and architecture are closely intertwined.
More than 200 candidates applied for the contest. We selected the 20 best projects and organised an exhibition in Milan. We wanted to show the power of Russian architecture to the whole world. The four finalists came to Italy with us and met the jury members (European architects and designers) personally. That was a very valuable and interesting experience both for them and for us.
The second phase of the contest took place in Moscow. The finalist won a $10000 prize. I saw happiness in her eyes and I wanted to do something even bigger and more interesting for the younger generation of architects.
After that, I started paying a lot of attention to creating and organising contests, cooperating with major organisations, and attracting investors. Thanks to my contests, companies found talented young employees and young professionals had the opportunity to enrich their portfolios, expand their professional contacts, and work on real projects.
– What is your vision of the design and architecture of the future? What trends await us in 5-10 years?
– Fashion and trends are quite shaky concepts. First of all, fashion is cyclical. Secondly, people themselves define the criteria of considering something as a trend. For me, to be fashionable means to have good taste and to be able to present your individuality. One can be dressed in branded clothes from head to toe but still look absolutely ridiculous and ugly. The same concerns architecture. The interior is about individuality.
If talking about specific trends in interior design, I see two main ways. The first is related to the rapid development of technologies. Many people are already beginning to minimize the volume of physical data carriers. Everything can be found and stored in gadgets and on cloud servers today. This leads to the fact that huge cabinets and bookshelves are disappearing from interiors. In their turn, ‘smart’ houses with a rather ascetic design are becoming increasingly popular.
I think that, in a few years, people will be able not only to turn on the light by clapping their hands or using a sound command but also to cook dinner by pressing a button on the phone while returning home from work. It is likely that almost all furniture will be automated and its design will be minimized and simplified. The interior will be adapted to make it easier to be cleaned by a robot vacuum cleaner and for cabinets to open at the push of a button. To make that possible, smooth and level surfaces are required.
The future is here, new technologies are among us. Over time, they will evolve and become more accessible. Just as mobile communication, once used only by representatives of the elite, is now used by absolutely everyone.
At the same time, I am more than sure that another trend will remain popular in interior design. It is related to personalisation and individualisation. The human being is a unique creature. It is impossible to find two identical people in the world. Even twins differ from each other in terms of their character, habits, hobbies, and worldviews. That’s why there will always be a trend towards individualization of housing in design and architecture.
In the world of computerization and automation, everything that is created by human hands will be considered more valuable. People will begin to appreciate works of art and handmade objects more.
At the same time, it is important not to forget that a person is not just a body with its habits and needs but also the soul. It is a very delicate substance, which will certainly require ‘soulful’ things in its environment. For us, the things that are pleasant to us, that make us feel warm, and that create atmosphere and mood will always remain important. Such things allow a person to remain human even in the age of high technology.
– Exhibition activities are very important to you. What is your most memorable project?
– A project that has been going on for many years is very important to me. It started in the 1990s when my ex-husband and I went to Milan. When visiting the workshop of our friends, we noticed a collection of amazing porcelain plates. We admired those objects even more after we learned about the concept of the project.
In 1994, when the world was experiencing a technical revolution and people were amazed by new means of communication, Prospero Rasulo, designer from Milan, decided to fulfil an artistic project. It was dedicated to the creation and popularization of the fax machine. The artist phoned 150 of his friends from various cities and countries. Those included famous musicians, opera singers, collectors, designers, stylists, and other people who appreciated the beauty and knew how to create it. He asked them to fax their sketches for painting plates. In response, Prospero Rasulo received more than a hundred images. He translated them into vector graphics and released a collection of these drawings on porcelain. Thus, a unique collection of plates dedicated to the creation of the fax machine was born.
When opening the exhibition, the designer decided to emphasize the idea that new technology has not only allowed to transmit information from remote places but also greatly accelerated all the processes in people’s lives. That is why it was decided to hold the exhibition only one night.
The exhibition was so popular that the flow of people willing to visit it did not stop.
The company involved in the production of the famous plates decided to repeat the success and produced a limited edition of the 40 most popular images. Those were the plates that we saw in the workshop of our friends.
We returned to Russia and could not stop thinking about the story of the plates. They impressed us very much. Then we decided to buy the 40 plates. After calling our friend in Milan, we found out that only 3 plates were left: the others had been sold out to people from different countries. After painstaking searching and negotiations, we managed to collect all 40 plates.
I wanted very much to share this amazing story with others, to show the design and images created by those amazing people. At first, we had an exhibition in our studio on Arbat Street. Then we took the collection and other unique Italian design objects to Kazan and St. Petersburg. However, even that was not enough for me. For almost 20 years, I nurtured the idea of developing and scaling up the project. I wanted to give it a ‘second life’.
In 2016, I had the idea to dedicate an exhibition to the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 and create a new collection of plates. The main problem was to find partners. We invested an incredible amount of money in producing them but the process itself was very fascinating and really magical. Fortunately, my enthusiasm interested many like-minders and demonstrated the value and uniqueness of the project to them.
The Director of Creative Projects at Imperial Porcelain Factory supported us greatly. He personally met me at the train station in St. Petersburg, gave me a tour of the factory, and expressed his desire to cooperate after looking at the samples of plates. He was also supported by the director of the factory. So I was given 500 copies of the Imperial Porcelain Factory’s plates.
Later the ROCA group, which is a famous Swiss-Spanish company, joined us. The world’s most famous designers work with this company. Together we created a limited-edition collection of 100 plates. I got in touch with Prospero Rasulo and involved Olga Strada in the project. She was the Director of the Institute of Italian Culture in Moscow. Jointly we managed to bring together 50 Italian and 50 Russian artists. The exhibition took place in Moscow and received a great positive response from the audience.
I was happy, but even that did not seem to be enough. After all, the 20th century was interesting not only thanks to the October Revolution. It was full of many other events that changed the world order.
In the 20th century, many events in science, medicine, politics, and social life affected the formation of people’s worldviews and made us who we are now. I wanted to write a sincere chronicle of the past century by means of art. As opposed to text, art can never be faked because it is based on feelings and emotional perception. Many of my friends and acquaintances liked the idea of the project. Thus, an increasing number of people wanted to take part in it. Together we created another unique collection of porcelain plates with thematic images.
On February 20, 2020, we opened an exhibition dedicated to the 20th century at the Museum of the Revolution at the Moscow English Club. The state commission of the museum recognized our collection as a historical and cultural value of the Russian Federation. I was given a letter of thanks and presented 19 plates to the Ceramics and Glass Foundation. They are currently exhibited together with the plates of the famous artist Sergey Chukhonin and are involved in the thematic expositions of the museum.
Today, we are getting ready to host the third part of the project. It will also be devoted to the 20th and 21st centuries. We are preparing something very emotional and unusual. It will include a performance and an immersion show.
– You are a person of many talents. Based on our discussion, the following question arises. Are such professions as designer, architect, and artist closely intertwined? Can these specialists choose only one narrow direction for themselves?
– First of all, it is important to understand that interior design and architecture are so closely interrelated that it is impossible to separate one from the other. If we turn to the works of such talented architects as Le Corbusier, Ricardo Legorreta, Michael Graves, or Zaha Hadid, we can see how thoroughly designed all the details of a space can be. Oftentimes, they are thought through so well that creating an additional interior design is simply not necessary.
Conversely, in bad architecture, you can only fix the situation with good design. The interior design can fill the space with life and light. Ideally, teamwork is important to ensure a smooth transition from interior to exterior and back again.
For me, design and architecture are certainly interrelated. About 25 years ago, I was involved in the creation of the ‘Details’ Design School. Even at that time, other team members and I discussed the necessity to form specialists’ spatial thinking, understanding of composition, and laws of colour science. All that is the foundation of architectural education, which is no less important for designers.
Thanks to some circumstances, I’m going to return to the ‘Details’ Design School as a teacher. I’m very happy about that. We are talking about the importance of bringing architecture and design closer together. There will be a whole separate course dedicated to that synthesis. I will be directly involved in that programme.
When a professional knows the tools of architecture, he or she is able to develop not only in interior design but also in industrial design. He or she has a good knowledge of the materials and laws of the surrounding spaces. Thus, it becomes easy for a professional to come up with an idea of any object: a table, a chair, or anything else. The more complex the object is, the more the professional needs to delve into related areas. However, the foundation will always remain the same.
The universality of education lies in the fact that it allows a person to create a variety of things using his or her creative thinking. That is the reason why MARCHI trained a large number of not only good architects but also talented artists, musicians, poets, fashion designers, theatrical cinematographers, and directors.
Architecture is the synthesis of science and art, the intersection of a huge number of different branches. Such synergy makes it possible for a person to think outside the box and create.
– What is the most important project for you today?
– That project is not related to architecture. However, it is very important to me. I was unhappy to face cancer some time ago. That was a big blow and shock to me. Before that, I had always considered myself to be the healthiest person in the world. However, that was a challenge that I had to overcome.
When I was in the hospital, I had the idea of a project that I’m still carrying out today. It is called Light in the Dark and is aimed at showing the life and beauty of people who faced cancer. The project includes photo exhibitions, educational meetings, and art events. It also provides an educational platform, a website with useful information, tools, and psychological support.
Unfortunately, people are still poorly aware of cancer-related issues. There is some rejection, avoidance of the problem, unwillingness to understand the difficulties faced by oncological patients. As studies show, a huge number of people still believe that cancer is contagious. Many people think that cancer is predicted by one’s fate and one should stay away from cancer patients. People’s ignorance is what makes us scared.
To change the situation, we need to bring up a certain culture in the society, talk more openly about the problems, and not avoid discussing them. Then the society will reach a new level of awareness. Most people will understand that a bald woman is not always about a protest or showing off and that beauty is not just about hair.
People are very beautiful beings. They contain whole inner worlds. Those worlds manifest themselves differently in each of us.
I wanted to talk about that beauty through my Light in the Dark project. People who have survived serious illness admire their inner strength and commitment to deep human values.
During my time in the hospital, I realized once again the importance of a unique story, emotions, events, and experience that each of us has. All that makes us who we are now. There is nothing more important than feeling beautiful and happy within in the present. It’s silly to want something from tomorrow if you haven’t fully lived today.
– We live in a world full of negativity. The information flow focuses on scandalous topics and provocative issues. However, people’s minds depend on what information they consume. How can we change the situation today?
– This is a philosophical question. The answer can be found at the intersection of such concepts as love, kindness, and the desire to create. We live in a world of consumption and rapid processes. With such a huge flow of information, it is very difficult to ‘catch’ something really valuable, important, and useful for bringing up the right way of thinking. Unfortunately, the vast majority of today’s youth are far from beautiful things due to many reasons.
If talking about Russia and the countries of Europe from a historical point of view, all that was preceded by economic crises and wars. For a long time, people had no goals except for preserving life. When I was a child, I saw how difficult life was for our family. I remember how food could only be bought with ration cards. Sometimes there was a shortage of goods. When I grew up, I wanted to do my best to make sure that my children have everything they need. An entire generation of parents thought about that.
A lot depends on the family and the environment, in which one grows up. For children who are brought up in abundance, it is often difficult to understand what is good and what is bad, what is really valuable and what is useless.
Today’s situation is the logical outcome of the 1990s. We brought up a generation of consumers who take many things for granted. Beauty is considered not as a desire to create but as something that one has the right to have. Of course, I am talking not about everyone but about the majority of modern people.
Sometimes it is challenges faced by people that develop their ability to notice the beauty in simple things. That is why I believe that a healthy balance is important at the time of the formation of personality. A person must understand from a young age that the world around him or her did not appear on its own but other people created it and continue to do so.
How can we fix the situation? Through cultural projects, introducing the younger generation to art. However, we must understand that our children have a completely different perception of the world. They may be bored and uninterested in the formats habitual to us. Scientists have already proved that the new generation does not pay attention to static images. They perceive movement and interactivity better. To attract the interest of the young audience, it is necessary to keep up with the times, use new means of communication, and create immersive projects that will correspond to modern formats.
– What would you wish women of the world?
– I would like to wish women from different countries to love themselves. That determines what the world around them will be like. If we love ourselves, we are ready to give our love to others. The more we give, the more we get in return. This simple principle is the foundation the world leans on. When there is love, everything works out.
Women are very strong spiritually and morally. As mothers, they can teach the younger generations a lot. The future of the whole planet depends on that. I believe that unconditional love is the main thing we can teach our children.
Marina Volynkina, Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov