This publication picks up on several of the themes which emerge conceptually and artistically in the Central Asian Pavilion project, and elaborates them in a philosophical, historical and poetic register within the specific materiality and temporality of a book—though the website as a repository and forum for these kinds of explorations should be mentioned as well—with its capacity to extend the time, space and context of the ideas beyond the Venice Biennale and to a readership beyond the project’s immediate public. The Pavilion’s organizing metaphor of “Winter” is appropriated from the poem by 19th century Kazakh poet, intellectual and activist Abay Qunanbaiuli. The metaphor of winter here evokes social stagnation, cultural censorship and political unfreedom. It refers to a context where the intensity of debate on social goals lags and there seems to be little or no horizon for change; a situation then, which varies more in degree than in kind from the one we experience in the relatively privileged environs of the North and West of the world of capital, where economy not only comes first, but political means are used to enforce economic goals, imposing and deepening crises of reproduction for billions of people. This is not to lose the specificity of the Central Asian situation, nor the differences between the nation states which fall into that rubric—Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
However, Winter also embodies a potentially transformational character, as winter precedes spring and the snow gives place to a full blossoming; a frozen public dialogue may be replaced by a more participatory one. We believe that art is still able to serve as a catalyst for creating a genuine public debate, to end the state of hibernation and, in short, to open doors for the arrival of spring. A spring that has not yet come to Central Asia.
Featuring essays on the geopolitics of energy, post-Soviet political narratives, art-historical analyses and the political economy of contemporary art in a time of social crisis, the book gives a snapshot of the aesthetic, political and poetic dimensions of the situation in the region.