The Biennale was organized by the Yakutsk-based Laboratory for Complex Geo-Cultural Research of the Arctic (LKGIA) in collaboration with several Yakutian organizations. A room rented at the National Museum of Art became the exhibition venue for the main project. The work of curators and artists-in-residence was funded by the Office of the Mayor of Yakutsk. The LKGIA Lab had been set up three years prior by a group of Yakutia-based scholars and culture-makers supported by a grant from the Russian Science Foundation. It was conceived of as an interdisciplinary research platform for arts and humanities. Dmitry Zamyatin, a Moscow-based geographer, author and cultural theorist, was invited to head the LKGIA Lab; he, in turn, invited myself and a few other people from the Moscow academic community to join in their work.
The "complex geo-cultural research" masterminded by Dmitry Zamyatin became the central focus of the Lab. In general, this institution has aspired to somehow "get a hold" of the Arctic discourse in the field of humanities and social studies by positioning and promoting Yakutsk, the city that is currently undergoing a remarkable surge of activity, as the "capital" of this discourse. Yakutsk has always been one of the hubs for the exploration and development of the Arctic, which today experiences a new wave of colonization, although this time this colonization is to a large extent, academic and artistic.
The Permafrost-themed Zeroth Arctic Biennale was to become the culmination, the grande finale of the LKGIA Lab [three-year] activities. I was invited to curate the main project and a two-week residency for several artists whom I had selected. For the residency it seemed important to create projects in collaboration with Yakutia-based institutions and artists, as well as other local cultural workers. There was also an open call in Yakutsk supported by the organizers. We managed to work together with a number of institutions, for instance, with the Melnikov Yakutian Institute for Permafrost Research, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, that enabled us to receive some exhibits from them and to install one of the projects on their premises. We also collaborated with the Museum and Center of The Khomus of The People of The World, the National Moving Image Archive of Sakha-Yakutia, the Mammoth Museum, the Emelyan Yaroslavsky Yakutian State Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of the North, the Sakha-Yakutian Artists' Union, the Arctic State Institute of Culture and Arts, as well as with a number of local historians.
Of the ten participating artists (Ayiyna Alekseeva, Alina Fedotova, Irina Filatova, Dzhuliana Semenova, Antonina Shadrina, Max Sher, Yegor Sleptsov, Mikhail Starostin, Nina Velmina, Nikolay Vetter) only three were from Moscow, the rest were based in Yakutsk. This means that the project was almost completely entrenched in the local context. The show comprised moving imagery and exhibits from the Institute of Permafrost. For me as a curator, it was important to create a coherent narrative of the permafrost by embedding particular projects into it. "Lateral" connections among the exhibits grew increasingly important as the project enfolded while the works of artists from various contexts, as well as scholarly objects, archival and local history materials (including works authored by someone who had never worked as an artist before) became equal in terms of their functional status.
The exhibition was divided into sections and their sequence worked to develop the narrative. The key points of it were the Subterranean Museum of Eternity; the scientific discourse on the permafrost and the work of the Institute of Permafrost; the underworld as a reality of animism as juxtaposed with the scientific discourse of human beings as such; immortality and the surface of Earth; going deeper into the Earth as humanity's perennial dream. In the future, each of these topics, albeit overlapping, can become a research subject in and of itself. The purpose of this text is to introduce the project that took shape in Yakutsk and to provide an overview of all of the topics listed earlier. It was also meant to function as an index section for the exhibition.