As Slow Art Day participants, we know the sublime experience that we can have by slowing down to observe and truly take in a piece of art. We spend 10 minutes, 15 minutes—up to an hour—and encourage others to do the same. But we don’t think to suggest that people should spend all day everyday in front of the same artwork. It would never occur to us. Would anyone do that?
These women are retired professionals who serve as guards in art museums all over Russia. They sit on chairs near a particular piece of art in the gallery, their presence so constant that they become part of the viewing experience. Freeberg noticed visual connections between the women and the art they were sitting with, which prompted him to begin taking photos that turned into the Guardians project, a photographic exploration of this uniquely Russian phenomenon.
Why are these women guarding the art instead of uniformed, young guards? Evgeny Berezner of the Russian Ministry of Culture, told Freeberg, “It has to be these ‘not so young’ women because they know the history of our country. Russia has had a very difficult history with its government and rulers over the years, but the one thing all Russians are proud of is our art, our culture. These women are the guardians of our culture.”
These guardians of culture take their jobs seriously. One guardian said that this responsibility is worth the three-hour commute to and from the Tretyakov Galleries museum, where she’s worked for more than 10 years. She told Freeberg she’d rather be sitting among the history of her country than sitting on a bench by her house complaining about her illnesses like other old people do.
Patrons of the museums, however, are so used to the guardians’ presence that they often look past them or don’t notice them at all. What do you think? Are you ready for extremely slow art? If you had to pick one artwork to look at for day, weeks, months and years on end, which would it be?
-written by Jennafer Martin, Slow Art Day blog editor; edited by Phil Terry.