Some of Kazakhstan’s homegrown contemporary artists count among their influences their native land and its traditions — from the sprawling beauty of the Steppe, to lovingly produced crafts, such as jewelry and felt mats. For the lucky few, selected to display artwork at Expo 2017 Astana, Nature’s elements and its energy systems (explored on the various levels of the sphere) have also ignited a creative fire.
The resulting Expo art pieces are located in seating areas on each level of the Nur Alem globe. This positioning is enhanced by the backdrop of breathtaking views of Astana — visible through the structure’s curved windows. We explore the works of four of these Kazakhstani creators, and the impact that biomass, water and kinetic energies have had on each of their art installations.
Askhat Akhmediyarov’s two art pieces on Biomass Energy Level Four echo the aesthetics of the futuristic building which houses them: the Nur Alem orb. Bioformula (2017) is a sphere of tree remnants which embodies the resilience of nature; this can also be seen in the continuation of life after Chernobyl. Rootage (2017), left, consists of a semi-spherical nest of tree roots, placed by a mirror — acting as a cosmic bridge from past to present.
Such natural themes are addressed on both global and national scales in Akhmediyarov’s work as a whole. “If we work here in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and look at global problems through the environment, it will be felt [by everyone],” says the Uralsk-born artist of Expo 2017 Astana.
Another Nur Alem-based piece, Soul Landscape (2017), incorporates a territorial concept (the Steppe) with the spirit of Kazakh hospitality, as symbolized in a tea bowl, central to the work. Akhmediyarov says it was key for him “to show people who would attend Expo 2017 the true beauty of Kazakhs and [our] traditions.”
Gulnur Mukazhanova interprets the Water Energy theme of Level Two via eye-catching color and the touchy-feely allure of fabric, in one of her two pieces for Expo 2017 Astana, Matter Under the Image 1 (2017). Born in 1984 in Semipalatinsk, the artist now lives in Berlin, but explains that her home country’s influences continue to inform her work.
“While I’m living in Berlin, I’m very strongly connected with my Kazakh roots,” she says. “I feel it through the use, in my art, of our old traditional felt-making techniques — not only in the aesthetics, but also through symbolic and historical meaning.”
This appreciation of textile craftsmanship also features in the aforementioned brocade installation on display in the Nur Alem. The artwork shines a vibrant gold-tinged blue and represents water in cloth form. It also consists of lurex and kerege — the latter, the Kazakh word for the trellising on the walls of a yurt. “Water flows, Time flows, but Reality stays,” Mukazhanova has said of Matter Under the Image 1.
Two more Kazakhstani artists explore movement — literally and conceptually — in their pieces which are situated on Level Three of the globe, under the Kinetic Energy theme. Both creators draw from Kazakh culture and features such as the great expanse of the Steppe, in their overall oeuvres.
Syrlybek Bekbotayev’s dynamic derivative work, The Modernist Paradigm (2017) is built around a fragmentized interpretation of iconic Kazakhstani artist Salikhitdin Aitbayev’s internationally renowned painting Happiness (1966). In Bekbotayev’s moving piece, painted metal and wood cog-works turn — symbolizing art’s fleeting and returning nature throughout history.
Born in 1987 in the village of Konyrtobe, the creator is a member of the art group Kyzyl Tractor. Of his work for the Museum of Future, he has said: “Ideas, as an on-going movement of natural cycles, are recurring. Citing is inevitable, as is the evolution of art.”
Fatima Omir’s X-eidoscope Kanbak 6 (2017) is an imposing sculpture possessing multiple layers of symbolism. The three mirrored edges of the minimalist ‘kaleidoscope’ or prism at its core represent mentality, temperament and experience. Around this nucleus is the kinetically infused metallic spiral of ‘Kanbak’ — chasing the winds of the Steppe.
Born in Pavlodar in 1974, the Almaty-based multimedia artist and sculptor infused this work with the energies of movement and journeying. “We are travelers with subjective perceptions. We are just grass and our travel is short, but the movement of the flows that carry us is eternal,” she has said.
Top international names have dotted the Expo 2017 Astana entertainment calendar. In July, the band Thirty Seconds to Mars — whose singer is Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto— performed at Astana Arena. Leto energetically waved the flag of Kazakhstan in front of thrilled crowds and then told fans back home, live on YouTube, “I’m halfway across the world right now in a beautiful place called Kazakhstan!”
Other acts from around the globe playing live concerts at Expo include Los Angeles DJ Steve Aoki, Grammy Award-winning Dutch music producer and DJ Afrojack, and Swedish DJ, producer and musician Axwell (Christofer Hedfors) —formerly of Swedish House Mafia. Florida rap-rockers Limp Bizkit have also graced the performance calendar, putting Expo 2017 Astana front and center on the global live music culture map.