Young artists worked with scientists to renovate Ivan Pavlov Museum, in Russia.
The Ivan Pavlov Museum had been leading a fairly standard life of a typical memorial museum since it opened in the village of Koltushi outside St. Petersburg in 1949. But this June the venue reopened with a bang, a new curator and an array of new technology, from sound art to video-installations, all aimed to breathe life into the display dedicated to one of Russia’s finest scientists.
The museum is still officially part of a small science city that belongs to the Russian Academy of Sciences. It was founded by the award-winning physiologist himself, when in 1929 the Soviet government awarded him a prize of 100,000 rubles on his 80th birthday. The physiologist immediately used the prize money to build a science city.
It was here that Pavlov conducted his famous experiments with dogs. Today the research in the science city no longer involves dogs, but work is done to help animals. For example, the scientists have invented kotokhod — a device that helps cats with damaged spines start walking again.
The new curator of the museum is Irina Aktuganova, a leading expert in science art projects. Aktuganova held a competition for artists to create contemporary art objects inspired by Pavlov’s personality, his life and work, as well as the local laboratories and their history. The funding for the projects came from the Russian Academy of Sciences, two presidential grants for culture projects and Agency 21 that specializes in museum design.
Now the Ivan Pavlov Memorial Museum version 2.0 features two large sections called the New Anthropology. For example, one of the most moving installations is the Waiting Room, located in the very room where the dogs waited to be taken to laboratories. Each waiting room has a collar and an aluminum water bowl.
When looking for the artists to join the project, Aktuganova was surprised to discover that Ivan Pavlov and his research are a huge inspiration for an incredible number of people of the most unrelated occupations.
Poet and artist Pavel Arseniev, the publisher of Translit magazine, is working on a dissertation that links physiology and futuristic poetry. Psychologist Darya Rozina has a keen interest in technology and would like to try and create an interactive museum interface which would enable the visitors to “communicate” with scientists of the past.
The concept of the new museum is to make the past alive. In the dining room where Ivan Pavlov once had his meals, the visitors are immersed in the sounds of a private dinner reception; in his office, the scientist appears as a projection on the wall — turned into an object d’art. Marina Alexeyeva created the virtual Ivan Pavlov.
“We used documentary videos, blending them together with animation technology to liven up the otherwise serious tone of the memorial display,” she said. “Not many of his recorded speeches are left, but I am especially interested in those that feature his thoughts and reflections on Russian mentality that he made at a lecture in St. Petersburg in 1918. Pavlov’s words, however brutal, really give you something to think about.”