This piece is part of a weekly series of articles curated by Voluntary Arts and authored by cultural thinkers and doers. The series will be published between November 2017 and February 2018. It is being shaped in response to the emerging practice of cultural commoning and as a way of articulating ideas that have arisen in conversations about Our Cultural Commons over the past two years across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Our intention is that the series will help make visible the cultural commons in action and will encourage new approaches to sustaining creative cultural activity in local places. And we hope that the articles and the conversation they stimulate will contribute to the forming of ever more enabling cultural policy.

Cardboardia: Forming New Communities

Ten years ago Sergey Korsakov and his fiancée Viktoria didn’t want to have an ordinary wedding and decided to build a cardboard wedding palace during the Afisha Picnic Festival in Moscow where couples could make public acts of marriage. Sergey remembers: All of the guests liked this ceremony so much that I had the thought of building a second, bigger and longer existing cardboard town with its own traditions, institutes and economy. We materialized this idea in Moscow in January, 2008 to great public and press acclaim.

Cardboardia ParadeNow Sergey holds the post of Tyran of Cardboardia who always is elected on the non-alternative elections and things may have gone to his head. Together with his wife – Prime Viktoria – they rule their own state with unlimited powers and lead their citizens and lieges towards their dream of conquering the whole world – from America to Australia. Their State, Cardboardia, doesn’t have a territory but already has three permanent Embassies - one in Russia, where it all started, one in UK and one in EU (Riga, Latvia), and mobile ones in Poland, Denmark, Taiwan, Greece, Finland, Slovakia and in various towns around Russia. He has also, somewhat uncharacteristically, decided to declare Cardboardia a cultural commons.

As Tyran says, Cardboardia is the most friendly and creative country around the Earth with headquarters in Moscow, just seven kilometers away from the Kremlin. The State of Cardboardia, that has not been recognized yet, is a community of artists, designers, performers and even managers who make amazing things from cardboard and their imaginations.

Cardboardia, like any other country, has a governmental structure. Tyran and Prime Viktoria are the leaders, who always set new goals and propose new ideas for their citizens called Personages of Cardboardia. In this country you will encounter the Minister of Education, the Minister of Stupid Ideas, the Minister of Circus, and other interesting people who together build a strong community where each person is important no matter their age or status. As well as the permanent participants in the creative process there is always a population of visitors at the events, participants in internships, and anyone who is interested in realizing his or her artistic potential. Each person can become a citizen, a Personage of Cardboardia.

Cardboardia Mobile EmbassyThere are two ways to gain citizenship. The first and principal way is to take part in the internships that are regularly held by Cardboardia due to different events either in Russia or other countries. These ‘laboratories’ give an opportunity to learn about the event sphere and creative business from the inside. It’s a good start for the beginners and young specialists in design, architecture and management because, after the internship under the guidance of experienced curators, they can be offered a workplace. It is also a great opportunity for anyone who loves art, creating and making things by hand.

The second way to gain citizenship of Cardboardia is to be at the right place in the right time. As, for example, in England on the day of the referendum on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, when Cardboardia opened its Embassy to give out ‘passports’ - Personages Permits - to those who wanted them. Tyran was happy: A large queue lined up! Now we are planning a big project in England that includes cooperation with local communities and investors, searching for and making initiatives for the creative economy, and we want to build a real cardboard metropolis.

Cardboardia appears in real towns and cities during festivals, parades or other events and can work from several days to months. The space created by Personages of Cardboardia is always interactive where people can play different roles and be the part of the creation and development of the suggested story.

Cardboardia KartenkamskTyran insists it’s not only entertainment but a global international socio-economic experiment: We are trying to build up a stable and live system without being tied to a particular territory, and we are doing this through the interconnection between the creative people and local cultural communities. The main source of this system is the artistic and creative power and not money, petroleum or political issues.

He remarks also on the effects on the people who have been involved in Cardboardia’s stories. It’s an experience that helps people to realize their ideas; it gives them new possibilities and motivations. We have a lot of examples of someone who worked with us on the materialization of Cardboardia. It opened their creative side and they continued to develop their ideas in ‘real’ life. We always stay in touch with such people.

Cardboardia unites the three simple elements of communication, education and entertainment to make events and festivals together with local communities. Local people in coordination with professionals make unique things and spaces for telling different stories and for paying attention to different problems. By making cardboard towns and the other materializations of Cardboardia, people are getting involved in research into new solutions and gaining inspiration and a new vision of the world around them.

Cardboardia: Day of Giant CreaturesIn 2016 in Hebden Bridge (UK) Cardboardia joined Handmade Parade to work with the local community who earlier in the year had suffered from flooding. During one month, Cardboardia and local people were making costumes, constructing the characters and thinking out how to tell this story. As a result, they made a mobile city with a huge toilet in the middle accompanied by polluting pipes, chimneys, cars and even a group of bureaucrats to not only show nature’s dirt but all those things that make our lives so messy and unclean. Cardboardia in cooperation with others always looks for stories to tell, traditions to reveal and problems to solve. The main idea is to make life bright and interesting through cooperation, art and creative action.

Cardboardia has already made 11 cardboard towns in Europe and took a part in 17 national feasts. The biggest materialization was in 2013, in the Russian city of Perm, where it was a huge cardboard city with shops, transport, theatres and museums, banks and its own currency, and everything that can be found in concrete or wooden city’s. It existed for three weeks and was visited by more than 400 000 people. This year Cardboardia celebrates its 10th birthday and Tyran says that it is only the beginning. He is sure that one day Cardboardia will become the most visible country on the world map.

Daria Stenina,
Formerly Project Manager of Cardboardia

Cardboardia | Facebook | Twitter

Next week, on Wednesday 13 December, David Francis of TRACS (Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland) reflects on the connection between creativity and place.

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Creative Commons license - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This article is published under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
Images: Courtesy of Cardboardia