On June 20th, 2017, a new sculpture was installed at TSU’s front entrance. All Russian media seemed to have paid attention to the event. Even some international media, including Radio Svoboda, showed themselves at the opening ceremony. The feedback from city residents and the social networks could be compared with the fuss around another famous Tomsk sculpture, Anton Chekhov’s figure, installed as an anniversary present to Tomsk from its local artist Leontiy Usov. There are no indifferent people. With the public divided, we have most people crazy about the idea and a number of locals as its opponents. The former are happy and try to make selfies and pictures of their loved ones with the figures made of plexiglas. The latter boil over the lack of connection between the University and the band members and the ways TSU tries to attract enrollees this year.
Today we are talking about the sculpture of the Fab Four made by Anton Gnedikh. Eduard Galazhinskiy, TSU Rector, and Evgeniy Pavlov, Executive Secretary of the TSU Enrolment Board, will share their ideas on the matter.
- Professor Galazhinskiy, please, share this secret with us! How did we get there? Who and when thought of the idea to install this monument right in front of University’s main building?
- Let’s be clear from the beginning: this is not a monument, this is a sculpture made of plexiglas. Monument is something “monumental”, made of a long-life material, and it serves to keep a memory of somebody or something. It cannot be installed just anywhere. A monument has to correspond with real historical events and bear more accurate resemblance with its prototype. Sculpture is a piece of art. It may be made of any material, even ice or sand. It is usually created to provoke emotions, feelings, or associations. The idea to create this sculpture belonged to two Tomsk artists Nikolay and Anton Gnedikh. Vyacheslav Novitskiy, Former Rector of Siberian State Medical University, was a producer. He intended to install the sculpture back in 2011 but did not succeed. His idea was that the Fab Four were supposed to walk on the pavement between two Tomsk universities, ours and Medical. Sir Paul McCartney was supposed to be invited to open the sculpture. Many people really liked the project, but we could not collect the money needed to do that. Meanwhile, the sculpture was made and it had been kept in the artists’ studio for years. Last year, professor Novitskiy mentioned in one of our conversations that it would be great to install the sculpture in the TSU Grove. It was a wonderful idea, but! We were so busy with trying to figure out how to carry out some other important projects, including installing monuments to Mendeleev and Florinskiy, that we did not pay enough attention to the proposal.
- It looks like The Beatles walked from the studio to the Grove by themselves!
- From my prospective this is almost how it happened! I was informed about their “visit” on the phone by my friends and colleagues. The feedback was pretty much the same, “It is so great!”, “You are so cool!”, and “TSU is the best!” Over several hours, I received so many calls and messages that my battery got low. Later that day, I learned who initiated the “visit”. It was Evgeniy Pavlov, Executive Secretary of the Enrolment Board and some heads of several TSU’s departments.
- What was your reaction?
- Of course, it was positive! I am so glad that such interesting things happen without my direct orders. Especially, when they get such a wonderful feedback.
- You know that there are people, who dislike the idea, don’t you? There is an opinion that the University “found money for The Beatles and struggles to do that for Russian scientists”.
- As I have already mentioned before, monuments to Mendeleev and Florinskiy are our priorities. We are looking for money and do our best to find it. The Abbey Road sculpture did not cost a ruble. Anton Gnedikh had the sculpture in his studio and offered to install it in the Grove. Now it is bringing joy to people. And it could have just collected dust in the studio. Our Enrolment Board was looking for new ways to attract the public attention and there it was. Everybody realized: the Fab Four were going toward the main entrance to apply to TSU!
- However, some people are still in search for direct historical and cultural references and connections between the Four and TSU. And they cannot find them!
- Well, let them stay in search. Looking for meanings in surroundings is one of the main human goals. Today they do not see any connections, tomorrow they will find many of them. On the other hand, I agree with people who doubt the necessity to look for direct connections everywhere. Especially when we remember that the age of global and non-linear connections is emerging. If you want to see connections between the Four and TSU, you may use the following context.
We want to make our University really well-known all over the world. That imposes certain responsibilities and duties. Today we have students from 39 countries and many visiting professors. We want them to feel like home. They need to see our sincere interest and respect for their cultures. This will help to attract even more international students and professors.
In my opinion, the University Campus is the best place to organize a multicultural space. Various languages sound here in a harmony. Just as various art objects, with references to different cultures and national traditions, look very natural here.
- One can here various languages in the University Grove…
- Exactly. That is why objects of various cultures and origins are relevant and appropriate for the place. One of them, the memorial stone, symbolizing the geophysical center of Eurasia, is another cultural, scientific, and education “bridge” between Europe and Asia. Tomsk was recognized as the centre of Eurasia at the Seismic Congress in Manchester in 1911. Anyway, I believe, every international guest can find a favorite place in University’s Campus to feel closer to his or her home place.
- The number of people who want to make photos with the Fab Four indicates that the sculpture has already become one of the favorite places in Tomsk!
- This is true. Nobody can force you make pictures or like something. The feedback from the crowd says the feelings are sincere.
- Some experts say the figure of John Lennon has very little in common with the singer but looks a lot like Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay. What do you think about that as the President of the Tomsk Branch of the Russian Geographical Society?
- Unfortunately, I haven’t had the honor and pleasure to meet them. What I know is that sometimes we do not look like ourselves. And after all, Anton Gnedikh did not make his sculpture to be placed at the Madame Tussauds. This sculpture is a piece of art, which suggests that the artist had a freedom of expression. The Beatles has been idols and dreams for millions of people for decades. How close does a dream have to be to the real world? I think the same is true for other sculptures of The Beatles around the globe. They do not look exactly like the members of the band.
- How do you relate yourself to the band’s music?
- Frankly speaking, I am not a big fan. But I truly enjoy their melancholy ballads, such as «Yesterday» or «Michelle». I am a fan of jazz music and I have played those pieces in jazz style. They are beautiful. After all, "Yesterday" was voted Best Song of the 20th century in 1999 for a reason. I read somewhere that Andrew Lloyd Webber once said he was sorry that he was not the author of the song.
- For how long will the University keep the Abbey Road installation? I assume plexiglas is not the right material for anything to survive severe Siberian winters.
- We agreed with the artist to keep it until the end of summer.
- People will not understand that. It seems like they might want to see it much longer than that. It has become a spot for wedding tours to stop and make pictures!
- This means somebody will have to take this responsibility and collect money to create the Fab Four made of bronze. If the money is collected, TSU will provide a permanent place for the sculpture in the Grove. People say such initiative succeeded in Ekaterinburg. However, it took several years. In order to do it faster, one should look for real fans among very rich people.
- The Internet says that Mongolian fans of the band did the same thing and installed a bronze sculpture in 2008. By the way, it did not take too long because the Prime Minister turned out to be a huge fan.
- This case illustrates fundraising technology and globalization processes in culture. If the sculpture was well met in Asia, of course, it will be a great success in the centre of Eurasia. There are so many sculptures of The Beatles in the world that were installed on public money. The Tomsk community has many positive examples.
As for Tomsk State University, right now we are looking for sponsors who are big fans of Dmitry Mendeleev and Vasyli Florinskiy!
Interview with Evgeniy Pavlov, Executive Secretary of the TSU Enrolment Board:
- Could you, please, tell the story of how the Abbey Road installation appeared in the University Grove?
- We try to use the Grove as a unique resource TSU has in its disposal in all our enrolment campaigns. None of other Tomsk universities has such a great space to held all kinds of performances and events. It would be weird not to use it to attract enrollees. We all are used to it but it is a surprise for people who come here from other cities and countries. Every time we start planning another campaign, we reflect on how to surprise people this time.
There are some regular events that have become traditional, such as “I am at TSU”. Some years ago, we put a big tent with music. It attracted people who walked along the street next to the Grove. We placed some objects made of wood to create a nice background for taking picture. We held open lectures and workshops in the Grove. Last year each lecture attracted 50-60 people! But we keep looking for fresh ideas. And something enjoyable for our enrollees, their parents, and our graduates of the year.
This year, right in the middle of our brainstorm process, Anton Gnedikh came with the idea to install the sculpture. He showed us the pictures and proposed to place it next to the main entrance. We all reacted the same way: The Beatles will be going to apply to TSU! We felt the high potential of the sculpture in attracting public attention to the campaign. But we did not expect that much attention! The Beatles pleased everybody: young people, their parents, and even their grandparents who are age peers of the musicians. People come here on purpose to make photos with the Fab Four!
I have been very busy recently and could not find time to study public opinion in social media so far. I have heard that some people do not like it. I am sure there are only few of them. Personally, I know a lot of people who had not been here for ages or ever and the only reason why they visited the Grove was the sculpture. I come to work very early and every morning I see people making photos. I understand that there are people who think this is strange to have a sculpture of British musicians next to the classical university. But it is this dissonance that attracts. I see certain harmony in it. The idea of making it a permanent thing has great potential.
I also want to thank our Rector and all our colleagues for supporting the idea. Sharing understanding allowed us to carry out the project really fast.
- When was the last time you heard Fab Four’s music?
- “Yesterday” is the first thing I hear every morning! It is my phone alarm ringtone!
The interviews were conducted by Irina Kuzheleva-Sagan