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Anna Jermolaewa (b. 1970) is a conceptual artist based in Vienna, Austria. Her artistic practice comprises a wide spectrum of media: video, installation, painting, performance, photography, and sculpture. Since 2019, Anna Jermolaewa has been professor of Experimental Design at the Linz University of Arts. Apart from numerous individual exhibitions, she has taken part in various Biennale events since 1999. She is represented in numerous collections with her work and aside from many other honors was recently awarded the City of Vienna’s Dr. Karl Renner Prize for her social commitment as a member of the association Ariadne − Wir Flüchtlinge für Österreich’ [‘We Refugees for Austria’].

Anna Jermolaewa grew up in Leningrad, USSR. At the age of seventeen, she became one of the original members of Democratic Union, the first political opposition party in the Soviet Union. The party’s statute declared their main objective: the liquidation of the totalitarian state.” Anna and her husband, the Ukrainian poet Vladimir Yaremenko, and Artem Gadasik published the party’s illustrated weekly, Democratic Opposition,” printed on photo paper in their bathroom.

In 1989, after a year and a half of printing, a criminal case was opened against the three, who were charged with causing anti-Soviet agitation and spreading propaganda, after publishing a poem by Yaremenko. The KGB interrogated approximately three-hundred people and conducted over a dozen searches, seizing manuscripts.
Facing political persecution and the prosecution of Case No. 64,” Anna and Vladimir had to leave the country.

Activists from Solidarność arranged for an invitation for the two to visit Krakow. The invitation was from a woman they hadn’t met before, Aleksandra Wysokińska. Aleksandra hosted them for a week before arranging the next stage of their flight, a Polish shopping bus tour to Vienna. After spending a month in the refugee camp in Traiskirchen, and then several months in refugee housing in southern Austria, they received political asylum.

Anna has lived in Austria since 1989. Her childhood and teen years in the Soviet Union, the persecution and political repression she experienced as a part of Democratic Union, and her time as a refugee have shaped her artistic position. In addition to her strong views against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s murderous, totalitarian regime, Anna has provided continuous assistance for Ukrainian refugees in Austria.

The refugee-advocate group Ariadne – We Refugees for Austria, made up of political refugees from various countries of origin, was co-founded by Anna in 2021. Ariadne’s main goal is to use each group member’s experience and networks in Austria to support newly arrived refugees. Since 2022, when Russia escalated the war in Ukraine, Ariadne has provided support for Ukrainians who have fled the war. 

One of the new works for for the Austrian Pavilion titled Rehearsal for Swanlake refers to Jermolaewa’s childhood memories of Soviet censorship: at times of political or social unrest (for instance upon the death of a head of state), state television would broadcast Swan Lake in a loop, sometimes for days. In Rehearsal for Swan Lake, a group of ballet dancers rehearse selected scenes from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet. In this way, Anna Jermolaewa (who fled the Soviet Union as a political refugee in 1989) transforms Swan Lake from an instrument of diversion and state censorship into one that calls for regime change. Rehearsal for Swan Lake is realized in collaboration with Ukrainian ballet dancer and choreographer Oksana Serheieva, who ran a ballet school in Cherkasy and fled to Austria with her family after Russia invaded in 2022.

A long biography and a detailed exhibition list can be accessed via Anna Jermolaewa´s website.

In 1989 I came to Austria, which has become my home country, from the Soviet Union as a political refugee. During my last years in Leningrad, I was politically active. We had clear methods: writing texts, organizing demonstrations, distributing pamphlets, publishing the Samizdat newspaper, which was critical of the regime. Being an artist, I have different tools and a different line of action. When Russia invaded Ukraine, I found it difficult to see any point in making art. So, like many of us, I resorted to direct action, for example to help Ukrainian refugees. Now it’s settled in such a way that I can combine both art and direct action very well, and I think I see a way where the two fields complement each other productively.

Anna Jermolaewa

Gabriele Spindler and Anna Jermolaewa

Photo: Maria Ziegelböck

Austrian Pavilion 2024 Austrian Pavilion 2024 Austrian Pavilion 2024
Swan Lake: Anna Jermolaewa