A few months ago I received what I thought was a spam email inviting me to show in St Petersburg, it all sounded very dodgy (let alone the title: ‘English Breakfast’) and too good to be true: all travel expenses paid, accommodation, the opportunity for a solo show… I contacted Re-Title as I presumed it had come through them, they advised not to reply as it appeared suspicious. However, I looked up the venue for the show, Rizzordi, and it seemed to be a bonafide exhibition space, so I contacted them – the director confirmed that it was real. To make sure, I skyped the organiser. But even up until a month before the show I was still suspicious – I emailed the other artists regarding the visa application however, none replied.

To cut a very long and shambolic story short, it wasn’t until I arrived at the exhibition space and met the other artists that I truly believed it was real and it turned out to be backed by the British Council, marking the British/Russian 2014 Year of Culture.

Three of the artists, Joe King, Rosie Pedlow and Olga Jurgenson were in St Petersburg for the install and opening nights and Alice Anderson sent one of her assisstants, Marcela, as she was busy with another show in London. It was great to compare stories and take comfort in the fact that we’d all had similar experiences.

The organisers of the show had previously curated a show of Rodin sculptures at the St Peter and Paul Palace in St Petersburg, a template for their excessive big-budget approach we experienced at Rizzordi: numerous TV channels, radio and press interviewed us during two private views, whilst a film-crew documented each stage of the process.

What struck us as odd was how the press and public viewed the work as new and avant-garde. I thought this was funny as my St Giles video owes a huge debt to Len Lye’s ‘Colour Box’ of 1934, hardly cutting edge today. Also, it was the art of Russia, Constructivism and Supremitism, that impacted strongly on the UK almost a hundred years ago (via the Bauhaus and De Stjl) and not the other way round. That’s not to say that there isn’t a thriving contemporary art scene in St Petersburg… during the Nuit Blanches when all the museums were open late into the night, I witnessed quite a few art performances and happenings in various venues around the city, however, I got the impression that these were ‘underground’ and not a reflection of the establishment.

It is strange, but maybe understandable, that the two video installations selected of mine were quite ‘safe’, more about spectacle than substance – my work based on the concentration camp at Rivesaltes would be too controversial and subject to censorship. They clearly didn’t want another Pussy Riot. But having spent two weeks in Russia I can see how regressive the regime is and that freedom of speech is not a given. It must be a difficult time for artists, we in the UK take it for granted.

Despite all the stress and hassle (organising a visa, being let down by unreliable printers, communicating with a gallery without a common language, flying via Kiev on Ukraine Airways!) it was an amazing, albeit surreal, experience.