Swedish artist residences: how it works

Open Place interviewed Alvaro Campo

April 13, 2015
Stockholm, Sweden

 

NKF was founded in 1945 and consists of nine sections, representing Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the autonomies Faroe Islands, Greennland, Åland and the Samic people.

In search of studio

Open Place: When did the Swedish section of NKF start to work with the residency ?
Alvaro Campo: The Nordic guest Studio has existed for quite a while, but NKF has been running it since 2007. In different times different people were in charge of the studio and the NKF organization has existed since 1945. So, the way it was managed changed but the space is the same quite a lot of time. I have been chairman of the board of the Swedish Section of NKF since 2012. From this time we have been developing a regional concept. Now it’s a project based on organizing artist residencies in Stockholm. Curators, artist run organizations, even larger ones, like schools, can apply for our residencies. The only requirement is that it is attached to a project in Stockholm. You cannot apply as an independent artist from abroad. You can apply if you already have a project with somebody in Stockholm. And you can apply together.
Today, we work with all kinds of organizations. We collaborate with Supermarket, The Modern Museum, smaller art schools and independent curators. This year we have started a new program for curators in Stockholm. (Curatorial Residency in Stockholm) Jonatan Habib Engquist is in charge of the project, he selects different curators and brings them here for short period of time, for a week or for 10 days. These people meet many artists or people connecting with art here. We don’t ask them for anything in exchange, we only give them the space and opportunity to meet lots of people. Consequences we will see later.

Open Place: How is your residence supported?
Alvaro Campo:It’s supported by the city of Stockholm. The building where the studio is located belongs to the city. The whole building is used for artists’ studios, it has been this way for a long time.
Also now we have a grant from Kulturkontakt Nord and other smaller grants, which are connected with projects. With the help of a smaller grant we are developing a web-site for studios’ exchange. (StudioSwap.org) People in Sweden can post there information about their studio, a working place, and other people from different places can do the same. You can exchange studios with other artist. Or you can pay something for renting a studio if you like.

Open Place: What other projects do you do?
Alvaro Campo:One time a year or two years we hold a meeting where everybody we have worked with shows their projects. Everybody talks for five minutes and then also presents his or her work on projector. Then we discuss what we saw. We do it in different spaces. We visit each other and it connects us. It’s a simple idea and it doesn’t take so much time. But this platform is becoming very important for many people in Stockholm. We hope that next years we’ll get funding from the city. We apply for it once every two years. We never feel certain about the results.

Open Place: What will you do if you don’t get this funding?
Alvaro Campo:The most expensive thing for us is the rent. And little costs we spend for taking care of this place, for example for cleaning. It should be funding by organization with big possibilities, like the city of Stockholm or some state institutions and so on.

Independent art and state support

Open Place: How can an artist in Sweden find a studio?
Alvaro Campo: Getting support from state is quite difficult but possible. You can apply for studio and wait for it a lot of time. List of people who want to have studio through the state is long. After some years you will have your permanent studio, but you always have to pay a rent.
There are couple studio grants and you can apply for them. You could get the grant from the city of Stockholm and have a studio for one or two years.

Open Place: What about the situation in Stockholm art-world?
Alvaro Campo: It’s a big question because there are many different aspects of this situation. Very different people work in different areas. For instance the art you see on Supermarket is presented by independent artists and associations. And we have also institutions which host artists and show art. For example, Bonniers Konsthall and Färgfabriken. Magasin III Museum & Foundation for Contemporary Art is not very big but it’s a very important institution. Its events always extremely well organized.
Also we have some art schools the Royal Academy and Konstfack and there are also many institutions and organisations for example Tensta konsthall and Botkyrka Konsthall.

Open Place: How are cultural institutions in Stockholm are connected with the surrounded area?
Alvaro Campo: One institution which comes up to mind in this context is Färgfabriken. It makes lots of projects connected with different social aspects. They make a lot for development of the environment. There are several curators for Färgfabriken’s projects. We collaborated with this organization. In fact, recently one artist from Indonesia lived in our residence and he had the exhibition in Färgfabriken.

The dangerous capital

Open Place: How much is the culture budget in Sweden?
Alvaro Campo: There are the budget of the city and the state budget. State one is divided between different areas of Sweden. But there is also a local budget provided by different cities. There are two separated budgets. City of Stockholm has its own culture budget. It’s formed from taxes. But it’s very small comparing to any other fields of the city budget.

Open Place: What about private money?
Alvaro Campo: They wanted to have less rules and more freedom to create companies, they wanted to have a free market. When the state is eliminated in these questions companies have more possibilities for profit. But we have some dangers on this way. Private companies try to profit from schools and houses for old people. Gathering money on everything is dangerous. The main direction of capitalism is profit and not care so much about people. Big multinational companies will have more and more power in Sweden. Private interests are more and more powerful. I think it’s a very dangerous situation. It’s not the perfect world here, it works now but eventually they will need some new models to come up with.

Shifting perspectives in contemporary art practices and work in communities

Lecture by Anneli Bäckman

10 May, 2018
Poltava, Ukraine

 

Anneli Bäckman. Curator, producer, editor and sometimes writer.She got MA in Curating Art from Stockholm University in 2007, BA in Philosophy / Critical Theory from London Metropolitan University in1999. From 2012 till now she is curator at the contemporary art centre Botkyrka konsthall, and international residency programme, Residence Botkyrka.

During the presentation Anneli Bäckman shared her experience and work with Botkyrka Konsthall on audience and community development through the use of contemporary art methods. She discussed the importance of self-reflection and the use of failure as a process of moving forward to learn and acquire new knowledge. Anneli identified methods that may be applied while working with communities to implement cultural projects. In addition, a number of relevant Swedish art and education initiatives will be presented that intend to engage with different age and social groups.

Curatorial practices and ways of social interactions

Lecture by Anna Karpenko

10 May, 2018
Poltava, Ukraine

 

Anna Karpenko is an independent curator and art manager (Minsk, Belarus).Graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of the Belarusian State University, Master of Arts at the European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania).

Anna Karpenko in her presentation focused on the role of the curator and social inclusion in the context of Belarus. She revealed the problems faced by cultural organisations, both independent and public, and the relations between them. As examples, Anna shared her experience of successful projects that are built on cooperation and collaboration, where art works becomes the result of communication and interaction.

The story about us

Open Place interviewed Daniel Urey

April 17, 2015
Stockholm, Sweden

 

Daniel Urey from Färgfabriken is engaged in a new topology of cities. His main theme and goal is to strengthen the role of culture in politics and civil society. He received a Master Degree in Political Science (International Relations) at Stockholm University

Färgfabriken is a politically and religiously independent foundation, which is financed by funds from the National Arts Council, the Culture Administration of Stockholm and the Stockholm County Council. The key private sponsor of Färgfabriken is Lindéngruppen AB. The Foundation was established in 1995 by Alcro-Beckers AB, ColArt Sweden AB and SAR (Swedish Association of Architects). As a cultural institution Färgfabriken try to decode symbols of division in different cities, visualize them, expose them and talk about them. Activists work in different countries, attracting to their projects people from very different communities, in particular from municipalities.

The theory of urban narratives

We were found in 1995. From the beginning the organization was consisted of curators, the Swedish architects association and one private company. So we work with problems of the city and with people there. Nowadays we’re working very much with understanding of psychological processes of cities and urban space. And it’s the interesting challenge, we’re interested in investigating and decoding the city, we want to understand its mental infrastructures. How do mental infrastructures affect the physical infrastructures of the city? How does this contemporary mentally infrastructure of narratives affect the way how an urban planner or an architect designs the future city? These narratives are largely about creating the story of us.

When we talk about us, often we mean somebody “another”. So, we ask question, who is included and who is not in particular narrative. Whom do you project into the future and whom not? That’s how we started to talk about sustainable urban development. And when we talk about sustainable urban development, we talk a lot about physical urban development. “Fewer cars in the city!”- OK, fine, that’s good, we must think about physical infrastructure. But we want to include through our programs need to wide up this understanding. When we think about urban planning we have to understand that we need start the research about narratives. These narratives are collective narratives which create identities. Your identification included whose narrative you include in the future of the city you’re projecting. And then you can see the city, where the infrastructure is developing in one part, but not developing in another. Because one group belong to the grand narrative and other not. There is not sustainable, because it means that you disconnecting certain groups and remove certain people from proper infrastructure.

Activities of Färgfabriken

In the autumn of 2013 we initiated huge program that we named “Patchwork of narratives”. We thought about the definition of urban vulnerability. Everybody talks about sustainable urban development. We felt that we need to talk about vulnerability in strategic way, about culture expressions of that vulnerability, existing in our societies.

Most of all cities divide in one or different way. Stockholm is also divided, even though you don’t see it. But then there are cities where the division is evident. We focused on Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Beirut in Lebanon. We didn’t want to add a lot of content into the definition of “divided cities” only by ourselves. We wanted to ask our partners what kind of meaning they would like to add to that, instead creating a framework, fill it with lots of definitions and then give it to people. We had actually just a seed and then asking people if they could shape some content. In both cities we had local partners among architects, urban planners, filmmakers, philosophers. We start to create international and interdisciplinary team, where different people add their experience to proper definitions by talking, making researches and visualizing. So, in Beirut we have two filmmakers, Rania Rafei and Jinane Dagher. They make huge work shooting tree videos as a triptych about urban vulnerability “The Purgatory”. But in that process we also had to wide up our intellectual basis. So we asked philosopher Michael Azar, who is working at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, to write an essay about understanding the definition of the city through the time, how civilization understood what is a city, but also add how the definition of the urban vulnerability was disclosed through the history.

At the same time we start to research how the notion of vulnerability connected with human being in the city, we start to investigate the mental infrastructures of the city. For example, there are two groups in Mostar, Croatians and Bosnians, and they are shaped by narratives, defining who they are. Though, they live in one small city with one hundred twenty thousand citizens. The city just a physical, but the mental infrastructure and all the narratives of the society are divided and the segregation goes along a boulevard in the city center. If I’m Bosnian it’s very difficult for me to cross this street: one can do this easily, just walking, there are neither walls nor borders, but mental barriers prevent to pass it over, that also influence the appearance of city. After the war suddenly parallel infrastructures started to develop in two parts of the city: two schools, two city planning offices in each area etc. With our program we try to expose those narratives that generate a vulnerable society and city.

The same is in Beirut. If in Mostar you have two minorities just next to each other, in Lebanon you have seventeen official minorities, and Beirut becomes a patchwork. You can see symbols that mark the area almost everywhere, but of course you need some skills to see them and understand them. The graffiti can be a marker, that’s why the text of Michael Azar is also about how people tattoo the city and how the city also tattoos people. In this way we’re investigating how different narratives effect on current urban development but also on future urban development.

The thing we never really know exactly is the direction we are taking. There is no proper path. We create the project step by step, we produce contents together. For example, there was a research the result of which was the essay that we can give our partners in Mostar and Beirut, and there are interesting videos that could be analyzed and reconsidered in the form of text.

The project “Patchwork of narratives” ended up with exhibitions in three cities: Mostar, Beirut and Stockholm. And each of the exhibitions had some peculiarities. We have some central works that were exposed in every three places, and we also have a specific program, connected with local context.

We were developing the project “Patchwork of narratives” more than a year. We transferred this experience to the project “Baltic Dimensions”. First we had to identify the institutions in the Baltic region that would be interested for development of cultural programs about urban space. And again we talk about creative process in order to make wider understanding of what is taking place in Baltic region, including new meanings of urban space. After creating the network among institutions and establishing the goal, we start to develop the methodology how we will reach it.

The first city where we started to work was Riga. It’s a beautiful city with great architecture, very touristic and picturesque, but behind that there is a huge rift in the society. They have Latvians and Russians, and they have monuments where Latvians claim their narrative of being Latvian and they have Russian monuments where Russians claim their narrative of being Russian. Suddenly we have two monuments not just telling the history, but sending to the future signals about division. That means that it’s very difficult for Riga to develop, because Riga still projects itself to the future through division. The monuments are only one case of division, of course there are microrayons where there’s lack of infrastructures, disconnecting them with the society. And it’s actually creating problems. What we can do as a cultural institution, as a cultural program is to decode the symbols of division, visualize them, expose them and talk about them. The rest we leave to our local partners.

The global and local goals

Among results of our work there are books, videos, researches, exhibitions, seminars, discussions, workshops both for children and for adults, webpage. There’re lots of resources to penetrate into the society. Exhibition works are the way of visual communication with different target groups. As result of all activities and collective work of participants of projects we have a transformation of ourselves, of our way of “reading” urban spaces. We’d like to share these achievements with wide audience, to engage more people into mental infrastructure that we build up. We need to bring new voices into our analyses to widen the way how to read the city. We try to attract people from municipalities, who are responsible for urban planning.

Each project is an interesting journey and we don’t attach to the certain city from that point of view. The things that the city brings to the project become an indicator for us, whether an idea is valuable for the local society or not. Sometimes it takes years to transform mental minds. You have to work so much convincing people that their efforts are important for global changes. That’s why we need to develop small in-between results, the indicators of changes.

Starting the project in the new place it is important to create a platform for discussion on different levels. We try to talk with high-ranking officials to have support of the project at the local level. We cooperate in our projects with officials from Stockholm, for example, the vice-director of the city planning office. This cooperation allows us to establish the dialogue with officials of the same rank in the place where we do the project. Sometimes we can’t do more than only unite efforts of artists and officials, all the rest at their discretion. It works so.

We in Färgfabriken make projects not to bring the Swedish experience of creating a sustainable society to different countries. We want to unite people, to create the international platform for exchanging experience among actors who live in urban areas and feel the vulnerability of ambient space. This is how we also generate good examples, because often right decisions come not from us, but from local experts who know better the context of the city.

The theatre, which changes laws and saves life.

Yulia Kostereva interviewed Nina Khodorivska

January 24, 2015
Kyiv, Ukraine

 

Nina Khodorivska – performer, culture researcher, journalist and volunteer of Theatre for Dialogue

The project Theatre for Dialogue appeared as an alternative to the violent clashes that began on the Maidan in Kyiv in January, 2014. Group of activists works according to methodology of theatre of the oppressed to change the society. Last year leaders of the Theatre for Dialogue conducted more than 20 events in six cities around Ukraine, where about 1200 people took part. On meetings activists covered next topics: protests on Maidan, migrants, problems of youth, role and place of women in Ukrainian society, corruption in higher education system and many others.

Theatre as a tool of activism

Yulia Kostereva: How did the idea of project appear?

Nina Khodorivska: Since 2010 Hjalmar Jorge Joffre-Eichhorn – professional joker (joker – facilitator and practitioner in the theatre of the oppressed) held theatre activities in different parts of Ukraine. During the protest on Maidan Hjalmar together with the activists he met in Kyiv decided to begin big international “Joker Tsunami” campaign. Six jokers from all over the world came to Ukraine and conduct six workshops in five cities of the country. They worked on topics that concerned people, using theatre of the oppressed techniques as the main tool. Activists, familiar with this methodology united around this idea, thus Theatre for Dialogue appeared.

Gradually, the project is gaining a temp. From the start it was separated workshops, now it includes regular meetings. In February we are going to launch an open laboratory to work at certain controversial topics. We expect to find the people who are concerned in specific problems of society rather than methodology itself. In this process we’d like to see people who aren’t acquainted with participatory practices. Also, these are the people who are not reached by open call. That’s why we are going to advertise the events through the newspapers, informational leaflets on the poles, etc.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What is the structure of the Theatre for Dialogue? How do you share responsibility?

Nina Khodorivska: It’s a young initiative which is formed by eight participants, each of whom is co-founder. The responsibility is shared horizontally. Our work is based on project method. If someone has a contact to work with or any idea, it’s discussed at the common meeting. If someone formulated the specific proposal, he or she takes responsibility for this project. Decisions are taken collectively. Voices of all members are equal. But each has to explain the position, why he or she considers that this particular solution should be accepted. The dialogue mentioned in our title exists within the collective as well.

 

Yulia Kostereva: How do different social groups influence the activity of the initiative?

Nina Khodorivska: We don’t work with a particular social group, perhaps, because we haven’t had long-term projects yet. So far, we worked with mixed groups: people who oppose the majority, Maidan activists. We tried to work with migrants as a social group, visited them in Pushcha-Vodytsia, organized meetings in Kyiv, but there was no solid team created. Though some of them attended particular events, nobody wants to feel as a migrant and strengthen himself in this identity.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What events Theatre for Dialogue realized?

Nina Khodorivska: We’ve done the project with migrants. It finished on the level of volunteer assistance: to play with children, to bring blankets. We made the project with the Museum of Maidan, we were working with images associated with that period. Now, a year after those events, people are able to rethink it. We visited different youth organizations in Mykolaiv and Zhytomyr, but it was rather for popularization of the theatre like ours, theatre as a tool of activism. On Saturday together with Visual Culture Research Center we hold a laboratory for people who want to develop the theatre. This is a long-term program that deals with certain topics.

Grants and “barter”

Yulia Kostereva: Is it necessary for cultural organization to have the political overtone or to articulate its political position?

Nina Khodorivska: I guess that everything has its political overtone. The way how we define one or another word is a political decision. I cannot say that everyone in Theatre for Dialogue would think so, but many my colleagues would agree that recognizing of the fact that politics is everywhere, is basic for the Theatre for Dialogue.

Fortunately, we don’t have the clear political position in terms of ideology, which we translate outside. Hope, we won’t have it in the future. It seems to me meaningless, it’s like a distribution of ready-made formulas. While the essence of participatory art, and particularly the theatre of the oppressed can be described so: if you think that some solution is better than others, invite people who don’t determine the decision on this issue yet, and work together on this theme using different images. It is necessary to be in dialogue with people and not to impose the position, giving only choose between “yes” or “not”. In such process, if people don’t flee after first or second meeting, crystallizes a group with clear position, which can make some steps in the field of direct action, for example, by proposing the legislative initiatives.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What are the mechanisms to ensure financial independence of your organization? How the society could support your structure?

Nina Khodorivska: People help us with accommodation, also we have informational support. Various media wrote about our initiative, we’ve never paid for premises where we conduct our workshops. Now we’re collecting money to translate the book of Augusto Boal “Games for Actors and Non-actors” where there is a theory, and also a lot of practice: how to create the theatre of the oppressed. There are no books in Ukrainian and Russian languages about participatory art, and particularly about the theatre of the oppressed. I think it’s important to translate books about contemporary performance art into Ukrainian and Russian languages. Before I started reading English, I had a completely different notion of performance art.

On the one hand, now we apply for different projects with funding, so that at least a few people could fully dedicate themselves to our initiative. On the other hand, we push ourselves so that in a few months would be able to claim for additional funding and engaged only in Theatre for dialogue the entire team.

I cannot say from what sources we can fund our theatre of the oppressed, because the process is not established yet. But we see it as a fundraising and “barter”, for example, a room for services.

Baby in a sling as a sign of culture

Yulia Kostereva: What is the ideal institution for you?

Nina Khodorivska: It is institution that operates regularly and achieves its goals. I believe that it should be organized horizontally. In ideal institution one could combine parenthood and work. It seems as a small aspect, but for me it’s important. Not so difficult to organize things in the way, that the person could work and carry baby in a sling at the same time. Rather, it depends on cultural norms than on the aspect that a child could disturb. And, of course, transparent accounting would provide confidence in the organization and prevent corruption.

 

Yulia Kostereva: How does your organization affects the cultural policy of the state? Is it possible for small organization to influence the cultural policy of the country?

Nina Khodorivska: Of course, yes, but now I don’t know how. In principle, large-scale projects, such as legislative theatre influences. Actually, it looks like this: skits or plays based on workshops of the theatre of the oppressed are performed, it’s like a forum theatre. During the skits spectators are invited to replace one of the characters and propose own variant of solving the problem. At the same time there are lawyers and politicians in the auditorium. They try to deal with this problem, as well as journalists who write about this thing, providing media support. Then the lawyers reflect in laws what they saw in the theatre. But it’s a large work. It’s impossible to announce that we need a law that will act around Ukraine, on the basis of sessions with one group, even if this work would last three months.

Hjalmar, one of the founders of our initiative, took part in the project of legislative theatre in Afghanistan. He worked with amending the legislation about women rights. The project lasted one and a half year, activists visited different cities and communicated with different groups of women. There was lasting work with each group. Results were like a set of amendments to law, which were passed to the women’s committee at the parliament. This committee is lobbying these amendments now.

About the system of art institutions in USA

Yulia Kostereva interviewed Clemens Poole

October 28, 2014
Kyiv, Ukraine

 

Clemens Poole is a multi-media artist based in New York. He received his BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art in New York.

Yulia Kostereva: What is the system of art institutions in America? Which of these organizations are more adequate to the current situation?

Clemens Poole: There are lots of different forms of art institutions in the US because it’s a huge country. I think there are two different ways that institutions form: concentrating around ideas and concentrating around resources. Institutions that form around resources are often limited in the US because we don’t have a lot of public money for art, it usually occurs around private money. I think, it’s similar to Ukraine, where IZOLYATSIA formed around private resources. Also there’re institutions, which are forming around ideas. People work together to make something, they share some goal in terms of how develop art.

In New York we have all kinds of art institutions. But the other situation is in the city where I lived before, Austin in Texas, which is smaller than New York. In Austin is a very strong art community, especially in the field of film or music. They have festivals especially for music, but also independent films and interactive digital media etc. In Austin I saw more weight on institutions that form around ideas, because there’s a huge intellectual center as The University of Texas. And so there are lots of people who have ideas and come together and coalesce in this city, maybe because they’re there for school, maybe because they’re there for music or independent film. But then I found that the resources for art are rather limited in Austin. So people would form groups in order to do the things they wanted, but to get things that would allow you to be more ambitious with your work, that was very limited.

When I moved to New York I saw there other side of this. New York, I would imagine, has more funding for the arts than any other city in the US. This is public funding and also private funding. The gallery system in New York is the strongest gallery system, which is not necessarily a positive thing all the time, but does give incentive to artists to work within that system in order to succeed. So it creates a flow of resources that is a lot different than a place without a well developed gallery system. But within that, there’s the entire spectrum of institutions. In the US our system of institutions is maybe more similar to Ukraine than it’s to Western Europe. What I understand from my time spent in Western Europe, there’s more public funding for the arts and that changes the flavor of how institutions develop.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What is the role of small institutions in the system of American art organizations?

Clemens Poole: Well here’s the issue for me, with trying to make some appraisal of the relationships between the small institutions and the art world, and the big institutions and the art world. I came from a background of working on a small level. I’m not somebody who’s “important” in the New York art world, it’s pretty hard to be that. So for me, I’m basically connected only with small institutions. Small art organizations play powerful role in the artistic world, because there’re lots of these groups. Such institutions are more often formed around ideas than around resources. So more often a smaller institution will have less resources, but have stronger ideology and maybe a more angular curatorial intention.

To my mind, the smaller institutions play a really positive role, because they support artists who are working on a smaller scale. This positivity though, only goes so far when you’re in a system that doesn’t attach to the larger institutions. So when the smaller institutions are not something that leads in a progression to more access to resources, they can start to limit themselves. And then you can start to see a sort of militant purism if you don’t follow their rules. But I find that sort of self-asphyxiation happens in a place where the small institution needs to just recycle its same tricks over and over, because it can never move forward as it’s limited by society and resources. In both those cases it means a society that’s limiting itself, which a society that’s looking inward instead of outward. And also resources are not forthcoming. Those can be different resources, it doesn’t have to be financial. It can be other things, but if the community isn’t engaged with those ideas of art, then you can find yourself really limited by resources.

 

Yulia Kostereva: Can small institutions influence the society? How does the communication between art community and society happen?

Clemens Poole: The strongest thing that a smaller institution has going for it, is its ability to submit whatever it wants to society, without the restrictions that go along with resources. So the minute you have resources, they come from someone, and then you deal with what that person thinks as far as what kind of culture they want to disseminate. A small institution has the great advantage of being able to put out whatever it thinks is interesting. But often the smaller the institution, the more they serve their immediate peer group, and that can be the picture of this inward looking society.

Sometimes small institutions get too attached to who they know. But if they can see outside themselves, they can play a powerful role in society. They can say, “hey, we don’t have money, but we can do other kinds of actions that can really engage public. We still have resources, they just look different, they are human bodies, human voices, etc.” With that they have a lot of potential to shake things up, and push things. But sometimes small institutions just say, “oh, I want to have a gallery with walls and I want to hang pictures in it.” That can, of course, be productive, but… Well, it’s like theatre. Imagine that you go to a play and the play looks just like something that you’d see in the movies. But the play is ignoring the fact that there is a huge industry with multi-billions dollars making the same things in a more accessible format. But theatre has all kinds of potential to do something more than a movie. A play that doesn’t realize that, is a play that’s failing to be contemporary theatre. And in the same way, a small institution that doesn’t realize that there’s a gallery somewhere with whiter walls and nicer lights, is up against something really difficult. It’s the responsibility of someone with fewer resources to be more innovative and shrewd with those resources.

 

Yulia Kostereva: Can art change the society?

Clemens Poole: Anthony Downey, the program director at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, has talked about art activism. He put it really well, he said that what we commonly think of as “activist art” actually isn’t political, because that kind of art contends with politics in the realm that political system wants it to stay in. Of course it’s the same case, the politician has more resources and more ability in that arena. It’s not to say that this work isn’t valid, but for me it’s not interesting. The way that art can be potent in a political sense is different than that. I don’t think art’s power to change society is in using the same vocabulary as other things that change society. Art’s power to change society is in developing a new vocabulary.

The guy who curated the Berlin Occupy Biennale, which I didn’t like, Artur Zmijewski, does all kinds of projects I like. I think his other work is more political than that Biennale project. If you Google “political art”, the images that come up are the same things that were in that Occupy Biennale, but his other work is much more political — his project with the Holocaust survivor’s tattoo, or his project with people missing limbs — they’re much more pushing people to think about situations.

I think Anthony Downey is right, to my mind, Banksey is not necessarily political art. He’s a guy with nice aesthetics and good, funny, ironic ideas, but anything he does that could be called political is just playing the same game as politics at large. That’s not where art’s power is. There’s always some Super-PAC that is spending more money than you will ever have to get these people elected, and maybe they’re not even getting elected, maybe they’re just getting bought. This is definitely the case of Ukraine, so it’s definitely important for art to reimagine itself here.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What about the position of artist? How artist should be involved in the current situation?

Clemens Poole: This is really interesting, and something I’ve been thinking about recently. There have been a lot of artists with Middle-Eastern backgrounds, who have been doing a lot of really powerful work and getting a lot of press. The art world and the public love when an artist has this historical connection in their work. People really want that from an artist. When you have this connection they perceive your voice and your vision as that much more valid. People think that you know more about suffering because you come from some place where suffering happened. If we assume that we want to think that way, then it of course makes it difficult for other parts of the world to make “relevant” art.

This is also on my mind because I did this project ZAHOPLENNYA, and I’m not from Ukraine. Everyone asks me why I’m interested in Ukraine, why I would come here and do this, what do I know that other people don’t know, that makes me more qualified to come here and do this. I don’t have an easy answer any of those questions. But I think what’s important, and what nobody will ever able to fault you for as an artist, is trying to understand.

In certain cases that means involving yourself really deeply. In a lot of these cases where people have a personal historical background with some thing, they’re trying to understand more about that thing. But I believe that trying to figure something out can mean doing something to yourself, and changing yourself, as a way to understand more. If understanding more is your interest, and that is the involvement that your work demands, you should allow yourself to get as close as possible, even at the risk of losing sight of everything around you, which is often a reality of being that close. Maybe you’re not seeing the whole picture, but no one sees the whole picture. And then, if you want to stand back and see it that can be valid too. It may be a harder way to work because it can have less obvious credibility externally. It can be harder for people to believe that you know what’s going on if you step back, but that can also be a really useful method of working.

When I was invited to come here, I was originally asked to do something else. When that didn’t work out because of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, I proposed ZAHOPLENNYA. The whole thing has been about trying to figure out what this situation means and how it affects people here.

 

Yulia Kostereva: Is it possible for artist to divide an artistic practice and life?

Clemens Poole: I don’t know what that’s like. Some people do that, and many people live that way. That’s a psychological question for humans generally. I don’t know. I never have a “real” job for a long time. I’ve had all kinds of different jobs, every job you can think of, but I’ve never had a job for five years, and gone to the office and all that. I can’t do it. But if I was able to separate… and be my other self, and then go to work… I don’t know.

 

Yulia Kostereva: Sometimes, if you involve a lot, you feel that your work is connected with all your body, you couldn’t see the situation from the distance.

Clemens Poole: I try to be professional with what I do. I think often about what my end goal is for a project, and how I can endure things that are not perfect in order to get what I want in the end. I think that it’s the essence of professionalism: being able to do the things you say you’re going to do, despite obstacles.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What is the role of artists working with public space?

Clemens Poole: When I started to do research about public space I was trying to consider how people think about public space. I found that what was written about public space was dominated by architectural ideas of public space. I thought that was interesting because it was about how you could develop the aesthetic of a space to encourage things. But only when architecture is really good it’s about use of space. This is constantly the problem with the “Starchitect” fancy buildings. It’s all about the idea of the space but it’s not about the space in use, it’s not about functionality. If you’re a good architect you put equal weight on these things, and you make buildings and space that are very useful, functional, and beautiful. But all too often, architecture, and this includes architecture and design for public space, gets carried away with this one aspect, and forgets that public space is a space to house the public and whatever they do.

So the important thing is to understand what the public does or maybe would want to do. That is different that what an artist does. What I was interested in for ZAHOPLENNYA, was more what can you do when there’s nothing here. What can you do with a void? It doesn’t have to be encouraged by the space. It doesn’t have to be playing the same game as the architecture. And that is what I want, and what I’m interested in. When the use of public space is not following the rules of the architecture, or the architectural constraints.

I wanted to work with people who were reimagining public space. This was motivated by what happened at IZOLYATSIA in Donetsk. It was a factory, and then it was an art institution, and now it’s a prison. Each one of these cases is about people reimagining space, against the architectural intent of the space. That’s what I really wanted to do with ZAHOPLENNYA. Different participating projects addressed it differently. Some used the park and it was the park. Maybe not every project reimagined public space, but some projects did. Some projects took that as their theme. For example, Open Group’s entire project was about reimagining a space. I think we succeeded in playing with that at least a little bit. We had nine projects, and it will take a while to evaluate how each project worked and the good things that came from all of them. Just in the sense of the public space different ones had different relationships to this as a problem. I think it was really great that some people were able to make work that wasn’t in line with what I’m interested about public space. But I’m also happy, because ZAHOPLENNYA wasn’t only about what I’m interested in a public space.

Food as the instrument of social engagement

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Data Chigholashvili and Nini Palavandishvili

August 30, 2014
Bialystok, Poland

 

The GeoAIR independent art initiative operates from 2003 on, officially registered as a non-governmental organization in 2007. It’s one of the very few art residences in Georgia. For the past year they are realizing the project connected with migration, cooking and public space. The team of GeoAIR believes that food can bring different people together. Furthermore, it’s easier to talk about serious problems and solve them together after the tasty “dating”.

About the structure of GeoAIR

Yuriy Kruchak: How did the idea of GeoAIR appear?

Nini Palavandishvili: This idea came from Sophia Tabatadze, Georgian artist who lives in Berlin. That time she lived in the Netherlands, where she had lots of friends interested in Georgia. All together they came to Georgia to do something there. They made the first project called “Foreigner” in 2003 on the territory of the old vine factory. The backbone of organization formed during two or three years, and then its participants decided to give it an official status.

I came back to Georgia from Germany in 2004. I was a curating a project by Goethe-Institute, where Sophia Tabatadze was also participating. Gradually we started to work in collaboration, some other people joined who shared our ideas and views and that is time when Archidrome – Contemporary Art Archive, one of the oldest directions of the organisation was born. Archidrome is an archive, library discussion platform, which contains diverse material (publications, periodicals, digital media) about contemporary art and culture in Georgia, the Caucasus region, as well as international theories and tendencies. At that time there was a lack of information about local artists, movements and art community in Georgia. We met with artists, gathered their portfolios and made presentations for each artist. Now we have quite an extensive database of operating artists in Georgia and the Caucasus Region.

In 2009-2010 I again lived in Germany, and after return to Tbilisi started to work as a curator for GeoAIR only. That time Sophia decided to organize residence. Working with foreign artists showed that organising a place where they would stay and work for longer period was necessary. Sophia built one more floor over her house, which was turned into a place for residents. Thus in 2010 GeoAIR Residency appeared. Since then we have new resident(s) for at least one month some for longer.

Our aim for the residency and residents is not production, as we understand that in some cases one month is too little time to create something. We have three main directions we’re concentrating on, all of them are intertwined. Our residents, especially curators, work with our archive. We try, when it’s possible, to involve residents in projects that we realize. All of our residents should have interest in Georgia, in environment and issues not only of the country but also in larger picture of global politics.. We concentrate on work on public space, now our interest had also spread to work with communities. So, we’re focusing more on working with people than with artists. In Georgia there are still not many artists who work on social issues and/or with communities, that’s the problem.

Data Chigholashvili: Our residents also contribute to the archive and the library. There is material about art from Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and not only. The library is open, everybody can use it. Our office is situated near the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. Unfortunately, students of the academy visit us rarely, because I guess unfortunately they’re not interested in such information.

Nini Palavandishvili: Educational system in Georgia is weak. The Academy of Arts is the old school academic type of institution, which doesn’t want to change. At the Free University of Tbilisi, founded by Kakha Bendukidze, this year the faculty of Arts and Design will open. I think, it’ll be a great competitor to the academy. There’re higher prices at the Free University but there you can get knowledge. In my opinion, the Academy should be closed. Nothing changes there, things become worse and worse.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Data, you’re an anthropologist by education, right? How is it to collaborate with artists?

Data Chigholashvili: I’m studying socio-cultural anthropology, mainly working in visual and urban anthropology. For my MSc dissertation I wrote about intersection of contemporary art and anthropology practices. I also discussed one of Sophia Tabatadze’s projects there and then I joined GeoAIR upon my return to Tbilisi. Now I continue research about the transformation of Tbilisi, especially in relation with different communities and city’s visual aspects, as well as art projects that deal with it. As I collaborate with artists and curators, I can implement the result of my research into practical works and also learn a great deal from them. It motivates me to do what I’m writing about and working on at the same time.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How do you share responsibility at GeoAIR?

Nini Palavandishvili: There’re three of us, we work collaboratively and share tasks, but each of us can lead also different projects, which connect at some point. In contrast to the art collective, the members of which are constantly working together, we’re an art organization that works with different projects, but all of them coincide with organisations vision and mission.

Data Chigholashvili: We have a big database, and we work with other organizations abroad to choose artists for their residences, provide recommendations, set up connections between artists and different institutions. Regulations and rules of competitions are sometimes read inattentively, I think more work needs to be done with art scene representatives here with regards of presenting their works more effectively, elaborate more and get more active on international level, we also try to work on that with them.

About working with "non-artistic" society

Yuriy Kruchak: Could you tell a bit more about projects realized with communities in Georgia?

Nini Palavandishvili: I even don’t remember the first time when we’ve started to do it. It was always interesting for me to work with people, to do some research, but without any knowledge of special methodology, I was able to rely only on my instinct. Data (Data Chigholashvili) joining the group remarkably enriched our practice as he has more knowledge of ethnographic approach and anthropological research.

Last year we realized the first project with Data. In Tbilisi there’s historical area called Betlemi, in the previous century lots of different ethnical groups lived there: Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Kurds etc. As a result of typical gentrification process representatives of these nationalities had to leave gradually, real estate property in that area became expensive. But the specificity of this area is that ICOMOS, which has an office there worked on rehabilitation of that district together with local inhabitants. Thus, fortunately the picture is very different from common “beautification” we face in most of the city, where we call restoration of Tbilisi old district but in fact we are destroying and just building copies of old.

Data Chigholashvili: Yes, local dwellers learned how to restore something. It started by 2000. Nowadays the “old city” changed a lot. It’s often told that old Tbilisi is multicultural and open place, but not many people can feel it now. That’s why we decided to work within the festival on the territory of Betlemi which is held annually on the 17th of May. In that framework we collaborated with people from different ethnic groups living in Betlemi district. Together with social science and graphic design students we worked on small brochures, which contained some typical for their origin or family recipe on the one side and with the story of the person, who provided this recipe, on the other side.

At the festival participants cooked meal and talked about it, they also opened their yards for public entrance. It was nice to unite people, and the festival was also marvelous. Though, unfortunately that day is remembered in Georgia because of the horrible things that happened. On the 17th of May, 2013 there was an attempt to have the demonstration in Tbilisi against homophobia, but a big group of people, lead by the orthodox church representatives bashed the demonstration, beat and chased some of the people who were there to protest.

Nini Palavandishvili: So, our first project was an experiment in a way. Its already quite some time that we are interested in topic of “new migration,” we wanted to know more about people who move to Georgia nowadays. Some ten years ago lots of Chinese people appeared in Georgia and particularly in Tbilisi. Then they disappeared, their shops were closed, but people from India and Pakistan came instead. Now we have migrants from Iran, Iraq, African countries and “Western” countries, etc. We wanted to know for what reason all these people come to Georgia, what they are doing, how they feel and how the local people perceive and treat them. There’s stereotype about “good” immigrants from Western Europe and bad criminals from all other countries.

Since Georgia is famous for its cuisine, we decided to connect migration with cooking. Last year we started to research on how migrants lived in Tbilisi, this work is still continuing. We learnt that many Indians study medicine. But to learn more, you need to communicate with someone for a long time, also you should set up trusting relationships. Student-anthropologists were involved in our research. The aim is to obtain material , which will contribute to our research as well as be included in publications we produce about chosen migrant groups, individuals with whom then eventually we do public cooking.

During the process we also realized that problem of migrants living in Tbilisi is deeper than it seemed before. And if a person, you collaborate with, has problems with accommodation, you can’t just dismiss it. We contacted the public defenders office, went to chancellor’s office to find out more about new migration law and regulation and try to assist those people in need in whatever we can. We also contacted the culinary show from one of the most popular Georgian TV channels to get more publicity and start discussing this crucial issue, as it was basically not addressed at all. As a result we did five programs with people from Nigeria, Thailand, Jordan, India and Iran. I can’t say that things have changed, but we, as well as migrants and television workers, got an interesting experience. At least, people noticed that migrants don’t come with aim to steal something, but for searching better opportunities. Even in our friends circle some think that immigrants don’t have any problems, because they don’t complain or simply they do not have an opportunity to raise their voice. But actually, the person with black skin can be refused to visit a swimming pool, it’s that bad often.

Data Chigholashvili: We want to talk about discrimination and we’re conscious that people in Tbilisi or elsewhere won’t be completely tolerant all of a sudden, but we need to start from somewhere, so if we scratch the surface regarding the issue, it will be great. It’d be very useful to start similar activities in universities. Mostly, in one faculty where both Georgian and foreign students are studying, they even don’t know each other and could be divided into separate groups. Through public cooking events and other related activities, together with migrants we engage with locals, living in their direct neighborhoods or generally in Tbilisi. As we are preparing and sharing food, social experience of migrants living in Tbilisi is also discussed, these include both, positive examples, as well as terrible cases of racism.

Nini Palavandishvili: We got so involved in this issue that we developed it further. In October we’re organizing workshop with schoolchildren, with whom we will work on visual stories about their neighbouring migrants.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: What is the political direction of your institution?

Nini Palavandishvili: We are oriented “left” and try not to make compromises for money. For example, if Kakha Bendukidze offered the grant for artists, it would be difficult for me to decide whether to apply or not.

Once our artists protested against Georgian minister of culture. I signed the petition and helped to distribute it. That time I was going to go to the residence in Poland for one month. It was planned that the ministry of culture would fund this trip. I didn’t know about such agreement between Polish and Georgian sides. When I found it out, I refused to accept the money from the ministry. It’s important to think how to behave and be responsible for your actions and not to act in sake of comfort.

About money and an ideal institution

Yuriy Kruchak: Do you have a mechanism to get the financial independence? How can the society support your organization?

Nini Palavandishvili: We don’t know how somebody can support us. I have my own vision of this situation, but I’m not sure that I’m right. The only source of finance for Georgian artists is the Ministry of Culture and Monument protection of Georgia, there is also municipality fund, but they rather give money for populist concerts. Also, the ministry covers only production costs, and it’s not possible to get fee for administrative work.

We have been supported by the grants from European Union and the Open Society Foundation for various projects. Programs connected with these grants will end soon, and we don’t know what to do next. The residency isn’t something profitable, we can only take care about the space and artists. GeoAIR is a non-profit organization, and we can’t open a cafe, for example. Maybe, we should propose guided tours for interested travelers or artists?

There was a case when independent gallery “Nectar”, which offers a space for non-commercial artists to create experimental works, have asked the artistic society to support their project. I’m not sure, that it’s a right way. We pay taxes to the state, which should provide such support. Using the system of crowd funding we make the state free from its responsibilities, and yet you must pay taxes. There’s no way to fight with the ministry. I disagree with this system, but don’t know about other options.

People collect money for social needs, someone’s medical treatment and so on, but community is still not conscious that it’s necessary to support art. I assume that money for the “Nectar” gallery’s project was also mainly transferred from abroad.

Data Chigholashvili: And the projects we’re doing are unclear for many people. Once, a German artist who was teaching at the Art Academy invited me to give a short talk about the connection of art and anthropology. I prepared a very general talk and decided to talk about the importance of context in art, no matter from which perspective we look at it. I had such a big rejection from students, they said that they’re interested in other things, like abstraction and context is not relevant there.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: You create an institution with elements of social center. What is an ideal institution for you?

Data Chigholashvili: I’m interested in developing the institution this way. But it’d be better if it develops not just with our forces and sources. It’d be nice to have financial support as well as done together with students, young artists, researchers and activists.

Nini Palavandishvili: As a curator I’m interested to work with artists, but not in a way that I’ve proposed the topic and they adopt it. We should develop some certain direction together.

There’s one more problem that Georgian artists don’t understand that it’s possible to collaborate with musicians, filmmakers and so on. I’d like to make a project, where artists could learn something from other disciplines. For me institution is a platform for self-development, discussions and communication. I almost don’t make exhibitions and my exhibition projects involve panel discussions, workshops and educational programs. I think that the ideal institution is possible; otherwise, we wouldn’t do what we do.

Speaking about funding, we try to communicate an idea of co-working between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Economy. We propose to change the tax policy. Authorities don’t want to allow paying fewer taxes to people who invest in culture. The government doesn’t realize that it’s not an exemption from the payment but taxes go on specific purposes.

Data Chigholashvili: We need a special law imposing an obligation on big businesses to invest in cultural activities. Also, there should be funds transferred to a special foundation, free of individual influences, that would allocate these resources on projects based on competitions.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Is it possible to influence the cultural policy of Georgia?

Nini Palavandishvili: Two or three months ago there was an announcement on the website of the Ministry of Culture that it is open to ideas from non-governmental sector to develop cultural policy. In summer I submitted recommendations for transparent system and better distribution of the budget, selection procedures etc in the field of culture, to report how much money allocated on grants and reveal the selection mechanism. There has been no response from the ministry yet. As a community of artists, we write recommendations and it’s unclear who will consider them. Especially now, when the minister changed again, and we need to lobby our interests again.

About collaboration with other artists

Yuriy Kruchak: I’d like to talk about the archive again, about the «Archidrome» project. How was the structure of the archive formed? How did you agree with artists regarding the copyright?

Nini Palavandishvili: Artists gave us DVDs with information, sent their CVs and newspaper clippings. We wanted to make it accessible through the internet, but there was not enough money for that. At the moment it’s still a physical archive, which we also have difficulties to update permanently, but we still continue to work on it. When we make an open call, we always renew our data with the information from the applications.

About copyright, we don’t sign any agreement with artists. But each time when somebody asks us about materials we redirect him or her to artist, we don’t give anything without permission of the author.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Do you have friends who develop similar initiatives?

Nini Palavandishvili: Yes, we do. For example, French curator Géraldine Paoli from Marseille, who has visited our residency, and who has a lot of connections with Arabian countries and Korea. She wants to create a platform to unite people, initiatives and organizations for collaboration, but out of the frames of existing partnerships and political prescriptions. The name of the project is “CONFLUENCES RESONANTS” (flowing resonances). She lives in the famous house of Le Corbusier in Marseille, in which architecture was planned with social purposes. Géraldine Paoli also turns her flat into a place for meetings and socializing. She organizes different kind of cultural programs and tries to involve inhabitants of the house to participate in it.

We also work with organization in Tirana, the capital of Albania. They lead thematic residencies. We collaborate with residence in Kosice in Slovakia and we work a lot with other countries.

In Georgia everything is centralized and concentrated in the capital. We try to expand our activity outside of Tbilisi as well. Last year we worked in Zugdidi, Rustavi and Mestia, we worked a lot in Batumi as well. But it’s problematic to find artists interested in what we do in Tbilisi. Then, in other cities it’s almost impossible. However, we were able to work with local artists and communities, explained our ideas to them and engage them in our work.

And we do hope that with our activities gradually we will engage more people and make them interested in different approaches and more civil engagement and mediate social context of art.

We were testing the ability of art to change the world

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Vladimir Us

August 29, 2014
Bialystok, Poland

 

Vladimir Us – is a curator of Young Artists Association Oberliht in Moldova. Vladimir studied painting in Chisinau, cultural management in Belgrade, participated in the international program for curators in Grenoble.

Yuriy Kruchak: How many years does Association Oberliht exist? What is its structure?

Vladimir Us: Our association was founded in 2000. I was a third year student of Academy of Music, Theatre and Fine Arts in Chisinau. The purpose of our organization was assistance to young artists to present themselves, as students didn’t have opportunities to exhibit their works. Those times we knew about civil society little, and association was the tool for practical purposes.

Initially, there were 10-12 artists in the collective. We prepared various exhibitions. For example, thanks to the association, we got a place in the historical museum for free. We have exhibitions in different cities and villages of Moldova. One project we even made in Transnistria, then we wanted to show, what young Moldovan artists were doing, and also we wanted to see what young artists in Transnistria were doing.

We also made the site and newsletter, which now is called Oberlist, with its help we informed youth about opportunities of participation in various exhibitions and educational programs. This information resource has grown, and now it’s used not only in Moldova.

Later, many artists from our collective moved to other countries by economic reasons, some of them started to work in other spheres. Experience obtained within first few years helps us today to realize complex international projects.

Since 2006-2007 we started to rebuild activity of our organization. We began to actualize the theme of public space. We didn’t have such space but we needed it as a place for work and a place to show what we do. To some extent, it pushed us on the street. Now Oberliht is a group of people with different professions and different experience. We not only organize exhibitions, but also think about transformations of public space, development of the region, the state, and society.

In the first decade of the 21 century we began to invite local and foreign artists to work in public space. Thus we started our residence program, and we’re continuing it up to now. In 2006-2008 we prepared a series of projects «Interventions»: artists worked in public places in order to change something there. So, we investigated how art can change the world.

Afterwards, there was a project «Сhiosc». It was a platform installed in the public space in Chisinau, such a place of interaction between artists and community. That platform was implemented by Stefan Rusu. He proposed to make an open flat from concrete, designed according to principles of frame-and-panel houses. This construction still stands in front of the Department of Culture of Chisinau, and work for artistic and social purposes.

When we started to use public space in Chisinau, we realized that it’s also attractive for businessmen and politicians, who have their personal interests. Thus, the public space is a place of conflict between different groups, and needs of local residents, who use these spaces, are totally ignored. In this way, it gave us a theme that still has been developing in our works. Now we collaborate not only with artists, but also with architects, sociologists, historians, activists. All these professional groups are aware of the public space, how it works, and they design it. Together with sociologists we explore needs of residents of the particular location, with historians we study the past of the certain terrain, we work with activists, when destruction or disappearance threatens to public places because of somebody’s personal interests.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How do different social groups influence the activity of the association? How do these communities interact with each other?

Vladimir Us: We form a particular team for each project. Different people unite due to projects. The association is rather a platform for group of programs. It’s not an institution, but it allows initiating projects and engaging lots of people.

We don’t want to create an institution on the base of the association, because it would make work more bureaucratic. We try to function horizontally. We form new team for each our projects, and all teams are equal in taking decisions. The government should have the priority to create institutions. Institutions should protect artists, give them opportunity for development.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: What programs besides residences do Association Oberliht realize?

Vladimir Us: A residence is just one of the formats we are working with. Within this format we invite artists, architects, anthropologist to share their experiences. In this way, representatives of different professions explore an unfamiliar context. But in the same time this program is educational for us, as we realize principles of work with different people by communication with them.

Other programs are connected with «Open Flat» in a frame of «Сhiosc». In 2009 we started a program of open-air projections, where we demonstrate films about public place, urbanism and activism. Political cinema is the new topic for us, in this way we’d like to tell that politics concerns not just political parties but also usual citizens. Also in «Open Flat» we show video-works of artists from different countries.

One more project is the groups for reading. Different people read scientific literature about transformation of public space. There are philosophy and sociology books among others. The library of public place is based on it.

Last few years we’re making sociological interviews with residents of places, where we want to work. I wouldn’t consider it as a particular program, it’s a constant process we are involved in.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How big is community you are working with?

Vladimir Us: Local art-community is very small, independent institutions of Chisinau can be counted by fingers of a hand. Our audience is also small, and this is a problem that should be solved. One way to do it is the art education. Center of contemporary art in Chisinau has ideas connected with this question and we help them to develop this direction.

We work not only with art communities, but all these groups are small. There are lots of students of the architects in Chisinau but not many from them work with public place. We try to expand this group by inviting “our” architects with lectures in different universities, so, they inform students about things we are keen on.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How would you describe your political views and, accordingly, position of the platform, you are developing?

Vladimir Us: Association Oberliht is the nonpolitical organization, but our work can be considered as political activity. We try to work on two levels. On “bottom” level we communicate with people and communities. On “upper” level we connect with media, and deliver necessary information to somebody who takes decisions in the cultural sphere. This work is connected with shaping of cultural policy and participation in economical discussions. Also we regularly make propositions about improving cultural policy in the country and present them to the Ministry of Culture. Recommendations mainly connected with support of independent art organizations and with development of urban space. One more aspect is the art education. We develop our activity in these three sectors. Also we’re going to develop other directions in the future.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How many people work in your organization?

Vladimir Us: At the present moment it’s a group of three people and the accountant. Also some volunteers and trainees help us. In addition, we collaborate with specialists from different spheres.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How do you take a decision about launching a new project? How difficult is to shape a new team?

Vladimir Us: Decisions about each project are taken by the team. We have a supervisory board from artists, who are members of the association. The supervisory board ensures implementation of particular ideas, namely, support of young artists. Youth are engaged in all projects of the association, and we try to help them. Besides, we want to help society in general.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Your association exists nearly 14 years. What are the main results?

Vladimir Us: There were two periods in the association. Firstly, it was a collective of artists, who organized exhibitions in different cities, and then we start to work with public spaces. The second stage already has results. We’ve realized projects that still functioning, and created programs that demonstrate results.

We are very small organization, and it’s difficult to measure what we did in terms of quality. It should be at least 20-30 organizations in order to have some obvious results.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: How difficult is to develop Oberliht? Is there any support from authority or society?

Vladimir Us: Our organization is financially independent, we always rely on personal sources. And now the association is developing thanks to people who invest their funds in this activity. But now it’s easier time for us as we’ve learned how to collaborate with international funds to develop our programs. We’ve collected human and financial sources that allow us to work for ourselves. Firstly, we were just surviving, now situation is more stable, though still not good.

The support is the task for the future. For several years we’ve been trying to work on educational program. We give the theory, in order to form knowledge about transformations of public space, and factors that influence on these processes. Now we’re able to form more adequate recommendations and propose some concrete strategies to the authority.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: What are the mechanisms of fundraising?

Vladimir Us: There are some international projects in European Union to support cultural initiatives. Also we’re trying to apply local programs of financing culture and propose to increase the quantity of local foundations which support culture.

We haven’t proposed any legislative reforms yet, but we constantly inform authorities about activity of independent organizations, which, as we think, the state should support. Also there is an initiative, not ours, to create cultural fund of Moldova. Such fund potentially could finance independent culture and initiatives of NGO organizations. Moreover, there is drafted a bill, by which at the end of the year the people should redirect 2% of their taxes to support activity of certain organizations. Besides, we think about participative budget, which could function on the local level. Thus, certain percentage of local budget will cover initiatives of local communities.

Theoretically, the city budget should be participative on hundred percent, but let’s start with a small. This model is functioning in Poland, many cities there have commissions that explore propositions from citizens, and distribute the money between different local initiatives. From the one side residents are involved in the life of the city. From the other side, the budget of the city is distributed much more effectively, because people know better what they need to change in their backyard. Participative budget is more effective and democratic.

Strategies and tactics of the multifunctional center

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Kateryna Botanova

January 20, 2014
Kyiv. Ukraine

 

Kateryna Botanova – art critic, curator, contemporary culture researcher and cultural producer. Director of CSM-Foundation Center for Contemporary Art and founder and chief editor of the online journal on contemporary culture KORYDOR.

Institution as an incubator of meanings

Yuriy Kruchak: Kateryna, last spring you participated in the series of working sessions «Architecture of Opportunities», where the conception of multifunctional center in Ukraine was discussed. How has your vision of this institution changed since that time?

Kateryna Botanova: Now each day brings something new. It seems that everything what we say, should be necessarily dated, because the dynamic of political and social development just incredible, and your words will be interpreted depending on the time when you say that.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Some people believed that community can’t influence the processes around. Now we can observe the opposite things, people’s indignation spilled out onto the streets.

Kateryna Botanova: I prefer the situation when the community affects the situation, though I’m not sure that it’s reality. The difficulty is to determine to what extent we’d like to influence the political situation as citizens and as artists, representatives of cultural sphere. These questions are weakly elaborated, and it’s very dangerous.

We constantly live without “tomorrow”, without any vision of what will be in a few steps ahead. It’s important to remember that the cultural center is the living structure, which consists of needs of producers of cultural phenomena, needs of the audience, the knowledge of this audience as well as human and material resources. The disposition of these four blocks is dynamic and constantly changed over the last year, it’s a very sharp change, especially in the field of sources. Both human and material sources are drying up. In our country welfare expenditures constantly decreasing, that’s why understanding of the importance of these spheres disappears. Human sources depend on the material, and now we are facing with deprofessionalization in the field of culture. So, we need to learn and evolve, but we don’t have opportunities to do so, because we think how to survive.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Yet, how should the structure of the multifunctional center look? The situation at night of January 20, 2014, shows us that the community doesn’t want to have old models of governance, and probably need new ways of interaction between authorities and citizens. Perhaps, the multifunctional center should develop these new models of relationships between social groups, shouldn’t it?

Kateryna Botanova: Generally, my vision of the center hasn’t changed, but it became clearer since the last year. Today I strongly disagree that it’s necessary to establish a dialogue with the current regime. To the bitter end I was sure that that was necessary, and I saw the way of peaceful changes. But now I understand that negotiations are impossible, because it’s impossible to negotiate with a rifle. This statement certainly doesn’t mean that public communication unwanted. We have a lack of communication, and no government could succeed without it.

As for the cultural center, to my mind, it’s important that cultural activity consists of thinking and sensual activities, even in the broadest sense of culture. This is an opportunity to see, to formulate and to embody certain ideas, values and concepts, which are important for the modern society, and which will determine its future. The system of communication and relationships in different parts of society should be built around this thing.

When we have nothing, when there’s only “the poor landscape with yellow grass”, there is a danger that we’ll try to cram into a cultural center everything. We must think what to choose. It’s important for me that interdisciplinary organization, at least at the first stage, should be an incubator, a place for thinking, perceiving and creation of concepts, ideas and certain social models. The ability to do something in an artistic sphere is one of the most important basic needs.

The model of incubator is hard to understand. In the future the cultural center will have different phases of development, and it will change over time. It’s very difficult to plan something, the needs of the society and the mass of critical thinking are changing, and these processes are difficult to measure. Now uncertainty is the key element of people’s work in the cultural field. However, any managerial model requires specific vision of prospects.

Incubator, which I’m talking about, is a valuable thing. Enormous amount of sources should be spent on inconspicuous activities. At the same time, the funds that come in this sector require public, preferably a positive, reaction. Incubator doesn’t give it before a certain moment.

And it’s obvious, that some educational activities should exist parallel to the incubator. It’s necessary to identify principles of the dialogue in order to set up it. Why during the revolution should be protected Art Museum and the library of the parliament? Why the consequences of such losses will be crucial for many generations? I don’t know how to explain it. It’s lost so much over the last 20 years…

 

Yuriy Kruchak: For the last 20 years people in Ukraine were more concerned about success, and very little time was given for development of the model, oriented towards an effective understanding of current social processes. It seems to me that the center we are speaking about, could contribute the formation of such structure. This is a long process, but it would help to understand how we can influence politicians and culture. Now society is excluded from cultural and political processes, people make a choice only during elections.

So, what segments the incubator could consist of?

Kateryna Botanova: I don’t think that the cultural center should influence policy, especially politicians. It’s naive to assume that cultural institution should directly influence the political reality. In my opinion, the specificity of our lives and civil lawlessness now led to the violence and protest, which have no strategy and inefficient in creating a policy.

The most important thing in cultural activity is immersion in the process, but keeping certain distance, which allows us to see in perspective, to create a variety of “tomorrow”, to watch who we are as individuals and as a society. There’s shortage of perspectives in the Ukrainian art today, we’d like to affect the situation immediate. But it’s impossible. In the future cultural institutions should influence society, but differently: through the creation of knowledge, values and audiences that will realize these values, including the political field. So, in a certain sense culture creates a policy, as a certain strategy of development of the public spheres. This question is particularly difficult today, and the nature of sources will affect the political interaction.

Other important issue is the insularity of our reality on Ukrainian problems only. This point creates the illusion that everything what happens here is crucial for the world. It’s a kind of some rumination instead of studying from the external context.

I think that the cultural center should include residences with different durations, with the possibility to combine different artistic disciplines and researches. Some exposition, working areas, places for discussions and concerts also will be needed there. The processes in an incubator should be open for discussion. It’s important to organize educational and awareness activities, which will be built around the incubator and accompanying events, and which will create a context and a history. The other significant issue is the establishment of the international context on the basis of residence and exhibitions. Research activities should be implemented as part of the residences through some art projects and publications. Besides, investments to the creating an artistic product and establishing deeper contacts with the audience will be needed. Ideal model of the center should develop in a spiral, expanding its circles.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: Who will participate in residences? In what spaces they will be held?

Kateryna Botanova: For response on these questions it’s necessary to concretize previous issues, otherwise, it’s the space of pure fantasy, and hypotheses may be far from reality. Theoretically, collaboration and joint “boiling” of various types of artistic practices are very important, because such modifications help to generate new ideas. I don’t know how to do it technically. In such situation, a significant role will play curators, their ability to construct the space of communication. Again, there’s a question of sources, of the availability of right people in Ukraine.

On the other hand, a question of decision-making always will be in described structure. Who will be the authority? Honestly, I don’t know, because both models as with the sole expert and with the collective leadership have a number of pros and cons. The collective’s professional decision always creates a protective buffer, everyone always can say “it’s not me”, this model can be effective in terms of volume of knowledge, but I’m not sure that it’s good for management. Individual decision of curator is always limited by knowledge, ability to take risks. However, such model can be more successful for implementation the certain vision of development.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: What do you think about the prospects of relationships between artists and existing institutions? There are many houses of culture now…

Kateryna Botanova: I don’t see a connection between institutions and houses of culture. From my understanding, an institution is a certain sequence of strategies and policies, and houses of culture are entities, which try to survive in modern conditions. Cultural center obviously will be created in Kyiv on private funds, because others don’t exist in Ukraine. Reform of the houses of culture and creation of cultural centers in the regions are important issues, but from different level. Houses of culture should work with local needs, which are simple to implement. I know few cities which are trying to work with this: Vinnitsa, Lviv, Kremenchug, Dnipropetrovsk, and Lugansk. Speaking about Kyiv we assume artistic professional environment with the different type of audience.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: What cultural institutions can be considered as examples of your model? Maybe such places exist abroad?

Kateryna Botanova: Ideologically, no. We have a completely different situation, although partially the center will be based on the experience of other organizations. There’re a number of European residences that explore practices of various institutions. A few years ago it was created a book about interdisciplinary cooperation – resources and so on. Each segment of the future center should consider experience of others and methods of combination it with our realities. We have a situation when there is absolutely no budget, there is only private money, which is likely to be a certain type of money of a certain person – so, this person will have a significant impact on what will happen.

There is a perfect model of artistic residences in Warsaw. It can be taken as a model, but how much does it cost? It’s supported by organization that now is in a big crisis because of the problems with financing and management. Residences have autonomy, but the institution provides possibilities for projects development. That’s why when it begins to fall apart, everything collapsing.

«Constant need in culture is important»

Yuriy Kruchak: What could be the goals of the multifunctional center?

Kateryna Botanova: I’m sure that the goal of such organization would be the formation of cultural policy of the society, while doing this alone isn’t very effective. We need a platform that will enlist co-operation of others, stimulate particular processes, because the collective action dies without leader. However, it’s all rhetoric, until it becomes clear what authority is in the country. Cultural policy should be implemented through state authorities – only in these circumstances it’ll be effective.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: What is the point from which a network of cultural institutions could be built? Who could work in a supervisory board of the multifunctional center?

Kateryna Botanova: There are some tactical issues on which impossible to answer without response on the strategic issues. We can’t discuss who will join the supervisory board, if it isn’t clear what kind of structure we’re talking about. I like the incubator model. In such organization may be a few councils, among them supervisory board or board of trustees, which will work with the development strategy of the institution and with possibilities of implementing this strategy in terms of resources and financing. Ideally, it should consist of people working in the cultural sector and in the business, who understand features of the art product. Members of such board should form supporting networks around institutions, and the wider these networks will be, the better it’ll be for the center.

The choice of residences and forming the program can be controlled by expert council of several specialists, or by the curator who will work with the contract and could deal with this. However, it’s almost impossible in Ukrainian conditions. Again we face with the question of how to find the curator.

 

Yuriy Kruchak: In my opinion, we can’t talk about sources until we start to offer small projects that are different from the existing ones. For example, “Hromadske TV” demonstrates a certain level of journalism, and people trust it. It’s necessary to restore the public confidence to the institutions. Confidence in the quality of the product ensures the credibility of the institution which produces it.

Kateryna Botanova: I think the comparison with “Hromadske TV” is dangerous, because it’s the project for a fairly narrow range of people. There’s a community that understands that we have affiliated information field, there is demand on information, and there’s a source of professional journalists – all these things create a database. Group of professionals gathered just in time, although the question of the financing is not so clear. Will this project be systematic, will it exist the next year? Another risk that not many people understand that quality information should be supplemented by quality analytics.

A potential cultural center doesn’t have a reference group now. Whatever changed the political circumstances, I can’t imagine a situation when people would feel a necessity of this project. Information is necessary now for the survival of society, it’s the factor of political struggle. Culture in Ukraine has never been recognized as a factor which guarantee the existence of society, and it’s unreal to instill it now.

Different layers of society have to understand the strategic objectives of the multifunctional center. We, the initiative group of cultural activists, distinguish among our tasks an extension of the circle of people who support certain ideas. It’s important for society to have a constant need in culture, as it binds our yesterday, today and tomorrow. When tragic events on Hrushevskoho Street become points of history, something remains, which will be able to accumulate knowledge about those days. But it’s a huge task which needs a giant network of supporters.

Awareness of the importance of culture can come in a month or in a few years. Talking about these processes has no sense now because society “burns”. Community began to hear cultural environment a little in the late 2000s, it was possible to write about art, and it provoked response among society, but then – boom! – everything fell down, among other reasons of that were political realities. We should keep redefining of the importance of culture in perspective, and today also take some small steps in this direction.

Now we, cultural activists, can say that we are small, and with specific needs. The world around these needs will grow, and they will become important rather for part of the society. We should accept the fact that not everybody will share our beliefs. I’m not sure that someone will hear our idea of a cultural center, but it’s required at least by a part of the cultural environment, and we should speak about it. If we extend our circle, maybe we’ll be heard, somebody will see our needs, and we will do the next step.

P.S.

Since this conversation, after the tragic days on Hrushevskoho Street in January 2014, only three months passed, but it seems like an eternity. Today, we, the cultural activists, can and should talk not only about requirements to the new authority, but also about collaborative work with policies and strategies, what we actually do. But the main issues regarding the establishment of a cultural center in Kyiv haven’t changed: development of contemporary art practices, understanding painful reality through art, development and cooperation – today these points are not on the agenda. As not on the agenda funding of this project from private source, because all sources are invested in the war, or are abroad.

Contemporary art it is the language of people, which they haven’t distinguish yet.

Open Place interviewed Monika Szewczyk

October 26, 2013
Tbilisi. Georgia

 

Monika Szewczyk is an art historian, an exhibition curator, the director of Arsenal Gallery in Bialystok, Poland. Since 1990, she’s been creating collection of II Gallery Arsenal. Monika Szewczyk is the author and curator of more than 100 exhibitions. There’re “The Journey to the East” (Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland and MOCAK, Krakow, Poland), “Here & Now” (Zaheta Gallery, Warsaw, Poland and Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland), “Four Roses” (Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland), “How to talk about contemporary art” (Jak rozmawiać o sztuce współczesnej; Arsenal Gallery, Bialystok, Poland). In 2011 she was the curator of the third festival of arts in the public space “Public place” in Lublin, Poland.

Open Place: How gallery may affect the cultural policy of the state, and how policy affects the gallery?

Monika Szewczyk: Our influence on the policy of the state is minimal. We work at the provincial city gallery, though not in a small town. Perhaps, the only thing we can do, it’s to do our duties, which includes to show contemporary art as better as we can, focusing on the essential artists from Poland and other countries. And if the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage wants to make some conclusions from our program, it’s very well. Gallery can only scream and emphasize in its provincial town that these artists, works and projects are incredibly important. And for all of us is important to demonstrate this progressive art.

 

Open Place: Provincial, as you say, gallery organize workshops in Tbilisi and Kiev. It seems that it’s a proper policy of the state, which makes this work possible. Is it true?

Monika Szewczyk: It’s my own decision. I was always interested in the presentation of Polish art and in its promotion abroad. I started to do such activity, and it’s been developed. Then work only with Polish art became a too narrow path for me. I feel that our position is estimated by the Ministry, its officials know that our gallery is fine, and they trust to our work.

Why did we start doing projects abroad? I’ve been working at the gallery in Bialystok for twenty years, and I remember times when magnificent Polish artists were underestimated. Therefore it was essential to remind the world about their existence in places where we could go. To my mind, it’s very important for artists, arts and cultural policy of Poland, and we have madness for this, we want to do this.

Also we concentrate on the art of Eastern Europe, the art of states, which are located near Poland: Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova. It’s said a lot about the Eastern Partnership, and we try to make it real, to implement it in the community of artists.

 

Open Place: So, is it exist an internal agreement between the Ministry of Culture and private initiatives, certain agents?

Monika Szewczyk: When I hear “the private initiative”, I don’t associate it with myself, because, to my mind, private and commercial galleries have some specific purpose. Gallery Arsenal is not a private institution, it’s the urban public gallery, and we spend public money. I think we realize what the Ministry expects of us, in such way that we’ve been making exhibitions for the presentation of Polish culture in the world for many years.

Also it’s important to me that art is interested in the Eastern partnership. Poland and Sweden are two countries which have proposed to EU the idea of the Eastern Partnership. The EaP includes six countries from the former Soviet Union: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. I’m convinced that it was a very important decision.

 

Open Place: What is the role of education in the cultural policy?

Monika Szewczyk: I’m doing a little in the field of the cultural policy… I work in my sphere, and from the experience of running the gallery I’ve understood that it’s impossible to conduct such institution, if it doesn’t have the educational program. We need to work with these aspects simultaneously, we should organize interesting exhibitions and make them “included” in the society, make them conceived by recipients.

Educational program is an important element of the budget and activities of Arsenal Gallery. There are several educational events around each exhibition. It seems that society underestimates, dislikes and doesn’t perceive contemporary art. We must convince the community that in fact it’s for them, it’s their language, which they haven’t known yet. And when they understand this language of contemporary art, they’ll love it, I’m sure.