The national frames became too constraining for people

Open Place interviewed Maria Vilkovisky and Ruth Jenrbekova

July 20, 2017
Kyiv, Ukraine

 

No one is able to visit krëlex zentr, no matter how hard would you try and whatever privileged group you belong to. In fact this organization exists only in imagination. This allows Ruth Jenrbekova and Maria Vilkovisky, who are engaged in the center, immersed themselves into the theory of contemporary art and simulate the ideal situations for the center development.

Open Place discussed with Maria Vilkovisky and Ruth Jenrbekova the painful search for identity and why it is so difficult in fact as well as where artists come from, and why it is better not to reject the myths.

The idea of krëlex zentr first appeared in 2011. At that time we’ve identified ourselves as artists, though something confused us. Usually when we speak about the artist we imagine a person who does not depend on external circumstances. No matter what happens around, this person has the inner sense of self that gives her a kind of autonomy. In any country and under any circumstances, artists create because they have something specifically artistic inside themselves. As Andrea Fraser famously wrote: “It is because the institution is inside of us, and we can’t get outside of ourselves”[1]. For us, queer feminists, this idea looked too essentialist and suspicious. We started to think: where does this special sense of self comes from? Where do artists come from in the first place? Were they born like that, with something special inside? We were skeptical about this. In general, if we look at Kazakh art, the connection between the appearance of the institutions and the subsequent appearance of artists is absolutely obvious. This is a rather banal observation, and theoreticians have always written about it. For example, Michel Foucault says that subjectivity is not a gift from God, but a thing that is formed by institutions.

We realized that contemporary art in Kazakhstan is not organized at the institutional level. The national cultural centers—whether they are theaters, libraries, museums, galleries, academies, etc.—are functioning in the old quasi-Stalinist aesthetic paradigm. This assumes a consolidated identity, where each person is assigned to a particular nation, nationality or ethnicity. Culture here can only be national otherwise it is “false”. We decided that we need a cultural center based on different principles. When there is no context for art, it needs to be created by ourselves. We need to organize ourselves to think how to work collectively and make coalitions politically. It was important for us to think of an arts institution that would break established regimes and raise questions. We dare to problematize the criteria in art because it seems to us that aesthetic representations, now generally accepted among amateurs and professionals, embody quite a large element of colonialism.

We often declare that krëlex zentr is an imaginary institution and therefore does not exist. It is important to understand that nations also exist only in people’s imagination, as it was demonstrated by Benedict Anderson.  In questioning the framework of a national representation of culture; it is important for us to think about communities as something not tied to a specific territory, passport, national identity, or genealogy originating far in the past into some mythological antiquity. Communities that would be more like our own–indefinite, with the feeling of non-belonging, exile, a kind of cosmic diaspora.

A huge number of people in the world feel similarly. A feminist position always contradicts the national ideology because that ideology is fundamentally patriarchal. The control over female bodies and the low status of women is used to maintain the illusion of external danger which demands a vigilant and efficient defender of the male sex. For queer feminists the criticism of identity is a matter of resistance to a culture of violence. We see our commonality with the global queer-feminist movement because of this shift towards decolonization, whether the country of origin be first, third or fourth world. Whoever we are, we say: let’s not take the role, identification and definition that are imposed on us from the positions of power. Let’s define ourselves the way that we want.

We decided that the krëlex zentr can represent beings like us – with a seared sense of belonging to any group or community. We use “creatures” instead of “humans” to question the old humanistic tradition where there was binary opposition: Human vs. Nonhuman. We assumed that it would be more and more of those who are difficult to define. Like us: half – this, half – that, it is not clear who. This failure in classification is exactly the focus of the krëlex zentr.

We are holding our decolonial agenda, in attempt to find a way to resolve a conflict that exists all over the world. It is a conflict between a universalizing capitalist empire “without identity,” (or default identity, which is always white masculine) and those who resist it from their local perspectives. As a rule they proceed from the position of rootedness, deep ethnical or local histories, and some ancient roots. This opposition is so rigid that we want to break it somehow. There must be a place for resistance without essentialism. It is possible to invent new supranational or extra-national frames. The national frames became too constraining for people. One step left or right and you are a stranger, an outcast and an enemy. It is important to try to imagine the world after nations, after capitalism. What does it mean to consider a whole planet rather than a certain territory on it as one’s homeland?

Social reality is held by myths: myth of the family, the myth of heteronormativity, the myth of nationality, the myth of masculinity and femininity, etc. One way or another, we cannot escape myth. Rather, myths have to be emancipatory and progressive. We must not reject the myth that a better world is possible. We see the task and competence of artists to redesign old mythologies making them less repressive and removing the violence on which they are based. We see the task of the artistic community to make dialogue and collaboration for the creation of the new myths sensitive to all sorts of hierarchies and inequalities.

Some distance and self-irony are important qualities of these new types of myths. The myths that engulf a person thoroughly are dangerous. When there is no distance, when there is complete identification with the myth (this is our fear in nationalist movements) a person can’t go beyond the frames of the myth. We think the other type of myth is possible. One that assumes the distance, critique and self-irony. One that does not consume a person, and which leaves space for unexplored and unknown things. A person can even believe in God this way. Usually we say: “There is no God. Well yes, but maybe they will appear tomorrow. ”

[1] Andrea Fraser, From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique. Artforum. New York: Sep 2005. Vol. 44, Iss. 1; pg. 278, 8 pgs

Criticality seems the only capital that we have

Open Place interviewed Renan Laruan

August 05, 2016
Warsaw, Poland

 

Renan Laruan, who represent the research team DiscLab, was born in Sultan Kudarat, a province at isle Mindanao. He identifies himself with this place because of its very particular history. “Mindanao use to be more dominated island before Spanish colonization. So there was sultanate, there was existing civilization, or even types of government before the colonization. And then during American imperialism period, they have State-sponsored project in which they wanted to repopulate Mindanao. So they brought inhabitants from Luzon Island, the Visayas Island to Mindanao which changed the demographic of the places. I’m part of this history because my parents are from Visayas, resettled in Mindanao”, – Laruan explains.

Firstly Renan identifies himself as a researcher. “On one hand it operates from certain insecurity. I really wanted to identify myself as theorist but you couldn’t easily identify yourself with that label in the Philippines or in Southeast Asia, just because of certain challenges, – Renan claims. – I studied psychology, but this is not the western psychology. The university where I studied promoted Filipino psychology and it was a product of postcolonial studies and critical to postcolonial studies. They wanted to bring a movement and a discipline that is not ethnocentric, but also in the same time critical to the all the legacies of knowledge they do have”.

Laruan describes himself as someone who studied psychology, someone who grew up in the south and now working in the capital Manila and of course internationally, and someone who doing research “always and continually”. With Renan we discussed concepts, which he enter into international context, in particular “discursive architecture” and “translation in transition”. Also we talked about relativity of names and meanings of terms and about work of cultural institutions in the Philippines.

Discursive architecture as a commonality of concepts

Open Place: Discursive architecture – this term we’ve heard from you. Please, could you describe the meaning of it?

Renan Laruan: It’s not a fully-formed theoretical and methodological project that I wanted to work on. I have this urgency to embody or to implement it, because it’s tied to the production and ontology of criticality. The notion of the artistic and intellectual as spaces where we could reclaim our positions, or where we could emancipate ourselves always go back to “being critical” or to that ability to be self-reflexive and to translate criticality into action and expressions of art. What hinders that kind of criticality is an existing discursive architecture or a discursive sphere we have at the moment. It’s calcified by systems and agents who are attached to this notion of criticality. For me, when I talk about discursive architecture, it also talks about criticality.

At this moment, I think we couldn’t really fully form the meaning of discursive architecture. It’s like a moment. It’s like a tendency to produce a situation that is not dependent on existing knowledge sites. What connects us to a discursive architecture, or what could form a discursive architecture, is our ability to open up. Our openness to actually transform these knowledge sites to knowledge scenes. Knowledges and sites are interdisciplinary: the space of the critical, the space of intellectual, and/or the space of artists. My problem with these spaces is that they are continuously eroding and fragmenting each other. It’s always important that you don’t just say that an artistic space is transdisciplinary. There is a struggle that one has to form the artistic site, for instance into a theme, a subject or a project. There is a process of disintegration and reconstituting in it. For me, it’s not necessarily about communities of people. It could be communities of concepts.

It’s connected to what I mentioned as curatorial exile. It doesn’t mean that you have to really operate locally. One could just be locally sensitive or you ground something into a context. It’s connected to how practitioners operate on knowledge sites. If you are socialized in a highly colonized or highly differentiated bodies of knowledge from a system of education, say Spanish, then it continues to become a more sophisticated system, for instance when another imperialism (i. e. American imperialism) creates another mode of capture.

In the Philippines we have a long history of university system and art education in Asia inherited from Spanish colonization. We have one of the oldest universities in the world. There’s this kind of production of good in education. When education continues into the American period, they declare it as something public. That is when the “good” coming from Spanish colonization became “public good”. When you operate in contemporary times as an artist, or a critic, or an intellectual, you have this kind of lineage of history that can’t easily come out of your system. The challenge, then, is for the practitioner to create his/her own discursive architecture, community of knowledges, new community of concepts. One needs to find new ways to rethink transdisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity.

During the Cold War the US government had all this knowledge system or knowledge production through Area Studies. It was a strategic method, where Area Studies was an inquiry for capture working  transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary. I’m cautious with cross collaboration of disciplines. I find it more interesting to use a discursive architecture, where one can find moments and situations in which one can join a group or connect with other people to rebuild all of these disciplines.

How to translate contexts and experiences

Open Place: The other term that you use “translation in transition”. What meaning do you put on this?

Renan Laruan: It started with my project titled Lightning Studies: Centre for the Translation of Constraints, Conflicts, and Contaminations (CTCCCs) at Hangar in Barcelona. The initial motivation of the project was to think how we could actually initiate solidarity through translation. Creating solidarity across different contexts assumes equivalence of contexts. I disagree with that position. I believe there is always that kind of non-equivalence between contexts. A specific case is the notion of precarity. Precarity in Western Europe differs from precarity in South-East Asia. The same way within Europe there are differences in terms of precarity. How do we translate precarity ways that do not marginalize a certain context? That’s my first attachment to translation. And that’s why I use the text the relay translation on “Robinson Crusoe”, spatial-temporal, as a way in which we could talk about translation. How can we translate contexts? How can we translate experiences? “Robinson Crusoe” was translated from English to German, and then from German to Spanish and then Dutch. These four translations, when they were translated to bahasa and tagalog which is the language in the Philippines it actually brought out the differences between the notion of difficulty which is connected to precarity between continental Europe, insular England and archipelagic spaces.
The notion of precarity and difficulty in Bahasa Melayu and in Tagalog is that more connected to the notion of endurance of the will rather than to the notion of precarity in Europe that is something that you can overcome. The western text of “Robinson Crusoe” has this notion of technology, has this notion of innovation. It’s very individualistic. It knots this notion of individualism in which I can develop technology, I can develop something out of my precarity and survive being struck on an island. On another hand, the translation in Bahasa melayu and in Tagalog was not actually about developing this technology in order to overcome. There is also misreading of the will and the endurance in Bahasa Melayu and in tagalog as something that is because its religious. This was misreading of some intellectuals about this text. But it’s actually more about a radical waiting for transformation. This notion of will and self-preservation as something that you could do while you are stuck in island. We see the difference between the translations of difficulty into these two places or two experiences.
I wanted to transfer these questions in the continuation of Lightning Studies: CTCCCs in Manila. The project looks into the production of public good in infrastructures, specifically of public health and hygiene. I’m interested in the notion of translation in transition. In 1898, at the time where the Empire of Spain bequeathed the administration of the Philippines to American imperialism. Growing up, major ideologies were implemented in our education system: Spanish colonization wasn’t really known for having these infrastructures that are for the public for the entire communities, because they were more interested in notion of class. When American period happened, the notion of class diminished but it became a notion of race. So, how this system of governance from the Spanish period actually transited into American period? It was a continuation of surveillance through public system. Because at the time Filipinos already knew exactly what are the mechanisms of colonization and governmentalization. So translation of them this is a challenge for the Americans.
The notion translation in transition enables us to see how these strategies of governance can be very sophisticated and can be embedded into what we see as good for instance in health. Americans built sanatoriums, public hospitals. They invested into professionalization of nurses. During the American period they had this project of controlling epidemics tuberculosis and cholera for instance. They had this great believe in scientific truth. The scientific truth is that they invested in the ways of living of the Filipinos. They try to control the housing system. They issued laws and regulations on what should be a clean, tropical Filipinos house, a hygienic space that doesn’t accommodate epidemics. It’s not highly visible anymore, it becomes more molecular at that sense. So how would we translate this as a point of critique and also as a parallel sphere of how the things are translated similarly right now, but this translation at the same time is just in transition?

 

Open Place: We also thought about terms that we use, namely about different meanings that the same terms have in different contexts. So should we use universal terms with meanings that seemed shaped already? Or maybe it’s better to use not a “term” but the meaning, definition for these terms that will correspond in each context?

Renan Laruan: It’s the ideal situation that we find different ways to signify similar experience. But on another hand, I see the need to work in the same process of naming for a certain period of time. It doesn’t have to be a long-term process of naming or a long-term use of the name. For me, naming is a way in which we could enter into each other’s experiences. Sometimes we just rename past experiences with another term without resolving other issues and other problems with the previous term. There is also an advantage in doing that, because it allows certain movement. “Modernism”, for instance. After modernism there was postmodernism, on the social level people started using development. But development has its political roots in modernity – this is European thought of progress that’s embedded in modernity. The same way the whole project of developing countries, developing cities are attached to the notion of modernity. It had its different turn when people use development. And then recently we heard of the “anthropocene” as a term that could articulate certain issues at the moment.
What we can actually do with this naming process is that we allowed the discursive sphere of these new names to attach to the previous names. It’s a point of conjunction and at the same time of exposing the problem of the previous naming process, thus it’s a process of conjunction and disjunction. Ability to name is always coming from a privilege group or a privilege position. And while other positions are marginalize within this naming, there is that potential in which you use the frame of a certain power position and then hijack it in a way. So you always produce new meanings into these new names. In “precarity” for instance, when everyone was discussing precarity in the past few years, especially with economic crises in Europe and in the US, for me it allowed to return to a moment of Asia in 1997 when there was great Asian economic crises which no one wanted to talk about. We had different kind of arrangement with IMF. It’s not the same way with Europe or the US.

"Sometimes I feel that art is forced to be part of things, when maybe it’s not necessarily"

Open Place: You often use words “intimacy” and “smuggling”. How does it work in your cultural practice?

Renan Laruan: It would be concrete to give an example. We organised and curated a festival in an agrarian town four hours away from Manila. It was called the First Lucban Assembly. Titled PAMUMUHUNAN (Waiting for a capital), we borrowed the local term “pamumuhunan,” which means “investment” or “taking stock” in rural areas and in marginalised urban sites. The use of “investment” in local culture isn’t equivalent to “investment” in financial capital. For instance, I could describe my engagement with your interview as “pamumuhunan”. I’m investing into it — to your thoughts and interests, to possible connections between us. This form of investment doesn’t expect something in return. The local meaning of investment temporarily extinguishes the expectation of exchange or the notion of transaction. For Project Space Pilipinas, the organizing institution, and DiscLab | Research and Criticism as the curator, it’s interesting how this term “queers” our notions of the Capital.
When we did the project, we were aware of our irrelevance in/to the context. Lucban is a town with existing economies: economies of critique, economies of participation in culture, economies of representation. The Assembly took place during a religious festival that honours the patron saint of harvest, when people decorated their houses with agricultural products. So, how would you offer something beyond the religious economy? How would you create a parallel performance? What we thought that we could develop a level of intimacy: introducing the notion of looking away, but looking away in order to look into [the religious festival] again.
What we wanted to do is to allow them to look away from it momentarily, so that they can look into it again. For us it was clear that we wouldn’t intervene in any of the processes. Doing art has tendencies to interfere in the local system of development in these areas. It’s a complete town with local museum, local tourism and cultural office, as well as a small heritage department that takes care of old churches. Of course, tourism is one of those big earning economy or market in Philippines. So, we thought that we won’t do anything about it. We will not intervene in a way that would promote our brand of criticality to be honest about it. What we wanted to do is to remain our position that we are doing art and that perhaps we could introduce a space, just a space that can accommodate other things and other ideas already invested to religious festival.
One concrete example would be about installed video works in familiar places. We installed one work by Indonesian artist Mahardika Yudha in a barber shop. The title of the work is “Sunrise Jive”. It’s actually about factory workers who were doing exercise every morning outside this Indonesian factory. The factory workers seemed not happy at all, they just want to get over with it. We juxtaposed it with the barber shop because we wanted to criticize the way art has become nostalgic about time in local culture. I see this among Filipino practitioners: they go to the rural areas, because they think that it’s timeless and rural area is slow based. But it’s not true. When a barber cuts hair of a guy, it’s really fast either when you see this kind of urban area, and that is actually slower. Just because it’s away from the capital, people think that there is absence of capitalism in it. I find it very problematic.
We also show a light installation “pananampalataya” which is translated into “faith”. The light in the middle of installation was purposely broken, and it became “pananampa” and “taya”. “Pananampa” apparently is a term used by activists who finally decided to “go to the mountain” or “to enter to the forest”, which means officially joining the armed struggle. We have one of the longest insurgencies in the world, a long standing communist underground movement. You have a different level of participation in this underground movement. If you claim to be someone who will be doing “pananampa” it means that you decide to join it, you are going to the mountains, and you will immerse there almost forever. And “taya” means “to bet”. So this notion of “faith” was deconstructed into two words “finally going to the mountains” and “to bet”. There is a level of intimacy there coming from art without actually forcing the people to participate. When art always intervenes, it sometimes tense in the notion of democracy. When democracy is at gun point, for me that’s very problematic. Sometimes I feel that you force art to always be part of things, when maybe it’s not necessarily the case or it should not be the case.

"The criticality is at the point of fatigue and exhaustion"

Open Place: Why do you think that sometimes better not to say, than to be in trend? And also better not declare your position publicly to not being used by somebody, am I right?

Renan Laruan: It’s connected with what we understand about criticality. Sometimes the notion of criticality, we subscribe to or we embody, become violent. It’s like an epistemological violence. We always have this kind of faith into criticality, because we have a consensus that it’s something natural or given or coming from a lineage. People don’t talk that criticality is something that we can inherit, but actually in arts and in intellectual practice we feel that. We’re not directly confronted by this problematic notion of evolution of criticality, but it is actually there. One of the manifestations of this problem is that to always externalising, always performing this criticality, and always using this as a counter capital to any problem or any situation that we seem unable to engage with.
When people say that we have to continuously being critical, I don’t know exactly what they mean by that. When it being used in conversations and in texts, it seems that there is only one form of criticality and it’s very homogeneous way of talking about criticality. That in a way at this point allows me to use the term “naivety” as something that wouldn’t perform criticality. When I say maybe it isn’t important to always show your position, because that position in itself is just an expensive energy. It goes back again to the notion of care in relation of criticality or self-preservation. Is this the right place and the right time to “overperform” your criticality? We have to think about the timing of criticality. The criticality is at the point of fatigue and exhaustion. Criticality seems the only capital that we have. What will happen if we have exhausted all performance of criticality?
I had an interesting conversation with Marti Peran. His work is about translation of fatigue into exhibition format. I ask him: “What do you think about the position of monologue?” The point is that people always say that we need things being in dialogue and assume that the opposite of dialog is monologue, but I don’t think so. He said, “At this point of neoliberal logic monologue is the new silence.” Marti Peran also told about the false dialogue that need of consensus, that maybe there is radical possibility with monologue. The tendency that I see right now is that the contexts and experiences are putting in the position of exchange, communication, but on the premise that they are actually equivalent. My position is that we don’t need more dialogues we need more spaces for the individuals who have their positions extinguished in their locality or in international context, a space where they can do a monologue, because often they aren’t heard in dialogue. They don’t have a voice in dialogue. It’s impossible to have an actual/real dialogue. For me, the art world and culture in general need monological circuits. There is already a conversation taking place within a monologue. Marti Peran said: “When you perform a monologue, you take the conversation out of value making”. For me that’s interesting, because again this is my problem with discourse right now. Discourse right now is a sophisticated capital in arts and even in technologies. Innovations right now are mobilized by discourse. Discourse in itself carries value, this is a very sophisticated form of capital, that’s easily distributed and circulated.

 

Open Place: But whether a dialogue is just about forming value? For me it’s rather about shaping of the language.

Renan Laruan: I’m finishing essay right now and the title of it before publishing “Infantilization of context”. And here I talk about dialogue and monologue but in relation to context. My argument is that international art world wants and forces contexts to speak to each-other. I was really confused, how in this hyperconnected environment, in art at least, a context could be in relative isolation? I feel that contexts are already speaking to each-other precisely because of the distribution of capital. The capitalism makes everyone interconnected already. In this situation the dialogue seems to be given from above position.

“DiscLab is a mix of individuals”

Open Place: You associate yourself with DiscLab, doesn’t you? How the collective had appeared?

Renan Laruan: It’s started in 2012. We organized ourselves after “Art Criticism and Visual Literacy” workshop. The first members of it weren’t the part of art world at all. There were relatively new graduates from the University coming from different practices: economics, literature, one studied philosophy, and one was graphic designer. These individuals weren’t a part of an existing system of art world that time. And most of us wanted to be identified with being art researchers and art writers. What we wanted to do at that time was to write criticism and to do a discussion. Because we feel that there is specific practice and audience that were alienated in the system of arts and visual culture in the Philippines. And the Internet was very important for us, because we wanted to call ourselves virtual organization. Those were the elements how we organized ourselves at first.

 

Open Place:What is the aim of collective?

Renan Laruan: The aim of the collective has really changed a lot and quickly in span of four years. And I wanted to share why there was this kind of aggressive change. There was also the some sort form of violence inflicted in initiatives, specially coming from the outside of the system. So we wanted to perform in a way that appears “strong”. And that’s why we committed ourselves from doing criticism and discussion and translating it into doing small scale research attached to long term activities. That’s the clear pass right now we are working on.
The second is that we wanted to appoint ourselves as institution, not as an alternative art organization. The problem that we see connects with marginalizing ourselves as an alternative. We always have to defend ourselves why we are doing this, even if we don’t get anything from them. So we wanted to do some sort of taking care of ourselves before performing. We wanted to put of some sort of shield. Initially it was just a shield to call ourselves as an institution or organization, because otherwise people would always think that we are a magazine, and museums would ask us into their new exhibitions and the dinner parties, as they wanted us to write about their exhibitions. And we were so mad about it, clearly, that the kind of writing that we do isn’t the same that you can see in magazines or blogs. We asserted that we’re a research organization.

 

Open Place:How do you share the responsibilities in organization?

Renan Laruan: We don’t really work in a way that’s typical for a collective, because of this violence that we experience. There is internal competition that we feel in the context. You would see members identifying themselves with DiscLab and other members who wouldn’t do this. That also sort of map out the kind of work what we do. There are individuals who would be keen to work on certain aspects. For instance, curatorial people can feel more comfortable being associated with it, but when it’s about criticism and writing critical reviews about certain texts, they would disengage with it, that kind of different levels of engagement and association. Artist run organizations in the Philippines were clearly formed out of specific ideologies. So, you have group of artist run who would promote conceptual art, you have artist-run spaces promoting new reform out of the left, you have really fundamentally left groups, but in the case of DiscLab it’s a mix of individuals.

"For me institutions are already sick"

Open Place:  Should the cultural institution clearly articulate its political position?

Renan Laruan: As in most contexts, any organized political organizations would always take chance to connect an issue in culture into a larger political issue. I think right now cultural institutions, including self-organized infrastructures such as artist-run spaces, don’t really have a language in terms how they would express their political position. They seem to be very eager to put forward their position, but they aren’t really effective at all. No one really care about their position.
In the Philippines or countries with colonial legacies recuperated in ethnonationalist and fundamentalist notions of nation-state, we can see how the construction and operation of cultural institutions support this lineage. It’s endemic and embodied either in the performative production of public good of private institutions or in the bureaucracy of “mid-managerial” positions in art system. This comfortable biography of institutions and its cultural workers allows a form of self-censorship.

 

Open Place:  What activity does your organization conduct?

Renan Laruan: Right now we’re doing “Waiting Sheds” Cooperative Study and Research Program. We use to do discursive activities, meaning discussions and writing. Then we realised that these activities were just really precarious, because no one really pays for the writing, no one really wanting to sponsor writing and discussion activity. So we decided to gather all the elements that we’ve been doing and organised it into one flagship program. It works as a continuing program and attached to very specific event happening right now in the Philippines – the change of education system. The Philippines is one of the remaining countries with only ten years of basic education. And government decide to change it to twelve years of basic education (K-12), but that doesn’t really respond to problems of education and resources we have. So we wanted to create a program for both emerging and mid-carrier cultural practitioners, artists and journalists, to work with us and actually propose a model that isn’t necessarily against K-12, but builds up on the strength of K-12 and calls out the problems of K-12. So we lunched the program in 2015, and it will run until 2018.

 

Open Place:  What are the mechanisms that ensure your financial independence?

Renan Laruan: We will be funded by Arts Collaboratory for this project. But first run of the project was funded by our curatorial activities. We were invited as curators and artistic directors to the FIRST LUCBAN ASSEMBLY and the negotiation was that we could do the “Waiting Sheds” project within the assembly. Before we organised “Waiting Sheds” we were self-sufficient – people use their own money, if they wanted to do projects. We don’t really have a sophisticated financial structure.

 

Open Place:  How does your organization affect cultural policy of state?

Renan Laruan: Our strategy is very simple. Museums and cultural institutions in the Philippines have very weak educational program or barely any educational program. We have research centres with collection, and because exhibition has more visibility they would rather prioritise the exhibition instead of doing something about their collection. We realise gap in their programming, so we created some sort of network in which we invite them as research partners. It’s usually one year of research of the institution but not producing for them. We can use their holdings, their archives without any fees and then a year after the partnership the institution can ask the fellows or members of the organisation to develop a program out of it, but it’s not necessary. As I mentioned earlier, we’re dealing with a system of institutions with pre-set ways of operation and behaving to those who are not a part of it. We will see if we can affect them in the future.

 

Open Place:  What is the ideal institution for you?

Renan Laruan: Everyone gets paid there, everyone treated with certain dignity. There is proper valuation of work. I don’t know, maybe there is no ideal institution, because for me institutions are already sick. The institutions must be sick before they really become institutions. How are we deal with sick institutions? It’s like being born with disability or with chronic illness, but you’re demanded to leave alive. And what else can you do about it, is to prolong your life. Even with the notion of palliative care, you just minimised a pain.

Glocal understanding of the art-world today

Yulia Kostereva interviewed Johan Gustavsson

April 19, 2015
Stockholm, Sweden

 

1646 is a project-space for contemporary art. A dedicated space for experimental art practices and ideas, 1646 is a platform for new productions and presentations with special emphasis on encouraging artists to realise new projects on location.

 

Yulia Kostereva: How did the idea of the project appeared?

Johan Gustavsson: In 2004, half a year before I graduated from the Royal Academy The Hague, the person who organised the artist run space called 1646 asked me to take it over. I invited three friends from the Academy to do it with me. At that time the building was used as anti-squat. So we could use it for free, we only paid for electricity and water at that time. But there were not heating and linkages in the house.

From the start we were interesting to make it more international and open up the scene to new influences. That period there were a lot of very local spaces in the Netherlands but nothing that looked international maybe not even national. So we start to invite people from abroad to come and show their works. The group running the space together are inherently an international group. Clara Pallí Monguilod is Spanish, Nico Feragnoli, Italian, Floris Kruidenberg is Dutch and myself Swedish.

 

Yulia Kostereva: How do you share the responsibilities in the organisation?

Johan Gustavsson: From the beginning we had almost no founding, we got small project funding, once in a while. We sold beer at the openings, in order to pay for electricity and water. In that way we didn’t have so many responsibilities and not so much work. But then little by little – we got more funding, it means we had to work more, and then we rebuilt our building together with the city. And then suddenly our monthly rent became too high, that meant we needed more money, and thus we had more work to do, more administration work and so on. So the tasks grew naturally. People who were good in building spent more time on building of the exhibitions, someone else was good in economy, or in doing photographs so all this things naturally grew into the role of the person within the organisation. We don’t have any hierarchy. Also all of us are artists and from time to time one of us spend month or two abroad so we have to be able take over each other’s roles.

 

Yulia Kostereva: How does your organisation communicate with audience?

Johan Gustavsson: Quite often organisations and institutions which operate with art and present art, aim to manage the way of how the audience experiences the exhibition, through title or description of exhibition for example: this exhibition is about this and that… It narrows down the possibility of the audience to perceive the exhibition, makes it easy to compare whether the exhibition is read the way it is written or not.

In 1646 we actually do the opposite way. We start from the artworks and we try to expand this starting point and see the different layers, and ways how can one actually look at this story. In the museums and in the galleries people spend more time reading the texts that explain the artworks, than actually experiencing the works.  I think this is great example of how define things, or put things in “boxes” and people rely on that. But at the end, art is much more about the experience. It is not necessary to get a sense of everything, but it is much more important to be open and experience the work.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What events and program does your organisation realise?

Johan Gustavsson: We’ve chosen solo exhibitions. Because we interested in artists’ practice we going in conversation with those artists. We always commission new works, we give a modest budget to produce a new work, and for each show a new work is being produced. We don’t actually curate, we chose artist to work with. We often find group shows problematic. Such shows usually have a certain theme or curatorial idea and then use artworks to illustrate this theme or idea. Solo exhibitions provide a potential to get into the way of thinking of individual artist. There are three things we try to organize around the solo exhibition, which have deal with practice of the artist. Artist is invited to have an email correspondence with somebody who doesn’t know the artist. A month before the opening the chosen person (curator, writer, or bus driver) starts exchanging the emails with the artist. The person takes a position as an audience member trying to clarify the steps that the artist makes. The conversation is continued during the build-up period of the exhibition and often the last e-mail is sent the night before the opening. We print that correspondence out as a small folder. In this way one is able to track the options that was chose and refused and the steps that were taken.

Another element or tool that we use to get a better understanding of the artists we have invited is so-called «background evening”. We ask the artist to curate an evening. The form of the event is completely up to the artist. The idea is to give insight or present a context of artist’s practice. It takes many different forms, though, always informal. Also we organise “conversation piece” for each solo exhibition. For this we invite another artist, curator or for example a musician, to react on the exhibition. We try to find somebody whose practice is affiliated with art on the show or contrasted to it. All these events are open to public.

 

Yulia Kostereva: Is it important for cultural institution to articulate its political position?

Johan Gustavsson: I guess it very much depends on the place in the world where you are and the situation you are in. We don’t have direct political statement in 1646. Though, everything is political. We are democratic non-hierarchical organisation. And our political believes are naturally reflected through the artists we chose and the themes that they handle. But as a non-profit organisation funded with public money, we can’t have a truly outspoken political agenda.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What is the mechanism that ensures the financial independence for your organisation?

Johan Gustavsson: There are many opportunities to get funding in the Netherlands. Even though, the last few years, the funds for the culture were cut increasingly in the Netherlands, and it might get worse in upcoming years. Our organization was fortune, and we worked very hard to secure our funding. Now we have four years of support from city, and at the moment we have also two years secure funding from Mondrian foundation. That creates huge amount of freedom to work. If we need to fundraise for every project then it would be a lot of paperwork, and then we wouldn’t have time to focus on what really important, while even now we spend a lot of our time for administrative work. At the moment we are in a good position, at least for two more years and then we don’t know.

In the Netherlands we also have to try to find own funding or generate own money, so 1646 has started a “friends” program. You can donate money to 1646 and then you became friends. And we have contact with some of very good artists who give us editions of their work as the presents to our friends, and that how we can generate some of our own money.

 

Yulia Kostereva: What is ideal institution for you?

Johan Gustavsson:1646 is close to my ideal. There is not so many places around the world that have the same kind of freedom/experimentation in their programming. And, at the same time economic stability and a beautiful location – that combination is not very common. The artist institution from Anthony Huberman in New York is a very interesting place as well.

 

Yulia Kostereva: How does your organisation affect the cultural policy of the state?

Johan Gustavsson: I don’t think it affects very much. We have very little power in that sense. Due to the cuts of funding there were a lot of demonstrations in the Netherland. Small organisations and big institutions started the petitions to sign. It became obvious that art-world is very unorganised – everybody did something but it didn’t turn to big solidary protests. Artist-run spaces and art spaces don’t have this big triangle with one director on top. When nurses has to go on strike there is one huge organisation with one very well paid director that can mobilise people to be on demonstration or lobby with influential individuals – that doesn’t exist in art world. At the same time there are a few organizations in the Netherlands who are trying to influence politics and investigate the role that art plays or can play in society. There has to be a kind of central organisation in the Netherlands that is able to react in intelligent and in strong way, to serve as one consolidate voice of the exhibition spaces. On a local level the authorities normally open minded and all of the cultural players have good possibilities to communicate with the municipality or the institutions that provide the funding.

The Netherlands politically is quite calm, has a fairly good social system, and there is no war there. It seems that there is less of urgency for political art or engaged art. We have very good engaged art but it is often more formal than it would be in the place where people have more contact with difficult situations. So there is a very different functioning and different understanding of art.

 

Yulia Kostereva: Can you say a few words about the “Naked” project?

Johan Gustavsson: The “Naked” started four years ago (in 2011). The idea was to create a big event. We wanted to make an international exhibition. But we were unsure how to make international exhibition. All of us were upset by seeing the same show or works in Stockholm, New York, Tokyo and Kyiv, or, the same artists in all of the biennials. A few international artists that are able to travel become famous and successful. I know a lot of artists that are amazingly good who never became a part of the big shows. So we are interested in these kinds of “pearls” that are not famous but are very good. So I ask, for example you, who are those local pearls in Kyiv? – very interesting artists who are not a part of the big international art world, it’s rules and codes. So, we invited people from our international contacts and network, mainly artist-run spaces and independent curators to propose artists from their local context. We asked them to describe the social and political context they work in, and then to propose three artists. The “Naked” is a collection of artists and situations around the world that would be the base of curatorial choice for the biennial at the end. The biennial has hopefully happen one day but for us it was exciting to think about how to make a truly international exhibition. The “Naked” is promoting a glocal understanding of the art-world today, a global view from the different local perspectives.

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.