Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Kateryna Botanova
January 20, 2014
Kateryna Botanova – art critic, curator, contemporary culture researcher and cultural producer. Director of CSM-Foundation Center for Contemporary Art and founder and chief editor of the online journal on contemporary culture KORYDOR.
Institution as an incubator of meanings
Yuriy Kruchak: Kateryna, last spring you participated in the series of working sessions «Architecture of Opportunities», where the conception of multifunctional center in Ukraine was discussed. How has your vision of this institution changed since that time?
Kateryna Botanova: Now each day brings something new. It seems that everything what we say, should be necessarily dated, because the dynamic of political and social development just incredible, and your words will be interpreted depending on the time when you say that.
Yuriy Kruchak: Some people believed that community can’t influence the processes around. Now we can observe the opposite things, people’s indignation spilled out onto the streets.
Kateryna Botanova: I prefer the situation when the community affects the situation, though I’m not sure that it’s reality. The difficulty is to determine to what extent we’d like to influence the political situation as citizens and as artists, representatives of cultural sphere. These questions are weakly elaborated, and it’s very dangerous.
We constantly live without “tomorrow”, without any vision of what will be in a few steps ahead. It’s important to remember that the cultural center is the living structure, which consists of needs of producers of cultural phenomena, needs of the audience, the knowledge of this audience as well as human and material resources. The disposition of these four blocks is dynamic and constantly changed over the last year, it’s a very sharp change, especially in the field of sources. Both human and material sources are drying up. In our country welfare expenditures constantly decreasing, that’s why understanding of the importance of these spheres disappears. Human sources depend on the material, and now we are facing with deprofessionalization in the field of culture. So, we need to learn and evolve, but we don’t have opportunities to do so, because we think how to survive.
Yuriy Kruchak: Yet, how should the structure of the multifunctional center look? The situation at night of January 20, 2014, shows us that the community doesn’t want to have old models of governance, and probably need new ways of interaction between authorities and citizens. Perhaps, the multifunctional center should develop these new models of relationships between social groups, shouldn’t it?
Kateryna Botanova: Generally, my vision of the center hasn’t changed, but it became clearer since the last year. Today I strongly disagree that it’s necessary to establish a dialogue with the current regime. To the bitter end I was sure that that was necessary, and I saw the way of peaceful changes. But now I understand that negotiations are impossible, because it’s impossible to negotiate with a rifle. This statement certainly doesn’t mean that public communication unwanted. We have a lack of communication, and no government could succeed without it.
As for the cultural center, to my mind, it’s important that cultural activity consists of thinking and sensual activities, even in the broadest sense of culture. This is an opportunity to see, to formulate and to embody certain ideas, values and concepts, which are important for the modern society, and which will determine its future. The system of communication and relationships in different parts of society should be built around this thing.
When we have nothing, when there’s only “the poor landscape with yellow grass”, there is a danger that we’ll try to cram into a cultural center everything. We must think what to choose. It’s important for me that interdisciplinary organization, at least at the first stage, should be an incubator, a place for thinking, perceiving and creation of concepts, ideas and certain social models. The ability to do something in an artistic sphere is one of the most important basic needs.
The model of incubator is hard to understand. In the future the cultural center will have different phases of development, and it will change over time. It’s very difficult to plan something, the needs of the society and the mass of critical thinking are changing, and these processes are difficult to measure. Now uncertainty is the key element of people’s work in the cultural field. However, any managerial model requires specific vision of prospects.
Incubator, which I’m talking about, is a valuable thing. Enormous amount of sources should be spent on inconspicuous activities. At the same time, the funds that come in this sector require public, preferably a positive, reaction. Incubator doesn’t give it before a certain moment.
And it’s obvious, that some educational activities should exist parallel to the incubator. It’s necessary to identify principles of the dialogue in order to set up it. Why during the revolution should be protected Art Museum and the library of the parliament? Why the consequences of such losses will be crucial for many generations? I don’t know how to explain it. It’s lost so much over the last 20 years…
Yuriy Kruchak: For the last 20 years people in Ukraine were more concerned about success, and very little time was given for development of the model, oriented towards an effective understanding of current social processes. It seems to me that the center we are speaking about, could contribute the formation of such structure. This is a long process, but it would help to understand how we can influence politicians and culture. Now society is excluded from cultural and political processes, people make a choice only during elections.
So, what segments the incubator could consist of?
Kateryna Botanova: I don’t think that the cultural center should influence policy, especially politicians. It’s naive to assume that cultural institution should directly influence the political reality. In my opinion, the specificity of our lives and civil lawlessness now led to the violence and protest, which have no strategy and inefficient in creating a policy.
The most important thing in cultural activity is immersion in the process, but keeping certain distance, which allows us to see in perspective, to create a variety of “tomorrow”, to watch who we are as individuals and as a society. There’s shortage of perspectives in the Ukrainian art today, we’d like to affect the situation immediate. But it’s impossible. In the future cultural institutions should influence society, but differently: through the creation of knowledge, values and audiences that will realize these values, including the political field. So, in a certain sense culture creates a policy, as a certain strategy of development of the public spheres. This question is particularly difficult today, and the nature of sources will affect the political interaction.
Other important issue is the insularity of our reality on Ukrainian problems only. This point creates the illusion that everything what happens here is crucial for the world. It’s a kind of some rumination instead of studying from the external context.
I think that the cultural center should include residences with different durations, with the possibility to combine different artistic disciplines and researches. Some exposition, working areas, places for discussions and concerts also will be needed there. The processes in an incubator should be open for discussion. It’s important to organize educational and awareness activities, which will be built around the incubator and accompanying events, and which will create a context and a history. The other significant issue is the establishment of the international context on the basis of residence and exhibitions. Research activities should be implemented as part of the residences through some art projects and publications. Besides, investments to the creating an artistic product and establishing deeper contacts with the audience will be needed. Ideal model of the center should develop in a spiral, expanding its circles.
Yuriy Kruchak: Who will participate in residences? In what spaces they will be held?
Kateryna Botanova: For response on these questions it’s necessary to concretize previous issues, otherwise, it’s the space of pure fantasy, and hypotheses may be far from reality. Theoretically, collaboration and joint “boiling” of various types of artistic practices are very important, because such modifications help to generate new ideas. I don’t know how to do it technically. In such situation, a significant role will play curators, their ability to construct the space of communication. Again, there’s a question of sources, of the availability of right people in Ukraine.
On the other hand, a question of decision-making always will be in described structure. Who will be the authority? Honestly, I don’t know, because both models as with the sole expert and with the collective leadership have a number of pros and cons. The collective’s professional decision always creates a protective buffer, everyone always can say “it’s not me”, this model can be effective in terms of volume of knowledge, but I’m not sure that it’s good for management. Individual decision of curator is always limited by knowledge, ability to take risks. However, such model can be more successful for implementation the certain vision of development.
Yuriy Kruchak: What do you think about the prospects of relationships between artists and existing institutions? There are many houses of culture now…
Kateryna Botanova: I don’t see a connection between institutions and houses of culture. From my understanding, an institution is a certain sequence of strategies and policies, and houses of culture are entities, which try to survive in modern conditions. Cultural center obviously will be created in Kyiv on private funds, because others don’t exist in Ukraine. Reform of the houses of culture and creation of cultural centers in the regions are important issues, but from different level. Houses of culture should work with local needs, which are simple to implement. I know few cities which are trying to work with this: Vinnitsa, Lviv, Kremenchug, Dnipropetrovsk, and Lugansk. Speaking about Kyiv we assume artistic professional environment with the different type of audience.
Yuriy Kruchak: What cultural institutions can be considered as examples of your model? Maybe such places exist abroad?
Kateryna Botanova: Ideologically, no. We have a completely different situation, although partially the center will be based on the experience of other organizations. There’re a number of European residences that explore practices of various institutions. A few years ago it was created a book about interdisciplinary cooperation – resources and so on. Each segment of the future center should consider experience of others and methods of combination it with our realities. We have a situation when there is absolutely no budget, there is only private money, which is likely to be a certain type of money of a certain person – so, this person will have a significant impact on what will happen.
There is a perfect model of artistic residences in Warsaw. It can be taken as a model, but how much does it cost? It’s supported by organization that now is in a big crisis because of the problems with financing and management. Residences have autonomy, but the institution provides possibilities for projects development. That’s why when it begins to fall apart, everything collapsing.
«Constant need in culture is important»
Yuriy Kruchak: What could be the goals of the multifunctional center?
Kateryna Botanova: I’m sure that the goal of such organization would be the formation of cultural policy of the society, while doing this alone isn’t very effective. We need a platform that will enlist co-operation of others, stimulate particular processes, because the collective action dies without leader. However, it’s all rhetoric, until it becomes clear what authority is in the country. Cultural policy should be implemented through state authorities – only in these circumstances it’ll be effective.
Yuriy Kruchak: What is the point from which a network of cultural institutions could be built? Who could work in a supervisory board of the multifunctional center?
Kateryna Botanova: There are some tactical issues on which impossible to answer without response on the strategic issues. We can’t discuss who will join the supervisory board, if it isn’t clear what kind of structure we’re talking about. I like the incubator model. In such organization may be a few councils, among them supervisory board or board of trustees, which will work with the development strategy of the institution and with possibilities of implementing this strategy in terms of resources and financing. Ideally, it should consist of people working in the cultural sector and in the business, who understand features of the art product. Members of such board should form supporting networks around institutions, and the wider these networks will be, the better it’ll be for the center.
The choice of residences and forming the program can be controlled by expert council of several specialists, or by the curator who will work with the contract and could deal with this. However, it’s almost impossible in Ukrainian conditions. Again we face with the question of how to find the curator.
Yuriy Kruchak: In my opinion, we can’t talk about sources until we start to offer small projects that are different from the existing ones. For example, “Hromadske TV” demonstrates a certain level of journalism, and people trust it. It’s necessary to restore the public confidence to the institutions. Confidence in the quality of the product ensures the credibility of the institution which produces it.
Kateryna Botanova: I think the comparison with “Hromadske TV” is dangerous, because it’s the project for a fairly narrow range of people. There’s a community that understands that we have affiliated information field, there is demand on information, and there’s a source of professional journalists – all these things create a database. Group of professionals gathered just in time, although the question of the financing is not so clear. Will this project be systematic, will it exist the next year? Another risk that not many people understand that quality information should be supplemented by quality analytics.
A potential cultural center doesn’t have a reference group now. Whatever changed the political circumstances, I can’t imagine a situation when people would feel a necessity of this project. Information is necessary now for the survival of society, it’s the factor of political struggle. Culture in Ukraine has never been recognized as a factor which guarantee the existence of society, and it’s unreal to instill it now.
Different layers of society have to understand the strategic objectives of the multifunctional center. We, the initiative group of cultural activists, distinguish among our tasks an extension of the circle of people who support certain ideas. It’s important for society to have a constant need in culture, as it binds our yesterday, today and tomorrow. When tragic events on Hrushevskoho Street become points of history, something remains, which will be able to accumulate knowledge about those days. But it’s a huge task which needs a giant network of supporters.
Awareness of the importance of culture can come in a month or in a few years. Talking about these processes has no sense now because society “burns”. Community began to hear cultural environment a little in the late 2000s, it was possible to write about art, and it provoked response among society, but then – boom! – everything fell down, among other reasons of that were political realities. We should keep redefining of the importance of culture in perspective, and today also take some small steps in this direction.
Now we, cultural activists, can say that we are small, and with specific needs. The world around these needs will grow, and they will become important rather for part of the society. We should accept the fact that not everybody will share our beliefs. I’m not sure that someone will hear our idea of a cultural center, but it’s required at least by a part of the cultural environment, and we should speak about it. If we extend our circle, maybe we’ll be heard, somebody will see our needs, and we will do the next step.
Since this conversation, after the tragic days on Hrushevskoho Street in January 2014, only three months passed, but it seems like an eternity. Today, we, the cultural activists, can and should talk not only about requirements to the new authority, but also about collaborative work with policies and strategies, what we actually do. But the main issues regarding the establishment of a cultural center in Kyiv haven’t changed: development of contemporary art practices, understanding painful reality through art, development and cooperation – today these points are not on the agenda. As not on the agenda funding of this project from private source, because all sources are invested in the war, or are abroad.