Food as the instrument of social engagement

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Data Chigholashvili and Nini Palavandishvili

August 30, 2014
Bialystok, Poland


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

About the structure of GeoAIR

Yuriy Kruchak: How did the idea of GeoAIR appear?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Yuriy Kruchak: How do you share responsibility at GeoAIR?

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

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

About working with "non-artistic" society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

About money and an ideal institution

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

About collaboration with other artists

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

We were testing the ability of art to change the world

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Vladimir Us

August 29, 2014
Bialystok, Poland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


Yuriy Kruchak: How many people work in your organization?

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Yuriy Kruchak: What are the mechanisms of fundraising?

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

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

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

Strategies and tactics of the multifunctional center

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Kateryna Botanova

January 20, 2014
Kyiv. Ukraine


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

Institution as an incubator of meanings

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

So, what segments the incubator could consist of?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

«Constant need in culture is important»

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Open Place interviewed Monika Szewczyk

October 26, 2013
Tbilisi. Georgia


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Our works become a part of our life

Open Place interviewed Constantine Kitiashvili, Ekaterina Ketsbaia and Natalia Vasadze - members of the Bouillon Group

October 26, 2013
Tbilisi. Georgia


The Bouillon Group (Natalia Vatsadze, Teimuraz Kartlelishvili, Vladimer Khartishvili, Konstantine Kitiashvili, Ekaterina Ketsbaia, Zurab Kikvadze) was founded in 2008. The Bouillon Group is the one of a few artists’ groups focusing on utilization of public non artistic spaces. The group is concentrated on e active confluence of a space, which is not concerned with art and artistic production or in contrary intervention with non artistic activity in artistic space.

Open Place: When the Bouillon Group was organized?

The Bouillon Group: In 2008. Firstly, the members of the group set up an exhibition separately, within other groups. Then it was held the first apartment exhibition where participants joined partially, and with the next apartment exhibition almost the whole group worked together. So, gradually we united.


Open Place: Why did you choose the format of apartment exhibitions?

The Bouillon Group: Such exhibitions were very popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but after 1990 they were stopped. First of all, we liked that this niche is free today. Secondly, we enjoy the apartment’s space itself, as we work with site-specific, the kind of space and structure together, on which the work is “molded”. Thirdly, we’re searching the place, where we could feel more comfortable: in private space, or in space, which is called “public”, does this space really exists, and whether we can do something there.

As alternative we’ve had galleries with their own programs, policies and curators. All these circumstances always constrain you, but you must take them into account.


Open Place: So, it was an attempt to create your own cultural policy without using already existing artistic space, wasn’t it?

The Bouillon Group: It was an attempt to open a private space, and find out where the public space is. In Soviet times the so-called “public space”, in fact, was used by the regime. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, public space seemed to appear, but, actually, it was private. For 23 years little has changed.

Another problem is that it’s no space where you could do something. All galleries are square and white, but we expect from our place something else. Some apartments give this “something else”: they can be small or locate in an old house of the early 19th century… Visitors don’t know where they go, what kind of space they see.


Open Place: How do you work with site-specific projects? What data do you use? What is the starting point?

The Bouillon Group: We get together, and, if somebody has an idea, for example, to make some performance, we discuss it. As the result we have a completely different work. Actually, it remains without the author, and it’s very important, it’s our specificity. We create projects together. Each of us is the author, because initial ideas transform during our collaboration.

It’s difficult to come to agreement. Sometimes everybody sticks to his own gun, and each of us follows his own concepts. If we don’t reach consensus, we postpone the project. If we find a common vision of some work, we do it.


Open Place: How is important for you the place where each particular work occurs?

The Bouillon Group: The place, a flat or a gallery, is very important for us. In some cases we came to the particular apartment, and a new idea arose right there. Space often dictates to us what we could do there. It’s like a canvas, where you should draw something.


Open Place: How do you consider people you interact with?

The Bouillon Group: They are participants of the work and co-authors. At our apartment exhibitions we involved residents of flats, so they’re the part of the work and our collaborators.


Open Place: What are the tools of this co-authorship?

The Bouillon Group: In one work we changed the direction of the door eyes for some flats. Residents of these apartments allowed us to change the direction of their peepholes. Moreover, some of them opened the doors and let visitors come.

Usually, especially in performances, we have some starting point. We know that we’re going to do something, but it remains open how our work will continue. Until the end nobody knows what will happen next, it’s always very exciting. We try to create a kind of interactive, so an audience could join us maximally. But it’s true just for some works.


Open Place: Does an artist have any limitations?

The Bouillon Group: Only personal morality, if he or she has it.


Open Place: Should an artist be responsible to society?

The Bouillon Group: In principle, we think not.


Open Place: Do you consider your activity as an art only, or it also included other functions?

The Bouillon Group: Things which we do never are just the artworks; they become a part of our life. For example, when we’re doing work with the barbell, we couldn’t imagine that we’d stop going to the gym and raising the barbell, it became a part of our lifestyle. After works which were realized with other people, we often continue contacts made during the project.

It’s hard to tell when the work began and when it ended. Sometimes we repeat the works, but in each case they are different, because of the space, where we reproduce them, and due to the people we communicate with. Where is life and where is art? It’s a very interesting question.

Once we did the Birthday of Georgia’s Mother, the sculpture. For this we set the table and organized traditional Georgian feast. The toastmaster glorified the mother of Georgia, and other mothers from Ukraine, Russia and Armenia. People, who came, didn’t realize whether it was an artwork or it actually happened, because in Tbilisi you can often see such feast, when people just have a drink, and everything is fine. It’s unclear where the border is.


Open Place: Do you define this border or not?

The Bouillon Group: No, we live in a system with no boundaries, so there’re no borders in our works. Anything can be art, and nothing can be art. But if we call something an “art”, it becomes art.


Open Place: Why such art is valuable for you?

The Bouillon Group: Well, we like to do what we do, we learn a lot, we enjoy communication with people, and they like to participate in our projects. This is the first and the most important thing. Also, when we started, our works weren’t funded, we invested our money. Till now we’ve been financing our artworks personally, and we’re pleased to do it.


Open Place: How do you fund the works? Where do you find sources?

The Bouillon Group: It’s very difficult. We’ve never applied for funding. Actually, we always do everything at our expense. When somebody invites us, for example, in European countries, they finance a work production, pay some fee, refund road expenses etc. But we’ve never sought it. This year it was the first time when the Ministry of Culture funded us.


Open Place: What was this work exactly?

The Bouillon Group: The Ministry of Culture invited us to participate in the Venice Biennale. We presented the work – «Aerobics», which we did two years ago in Bialystok, Poland. It devotes to the problem that really exists in Georgia and other post-Soviet countries; it’s religious fanaticism. This year “Aerobics” became relevant again, because on May17th in Tbilisi people, who came out against homophobia were beaten. Those, who beat were basically priests. Just after that, at the end of May we went to Venice.


Open Place:In Venice, as we know, you also did the installation…

The Bouillon Group: There were two our works in Venice. The first was the TV set with aerobics video stylized in aesthetic of 1980s. The second was the albums with photos from our apartment exhibitions.

Loggia in Georgian pavilion wasn’t our work, it was Kamikaze Loggia of Gio Sumbadze, and author of the title is Levan Asabashvili. This supposedly happened in 1990s in the time of lawlessness, after breakup of the Soviet Union. People began to make such outbuildings on the houses. Some of them wrecked, that’s why they got the name Kamikaze Loggia. The theme of work was the last 20 years in Georgia.

So, they did the work about Kamikaze Loggia, and we did the project about religion, which is increasingly radicalized, the situation is getting worse.


Open Place: How do you imagine the audience for such art?

The Bouillon Group: In Georgia the audience and the visitors are artists who work in the same field. In general, they come to see what makes “a rival firm”. But in case of apartment exhibitions, where inhabitants are involved, it’s interesting.

We like working with people. Even unconsciously they engage to contemporary art, however, they need lots of explanations. Last year for one work we’re collecting culinary recipes of all women from the particular street to make the book, and then asked women to cook according to their culinary recipes. We printed the book and invited those women. Our edition looked funny, as we’d done it by scanning old papers, which were yellowish and torn. Women who saw their recipes in the book were delighted, and those whose recipes weren’t included in the work were very upset.

Initially, nobody wanted to participate, they were lazy. When we said that we would bring products for their signature dishes, many of them refused. But some agreed, and their recipes were included in our book.


Open Place: Should art be linked with a place where artist lives?

The Bouillon Group: We work with the themes that surround us, and they could be global or local. We’re working with our space, and if we go somewhere, we’ll work with the new one.

As for the project Religious Aerobics, though it concerns our area, it would be topical in Russia or Poland as well. So, we can work with a local theme, but at the same time it might be global.


Open Place: What about evolution of your art? Do you set some tasks for yourselves?

The Bouillon Group: Yes, we do. Our task for the next year is to go to the residences, because we have a few ideas, but we don’t have any finances for their realization.

Firstly, we want to make the book about our practice. Something we’ve already overcome, now we are at the certain point, and we need to gather together and figure out what we’ve done. Secondly, we want to do a particular work. We have ideas, but we need sources to realize them.


Open Place: So, your development is in a summing-up, isn’t it?

The Bouillon Group: It’s only one point, but we’re not going to stop, we’ll go ahead.


Open Place:You told that there is no support at the state level. Have you tried to influence this situation?

The Bouillon Group: No, we haven’t. But something has become different after the change of government. Now the Ministry helps us a bit. It was the first time when the government chose the project for the Venice Biennale by open call. And if someone has an invitation to participate in a particular cultural event, they can apply, and they’ll be financed at least partially.

We can influence with our works, but in direct way we haven’t done it yet.


Open Place: Is Georgian society structured? Are there any active communities in Georgia? Do the artists interact with themselves?

The Bouillon Group: There’re several communities of artists. Some of them are very isolated, most of their participants are the children of film directors and artists, who contact only with each other and consider themselves as privileged, even toward us.

Artists, who don’t consider themselves as some “elite”, interact with everyone, organize open events. We also work like this: we open our apartments’ exhibitions and invite everyone. As for some specific group, it’s young people.


Open Place: Does civil society exist in Georgia?

The Bouillon Group: There is no civil society, but also there is Facebook, where everybody can express openly, and, in principle, do that.


Open Place: How social networks influence the Georgian local context?

The Bouillon Group: They affect only if they coincide with the certain circumstances, for example, political. If we have elections tomorrow, and today Facebook is very active, it can affect the situation. But if today Facebook is active and it would be no elections tomorrow, there’s no impact, then. Impulse to the debates comes from outside, not from Facebook to the streets, but from the streets to Facebook.


Open Place: Did the Rose Revolution affect your position?

The Bouillon Group: For the five years we’ve been working together, there were no revolutions in Georgia. Of course, politics influence our work, but we don’t organize any actions, we can only join to something. For example, we want to go to the border between Russia and Georgia, where a protest action is being held these days. Different activists take part in it.


Open Place: What kind of protest action?

The Bouillon Group: Activists just stand near the border. If they do something, a war will start. We’re also going to stand. In this way we want to declare our position, we’re against the aggression. But the Bouillon Group never organized any political actions.


Open Place: Do you push the policy away from your works consciously?

The Bouillon Group: It appears in our works, but in very subtle way. Our projects aren’t the open books, people should reflect on them. Our works contain policy and sociology, closely connected with the policy, but primarily we raise social issues.


Open Place: Are you anarchists?

The Bouillon Group: No, but all six of us are different. During working process we often argue. Someone wants to do more politicized things with clearly articulated attitude, and someone doesn’t want to declare position actively.


Open Place: How do you achieve the balance?

The Bouillon Group: Usually we swear hardly, and if we have a majority, it takes a decision.


Open Place: But as a result of this dialogue, even conflict, do you come to a new vision and commit the conclusions? Does this process affect you personally, so that you integrate your feelings into new work?

The Bouillon Group: At some point I (Natalia Vasadze – the author’s note) began recording how we did our works. Then I decided to make a film: I prepared questions, each member of the group answers them individually, and I record it. My questions are provocative, they can really hurt. They’re about our preparation to exhibitions and our perception of them.


Open Place: Do you have any allies locally, in Georgia?

The Bouillon Group: Yes, it’s our friends. It’s very special cases, and it’s not a class or a group, but individuals.


Open Place: Do you have a target audience?

The Bouillon Group: No, we don’t have an audience at all, so no reasons to talk about the target one.


Open Place: To your mind, is it possible to affect the formation of the audience?

The Bouillon Group: Somehow we tried to influence. During our early apartment exhibitions we planned to arrange discussions, but this idea failed.


Open Place: Nobody came?

The Bouillon Group: No, people came, but the questions didn’t concern the theme of discussion, they didn’t develop anything. Discussion turned to chitchat.

We can affect the situation by our works. We let a person be a part of the art-object, and he or she begins to interact with it. It’s the only way to influence, especially if the person isn’t aware of art.

Nevertheless we’ve affected the weightlifters. Sportsmen didn’t understand what we’re doing; they thought we’re preparing for a competition. Weightlifters couldn’t admit that it’s possible to raise the barbell without any specific purpose. They couldn’t understand that we have nobody to compete: our task was to know how much each of us could rise. However weightlifters hosted us for free, we had three professional coaches, and in the gym we felt like at home. Then the athletes came to our exhibition: they were interested in what we did, and that’s great.


Open Place: Did something change in their minds at that time?

The Bouillon Group: We think they discovered something new. Firstly, they didn’t understand us, but then they got used, we became friends gradually, and everything became different.

Thanks to interdisciplinary centers we’ll learn how to dream professionally

Yuriy Kruchak interviewed Irina Solovey

April 15, 2013  
Kyiv, Ukraine


Iryna Solovey – President of civic organization Garage Gang Kollektiv, co-founder of social innovations platform «BIG IDEA» and Spilnokosht.

Yuriy Kruchak: What is the main thing in formation of multifunctional center?

Iryna Solovey: Multifunctional centers are the places where important initiatives are implemented. So, the basic requirement is to create a backbone organization for coordination of participants’ activities according to the common agenda.

Other goal of the backbone organization is to create a system of indicators for determination how the project’s progressing. This factor is especially important when we talk about social changes. Indicators can be different for different participants. Thanks to them a service organization could see the general picture. Thus, at any time it’s possible to evaluate the center’s work at different stages of its development.

Another important function of the backbone organization is consolidation, or assistance in resolving of the conflicts among the participants. Organization, which we discuss, considers a conflict as a good challenge. Usually contradictions arise in the group when its members have hardly enough competence, but movements in problem direction are necessary. Conflicts also reflect situations peculiar to the community where the project operates. Contradiction is a source of valuable information both for members of the organization and for society in general, so, obtained knowledge can be applied in the future.


Yuriy Kruchak: What is the mechanism of information analysis in multifunctional center?

Iryna Solovey: People who develop the principles of facilitation use different methods to estimate the situation. The strategy, I’m familiar with, considers the process as something, which evolves in time continually. According to this, people don’t think how it should or should not be, as they aren’t able to know this. They say how it was, how it is, and how it could be. Specialists are focused on what is happening in this space and at this time, and they try to make a prospection using the present situation as a starting point.

It’s a difficult work. People have been studying for years to learn this. The certain level of competence allows us to explore the certain level of information. The more competent facilitators are, the more they’ll be able to see. It’s not always well, because if you got information, you need to digest it and to work with it.

The organization, we are talking about, is self-learning, it integrates obtained answers into the principles of its work, it coordinates separated actions. I like to use the notion of “continuum”. Somebody graduated from the high school, somebody other finished the university, and both of them are “educated”. Firstly we need to determine the continuum.

Service centers, which we discussed, have the clear understanding of the fact that each project has the proper client tier. And organizers of the center realize that people working on the project are the same consumers of this project, as those who join it periodically. They know perfectly both target audience and the audience they don’t want to attract, so, they use demarketing skilfully. The last point is important: for example, if an artist realizes that some idea may be interpreted wrong by certain people, he makes the presentation of his work using demarketing.


Yuriy Kruchak: Who would form the backbone of the service center? Which professions could be represented there? What are the mechanisms of interaction people in this organization?

Iryna Solovey: One of the problems, that should be solved, is assistance in identifying areas of responsibility between participants. The crucial point in successful work of service centers is considerable attention to details. Organizers define each new member as entity of the unique culture. They talk to each new participant, explain all principles of work in the given cultural space, and at the same time they reveal main benefits of the culture that new person represents. For example, someone came into the center from business background, he has good business thinking. The question is: what can we learn from him? How can we help each other?

It’s a complex model that needs to be translated into the language of the present. In fact, interdisciplinary organization provides services at different levels of interaction: someone comes from time to time, someone makes a big project. The center coordinates these processes, works to minimize the cost and maximize the projects’ recognition. It sounds like bare listing of the facts, but the center’s coordinators are required to keep in focus current goals of the organization, to feel each participant. The word “facilitator” fits to their role, because they contribute to what is happening.

The necessary precondition of successful work is regular meetings of the main participants. The task of the service organization is to work with this group of people all the time. If a participant of the organization is working at some project, he’s obliged to visit meetings regularly. It allows monitoring relationships inside organization and raising topical issues on time not to miss something important.

The structure of service organization and qualifications of its members depends on what project is creating. It can be representatives of one particular field, but then we could have a lop-sided review from some sphere. If all participants of the center are artists who don’t seeking financing, don’t do management and curating, their ability to be helpful decreases. Thus, it’s important for organization to have people with working experience in different fields.


Yuriy Kruchak: How such Multifunctional Center can survive?

Iryna Solovey: Society needs the space and people who always do experiments and generate ideas for practical usage. I wish the Multifunctional Center, we’re talking about, was a kind of a think tank for these things. Such think tank could focus on the future, and if business or an entire industry will want to determine the development strategy, in the center they’ll be supported and will assess the situation from different angles. Recently I’ve attended the meeting where economists acted as facilitators; they’re looking for ways to connect those who have assets and those who have the means. These people are often in different social groups, and it slows the economy.

Thus, service centers help to analyze the future and to explore applied technologies. In general, we’ll learn how to dream professionally.

Taking responsibility is an important point. For example, a designer invented his own perfect world and made an object appropriated in this world. And he takes responsibility for this creation. It hasn’t been completely clear for me yet, but I feel that it’s incredibly important, because it concerns our organization. The fact that cities could think in terms of their creativity is important for us. We take it as the starting point and explore how some city can implement its creative energy to be consistent with the world. It’s an illusion, but it allows us to say that things, which we create, are designed for cities that want to live in the certain way. We don’t say that everybody should live so, but we work for people who are interested in our ideas.

The fact that not everybody wants to live like we propose, we consider as a positive moment. If we make a mistake, another stream won’t allow us to go the wrong way. Thus, we don’t have a direct way, we’ll never reach our maximum, we need to study constantly, and we’re secure from the absurd.

Local іs the New Global

Text by Yuriy Kruchak

Kyiv, Ukraine


Yuri Kruchak artist, curator, founder of the Open Place platform. Studied  Scenography at the Kharkiv State School of Art, and Environmental design at the Kharkiv state academy of design. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (major in painting).

There are three key problems in the contemporary cultural context that drove us to explore in greater detail the theme Local іs the New Global: the problem of choice, conflict of interests and limited resources. To make a choice we have to decide why one idea is more valuable or important to us than another. The situation is complicated by the fact that we are surrounded by aggressive propaganda of consumption that permeates nearly every aspect of the modern world, and so we have to figure out how to reject these possibilities and which option is the wisest.

Another distinctive feature of the present is the politicization of our lives. Most political activists today use art to achieve their goals and at times art becomes an alibi for protests. On the other hand, artists apply political methods to their work and enter the area of public policy so as to get more expressive artistic results. But society is losing trust in political statements and parties. The thin line between political activism and artistic practice creates contradictions in the perception of one and the other. These contradictions polarize local communities, which leads to conflicts that, in turn, distract us from problems that need to be resolved.

The time is ripe to analyze the relationship between the production of art, public space, politics and society, to rethink the division of roles between artists, activists and communities, and to answer several other questions that we think are important to the present. How can you make the local public your allies and adherents? What resources can we find and create to support our artistic and social practices when working together on the local and international level? Should art teach, or should it learn from those populations it works with? What is more effective for social transformation and the development of artistic language – removing borders between art and reality, changing the “system” from within, or perhaps another, third way?

The project Local іs the New Global is an applied study in the format of workshops that aims to develop concepts and scenarios for art events in public places. The series of workshops develops a line of research focusing on how creating art projects with different social groups can help shape less systematized forms of individual expression, and also how individuals and groups can come together to build qualitatively new types of institutional infrastructure. Thus, the main objective is to formulate cultural policy together as a group. It should be noted that the idea for this research didn’t arise during reflection on theory or concepts, rather it’s an integral part of the practical experience of the platform Open Place in recent years. It is an applied study combining theory, practice, game and experimentation.

The field of study of this project was shaped by the contradictory relationship between art and activism. A comparison of various projects by activist and art groups over the last decade created a new space for reflection on the mutually contradictory concepts of defined and undefined. On the one side, there are activist groups with clearly defined objectives and goals whose activities are organized along the principle of horizontal links and mobile response (which is why they’re not very effective). On the other side, there are art institutions whose main objectives and goals aren’t always clearly defined, that have flexible frameworks and tend to be event-oriented structures. And on the third side there are various excluded social groups that have clearly defined needs but no idea how to realize them.

The approach developed for the workshop Local is the New Global attempts to constructively rethink and combine the notions of defined and undefined, gradually introducing an effective model that would link the capacity of different social groups with curatorial activity. The starting point in the development of this special concept was the creation of a communication strategy based on import-export principles. This strategy ensured the physical presence in a particular place of representatives of different artistic, social and activist groups, as well as created an opportunity for the exchange of different kinds of knowledge. Consequently, our project worked with defined and undefined factors.

The results of the study showed that events organized by activist and art groups that contained messages and entered the public space either changed or remained incomprehensible to the target audience – key social groups. For the structure of the workshop Local is the New Global such realities speak of the constant dialogue between the defined and undefined, which isn’t a problem or deviation from an ideal model, but rather an opportunity to develop a new type of procedural structure. A hybrid structure that includes elements of social, activist and art centers. A structure that takes existing artistic, social, economic and political conditions and uses them as starting points for new social transformations and the development of the language of art.

Paradoxically, it is still acceptable to say that a work of art should have one author. Local is the New Global explores and develops a model of collective authorship. This methodology sees collective authorship as a series of impulses that can come from different subjects and through discussion combine into a common message, strategy and tactic of action. Collective authorship is based on several lines of behavior that gradually change one another after certain goals are achieved. This methodology is also based on the action and principles of camouflage and practices used by journalists, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists. The figure of the creator in this model becomes invisible, which makes it possible to focus on the potential of artistic and social practices in the boundary zone between visible and invisible spheres – active communities and those excluded from the field of vision. When working in the real social context, this model provides an opportunity to use tactics and strategies that can bring to the surface invisible processes that are hidden deep in today’s cultural space, with the help of which you can transform existing and create new relationships between society and the artistic process.

Based on the idea of the “construction of a work” as a cumulative and open process, the workshop builds on a succession of independent but interrelated stages. The workshop takes the format of a game that allows participants to identify relevant themes, places and groups on their own, interpret meanings together, and then decide why one thing is more important than something else. The point of the game is to put together sets from different categories of cards, like a kind of project design, and then explain your choice to others.

The aim of the workshop in Kyiv was to identify possible ways to involve local communities in the artistic and social process. There were five components to the main objective. First – identify social groups that weren’t involved in artistic processes before. Second – recognize problems that are important for the local context. Third – identify public places that could bring different social groups together. Fourth – consider possible tactics and strategies for cooperation with local communities. Fifth – develop recommendations for artists and curators interested in making the local public their allies and adherents.

The workshop participants, working in several focus groups, put together sets using three categories of cards (potential problems, places and social groups) and build relationships between the components of the set. Then representatives of each focus group explain their group’s choice to the others. Afterwards, the workshop moderators present the next two categories of cards – events (a social activity that people can rally around) and activity (“professional activity”, methods and strategies that can be used for interaction with different social groups).

The workshop Local is the New Global combines features of a communication center and creative studio. It is at once a school, a workspace and a display. The workshop becomes a platform for critical thought and enables new forms of interaction between people.

Open Place

Text by Yuriy Kruchak

Kyiv, Ukraine


Yuri Kruchak artist, curator, founder of the Open Place platform. Studied  Scenography at the Kharkiv State School of Art, and Environmental design at the Kharkiv state academy of design. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (major in painting).

Three main things about Ukraine’s cultural context led us to organize the platform Open Place, namely: constriction of the field of artistic activity, self-removal of the artistic community from public engagement and loss of continuity. The paradox of the situation in post-Soviet society is that during the recent reconstruction a mass culture developed that destroyed the connection with the previous cultural stratum. Features that were considered at the beginning as a manifestation of freedom, have twenty years later become a source of income for a small group of people, leaving to society only the role of consumer.

For Ukrainian curators now, there are three unpopular questions, responses to which we are searching in our work. 1.What is the purpose of artist and curator, in a society where the basic model of relations is built on the vertical axis of the state fused with big business, and the horizontal axis of the Christian Orthodox church, that is seeking to replace Soviet ideology and become the judiciary? 2.What is role of the art institution in a society where all political ideologies are devalued? 3.Is it possible to develop the institution with that society, existing as it does at different socio-cultural poles, producing art and together answering the questions of what art should be, and how it should look?

Initially, when we asked ourselves these questions, they seemed impossible to satisfy. The basic contradiction was that the forms of contemporary art institution existing at that moment didn’t satisfy the main drives of the program we wanted to implement, namely to create a cultural context where the public, on an equal footing with the artist, would be an active participant in the cultural field, a co-creator of common values, artistic events and cultural context. Our strategy to deal with this was to include curatorial practice in our artistic methods: to rethink the notion of the institution, its basis, models of relationships and interactions between curator, artist and society, approaches to programming and physical outputs.

The first drafts of our institutional model demonstrated the efficacy of a mobile structure with a flexible, invisible frame linking to both artistic and social centers. This could be placed directly into a real social context, to make changes and to establish communication between different communities. The development of this model of the institution and the construction of its three-dimensional concept became the significant moment in the development of Open Place. This migratory structure strives to blend with its everyday urban environment – to be present in a certain place, and simultaneously change it temporarily, accept artistic, social, and economic conditions and use them as starting points for the formation of new artistic values, public strategies and sociocultural methods. The institution in this situation serves both as a platform for artistic and social activities, and as mapping of the hidden potential of the space.

The project Dotted Lines of Speech aimed to acquire practical and artistic experience outside of galleries and studios spaces. This project consisted of a series of art interventions, researched in the field of public communication, developing concepts and applying event-based scenarios in public environments. Artists, musicians and writers from Ukraine and Lithuania were invited to participate. Some models and principles were tested in 2006 in Kiev, Ukraine at Zhitny Market and in 2007 in Vilnius, Lithuania at the cafe in the writers’ house. The nature of actions was improvised, and although outlines had been agreed upon in advance, the substance was formed during the action. Those invited could play the part of their personal story, and spectators could become protagonists. What emerged during the course of events was close to a public happening in form, with a paradoxical way of thinking about communication that allowed an understanding of everyday reality through new experiences, in a new way.

After the first exercises it became obvious that the space of creation and study plays a more important role, for such event-oriented structures as ours, than the place of representation; and likewise that the interventional nature of the mobile institution gives more extensive results than the facility located in one site with clearly defined boundaries.

To continue the development of Open Place it was necessary to work out a model of behavior, one which would make the figure of artist and curator ’invisible‘ and would allow a focus on the potential of artistic practices in the border zone between the visible and invisible social realms – active and excluded communities. Actions in real social context demand tactics and strategies capable of making evident invisible processes, hidden deep in the thickness of the existing cultural environment, that help to transform the extant relations and create new links between society and the artistic process.

In the course of our work we have developed several kinds of action, moving from one to the next on achieving certain goals. These actions were based on the principles of camouflage and were modeled on different professions’ methods – the journalist, the anthropologist, the psychologist and the sociologist. This tactic is manifested most clearly in the project Invisible Way, launched as a journalistic investigation of the socio-cultural space of the Ukrainian Association of Blind people. Eventually the project grew into a revision of the cultural space of relationships, between us – artists, whose nature is open to the world – and blind people, a largely isolated, socially sharpened group with clearly defined requirements of society, with a certain system of values and perceptions of the world. A series of interrelated artistic and social events resulted, which allowed the sighted people to experience the world of the blind people; for the blind people it was an opportunity to be seen, as well as to participate in making art.

An important stage in the development of the platform was the search for an appropriate institutional language, which would allow participants to make conscious decisions and interact with different socio-cultural groups on the creation of collaborative works. We had to rethink the concept of ’artwork‘ – to realize it as an accumulative structure, open to development, consisting of independent but interrelated levels with both artistic and social components. This approach assumes collaborative work with the spectators, and gives a certain equality, as well as freedom, both for artist and for spectator. The mantle of the creator, in this situation, can be taken on by curator, artist or spectator. Regardless of biases, ideological and political disagreements provide primary conditions in which different communities can collaborate to develop the art work, specify its content and how it should be manifested.

Referring to the narrative of a Post-soviet park, its eclectic structure, we initiated the project Start Time, the leitmotif of which was an idea developing the park. The challenge was to find a balance – a system of human interaction with the exterior of the park, with its past, present and future culture, in the self-organization of leisure activities by different social groups. Building upon the previous projects, we invited people with visual impairments and young Ukrainian artists to cooperate, as well as residents and visitors to Kiev who we reached through the mass media. Those who wished to take part built on the territory of the “Hydropark ” an artistic platform with both physical and intellectual manifestations. About fifty people – representatives of different social strata – cooperated on a program of artistic and social activity. We presented a number of artifacts, and identified several places that epitomized past and present culture of the park. Participants were invited on the basis of these objects and places, having created or transformed them as necessary, to reveal other, hidden meanings, or to determine new meanings. The result of this experiment was a series of interrelated, interpenetrating time-based events – consisting of objects, performances, happenings and sporting competitions, the course of development, and evaluation of which were determined by participants themselves. Work became the medium, uncovering the hidden meanings of the park.

We consider our institution as a social agent in public space, which questions the boundaries of knowledge and ignorance of social and creative processes in the society. To conclude, it is necessary to note that despite the problems existing in the Ukrainian cultural context, in society there are the groups with colossal creative potential – open to dialogue and interaction. A gap, existing between ‘executive authority’ and ‘the church’, allows one to create situations and spaces where people can work together to find a form appropriate to their needs, their perception of past, present and future.