The story about us

Open Place interviewed Daniel Urey

April 17, 2015
Stockholm, Sweden


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

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

The theory of urban narratives

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

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

Activities of Färgfabriken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The global and local goals

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

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

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

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

The theatre, which changes laws and saves life.

Yulia Kostereva interviewed Nina Khodorivska

January 24, 2015
Kyiv, Ukraine


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

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

Theatre as a tool of activism

Yulia Kostereva: How did the idea of project appear?

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

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


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

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


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

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


Yulia Kostereva: What events Theatre for Dialogue realized?

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

Grants and “barter”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Baby in a sling as a sign of culture

Yulia Kostereva: What is the ideal institution for you?

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


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

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

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

About the system of art institutions in USA

Yulia Kostereva interviewed Clemens Poole

October 28, 2014
Kyiv, Ukraine


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Yulia Kostereva: Can art change the society?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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