Talk of Yulia Kostereva with Moira Williams
May 06, 2020
Kyiv, Ukraine – New York, USA
Moira Williams’ often co-creative practice weaves together performance, bio-art, food, sound, sculpture and walking as a lived experience, while simultaneously connecting and creating opportunities for artists through curatorial projects. moira’s work aims to follow the logic of our symbiotic being in the world we share with bacteria, wild yeast, soil, water, animals, plants and one another. Works are meant to be lived, added to, shifted and moved over time and space – and may flow through moments to years.
Moira has graduated from Stony Brook University (New York) with a MFA degree in Performance and Sculpture and received a Cultural Studies Certificate for Spatial Politics. She also has a BFA degree in Sculpture and Media from the School of Visual Arts (New York).
Moira prefers to be called a person with (dis)abilities or Eco-abilities.
What does mind-body mean?
Mind body can be defined as the body from the first person perspective. In other words, it is about the experience of the person who lives that body, how they experience themselves integrating sensations in relation to their environment, and how this process informs movement. Our mind and bodies are connected, we are not just one singular experience, emotion, history. We are all of these, we are multidimensional, we have all these live experiences that are shared and can be legacies. We are not just people of color, white, we are not just disabled, we are not just dreamers… These labels are all socially constructed to break down interconnectedness and our mind body experiences that holds incredible knowledge that goes beyond and embraces the everyday being in the world.
It is social and it isn’t linear. It doesn’t go from point A to B it can be a zigzag, it be circular and move slowly or rapidly – history, politics and trauma affects our mind body -it is social in multiple ways.
I think that in Ukrainian or Russian languages we don’t have a term mind-body or its analogue. If you will translate it, it will be connections between body and mind.
That is exactly what it is, but people think connection between mind and body is like: o, my mind tells my body. My brain tells my body this smells good.
I am a disabled person but I don’t only experience oppressions constructed in society but also the built environment. I do also experience freedoms that I have hacked or reconstructed as ways to counter social constructs and built oppressions. My mind body lived experiences are interconnected and become a flexible knowledge. I’ve learned to be able to break certain oppressions or rework them for myself for surviving and being in the world. Many disabled people do this. Different Knowledge or lived experiences are able to be brought forward and can be shared with other people. It is knowledge that can be part of the collective community and cause further hacking of oppressive systems or the internet to transform our world.
Can people be grouped or divided according some typical behavior of mind-body?
People have been oppressed throughout history due to their mind-body beliefs and practices. Especially people and cultures practicing non westernized farming, medicine, languages. Each has been oppressed because they may follow non-linear thinking, have oral histories, multiple gods or goddesses and of course look different from what the colonizer believes in as pleasing. Language and writing are powerful and are often intended to oppress embodied ways of thinking as well as many other ways of doing. Mind-body can be oral history and storytelling, so people have been prejudiced against, categorized and suppressed. Because it is not an idea or language or way of being that is capitalistic or neoliberal, so it doesn’t have this kind of value in western ideology. Mind-body beliefs have value in other cultures though disability culture for one. But also subcultures that I know of, in the US arts like performance people, people who dance, musicians. I really believe that one’s mind can not be separated from the body. One’s post trauma, post legacy, memories can not be separated from your body. All of that is in the body.
Now I think that it is quite challenging to talk about mind-body in the situation, when you can’t feel it physically, like online space. You can’t touch it, you can’t smell it…
But you do have an experience that this so obvious whole thing that going on right now we’ve been looked at and watching that’s all going online is definitely affecting mind-bodies. Maybe Mind-body is a part of call and response. My gesture is calling to you to respond in any way, you feel. Maybe it is a good practice for all of us just to see what response is. What is a response?
Being human no matter what kind of body one has, means there are always multiple things going on in the brain, mind and body simultaneously, whether moving in the outside social world or one’s interior world lived experience or mind-body is happening. For example, I have a memory from being a kid that can just pop up because of the smell of dry wood in the summer. That’s part of my mind-body. That experience takes me backward even though I’m living now. So how do we question these ideas that our bodies are just one permanent one dimensional thing traveling from point A to B? Or, that we live in a singular frame? How can we just be seen in the frame, like if we are doing things online that is just one thing in the frame on a screen, right? How is it possible that we are contained like an inner object of our visible body only? How can we talk about people, history, memory just as one solid nonmoving thing?
We are not one dimension and we are not independent either no matter what anybody thinks. We are interdependent. The question is how we can disrobe it? How do we explore ideas or notions that our lived experience is just one thing?
Following the dominant or prevalent believes people divide the mind and body because their feeling is still erased and their consciousness is still erased too in a way, because they are just consuming. They have all these other feelings that are going on, but they want to look like other people they want to belong. A kind of erasing people’s feelings, it’s just feeling of anxiety wanting to be part of a group.
I’m hopeful that going back to mind-body brings us back to empathy, awareness, and the way to comprehend of how normative realities are formed. It is the way of finding of possible disruptions and cracks, the way of mutual aid way of retracing.
This text is available in Ukrainian and Russian version
Conversation between Larion Lozovoy and Yuriy Kruchak
March 31, 2017
National Art Museum of Ukraine
On March 2017 the National Art Museum of Ukraine and METHOD FUND invited artists, curators, and art historians to participate in conversation on the history and motives of collaborations of contemporary art and museum institutions in order to summarize the experience of activity in the museum field. Bellow there is a part where Larion Lozovoy and Yuriy Kruchak discussed the project At the heart of the community, the effectiveness of work of socially engaged art and its evaluation criteria.
Yuriy Kruchak: First of all I’d like to note that the museum where we worked was not an art museum, and people who participated in the project didn’t identify themselves as artists. The aim was not to create an artwork, but create a model which could change the way of thinking about the museum, and would help to understand the local society of Melitopol itself at the same time.
I will give a brief introduction of how it started. In 2013 I worked on a model of an interdisciplinary centre. We know what happened in the country that year. It became obvious that society is disintegrated actively and this process can be very painful. That was clear that such the centres which could work out the social conflicts had becoming very important. I started to think where and how such an activity could happen. The museums of local history that we have quite a lot, seems to speak about identity. When I started to research them I realized that the museums in the different cities and the different regions are similar. There is not much difference between the museums of local history in Chuhuiv and in Melitopol or somewhere else. Most of the Museums of local history today still strongly connected with Soviet ideology, and children, when they come to the museum, are included in a specific program. It is thus important to launch a discussion about an effective model of a socially minded institution. The project lasted half a year and was divided into several blocks: research, practical and exposition, with the goal to show of the processes what happened these months.
There were two workshops each month. The questions were dedicated to the city and the museum. What is the role of a small museum in public life? How is the development of cultural institutions linked to the development of society? The questions about essence of the museum were raised by Мykola Skyba. Among the participants there were not practically people engaged in the visual arts, there were analytics of the culture, media activists, documentary photographers, and Jokers of the Theatre for Dialogue. For us not only the workers of the museum were important, but local society was important perhaps even more so. We wanted that not only the scientific workers of the museum took place in the sessions, but also the residents of Melitopol.
In a month, we have managed to set up communication between the residents of the city and museum worker. Have to say it was not easy, in the border situation and geographical closeness to Crimea, the war, and high level of violence within the society. Everyone had to restrain their emotions, and switch the hierarchical model to the model peer-to-peer in order to find the answers to the problems that existed in society.
We found the answer of how to establish dialogue between people with opposite beliefs in the museum archive. When we started to exam the history of museum, picked up the documents from its archive and found that the museum was created, saying in modern language, as a kind of hub, where people with different interests gathered together. We went the same way. Oleksiy Radynski, in particular, started to work with various activist groups, involving them in communication. It was crucial moment when the interest to what was going on in the city and who these people were arose within the museum staff. The second challenge was related to the “Theatre for Dialogue” session. The invited Jokers declared from the start that they would work with political issues. The management of the museum suggested first deal with the culture and with political issues it is better to wait for proper time. I must to admit it took us half a month to convince them that these things are interconnected. The management worried that political topics would provoke the conflicts, but “Theatre for Dialogue” demonstrated its ability to see into the root of the problems. I pay tribute here to Jana Salakhova and Nina Khodorivska – Jokers of the “Theatre for Dialogue” – who could engaged people with opposite points of view, in order to present them in the play.
It was important for me as curator to formulate a certain model understandable for potential participants and members of local communities. Artist is not a core in this model. The viewer, who in fact, triggers the mechanism, becomes more important.
The artist creates an impulse, and the recipient brings it to a real value. The main accent here on how clear is the message. Rather than giving of more examples of how the interaction is built, I would underline the lack of methods and practices of interaction as the main problem. In the situation when these practices are not well developed and society is not as open that people could exchange the issues important for them with others, this work seems to me important, worth to do it.
Larion Lozovoy: Thank you! I can’t be unprejudiced to this project, as it is too close to me as a person historically connected with this city. I would like to react to the way in which Yura touched on one of the key features of the engaged art as such: an artist refuses to play the role of a demiurge creating objects or images, and restricts own role to an organizer of some situation or event. As far as I can tell, from the materials of your project that I saw, the the museum staff considered artist primarily in the traditional meaning, as the creator, and the requests were like: please help us to reform the exposition, for example. In this case, don’t you speak from different perspectives with the museum staff?
Yuriy Kruchak: There is quite good level of scientific workers in the museum, and they are open which is important. Yes, indeed, what I am doing is often interpreted as work of organiser – well, it is not a problem. The work itself can contain and this functions as well. For me it was really important to shift from creation of the image to the creation of the reality, its elaboration. And if someone thinks of you as a manager or organizer, then this is a matter of perception. The work itself in this situation may contain different scales.
Larion Lozovoy: I can’t help but recall one of the objects in the Melitopol Museum of Local Lore, a showcase with branded cups, mugs, pens and flags that were made during one of the city’s festival events. Melitopol is a kind of Ukrainian multicultural capital, a city of illustrative pluralism. There is a tradition in the city for many years to manifest this fact somehow with the support from various foundations. The museum staff decided to add the recent cultural events to the category of museum objects. The question is not whether such activities are needed and what goals they pursue, but whether artistic activity wouldn’t dissolve in many initiatives of civil society organizations? What is the fundamental difference and importance of the situation that you organize?
Yuriy Kruchak: The museum uses rather strange way to raise money, by enter into collaboration with political parties. It is obvious for the city dwellers as well. They see the false. In the small towns it is impossible to hide these things and the museum loses the trust of people. On the other hand, there is a lack of transparent ties without corruption. I noticed that the residents of the city were aimed to create qualitatively new collaborations, but there is a significant deficit of connections and exchanges between different cities in Ukraine. Thus if we are able to do something, then let our “artistic” dissolves, the main thing is society still.
December 18, 2017
Discussion "How many contemporary art practices for the museum's ruins?"
Larion Lozovoy: During the discussion, you said that you don’t see a problem if your artistic activity with social commitment “dissolves” in the variety of the projects made by conventional civil organizations. The answer seemed dignified, especially in the conditions of the cultural periphery, where any bearable cultural activity is already a benefit, though, it requires further clarification. Would you agree if someone confronted the effectiveness of your activity with the social projects implemented beyond the realm of art? There are a lot of projects among them that merely exploit the prioritized donors’ topics (the “multicultural” agenda in Melitopol, for example), but also really innovative projects. Is such juxtaposing relevant?
Yuriy Kruchak: To some extent such juxtaposing is possible, since nowadays both social services and sphere of art are oriented toward interaction with society and in most cases use the same practices. But social services and the sphere of art use different criteria to measure the effectiveness of their work. Most of the social projects in Ukraine who exploit certain topics, use social and economic efficiency as the main criteria. Thus, the effectiveness associated with the financial benefit of the donor, and the society is in the role of the consumer of propagated good. Melitopol festival “Chereshnevo” could illustrate this very well. The main highlight of the festivity is “cherry procession”. The guests and the residents of the city dressed in cherry, caterpillar and butterfly costumes march to the vat with cherry jam. Jam is “kindly” provided by the mayor of the city who at the same time is the founder of the group of Companies “Melitopol Cherry”.
In socially engaged art the main criterion of effectiveness is its impact on consciousness of an engaged person. An artistic activity in this paradigm is aimed not at creation of “image” but at interaction with the addresses of such an activity. In case of “At the heart of community” it was active communities of Melitopol and workers of the city local history museum. In other words, the main task of artist is to create a common discursive field open to interaction, where people with different points of view could rethink their own experience and reproduce a common language, important both to those who immediately involved and for society at large. An indicator of effectiveness would be a person who is not afraid to express opinions and ask questions. These factors are hardly measurable economically, but we can talk about socio-political benefits.
Regarding the “multicultural”, or “intercultural” agenda in Melitopol, I see the problem in the definition itself. Segregation of people by race, ethnicity, nationality or gender, and linking the identities to the certain cultures, create the fruitful field for manipulations. The intention of city authorities is clear, such a “social project” gives the possibility to engage foreign donors to the city. But it’s important to say that exactly the policy of segregation of the people according ethnicity made it possible for “national patriots”, pro-Russian activists and Russian terrorist forces to incite ethnic hatred, to occupy the Crimea and started an armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Larion Lozovoy: Claire Bishop in her book «Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship» writes that the “participatory turn” in contemporary art not only means art addresses to social objectives (community involvement, and mutual collaboration), but also their valuation as more essential, “real” and important than aesthetic experiences. In fact, the works of artists are compared based on ethical quality. Thus “Socially engaged art” is in a very comfortable position – on the one hand, it is protected against criticism in the field of art (“… after all, we are doing useful things for the society”), on the other hand, it escapes the assessment and comparison with social projects (“… after all, we are artists “). How would you comment on it?
Yuriy Kruchak: The desire to avoid the criticism is a dead end position, as it doesn’t help to develop the artists and institutions, as well as society. The situation you described: “we are doing useful things for the society but we are artists, after all” – reveals archaic understanding of the essence of artistic activity in participatory practices. Further I will tell more about it. First of all I’d like to react on the formulation “ethical excellence”. For me it sounds as danger as “aesthetic excellence”. I think both aesthetical and ethical are equally important components for socially engaged art. If we would deny one of the components, we not only censoring the work before even it appeared, but, also curtail a person’s freedom with the grip of an ideology.
In the artistic practices of the 1920s and 1930s, the battle between aesthetic and ethical criteria was the same actual. The conflict has not been resolved so far, but in the process of this battle two cultures with characteristics of superiority have emerged Avant-garde and Socialist Realism. The museums became the fields of this battle. Now the results we can witness practically in any of Ukrainian museums. The Melitopol Local History Museum wasn’t an exception. In the museum’s archive, that was included at the final exhibition of the project one could trace in the history of the museum how one form of pressure through conflicts and repression was replaced with another authoritarian configuration.
Further I’d like to share the experience of work in Melitopol as well as to clarify the core of artistic activity that based on participatory practices. In fairness, I should point that Avant-garde, Socialist Realism and Engaged art have the same communicative nature, aimed at the consciousness of others. The subject of such activity is the recipient, but not an object that being created. The significant difference is in the way of formation of the communicative event. In Avant-garde and Socialist Realism it was one way communication – from author to addressee, quite hierarchical and authoritarian model of behavior, where addressee was assigned a role of an executor within predetermined scenario. Participatory art is based on dialogue. The model contributes to non-hierarchical consciousness, and this is really an important turn in artistic practices, which can lead to significant changes in the system of interaction within society. The fact is that in participatory practices, “political” is based on metapolitics but not on Party Politics or ideology. For the museums it is a chance to get rid of the function of serving the political parties and their ideologies, to become a space of political dialogue about politics itself. This is a really significant turn.
Lecture by Anna Kharsani
October 19, 2019
Anna Harsanyi is a curator, arts manager and educator. Her participatory projects and exhibitions have taken place within public and alternative spaces, exploring themes of memory, cultural identity, and collective experience. Harsanyi is the co-curator of In the Historical Present, an exhibition marking The New School’s centennial which features commissioned projects exploring the often hidden or dormant histories within the institution. She recently completed a project presenting artist engagements with the historic Essex Street Market in New York’s Lower East Side. She co-curated Hot & Cold: Revolution in the Present Tense, a public art project in Timișoara and Cluj, Romania which presented three artist projects about the 25th anniversary of the revolution that ended communism. In 2014, she was part of the team of curators who organized No Longer Empty’s exhibition Through the Parlor in a former beauty salon. Most recently, Harsanyi worked as the project manager for the Guggenheim Social Practice Initiative at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and she currently teaches at The New School.
Social practice is in its nature a medium that eschews institutional conditions. As a form that takes shape in various interdisciplinary and intangible ways, the ability of museums to be able to feature this type of work within their existing structures remains challenging. Guggenheim Social Practice (GSP) was an initiative that aimed at fostering new forms of public engagement through collaborations with artists. Anna Harsanyi’s talk was feature past GSP projects and the complex ways in which their development, implementation and evaluation intersected with existing institutional frameworks. In addition, Anna discussed past curatorial projects in non-art spaces in order to consider ways that art can be experienced outside of an art context.
In her lecture, Anna Kharsani reflects on the nature of institutions, their potential and limitations. About the challenges that the curator is faced while trying to reconsider the hierarchy and position of the museum in the social life of the city, as well as the methods by which art works with the division of society.
The lecture was held in the within the Art Prospect Intensive. Organizers: CEC ArtsLink in a collaboration with Open Place Platform for Interdisciplinary Practice (Kyiv, Ukraine) and Oberliht Association (Chisinau, Moldova).