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.

Experiencing art within, alongside, and away from the museum

Lecture by Anna Kharsani

October 19, 2019
Odesa, Ukraine


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).

The Social Impact of Art in the Public Environment

Lecture by Kendal Henry

October 18, 2019
Odesa, Ukraine


Kendal Henry is an artist and curator who lives in New York City and has specialized in the field of public art for over twenty-five years. He illustrates that public art can be used as a tool for social engagement, civic pride and economic development through the projects and programs he has initiated in the US, Europe, Russia, Asia, Central Asia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Caribbean.

Kendal Henry in his talk examined of how public art projects in America are funded. In particular, he told about the law, which is functioning in New York, according to which 1 % of the city budget for newly constructed or reconstructed buildings must to be spent on art. Kendal presented the criteria of how the decisions are made, as well as how the project budget is distributed. He demonstrated several projects implemented in the frame of the program. People who attended the lecture learned of how artists, educators and municipal governments use public art to highlight social issues, engage audiences to take action and influence policy.

Kendal Henry is currently the Director of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program and an adjunct professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. He is a guest lecturer at various universities and educational institutions including the Abbey Mural Workshop at the National Academy Museum & School of Fine Arts; Rhode Island School of Design Senior Studio; and Pratt Institute’s Arts and Cultural Management Program. Prior to that, he served as Manager of Arts Programs at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for eleven years, overseeing the commissioning, fabrication, and installation of MTA’s permanent art projects and producing temporary exhibitions at Grand Central Terminal.


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).

“We don’t need God, but Goddess should be created”

Open Place interviewed Elisabeth Belomlinsky

October 2, 2018
New York, US

Elisabeth Belomlinsky, was born in St Petersburg, Russia. At age 11 along with her family she moved to New York in Jackson Heights, Queens. Inspired by the diversity of her surroundings and mystic rites of various cultural beliefs, having embraced the emotionality of creation she has been crafting a personal and diverse form of devotional art.

“World is based on fairy tales”

I feel that the place where I came from, it is also me. I’m an immigrant, a daughter of Children’s book Illustrator and a writer and storyteller – that influences my art. I was grown on fairy tales, on history, and mythology from all over the world. When I was 11, our family moved to New York, where I have been living since then in Jackson Heights – the region with the most diverse culture in the world. I had an unconscious assimilation of all the cultures that were mixed in my head. At some point I realized that world is based on fairy tales. People strongly believe in those fairy tales, sometimes they kill each other because of them, but these are still just fairy tales. The narrative invented by people, which led our world to a terrible situation. In my art I am rethinking, replaying and rewriting these stories. I use images from different religions to show that this is a play on words, and the way we relate our personal stories – this is how our common history will be weaved. The things that we say, that we write and draw are extremely important. It seems to me the artists are the first people who realize this because they understand that they are writing history.

“If emotions will be respected by everyone, the world will become more sensible”

Creativity for me is an emotional and intellectual process. In America, there are the concepts of emotional intelligence, physical intelligence, and mental intelligence. But I think intelligence is intelligence. We have divided our utilitarian functions really into men and women. We now have a split personality in a human being, which was actually really hurtful to our society if you really think about it. So the fact that we could say this is emotional intelligence and this is intelligence intelligence is completely crazy. Like if you can do math but you don’t understand human feelings, you’re not intelligent, you are half a person.

The reason why we have that understanding is because the emotionality belongs to women. Women were suppressed.  Everything that belongs to women was degraded and disrespected. And men felt that they could call themselves intelligent, while not understanding matters of the heart. But really if you didn’t disrespect this whole other side, you will never call a person who doesn’t understand the heart intelligent, because they don’t want to accept the reality of the other half.

I have never seen a human being in male or female form who was able to control, turn off and annihilate their emotionality. Every man who claims to do that, they suppress their emotions, and these emotions come out sideways and in crazy ways. No one has accomplished robot state. Robot is not a possibility. You can be emotional, you can be intelligent about them and you can be creative about them. You can worship them, respect them, and you can know that they are stronger than you.

All art is based on emotions. The men do not talk about this, keeping the story apart from the product. For example, Leonard Cohen, who writes very emotional songs – there’s definitely the certain story behind. My friend met him once on the street and asked: “Look, who is this song about?” and Cohen replied: “I do not remember.” But this is a lie! Of course, he remembered who he wrote this song about. And he has a right to keep this apart. I can also decide at some point that I will not explaining any more, whom my art is about. But initially, as a protest, I don’t do it, because it seems to me that women are linked with people who give them inspiration. We get attached to the people and create our art from this. But why should it be less respected than the denial of these relations? I think this is part of women’s oppression, contempt for women’s life and women’s story. We struggle for this respect.

Female art is hardly recognized by most of the men. Once I was asked to recommend a works of art for the gallery’s event. I sent very female art. The artist Sally McInyre paints women’s silhouettes on old bed sheets. She does not stretch them, but just hang them out. I saw it and was immediately conquered. I suggested her work to the gallery owner for his event , and he immediately replied to me: “Send me something else.” I had to insist that he look one more time. He did not look, but forward this to the organizer. And the organizer was a woman accepted those works immediately. That is why we need women who own the galleries, and women curators. I understand what this art is about, it is clear to me, and a man doesn’t even see it from the start. When the works were already hanging in the gallery, he was impressed too, he understood the idea. That’s why I’m saying that we struggle for this respect. We are fighting for us to be perceived. That is why I realized that we need to elevate our emotions, our voice, and our work by ourselves.

The emotionality that influences women’s life, women’s work and women’s art makes us less respected, because emotions are not respected by patriarchy, in the men’s world. Men suffer from this the same as women. If men lived in a world where their emotions are respected, it would be nice for them. It would be nice for everyone. I think less people would kill.
Human emotions are the main magic existing in the world. I saw women’s groups where they understand that emotion can rise to the desire to kill and return to the feeling of love. When I speak with women who are in anger or hysterics, she is shaking and has a red forehead, after you talk to her, let her speak out, in twenty minutes she is smiling, she is pacified, she is happy. only attention is needed and understanding of the situation. Men are very afraid of this, because they do not know how to turn their anger into love in twenty minutes, as they suppress their emotions. Boys are brought up like that. They are trained differently than girls, and the effect is harmful. We have a lot of aggression and cruelty as the result. I understand that not every man is aggressive, but all women are afraid of aggression. Physical aggression has no race, economic class, nationality, but it has a gender— and it is male. This is a fact of human history: yes, indeed not every man killed someone, but most of the people who killed someone were men. I am talking about physical aggression, because it seems to me that this is connected to the suppression of emotions, later on they pop up unpredictably. I think if emotions will be respected by everyone, the world will become more sensible.

"We create Goddess"

I have met radical feminists through Michelle Southerland, when she gathered women for collaboration. It was an intuitive process, like love at first sight. It’s like soul mates – you see a person and already realize: you understand each other, love each other, and need each other. If you say to a man when you just met: “I love you, I need you, I understand you,” the man says: “Oh, shit, oh-oh!” A woman looks at you with absolutely the same trust and says: “I love you too, I understand you too, I need you too” – and we hug each other! And so it was with Michelle. We exchanged a few words, she said that she was organizing protests, helping women, and going on a women’s march at the end of the week. I told her that I wanted to do something important in my life, that I was already forty years old and I want to help women organize protests, and I asked how I can help ? Michelle said that she always needed help, and invited me to come to the event. I attended few events where I met soul mates literally one after another.

There are a lot of female art groups, but there’s no place for me there either. The difference is that precisely this art group is a spiritual one. We have no plan in Radical Matriarchy, but we have an ideology that we grow together. The members of Radical Matriarchy are not just artists — they are women who believe in soul relationship, in emotional intelligence, in mysticism. Every other says that she is a spiritual healer, an energy worker. Michelle calls herself a sister Leona. I worked with icons for seven years and also thought that I was a nun. Recently, I suddenly understood what we are really doing: we are creating art to revive the goddess. We create the goddess. We call each other goddesses.

I was joking that after my project with icons I became an atheist, I stopped believing in God and started believing in Goddess. We don’t need God anymore, but Goddess should exist. Let me explain the main difference from god and goddess, as I see it now. The mythology of God is that: he created man in his own image. Goddess does not exist here, and we make and create the goddess now, in our image. This is called responsibility, creative responsibility. When you take responsibility for your creation, you take responsibility for yourself. We all understand that if the Goddess is to be love – we must be love, if we want her to heal – we must heal, if a goddess will create, we must create. And for me this is a very important distinction for our world: why there should be a goddess, and not a god. Because we need to create this deity and not think that it has created us. God does not have an author, and therefore he does what he wants.

Therefore, women in Radical Matriarchy take responsibility by creating the goddess in their image. Women in their history very often and intensely competed with each other, because they were dependent. We depended on men: it was important that they feed us, marry us, and feed our children. We competed and were jealous of each other. Women oppress each other. They degrade each other emotionally and intellectually. They tell to each other: you have ugly body, horrible hair, not trendy clothes. We often do this, we all do this, and I was doing the same at some point. And all of us were criticized. Radical Matriarchy is an experiment. The goal is to see what happens if women would invest the same extreme energy in supporting each other, accepting each other and understanding each other. What if we support each other with the same sincere emotion? I must say it really works. I come out of these meetings and I feel love in my heart. I love myself and I love all other women in the world.

It is not a simple thing to invent a goddess. It does not mean merely to draw a creature with breasts. It is important to understand what a feminine divine is, what is her sexuality is and how it meets the concept of the divine. Women from Radical Matriarchy want to stop the sexualization of the female body. We must look at the woman as a person first off all.

Transgender is a future of humanity. But before it happens, we need make one of our genders equally respected.  Because if I were asked whether I wish to become a man, I would say: “Yes, of course.” To live as a woman in this world, is uncomfortable for me. For all of my life, I wanted to be a man. From the age of ten I had a main dream – to become a man. Because I immediately saw: the boys do what they want, and the girls clean the apartment, the boys play, and the girls cook dinner. So, how could we merge the genders if one of the genders is degraded? We will not combine two genders, but simply remove one of them. To put them together on an equal footing, it is necessary to raise a woman to the level of a person in everyone’s perception.

Sexualization of the body is a complicated thing. We need to eliminate this ideology when a woman is recognized only as an object for sex. Recently we had the “Me Too” movement (in social media it became popular in October 2017 – OP), each woman who was raped wrote about it on Facebook. It was a wave of trauma. It was the first time when women start to tell their stories openly, in social media. Before that, we did not even realize how many women were sexually abused. We don’t work with female trauma, we were simply afraid to demonstrate our traumas to the people around us, that is a problem. Women need a space where they could express their traumatic stories, and only then we can realize how to move further. The movements such as “Me Too” are just like a flash, which is turned on for a second, and you see what is around you. Yes, you can start doing art, you can start to make changes, but what was before, what is the starting point? We did not even begin to deal with a female trauma, because the flashlight turned on only for a second.

"Love is just belief and work"

In the documentary “The cave of forgotten dreams” they tell about the cave with ancient paintings. They talk about Neanderthals and cavemen, and investigate why cavemen survived, but Neanderthals didn’t. Scientists have discovered that Neanderthals at some point began to copy what cavemen did. For example, cavemen started making tools and Neanderthals too. There was one thing that cavemen did, but Neanderthals didn’t do. Cavemen began to decorate their improvised weapons. On the tip of the arrow a man carefully made a border with tiny flowers. When I saw it, I realized why they did it, because they believed that with their own hands and effort they would strengthen this weapon. This is not a practical thing – this is the existence of God, this is how God was invented. Because if we would believe, that with our work, we can empower this arrow – it will kill more mammoths. And I, as an artist, and as a witch, believe in this — that there is no craft, but only magic. There is only human work and human faith. And the things, where you put your faith and your action will really work.

I think that love is also at the level of this border – it is just faith and work. Two people love each other only while they believe that they love each other. And while you believe, you would work on those relationships. And when you stop believing, you stop loving. Nature is chaos, and human love is the first structure of order that we imposed over nature. We decided that we can believe that such a spiritual feeling is part of human nature.

Dependence on art

Open Place interviewed Natasha Danberg

April 18, 2015
Stockholm, Sweden


In 2015 at the SUPRMARKET art fair was presented space Köttinspektionen from Uppsala. The organization was founded by art group haka, independent theater Teater C and ballet troupe Autopilot. Natasha Danberg is a member of haka. Natasha moved from Russia to Sweden in 2000. In here works she mixes memory, cultural traditions and a wide range of techniques, in attempt to reveal the absurd nature of the clash of dreams and reality. Natasha Danberg told about contemporary art in the conservative Uppsala, about cultural policy of Sweden, and narrow-minded fear of the galleries.

"To pay to the artists - the question of democracy"

Natasha Danbeg: Independent organizations in Sweden  it is the basis of the democracy of the country. For example, hobby-clubs: chess, football, art that are not depending on house of culture or city authority – a few people gathered together and created their own club. The housing cooperatives are the other example of independent organization, with elected board and monthly meetings and protocols. The democratic system penetrates the society at all levels. My membership in haka was accepted by voting of the members that were already a part of the art group.

Open Place: By the way how did haka appear?

Natasha Danbeg: This is an organization from Uppsala. Haka is abbreviation of the names of four artists, who founded organization: Helena Laukkanen, Anna-Karin Brus, Katarina Sundkvist Zohari and Agneta Forslund. We’ve met at Uppsala. There was an empty school that was used as a studio place for about 40 artists. It was my first year in Sweden, and I had a studio at that school either. When that was decided to give this building back to the school, artists had to search the new places for the work. I with four others future participants of haka group were going to share the studio. When we moved I gave a birth and missed for two months. Meanwhile the partners organized the haka, and I joined the group after I was back.


Open Place: What united of the members of the group, if not the premises?

Natasha Danbeg: Uppsala is the Sweden analogue of Oxford – one of the intellectual centers of Europe, there is the big old University with many students. From other hand Uppsala it is the religious center and insanely conservative city. That is why art, especially contemporary art, is developed very poorly. Mostly the clumsy exhibitions are conducted and free young art is not shown. The first exhibition organized by haka had place in premises of abandoned store for the small money and got huge positive feedback. For a long time we didn’t have our own exhibition space –we’ve got it only this year. We have more possibilities but more things to do and I need to admit, that it is a completely different situation and different activity.


Open Place: Could you tell me more about Köttinspektionen?

Natasha Danbeg: The space belongs to commune. In 1920-1940 there was meat inspection, than the premise was empty. As far the building is considered as the cultural heritage the reconstruction is prohibited. No one from private investors is interested to use it. We with our friends from independent theatre and ballet troupe decided that we could care of this space if unite our forces. Together we created the organization Köttinspektionen (“Meet Inspection” in Sweden). Through this umbrella structure we apply to the municipality for the money for development of the project. They allocate us with money, that we actually pay them back as payment for the rent and utilities. So we ask a bit more money, enough to develop at least some artistic projects.

We pay honorarium to the artists who participate in the exhibitions, organized by haka. It is the question of democracy. The director of an art museum, the watchwoman, and the technical staff gets the salary.  The artist who exhibited in that museum gets only a flower during the vernissage. We are trying to pay honorarium to the artist firstly, though we need save on everything. We don’t publish the flyers, the advertisement we do through social networks or personal contacts with the journalists. At the same time, our work is not paid. All members of haka have another job. I’m teaching and make computer graphics for TV news, and give the lectures.


Open Place: How does the responsibility is distributed in haka?

Natasha Danbeg: During the meeting we decide who and what responsible for, in each certain project. I mostly do marketing and write press releases. I find it easy to talk to journalists, because I worked as an art director in a number of publications. Fund-raising for the project we usually do together. We accept new project, only if all of the five member of collective approve the idea.

Usually, we meet together, every week when we work on project.  We have a secretary who does protocol of the meeting. We keep the protocols of all meetings for 12 or 13 years we exist. Everything is structured very well, though we do it for ourselves only. We don’t have to report to anybody.

"The museums' pedagogy is popular In Sweden"

Open Place: Who is your audience?

Natasha Danbeg: It depends on project. When we would talk about exhibition Agneta Forslund, member of haka, whose painting we are planning to show soon, the lovers of painting will come, the classical artistic gathering. It will be “slender” and specific exhibition.

Now we are working on the exhibition of Finnish documentary filmmaker. She makes four installations connected with her film about how the refugees who were subjected to torture in the country of their origin, legalized in Finland. Similar problems related to this topic, we have in Sweden. Fans of painting, drawing and graphics possibly will not come to this exhibition. It will rather people who are interested in political and social issues. We collaborate with representatives of the Swedish Church on this project – its parishioners, will come to the opening too. I think there will be many artists as well as film mob. Plus we actively work with schools. I teach in the ninth grades, and probably, I’ll bring all of my students to this exhibition.


Open Place: Should cultural organization have political overtones?

Natasha Danbeg: Some yes, some no – we show qualified art. It can be solely aesthetic or with certain political goals. It also very much depends on the members of the group. For example I work in journalism for a long time, and I can’t get rid the politics. I did a big political project about military propaganda on the example of the Swedish and the Russian militaries, who served in Afghanistan. The other members of our group support and understand me though they don’t engage in political art.


Open Place: Why do you work with the schools?

Natasha Danbeg: It is very common situation here. The museums’ pedagogy is popular In Sweden. All museums, exhibition halls and galleries collaborate with schools. The person has no relation to art, often afraid to enter the exhibition hall. I had a dream to rid the school kids of this fear.  We visited museums and gallerias a few times a year, I explained to children all features and details. Now I see the results: my first students, who became adults, come to the gallery, read the sign next to the pictures, feel free to communicate with the artists. Children today perfectly understand video and sound-art, because they are in a certain media environment. It is interesting to hear their thoughts. That is why we work with the schools.

Emphasizing the quality of art

Open Place: How do your exhibitions’ program is formed?

Natasha Danbeg: It depends on the source of money. The municipality is caring about quality. We talk about artist, whose exhibition we’d like to organize, show the positive reviews. Officials are not interested in ideology, only in quality, and they trust us.

Members of haka have common aesthetic and political views. During the selection of the works at some intuitive level everybody say «No» at once for some project.

We try to vary the types of projects. After the exhibition of video art it is great to show sculptures, some three-dimensional objects, and then – festival of performance art. But many things happen spontaneously.


Open Place: How does your organization influence the cultural policy of Sweden?

Natasha Danbeg: There are a lot of aspects of this cultural policy. We developed the political projects about vulnerability based on art made by women. There were a lot of reviews, visitors. Has it affected the attitude of society to these issues – I do not know. Our aim was only to show that the vulnerability exists.

If we would speak about cultural policy as the way of relationship of society to the artist, we actively work in this sphere. We insist that artist should get fee. Recently we’ve talked about this with officials of the municipality during the meeting. They were very surprised, when they heard about it. But dancers and actors get paid for repetitions and performances. Different areas of art have different working conditions. This is political question. We have discussed this problem with many of Swedish gallerists and cultural functionaries as well as we are going to discuss it with politicians. Our activities in haka is unpaid, but we still do it – it’s kind of dependence.

"It is boring for me to be only an artist"

Open Place: How often haka prepares new projects?

Natasha Danbeg: Differently, for example in 2009 we worked a year on a huge for our institution show, “Swedish family”. The project involved 25 artists. We presented it at the Moscow Biennale. Over the past year we have made six exhibitions. But the projects are different. For performance is nothing special to do: provide people with the keys to the premises, and they work. To prepare video installation, in cooperation with the Swedish church it needs more of your time. On average, we do three to six exhibitions a year.


Open Place: How do you find the time for own projects?

Natasha Danbeg: There is no time. Each individual has many aspects of a personality. I am mother, wife, teacher of drawing, graphic designer, author of articles on contemporary Russian art, curator and artist. It is boring for me to be only an artist. Earlier I used to paint. It was pleasant work. I had a gallerist, who sold my paintings. I had the ambitions to live from the sales. Then I started to work with video only. The idea that my art would be a source of financial well-being, disappeared. When I freed from this thought, it became unimportant if I do own projects or curate the project of others. The main thing, that it is interesting for me.

Now with great pleasure I curate the exhibition of documentary filmmaker – it is going to be a good job. It is interesting for me to review the videos for the project and to discuss them with author. This is highly creative process, and I learn something at the time. And when I work on my own art project, I use the experience gained from this my collaboration.

“Hybridity is a part of identity”

Open Place interviewed Geert Opsomer

July 25, 2018
Poznan, Poland


Open Place met Gerd Opsomer during the Assembly at the Malta Festival in Poznan. Gerd Opsomer focuses his research on the issues of participation, collectivity and hybridity. Gerd Opsomer is working on the creation of a “transit zone” for young theater workers. He teaches at, and was co-founder of the new dramatic Arts department of the Royal Institute for Theatre, Cinema & Sound (RITCS.)

Open Place: Please, introduce yourself and tell a little bit about your background.

Geert Opsomer: My backgrounds: philosophy, theatre practice, performing, a bit of anthropology also. I worked some time at university, a long time actually, in the field of performing arts and philosophy and cultural studies. Also I tried to work there in practice, which was difficult in our university(K.U.Leuven). And then I had theatrical practice next to it, and in a certain moment I chose to work in theatre.

I worked in the Art centre in Ghent, Belgium (Nieuwpoorttheater). It was not so big, but very well-known Belgium artists coming from it, and always with social commitment in their work. I worked there for ten years. With the people working there we tried to make art with the social commitment – instead of art in arts. The words from Peter Sellars “the voice for the voiceless” became very important in our way of working. We tried also to look for another audience. We worked with communities in Ghent. Lots of young groups were developed from that.

As I didn’t feel very well at university, with a few people we also started the parallel school within the institute which was absolute old school of theatre. It was very difficult. It was group of several people and we didn’t fit to the system. The school, in the beginning, in the first three-four years, was very important for me, but then I went away. Now I am back in the school.  I’m still doing the theatre. I’m starting again in the smaller initiatives in Brussels.

If you want to do the school, you have to come in the system and a bit attacking it being together and taking a risk. At the moment when we started, very important for me was the meeting with Peter Sellars in 1994. That year we had the parallel meeting at the first edition of a big art festival KunstenfestivaldesArts in Brussels with a lot of people and it was called “City of Cultures”. I admired what Peter Sellars have been doing in Los Angeles (Peter Sellars was artistic director of the Los Angeles Festival in 1990 and 1993), I wanted him to come to Brussels. I thought that maybe he would convince people to work that way, to work with communities.  He came and gave a wonderful speech which came in all of newspapers and impressed many people. We had a talk for a whole night. I said I want to start a school and we were talking of how to educate people not only in the privileged classes. He said: “The most important thing for the teacher is to be open to what students have to teach you, only then you can teach”. Now many people think like that, but that was in 1994.

"You can express minor culture within the major one"

Open Place:  Can you explain what do you mean under “reinvent collectiveness”? And what is “minor culture” instead of “excluded minorities”?

Geert Opsomer: It’s about practice and theory. For the whole of my life I was inspired by  Pierre-Félix Guattari. Every time I was reading theory which really struck me, like Frantz Fanon, or this French psychoanalyst Jacques Marie Émile Lacan. These are known names, but for me they were very important because they were linked with practices. I became very enthusiast about these things, and always the name of Guattari came with the others. And I didn’t know who this guy is. When I studied philosophy I was a fan of Gilles Deleuze, a French philosopher in  the time of Michel Foucault. Especially Foucault and  Deleuze were very important for me personally to understand things about society. And there again Foucault was a fan of Guattari and Deleuze wrote books with Guattari.  I think 20% of the books of Deleuze are written with Guattari and  Guattari wrote as many books as Deleuze. Deleuze was philosopher, a university professor, and Guattari was an activist. But because Guattari was an activist, people forgot him.

I was amazed at the idea of writing together. And then you read how a philosopher becomes an activist and an activist becomes a philosopher. It was really something which stuck me. The term “minor culture” is coming from them.  Guattari worked at the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde in France. La Borde is a clinic with psychotic people, people who are dumped by society, psychotic patients refused to be in society. Lots of people in Western Europe and Latin America went to visit the clinic just to be in contact with Guattari. And I even found out that thinkers, that are very important nowadays, as Italian neo-marxists like Antonio Negri, Giorgio Agamben and Franco Berardi, all went there. They stayed there for a long time. Even when they were at risk in their own country in Italy, they went to La Borde  to be with the patients. This was really a mad’s clinic with totally different rules and a kind of community, which in the same time was very experimental.

The idea of “minor culture” is that you can express minor culture within the major one. This is the struggle which you have to do, and in fact you change the culture. And so, you change a little bit an idea, such as: these people are excluded, and we have to help them to have at least the basics of life. No, we have to be very ambitious about that. We and they are together to create other languages within a language, other thinking, just like Kafka speaking another language changed German literature or the Roumenian Ionesco changed French language. And that’s what Guattari actually did in La Borde: he re-invented the system and the language of psychiatry voicing the excluded people. Once I was there, for instance, one of the patients wrote a new constitution for France. He was a law professor the certain time and then he went crazy. When he did so, Guattari invited lawyers, thinking about the country, and they listening to him. It’s a mixture of psychotic and socio-political delusions and real revolutionary thinking.

When I’m reading and studying that, I’m always seeing examples of minor culture for me. And I think it’s so important to develop it as an idea.  These guys are dead. They were in fact the leaders of thinking. And what amazes me that people who worked there and don’t work there any more, they are still defending such ideas where they are in which context they are. I also amaze when I meet somebody who was inspired by this and has committed to social way, tries to do that kind of things in his way in his context, with group of people or with community.

“Heterogeneity is crucial for human being”

Open Place: You also proposed the notion of “city” instead of “nation”. How it would work?

Geert Opsomer: I think in Europe nowadays the nation state is a way to understand and to organize things and politicize the hierarchies in culture and economy. In 19th century it became very important. There were a lot of wars going on because of the nation idea, it has to be kind of purity in the nation. This is very weird idea of a nation as one. I think, it’s an old idea which cannot hold. This is a poem by William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming”, there is the row which is said: the centre cannot hold. So the idea of putting things together and having a kind of harmony and purity in it, such as we have a certain nation, and these are its heroes, – it’s a fake in a way, because hybridity of nation, the complexity and the intercomplexity is so big. You have to clean things and it convey to external war against another nation. And that’s what we saw in 19th century, and that’s what we saw also when fascism arose in the past and we still see it rising in Europe and all over the world now.

You feel that liberalism in Europe becomes national liberalism or ethnic liberalism more and more. I think the city is a kind of antidote to that. Now about the 50% of the work population are living in the cities.  People trust more and more in the municipalities, because the federal administrations really defending this idea of the nation, keep away the refugees. Municipalities become more important than the nation. Big cities are confronted with heterogeneity. Heterogeneity is also a basic concept of Guattari. In every text from him he’s talking about how heterogeneous we are. And how we can find ourselves and make ourselves. Heterogeneity is crucial for human beings. So, cities in the future will become stronger in political sense.

Hybridity is a part of identity. You are what you do. Identity is complex, and it’s not only defined by nation. It’s defined by all things which travel through us when we are doing things.

Making a social canvas

Open Place: You referred three strategies important for you: strategy of artistic autonomy, strategy of resistance, and the strategy of collective subjectivation. Can we focus on the last one in practice and theory?

Geert Opsomer: It’s broad! It’s very important, I think, when people are together to have a horizontal relations. The whole idea is the idea of helping each other. In TransfoCollect (http://www.transfocollect.com/) and also in K.A.K.( http://www.k-a-k.be/) the idea is that we have another way of institutionalizing.

Institutionalizing is not the fixed structure, which is there. It makes agreements like kind of social contracts but not on the level of the big society. It makes this on a smaller level in which you have your intents on ways of working with each other. You accept also the possibility that one taking a role of the other. Peter Kropotkin in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution put many examples in an attempt to show that the main factor in facilitating evolution is cooperation between individuals in free-associated societies and groups, where people become stronger when they work together in cooperation. If you look at TransfoCollect where I am working, or K.A.K. you cannot say who is a leader. All people together are TransfoCollect. This is forming an identity which is mixed social and on the level of horizontal things. It’s the kind of creating community when you goes through all these roles and identities and try to find the way to negotiate and to work with each other to cooperate. It’s like forming canvas together. And I know it’s a bit experimental, but there are tools for that. And people who are the most conscious of the tools, in a way, become informal leaders.

Open Place: How do your activity as a teacher connected with your artistic activity?

Geert Opsomer: When you create something for people it’s like you create object or you create a thing. For me it was very important too, but I never stopped there. Then I realised that you can be educator, learn from people and teach in another way, looking for the alternatives to meet people. Meetings are important. Learning from meetings is a form of education. Personally for me it’s the most important thing I found. This idea brought me to creation, people, social methods and some philosophical things.

I really believe in the idea of the ignorant master / le maître ignorant.

In teaching the teacher doesn’t take the master position: he lets the students create and take the master role for they are becoming masters and do not know it yet. They are ‘ignorant masters’. The teacher helps them to find their voice, their language, he ads his wisdom. And that’s the same for students and non-students, for teaching and creating. The finding of a voice is such a beautiful thing. The teacher is just like the creator a kind of Socrates helping the artistic work to become a piece of art. He co-creates rather than being a directing dictator. He is a wise co-worker creating artistic work and creative communities at the same time. In helping e.o. to find a voice people connect and form a creative community in which people are together for a moment: in a kind of populated solitude which is the new idea of “being-together-in-heterogeneity”.

The national frames became too constraining for people

Open Place interviewed Maria Vilkovisky and Ruth Jenrbekova

July 20, 2017
Kyiv, Ukraine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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