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Taburetki/Asian Low Stools


Conversation within Central Asian Pavilion in the 52nd Venice Biennale, between Central Asian curators Yulia Sorokina (YS) and Ulan Djaparov (UD) on 30th April 2007, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

YS I shall tell you now how it really happened. You were out of Bishkek ,when Dinu Li, a British artist, and I came here. He was on residency in Central Asia, and he had several draft projects, which he planned to finalize later. One of his draft projects related to music. He used to say that he was driven by three things: his love to music, his love to Video art and his love to Jane Luke Godar’s creative activities. One of the famous Godar’s films was made in cooperation with Rolling Stones. In fact, the repetition of a new song “Sympathy for the Devil” comprises the central idea of the film. The musicians were performing in a recording studio, and Godar used documentary of the most important events of the 60-s, such as the assassination of President Kennedy, the wars, genocide and terrorism, as a background for the song. It looked like a leit-motif. Dinu decided to make such a reminiscence devoted to Godar’s film in Kazakhstan with participation of Kazakhstani musicians, and using the events, which took place in Kazakhstan. We set up a casting of the leading Kazakh musicians in Almaty …

Imagine: 09:00 a.m., Monday morning, an empty night club with chairs turned upside down, and the musicians with their musical instruments and equipment after busy working night, performing like for a real show for only two of us! While we were watching and enjoying it, I over suddenly came up with an idea: “Why can not we ourselves use our own music here in Kazakhstan? It is a real treasure! Isn’t it terrific that our local “music giants” could come after a hard night work in night clubs or restaurants, and arrange a whole concert just for two artists?”

I decided that we had to go ahead with a musical project. I was stuck with this idea. It became so overwhelming that I could not keep it just for myself. It came out later in a very natural way, as it proved to be a very balanced idea in terms of both local and global picture. Further on, we came up with an idea to make such an art show for the Venice Biennale; however it seemed to be such a complex project, no money, etc…

Then I called to Viktor Misiano (curator of the First Central Asia Pavilion) and he confirmed: “Yes, it may be a nice project. It may be also nice if a pavilion for the next event will be set up by a local curator…” I understood that he was generally happy with my initiative and supported my idea. The HIVOS Foundation became our sponsor, and work on the further development of the idea began. It was clear from the very beginning that for the benefit of the project I need a partner who could be truly involved in the project. Everyone supported Ulan Djaparov as a candidate for this role, and so it was how you were elected. I understand that it is very difficult to implement another person’s idea. How can you manage this?

UD Recently, while I was preparing some materials for a conference, I could aloofly look back into the past. I recalled how contemporary art had started its development in Kyrgyzstan in 1998, and how I was not going to be involved in either contemporary art or curatorship, just was looking for the new ways and forms as an artist. There were some new themes, which required a new approach. I always felt some inner pain, which required a resolution. In our case it is not my pain, it is your pain, you suffer from it somewhere deep inside, and for me it is an abstract topic. I am thinking a lot about it. It has been very important for me that the project could be built in into my curator’s long standing philosophy. Directly speaking, there are artists who have more conceptual and structured type of thinking, and artists who are more inclined towards plastic solutions. These are these two main categories. This plastic tradition is very important for Central Asia. I suddenly realized that this musical project, in principle, is a reflection of this kinesthetic plastic tradition. Do you understand me?

YS Absolutely!

UD Speaking directly, music affects people’s feelings regardless their nationality and regional context. In this respect, Muzykstan project is very interesting for me.

YS You have spotted one of the main aims of the project. As you know, I used to be the artist myself, and only then I became the curator. I, therefore, always initially pick up everything on the emotional level, and then I start building up something based on this emotional chaos. I always wanted to make an innocent plastic project within the contemporary art field and music enables me to do this.

It was also strategically important for me to set up the second pavilion as a continuity of the first pavilion. Do you remember how we were thinking: that is it, the miracle is over, and no Venice any more for us… My post-Soviet young pioneer identity was disturbed, do you remember: “Young eagle, young eagle fly beyond the Sun…” A relay: to catch the banner and to deliver it up to the top. Even if it turned out to be a complete failure, but it is more important to announce: “We were here!”

UD I do not remember, when I received this information in November 2006, but I do recall that I was taken aback, as it was so unclear and vague, and also the range of my interests and ideas is generally more structured. I was unable to see any ideas and topics in Muzykstan, which even partially coincided with my approach. May be I could not feel it at once. However, I gradually became absorbed with the idea. It did not even relate to the continuity of the first pavilion, it was rather an understanding that another approach might exist and different tasks might be set up. It became interesting for me at some stage.

YS There is one more important reason, why Muzykstan idea emerged and, in my opinion, it reflects a typical feature of our best artists. All of them are very skilled in work with sounds. These two components – picture and sound – interlink and enormously enhance each other in the best works. It is particularly evident in the works of this “media-generation”.

UD However, I cannot understand why the project is limited by the generation approach. One just mention “media-generation” and a lot of good artists are immediately cut off according to their age and non-compliance with the generation requirement. It also happens sometimes, when an artist is old enough, but he has just started his video explorations, therefore he can be considered as a young one. This makes me confused.

YS We are not talking about any specific age here; we are rather talking about another plastic perception of the world and self-expression. First of all, when I just started the project, which originally meant to be brief, I deliberately set limits, just not to be messed up with a huge amount of different materials and large number of the candidates. I also have a lot of favorite works and favorite artists. Secondly, when we discussed the idea with Viktor Misiano, we decided that the project had to be completely different from the first one, and, at the same time, some kind of continuity should be followed.

It would be nice if the “next” generation represents it, because their approach towards media art is different. You know, I was thinking about generations in the same way, until I have started work with the materials. I am very fond of Slava Akhunov’s work “Grain for Canary”; I like, in principle, what Yura Useinov and Dzhamshed Kholikov create, despite of the fact, that they all represent the older generation. But once I have collected and reviewed the works by younger artist, you know, these works caused completely different feelings.

Music is also such a medium, which levels the differences between these generations. It happened so, that I myself am partially with one generation, which ranges from forty and older, and partially with the younger generation. I, therefore, can affirm that at times the only feature to distinguish a thirty- and forty-year-old is to define their music preferences. Today, for instance, one of the top art managers has visited us. He is already over sixty, and, therefore, he does not know anything about Depeche Mode, although for us it is difficult to imagine a person in contemporary world who have not heard of Depeche Mode - a cultural fetish for the whole generation.

UD You know, I cannot also recall any songs from their repertoire, but I know that they are a very popular band…

YS It reminds me of a story from so called actual Kazakh mythology, when two artists, Lena Vorobieva and Sergei Maslov, literally fought with each other because Lena did not know who Curt Kobein was and insisted that she was not obliged to know anything about him, and Sergei persisted that anybody who could be considered as a contemporary artist had to know about him and “Nirvana”. I emphasize that music exists in live time and there are very articulated bearers of this music culture. All videos, included in Muzykistan, represent a different product – they contain the post-production and special effects; it is not a live recording with rough or smooth cuts, it is a completely different media plastic. It has been done. It proves the difference between generations; the new generation lives in media space, and they percept the clip type of thinking.

UD There is something else here. Some things can work in Almaty and Astana, but they do not work here, in Bishkek or Tashkent or in Dushanbe. Pop culture in Kazakhstan has really involved masses of population; there are many clubs, concerts and etc, and the situation in our countries is tougher. Young people are more severe, they do not visit disco clubs, do not sleep with the headphones, and, therefore, they did not volunteer to participate in the project…

YS This was an additional requirement, which separated those for whom music is their blood and sweat, and those, who work using other materials. I, for example, know that the “Moscow Echo” radio station is blocked in Kazakhstan for radical views towards our government, and this radio station is available for million people in Bishkek, and Roma Moskalev enjoys Artem Troitski’s programme “FM Dostevski” on a regular basis and even records it.

Sevara Nazarkhan, a singer with international fame and a winner of the “World Music Award”, lives and works in Tashkent. These are important factors but, certainly, they do not reflect the prevailing situations in the local cultures, which very from country to country. I am fully aware of the advantages in Kazakhstan resulted from the objective geo-political situation. Our artists can afford more things in their life; they can travel more, and see more… Therefore, the number of contemporary artists in Kazakhstan is larger than in other Central Asian countries. They also work in a different way than in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and more over in Tajikistan, where the process of changes has just started…

UD OK, let’s come back to the space of the project. As my professional background is architecture, the use of space is important for me. It should, similar to music, raise an emotional reaction, and I do not know, whether through kinesthetic or plastic. It is necessary to have something special. Let’s divide the space into three zones and think, what one can do with it in order to get an interactive reaction from the spectators. My vision is based on a paradoxical turn, due to which our oriental features could be shown through the simple things…

YS There is logic of the space, which affects the logic of the works in this case. My vision of the project initially was like a screening programme consisted of four videos, which was logical as we had four artists from four different countries. It was, therefore, very important to make a proper selection. The works should reflect the regional features, be of a good quality, and all of them should have rather distinctive but also include such a paradoxical plastic character as music. It should also be presented not in a form of a musical clip, it should be something different. It happened so that all four selected artists were male. In my opinion, Muzykstan could not be inhabited only by men, particularly, because we have so many good female artists. I came up with an idea to establish a “female half” within the project, and it should be specifically non media type – rugs, dances, and cuisine…

UD I agree with the general plastic resolution for all components mentioned by you. I like that there is a united plastic approach, which provides consistency and can somehow mark the pavilion.

YS Yes, I agree with you. I also wanted to go through our oriental identity, as I still believe that the body sensation is a quality belonged to the oriental art. In my opinion that is it, that, to large extent, distinguishes the actual art of our region under the notorious West – East coordinate system. There are a lot of things which are based on sensation. Probably, they are not perfect in their media affects, but they are more “handmade” and therefore, somehow, more human…

Citing Okssana Shatalova, my favorite art critics: “family values are primary here” and, therefore, it has to be always some food to eat and something to listen lying on a carpet… We need to bring in something into the space that we keep in our home places, even, if someone may think that this is a cheep use of ethnics, but this is the way we live here. We use the special low stools and rugs… Availability of food is a must here. Central Asia without food is nonsense. I want only to avoid too much curator’s imposition on the art works. However, to present a sterile installation would have been even dishonest, because such an exotic for others, is actually our body and blood, we live like this, and the handmade felt can exist side by side with hi-tech in our countries. It would be desirable to balance purity and mess in the space. I am certain that the space is to processed to become homely.

By the way, I think that these low stools, comfortable places to sit down, can be used both symbolically and practically. I use similar stools at my home place and I have also seen them at your designer’s Aidai Asangoulova’s place. She wrapped them with felt fixed with the rope to make them soft and comfortable.

UD I would transfer them into the objects. They are an important metaphor for me, as in Central Asia information partially comes through head and partially, I beg your pardon, through arse. I mean kinesthetic, that thinking process changes when one sits on a low stool. I would make all seating places low specially for strengthening our oriental identity. This is a marked gesture, as one can receive information through the whole body rather than through brains. It is very convenient to recall Khalfin with his ideas of the “low horizon” and “tactil”.

YS We have spotted a very important thing now, related to the actual idea of the project. It is based on the media-generation, and music, as the oriental warship, so some very high spiritual things; and we are trying to present them through simple, rational, and human objects.
UD: Yes, we are coming up with a nice image. Look, according to the plan, we may use this space in many different ways. Here we may place the rugs and people can come and sit or even lie down on them and watch video-screening. Imagine, people are lying and watching… Moreover, the programme itself is based on the life affirmation ideas.

YS Yes, I wish to move away from this permanent post-Soviet traumatic context. Indeed, our life has already improved and everything is different now, not like it was during the Soviet time or during Perestroika.

I had a discussion with one BBC journalist in London. He kept asking me: “You do not struggle for democracy in Kazakhstan. Why?” I tried to explain him that we just simply wanted to have peace, to have at least fifty years without revolutions, wars and etc. People will be adjusted for democracy themselves, because they want to live stable life and have permanent work. If we have the effective economy and stable life cycle, it will be the most important achievement. Democracy and other like beautiful words relate to the values, which impossible to establish here through fighting. In this respect, I strongly believe that we need to work more rather than speak.

UD The workshops for young people which we held in Tajikistan are the unique phenomenon, when we worked with a new generation of people, who knew nothing about contemporary art but who had strong desire to change something in their life.

I wish to minimize my activities as a curator and be more involved in my specialty, architecture, and for my spiritual satisfaction I shall probably select the publicity. I shall carry out my own project as a journalist. It is more interesting for me. It gives wider range of opportunities, a lot of communication with cinema people, philosophers and artists. There will be a possibility to attract new people. I am trying to establish contacts with Tajik and Turkmen people now. Turkmen people have a unique history. All creative arts representatives have immigrated, their culture is cut off. Their mentality is completely different. They are so much politically inclined, those who live in immigration.

YS Are you going, using your experience, to organize some workshops in Turkmenistan? Is it necessary?

UD It is unrealistic, however, there are some areas in Kyrgyzstan, like Osh oblast, where the contemporary art is at zero level and in any way we need to start from the very beginning similar to Turkmenistan.

YS Everything is relative, for example, in our capital city of Astana many people also do not know about contemporary art. They are aware of the traditional commissioned art and admire it.
We, therefore, need to work with the regions in all directions. We have also a difficult situation in Almaty. Many art galleries have been closed down, real estate has become very expensive, and it is very difficult to keep a gallery. It is likely that we shall need to set up a nomadic regime: using books, web-sites and workshops…

UD A partisan warfare…

YS It is more like a virtual warfare. Some kind of intellectual occupation… One does not know where hackers are located, they are everywhere. I think that this virtual reality and nomadic regime are very typical for the actual art. The whole current situation pushes our region towards contemporary art. We can pack everything in suite cases, move form one place to another, unpack suitcases, and here we are…

“Muzykstan: Media generation of contemporary artists from Central Asia”. Central Asia Pavilion at the 52. INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA. Catalogue of the exhibition. Almaty 2007