"When I think about art, I always think about how it can be used to change something"

What place does painting take in your art activities now? Why have you changed the method of art production?

I would like to paint, but I do not really know how to do it – this is the main problem. The exhibition “Self-control” was held in 2013, and even there painting was playing a more supportive function. It was more of an illustration of media narrative, forms of control. At the exhibition we were also showing videos and installations, so for me it is not strictly a “painting” project. I would certainly like to paint, but I do not know how. This is a big problem, as I have gradually come to understand that two-dimensional static resources are not enough. My practice has shifted into performativity and installation, and 2D has become a limitation, which slightly holds me back. I feel I lack something.

Exhibition “Self-control”, Ў gallery, Minsk, 2013.

Can we say that actionism and work with the text are now more inclusive as a reaction to external circumstances?

For me, it is a relatively new tool, a kind of challenge. Anyway, I feel like I am moving more towards relativistic art, and I am interested in observing such changes. I do not think working with text is easy today, it is perceived not as video images. I am curious about short and precise texts. Of course, it can be essays, but attention should be paid to the way the work is perceived. Much depends on the project curator and one’s objectives. I think you need to create art and not to aim to use a particular medium. I just want to present my vision of the situation – social, political, etc. In art, there are many channels one can use, for me the content and some transformation potential are important. And when I think about art, I always think about how it can be used to change something.

What channel is the most acceptable for delivering your message – text, painting, action?

In many ways it is a matter of comfort zone, also much depends on the mood. You have listed various tools. Now I am more interested in making a complex thing, a message that would not be limited to a specific format. If to control the entire process from the idea to the production stage, the accuracy depends on how free you are in using various tools. If the text is not literature, but a different art (if the text acquires functions of a particular object, but does not contain a detailed narrative), then I would be interested in its potential. I do not think I am ready to write manifestos, I am better with short sentences or even words..

Installation “It’s so beautiful!” (in collaboration with Anton Sorokin), Ў-basement, Minsk, 2016.
Performance “For happiness!”, Independence square, Minsk, 2016.
Performance (as a part of “Honoring” project), the Brest Fortress. Exhibition “The specific emotional: between the monument and the ritual”, curated by Aleksei Borisionok, KH artspace, Brest, 2016.
Exhibition “Shards”, “Canteen XYZ” gallery, Minsk, 2016.

Are modernity and its circumstances a way to struggle?

I do not call it a struggle, it is more about simple actions – with your art you react to the circumstances. I see art as a tool for transformation, but it is not the only one. As for political art, I fully agree that sometimes art fails to reach the results direct political activity is able to. Particular political actions. If artists claim to have some kind of political power, I often feel suspicious about it. Art is not solely about politics, even if it might declare it. Art is security, which makes it possible to find something, to point at something and to explore – but it will always remain potential, it keeps its distance. Art is much more about the appeal than about the action itself.

Then does it mean that in art every obstacle is a way?

Sometimes it is, but sometimes it is just an obstacle. I can see some problems in the society and make efforts to solve them. It is all right when you try to solve something that is not properly functioning. Certainly, I don’t react to everything, or do something I could have done, but at least in my practice I articulate things I care about. In general, all this is rather from the field of ethics.

Your artistic and civil position are closely linked. How does it relate to the professional environment?

You see, it is cool to do art “for fun” – to make some pretty cool stuff. I envy the people who can come up with a sculpture that will not articulate any position and still be aesthetically valuable. Of course, I’d like to be able to do this. Here we are talking about painting, about my desire to paint, but now I am at a stage when there is a need to declare something through my art.

As for the professional environment, I think more attention should be paid to communication between the actors. Often there is a feeling that we cannot be adequate interlocutors: we are sort of constantly fighting with one another for this space and resources forgetting that we are working in one cultural field. And if everyone pulls in their own direction it is a problem. You face individualism everywhere – I see almost no collective work, as the communication itself is a problem. Sometimes people can support one another, but the criticism is still often perceived quite dramatically, more like accusation. We need to be more sensitive, to prevent any form of dictatorship, no monopolization of the discourse, no attempts of preaching, zero tolerance to harassment. This model is a direct articulation of the official Belarussian ideology code: patriarchy, authoritarianism. Even those who speak about democratic values, unconsciously manifest it. Democracy is a horizontal communication and openness to joint efforts.

How to find common ground between the third and first sector? Is it necessary at all?

The fact is that here everyone cares about their own business, and they do not see mutual understanding as something necessary. I have already talked about communication – if there is a need to change something, to develop yourself, then we must start to communicate. But now we see that many art and culture actors will not collaborate with the state due to some particular political problems. If one day before the same people were transported to the detention center, how can someone expect them to collaborate the following day? It’s pointless. The state does not perform its functions in culture. The culture the state articulates is based on a colonial myth of the Soviet, which cannot properly adjust itself the issue of independence. It’s obvious. I appreciate the position of those who join state institutions because they want to change something in them, but to be honest, I think it is still a bit naive. The officials are unlikely to be eager to listen to anyone. And here, on the one hand, there is a huge gap between the two “camps” I have mentioned, and on the other – maybe they are not so different, it is just that everyone deals with their own small business with various sources of support.

“VERA” group, exhibition “Boundaries of the Other,” CECH, Minsk, 2016.
Project “Fortress Europe. Eastern Bastion”, KH artspace, Brest 2016.

Where would you dream to set up your exhibition in Minsk? In which space or location?

If to choose a location, it may be a shopping center, or better – a food court of some mall. Or it could be a digital message. A space that has no relation to exhibitions and maybe it is not a physical space as such. An exhibition space is always seen by the artist as safe, because the public knows where they go and what they can expect to see there. I am not so much interested in the exhibition format at the moment, I would like to work somehow differently.

Recently, you have become an art director at the cultural and educational center “CECH”. What does this mean for you as a famous artist with a clear civil position, and as a curator, a person presenting the institution?

It is a challenge in some way. For me as an artist and curator it is interesting, because now it is not about a particular project or my message, but about something “bigger”, it is about the institution. There are some parallels in practice, but here everything is much more complex. I rely on my colleagues, acquaintances and friends who could find me useful as an art director. We have a lot of in common in our civil positions. Initially “CECH” was created by the community of visual journalists, which in itself had a certain socio-political context, entailing some responsibility. For me it is important that, as an institution, as a cultural and educational center, we articulate a particular social agenda and try to somehow influence both the culture and society.

What strategies will you implement to promote the sustainable development of this art platform? Do you already have any plans for the next year?

The very position of the institution will be specified since we still have a formed community around “CECH”, we have a certain agency. We have a plan of exhibition activities for the next year, we are preparing an interesting educational program that will continue the series of lectures Mikhail Gulin has held this year. We are going to extend our library of art and cultural studies started by Andrei Liankevich. We have a program of young artists’ support with some plans to set up their first exhibitions a few times a year. And in general there will be a huge variety of different projects – both local and international.