What brought you to your first meaningful art project?
In fact, my artistic practice (or “creativity”, as I used to call it then) was always evolving alongside with writing. I started photographing a long time ago, probably in my youth, when it was the most accessible form of artistic expression. Then I came across my parents’ “Zenith” camera and began to upload photos to livejournal and Flickr. Then I decided to get rid of teen romance and pretentiousness and, having purchased a disposable camera, I started taking “non-aesthetic” and “natural” images following the principle: I photograph what I see. But I quickly realized I was still aestheticizing everyday life. It was my earliest photo project “Singleuse” and it began in 2008. Then those photos were put together in one series and in 2013 published in BY NOW book.
You graduated from EHU. How did you choose your university and major?
At that time, I was interested in directing: the Academy of Arts seemed something unattainable (now of course I am very glad that I did not try to study there), but to study somewhere far away I lacked determination. So, I decided to approach “cinema” through theory. The conditions at EHU seemed optimal, moreover, my friends were already there, and “Visual and Cultural Studies” looked like a curriculum which was most closely related to cinema. Later on, my interest in cinema shifted to body and dance (first dance in cinema and videodance, then contemporary dance), I began to explore these issues using the tools of cultural studies.
The university also helped a lot, firstly, with the artistic practice conceptualization and contextualization. Although EHU is not an art university, however, the student environment was very dynamic and rich there: there were many stimuli to create (often jointly) artwork and a lot of spaces for their presentation – both as a part of university courses and students’ initiatives, like a film or photography club. Friends were an important incentive for me to go beyond the university framework. For example, my friend Aliaxey Talstou invited me to participate in my first group exhibition in Minsk (‘Oil Painting‘, Gallery Ў, 2010). Later, I was regularly supported and encouraged to keep on working by my good friend and colleague Aleksei Borisionok. Although the first two names mentioned are those of males, I often collaborate with women, female artists, dancers and curators, and among them there were many important collaborations (Maria Weitz, Eva Khachyatryan, Anna Tsiba, Vera Zalutskaya, Maria Kotlyachkova, Nastya Ryabova, Varvara Gevorgizova, Dina Zhuk, Anna Karpenko and Antonina Seryakova, Anna Lok, Olga Bychkova, Alesia Zhitkevich, Diana Gutiérrez, Signa Schiavo-Campo, Kinga Szemessy, Frida Sandström, etc.). In general, most often, if I do not participate in open-calls, I work via personal networks. I think this is a common situation for the majority, except for some very famous artists.
At what point did you realize you were an artist?
I started to call myself an artist after a certain number of exhibitions, when it was already strange not to do that. I think it is no secret that the problem of the status of female artists is still relevant, in particular in such countries as Belarus. Therefore, it is quite natural that I did not perceive artistic practice as my main activity, I lacked an institute of legitimation, like art education. So, being supported by my friends, female friends and colleagues felt so important. On the other hand, until recently, the university and writing had been taking most of my time and effort. But even now art is not my only or main activity, I am more actively engaged in that than in producing texts, for example.
I think I share all the fears and doubts cultural workers feel today everywhere, especially if we speak about the non-Western ones.
Thus, one of the projects I managed to do within the XXY exhibition in 2014 was “Celebration” about the position of women, their representation and self-presentation in the patriarchal world.
What was the subject your Master’s research in London?
It was an international Master’s program in four universities “Choreomundus – Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage”: Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim, Norway), Blaise Pascal University (Clermont-Ferrand, France), University of Roehampton (London, the UK) and Scientific University of Szeged (Szeged, Hungary).
I was working on the study of mass gymnastics, namely the Belarusian Vase, a gymnastic performance created in the BSSR in the 1930s and performed in today’s Belarus, in particular at the Independence Day parade. It was interesting to research how this socialist sports and choreographic form, and alongside with it – its underlying historical discourses (the Soviet, body and ideology) – fit into the modern political and economic context. Also, I wondered what happened to the performers (and all the participants) and their bodies, in what positions they found themselves and how they were acting.
Why exactly did this topic appeal to you? Why did it seem important? What research findings surprised you most?
It drew my attention due to the fact of being quite alien to me: I always rejected and ignored parades as well as everything that had to do with the official state policy. And on the one hand, it is always easier to investigate something you feel critical about. On the other hand, I was fascinated by the grandeur, strangeness and alienity of this choreographic form for our present day. In general, I have long been fascinated by such issues as the political, body, affect, spectacle, and they are all included in the topic of parades and mass gymnastics. It also coincided with an increased interest in the Soviet, which is most often presented today as something relatively homogeneous (maybe except for the 1930s being positioned as most tragic), and often demonized, but which we are, in fact, not well-versed in at all. And finally, it seemed interesting that the choreography of the Belarusian Vase and some principles of mass gymnastics in general overlap with other physical practices and cultural forms, such as the mass choreography of Hollywood musicals of the 1930s (directed by Busby Berkeley), the collectiveness of raves or some forms of contemporary dance.
Among unexpected results there is, perhaps, the effect that this spectacle has on you, namely when you really get involved in it. It is “sublime” (sometimes closer in its meaning to “spiritual”), the affect which is stronger than your critical positions and political views. The latter also become more complex and flexible when you encounter actual people, participants of the events you criticize, their personal stories, attitudes, etc. In this I see the importance of anthropological approach.
During my Dance Anthropology Master studies, I was interested in the issues of its representation. How can physical movement be transmitted or reflected? How can a dance museum be possible? How to express bodily experience through the language or the image? Thus, in 2014, the work of the same name was created for the curator Maria Kotlyachkova’s exhibition project “The Right to Be Forgotten” about memory and forgetting politics.
After contemporary dance and mass gymnastics research, I realized I wanted to work with the issue of discos and raves, and the Kiev Biennale of 2015 enabled me to start working on it. The Night movement (the project made by the artists Varya Gevorgizova and Nastya Ryabova) took part in the biennale and invited Alexey Borisyonok and me to join. As part of the Night movement, as a rule, they invite someone to “supervise” the night, coming up with some event or a set of rules for a shared night experience. Together with them, we made Night disco. For me it was an important project, because we experimented with the Biennale structure, which had a certain hierarchy, although positioned as non-hierarchical and horizontal. We reflected the concept of curation both as a “choice” and “hierarchy” in the formation of the disco playlist: similar to a snowball effect, we asked people involved in the biennale to add a music track to the disco playlist and name their subordinates and those they were accountable to. Then we also sent invitations to those people and so on. Based on the number of the links and such data as gender and nationality, we made a rating according to which we arranged the tracks. The disco took place in the Closer club. Apart from the public and the Biennale participants, there was a regular audience there, so the Night turned out to host lots of people, and thus was characterized with high uncertainty and lack of control. It inspired me to work with the formats when you do not fully understand the boundaries of engagement and control. When the celebration turns into some unclear action of something between work and rest and the establishment of either new work-related or friendly social ties.
What issues do you prefer to deal with now?
Now I am working with the topics of celebration and festivity, exploring the relationship between sublime, affect and ideology and discipline within in the spectacle and celebration; the problems of revolutionism and subversivity, and the issues of post-coloniality, exotism and cooptation, in particular referring to the connection of raves, protest movements. In this regard I also consider the problems of visual pleasure and the relationship between material, physical experience (experiencing a holiday or a political action) and its production through knowledge and language (that is, speaking or reading about it), articulating the gap between representation, discourse and direct embodied experience and affect. For example, as in the works “Performance, Seminar, Lecture, Dj-set” and “Burn, On Fire, Alight, Inflamed, Glow, Ablaze, Fervent, Go Up In Smoke”.
Speaking about the holiday, I mean the history of the Soviet mass holidays, today’s official Belarusian holidays, as well as protest actions (often described through the metaphor of festivities or the carnival) and raves, as well as the experience of the holiday in a broader sense, as the experience of liminality and affect and finally, work and rest interweaving, especially in their contemporary forms. As an artistic method, I usually use critical interpretations of historical narratives about socialist and post-socialist (but not only) protest movements, dance practices and social choreographies, as well as visual material and text deconstruction and their installation.
In 2016, for the DOTYK queer festival, I made a performance with Anton Sorokin, who created the musical part. The performance took place between two DJ-sets, being a sort of an interval in the party, which was interrupting the pleasure. In the performance, I was also working with the articulation of the affective and bodily experience and the issue of collectivity.
In the same year, as a part of Alexey Borisyonok’s exhibition of “Concrete-emotional: Between the Monument and the Ritual” I presented the work “Outdoors Gunpowder Burns Quietly. In a Closed Space Gunpowder Explodes”. It consisted of video, performance and metal prints. The latter were collages of various images of fireworks: screenshots from youtube, photos from a book about Brest. They reflect the complexity of the relationship between ideology, representation and affect. I look at a firework and get captured by its sight, although I am opposed to the war and state ideology.
How did the idea to organize the festival WORK HARD! PLAY HARD! appear? What role did you have in it?
Firstly, it should be mentioned that it was not a festival, but rather a collective self-organized platform and an annual series of events. The idea was born when in 2016, together with the curator Alexey Borisyonok and the artists Dina Zhuk and Kolya Spesivtsev (eeefff group), we decided to do something together in Minsk. We started thinking about possible topics we were concerned about and came up with current work and rest conditions and schedules, which became particularly relevant in Belarus due to the law on parasitism.
All four of us are members of a working group that develops topics and the format of WORK HARD! PLAY HARD! We invite participants, draw up a program, organize events, that is together we deal with everything, of course, delegating one another various tasks. And of course, numerous friends and colleagues from Minsk help us, for example providing us with art sites, technical assistance, the accommodation of guests and participants, etc.
We wanted to try to work with the formats quite uncommon for Minsk art and culture fields – namely performative, discussion and participatory ones, abandoning the exhibition format and combining entertainment and knowledge production. Also, we wanted to go beyond the limits of ordinary institutions and cultural sites and involve various participants, not being limited to a typical community associated to a particular site or media (photographers or film critics, for example).
Is there a notion of authority for you? How about authority in art and culture?
I am confused by the notion of authority. It is important to think and make decisions on your own. Of course, there are people whose opinions I believe to be important and valuable, those who inspire me, whose work I follow, with whom we develop similar topics. Among such artists I can name Laure Prouvost, Hito Steyerl, the Night Movement, eeefff, Pavel Haylo, Anton Sorokin, Valentina Petrova, Vladimir Gramovich, Alesia Zhitkevich, Alexandra Pirici, Lina Selander, Sanya Ivekovich, Mårten Spångberg, Martha Popivoda, Jeremy Deller, Mar Rosler, Claire Fontaine and others.
What can be said about the potential of today’s culture in Minsk?
The potential is big, the working conditions are complex (there is no systematic and sufficient financial support, in fact there are no art institutions that can provide this support and diversity of the cultural field, actually there is no institution of criticism), difficulties can be found everywhere. A lot is to be done. In London, for example, I began to hate contemporary art – there seemed to be too much of it, it was excessive, more famous names overshadowed everyone else, well, and even if you don’t do commercial art, but, for example, a small exhibition in a small gallery in south-eastern London, where only your acquaintances will come, you still inevitably become the agent of the gentrification in this area. That is, if you want to do something politically or socially engaged, then in my opinion, there are more effective tools than art. In addition, the competition is really very high there, as well as the cost of living. In Norway, where I also lived for a short period of time, traditionally the state provides art and culture with a very strong support (although the support was significantly reduced by the right-wing government a few years ago, but still), a wide and relatively decentralized network of support through grants is developed, but I would say one feels so comfortable living there that soon gets bored, or loses sensitivity to existing problems and sharp angles. On the other hand, if you are based in Norway, but you are not Norwegian, to get an access to these resources is already more difficult.
In Minsk, on the contrary, it is often more interesting and more efficient to work through art; more complex and multi-level statements can be articulated. Moreover, I am glad the situation in the art field is becoming more complex, the division into official and independent art is no longer relevant, new challenges also appear (for example, whether to cooperate or not with “Belgazprombank” which is gradually gaining influence, etc). On the other hand, I feel the lack of intensity, mobility, complexity, going beyond the usual forms, topics and art sites, interdisciplinarity, professionalism, more cooperation and mutual support, as well as political engagement not limited only to criticism of the president, more active citizenship (for example, I would like to see more active solidarity in relation to the censorship and corruption of the National Center for Contemporary Arts or the homophobia of the “Verh” space). And certainly I would like more active international cooperation, and here I mean not only “the West”, but also neighboring countries, ex-Yugoslavia, non-European art, the importance of the balance between working with a local context and global processes and phenomena.