Is it possible to say that submission platforms are new institutions today? How has the emergence of TZVETNIK changed the institutional agenda?
In a sense, platforms like TZVETNIK do serve as institutions. First of all, this is the case of the issues of legitimation of what claims to be contemporary art, displaying, archiving, and analyzing. As creators of the blog, we are gradually getting the opportunity to work and speak out on a par with those who come to the industry in the traditional way – from educational institutions, internships, after working with well-known organizations. But it is too early to talk about a change in the institutional area because too little time has passed. The art sphere is a huge, clumsy machine, and it is still unclear when and how its functioning will qualitatively change (and whether it will change at all).
Where does the line between local and international art lie in the context of online projects today?
It’s too difficult to draw this line. For us, it is practically indistinguishable, often absent altogether. One can, of course, talk about the stylistic features of artists from different regions, but it seems like the most boring thing to talk about. We think that the impossibility to draw such a line today is a result of the long process of globalization of art, and it is beneficial for those authors who were unlucky enough to be born or work in major art centres like New York or Berlin.
Besides, one problem often arises, among other things. Artists who come to cultural centres from countries on the periphery of the art world are often encouraged by the industry to show their so-called cultural identity in a globally understandable artistic language. Not all artists want to do this, but often they have to follow this path in order to get the attention of their colleagues. Their art is perceived in the context of this post-(neo-?) colonial logic, whether artists want it or not. Our fundamental refusal to draw lines is, among other things, a reaction to such an attitude towards artists; it’s our protest against cultural exploitation in the game between the local and the global.
How can the global art world be structured today then? And how often does spontaneous burnout occur inside of it?
We are not prone to structuring or highlighting any global trends; our work is limited to a specific application area of our interests and strengths, so we do not observe the overall picture in all details (is it even possible?). Based on our field and analytical experience, we see that serious changes are taking place in art now, but rather on a conceptual level. But these changes are still so unclear, chaotic, and vague that it is very difficult to make any prediction. As for burnout, it used to happen not because work or art became routine for us (we understand that this is an absolutely normal thing and comes in waves), but because of mundane issues, such as lack of resources, energy or time. We are now in the process of organizing and professionalizing our work.
Who is producing meaning today: an artist, a viewer, an Instagram algorithm, or a text? To what extent is a modern language capable of describing the art with which you are working?
Meaning is produced by absolutely all participants of the process, including artists, viewers, the context of surrounding images on Google search, social media algorithms, and texts for and about exhibitions. Meanings have become hard-to-grasp nodes of endlessly expanding networks in which more and more participants are involved. The language for describing this, in our opinion, should also be included in this process of endless growth. It should be speculative, vibrating, redundant (or, on the contrary, too laconic), speaking in riddles, that takes time to be understood.
Then I will formulate the question differently: who, from your point of view, has the power to produce meanings and their subsequent interpretation today? Who are these subjects of discourse?
The subject of the discourse is scattered; in fact, it is a collective body that works on the principle of algorithms for processing big data. Clots, pieces, slices of information float around a certain global discourse field (an extremely abstract concept, but still), are detected, processed, and moved further by one or another participant in the process (and these participants are not lined up in hierarchies that we understand); as an output, we get clickbait theses and conclusions of varying degrees of ambiguity (and even the notion of accurate/inaccurate is hardly applicable here), information bombs or firecrackers and new speculative terms… As in the case of big data algorithms, the mechanism of information floating, processing, and its final output in some processed form is extremely vague. In this system, each of us is both a subject of the discourse and at the same time has nothing to do with it. And in the same way, the power you are talking about is potentially distributed among everyone; everyone can suddenly become its bearer and just as suddenly lose it.
Are your educational initiatives – a series of thematic courses and lectures – an attempt to change the stiff language that describes art? What is the difference between the language of the “description of objects” and the “language of their understanding”? Could your lectures also be one of the ways to offer viewers an “understanding” of art?
The courses and lectures that we organize are, of course, the reflection of our views on art. At the same time, we need to leave “an open code” both in lectures and in texts so that each participant in the process can intervene and rewrite something, adjust this code for himself or herself, leaving only what is needed for their own objectives. All in all, the language for describing objects should serve not only and, perhaps, not so much for the understanding of objects, but for interacting with them. In this sense, we do not want to give a manual on understanding art; we strive to articulate, to offer effective ways of personal contact with non-human objects created by humans.
What was the transformation like of the usual approaches to curate in the online environment in your curatorial duo? And why has offline curatorial activity become a form of your professional practice after online projects?
This is also a question about drawing lines. These processes are not divided into before and after for us, they occur simultaneously and interpenetrate. When we started curating feeds on our blog, there was no transformation for us simply because we had no curatorial experience before. Most of the exhibitions we publish take place offline but are shown online having passed another stage of curatorial selection. This is how a specific process of layering takes place, which then can again make a circle and somehow go offline. Therefore, offline curation does not contradict this circular movement of layers for us; we can find ourselves on the other side of the screen at any moment.
Why does the art that you promote at TZVETNIK cause often misunderstanding and rejection in Russia? (You once wrote on social media about constant criticism of your projects). Does this art have a political dimension?
It is difficult to imagine art (like anything else) without a political dimension today. Strictly speaking, even painting depicting flower fields that a housewife makes on weekends just to entertain herself has it. The lack of understanding of our practice in Russia has a very pragmatic ground, in our opinion. The art environment in Russia remains closed on itself and local. Like any closed environment, it does not accept newcomers who have not gone through all the stages of their own legitimation. We cannot boast of passing these stages.
Do you feel sorry about it? Or, having received recognition in the “Western World” (taking into account all the weird interpretations of this term nowadays), do you consider this stage redundant? Is it important for you how you are perceived in Russia?
It is difficult to feel sorry for something that could not have turned out differently if we talk about the perception of what we are doing in the Russian artistic environment. We live in Russia, and for us it is important what is happening here, how art develops here, what kind of support novice authors can receive. While working, we got rid of the colonial view of the West, so we consider it unacceptable to talk about any redundancy of working here after we have already been recognized “there”. We work everywhere and everywhere we try to do our best. Therefore, we don’t see a problem in how we are perceived in Russia – we just know that we will always find a common language and will be able to productively cooperate with those who share our views and values.
Is weird art a form of protest or a new religion? What hidden forces prevail in it? Is it Eros or Thanatos? Which forces move TZVETNIK itself?
It would be more accurate to say that this art is a sign of the times. It grows naturally from the context that surrounds us all. And precisely because of its weirdness, its understatement, mobility, tendency to speak in riddles, it can be seen as a protest, as a challenge, and even as a conformist dialogue. It can be grasped both through the ancient mysteries and through memes on social networks. Such plasticity, in our opinion, is its (and our) main strength. It’s the ability to constantly elude the final fit into this or that frame, the ability to see open horizons and feel some fresh air.
At one time, phenomenology was accused of being too apolitical compared to social-critical theory, not to mention the discovered right-wing interpretations of Heidegger’s “Being and Time”. Could this kind of plasticity of contemporary art be the reason for its institutional rejection as superficial, non-conceptual, and indistinct?
We don’t think so. As we noted above, there is no art, philosophy, or anything else that could boast of being outside of politics today. Even Walter Benjamin’s texts can be easily interpreted through the right-wing lens; the language itself perfectly allows you to do it. The art we work with will inevitably receive its own conceptual framework, partly thanks to our efforts too. At the same time, this art has no institutional problems even now, it is exhibited in the largest institutions in Europe, the USA, and Russia. And, frankly speaking, we do not know who complains about the non-conceptual and indistinctive nature of this art; perhaps, it’s the same separate communities, still provincialized by their own closeness and lack of exposure to contemporary art.
You often refer to Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology in your lectures and interviews. For him, objects can never be known or seen and interpreted to a full degree. What objects does art deal with today, and how does the viewer interact with these weird objects?
These are the kind of objects we see in art today, the kind of objects we find interesting to work with. This takes the formerly late-modernist issues in art into the background and brings to the forefront aesthetic questions about the object as such. Moreover, the object is understood here in a broader sense than the highly specialized object of art that has been studied for more than a century. We are interested in the phenomenon of the object that by some accident at a particular moment in time has become an object of art, capable of turning back into any of the ordinary objects of this world at any moment. The viewer chooses how he or she understands and sees an object; it depends on him or her how to look at it and what meanings to put in it. We give the viewer only a hint, a permeable coordinate system that he or she can use. After all, an object that is visually and affirmatively presented to the viewer in all its weirdness, loses this weirdness for the viewer for this reason alone.
What, in your opinion, is an art object today? And why is painting as a medium still alive despite all the talks about its death?
An object of art conceptually seeks to get rid of the dichotomy of subject-object relations, with all the ensuing consequences. Paradoxically, this does not contradict what was said above about its ability to turn back into an ordinary object of the world, about the arbitrariness of the viewer’s choice, etc. In particular, there is no contradiction since the question of getting rid of the subject-object dichotomy arises not only and even not so much on the territory of art – it affects the most diverse areas of our life and our knowledge. In turn, various ways of trying to get rid of the dichotomy will provide us with many more paradoxes because our language and perceptual apparatus are simply not ready for such changes. As for painting, we can say that it is alive because the topics that contained the idea of its death are themselves no longer relevant today.