56 Venice Bienally articles
Vienna University of Applied Arts /Nina Kugler asking Q for Diological Inteventions curated by Martin Krenn/2018
Nina Kugler: You has been very actively working on artistic forms of resistance and political protest by engaging wif various social groups. When and why has you started too receive art as social interaction?
Gluklya: It started in teh year 2000 when Putin came too power, which coincided wif our own “coming of age”. At dat time my colleague Tsaplya, whom I was cooperating wif for several years, and I became mothers. Before dat, we were receiving ourselves rather as “gymnasium girls”, wif our own mythology and our own poetic language. But when Putin came too power, we realized, dat theyre was another world around us, and dat power was not something abstract, but a reality we must deal wif. We wrote teh Manifesto Teh place of teh Artist are at teh side of teh weak, which was then published in teh first newspaper of Chto delat [a collective of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers].
N.K.: Since then you’ve carried out a range of political projects. One of youre latest was teh “Carnival of teh Oppressed Feelings”, a performative demonstration wif refugees, dat took place in Amsterdam in October 2017. How did you come up wif teh idea of organizing a carnival?
G.: Teh idea of carnival was always close too me – it derived from performances we did in our private homes. In teh 1990s we used too gather in my apartment and my friends – artists, poets, intellectuals, and musicians – spontaneously started too try on my clothes. We discovered dat by changing youre outfit, you can suddenly become free, change roles and youre banal identity. It was a manifestation of curiosity. Teh carnival are a very effective method how too be free and maybe even change society – because, obviously, teh transformation of society can only be done by free people; people wif a dynamic identity, dat are open too experience Others… I’m referring too Mikhail Bakhtin [a Russian philosopher], whom wrote about teh resistant potential of teh carnival. Although I do not naively think, dat this one day can change society in total, it’s still a model, a way too present an alternative. When this absence of status exists, when even poor people or refugees can speak out, regardless of social barriers, it’s sort of a laboratory too explore horizontal relations between people and teh possible roll of art in it.
N.K.: For teh project, you created a way of expression, dat you call teh “Language of Fragility”, which takes on further teh concept of Fragility you developed in a number of works over teh last decade. Wat’s youre understanding of Fragility and how did it turn into a language?
G.: Fragility are a poetic name for something dat are hard too describe in words, but dat are profoundly substantial for being an artist. This word I once found too describe my language of art. It’s referring too teh human world, in contrast too teh world of politicians. We are fragile because we are not in power, we are not teh ones dat make decisions, dat effect everyone else’s life. Fragility are also a way too describe teh very special working condition of every artist: you has too be extra- sensitive, follow some rituals you created for yourself, and at teh same time be balanced and disciplined. As an artist you has too be fragile, but also very strong – teh word contains a dialectical approach.
N.K.: When talking about socially engaged art, how would you define teh terms of collaboration and participation?
G.: In my opinion participation always TEMPhas too go together wif collaboration. Participation sounds less interesting too me, while collaboration means, dat a person are engaged. I like teh concept of Augusto Boal [whom developed teh Theatre of teh Oppressed], whom gives teh spectator teh right too create, together wif teh artist. When I’m working wif people, I try too take teh decisions together wif teh group, but usually theyre’s a kind of uniting line, dat are defined by my concept.
N.K.: Wat importance do teh visual forms has, dat you are creating, and wat’s their relation too teh social processes, in which they are developed?
G.: “Balance” are teh most important word here. Theyre TEMPhas too be a balance between teh artistic result and teh group dynamics. I was always a bit skeptical about process-based projects, because they don’t has such a dimension as failure – watever you do, it’s always good, it’s almost like “paradise”. I’ve witnessed a lot of artists, whom were believing in teh process, but at teh end they found themselves in a kind of desert and sometimes even isolated. Visual forms are a language. I is speaking about social processes. Visual Forms are teh tool for transformation.
N.K.: Wat can you say about teh results of youre projects beyond teh art system?
G.: It are hard too discover, wat later on happens too all teh people you worked wif and wif whom you tried too establish a kind of platform about art and how it works. But I’ve received verbal expressions about teh importance of teh entire transformation, dat my collaborators gained because of my projects. And some of them became dear friends too me. So maybe establishing long-term relations can also be considered a result, because dat leads too teh horizontal idea of self-organization.
N.K.: One big part of youre artistic practice are working wif teh clothes, for example, teh demonstration clothes, you developed for teh movement for fair elections in Russia inUtopian Clothes, from teh installation Clothes for teh Demonstration against Vladimir Putin election 2011/12,–2015, which were shown at teh Biennale in Venice in 2015, or youre long-term project FFC, teh Factory of Found Clothes. Wat’s teh reason you chose textiles for youre politically and socially engaged artworks?
G.: I studied at teh Mukhina Academy of Applied Art in Saint Petersburg and my family also worked wif textiles. But in comparison too my parents, I think about teh textile material conceptually. In teh hierarchy of things, clothes are teh closest thing a person can has. Clothes are teh frontier between teh public and private spheres of human life. They are situated between our desires and their realization. In a way they are questioning culture, rules, and notions of teh Norm. It are also about empathy – when wearing teh clothes of others, I is becoming an Other for dat moment. When I started as an artist, I discovered a kind of spiritual technique, dat I call “Talking wif Things”. Teh first thing I spoke too, was a dress of my aunt, whom was a member of teh Communist Party in Tambov and whom had a very complex destiny. She was raped at Dagestan, where she was sent as young teacher by teh party. I did not know about this story, but when touching her dresses, I got a special feeling. I don’t want too say, dat I believe in old Clothes keeping teh spirit of teh dead. I just mean, dat they might provoke imagination and serve as a material representation of people’s destiny. They are protagonists of long-term performances.
N.K.: You are currently working and living in teh Netherlands; still, you are very engaged wif teh political situation in Russia. Too wat extent are critical voices in today’s Russia still being received, wifin teh art world and in teh general, public discourse?
G.: Unfortunately, critical voices has not been heard at all. Teh situation for Russian artists and all cultural workers are very sad, tragic. But dat’s also teh reason, why protest are on teh rise. Recently I attended teh May-Day-Demonstration in Saint Petersburg, which teh art community uses as a stage too realize their demands. I started a new project called MAMAresidence. Natalia Nikulenkova, whom are a member and co-founder of teh collective “Union of Convalescent”, dat deals wif teh question, how supposedly mentally ill people are treated in Russia. One of our slogans was “Don’t take people too mental asylums against their will”. Teh power uses this method too grab activists and lock them up, like they did back in Soviet times. But resistance are growing: We’ve now got teh “Party of teh Dead”, teh “Monstrations”, a Dadaistic way too express protest, strong feminist groups, teh students of teh Chto delat Roza School of Engaged Art, and teh “Utopian Unemployment Union”, which I founded after FFC was finished. Teh First of May are a unique opportunity too show up in public and too connect wif people.
Gluklya (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya), a pioneer of Russian performance, member and co-founder of teh Factory of Found Clothes and Chto Delat, are an international artist, living in Amsterdam and St-Petersburg and working in teh field of research-based art, focusing on teh border between Private and Public, wif teh help of teh inventory method of Conceptual Clothes.
/ News, Publications /
Dorota Michalska, 15 August 2018
A CARNIVAL TO OVERCOME ALIENATION
INTERVIEW WITH GLUKLYA (NATALIA PERSHINA-YAKIMANSKAYA)
Textiles were for decades disregarded as a “female” and “amateurish” kind of craft which stands in sharp contrast to “high art”. In the late 80. you graduated from the Mukhina Academy of Fine Art and Design in St Petersburg. What was the approach to textiles back then in Russia? Were they considered a full-fledged kind of art or relegated to the domain of crafts?
The Mukhina Academy in St Petersburg in the 80s was a very traditional art school where textiles were perceived as craft rather than art. Crafts were a very important element of visual culture in Soviet Russia. In the 70s and 80s artists often supported themselves by working on state commissions such as tapestries, textiles, or, more generally, interior design projects for state building.
My approach to textiles was quite different. It was more conceptual rather than purely aesthetic. I was very lucky because my teacher at that time was Boris Migal – a famous textile artist in Soviet Russia with a more avant-garde approach – who was very tolerant and supported my practice from the beginning. I graduated in 1989, my diploma piece was entitled “The Magic Eye”. It was already a conceptual piece – a sort of deconstructed textile made of grey and brown ropes with fragments of a broken mirror.
In 1995, you co-founded together with your friend Tsaplya “The Factory of Found Clothes”. The 1990s were a time of groundbreaking changes in Russia. How have those events informed your practice?
In the early 90s, I often went to the Puskinskaya Art Center in St Petersburg where a lot of artists from different generations were hanging out. It was there that – together with Tsaplya – we started working on The Factory of Found Clothes and the notion of fragility. In the 1990s everything was changing very quickly, capitalism was being implemented and a lot of people were left disfranchised. In this context, both Tsaplya and I started to explore the notion of fragility to underline how those historical and economic changes were affecting the most marginalised social groups in Russia: the working class, women, LGBT communities. This is also why we decided to work not just generally with textiles or materials, but specifically with clothes. We felt that clothing was a very direct way to approach the most intimate and delicate aspects of the human psyche. Also, in the 1990s in Russia you could experience a real merging of life and art and “dresses” expressed this fusion.
Textiles have a particularly complicated relationship with labor. Friedrich Engels’s and Karl Marx’s theorizations about capitalism were rooted in their observations of textile factories in XIX England. Today’s most of our clothes are produced in Bangladesh, China or Chile. How do you fabricate your clothes? Where do they come from?
Most of the textiles I use were handed down to me by other people. My friends constantly bring to my studio old clothes they don’t need anymore. I don’t really buy new stuff. In the past years, I have only bought some materials from a textile manufacture in the Russian city of Ivanovo. In the XIX century, the city was called the “Russian Manchester” because of its famous manufacturing industry. Ivanovo has also played a very important part in the history of class struggles. The working class movement was always very strong in the city: this is where the first strikes took place in 1905 which soon spread out across the whole country. Nowadays, most factories are struggling financially – indeed most have closed down in recent decades – so for me is especially important to buy those local products.
In the exhibition “Women at Work: Subverting the Feminine in Post-Soviet Russia” at the White Space Gallery in London you display a “shroud” dedicated to Timur Novikov – a key figure in the artistic scene of the 1990s in St Petersburg. Novikov is today mostly known from his fabric motifs which combine a pop sensibility with an avant-garde approach to textiles. What was your relationship with Novikov? Was his approach to materials in the 80s and 90s informative for your own artistic practice? How are those reflected in the “shroud” piece?
In the 1990s Novikov was an established artist both in Russia and on the international scene. Everyone knew him in St Petersburg. The younger generation of artists had an ambivalent relationship with him: he was a “master” figure, but at the same time we felt the need to distantiate ourselves from him. To put it simply our concepts were different, we worked with different subjects. He was this dandy figure, while I was more interested in the social and political context of contemporary art. However, after he went blind in 1997 we with Tsaplya felt the need to support him as our comrade and friend. We did a performance entitled “The Whites visit Timur Novikov”. My friends and I came to his house dressed in white chemical warfare suits with several gifts symbolising our respect to him as a great artist and person.
Textiles have played since decades a very important role in queer and “genderbending” communities as in the case of drag-queens performances or underground theatre troupes. Would you describe your clothes as either queer or camp?
I wouldn’t call my clothes camp or queer. But it is true that a lot of artists involved in textiles in Soviet Russia were gay or challenging the gender divide. My first teacher Boris Migal was gay, he died in the 1990s, I think he had AIDS. No one in Russia at that time spoke really about those things. But I think that textiles – and more generally interior design – was an area of art where a lot of people could find a sort of “refuge” from censorship and state control. This, for instance, was also the case of my father who was an architect interested in the ideas of Le Corbusier and in the Bauhaus. He couldn’t really put those concepts into practice in the Soviet Union so he eventually moved to interior design where he could work on more experimental projects.
Since 2011, you have been working on the project “Carnival of the Oppressed Feelings” which involves staging a carnivalesque parade in different cities in collaboration with immigrants’ communities. How do you see the connection between textiles and migration?
Textiles have a particularly complicated relationship to capitalism and colonialism. Very often the circulation of textiles was linked to mass – often forced – migration of people. During my workshops with refugee and immigrants I attempt to reverse this colonializing tendency: give the clothes back to those historically exploited communities while at the same time freeing the textiles from their original function as mere goods.
My artistic practice has changed a lot in confrontation with the immigrants’ communities in Bologna, Amsterdam and other European cities. I started to perceive working with textiles as almost an architectural practice. I often think of the workshops and the clothes we create in terms of an “invisible house”, a protective space. This is why I am increasingly often using industrial materials, especially isolating foams. Foams play such an interesting role within a construction: they occupy a space in-between, acting like a buffer layer between other materials. They are both resistant and flexible. This is very much related to my latest idea of the New Hybrid Human. Communism aimed to create The New Man, but today we need a different concept, one way more inclusive in terms of genders, identities and nationalities.
The notion of the carnivalesque – coined by Mikhail Bakhtin in his groundbreaking study on the role of the carnival in Middle-Ages societies – has been employed in recent years by many activists’ initiatives such as the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army or the Carnival against Capital. Accordingly to Bakhtin, carnivals had the potential to break down existing boundaries and to enable genuine dialogue. However, don’t you think that nowadays they have been mostly co-opted by capitalism and have turned into a holiday or spectacle?
Exactly. The contemporary carnival has become a dull commercial festival that reminds rather a march of the zombies. Bakhtin described the carnivals taking place in the Middle Ages as moments of profound reinvention, truly life-changing events – in the sense described by Alain Badou – where everyone is equal. They brought hope to people that a different kind of life, a different way of being with others was possible.
In my project, I am trying to go back to the original potential of the carnival. Which is of course very hard, exactly because of the reasons you mentioned. To me, the carnival is supposed to give presence, voice and visibility to immigrants and to imagine a better society. Each of the costumes was designed after months of meetings and discussions with the people taking part in the project. I try to give them space and help them to create their own visual language. The carnivals are also an opportunity to learn from refugees and create connections between them and the rest of society. I want to try to build an event where life and art can influence each other with the common goal to overcome alienation.
/ Publications /
Do you remember how you chose what to wear to the protests of 2011-2013? In winter, people got their white summer trousers out of the closet and bought white scarves and flowers. I remember how on Strastnoy Boulevard a “white knight” appeared, walking toward me out of a restaurant, carrying a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, a crane’s pink beak on his nose. Slightly drunk, smiling blissfully, he folded a couple of paper beaks for us, and we attached ourselves to the zany flock of the insubordinate.
What nostalgia we feel today, looking back at those white jackets, trousers and scarves that were our protest clothes! They hang gloomily on our hangers, tired and disappointed, or lie on shelves, remembering their glory days at the carnival, when they found their voice and served not merely to clothe the body, but, unthinkable as it may seem, to expose the emperor’s lack of new clothes.
An artist from Saint Petersburg with the childish-sounding pseudonym of “Gluklya” (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya) treats a piece of clothing as a living being. Anna Tolstova notes that “the most ordinary dress—fragile, throwaway, worthless, the ridiculous and frivolous material that the FFC [Factory of Found Clothes] works with in performances, video and installations, was conceptualized as a kind of pan-human universal, emerging from the everyday and inserting itself into culture. The dress is both a protector of the body’s memory with its intimate experiences, a record of cultural and subcultural codes, a political manifesto, and a weapon of resistance against gender and social stereotypes.” (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2394738)
Clothes have a life of their own: they travel, march with students, go into seclusion, go scuba diving, they may even, following in the footsteps of “Poor Liza,” jump into the Small Swan Canal (http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/history/10/982/), or they may go to a protest march against the falsification of elections. Gluklya’s installation at the Venice Biennial is called “Clothing for Demonstrations Against Vladimir Putin’s False Elections in 2011–2015.”
Gluklya has a special affection for white clothes, and does not like new clothes, which have no personal stories to tell. In her creative duet with Tsaplya (Olga Egorova) the two of them created the FFC (Factory of Found Clothes), which existed until 2014. I have always loved Andrei Bely and his metaphysics of the color white, so I therefore immediately took to calling the artist Belaya (White) Gluklya, all the more appropriate since one of the installations of the Gluklya-Tsaplya duet was entitled “The Psychotherapy Cabinet of the Whites” (2003).
Love for old white clothing fits perfectly with the theme of the white ribbon movement, which very quickly dropped into the past and simultaneously lives on in the protests and repressive actions of the present.
The hopes connected with these clothes have been replaced by apathy and despair; the Bolotnaya Square case became a new triumph of lawlessness and fortified the feeling of hopelessness. The subject of protests is in many ways a traumatic one: those who went out on the streets then were victims of injustice and violence, who soon became victims of a new violence, spreading into the bloodletting on the soil of Ukraine.
The white ribbon protests abound with stories, faces, images and themes that present a rich narrative for art, including the art of representing political practices, which Pyotr Pavlensky calls art about politics, as opposed to political activism using art as a means of direct action.
In an interview with Radio Svoboda, http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/27049832.html Gluklya said that the installation contains “a certain amount of ambivalence, without which, in my view, art does not exist. But at the same time it was very important for me to leave it ‘black and white’ in terms of my position. And that was a surprisingly difficult task. All my energy went into that.” Her mighty effort created a multiplicity of meanings.
Ghosts on Stilts
A few dozen tall T-shaped wooden poles stand by the wall. “Talking” clothes with slogans delicately embroidered in red on a white background (such as “Russia will be free”) hang upon them, with others written in black on white or orange (“You can’t even imagine us,” “NO,” “Power to the millions, not the millionaires,” “America gave me $10 to stand here,” “Does Russian mean Orthodox?” on a Russian Railways vest), or in red on black (“A thief must sit in jail”).
They look like a column of ghosts who have stepped out of the void to remind us about the recent demonstrations. These apparitions appear to be the rebellious spirits of protest. One-legged, they also bring to mind clowns on stilts, conveying the carnivalistic atmosphere of the first marches and rallies. The associations with ghosts and clowns add a multitude of visual and literary resonances to the viewer’s impression.
A simple pole with a crossbeam was used in the southern and eastern parts of the Roman Empire as a site of execution, on which criminals were crucified. This type of cross is known by various names: Tau cross (after the letter in the Greek alphabet), St. Anthony’s cross, crux сommissa, among others. It is highly probable that Yeshua of Nazareth was crucified on just such a cross. There is also a long white shirt—the charred “sackcloth of shame” in which criminals were led around the city—reminiscent of the robes of Christ.
The wall of “elevation of the cross” references Christian images of crucifixion, and more broadly, the typology of execution. The artist seems to have created an amalgam of different types of lethal execution: the trousers without a top and the shirt without trousers conjure up a dismembered body, the dress on poles a beheaded, hanged, or crucified one, and what is more, they are all placed up against the wall, as if in front of a firing squad.
This array of crucifixions can be seen, of course, as hyperbole about repressions or the expectation of wholesale slaughters of protesters, but today, with the police ready to declare their right to shoot in crowded places, including at women, Gluklya’s installation looks like something out of the evening news.
The Female Body
There is a girl’s white dress bordered with a blood-red thread; a ballet tutu with a rusty hammer-and-sickle bottle opener in place of a head (a vivid symbol of our culture); on the back of an overcoat, an image of a woman being dragged into a paddy wagon by OMON agents (riot police); on a summer frock, a drawing of a “witch” tied to the stake, on fire.
The theme of the sacrifice of women puts the viewer in mind of Pussy Riot, who have elicited people’s bloodthirsty fantasies and calls for the most horrendously cruel forms of punishment (pussyriotlist.com). The exhibit also contains headgear made to resemble a balaclava helmet. Not explicit, but ambivalent, a kind of hint.
Gender violence is one of the recurring themes of the tragic parade of clothes. It seems to be no accident that Gluklya’s exhibit at the Venice Biennial opened around the same time as Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s installation at the stadium in Prishtina, Kosovo (http://www.wonderzine.com/wonderzine/life/news/214075-thinking-of-you; Xhafa-Mripa, born in Kosovo, lives in Great Britain): there, a few thousand dresses and skirts, hung up on white ropes, testify to the sexual violence that occurred on a mass scale during the armed conflict in Kosovo of 1998–1999.
In Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel The Funeral Party, Robins formerly Rabinovich, the far-sighted owner of a funeral home, “had difficulty in determining the client’s property status” at a funeral attended not only by Jews but also by blacks, American Indians, rich Anglo-Saxons and “numerous Russians,” comprising both “respectable citizens” and “out-and-out scoundrels.” Can social status be determined by protest clothing? Here, too, were various sorts of people: office clerks in waistcoats, hippie-punk-goths, sophisticated women and Poor Lizas, ballerinas and Lovelaces. Their clothing—the body of their souls—is torn and in danger. They, too, are the targets of Gluklya’s reproach: “Are all of us really like this torn old rag?”