Vienna University of Applied Arts /Nina Kugler asking Q for Diological Inteventions curated by Martin Krenn/2018
Nina Kugler: You have been very actively working on artistic forms of resistance and political protest by engaging with various social groups. When and why have you started to receive art as social interaction?
Gluklya: It started in the year 2000 when Putin came to power, which coincided with our own “coming of age”. At that time my colleague Tsaplya, whom I was cooperating with for several years, and I became mothers. Before that, we were receiving ourselves rather as “gymnasium girls”, with our own mythology and our own poetic language. But when Putin came to power, we realized, that there was another world around us, and that power was not something abstract, but a reality we must deal with. We wrote the Manifesto The place of the Artist is at the side of the weak, which was then published in the 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 your latest was the “Carnival of the Oppressed Feelings”, a performative demonstration with refugees, that took place in Amsterdam in October 2017. How did you come up with the idea of organizing a carnival?
G.: The idea of carnival was always close to me – it derived from performances we did in our private homes. In the 1990s we used to gather in my apartment and my friends – artists, poets, intellectuals, and musicians – spontaneously started to try on my clothes. We discovered that by changing your outfit, you can suddenly become free, change roles and your banal identity. It was a manifestation of curiosity. The carnival is a very effective method how to be free and maybe even change society – because, obviously, the transformation of society can only be done by free people; people with a dynamic identity, that are open to experience Others… I’m referring to Mikhail Bakhtin [a Russian philosopher], who wrote about the resistant potential of the carnival. Although I do not naively think, that this one day can change society in total, it’s still a model, a way to 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 to explore horizontal relations between people and the possible roll of art in it.
N.K.: For the project, you created a way of expression, that you call the “Language of Fragility”, which takes on further the concept of Fragility you developed in a number of works over the last decade. What’s your understanding of Fragility and how did it turn into a language?
G.: Fragility is a poetic name for something that is hard to describe in words, but that is profoundly substantial for being an artist. This word I once found to describe my language of art. It’s referring to the human world, in contrast to the world of politicians. We are fragile because we are not in power, we are not the ones that make decisions, that effect everyone else’s life. Fragility is also a way to describe the very special working condition of every artist: you have to be extra- sensitive, follow some rituals you created for yourself, and at the same time be balanced and disciplined. As an artist you have to be fragile, but also very strong – the word contains a dialectical approach.
N.K.: When talking about socially engaged art, how would you define the terms of collaboration and participation?
G.: In my opinion participation always has to go together with collaboration. Participation sounds less interesting to me, while collaboration means, that a person is engaged. I like the concept of Augusto Boal [who developed the Theatre of the Oppressed], who gives the spectator the right to create, together with the artist. When I’m working with people, I try to take the decisions together with the group, but usually there’s a kind of uniting line, that is defined by my concept.
N.K.: What importance do the visual forms have, that you are creating, and what’s their relation to the social processes, in which they are developed?
G.: “Balance” is the most important word here. There has to be a balance between the artistic result and the group dynamics. I was always a bit skeptical about process-based projects, because they don’t have such a dimension as failure – whatever you do, it’s always good, it’s almost like “paradise”. I’ve witnessed a lot of artists, who were believing in the process, but at the end they found themselves in a kind of desert and sometimes even isolated. Visual forms are a language. I am speaking about social processes. Visual Forms are the tool for transformation.
N.K.: What can you say about the results of your projects beyond the art system?
G.: It is hard to discover, what later on happens to all the people you worked with and with whom you tried to establish a kind of platform about art and how it works. But I’ve received verbal expressions about the importance of the entire transformation, that my collaborators gained because of my projects. And some of them became dear friends to me. So maybe establishing long-term relations can also be considered a result, because that leads to the horizontal idea of self-organization.
N.K.: One big part of your artistic practice is working with the clothes, for example, the demonstration clothes, you developed for the movement for fair elections in Russia inUtopian Clothes, from the installation Clothes for the Demonstration against Vladimir Putin election 2011/12,–2015, which were shown at the Biennale in Venice in 2015, or your long-term project FFC, the Factory of Found Clothes. What’s the reason you chose textiles for your politically and socially engaged artworks?
G.: I studied at the Mukhina Academy of Applied Art in Saint Petersburg and my family also worked with textiles. But in comparison to my parents, I think about the textile material conceptually. In the hierarchy of things, clothes are the closest thing a person can have. Clothes are the frontier between the 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 the Norm. It is also about empathy – when wearing the clothes of others, I am becoming an Other for that moment. When I started as an artist, I discovered a kind of spiritual technique, that I call “Talking with Things”. The first thing I spoke to, was a dress of my aunt, who was a member of the Communist Party in Tambov and who had a very complex destiny. She was raped at Dagestan, where she was sent as young teacher by the party. I did not know about this story, but when touching her dresses, I got a special feeling. I don’t want to say, that I believe in old Clothes keeping the spirit of the dead. I just mean, that 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 the Netherlands; still, you are very engaged with the political situation in Russia. To what extent are critical voices in today’s Russia still being received, within the art world and in the general, public discourse?
G.: Unfortunately, critical voices have not been heard at all. The situation for Russian artists and all cultural workers is very sad, tragic. But that’s also the reason, why protest is on the rise. Recently I attended the May-Day-Demonstration in Saint Petersburg, which the art community uses as a stage to realize their demands. I started a new project called MAMAresidence. Natalia Nikulenkova, who is a member and co-founder of the collective “Union of Convalescent”, that deals with the question, how supposedly mentally ill people are treated in Russia. One of our slogans was “Don’t take people to mental asylums against their will”. The power uses this method to grab activists and lock them up, like they did back in Soviet times. But resistance is growing: We’ve now got the “Party of the Dead”, the “Monstrations”, a Dadaistic way to express protest, strong feminist groups, the students of the Chto delat Roza School of Engaged Art, and the “Utopian Unemployment Union”, which I founded after FFC was finished. The First of May is a unique opportunity to show up in public and to connect with people.
Gluklya (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya), a pioneer of Russian performance, member and co-founder of the Factory of Found Clothes and Chto Delat, is an international artist, living in Amsterdam and St-Petersburg and working in the field of research-based art, focusing on the border between Private and Public, with the help of the inventory method of Conceptual Clothes.