A CARNIVAL TO OVERCOME ALIENATION

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.

Elena Volkova The Protest Dress: Shoot Them By Hanging (Gluklya at the Venice Biennial)

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.

Tau Crosses

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.

Dress Code

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?”

LE CHOC DE L’ACTUALITÉ À LA BIENNALE DE VENISE

A l’Arsenal, c’est l’artiste russe Gluklya qui dénonce le durcissement du régime de Moscou, à travers ses “Vêtements pour manifestations contre de fausses élections de Vladimir Poutine”.

Perchés sur des madriers en bois, ces drôles de pièces de tissu portent des messages en russe: “un voleur doit être assis en prison”, “je veux que la Russie devienne le plus beau pays du monde” ou seulement “va-t-en”.

http://www.hebdo.ch/

REVIEW: INTELLIGENT, IMAGINATIVE WORK FROM AUSSIES AT 56TH VENICE BIENNALE

In the best of all possible worlds one would hope to find works of art that are both visually engaging and layered with meaning. Of 136 artists or groups of artists featured in the International exhibitions, very few made me pause. One of them was Russia’s Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya Gluklya​, who contributed a suite of clothes and placards for an anti-Putin demonstration, with many surreal, startling touches. Considering the treatment dished out to the band, Pussy Riot, Gluklya’s work was as politically edgy as anything in the show, but also witty and inventive.

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/review-intelligent-imaginative-work-from-aussies-at-56th-venice-biennale-20150512-ggzlgo.html

UNHEALED DIVISION

performance “TNF” within 10 Manifesta

The material was published on the website Aroundart.ru 27.07.2014

On July 13, Gluklya (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya)’s performance “Debates on Division” was presented as part of the parallel program of the 10th Manifestos on the New Stage of the Alexandrinsky Theater. Art critic Valery Ledenyov was one of the participants in the project, and has decided to share some thoughts and ideas prompted by some of its plot twists.

Continue reading “UNHEALED DIVISION”

BOUND TOGETER BY ONE THREAD

contemporary art action

Bound together by one thread

Gluklya and Tsaplya’s final performance

In the Moscow museum of modern art at Petrovka 25, Petersburg artists Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya) and Tsaplya (Olga Yegorova) presented a performance piece with the multilayered title “Final Cut”: it signifies simultaneously the final edit, the final wound, and a definitive separation, not to mention the title of a Pink Floyd album which in fact coincided with the beginning of the group’s dissolution. The performance symbolized the end of an artistic partnership of many years’ standing: henceforth the “Factory of found clothes” (FFC) will be Gluklya’s solo project, while Tsaplya will be a full-time participant in the work collective “Chto delat.”

By ANNA TOLSTOVA.

Continue reading “BOUND TOGETER BY ONE THREAD”