…WE WILL BUILD A BRAVE NEW WORLD. ON THE STATUS AND THE WORKING CONDITIONS OF AN ARTIST IN BELARUS

Illustrations: Masha Svyatogor, 2019

This essay is a result of a micro research, which was conducted with the aim of describing and analyzing the status of a male and a female artist (hereinafter referred to as an artist1) in Belarus with respect to the social, economic, and emotional dimensions of this work. First of all, I was interested in artistic self-identification, their interpretations of art, their work environment, and their means of production, and what their expectations for the future are. For the analysis, I used the data, which I collected through an anonymous questionnaire2 and private, informal interviews with the selected artists from Belarus who perform their activities in the independent art sector. By “independent”, I mean spaces of art that are not connected to state institutions, but operate on a freelance contract. However, the “independence” might include different modalities of collaboration with the state sector: participation in exhibitions, curatorial initiatives, temporary or permanent positions in state institutions.3 In my thinking, I also turn to my own empirical work experience in the art field (as a curator and an art critic). Initially, apart from the aforementioned topics, for me it was important to emphasize the experience of women artists. But in the process of doing so, it became clear that this issue demands a separate research; therefore in the supplementary commentary to the main text, I’m going to point out only certain aspects of a female artist’s situation and her work environment.

In the first part of the essay, I will present a variety of topics and issues, which interested me, and by grouping them together I will analyze the results I found. In the second part, I will summarize my conclusions comparing local experiences with global perspectives. I want to point out straight away that the framework that I set for the research (my focus on the independent art sector) covers only a certain segment of the Belarusian art field and my aim in this text is to create a fragmentary, horizontal description of this context by selecting new research to produce a more comprehensive analysis in the future.

My idea is that, on the one hand, the frustration that is typical for the Belarusian independent art field in the last years and the loss of artistic status happened as a result of globalization and capitalism arriving here. As it turned out, the art field, which lacks an internal support system and, due to a particular political climate, lacks an external system support, was not ready for these factors. On the other hand, the processes of rethinking how art functions and the dialectics surrounding its distinctions (between art as work and non-work), which are present in Belarus, coincide with the changes happening in Western countries, which demonstrates how Belarusian artists are integrated (intuitively or deliberately) into the global context.

Artistic Self-Identification and One’s Work Environment

Artists’ interviewed explained their choices (why they chose art as their profession?), listed the outlook that they had (“it worked out well”). They explained their parents’ impact on their choice (they were sent to an Art School) and the influence of their family (artistic) environment. They explained that their desire to become an artist was based off the perception that an artist is free from social limitations (which has been constructed by stories of successful artists in global art history).4 For example, for one of the artists who was interviewed, in his youth, he had the choice between sports and art because he achieved equally good results in both activities. But when he realized his limit – “the peak” – in sports, he chose art, which promised him unlimited progress. Art opened the doors to the great world, it seemed to be a practice of self-development (“it’s important to find… and perceive yourself in the process”), a laboratory that allows one to explore topics of interest, and to demonstrate political will. Art is freedom, a challenge (“for one’s ego”), an instrument for communication with the world, a possibility for wholesome self-realization, “it’s a drug addiction… it’s euphoria”, and an artist is a superhuman, who manages to exist on the outskirts of any system – capitalism or authoritarianism. Less commonly, the choice [to pursue art] was made at a conscious age, during or after receiving education. “…Art is one of the most complex things in the world. Because in math and science… you are judged according to some clear scale – oh, look, this machine is working…while art works differently… it’s more difficult to achieve recognition. Getting into that zone of recognition means conquering the highest peak.”

None of the interviewed artists wondered how art would provide them with financial stability when they had to choose their life’s path (“then you shouldn’t be engaged in art”). This issue seemed to belong to the career field, which they were trying to slip out from, “I just wanted to do what I love… to find the joy in life”, “I’ve never wanted to just make a lot of money”, “an artist’s life is hard… In my youth, few people thought and cared about careers.” The same interviewees who came to the art field after already having a different profession and a stable income, knew that it was impossible to earn by art and viewed this activity as a philosophical practice. “…And I saw how the lack of financial security made people think about money more often and as often as about art… People become victims of this system, where it is difficult to make money and it is almost impossible not just to make money but to live. I did not experience that, but I saw it around me… how badly it affects relationships, competition, simple consumption, greed, like, let’s hang out with those guys because they have wine there.” Financial independence made it possible to avoid disappointment from the financial repercussions in the future or not expecting welfare from one’s creative activity from the beginning. Moreover, financial independence allowed one to invest one’s own funds in projects without being disappointed with the lack of financial dividends. But such stories are more the exception in my report.

Analyzing the situation today, the majority of the central figures of this article mention the crisis, in which they find themselves, and which is associated with the conflict between the imaginary concept about an artist’s position and the actual conditions and circumstances. For example, the artist who said art opened the door for to the great world now claims this preconception was a delusion. “There was some kind of an illusive chance. As I understand now, I never saw myself leaving. I could have calmed down even earlier. But somehow I did not realize… The first door closed, then the second, the third, and here you find yourself in a compact-compact world.” Besides, he lost his passion for art, which upsets him most of all, “I realized that art is not the most important thing in life… there’s something more to it… I wasn’t going to change the circumstances, but if they had formed, then perhaps I could abandon it [art].” And yet, there are those who are optimistic despite hardships, “I believe that you can make money by making art, we just don’t know yet how… but I’m close to this discovery.” Positive responses are most common among artists of a younger age, or among those who have regular earnings in specialties close to art (translation/interpretation or pedagogical activities), or those, as they note themselves, who are in a stable situation (in harmonious relations with partners, financial stability, opportunity for frequent traveling), “You caught me in the period when I had just came back [from a trip. – Author’s note]… I had a high there.”

Parents who have not taught their children to think about the mechanisms [of the art world – Editor’s note], and that the art education in Belarus, in which the art training was “romantic nonsense… not related to reality”, often considered to be responsible for their children’s unrealistic expectations. One artist notes that she was shocked when she faced the education system at a western European art university, “It was a whole different level compared to what we had. I think there is still a huge gap. There are some advances, but not enough… there was a whole separate block of disciplines where students were taught to write applications, make portfolios… how to get grants, get to the residency”. Nevertheless, nobody is going to change something radically in his or her activity at the moment. “I can’t imagine a different way of life… I require… some kind of constant self-development and development of the community in which I exist. The important thing is the financial situation, and I manage it somehow… but I have an understanding that in my early youth I missed out on something.”

One of the reasons for frustration is the lack of a market for art in Belarus, which over the years of discussions and real actions (projects, lectures, launched websites, attempts to build a dialogue with businesses) has not developed. “On the Belarusian market, a five [$5,000 – Author’s note] is the maximum with rare exceptions. Say, artist A. received a fifty [$50,000 – Author’s note], but there was a giant canvas. All the same, fifty is nothing! This is an absolute maximum, in the next hundred years, in my view, the situation will not change… A completely open playing field, starting from zero… With my ambitions, it’s nothing.” Apart from the fact that they fail to earn money, “covering holes just for a few months”, creative activity requires constant investments. Sometimes a sold piece of work covers only the expenses for the exhibition, the organization, and the production, which fall on the shoulders of an artist. Only a few of the interviewed artists noted that the earnings from their artistic activities cover their expenses fully. Generally, they have to put themselves on a budget, to have a side job or to make money on other jobs that are far from art.

The complexity of monetization of their own work, and the constant answers to the question, “Why does it cost that much?” also affect the perception of their status, including those who work in the field of conceptual art. “The financial situation is a part of my ideology. I profess anarchism, but it is also connected to the market… I am also confused – what is art, what is not, where are the boundaries… and the market is a part of this game… Hereby you confirm this status [of an artist – Author’s note]”.

Answering the question about how much their monthly income is would then allow them to feel that they are in a more or less stable situation. On average, artists specified the amount of 2,000-3,000 BYR ($1,000-1,500), but those who have families (husband/wife, children) indicate the amount twice as large. (Here, the real monthly earnings are two-three times less, it can be the same with rare exceptions, provided there is another job in the commercial sector.) Among the answers given by the artists from Sweden about the desired income, there was a suggestion that there should be some change in the economic system and no need for money.

This is not about some extra-income from your work, but rather about the average income for Belarus, which can provide a more or less comfortable, stable standard of living (to pay the bills, to have money for leisure and education, to afford traveling, to take part in family expenses). Practically everyone noted a rather modest standard of living that they would be comfortable with, “so unspoiled… the standards are minimal… just to feel human.” At the same time, to a lesser extent they talk about stable employment, they talk more about the requirement to estimate the price of their work. Because artistic practices (especially non-financial, such as curatorial or performative) in Belarus remain free labor or a symbolically paid job, to which artists agree due to almost complete fusion of their private life (identity) and work.

Certainly, the introduction of the Decree on Social Dependency influenced the perception of the status [of an artist]. According to it, a citizen of the Republic of Belarus who has no official place of work, is not an individual entrepreneur, not registered on a parental leave, or not a member of an official art union, is obliged to pay a tax in the amount of 20 base values (at the time of writing it is 510 BYR, or 210 euros. In 2018, due to severe public criticism, the Decree was “improved” and instead of a tax, they introduced a hundred percent payment of housing and social services for those who are in the database of “dependents”. Nevertheless, the practice of differentiating citizens into “working” and “not”, the way it is interpreted by the government, is still relevant). This Decree caused artists, including those who deliberately boycotted the Unions (as a protest gesture against state and culture policy), to apply to enter those Units.5 As an alternative, a certificate on the status of a creative worker can be obtained at the Ministry of Culture: a special committee examines a portfolio of an artist (musician, singer, author) and decides on the quality of works (if the artistic level of the works matches the professional level). This certificate exempts an artist from the status of a “dependent”. “I’ve never made myself do something about it when I had to confirm my status with the Ministry… but this thing [certificate] is valid for five years. And I know, time flies away before you know it. Last year I paid [a fine. – Author’s note]. They returned it back afterwards. I got a job, provided the paper, and they returned everything.” But later the artists who stated this entered the Union, “I’m under protection at the moment. I have my work record book at one office. I teach three hours a week, but I know that I won’t last long teaching at one place, and I wouldn’t like to run around again.”

Anxiety about their current position and the future is natural for almost all the respondents. Those who are not bound by any social and emotional obligations (care for children or relatives) think about it to a lesser extent. The lack of development prospects in the conditions in Belarus (opportunities for a career), unstable income, minimal social guarantees from the state (potential lack of pensions, sick or parental leave payments) cause anxiety. Some artists, for example, are already thinking about their security for retirement: monthly deposits in a bank will subsequently provide a pension. Some of them make payments into the Social Security Fund themselves, on account of qualifying (pensionable) period. In addition to the economic reasons, the reason for anxiety is a result of modernity as a whole, when stability is impossible due to “growing old faster than one consumes knowledge. What I know today will probably be useless in five years.”

If we talk about parents’ attitudes to creative work, most respondents note that their parents are satisfied, although the positive answer is often connected with the fact that an artist has a different job. Some respondents say that their parents are worried about the unstable existence in particular (“but I managed to convince her”), some [parents] do not care or are artists themselves and thus do not know the answer to this question themselves.

The disappointment also happened due to the value-based discrepancies within the art community,6 because coming into the field of art was connected precisely to the belief “in the art sector as some exception that it should be different there. After all, people there talk so much about values, about the formation of the community, and that attracted me… Criticism of capitalism, criticism of the system. And it seemed to me that maybe that’s how we build a brave new world… at some stage I realized that something was wrong… this code of honor was not sufficiently enforced.” Many artists noted the importance of the community in interviews and in questionnaires. The community appeared (appears) to be a place of power, a guarantor of social stability and confidence, a space of recognition and receiving of symbolic capital. However, the majority relies primarily on their own efforts.

Both in the survey data and in private conversations, women artists and female culture workers noted that their non-male gender influences their work environment, both negatively and positively. Moreover, in the questionnaire, it was often indicated that “no”, it does not influence, “it’s hard to say”, “I don’t know”, “it does not influence now.” The reason for negative influence is that the way of life of a woman artist does not correspond, for example, with the traditional notion of the role of a woman, who should be a mother and a wife, and that’s why they sometimes feel psychological pressure from their relatives (parents mostly). In some cases, the existing gender scenario plays a positive role: for example, a woman artist notes that relatives “are not stressed out that much that I have to make money at a normal job and build a career.” Women artists who have children (or if they had children) note that they have to (would have to) maneuver between art/career, household and children, care is mostly on them. One answer noted a gender wage gap.

Having children drastically changed the lives of female artists (“this is the most global change in my life”), first of all they had “less time for art… There was no depression… but it seemed like I was divided into two parts…Now I understand that I just didn’t have the experience to cope with it.” The reasons for internal worries were loss of mobility (traveling opportunities, including for the purposes of an art career), anxiety associated with an unstable financial situation (“now I had to plan my future and be confident in it”), a change in relations with a partner who wasn’t included in the process of care to the extent that a woman artist had expected. Often, it was already in the process when she had to defend her boundaries and insist on the distribution of time (“Saturday is completely mine, there are a few hours on Monday and on Wednesday”).

But a child also became the impetus for the inner “discovery of oneself” and the acquisition of “fundamental knowledge.” That’s what happened to him [to a child. – Author’s note]… I’m very happy. I draw valuable insights with him… We study outer space, for example, the structure of human skin, hair layers, and this all is applicable for work!” The female artist who stated this also says that she became creatively freer that her partner, who is also an artist, because she obtained new knowledge.

Entry into the space that collapsed?

In his essay, “The Paradox of Art and Work”, curator and art historian Lars Bang Larsen (Barcelona/Copenhagen) notes the dichotomy that is common for the contemporary, primarily Western, art field, and makes a simultaneous interpretation of art as work and non-work. On the one hand, he writes that art has now more than ever been introduced into the socioeconomic sphere (“aesthetic concepts being mobilized by the labor market <…> art has been put to work like never before, and work is fixed upon art”7), and it is natural as “art is an effort embedded in cultural and social space, and, in such a way, it should be considered work.”8 On the other hand, “art is not work because it is a refusal to take part in the production and reproduction of that what exists.”9 Thus, art criticizes capitalist system, which is based on production and market relations. Moreover, being described in terms of production and labor, not differing from other human activities, art “loses its specificity.”10 For Larsen, the understanding and the movement of art in two directions (as work and non-work) is an optimal way of existence of this field – a rhythm that allows articulating other existing oppositions (state and economy, right and left, citizen and consumer, etc.).11

Such dialectics are common for the Belarusian art sphere, although its origins and manifestations have their peculiarities. If in the western context, the inclusion of art in the economic relations (for example, the emergence of a creative cluster) is associated with the capitalist system, in Belarus, the articulation of art as a production practice has its traditions connected to the Soviet ideology. Thus, Soviet official artists seemed to be a special elite class serving the ruling ideology and having financial and social privileges. They worked for the welfare of the state.12 At the same time, Soviet art and popular literature described art as the highest humanistic practice, delegating to it the solution of philosophical problems, and leaving aside, for example, the economic dimension (state orders and procurement).13

For the Belarusian art field, the romanticization of art and its interpretation as beyond the categories of work and labor are relevant today, and this is due to the traditions of Soviet unofficial art, when artists did not work and thus resisted the instructions imposed by the Soviet ideology of an artist as a culture worker. It is fair to assume that the romanticism of the Soviet underground (non-conformism) intuitively or consciously influenced the choice of life scenarios of today’s artists (“my father studied in St. Petersburg, he loved art… he had a hobby: when he was on scholarship he used to buy an album on art and a cup of coffee at a luxurious hotel in St. Petersburg… and then run out of money, and he had to load wagons…”). Often, Soviet artistic non-conformism relied on the ideas of “left” art, but, as Lola Kantor-Kazovsky notes, such identification pointed to the Western orientation of the “left” artists, who “were essentially “Westerners”, and in the “historical” Russian avant-garde, it attracted them not least of all because of the successful model of relationship between Russian art and the international art process.”14 In other words, it was primarily about the construction of an imaginary art space (including an imaginary Western one) as a combination of models of material, implications and practices,15 which undermined the dominance of the socialist discourse by creating an alternative to it. But the difference is that, if for the Western artists, not working means resisting the total market, by contrast for the Belarusian artists, it is rather a way to resist the Soviet ideologization and the politicization of art. One can see this as one of the reasons for the fact that the introduction of concept of economic productivity (culture worker, practice, labor, etc.) into the Belarusian art field is slow. As the artists of the older generation note, this dictionary seems inappropriate precisely because it refers to the Soviet past, therefore “I am not a culture worker, I am an artist!”

In recent years, the discourse on art has been changing: discussions about art as non-financial labor arise in a fragmented way (“I work a lot, but I earn little”). To a big extent, this is linked to the arrival to the Belarusian art space of a new generation of artists for whom art was not originally determined by romantic expectations, but was seen, for example, as a field for artistic research and political activities. Unlike their senior colleagues, young artists are mostly focused on the global art context, they speak about their Eastern-European identity, they speak English, study at Western institutions, actively communicate with the foreign colleagues. This allows them to freely appeal to the paradox of art in the categories in which Lars Bang Larsen describes it, placing this paradox into the focus of their art practices. A vivid example is the collective self-organized platform WORK HARD! PLAY HARD! which studies issues of knowledge production, cooperation, work, and leisure. Every year, as a part of a week-long forum (since 2016), the platform brings together several dozens of artists to discuss these topics. Despite the fact that the example of this platform is a rather unique one for the Belarusian context, it indicates certain transition processes taking place within the art sphere.

This “transition” can be associated with the changes in the sociopolitical field in general. There is a transformation of the economic regime in the country (to a capitalist form of it), which “imposes” (including for the artists) certain consumption patterns and success clichés (unlike the Soviet times, to be an artist and work as a mover, for example, is no longer considered to be prestigious). However, these changes (for now) have little or no effect on the development of the field of contemporary art in the country, which exists outside the socioeconomic sphere, practically on its outskirts, if we don’t take into account its explicit commercial formats.

The state policy in the field of culture works for the marginalization of its sphere, while the state policy is still closed for the contemporary critical practices and support for artists. Some artistic professions have not been legitimized: for example, such position as curator is absent from the register, which means that a gallery or a cultural establishment cannot officially sign an employment agreement for the position of a curator and has to look for the positions that already exist (administrator, manager, or a research associate).16 The state’s attitude to art and culture is demonstrated by a series of statements by senior officials: they often articulate the requirements, for example, to write a “big” novel or make a “big” film (a reference to the Soviet understanding of art as an ideological practice), or the bewilderment about what art produces. One of the latest statements belongs to Irina Driga, former Deputy Minister of Culture, she stated that holding exhibitions “is not an intellectual activity”, it “is not classified as a creative activity”17, and therefore it is a commercial product and is subject to the corresponding taxes. Moreover, recently the privilege of the Soviet era for health services in the special state medical committee was abolished for the culture and art workers (National and Honored Artists, Writers, etc.). This privilege remained in force for the state officials of the top rank, former party workers. The adoption of the Decree on Social Dependence also played its role in the loss of the status by artists, as it made any free artwork illegal, placing it under control (certificate issue, compulsion to form legal entities, joining unions, or labeling as a “dependent”).18

The community was viewed as one of the instruments of resistance to the state and economic ideologies. And there was a period when it seemed that this tool really worked. For example, artists from the independent art sector in Minsk recall the period from the middle-“noughties” to 2012-13, when a discursive field began to form around the pARTisan magazine and then galleries emerged: first Podzemka, then Ў. This field appeared as a community of artists, curators, philosophers, historians, whose goal was to create an art space alternative to the state cultural institutions. The symbolic culmination of this movement was the exhibition Zero Radius. Art Ontology of The 00s., which seemed to change the situation, it was viewed as an actual condition for the transition from a weak form of the discursive field (an informal get-together) to a stronger one, the creation of real self-organized institutions which could act regularly to support the members of this field acting, as an alternative political power. As Paolo Virno notes, “Institutions are the rituals we use to heal and resolve the crisis of a community.”19

For various reasons, this [transition] did not happen, and the field, which seemed as cohesive, broke down into many groups – the activities of which were aimed towards the preservation of their micro-space. Those who actively participated in the creation of that community had a feeling that it collapsed completely. “This is one of the most important things. If it used to seem that there was some common field, now everything fell apart…there is a feeling that we are in 2010. We finished the same way as we started. We thought that we were moving somewhere, everything was evolving, everything was getting better, but then poof and it all collapsed… it seemed like there were more people, the youth came… but with them it is the same as with us…” This disappointment became as well the reason for the “legalization” of artists’ labor by joining official artistic unions, “I suddenly realized that all this time I had not been learning to live here. All this time I had been living with some kind of feeling… I don’t even know were I was going to go – to the moon or somewhere else. I was wondering who would visit me – Abramovich or Saatchi, I don’t know. All the time I was thinking about something else, bollocks to the local context, and suddenly I realize that I should learn to live here. Once the decision to stay here is made.”

On the one hand, it is possible that too much was expected from that community, including what it couldn’t handle. For example, the emergence of real institutions, for which there are not enough like-minded people and desire for them to be created, but institutions also need money to function. Those artists, who initially did not bet on the local community, see the local community rather as a get-together, and “the most valuable resource for them is time.” These artists point out their integration into the global art field (primarily due to their knowledge of the English language), gain recognition at international festivals, while actively participating in local projects. The lack of internal resources in the art field within the country for them is a part of an overall picture, and one community is not enough to change it. On a smaller scale, the resources works to create micro-movements (a vivid example is the “barn” exhibitions by artist Olga Maslovskaya in Brest), but for radical changes we need “radical changes within the country.”

On the other hand, the “collapse” of that community may signal a rethinking of the concept [of the community] itself, it began to be viewed in plural form. As Belarusian philosopher Olga Shparaga notes, the most important concept for the contemporary artistic practices is to create the conditions for the emergence of a situational community, the one that marks out situations here and now, sharpens the attention and brings the invisible into the light.20 Such community is also formed on the basis of solidarity, but has time limits. It can be assumed that exactly this kind of a situational community arose in the Belarusian art field at the moment of political and economic upheavals and marked the “transition” (or its prerequisites) to more diverse forms of these communities, “for which there are determinant factors such as the value and the practices of horizontal mutually respectful relations of the members of the communities, as well as the social inclusion based on those relations.”21 However, as the philosopher points out, to strengthen a community like that, it is also “important to search for forms of their adequate institutionalization,”22 which requires political will and support from above, at least at the level of the right to communities, which is difficult to imagine in the situation of modern Belarus.

Thus, despite the existing range of local peculiarities related to the sociopolitical situation and cultural traditions, the processes of rethinking of the art field and the role of an artist in the Belarusian context are synchronized in a lot of ways with the processes occurring in the Western discourse. In addition to the common causes for anxiety and vulnerability that has to do with how success within work is constructed and the subsequent lack of social security; artists in Belarus also articulate the fusion of personal and artistic identities, realizing that their work involves a high level of emotional inclusion and production through social communication (“it is not the work that you go to, it is something as close as possible to yourself… it is odd to imagine doing the work without getting involved with my entire soul”). Unlike the Western context, where unalienated, or using the terminology of Hardt and Negri, biopolitical labor is actively exploited and appropriated by the capitalist system, in Belarus this labor is mostly required within the art communities or sociopolitical organizations that have the funds, for example, to maintain their infrastructure, but with limited budgets and rare opportunities for royalties for artists.

At the same time, there comes an understanding of the exclusiveness of their position in the modern world, where unalienated labour becomes a luxury. As Alexandra Novozhenova, a Russian fine art expert and artist, noted, “to be an artist is the option, which (not without compensation) is presented by the society to those who cannot find the strength to retreat to other activities… the oppressed are those who have no power over their own lives, and entering an art school seems to be a way to get your life back.”23 Those artists in Belarus who remain in the art field, like their Western colleagues, say that in some way their anxiety is the price for the returned life, the example of which is a form of resistance and an attempt to implement another life scenario.


  1. As well as male and female culture workers (curators, art managers, critics), but further in the text I will be using the term artist to rather stand in for a concept of a culture worker, which has been hardy articulated within the art environment.

  2. An online questionnaire was distributed personally and posted in a special private group on Facebook. 38 people from the age of 25 to 60 took part in the questionnaire, and most of them specified their sex as female. Work experience in the field was specified from 4 to 35 years. Geographic location (original answers): Minsk, Mensk, Brest, Bobruysk, Minsk/Vienna, Minsk/Warsaw, Belarus, Planet Earth. Artists from Russia and Sweden also participated in the questionnaire, their experience is used for comparative analysis.

  3. The space for art in Belarusian is a diverse field, where many people from different sectors, such as the state and private sector communicate together, and private and collective initiatives are present. A detailed description of this field deserves a separate research. That’s why I’d like to note the formality of usage of term “independent” necessary for the simplification of narration. Moreover, this research fragmentarily gasps this field, analyzing the experience of one of the segments.

  4. The said stories of “success” are stories of male artists.

  5. They mention entering into the Belarusian Union of Artists or the Belarusian Union of Designers as a variation.

  6. By art community here we mean a field which was formed in an alternative art sector in the “noughties” around the pARTisan magazine, gallery Podzemka, and then gallery Ў. Within this field, a series of projects and initiatives have been realized for years, e.g. project On the Way to Contemporary Museum by Alla Vaysband, mediaproject Zero Radius. Art Ontology of The 00s. by pARTisan and Art Aktivist and many other projects. It’s important to note that the analysis and the description of this community requires a separate research.

  7. Larsen, Lars Bang. “The Paradox of Art and Work: An Irritating Note.” In Work, Work, Work. A Reader on art and labour. Sternberg Press, 2012. p.19.

  8. Ibid, 21.

  9. Ibid, 23.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Ibid, 27.

  12. The Soviet art field was not homogeneous. Thus, for example, K. Solovyov describes several strategies of artistic and intellectual activity: e.g., “ideologist-fundamentalist”, “careerist-functionary”, “neutral objector”, “independent specialists”, “dissentients”. See K. Solovyov, Artistic Culture and Power in the Post-Stalin Russia: Union and Fight (1953-1985). Nevertheless, the rhetoric of art unions, membership in which was necessary at least to have a studio, access to art materials and an opportunity for display, emphasized the labor character of a Soviet artist’s activity, opposing it to the bourgeois lifestyle, e.g. of modernist artists.

  13. In recent years, there’s more and more material – memoirs, publications, and books – where practices of privileges and the consumption of culture elite in the USSR are described. But in the Soviet era, this side of life was invisible in the public discourse supporting rather an image of artists’ activity as the most important element of socialism development.

  14. Kantor-Kazovsky, L. Grobman. New Literary Review, 2014. P. 14.

  15. Gapova, Elena. “’The Land Under the White Wings’: the Romantic Landscaping of Socialist Belarus.” In Rethinking Marxism, V. 29(1). Pp. 173-198. The concept of an “imaginary landscape” Elena Gapova uses to describe the emergence of a new class in the Soviet Belarus, writers intellectuals who created an alternative image of Belarus as a “country of castles.” In my opinion, this concept is also applicable for comprehension of other imaginary spaces that emerged in the

    Ssoviet art circles.

  16. See State Professions Register: https://otb.by/polezno/okrb.

  17. Ministry of Culture: holding exhibitions is not a creative work. TUT.BY, January 2, 2019. See https://news.tut.by/culture/621269.html. Accessed February 11, 2019.

  18. http://partisanmag.by/?p=13928.

  19. Penzin, Alexei. “The Soviets of the Multitude: On Collectivity and Collective Work: An Interview with Paolo Virno.” In Mediations 25.1 (Fall 2010) 81-92. See www.mediationsjournal.org/articles/the-soviets-of-the-multitude. Accessed January 24, 2019.

  20. Shparaga, O. Community-after-Holocaust. On the Way to the Inclusion Society. Medisont, 2018. Pp. 316-317.

  21. Ibid, 29.

  22. Ibid, 234.

  23. Novozhenova, Alexandra. School Art. Colta, February 12, 2014. See https://www.colta.ru/articles/art/2020-shkolnoe-iskusstvo. Accessed February 7, 2019.

“I ALREADY REALIZED THAT IT IS A BREACH.” -KIRILL DIOMCHEV:

Institutional criticism in Belarus

Beginning in the second half of the 90s, institutional critique became an important part of practice and discourse in the field of contemporary Belarusian art. Just as in the western context, this type of criticism moved to dispel the myth that art institutions functioned as “art temple”, spiritual, metaphysical places. Through this criticism, art institutions were deconstructed as social institutions, which promoted the institutions specific ideological, political, economic interests

In the Western-European context, institutional criticism often analyzed art institutions, revealing their function within the art market, collector networks, and collecting with big capital; however, in Belarus, criticism focused primarily on criticizing state institutions foremost. One of the few examples is an exhibition Balance. Given the Circumstances that criticized private institutions in Belarus. According to the exhibition, which took place at gallery Ў in 2012, “Balance is an example of local criticism aimed at both the ideology and art institution.”1 However, this exhibition was designed to show the behind the scenes of gallery life and included bureaucratic and accounting analysis, rather than just criticizing private institutions and their function within the logic of capitalist relations.

The criticism coming from the Belarusian art scene has had a strict focus on state institutions because of several peculiarities within the local context. Firstly, there is no private infrastructure for contemporary art within the country. Additionally, there are no big private funds to support artists, no independent educational institutions that could train art critics, artists, curators, etc. At different times, there were several galleries for contemporary art; however, nowadays there are only two private institutions that are focused on contemporary art, those are gallery Ў in Minsk and gallery КХ in Brest. In light of this, any private initiative related to the creation of new platforms or art projects is perceived in a more positive or neutral way and is regarded as a form of resistance to the state institutions. As for the latter, state institutions economically and symbolically appear to be successors of the late Soviet governance system with some superficial updates. As Sergey Shabohin justly noted in his lecture:

[the] system of cultural politics in Belarus mechanically remained after the dissolution of the USSR having adopted all the key diseases: verticality of rule with the minister at the top, obeying directly the will of the state ideology, and administrative centralization with the distribution of budgets and instructions through the ministry. As a result, it generated super-bureaucracy and stagnation, censorship and punitive tools.2

The desire to appeal the status quo of the given art institution has been a necessary gesture for public display, a gesture that has arisen from the lack of cooperation between the artist and the state institution. One such paradigmatic example in the Belarusian art scene was a festival called the Academy of Arts, Academy of Life (1997) by Andrei Dureika. At the festival Texts organized by the Academy of Arts, Dureika, without permission, created a work where he wrote “Academy of Arts” on a wall of the Academy, and made a note “Academy of Life” on the dumpsters near that wall. As a comment to the work, the artist points out that “the contrast of a perfect text and the residual reality uncovers the existing drama.”3 However, at the same time this work can be considered a gesture symbolizing the refusal of cooperation with any state institutions of Belarus, a final breach.

A different gesture can be observed in the works And There is Nothing Left (2009) by Sergey Shabohin, where the artist makes a series of collages, virtually breaking and closing four central places in Minsk that are somehow connected to contemporary art. On the front of the Museum of Modern Fine Art in particular, a rent notice appears: “rents available rooms out for [private] offices and commercial fronts”. Thus, he shows how any cultural institution is vulnerable to economic pressures and addresses the fact that the state gives scaps, or leftovers rather than a real budget because of these pressures. It’s interesting that in 2019 a half of the Museum of Modern Fine Art was given away to become a wine shop/bar.

Though the series was shown publicly, Shabohin’s gesture remains a safe one because it stays in the domain of the imaginary.

The situation changed a bit in 2011-2012, primarily due to a peculiar activist revolution in the Belarusian art scene. In 2012, as a response to a “decorative” Triennial of contemporary art that was organized by the government, the group New Movement self-organizes and invades the exhibition itself to present a competing program. Its manifesto ultimately promulgates the division between contemporary art and state institutions. The manifesto presents such statements as “You, the bureaucrats of art, declared yourselves the only legitimate representatives of art!”4 or “Genuine politics and art are beyond [the] state program!”5, “We are against cooperation with authoritarian institutions! We don’t serve state demands!”6 Though New Movement’s action generated a lot of discussion within the art community, the state institution never responded to it. In this way, each of the systems – the contemporary art field and state institutions – holds its own.

It’s another thing when an artist creates demands (visibly or not) in which the state bureaucracy has to respond and reply to him or her and in the process, uncovering the conservative elements, nontransparent, and nonfunctioning rules of its organization. An example of such a process can be seen in Aliaxey Talstou’s legal proceedings in 2017, when he demanded that the Centre for Contemporary Arts provide the list and prices of all the artworks that the Centre had bought during the last three years and to reveal the committee team that made the choice. As it was an official letter, the state institution had to react. Unlike the previous examples, Talstou transformed the institution itself into a battlefield: he made a request that prompted an official, bureaucratic reaction. And this reaction revealed how the institution worked, thereby exposing its inherent logic.

To provoke such a reaction, an artist has two strategies. The first one – which was used by Aliaxey Talstou – is to address an institution not as an artist, but as a citizen of the Republic of Belarus. Though in their reply, the state institution wanted to frame Talstou’s request as an art action and therefore lower or reduce the magnitude of the request itself and to move the request into a manageable space. However, the request made by a citizen called for an insightful and specific answer. In other words, being an external agent, Talstou exercises his civil rights and forgoes what he knows or may assume about how an institution functions. And this position in particular, in a sense nominally-simple, gives him the opportunity not to just to create propositions for how the institution functions, but to allow it itself demonstrate and reveal the mechanisms of how it works.

The second strategy, which can force an institution to react would be to take a risk. An artist makes demands that can somehow endanger an institution’s stability. This is not about a specific threat, this threat is connected rather with the perspective of the employees of this institution. Such reactive (in terms of request for a response) example of institutional criticism can be a work by Kirill Diomchev, which he presented in February 2019 at Vitebsk Art Museum.

A classic example of institutional critique

The exhibition Nevidivizm by Kirill Diomchev, which he displayed in Vitebsk, Belarus, started as a classic example of Belarusian institutional critique. Kirill prepared the project after an internship in Sweden, and the Vitebsk exhibition was important to him for several reasons.

Firstly, the exhibition was an individual gesture that broke with pictoral and sculpture traditions and marked a transition to performative practices, which have always been present in Diomchev’s work in one way or another. For example, within the exhibition Names, Kirill presented a performance 135 Hours, where he was tied to bed for the whole period of the exhibition.

Secondly, the exhibition escaped the old ghosts of avant-garde artists who lived and worked in Vitebsk in the 1920s. Not without reason an addendum to the exhibition title is a phrase “Nevidivizm as the last stage of Suprematism development.” To understand why Kirill’s criticism is focused exactly on the avant-garde movement of Suprematism – relations of the state institutions to Suprematism to be precise – it is necessary to make a backwards journey into the history of contemporary art in Vitebsk. In the 1980s, the association “Square” appeared in Vitebsk. Its aim was to return to the avant-garde concepts and Malevich’s ideas – particularly within the field of Vitebsk art. Square followers accomplished great work by bringing back names from Art History related to Vitebsk of the 1920s: they worked in the archives, communicated with Malevich’s daughter Una, found Yehuda Pen’s grave [a major figure of the Jewish Renaissance in Russian and Belarusian art at the beginning of 20th century], reconstructed fronts of the buildings made by UNOVIS followers. In other words, they returned erased names to the history of the city. For the 1980-90s, it was truly significant work. Nevertheless, already in the 2000s this discourse is appropriated by state institutions, for which dissimilar artists like Chagall and Malevich turned out to be representatives of the same, consolidated history, and whose names are seen as merely stakes for state culture politics and nothing more. In other words, the bureaucrats are not interested in understanding the conceptual complexities of the artists of the 20s because for them the artists are just tourists attractors to the popular International Festival for the Arts in Vitebsk, “Slavianski Bazaar”. The pinnacle of state sanctioned appropriation of the Chagall-Malevich discourse is epitomized in the opening of the Museum of History of the Vitebsk People’s Art School. Within the art community it is known as the Museum of UNOVIS; it was first opened in 2016 just for bureaucrats from the capital of Minsk, but was closed the next day for restoration and only re-opened in 2018. The museum, which functions just as a decorative facade for the city and displays the interiors of the industrial and financial bourgeoisie of the city, Marc Chagall’s work, and the work of UNOVIS, an avant-garde initiative, at the same time functions as an exhibition space for the artists who follow the UNOVIS traditions. In that regard, Kirill’s exhibition is a criticism of the mummification of the avant-garde ideas, as well as a display of how this Chagall-Malevich discourse, existing in the domain of cultural bureaucracy, transforms into a facade that only decorates. In one of the conversations, Kirill says, “I wanted to show that there’s no need in over emphasizing Malevich or Chagall. If you really care about them, you have to make new art, and not to over emphasizing and build a big cemetery.”7

Thirdly, Kirill shows the affliction not only of a state institution, but of the Vitebsk art field in general that favors big names and famous works of art. Vitebsk museums don’t possess collections of masterpieces, and in the Museum of UNOVIS there’s not a single work by Malevich, El Lissitzky, or Vera Ermolaeva. This absence identifies universal nostalgia for the past and the lost legacy. Kirill Diomchev’s exhibition consisted mainly of invisible works: the exhibition was literally scattered with empty frames that were the only remnants of the works once exhibited at different times at the Vitebsk Regional Museum, but now were literally discarded because they were deemed useless. Among the discarded works were works from unknown artists and those who made it into the great canon of Soviet and Russian pictural art: e.g., a frame from Levitan’s work. In the corner Kirill placed an invisible work by Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, recreating its original display in the red corner on exhibition 0.10 in 1915-1916.

When regarding Kirill Diomchev’s gesture it is important not to take it as just an ironic comment. The thing is that Kirill gives us a binary image. At first, he shows how the Great Art Museum in Vitebsk is a place desirable for bureaucrats of culture and at the same time for the Vitebsk art field. He considers and critics both faces of the museum: firstly the museum as a tourist attraction and secondly as a place still for art professionals to enter into the art historical canon, thus gaining legitimation. Kirill presents an invisible plan of a perfect museum, which could work for both the bureaucrats and the art community; though this image is not in the reality: it appears dimly and, we imagine it.

Furthermore, the artist resets the space. On the day of the exhibition opening, Kirill approaches an “invisible Black Square” (the main symbol of art which everybody in Vitebsk desires to see) and stops in front of it. The next day he repeats the same procedure, but this time he is naked.

What does that mean? On the one hand, if you imagine that the Black Square is in this corner than Kirill is just a regular viewer who approaches it to take a good look at something that for Vitebsk can be described as the masterpiece of masterpieces. On the other hand, if you recall that there’s no Square in the corner, Kirill just stands in the corner. Kirill remembers this standing in the corner in this manner, “You stand there naked. Children used to be punished this way, when they had their trousers taken off and were put in a corner. Then guests come, and you stand there without any clothes in the corner. They used to do this back in the day. And it’s really humiliating.”8

In other words, he reveals the position of an artist, who is at the same time guilty and has to resign before the great affair, great masterpieces, and great names, before the institutions that allow the artist to display in that city. Kirill says, “I feel sorry for the artists, who cooperates with such institutions. Artists, especially those of the older generation, trust them [the institution], and bring their works. But they are just being used as a checkmark, and it doesn’t matter if an artist dies tomorrow, they’ll find another one – they don’t care.”9

Institutional criticism comes from the institution itself

It’s interesting that the exhibition – that started generally as an innocent statement, received its critical measure in the first place due to the actions of the institution itself. Kirill recorded himself naked standing before the imaginary Black Square. In under an hour, one by one the museum employees started to make phone calls to Kirill asking and requesting that these photos be deleted from social media.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “Kirill, why are you posting pictures of yourself naked in our museum on social media?”10

The museum employees evaluated this gesture as a potential threat to their institution and within an hour phoned the artist five times. Among those who phoned where museum attendants, a research associate, and the superintendent of the museum. Thanks to this series of calls, we can trace how the pressure to save face and be conservative develops within the institution.

It is evident that the people phoning Kiril modulate between two poles. Each person who phoned him used the phrase, “I understand it all, but…” Each of them plays two roles: an educated, advanced, tolerant person, open to experimentation by the individual. The second role is a person speaking on behalf of the institution.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “I am the sort of person who can comprehend both freedom of artistic expression and creativity.”11

Conversation between E. Krivenkaya, research associate, and Kirill Diomchev: “I don’t mind your actionism,12 but I work in a state establishment.”13

When the employees gave these responses, they both try to establish some type of friendship towards Kirill and show they are on his side. However, these introductory sentences eventually function to flout their responsibility by saying that “I’m not responsible for the existing order of things, I’m calling on behalf of the institution.” Inside the institution, they act according to a formal protocol. But such statements issued to Kirill reveal how the institution operates: practically each of the employees protects and conserves the museum from any threats and uncertainties, and by flouting their responsibility they claim that their comments are not evil or conservative. In reality, the employees see themselves as educated and open to any artistic statements, and rather see the performance of their roles as pure formality. They simultaneously think that their actions of censorship of exhibitions are intolerable, but they must do it for the sake of the institution, which, as they consider, is beyond their personal control. The institutional pushes back to maintain its stability, they seem to say.

This discourse around Kirill’s naked image also brings forth the figure of power. As Kirill justly notes, “They [the museum workers] all speak different languages.”14 Obviously, those who called Kirill occupy different positions within a distinct hierarchy of the state museum institution and express their competent power differently. The museum attendant, who is the most vulnerable, calls confused and uses a gentle form of begging for sympathy; the research associate frames the message as a favor: “I’m asking you decently.”15 Surely, the museum superintendent displays the figure of power in the most distinct way. It’s interesting that during the twenty-minute talk she does not ask a single question concerning the conceptual framework or ideas behind the work and any effort made by Kirill to try to explain what happened as an art gesture is blocked completely. Technically, the only faux pas Kirill committed is that he didn’t inform the administration before about his actions.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “You’ve done this illegally – you’ve done it without my permission.”16

The logic of the institution here goes in two directions. Firstly, they make it clear for Kirill again and again that they did him a favor and he should be thankful.

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev: “I opened a gate for you to make your exhibition.”17

This brings us to the image of the artist standing in the corner, who should be grateful for any opportunity. The institution, whose main aim is to work with artists and exhibit works of art, moves itself to another level. And secondly, the logic of the institution brings us to another truism: it exists to reproduce itself. Whatever the tastes and ideological views the institution employees have, thanks to the procedure of dissociation, the splitting of the personal and the formal, the museum reproduces itself over and over. Put it another way, self-censorship, which the museum employees present in their comments, does not develop from “bad”, “demonic”, “illiterate” museum workers who stand against a “good” artist. It’s more like self-censorship is generated directly by the museum worker, thereby the procedure of censorship becomes for the employees painless, and the museum reproduces itself.

All of these things are well seen in the arguments presented by the employees who explain why a body cannot be naked in a museum. They use official discursive statements often printed in the media and generated without self-reflection. Such as:

Conversation between O. Okunevich, superintendent of the Art Museum in Vitebsk, and Kirill Diomchev:“ It’s a state museum, it’s not a picture gallery, it’s not Europe – it’s a classic art museum.”18

And again, as in situation with Aliaxey Talstou, who proceeds as if naively – Kirill acts and speaks as if he lives in another country, as if he has no idea how such institutions operate – forcing the employees of the museum react, reveal the mechanism of operation, their conservative bias, and censorship of the state institutions. Kirill himself comments on his position in such way, “At one point I already realized that it is a breach. But it was important to me to make this project. Although, of course, everyone knows how museums and the system of art institutions work in the country. But for me as for an artist it was important to reveal the operating mechanism of such institutions.”19


  1. The project Balance. Given the Circumstances. was organized by gallery management at gallery Ў http://ygallery.by/exhibitions/0004738/

  2. S. Shabohin. “How Not to\Cooperate with Art Institutions in Belarus?” http://fac.kalektar.org/3/

  3. K. Stashkevich Andrei Dureika: Intervention Academy of Arts, Academy of Life, 1997. http://zbor.kalektar.org/3/

  4. Open letter to group New Movement. http://artaktivist.org/otkrytoe-pismo-gruppe-novoe-dvizhenie/

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Interview with K. Diomchev. Personal files of Antonina Stebur, April 2019.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Conversation between O. Okunevich and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Note from the Editor: Actionism is a term used by O. Okunevich when referring to a specific form of artistic protest action

  13. Conversation between E. Krivenkaya and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  14. Interview with K. Diomchev. Personal files of Antonina Stebur, April 2019.

  15. Conversation between E. Krivenkaya and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  16. Conversation between O. Okunevich and K. Diomchev, February 9, 2019.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Interview with K. Diomchev. Personal files of Antonina Stebur, April 2019.

APOCALYPSE INSURANCE / WATERPROOF. A SELECTION OF ART HISTORY. INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE

I am working on a series of pieces based on the idea of myself as an artist prepper, a ‘survivalist’. I use my artistic work to forecast the potential dark future we are facing. What do I need as a person to survive? How can I use my present work to help out in different future scenarios and, at the same time show the obvious damage we all participate in?

As I was working on this subject, I realized that it would be really hard to stand the absence of art and that all good artworks that have been created this far will disappear when a large part of the planet goes underwater. What is interesting to keep for the future; what do we want to pass on to our kids and to the eventual survivors?

As an artist, I have always been into DIY and been engaged in different artistic organisations. This becomes very natural living and working in Gothenburg, which sometimes can be experienced almost like a city with an anarchistic art society. Gothenburg has a strong scene of artist run galleries and artists that have chosen to live here to get away from the hierarchical and elitist art world that exists in many other cities around the world.


From the series Apocalypse Insurance – Keep family breathing by Linda Tedsdotter

When I started the Apocalypse Insurance series I did it with a large amount of criticism to the whole idea of “just make sure you and your family is safe” – which is the model that the insurance industry is based on and an idea that the ‘preppers’ are into. This is not so different to the contemporary art scene, which is often a very ego and selfish driven system.

Apocalypse Insurance / Waterproof. A Selection of Art History is an attempt to map out a more horizontal view of the arts and to get an alternative picture of what the history of artists and their practices will be like in the future. I see this work as an ongoing piece, hoping that every time I will exhibit it that more artists will choose to be part of the future and create a new heritage. When the apocalypse happens and if somebody survives, this person will probably have more important things to think about than art as it is conceived today, but I like to think that the selection of artist books might serve as a starting point to face a new surviving situation.

I like to preserve artist books – not only the well known ones. I am planning to collect artist books and vacuum package them and pile them on a floatable ‘Pallet’.

I need your help to collect all these artist books. Do you want to be part of it? What is important to save for the future? What do you think the future Art History shall include? Are you willing to give away one of your own artist books? I would be delighted and so thankful if you will help me with this piece. The books will be presented so that the backs are visible to the audience. I would be more than happy if you can send it to me:

Linda Tedsdotter

Konstepidemins väg 6

413 14 Göteborg

Sweden

(NON)WORK: COLLECTIVE WRITINGS

OLIA

Not so long ago it was a challenge to get artistic practice recognized as ‘work’. Even today, art is sometimes treated as a kind of unwieldy force that just comes out of you, almost effortlessly, depending on if you have inspiration or talent. Artists could be seen as parasites or as idlers leading a bohemian lifestyle. In practice, however, today artists are rather precarious self-managers, multitasking with self-promotion and presentation, application writing, networking, and actual artistic production, often also having other ‘normal’ jobs to make a living. As most freelancers, they have neither stable income nor social benefits. In return for such a stressful and vulnerable life and working conditions, they are supposed to get their ‘artistic benefits’ – pleasure, fame, and etc., which in reality are rather substituted with nervous breakdowns, burn-outs, anxiety, and depression. At the same time there is an old idea that artists are meant to suffer – that’s how their artistic production happens. But in the modern world artists are expected to be not too crazy or depressed but just sane enough to keep it safe and convenient for management and networking; in other words artists should foster business relationships.

To cope with this situation there are several tools that normalize artistic production: the most common of which are artists’ unions or having a legal status as self-employed. The former in Eastern Europe nowadays unfortunately turned out to be mostly corrupt and has a conservative bureaucratic structure, while the latter does not eliminate all the struggles that go along with the precarity in the worker’s life mentioned above. If an artist becomes a worker, whom are they employed by: the state, society, curators, critics, or by themselves and other artists – aka within ‘the arts field’ itself?

So maybe we should move the opposite direction, or not move, but turn to the non-work in order to finally experience pleasure and joy as a political statement, practice radical idleness, and become unproductive and uncreative without any guilt, stress, or regret! The non-creative non-work of the artist. This idea is not so new but can be found within a political and artistic tradition. In 1883, Paul Lafargue wrote his The Right To Be Lazy where he claimed that the workers should not demand more work or improved working conditions but rather work less and demand the right to laziness and reap its pleasures.1 Marcel Duchamp stood for the refusal to work as a refusal to be an art producer or performer who has a social function and artistic identity.2 Given today’s obsession with self-performance and constant presence (this phenomena is well analyzed by Hito Steyerl in her lecture and essay “The Terror of Total Dasein”, 2015), this demand sounds particularly acute.3 Kazimir Malevich praised laziness and criticised both capitalism and communism for being labor-centered in his text “Laziness as the Truth of Mankind” (1921).4 Mladen Stilinović believed that “there is no art without laziness” and criticised the Western art tradition as a system of artistic production in his “In Praise of Laziness” (1993). He writes: “Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists, but rather producers of something.”5 While artists in the East, he claimed, were deprived of that system and therefore “had time enough to concentrate on art and laziness. Even when they did produce art, they knew it was in vain, it was nothing.”6

Practicing laziness in our work-oriented society is however not so easy as it might seem. As Maurizio Lazzarato puts it:

Let us start with the socio-economic critique. Laziness is not simply a ‘non-action’ or a ‘minimal-action.’ It involves taking a position with respect to the conditions of existence under capitalism. First of all, it affirms a subjective refusal of (paid) work and of all the forms of conformist behavior capitalist society demands.7

Laziness, unproductivity, and non-work are not eccentric selfish deals, but collective political issues, which should be approached systematically and with complexity. Being lazy efficiently could become hard work in itself; it could be violent and painful. So a really important point is to keep the shared joy and pleasures of the non-work.

DZINA

Olia, great! Thank you a lot for starting the conversation!

I just wanted to comment briefly that in the contemporary context of St. Petersburg there is a network of horizontal laboratories, which stands for a world without labor – n i i c h e g o d e l a t (Scientific Research Institute for doing nothing). ‘Employees’ of SRI for doing nothing want to undermine labor and attend to social behavior through inaction. They write that doing nothing can be or become the possibility of inventing new ways to coexist and live in alternative times: “The development of new labor relations and total laziness are necessary tensions that create a field for uniting workers and non-workers.”8 They are into the themes of time (burn out – acceleration, decay – stopping), connectivity of spaces (intimate interfaces); exploring the body and its ability to slow down and accelerate; and the role of the social parasite, procrastinator, precariat, and slacker. They often refer to UNI (universal basic income) + social assistance (such as free healthcare, education, vocational training, social services). On the 1st of May, LABOR DAY, they went out to the annual demonstration for solidarity with the working people and parasites. Here are some of their slogans and catchwords →

KOLYA

Thank you, Olia and Dzina, for touching on the issue of practicing non-work from the collective perspective! I want to share an example of an activity of n i i c h e g o d e l a t (SRI for doing nothing).9 It is a moving/movement performance-report “Temporal liquidity in revolving doors of ‘Galereya’ shopping mall in St. Petersburg” made by Marina Shamova as part of Symposium of SRI for doing nothing in ‘Galereya’ shopping mall (2017). Here is the link to video documentation.

And here are some screenshots if you don’t want to work for social-media-corporations and create accounts in their social networks:

Here are some theses on the reasons why I find the occupation of the revolving door important:

  • Transparent, anti spectacular activity.
  • Collective practice involving strangers.
  • It is an action of occupying already existing structures, cultural machines that produce division of modes of leisure/rest and work.
  • It is the production of a temporary zone without any claims to be sustainable (very problematic word that is co-opted by self-entrepreneur discourse).
OLIA

Thank you Dzina and Kolya for bringing the practice of n i i c h e g o d e l a t to the discussion! I am also captivated by their performance in the revolving doors. The revolving doors of the mall are the transit space between the space of consumption – which today is often almost equal to the space of leisure – and the mundane everyday space ‘of work’. The performers refuse to pass from one space to the other. There is also something particular about the very circular movement of walking in the door, the loop and repetition, the reference to khorovod or kolo dance and carousel, but the structure of the door is made of segments, separating the passers by into temporary and accidental groups.

NILS

Dear all, thank you for bringing in actions with a political dimension into our effort of collective writing. The performance in the carousel reminds me of an international anti-capitalist project named Buy Nothing Day (on the 25 of November). A group of Swedish artists organized processions of empty shopping wagons in malls. They were told to stop their action by guards. This art-activism practice used to be seen and understood as a protest against consumerism, but the global ecological crisis has changed everything. The big issue today is the climate-crisis. A lot of people are working hard to destroy the ecology of our planet. On a global scale, big capital is made on the destruction of the fundamentals of life. It seems that all the dystopies produced by Hollywood will be real. Stopping dystopias from being real! should be the first argument for the non-work line. The second argument is that it takes a lot of work to keep up the non-work line, as Olia mentioned. We should create a sphere of luxurious laziness that opens up the mind and invites to joys and pleasures.

It could work for a lot of people because nowadays the technological and production level of humankind could provide for us all.

Back to art. I think it is important to defend art from the ideas and system of creative industries. The concept of creativity is dangerous. We are better off with the concept of non-creativity. The point when art says no. No. A big no-no.

DZINA

Dear Nils,

I reread your thoughts in the doc. I was somehow caught by the slogan “Stopping dystopias from being real!” and as you also mentioned: luxurious laziness. That made me think about the utopian project that often refers to predictions about technology that can bring equality and freedom. Maybe even freedom of work as we see it in fully automated luxury communism that claims that new technologies will liberate us from work, providing the opportunity to build a society beyond both capitalism and scarcity. “Automation, rather than undermining an economy built on full employment, is instead the path to a world of liberty, luxury and happiness. For everyone.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmQ-BZ3eWxM

NILS

Hello again, I am trained as a practice based artistic researcher and received my Phd in 2017. The fundamentals of artistic research are radical because it gives the artist the right or duty to explain his/her work. It breaks up the division of labor between the artist as a producer and the curator, and the art critic /historian as the explainer. The concept of research also means that the artist/researcher has to work in a more open, non-mystical-way. Artistic research at its best creates a multi-disciplinary dialogue between different artistic and theoretical traditions and also acts as a bridge to other fields of research and innovation. The academic learning apparatus has severe problems to cope with it because the structure of higher education is not constructed to host practicing artists. We have the problem in Sweden to create an environment where art and research can thrive and bloom.

What we often get is an institutionalized art crippled by bureaucracy in sterile office like settings. (IKEA HELL)

For you people in Belarus this may sound like spoiled children complaining over nothing.

Best,

Nils

P.S.

About creating labs and centers for artistic activity: http://uniarts.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1139775&dswid=-9809

The publication is a collection of texts discussing ways to create an environment where art-research and education could meet and communicate.


Aaron Bastani explains Fully Automated Luxury Communism, a post-capitalist utopia. Screenshot taken from Novara Media youtube.
OLIA

Nils, thank you for your contribution. What you say about instrumentalizing and bureaucratizing art really resonates with me. Not only in reference to the marriage of art & research in the academia, but also more generally. I think I tried to say something related to the above when I mentioned that artists today are expected be comfortable to work with: they can’t have depression or be too crazy. I also have a feeling that maybe today the text or research accompanying the artwork sort of proves that the artist really worked, as the artwork itself often does not look like some effort of production. Of course it’s not always the case.

We should also keep in mind a certain difference between the Belarusian and Swedish situation, as we are obviously not talking about just local or vice versa just universal issues here, and even within our ‘home’ contexts some of us have different positions. Actually, sometime as an artist from Belarus, I may feel a kind of gap, trying to balance in-between the western and post-socialist systems of arts production.

DZINA

Yes, I also think that Swedish art context differs a lot from Belarusian context. As a rule, it’s not only impossible to live from one’s art in Minsk, but there are certain difficulties from the bureaucratic side. It is completely opposite to the Swedish situation. Here, I refer to the “law against social parasites” in Belarus that I am sure you are familiar with. This policy requires anyone who works for less than 183 days per year to pay 20 basic units (around 230 euro) for “lost taxes” to help fund welfare policies. Just so you know, it’s quite a lot – around a half-month’s wage. As the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection argues: it’s important to “stimulate” employment of the population.

As an artist, in order not to pay “tax” (actually the word “fine” works better here), you would need to show your art to the special commission that can give a professional certificate issued in accordance with the law (or they refuse to issue it if you do not have a classical education in the art sphere). So you know what it means for contemporary artists – almost no chance to get it.

The law was in use from April 2015 until very recently. On February 2017, there were series of street protests against the law and the economical situation in Belarus. The anti-parasite ‘tax’ and its reflection on the sphere of culture made the space between the market and the authoritarian control of the state evident.

On 1 December 2018, a database of the unemployed was compiled. We know already that the unemployed will have to pay “for the services determined by the Council of Ministers at prices and tariffs ensuring full recovery of the economically justified costs of providing them,” like medicine, education, a communal flat, public transport…

DZINA

Hey all again!

How are things with you?

Dear Olia,

Just wanted to point out the importance of your thoughts for me about artists that are expected today to “be comfortable to work with,” “they can’t have depression or be too crazy.” I found myself in this situation when I was invited, for example, to a residency where everybody was very helpful and nice, but expecting and ‘looking forward to’ something – which is also ok if this ‘forward’ is not expecting the production of a comfortable situation for the visitors. I am like: why are they inviting me? Don’t they know what I am doing? Or a lecture where you need to present your artistic method that is sometimes treated as radical and can also provoke inconveniences or discomfort for some people. However, this is needed as a provocation and as a method to unlearn what you were learning or to deskill – how to use a tool in another way than it was programmed for in order to break the convenient, cozy, and familiar user-experience scenario. I often spoke about this with my friends from Night Movement who often struggle with the organizers of different events for being too crazy.

By the way, they made the Night Without Movement (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1er3GHmQH-4JnEC58ZrFpgyUM3de2y3Qb8udQ_5pNel8/edit#gid=1712260849) and the Night of Sleep (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1er3GHmQH-4JnEC58ZrFpgyUM3de2y3Qb8udQ_5pNel8/edit#gid=1547741311) that highly relates to the ideas that we’ve been discussing in Brest and online.

Concerning ‘pauses’, ‘stops’, and ‘resting moments’, me and Kolya recently made an online-conference about the useless concept of the ‘Traffic Loop’ that is basically an infinite loop of data going round-and-round. During the conference, people who were hired to perform a script had a 7-minutes break.

We are talking a lot here about non-work, cultivating, and growing it in ourselves, but also in a series of SWS – simultaneous work sessions – Kolya and I invited our friends and colleagues to join a work activity for an hour span of time:

This is a digital union of non-material workers, the virtual space of multi-user processing – so try not to distract each other – you can watch someone doing her cognitive work.

The synchronized sessions are designed to unify participants into one working mode. Being united by one of the online-communication tools, we will simply work and listen to each other’s work. Being silently present in the imaginary space.

Rationalized time management of production processes is the contrast to joint silent sessions: when we unite not to produce something together but rather to help each other to overcome the accelerating communication and production processes reinforced by online tools. Using the same tools against their primarily functions, we are constructing together the union of non-material workers.

Cheers!

XXX,

Dzina

NILS

Dear Olia,

This gap that you are mentioning could be a cave or a cathedral. The position of art in Belarus gives artists, curators, and other cultural workers a position to create something that could be ……………… (outstanding, depressing, new, or special).

Belarus is still outside of the international system of contemporary art. For you, the white cube has just started with Ў gallery around 10 years ago. I get the impression that the artists, curators, and cultural workers from Belarus gathering around the Status project are representing a strong new generation. You speak English, travel, study, and have internships in the US, Norway, Finland, Sweden, etc.

I think we as artists and cultural workers can and should take all possible opportunities to collaborate on an international scale, but we should also be conscious of the fact that we are also played with (or can be played with) by others. I think that we, in our collaborative process, should make it a priority to create examples. Making art with limited resources and discovering a system for critical reflection in our own process/project where everybody in the project contributes.

OLIA

Olia Sosnovskaya Sunday, 25 nov., 19:30

to: Dzina, nicola, Nils.Claesson, tania.arcimovich, Nastya, maximsarychau

Hey dears!

I want to share with you today’s experience, which fits perfectly to our agenda. I was paid to do nothing for 2 hours (7.5 euro per hour) with four other art students. It was a performance by my friends, artist duo Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen Non-logic Devices in Logic Processes. Though of course our ‘doing nothing’ had some protocols and instructions, which we had to follow: we were to either sit on the chairs holding a rope or stand by the tilted wall, and not communicate or make contact with anyone, including each other. That practice also felt a bit like meditation or hypnosis because at some point of immobility I could neither feel some parts of my body nor the time. I’ll attach the photo.


Olia Sosnovskaya performs in the Non-logic Devices in Logic Processes by Martinka Bobrikova & Oscar de Carmen. HotDock Project Space, Bratislava, November 2018. Photo by Aleksei Borisionok.
DZINA

Dears,

I’m so sorry for my late reply! As a ‘personal enterprise’ (I hope I’m kidding here) I am overwhelmed with the multiple tasks that I need to conduct. My everyday practice – the way I procrastinate in order not to write a completed text – is composed from words-findings and words-that-are-playful. So please let me invite you to my uncompleted never finished ‘procrastination machine’:

paradise politics

slow archipelagos

last resort

post-fast

hyperpassive

I am very much concerned about a less work-centered future. To put it more precisely, when I actually write ‘future’ I mean the present, following science-fiction that counts itself as “science-fiction of the present day,” imagining or speculating on the current state of society rather (or sometimes even if) writing about previously non-existing worlds at new planets hundreds of year from now. So read it as “a less work-centered present” that is imagined but not yet real. ↓↓↓signpost phrases↓↓↓signpost phrases↓↓↓signpost phrases (something like “From this I want to go deeper into the subjects identifying themselves as competitive” or posing a question might be good – “Is it possible to overcome the work ethic?” or smth).

efficient man

the figure of the enterprise

entrepreneurial subject

competitive man

personal enterprise

neo-liberal subject

the desiring being

investments in creativity

The apparatus of efficiency is a particular kind of subjective normalization from which the ‘efficient man’ was born. Viewing a human as an active subject who must participate fully, commit herself utterly, and engage completely in her professional activity. This is the subject of total self-involvement. And even more – this person is becoming the desiring being. As Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval in The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society put it:

The new techniques of ‘personal enterprise’ doubtless reach a peak of alienation in claiming to abolish any sense of alienation: following one’s desire and obeying the Other who speaks softly within the self are one and the same thing. In this sense, modern management is a ‘Lacanian government’: the desire of the subject is the desire of the Other.

↓↓↓ (something from my personal life – yesterday I was in the lecture of my friend Gleb Napreenko who was defining the Other as a constituent legitimation of one’s identity and what happens when you dismiss the Other…, or that sometimes a part of your own body can become the Other…) ↓↓↓ from this I can somehow go to the idea of parts of the body and their transformations that can break the logic of/transform the understanding of the Other ↓↓↓ or maybe that goes too far↓↓↓

sensibilities

sensoriums

extensions

sensors

augmentations

capabilities

sensing abilities

biotransformations

The word ‘cyborg’ comes from the words ‘cybernetic organism’ that is an organism that has bio-, or mechanical extensions in the body↓↓↓ Do we want to develop extensions at different levels?↓↓↓ A body works pharmacologically even when we are asleep↓↓↓ Maybe the word ‘work’ should be dissociated into thousands of meanings↓↓↓ How to raise new sensibilities within ourselves?↓↓↓

OLIA

I want to get back to the fully automated luxury communism for everyone, brought by Dzina. I think it is important to mention that laziness and refusal to work, even in its radical form, can be a privilege. Who can afford to be lazy? Is it only those who are relatively safe in terms of their basic needs, like was Duchamp? Laziness is also often linked to white privilege, particularly in terms of being lazy to educate oneself about racism, for example. On the other hand, migrants and persons of color are often portrayed as lazy, as parasites, or Eastern Europeans are stereotyped as cheaters, avoiding work and study. I would like to problematize the list of male theorists and practitioners of non-work and laziness, which I referenced in the very first comment when I spoke about the history of the issue. It is the same old question about representation and access to resources. To put it in a bit of an exaggerated way: while the male artist is already refusing to work, the female artist is still working hard to get noticed and be acknowledged as an artist. Or, while in the exploitation of the working class, men were conscious of this, and they were organised enough to demand their ‘right to be lazy’ – the exploitation of women was mostly invisible, and took place in the separated (‘private’) spaces of homes. Kathi Weeks in her book The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries explores those intersections.10 I agree with Dzina that perhaps the word ‘work’ should have many more meanings, like non-work should not be neutral but always be nuanced and have particular social, political, gender, and racial biases.

DZINA

Olia, thanks for commenting! Your comments are great!!!

The gendered aspect of the conceptions of ‘work’ should be a key part into building post-work imaginaries. Social reproduction and care – such as raising of children and domestic issues – still require a lot of the female dominated ‘private’ work.

As Silvia Federici puts it

while production has been restructured through a technological leap in key areas of the world economy, no technological leap has occurred in the sphere of domestic work significantly reducing the labour socially necessary for the reproduction of the workforce.11


See Red Women’s Workshop / Feminist Posters 1974-1990.

Jozi Stolet and Polina Shilkinite (St.Petersburg / Moscow) in their project world of work / world without work face invisible work of activists, artists, mothers, volunteers, and possible solutions in cooperation with machines: http://workhardplay.pw/en/2017/projects/shilkinite-stolet.html#

Today I was also thinking about a collaboration between Uliana Bychenkova & Zhanna Dolgova Welcome To The Doll House! (Kyiv / St.-Petersburg) and the notion of play and procrastination that they find important in order to reclaim language and voice. They write:

Finally, our desire is to play. This wish connected to the lack of our meaning in the hegemonic discourses, to the blockage of non-normative types of pleasure of the weak – female, childish, any pleasure of the other. Playing, we can produce ludic commonality – in an attempt to install, to foster new ties (friendly, affective, sensible, somatic, ontological). We put search and affirmation of the most intimate and at the same time shared wishes and hopes into the form of play – commonality, which can be political.

NILS

Dear Dzina, thank you for introducing or reminding us of the institution of play. Play is a radical force that unites not only humans but also animals into non-productive, non-work activity. (In a collection of old fairy tales and myths from the Sami people one story is how the sami-children made a truce with the bear-mother to play with bear-cubs. I think this story goes from Scandinavia along the white sea all the way to Siberia).

Even a cat knows when it is time for play and not.


Takao Mumiyama. Calligraphy. From private archive of Nils.

This is a calligraphy made by Takao Mumiyama in summer 2018. I asked him write the term karoshi. It means death by overworking. Around 200 persons die that way every year in Japan. The signs have the same meaning in Chinese and Korean.

KOLYA
  
Date:Tue, 25 Dec 2018 17:05:11 +0300
From:nicola spesivcev
  
To:Dzina Zhuk, Olia Sosnovskaya, Nils Claesson, tania.arcimovich, Nastya Ranko, maximsarychau

Hey all!

Thank you Dzina and Olia for shattering our two pole system where only ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ exist. I think that nuancing neutral term of ‘non-work’ and elaboration on the notion of play and procrastination have a big potential to make our analysis more accurate. Your ideas pushed me to speculate about the situation that unfolds even before the division between ‘work’ and ‘non-work’. In desire to do so, I found myself in thoughts spinning around the notion of ‘activity’ and something similar to the word ‘activism’.

Last week I was in the discussion “Past and Present of Activist Art: Dialogue of Generations” (speakers: Oksana Vasyakina, Artem Loskutov, Pavlo Mitenko, Natalia Nikulenkova, Ekaterina Nenasheva, Make, Dasha) that was in frame of “Marathon of Activist Art”. A large part of the conversation was about different methods of juxtaposing art, actionism, and activism.

The term of activism was formulated there as _activity_ with political aims and _activity_ that goes beyond any forms of alienation.

Pavlo Mitenko during the discussion – and in his text “How to Act in the Public View (Moscow Actionism and the Community Politics)” (available here in Russian: http://magazines.russ.ru/nlo/2013/124/20m.html) – proposed some ideas that can be useful for our purposes as well.

Here I’d like to re-formulate several of his theses:

– because it’s a-sociality and socially dysfunctional, an action cannot be evaluated through the grid of institutional forms of art and politics.

– an action is an act/leap-of-faith. Therefore it’s a phenomenon that does not belong to divided spheres of labor, but to the tissue of unformalized relations, to immediate relations in other words.

Based on this, I want to bring to our discussion this very notion of the attempt to deal with relations before establishing any alienating forms of institualization, relations that belong to the activity understood as intensity of life.12

Maybe the marxist theory of establishing human subjectivity elaborated in late Soviet times by Evald Ilyenkov, for example, could be useful to unpack the relation between activity and various social and political grounded forms of work and non-work. But give me a bit more time to think about that.

At the end, I would like to share a bunch of issues of “Pervasive Labour Union Zine,” which I think is firmly connected with themes we’re discussing here. Here is the link: http://ilu.servus.at/

And a small excerpt from an introduction to the issue #11 the entreprecariat:

The strategic colonization and commodification of relationships with

others and with the self is one of the predominant features of the

‘entreprecariat’ , which is the focus of this issue. The term emerged

from the realization that, while an array of diverse forms of precarity

(financial, professional, and even existential) is becoming the norm for

a growing number of people, so it is the necessity to tackle them

entrepreneurially. As witnessed by the emergence of terms like

‘entrepreneurism’, individuals as well as institutions are increasingly

urged to think of themselves as brands, companies or startups. Against a

backdrop characterized by relentless destabilization, entrepreneurship,

the practice of starting and managing a business through risk, turns

into entrepreneurialism, a universal doctrine with its own dogmas,

martyrs and plans of salvation.

xxx


  1. P. Lafargue, 1907. The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company..
  2. M. Lazzarato, 2014. Marcel Duchamp and The Refusal of Work, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
  3. Steyerl, Hito, “The Terror of Total Dasein” Lecture, Public Editorial Meeting Former West, Art and Labor after the End of Work, Museum of Modern Art, 9 and 10 October, 2015, Warsaw, PL, [online video], https://vimeo.com/147260974, Accessed 31 December, 2018.
  4. Malevich, Kazimir (1921). “Laziness as the Truth of Mankind”.
  5. Stilinović, Mladen (1993). “In Praise of Laziness”, See http://monumenttotransformation.org/atlas-of-transformation/html/l/laziness/in-praise-of-laziness-mladen-stilinovic.html?fbclid=IwAR1-H1ogRW-PdV4pIWXddBEN_Ab3vq4_xzc7UR7e7dzSbPrKDab7hOC_TS0. Accessed 31 December 2018.
  6. Ibid.
  7. M. Lazzarato, 2014. Marcel Duchamp and The Refusal of Work, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), p. 9.
  8. From the unpublished correspondence with n i i c h e g o d e l a t (Scientific Research Institute for doing nothing) and the author.
  9. Here you can find some traces of activity of the collective: https://www.instagram.com/niichegodelat/
  10. K. Weeks, 2011. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  11. Federici, Silvia, (2013). “A Feminist Critique of Marx” in The End of Capitalism See http://endofcapitalism.com/2013/05/29/a-feminist-critique-of-marx-by-silvia-federici/. Accessed 28 December, 2018.
  12. Massumi, Brian, 2018. 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value. A Postcapitalist Manifesto. Minneapolis and London: UP Minnesota. See https://manifold.umn.edu/read/99-theses-on-the-revaluation-of-value/section/7a105a04-8cb5-4b6f-8818-2ca4cd070862 

HERITAGIZATION: HOW ART AND ACTIVISM CAN MAKE HERITAGE. CASES FROM BELARUS AND SWEDEN

This catalogue is work in progress, where we propose to discuss the cases connected with the topic of Heritagization. Heritagization – heritage-making, the creation and re-creation of cultural, historical meaning, and identity – is done by different actors and at different levels, from institutions, museums, their visitors, to common people, and artists.

In our collective project, we focus on different forms of heritagization that emerge parallel and/or are in conflict with official and authorized forms of heritage making. In particular, we are interested in highlighting, enacting and performing alternative processes of heritage-making collectively, through art practice and activism in urban public spaces. The project is composed of different parts that dialogue and build on one another to explore how art and activism can make or reflect on heritage. We also plan to analyse the situation in Belarus and Sweden and will try to search for any similarities, patterns, or differences in our future work.

Belarusian Cases

Prepared by Alina Dzeravianka

Having worked for the last five years with heritage and contemporary art in Belarus, I proposed a number of cases that I think are relevant to the topic of heritage making or Heritagization. For me, it is a process when an artist, group of artists, or activists start to work on a certain topic connected to the past. Somehow their works can be connected with material or intangible heritage, and sometimes it is not yet perceived as heritage by the wider society. In such cases, the artist or a group becomes an occasional researcher or historian who works with heritage. In some cases, as in Brest stories guide projects or Artur Klinau’s City of the Sun, the artists emphasise the importance of historical memory or the value of monuments. In others, such as the work of VEHA project or artist Andrei Liankevich’s work Pagan,, artists focus on the tradition, personal stories, and local identity connected with the past. In Ruslan Vashkevich interventions in the museum, he questions what gets perceived as museum heritage nowadays, and who decides what it is.

Brest stories guide (audio guide-performance)

In 2016, the independent theatre group Kryly Khalopa began the project Brest Stories Guide. It is a series of documentary audio performances in the city space of Brest that one can download on a mobile app. The project is an audio guide – a tour around a ‘nonexistent’ Brest – and is based on materials from the archives, books, photos, and interviews with witnesses of the events related to the rise of anti-Semitism since 1937 and the Brest ghetto and the obliteration of the Jewish community in 1941-1942. In addition to the memories of surviving Jews and Brest citizens, they also used the unpublished reports of German officers from the archives. The play becomes a kind of investigation based on the sonic memory of witnesses to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in Brest in the 1930s and 1940s. Now Brest has a history told not by the authors of textbooks and the creators of heroic narratives but by its inhabitants.1 For a long time it was almost impossible to see any remains or signs of the Jewish population in Brest, which used to make up 60% of the city in the 19th century; however, due to the Soviet ideology and Post-Soviet neglect of politics, this history is buried.

The mobile application consists of the audio guide and a city map, which allows the user to navigate freely on the map with key sites of Jewish heritage and historical events in Brest. Streets, buildings, and yards become a stage on which the voices from the past sound The Kryly Khalopa theatre offers the visitors to plunge into the history, and also see the outlines of a disappeared, old Brest appearing through the facade of today’s city2.

Brest Stories Guide is a project at the intersection of art, tourism, and cultural heritage preservation. It is the result of the co-work of about twenty people, including historians, experts from Jewish organizations, as well as the best actors of Brest theaters3. Brest Stories Guide is one of the heritagization processes in Belarus done by an independent theatre group who helps promote the untold, sometimes neglected history, but also promote the heritage of the city.

Horse in a coat exhibition by Ruslan Vashkevich

Horse in a coat is a unique project on borders and smuggling, which was created specifically for Brest by Belarusian contemporary artist Ruslan Vashkevich in October 2016.

The exhibition discussed how objects that were seized at the border, some of which were seen as smuggled objects, get framed as Art within the museum. The artist muses how these ‘Modern Art’ objects colonize the space of the local museum. The objects created by artist were supposed to mix their perception with their function in the museum. It was first planned to be exhibited in the Museum of Saved Values (Музей спасенных ценностей), but after museum professionals saw the objects, they refused to show it. So the artist has to find a new place in one day. Finally he found a place in the shopping center; so in the end, it was quite provocative and interesting at the same time.

From my point of view, Ruslan Vashkevich tried to reflect on how a museum object gets framed in the museum. The Museum of Saved Values is the only museum in Belarus where works of art and antiques are exhibited after being confiscated by Brest customs officers in an attempt to save them from being smuggled abroad. But the question is: how is the collection formed? What is the value of the smuggled objects? Why do they became museum objects?

I think that through Vashkevich’s objects created for the exhibition, he was able to reflect and critique the museum display and its collection. We see that most of the works he created turned out to be similar objects as the ones that are in the museum but with some added artistic value. From this point of view, it is questionable what has more heritage value: the confiscated objects or the objects created by artist Ruslan Vashkevich? He also had a number of interventions in the museum collections: the exhibition Go and See at Rumyantsev-Paskevich Palace, Gomel, Belarus and the exhibition Museum in 2011 at the National Art Museum.

Minsk. City of the Sun concept and book by Artur Klinau

Artur Klinau is a Belarusian writer, artist, and architect, based in Minsk. In 2000, he continued to work on the topic of Minsk’s Stalinist style architecture that he started already as a student. As a result he created a photo album City of the Sun (2005) and later on a novel Minsk. City of the Sun (2006).

In 2009 he initiated a public program City of the Sun-2 which aimed at Minsk’s transformation into a major tourist and cultural center of Europe and later the group of UNESCO experts were invited to study and collect a portfolio; the discussion on the inclusion of some parts of the central Minsk into UNESCO heritage (such as its Stalinist architecture is still ongoing.

Minsk. City of the Sun is an attempt at describing one of the main urban planning projects of the Stalin era. The text, with photographs of the author, combines historical and architectural analysis of the great Soviet utopia. The book was written in Belarusian in 2005, and then it was translated into German, Polish, Swedish, and Hungarian, and published in Russian for the first time in 2013.

Klinau studied and described in his book the political and social history of Minsk architecture. He analyzed how a Soviet utopia was realized in the architectural form that the Independence avenue and six main squares, created in 1950s, takes. All the elements, including parks and squares, had a special meaning and concept for the people.

Since the early 2000s, Artur Klinau has meditated on the significance of Stalinist architecture in Minsk. He created a new understanding of heritage and the value of Soviet utopia. Through the artists eyes, we saw a new meaning created for the objects, streets, squares, parks, and so on. I think the book and the public program have influenced a public opinion and contributed to the re-evaluation of historical value of the Stalinist architecture of Minsk.

The best side photo project by VEHA group

VEHA is the project dedicated to the preservation of archival photos of Belarus and the formation of family photo archives. In 2017, the group started a project The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side and started to collect photos of Belarusians that would be placed on homemade, woven carpets from small villages and places. The collection The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side shows the theme of photography as a social ritual. Woven carpets are a peculiar phenomenon in family, festive, and everyday photography of Belarusians and represent the best side of life to others, which means that a holistic impression of life can be made.4 The project was shown to a wider public during the Minsk Month of Photography in 2017 for the first time.

The result of the project was the publication of a book The Nailepshy Bok / The Best Side with images of the collection supplemented by expert articles in the field of ethnography and visual research.

The project is also related to the construction of family heritage because during Soviet and Post-Soviet times it was not that popular to collect family historical narration. Now the group is trying to renew and analyze this specific tradition. I would say it was even risky to know the history of the family, especially after Stalinist repressions: parents and grandparents didn’t talk much about their life or relatives, so somehow we lost the tradition and connection to our previous generation. I chose this project because it is about understanding the value of personal/family history. The projects pays attention to the personal archives, photos, family history, and tradition. It helps to create a family history and to get a better understanding of one’s identity, roots, and prehistory. I think it is quite important to stress the value of family history and to help people to learn how to work with it, how to find out the story, and how to create a story.

Paganstva/Pagan, photo project & book by Andrei Liankevich

Andrei Liankevich is a Belarusian photographer who was born 1981 in Grodno and is based in Minsk. In his book Pagan, he shows the pagan traditions and customs that still exist in Belarus. Most traditions disappear or have already disappeared in the 1960-70s. In some villages, only one, the oldest inhabitant, still remembers them. Liankevich traveled through the villages and talked with people to collect legends. Today we are living in the Christian tradition, and we do not always understand that it appeared after thousands of years of Pagan beliefs and taboos. And if you compare the age of Pagan beliefs and Christianity, the latter influenced civilization for only two thousand years. Paganism is present in the life of modern Belarusian society because, after all, who does not look in the mirror when one comes back for forgotten things or who does not think a few times if is it worth it to continue the journey after meeting a black cat? In the villages, this is more common, and still a lot of people follow superstitions.

This project is about questioning our current and past traditions; what is left, and what can be preserved as a heritage. I would say that this project is not giving answers but asks more questions.

Andrey says in one of the interview about the book Pagan

Many people who have seen the book and photos ask the question, what is paganism for me. Many people have an understanding of it: here is a cow, cut off the head, lay it down and dance, preferably at night under the moon. But for me it became clear that paganism is a huge world view, which Belarusians still live with. To the quiet Christians we are just slowly coming closer to Christianity…It is clear that this is a long process of transition. Now many of our holidays have a direct connection with paganism. I have village roots, and all these unforgettable summers, which I hated when I was a child, now turn into these photos….I have answered the questions of who the Belarusians are, what, why and how, who I am, who we are5

Swedish Cases

Prepared by Elina Vidarsson and Chiara Valli
Shoreline memorial

The Shoreline memorial is a raised stone with a plaque engraved with “Play Shoreline” (in swedish “Spela Shoreline”). The monument was put up in a large park (Slottsskogen) in Gothenburg, Sweden by two anonymous artists in 2014. The monument is dedicated to the memory of the Swedish alternative rock band, Broder Daniel and placed on the site where the band had its final concert in 2008.

However, the city’s Park and Nature Administration wanted it removed because it was put up without official approval. But this got a huge social media response. Both the public and famous Swedes objected to its removal and argued for the value of the monument. A Facebook campaign was created to convince the city’s Park and Nature Administration that the public wanted the monument to stay. After two days, the campaign was joined by 5,000 people. And finally, the political board of the city’s Park and Nature Administration made a formal decision to let the monument stay in the park.

In the fall of 2018, the monument was part of an exhibition called Public Luxury at the museum ArkDes (Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design) in Stockholm.

This case is very interesting because it is made by two artists that highlights the importance and relevance for the public. An anonymous creator writes:

It is not a dusty sword bearer or sad bust of any Czech poet who no one read. It is contemporary history and speaks to the souls of Gothenburg’s people6

The monument is also a memory of the Swedish youth subculture Popare which is inspired by Brit-pop and pop art. Some also call (or rather called) themselves BD popare where BD stands for Broder Daniel, one of the most popular bands of the subculture. So, it is interesting that a subculture that more or less died with the breakup of the band is in a way materialized through this monument. It is also interesting that this monument has done a ‘class journey’. It came from the bottom, was challenged by the decision makers and was approved from the top. And later it became part of an exhibition in one of the finest museums in Sweden.

Fascinate

Fascinate is a graffiti painting created on the outside wall of an industrial building in Bromsten, Stockholm. The painting was made 1989 by the two artists, Circle and Weird (Tariq Saleh), with consent from the property owner and was then the largest graffiti painting in northern Europe.

Its preservation was under discussion for many years (in the mid 90s Stockholm city introduced a Zero Tolerance policy against graffiti inspired by New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani), but in 2015, it became the first officially protected graffiti work in Sweden with much thanks to the researcher Jacob Kimvall and author Tobias Barenthin Lindblad.

In 2007, Jacob Kimvall and Tobias Barenthin Lindblad sent an application to the county administration board of Stockholm with a request that four graffiti paintings in Stockholm should become officially protected. They argued for the importance of the art form and the need of protecting it for the future. And they described their worry for the loss of cultural values and loss of cultural heritage due to the city’s Zero Tolerance policy.

This case is interesting because there has been and still is low tolerance against this art form. Still many find it’s hard to see the difference between art and vandalism and most of the graffiti is removed within 48 hours. So there is rarely any time to fight for protection. However, Kimvall and Barenthin Lindblad have as activists worked for protection and succeeded. According to Jacob Kimvall, Fascinate is one of the world’s oldest protected graffiti paintings. And its preservation value is not only that it is old, but part of the identity of Bromsten and that it represents a subculture (in contrast to elite culture).7

The Library of Unborrowed Books

In 2012, the Stockholm-based artist Meriç Algün Ringborg had an exhibition in Stockholm Public Library called The Library of Unborrowed Books. This first section consisted of 600 books that had never been borrowed at Stockholm Public Library. The second section was presented in Art in General in New York the following year and consisted of 1001 books that had never been borrowed at Center for Fiction in New York.

Meriç Algün Ringborg writes,

There is a selection made of what books accompany us into the future. Within education, for instance, the establishment of a canon is clear – it is the venue for the particular echo that determines what books persevere, those that are to be kept in the loop and read again by the next generation. This comes natural, a selection is necessary, and it’s made in different instances either conscious or unconscious. Nevertheless, the books that are left behind — those deemed useless or for unknown reasons are abandoned — still exist in physical form, organized and systematized within the one institution representative of knowledge in all its forms, the library.

The Library of Unborrowed Books bases itself on the concept of the library as an institution manifesting language and knowledge, of the passing of awareness and the openness to all types of people and literature. This work, however, comprises all the books from a selected library that have never been borrowed. The framework in this instance hints at what has been disregarded, knowledge essentially unconsumed, and puts on display what has eluded us.

Why these books aren’t ‘chosen,’ why they are overlooked, will never be clear but whatever each book contains, en masse they become representative of the gaps and cracks of history, or the bureaucratic cataloging of the world, the ambivalent relationship between absence and presence. In this library their existence is validated simply by being borrowed, underlining their being as well as their content and form by putting them on display in an autonomous library dedicated to the books yet to have been revealed.8

The Daddy come home project

Around 2014 the Swedish professor and film producer Kalle Boman started to work with the film director Ruben Östlund on a project called the Square. The idea was to create a sanctuary in the form of a white marked box, a zone which represents trust and equality. As a first step, they designed an exhibition at the art and design museum Vandalarum in Värnamo, Sweden. The municipality of Värnamo immediately got interested in the project and installed a permanent Square in the marketplace Flanaden that was finished for the opening of the exhibition.

As part of the art project, Boman and Östlund also started the project Daddy come home”(in Swedish “Pappa kom hem”) in 2015. The idea was and still is that they want the equestrian statue (known as “Kopparmärra”) of the Swedish King Charles IX on a horse, located in a central square in Gothenburg, to be moved. And they want it moved to another square a few hundred meters away, where a statue of the son of Charles IX, King Gustav II Adolf stands. The idea is that both kings should be taken down from their pedestals and that the wife of Charles IX, Christina of Holstein-Gottorp, also should have a statue next to her husband and son. The place where Charles IX now stands should later be replaced by their Square.9

The city of Gothenburg will celebrate 400 years in 2021 and Boman and Östlund argue that the city should revalue its landmarks and show that it’s a progressive city. According to Ruben Östlund, the removal of the kings is connected to the bigger question of “what should the public room be – and for whom?”10

Guerrilla-knitting

Yarn bombing, Lidköping, Sweden.

A form of ‘craftivism’, Guerrilla-knitting “takes that most matronly craft (knitting) and that most maternal of gestures (wrapping something cold in a warm blanket) and transfers it to the concrete and steel wilds of the urban streetscape.”11 Guerrilla-knitters have a feminist orientation and distance themselves from consumerism while giving new light to the hand-made, labor-intensive production.

Although this is an international movement (in the Global North, at least), it is widespread in Sweden also because of the zero-tolerance policy towards graffiti and street art.

This is as an example of alternative heritage making because it seeks to reinterpret the traditional handicrafts of knitting that has traditionally been performed by women in the private space of their homes and bring them out to the streets. It also represents a soft and warm feminist critique to the heritage of the male-domination in the graffiti art subculture. In Sweden it is particularly interesting because it also represents a way to get around the zero-tolerance policy against graffiti art. The guerrilla-knitting group Masquerade based in Stockholm states: “We often have political messages, but sometimes we don’t. Once, we decided to celebrate Sweden’s few female statues by dressing up four of them as super heroines.”12 This is a form of criticizing the male-dominated authorized heritage in Sweden through arts and crafts.

Haga

Haga was planned to be demolished in the 1970s. Through protests that saw a large involvement of artists and cultural workers (in the late 1970s-1980s it was the core of the punk music scene in Gothenburg), it became acknowledged as heritage and saved from demolition. Now it is one of the most gentrified areas in Gothenburg

This is as an example of how well-intentioned processes of heritagization in urban spaces often become co-opted and become instruments for gentrification. There are several examples of course, but this is a striking one on the ambivalence and risks of heritagization.


  1. https://www.breststories.com/?language=en

  2. http://teatrkh.com/en/performances/brest-stories-guide

  3. https://www.breststories.com/?language=en

  4. http://veha.of.by/mfm

  5. Interview of A. Liankevich for Znyata. https://znyata.com/o-foto/lenkevich-interview.html

  6. Lindqvist, Johan (2014). “Konstnärerna bakom Shoreline-stenen talar ut” in Göteborgs Posten http://www.gp.se/kultur/konstn%C3%A4rerna-bakom-shoreline-stenen-talar-ut-1.237193. Accessed 30, December 2018

  7. http://fascinategraffiti.blogspot.com/2011/03/about-intro.html

  8. http://www.mericalgun.com/bio.html

  9. https://www.facebook.com/pappakomhem/

  10. Jofs, Stina (2015). “Rubens ruta” in Vi. https://vi.se/rubens-ruta/ . Accessed 11 January, 2019

  11. Wollan, Malia (2011). “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side” in The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/19/fashion/creating-graffiti-with-yarn.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Accessed 21 December, 2018

  12. Rotschild, Nathalie (2009).“Sweden: Where graffiti is prohibited, urban knitters make a new street art” in the Christian Science Monitor https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2009/0922/sweden-where-graffiti-is-prohibited-urban-knitters-make-a-new-street-art. Accessed 21 December, 2018

RABBIT AND COCKROACH REFLECTIONS

This is an artistic-contribution to the project STATUS, which is about the artist’s role in changing society, an exchange between Belarus and Sweden. At the meeting in Brest in September 2018, I became fond of the idea of looking at myself as a research-rabbit. I proposed to our little study group to come up with questions about what artists are useful (a utility) for. I had the idea that the research group could program me to act out in that way. When telling this to my colleague Nils Claesson he commented: so you want to be a rabbit? One can read this angle of mine as a response to the parasite-tax that the Belarusian government has proposed. The proposed tax forbids artists to not be useful for society, whereas an artist group Flying Cooperation proposed to be a religious sect that they named EKZOKOID to avoid this tax.1

In our study group in Brest, we argued that the ‘art-audience’ and ‘public’ should come up with ideas on how art and activism could contribute to society. In that discussion, we came up with our group’s name ‘Heritagization’ since we all agreed that art and activism contributes to society and that art is a part of a process of ‘the making of heritage’. So after that we constructed questions (see questionnaire by Heritagization group), and since I am a little bit scared of working with small children, I began by asking small children. My idea was to use the answers – and form/shape/modulate them to become an artistic-activity and maybe act out the answers (making proposals for heritagization and how art and activism can contribute to heritage) in a performance in Minsk in spring 2019 – preferably a collective performance. But, after having done the research with children on the 1st of November in Stockholm, I am reconsidering my idea and feel that I really need to add a cockroach to this project.

A rabbit is a used and useful animal – a utility that can contribute to society or to a ‘master’ of some kind. A cockroach, rather, is a parasite – the cockroach is not useful and does not contribute to society except to themself and maybe a small circle of friends and family.2

How could the cockroach ask questions to society?

I plan to ask the questions above in a negative manner in Gothenburg in March. Asking them like: 1) What do you hate doing most of all? Name an activity you hate would be in the future?…. 2) Is there any object that you really hate and wish that the future would know about it?….and so forth 3) a place you wish would disappear?

After reading the Swedish magazine Hjärnstorm (released in November 2018) BELARUS/SWEDEN I understood the Belarusian artistic point of view more than on my journey to Brest in August-September. Maybe it was good to come ‘pure’ without much pre-understanding and to be open-minded and just listen. Anyhow, the idea of the rabbit came from wondering a lot about my own contribution and challenge in the project. I saw the journey to Brest as a research trip without knowing what to research…more than looking for the artist’s role in a changing society, I took a bit of reality from my life and my fellow artist colleagues. Well I felt like a rabbit, and I also felt a bit used to be honest. When reading a bit more about the Belarusian government’s proposal about the parasite-tax, I wondered if I should not try out another more-parasitic type of being? A cockroach – inspired by Kafka – would fit well into my artistic research perhaps. As an artist, I spend my time doing something for no reason, but there is somehow a natural continuity for artists always anyway…well I am a junky for new challenges and circumstances – so here I am! Working again and making a complex meta-perspective on who is leeching off of whom and for what and what for? For me it comes down to an altered Shakespearean question – to do or not to do? And what does art do anyway?

My artistic challenge is how I could transfer all the ‘public’ answers to a collective performance in Minsk. I should if possible have time to ask the same questions in Minsk that I will ask in Gothenburg in March 2019 and maybe before that see what answers the other people in the “‘Heritagization-group’” come up with.

Right now, today on December 27, 2018, I also like the difference between the center and the periphery a lot – and I am tempted to add a comment on that in a performance around making queues. Maybe a queue of cockroaches standing in a line to post letters in a post box. The letters could be about ideas of the future: what to leave behind for the future or not leave behind?

The future now is behind us, as is argued by Zygmunt Bauman in his final book Retrotopia,3 and he means that we love to look at the time that has passed. So this year…2018 (well soon over) is the year of “Cultural Heritage in the EU” – I am asking what we can do in order to keep this ‘making’ as heritage and keep some space and hope about the future? Can we re-future our situation? MAKE RE-FUTURISM MAYBE…..how to re-future our space? And to do that as an anomaly, to go against this idea of ‘building’ identity through history…..how can we do that? I love to ask these question as an artist.

So for me now it could be an idea – to make some new questions for Gothenburg in March 2019 before coming to Minsk… to go against what the people want the rabbit to do and instead be the cockroach – the uninvited, the not wanted – as a refusing to be useful as an artist – and after that let’s see what sort of performance it will be in Minsk in June 2019.

A screen print from Elina Vidarsson from a skype meeting in October 2018 between the study group and Rabbit Ingrid.

The first use of the questionnaire

On 1st of November 2018 I walk over the central square Sergels Torg in Stockholm city. It is cold and windy, but there is warm latin music with salsa rhythms coming from speakers outside on the square as well as in the ‘room for children’ where I am heading. It is an open studio space in a public library in Kulturhuset (Stockholm city cultural center and City theater). They have several open studios for different ages: 0-13, 10-13, and 14-25. Beside that there is an ordinary open library and other places for exhibitions, cinemas, concerts, and seminars.

First, one enters the library for children and then one enters the room ‘Bildverkstaden’ (Imagery workshop). There is a small fee for using materials and there are three pedagogues taking care of the children and the ones who accompany them.

When I enter, there are several groups working with cut papers to make figures for shadow-games. The pedagogues have prepared trays with working materials, and now the children and their parents, grandmothers, or caretakers are sitting next to them while the children are working on their figures.

I have talked to the staff, and they have read my questions; we have agreed that I should ask some of the most common/steady guests. They know that I want to use myself as an ‘research-rabbit’ and ask the children about what they think heritagization could be and what art and activism can contribute to. This is a good place to sit and talk because children and the ones accompanying them have time to sit down, and the Latin music in the speakers is not too loud, so conversation is possible. There are people coming to Kulturhuset from all over the town and from all socio-economic groups, so the mix is good.

Looking over the room, I think the children are from about 4 years until about 13 years. All gender among children and company is mixed.

The questions are about activities, objects, places:

1)

What do you like doing most of all? Some activity? Something you do in company or would do if you had some others to join you?

Is there anything you think you want to tell the children of the future about?

Why? What is special about ‘doing’ ‘making’ ‘saying’ or ‘action/activity’?

2)

Is there something (object) – a tool or a toy – that you are particular fond of?

Is there an object you want to tell the children of the future about? Why?

3)

Is there a place – around here – or somewhere else – that you are particularly fond of? Is that space or place or building important to save for the children of the future? Why?

4)

What do you think heritagization can do? What is your proposal for a heritagization-process?

5)

Do you have any idea what artists do today?

What do you think artists should/could do today?

I had conversation with

1) Tea (7 years) and her grandmother,

2) Milton (8) with his mother and sister Loella (13)

3) Zainda (10) with her caretaker and her brother Benjamin (7)

So all in all I have asked five (5) children how they look at heritagization and art. It is important to consider that the answers have been produced through conversations and are made in a culturally sensitive place where children’s handicrafts are in focus. Below I group the answers under the questions:

Some activity

– I love handicraft (ghosts and bats, make pearl-work, carpentry and such). I have made a post box with flowers, a post box that one could enter as if it was also a house.

– Build lego

– Play and go to school

– Make handicraft, and ‘klappramsor’ the rhythms and songs when one clap one’s hands together

– Drive cars and make pizzas

Some object

– A box with tools for handicrafts…pens and cups and such

– A thing built with lego, I want to show my children what I built as a child

– Cards, images about today

– Images from pets. I want to show how pumps for insulin looked like before and old music

– Trains and radio-cars

Some place

– An island, my summer island, my mother’s childhood summer house, an old house, I want to keep that old house, it is not stuck to the ground

– My living-room, the most important stuff is the TV – where you watch films and a big soft carpet

– The school, it has a big school-yard and with the rooms one can stay at when it is break, you educate yourself there and have plenty of friends

– France, except for the snails that people eat

– Tour de Eiffel

Heritagization

– Memory – heritage should be memory

– I want to tell about insulin-pumps, they used to be really big – now I have a small one (shows her stomach)

Artist contribution

– I have to think…build houses

– Build houses like this one – full of candy

– They should not take material that is artificial or waste natural resources we don’t have much of

– They could paint, and they could make cars that are run by garbage – or water – as long as the garbage does not smell too bad

Reflections on the interviews

Tea is commenting on her post box and her island that she wants to save – people are so close here so we do not need a post box on the island.

Asking children is in many ways asking their parents certain things. Small children want to do ‘right’ and answer correctly and want to understand why I, the rabbit, am asking these questions. So in that sense the children reproduce their parent’s (or their influencer’s) point of view – that is very clear in some of the answers, and also in some of the answers that there is a certain need to reflect the parents’ or brothers or sisters’ point of view.

From a conversation at Konstfack (Art college) about my STATUS-project and about activities for children – I learned there is a big difference in the countryside and suburbs compared to the city. In the city, one needs to stand in a queue (line) for hours, whereas in the country there are no lines or queues.


  1. Article: RITENS MASKERAD in Hjärnstorm 132, by EKZOKOID, December 2018, p. 62

  2. An application called TaskRabbit uses the animal to signify utility. The app pairs normal people as ‘taskers’, and they can contract to do bullshit jobs for other people who create short, temporary jobs or tasks to be fulfilled. It is a deskilling and making oneself useful for small pay, freelance tasks.

  3. Zygmunt Bauman, 2017. Retrotopia. Cambridge: Polity Press.

OPEN PANEL “THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST IN THE TRANSFORMATION OF SOCIETY”

With Anna Chistoserdova (Ў gallery, Minsk, BY), Nils Claesson (Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, SE), Linda Tedsdotter (Konstepidemin, Gothenburg, SE), and Oksana Haiko (KX, Brest, BY).

Brest, Belarus, September 30, 2018

Aliaxey Talstou: Hello everyone, my name is Aliaxey Talstou. Many of you may already know me since I worked with KX on several exhibitions. In the past days, we have been here with a team of artists and researchers from Belarus and Sweden to launch a project which will describe the role of art and actors within the art field in the transformation of society and talk about what we have common in our lives. Our project is called Status: the Role of Artists in the Transformation of Society. We decided that today we will hold an open panel discussion in order to meet the audience since being closed in our small groups is not our intention.

I will introduce our panelists: Anna Chistoserdova, art-manager and art-director of a Contemporary Art gallery Ў in Minsk; Linda Tedsdotter, artist and independent curator from Gothenburg; Nils Claesson, artist and researcher in the Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm; and Oksana Haiko, director of KX theatre and KX space, director and actress. My name is Aliaxey Talstou, I am a curator and artist from Minsk.

Today we will discuss what is art now and how today’s art is perceived by the public and society; we will discuss its role in society and the role of the authors who produce it. Also, we will view art from the position of authors themselves since there are three artists and an art manager with us at the panel. We will discuss transformations and changes: Contemporary Art seems to be something new for us, and thus it’s of importance to talk about how the changes brought by art impact our society and transform it. Also, we will touch upon the topic of institutions and spaces where art can be found: for example, now we’re in one of those, and thanks to KX for having us here today. And we will briefly talk about the potential of art, which is socially and politically engaged, and other topics such as financing art, self-organization of artists, and consolidation of effort to make change happen. First, I address several questions to our guests, and then we will invite the audience to join.

The first question is a rather broad one, and I will address it to Anna, who co-founded a Contemporary Art gallery and has been working there for so many years. I suggest starting with the audience: who is the audience of Contemporary Art practices now, and how are these practices perceived in our society? After Anna replies I suggest other panelists follow.

Anna Chistoserdova: First of all, thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion. My colleague Valentina Kiseleva and I started to work in the field of Contemporary Art fifteen years ago, so probably the audience – the audience of Contemporary Art, in particular – has influenced our professional development. The first gallery called ‘Podzemka’ was founded in 2004 on the almost scorched earth of Contemporary Art. Actually, I think that there were quite some Contemporary Art initiatives in Belarus in the 80s, but, unfortunately, the political fluxes caused changes in the art field as well, so our gallery gave an opportunity to artists who weren’t welcome in the official art spaces to present their works . From the other side, it is possible to work with any audience, and thus from the very first days, we found education and public discussions of great importance for us. And still, as a representative of the institution, I can say that if we realize our projects only according to the audience needs, expectations, and background, you will never see the art we bring to Belarus. Probably it is necessary to have these fifteen years over with in order to have the audience ready for the product you present. Though only yesterday we were told to go to church and confess our sins because of the content we show in our gallery. Thus I am thinking that, in working with the audience, there is double work to be done within the institution since the institution has to educate the audience. And the last thing I want to finish with: I wish that the perception of art as something that sows good, the eternal, and the beautiful, and serves as entertainment will be abandoned – especially in regards to the official position of governmental actors in the field of art.

A.T.: Thank you, Anna. Linda is working in Konstepidemin, our partner in this project. It is a big structure and a big community of artists which is comprised of 130 studios and situated in Gothenburg. Linda, please tell us about your audience in Gothenburg.

Linda Tedsdotter: Konstepidemin is a studio complex, and it was from the beginning squatted. It was an epidemic hospital, and when it was closed, some artists started to squat the space. And during the years, more artists have been moving in. It’s all different kinds of artists: fine artists, ceramicists, theater actors, filmmakers, photographers, and musicians. And we have about 130 artists. During the years, artists have started to do public events: we are centrally situated in a very attractive area in the city so at least many of us find it very important to keep working very intensely with publics to secure our position in the city especially because there’s a lot of economic interest in this area. So we have both… there’s a lot of interest in meeting the audience, but also there’s pressure, and a lot of us feel pressured to show the reason we exist. Of course, there are 130 artists, and we have a lot of opinions, of course also a lot of different kinds of wills, and a lot of individualistic people because we are artists. But we have some organized groups, and we have a gallery group: one gallery which is a typical, traditional white cube. And we have two other more experimental scenes. This gallery group is choosing artists to be shown at the gallery, and they are mostly working in the group and showing just what they think is good and not much about the audience. They are mostly thinking about the artists that they are showing and to give them an opportunity to show, to have a platform. It’s really hard to answer how we work with the public because first of all there are so many individuals.

A.T.: The last year I was invited to stay in a residency during the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, and I saw the audience which visited your events and also I remember about BRA 10 – a big party which is held in Gothenburg every month. It is possible to meet many different people there, so who are they, who is the audience?

L.T.: If you are talking about BRA 10 – because there are so many different scenes in Konstepidemin – it was an initiative from a group of artists in Konstepidemin. We really felt that we were missing something: we were missing a space, a meeting spot, so we created it. We wanted to have a place to go to at the end of the month when we are broke and to be able to meet people, to meet other ‘culture’ people from the city. So BRA 10 consists of people who work with art in Gothenburg or in the areas around. It’s a big range of ages – people from preparatory school around 18 up to 80 – but it’s all artists.

A.T.: Therefore I think that the art here deals with the audience, which is itself related to art. It is probably a paradox, but quite a characteristic one of when artists are the main audience at vernissages and art-related events. But let’s move to the local situation. Oksana, please tell us about the way and how KX works, and who is visiting you? I see familiar faces here today, but nevertheless – whom are you working for? Also, I wanted to ask why are you doing this? As I understand, you are the theater, and KX is its continuation. How did you set your goals when you started this new activity?

Oksana Haiko: You made this question so complicated! The theater is turning eighteen soon, and the space has been existing for almost four years. So I don’t even know how to start since I planned to talk about a slightly different topic. I think the most distinctive thing is that we are situated in the province. I will use this word though I am persuaded that there is no center and periphery. Because I saw what people do in the most godforsaken spots, as we may perceive them, and how these villages or small towns became huge cultural centers. Nevertheless, I will use this word now because in Belarus the province is in our minds. Though when I am talking with people from Minsk who are involved in similar activities, they say that similar problems with the audience are frequent in Minsk as well. Nevertheless, a couple of words about the theater: it has started and has been operating for a very long time as an activist project. People were working without any money and rarely received fees  – and mostly only then from the festivals. Everything we did was dictated by the idea that we have to do art which had to influence the world somehow, change the world and reflect our critical perception of what was around us, and we continue to follow the same principles. Only lately we started to organize as many events as possible. There was a feeling of the lack of cultural events in general: lectures, meetings, people coming up with new ideas and who show, examples of new ways of living, or various creative practices, and so forth. We understood that if we didn’t do that then nobody would; so we started. We didn’t have the space that we have at that moment so we utilized various venues across the city. Beyond that, we had an unrealized need to organize everything and anything because, as a theater, we stayed for thirteen years in cultural centers owned by the city administration where we couldn’t organize all the things we wanted because of censorship, committee revisions, and prohibitions. Probably for those years, we learned how to organize anything: festivals – since we held some – and so forth.

A.T.: So who are the visitors?

O.H.: I should say that depending on what we do the audience is different. Talking about this space, since it is operating as a gallery, the audience is quite narrow. Therefore I will come back to the word ‘province’ because we discuss it a lot when we gather together as a team. We discuss how difficult it is to perceive the art which we want to show here in Brest. From the very beginning, we set the bar, aiming to exhibit art which critically views contemporaneity. For example, we would like to work with artists from Brest, but we don’t exhibit them there because in our opinion there’s no art to exhibit which would fit our standards. People who visit exhibitions here are part of a particular community. We are always trying to find new ways of attracting new people, for example, students. Anna is absolutely right that there’s work to be done with the audience, but sometimes we get too depressed. From the other side, there’s an example of the last theater project realized here. It was last year in June and a final performance of an acting studio which worked in our theater. We made this performance about the very acute events which took place in Brest that year: the construction of an accumulator plant and protests around that. It was a rather loud business. So the people who came here were not part of the usual audience which normally visits our exhibitions. All this space was filled by people, and they were sitting on the chairs, on the floor – everywhere. There were activists from the protest and those whom apparently these activists invited here. We’ve never had this amount of visitors before. It demonstrates that if – with our art – we touch the truly painful points for our community, it attracts people and many of them are the people who were not necessarily assimilated to the arts discourse.

A.T.: You described the situation very well. I was listening to you and thinking that I know what is going on and how to work around that. But I think that, in the case of KX or Ў Gallery, there is the intent to make changes and a will to make a difference. We were discussing how to change our audience and work with the people. One way or another, I see that both art workers who operate either as organizers or art-managers, or artists themselves, have a will to declare their agenda. I think that of course there is a difference between how art oriented towards entertainment vs. art oriented towards change, operates. Therefore I think that the work of artists itself has some different aims: it is not always to get a wage, or nor only, but also to have some kind of social influence. Nils, you are researching the artist working conditions. What is the situation in Sweden? Or maybe you have any examples from other countries?

Nils Claesson: If we are discussing these questions about the artist’s role in changing society, then we must ask ourselves what is changing society? And I would say that you have two things that really change society: one is information technology, and that’s an international thing. It’s not national because we all have mobiles, we all have computers, and we all go on the Internet. And another thing that affects and changes society is global warming and the global ecological crisis. And that’s also something that cannot be solved on the national level. So how should art respond to those changes of society? Maybe the artists should be – you know it’s an old saying that you hear the truth from crazy people and children. So art plays the role of crazy people or children. Or maybe art plays the role of a mushroom. Because you need to know something about mushrooms to pick them and eat them. Because some mushrooms are really tasty and they will make things tastier. And some mushrooms will give you hallucinations. And some mushrooms will kill you. So it’s a complicated thing with mushrooms. Sometimes you think that people have been eating mushrooms for thousands of years, but how did they accumulate all this knowledge about mushrooms? What happened to all the mistakes? So if you have an art audience, you have to educate them about mushrooms. And now we have information technology that’s really affecting people’s private lives because when you are on Facebook, Facebook is a commercial company, and it’s not really for free. They get a lot of information about you. So you are basically working for free for Facebook. Art can be an alternative to that kind of information flow. And questions to art… So art as a totality can question the monopoly of tradition and new media to interpret reality.

A.T.: So it means that if artists are mushrooms, some of them can be poisonous?

N.K.: Artists are not automatically good people. Artists are not a collective, and they feel as individuals. And in history you could buy artists for money, and they will sell themselves. But I am still an artist.

L.T.: Can I just add about the mushroom? Mushroom is also a good example because most of its life is underground: its whole system is under the ground.

A.T.: I think we can move further and focus our attention on Nils’s remark about artists being sold: that there are many who can pay artists and buy them, hire them.

A.Ch.: On the other hand, there is a certain amount of artists who can buy whatever they like.

A.T.: When we are stepping upon the uncertain path that leads to change, we need to tackle the issue of information technology or ecology, as Nils puts it. There are actors who are buying artists’ labor, time, and commission certain work. But who are the actors of change? We gathered here to discuss what the change could be like: what are the conditions of our work, and what do we want to change? But it’s quite obvious that there are certain organizations and institutions, which offer us jobs. Hence I think that for many in the artistic community, a community of like-minded artists, this is a question of the concurrence of individual interests and interests of a commissioner.  Do they speak the same language? I would like to address this topic. After all, we are working with changes, and we probably have certain cultural and artistic projects which advocate these changes. Anna, I know you have to face it oftentimes.

A.CH.: We face it every day. Currently, with the participation of artists, we are working on a project which hopefully improves or changes the situation on Oktyabrskaya street. It is a project initiated by the gallery, and it is focusing on the promotion of a non-discriminatory approach to work among the various institutions that are based on Oktyabrskaya. We only recently realized ourselves how different discrimination could happen and that it has many shapes we luckily don’t think of. We are accustomed to seeing visible, which is, for example, discrimination or social exclusion of people with various forms of disabilities; but there is also ageism, sexism and various types of discrimination of the representatives of smaller communities. For us, this project would become first of all a challenge since we don’t know how many of our colleagues will support our idea. In fact, there are a lot of such questions. Probably the first challenge that became a certain catalyst for a change was the choice of the Belarusian language as the official language of the gallery’s communication nine years ago. And nine years ago it was very often considered to be a political gesture, to which we did not agree: it can be a gesture with regards to cultural policy, but in no way can this political statement be attached to the gallery. Therefore, I think that this kind of change, transformation, is a joint work in which completely different groups of participants are included: the gallery workers, artists, and society as a whole. I hope that starting with some small steps and examples, these practices will be adopted by others in the future. In my opinion, it is not the easiest or fastest, but possible ways of transforming society or discussing and solving some social issues that seems to me the most possible in our country.

A.T.: And my following question is: does the city or governmental institutions somehow participate in this initiative? Do you work with them?

A.Ch.: We assume that one of the results of this project will be a research: a specific mapping of the street, which we want to present to the city authorities as a good example of how to make the city friendly. On the other hand, the first exhibition which opened a new gallery space was called Without Exceptions. In it, together with artists, we explored various types of exclusion from life and society. And one of the issues that we discussed was the friendliness of cultural institutions to people with various disabilities, at least at the level of infrastructure. It turned out that out of eight governmental institutions that we visited in Minsk, only two were ready to accommodate at least a person in a wheelchair or with visual impairment. After that, we conducted a series of trainings on the topic of mediation with representatives of these institutions and, roughly speaking, on inclusion in its various forms. As I see it now, there are already some changes in the approach to their work. In our practice, this is one of the examples of the ways of changing. And I myself believe in evolution rather than in revolution.

A.T.: Thank you. Linda, I found really interesting the ways in which Konstepidemin works with the city and different types of funding: governmental and non-governmental. I know that you have a lot of projects in Gothenburg as well as collaborative projects abroad in various countries, for example, in Senegal in Africa.  How do artists who form a community react to that; how do they cooperate?

L.T.: There are so many questions!

N.K.: Select one.

L.T.: First of all, we get funding from the city and the region. Then, we are applying for money for different kinds of projects. And for that we can apply for different fundings: governmental funding and so on. But that’s mostly the public work. For the studios, we are paying rent. Before it was so much easier because we organized activities for children, now it’s more like everyone’s studio. But that group is working pedagogically mostly for young people. And that group has since a year ago started a satellite in one of the suburbs. Because we have a huge problem in Gothenburg with segregation. So before we had a studio to which parents could take their kids, and they work with art, with pedagogues. But that’s like privileged kids because they live in the city center. so that group that works with the children pedagogy applied for money to do that satellite. They have different kinds of satellites, but they have one space that they actually rent.

A.T.: What was the intention of this group?

L.T.: I guess it was also to change society. I’m not so much into these groups. It’s been going on for so many years, and I guess the intention at the beginning is different from the intention now. Because it’s individual studies, working voluntarily in these groups, so it is changing depending on who is in the group. That’s one way to work with the city and the region. But then we are also trying to work for the artists in the city and the region. For example we are bringing people to the residency program, for the first time for the people who are coming, but also to bring in knowledge and other people to the city to make it more attractive for the people who live there. And we are also trying to get people and artists in the city, in the region to go out and spread their wings outside, in Senegal for example. I don’t know if it was the answer to your question.

A.T.: I would specify: what is the mission of artists who go to Senegal? Is it, perhaps, some type of an exchange?

L.T.: I mean all projects at Konstepidemin are so different from each other, because it is individual. For example, with Senegal: there was one artist from Dakar who came to Konstepidemin and wanted to do a collaboration with Konstepidemin. They have a Biennial in Dakar, and we have a Biennial in Gothenburg, and Konstepidemin is working with an off-program with an extended program of a Biennial. And this artist from Dakar, Mor Faye, he is working with the off-program in Dakar at their Biennial. So the initiative came from Dakar. And we were a group of people from Konstepidemin who were very interested because we don’t have any collaboration within the continent of Africa at all, and especially not West Africa. So it’s that simple. And then we see where it goes.

A.T.: I think these are very good examples. I think it would be interesting for us to collaborate with someone from Asia or Africa too.  We are slowly crossing the one hour mark, and I am reaching the end of my questions. But before turning over to the public to ask their questions, I would finish with the following one. I think it will be a question to all the participants, and you can answer it quite briefly without reflecting too much since it can be too difficult. What do you think us, as actors in the art field, can and want to change in our societies and our local context, not only on the world scale? Oksana, let’s start with you. You finely described us your activities in Brest and talked about what led you there. Hence briefly, could you tell us what do you want and what could you change?

O.H.: If briefly, I would like people to develop critical thinking. Non-criticality and passivity are the biggest problems. And I think that everything we do is trying to change it.

А.Т.: Nils, what do you think?

N.K.: I would agree. That’s the role of art. And then I can raise the political questions: global warming, the crisis for ecology. I think an artist must be engaged in one way or another in that issue because it’s the question of survival if you want the future. And then in Sweden, we have a quite aggressive ultra-right racist party, so we started a network using Facebook called Cultural Workers Against Fascism, and now we have a network of 4,000 artists and cultural workers. So now we have to see if they can do something. We don’t know, we will see if clicking on Facebook translates to a political action.

O.H.: And for example, some people from Brest are commenting on my Facebook page that there is no nationalism in Belarus.  

А.Т.: Linda, what about you?

L.T.: I actually agree; I always say that art’s mission is to make people think. For the rest of the society everyone wants people to think like ‘me’: if I am having a company of course I want to make everyone think like me, so they can buy from me. And I mean everyone is sort of trying to force their own opinions on people, but I think the most important thing is to make people think themselves. And doing very simple math: I mean everything you do will make a difference. And I do agree with Nils: I think we have a huge problem with the environment, and it’s not something that we can run away from. But then when it comes to art, and we can’t put too much responsibility on it… I mean it’s up to us as human beings, and then we can use whatever we do. If I am an artist I can use that, and the person who’s doing something else can use what they are doing to get some kind of result, to create something. Or we just all keep doing it, and then we are all gonna die and then the problem is solved. Because we are the main problem.

A.Ch.: I agree with all the previous speakers. But besides critical thinking, which is unfortunately not taught here and its development is not encouraged, I would really like people to start forming their personal opinions in regards to what is happening to them and to their environment: because civil society, which is rather nonexistent here, is a group of people who have their personal opinions. And it’s not enough to only form it; it is necessary to learn how to defend it.

A.T..: Thank you, Anna, thank you, colleagues. Please ask your questions now.

Question from the audience: Oksana, I would like to ask you about the art from people in Brest. You mentioned that you would like to see more local artists in the gallery, but it is problematic on different levels. But what exactly would you like to exhibit here?

O.H.: For the last two years we formulated the mission of the gallery more precisely because before it was a bit more blurred. We used to recognize them before, but only now we formulated them directly as follows: we support and are happy to see in the gallery socially engaged and critical art. So considering the artists from Brest… We don’t want to exhibit just lovely images with beautiful female bodies, still life painting, or landscapes, as it usually happens here. Though we were thinking, what if we exhibit Yuri Stylski? Just to put a canvas on one wall, a canvas on another, and there will be a crowd and all fans of Stylski will come. In other words, we exhibit art which raises questions about the problems we have in our society. We exhibited and supported here several exhibitions of deviant art – art made by people who live in closed psychoneurological dispensaries. They are really great artists, and they need to be exhibited in order to let the audience know about them. These are the people who cannot exhibit themselves or buy a spot in a gallery. So we would like to work with this kind of projects. Did I answer your question?

Question from the audience: Yes, thank you. I will ask another one: is art able to change the world not only in terms of culture but also socially and politically?

N.K.: Yes! Art can work, you know… Usually, art wakes people up. It can be like a fire alarm. That can be the function of art.

O.H.: When I was preparing for today’s event I remembered a case from 2004 when I was invited to the city administration office and had a very difficult conversation there. I was threatened by KGB and similarly was told that my art was a threat itself.

A.Ch.: A threat to national security?

O.H.: No, that it is sometimes worse than direct actions. I was astonished because the theater was only a few years old. In other words, our art was recognized as dangerous, as possessing some potential to change the situation. I was told that I’d better raise my own children than changing the world.

L.T.: I agree with what was said. I mean that the ‘bad parts’ of politics want to change what art shows, so I guess it has some impact on the society. It is really hard for me to see that but I assume it is some kind of a threat. I mostly think it has to do with free will because it’s easier to control people if they don’t think so much.

O.H.: Can I ask a question? It’s a question to you, Anna: these political graffiti which appear in Minsk and is painted over the next day, what is that? Obviously, the paranoia of authorities gets involved, but is it for a reason? Do these graffiti have any effect?

A.Ch.: Well, at least the Shchetkina wall is worth something! But anyway, they are painting over absolutely everything, not necessarily political statements because nobody canceled ‘fundamental suprematism’. You know, from one side we live in a country where any expression of creative freedom and opinion gets painted over too fast, censored, negated. From the other side, you ask a good question, and Linda also addressed that: sometimes it is very interesting to think about the other side when art becomes a servant for current authorities. So to think about the ways, oh, how this instrument works, this instrument of propaganda, this instrument of promotion of the great ideas which state leaders promulgate – this is interesting, and this is worth reflecting upon, especially since nowadays the world experiences the reinforcement of alarming processes, for example, the rise of nationalism. In view of this, I suggest you to watch the movie about North Korea, Under the Sun, and it will become clear that there is a country in this world which exists according to the laws of the theater: North Korea is a global immense political theater with stunning scenography. And it is a film about the creation of the film. Art can do a lot, it’s important to not forget about it.

A.T.: It could have been a good ending, but I guess we have more questions.

Question from the audience: How difficult is it to deliver ideas or problems to a viewer through art, and how does society react to that? How to make people understand an idea or a problem and respond to it?

O.H.: It all very much depends on the quality of art. If art is good, it is possible to deliver the ideas; and even if the best ideas are realized on an unsatisfactory level it can become useless in the end. But it’s just my first thought.

Question from the audience: And how do people in Brest react to problems of this kind?  

O.H.: Do you mean reacting to problems themselves or art which illustrates these problems?

Question from the audience: I mean problems illustrated in art, of course.

N.K.: But art should not be an illustration of a problem. Art has its own dynamics. And sometimes the dynamic of art can address social or political issues, but not always. But you have a tradition of some kind of performance of art. That was also big in Soviet times, and in Poland, in Czechoslovakia – socialist countries. Artists developed the strategy of making actions which could influence people, but it was just an action that created some kind of a myth or a story. And nowadays media is the society. If we talk about today, I have one example. It was one artist in Sweden called Anna Odell, and she made a performance when she pretended to be crazy and wanted to commit suicide by standing on a bridge in the middle of the night. And she was arrested by the police, and they took her to a mental hospital. She had to spend a couple of days in a clinic. And then when she revealed herself as an artist it became a huge scandal in the whole of society. And then Anna Odell could address why people do get crazy in a society, how mental patients are treated by society. That’s how a little performance led to a long debate. She even had to pay a fine, but people helped to pay it. So sometimes art can really wake up people. I think if you go to Wikipedia you can find an article in English about her.

Question from the audience: Can only Contemporary Art change society, or are there examples from Art History of the XIX, XVIII or XV century when artists influenced society in a certain way? Is it an aim of Contemporary Art only to interact with society and solve certain problems?

L.T.: You mean the art that was contemporary at the time it influenced, or you mean that it’s only Contemporary Art today that influences?

Question from the audience: What is called Contemporary Art nowadays – the second half of the XX century.

N.K.: I would say there are a lot of examples, and we need to have a long lecture now! One of the most known pieces – Goya’s The Disaster of War, but that’s old. I didn’t live in those days, I don’t know how people were reacting.

O.H.: Let’s not forget what Anna was saying: we are talking about a somewhat positive impact of art on society, but there is also art which serves the regime in establishing a system, and I think there are enough examples of that in history.

A.Ch.: In the Middle Ages, it was the church.

O.H.: Art is influential yet even if it influences the other way round.

N.C.: But sometimes… There is an artist in Sweden called Britta Marakatt-Labba; she is coming from Sami minority, and she makes textile art. Sami people are a minority, and they live in the North and quite maltreated by the Swedish state because the Swedish state basically took a lot of their land because the land was rich. She’s been active in Sweden and Norway for many years but nobody really cared about her. But then it was the curators of Documenta, a big European exhibition, and they got interested in Marakatt-Labba’s work and showed it on Documenta. And then they made a big exhibition on Documenta with her work about the history of Sami people made in textile, and then afterwards Swedish art curators and institutions started to get interested – that’s how it works.

A.T.: I think we stop here. Thank you very much for your participation and for being here today; thank you KX for hosting us.







QUESTION CARD GAME. STATUS: THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST IN THE TRANSFORMATION OF SOCIETY

It is very important to ask questions, and it is nonetheless important to repeat them over and over again, no matter how trite they seem. Answers may alter with time. They may be and, most likely, will be different depending on the context, cultural, and social environment, as well as individual mood, age, gender, or character of the respondent. Even a quantitative analysis of the answers can hardly provide any satisfactory result. The answers allow one to determine the range of diverse interests and points of view, and not to find out who is right or wrong, who knows more, or “who knows how to.” Such an understanding of the very essence of asking questions frees participants from having to adjust the answers to the expectations of the questioner and allows them to be sincere and effective in identifying and solving problems.

Any question posed commands a promise of an answer. The promise lies at the heart of this wondrous language construct and guarantees its implementation. In this regard, an unanswered question is no less interesting, since, similar to an unfulfilled promise, such a question can have a lasting effect. It is necessary to ask questions, even if it is ‘futile’.

Questions are also fraught with position and content. A few years ago I gave a lecture on the art of performance for students of the School of Dance and Circus in Stockholm. The lecture consisted entirely of questions, without a single affirmative sentence. As then, in an attempt to explain such a fluid and free phenomenon in art as performance, it seemed more correct to formulate the problematics of the STATUS project by the means of questions.

The question cards presented here are the result of a three-day meeting in Gothenburg in November 2017, at which Belarusian and Swedish colleagues developed the STATUS project. Notes of discussions, suggestions, and issues raised, were reworked into a card set of questions which we subsequently used as a warm-up game at a seminar in Brest in September 2018. Drawings on these cards are partly the documentation of the Gothenburg meeting, partly the collages of motives from my photos.

There are no strict rules in this card game so you can create them yourselves.