It wasn't about the coffee

© Vadim Felyk

On May 12, the pre-auction exhibition of PROSTO.ART will open at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, the country’s main art institution. This is the first auction in Ukraine from which all of the proceeds will be used to support independent, non-commercial contemporary art. The Foundation Center for Contemporary Art, the only non-commercial Ukrainian art institution with 15 years of experience, organized the auction and will manage the funds. A special board of experts that included art historians, critics, curators and museum professionals selected 80 art works from among those donated by 67 leading Ukrainian artists, representing three generations of Ukrainian contemporary art.

KORYDOR presents a series of interviews taken by artist AlevtinaKakhidze with PROSTO.ART participating artists: Zhanna Kadyrova, Vasyl Tsagolov, Vlada Ralko and Tiberiy Silvashi.

“Do we need contemporary art centers? Not museums or galleries, but contemporary art centers?” Before I could ask this question of Zhanna Kadyrova, Vasyl Tsagolov, Vlada Ralko and Tiberiy Silvashi, I had to answer it myself.

And my answer is as follows: art in the 21st century can’t develop without contemporary art centers. In my opinion, by their very mission, contemporary art centers are primarily interested in the creation of art. Art is preserved in museums, art is presented in galleries in a particular way, and in contemporary art centers art is located in the center. Art in contemporary art centers can be experimental, useless, poor, new…Contemporary art centers are the most humane institutions in relation to artists and the most unbiased of art itself.

Alevtina Kakhidze: Did you know that your video work “Milk Sausages” was shown on April 25, 2010, as part of curator Yanina Prudenko’s project “Crooked Mirrors: The History of Ukrainian Media Art in Words and Moving Images”?

Vasyl Tsagolov: No, I wasn’t there. It’s an old work…. A good one… Home video from 1994.

A.K.: 1994! Right on.

V.T.: I felt so great making this work. Every day we were filming, I was writing something, of course I had the scenario in my head – we shot it all in ten days. I wanted to parody some thriller, although my own inventions are in there too… it turned out nicely. And yet there was no reaction from the “gang” [tusovka] after the screening at the Blank Art gallery in Kyiv. What’s that about?

A.K.: So there was no feedback?

V.T.: No, not even from those who we considered high-minded.

A.K.: And how did this work end up in Stockholm, at the exhibition “After the Wall: Art and Culture in Post-Communist Europe” in 1999?

V.T.: Curator David Elliot arrived [in Kyiv], he was shown some artists’ works. He liked this work [“Milk Sausages”] very much. He took it for the exhibition. And when I went there for the opening, I was impressed. It turns out that he wasn’t just flattering me, it was clear that he actually really liked my work. He kept dragging other international curators over to look at it.

A.K.: I lived in Stockholm for 5-6 months and…

V.T.: What, at that time?

A.K.: No, I wasn’t making art at that time. I was there later [in 2008] for an artist’s residency. And it seemed that so much time had passed, but quite a few people in Stockholm told me about that exhibition as a significant event.

V.T.: That’s where I got my start…

A.K.: So then I’ll ask the most important question, the one that brought me here. You’ve already begun answering it by agreeing to this interview. Here’s my question: are contemporary art centers (not museums or galleries – but specifically contemporary art centers) necessary? Without even thinking, you answered – of course! So my next question is: why?

V.T.: Honestly, I can’t imagine how things would have been without the Soros Center. And I’m not just saying that or giving a compliment. Just imagine the situation – if you can imagine it: it’s the early 1990s, a complete dump, everything for coupons, there’s nothing in the stores. You can imagine what was happening in people’s minds and spirits. And who needed this art – in a commercial or non-commercial sense – anyway? And here we are – artists, such retards! If this Center didn’t exist, I can’t even imagine… Maybe there would have been nothing, or it all would have happened with a ten-year delay.

A.K.: What’s interesting is that young critics today speculate that the Soros Center’s role was not actually that significant! That its mission of importing the international context [into Ukraine] was not that critical to the emergence of that movement you’re talking about.

V.T.: I’ll put it this way: there was something in Moscow, but nothing was going on here in the 1990s. In other words, those who believe that everything would have turned out okay even without the Soros Center are wrong. It’s important that the Center was a place where we hung out, you could go there at any time just for coffee. Though it wasn’t really about the coffee.

A.K.: It was important to have a place where you could always go?

V.T.: Yes, it was important! And now, let’s say, the Pinchuk Art Centre performs these functions on another level.

A.K.: But they don’t give artists coffee there.

V.T.: Of course, it doesn’t have the same atmosphere of familiarity.

A.K.: And yet you liked that place [Soros Center] and its atmosphere?

V.T.: I did then.

A.K.: And now?

V.T.: I’m no longer that age, I don’t need that coffee. I’m kidding! But here [PAC] they have all the same functions: educational, and there are competitions here.

A.K.: But you know how this educational function is criticized?

V.T.: That they exhibit foreigners?

A.K.: No, that’s not the issue. It’s that the discussions are merely formal and don’t meet the needs of Ukrainians. That’s what the critics say!

V.T.: That’s provincial nitpicking. Why? What else do we have? Well, it was always like this – here you’ll never be any good.

A.K.: I can’t not return to what you were saying. For you, the Soros Center at that time was a kind of meeting place, and now, in a certain sense, the Pinchuk Art Centre has replaced that Soros Center.

V.T.: Only from the outside.

A.K.: And if we now imagine all the young artists, today there are more than there were then.

V.T.: More in quantity, more educated. Perhaps some of them are smarter than we were – I don’t deny it.

A.K.: By the way, it’s interesting that intelligence is a criterion for being an artist.

V.T.: At least I won’t deny the possibility that some are more intelligent than us. But so far I haven’t seen them.

A.K.: Really?

V.T.: Smarter – perhaps, but more talented – no.

A.K.: And what does that mean – more talented?

V.T.: I’m talking about the direct connection with visual practice (not texts and not theory). Here I see some problems.

A.K.: Then perhaps let’s turn our attention to your project that’s currently on view [Vasyl Tsagolov’s project “Fear Has Many Eyes” at the PAC at the time of this interview]? Here’s what I wanted to ask: a long time ago I saw a work of yours, in the exhibition “Come-In” at the CCA (at NaUKMA) in 2003. Do you remember?

V.T.: It was an installation – a television studio with a poster imitating a TV backdrop.

A.K.: May I tell you what I think about this work?

V.T.: It was an important work.

A.K.: The poster with its image hung on the wall, and there was a TV next to it showing that very image from the poster. And here’s what’s interesting: if we imagine that one is looking only at the television, it’s impossible to understand – is the image from the poster or was it filmed directly from nature? And what if we take the view that you demonstrated so clearly and simply in that past work and transfer (this knowledge) to the project that’s currently being exhibited in the Pinchuk Art Centre? Did you notice this connection?

V.T.: I didn’t just notice the connection – I’ve been working with this for several years. All my seeing and thinking is structured around the concept of transmission as related to television and media in general.

A.K.: Then I’ll allow myself to say that that past work explains how fears and phobias are constructed.

V.T.: Yes, this is one of the key works in the project “Hard Television” about the peculiar role of the television studio. This place – the studio – determines what exists and what doesn’t. Understand? All reality is garbage. It doesn’t exist, if it doesn’t get into “actual” – television – reality. And this work that you’re talking about is programmatic to a certain extent.

A.K.: I’m sorry that the people who come to the PAC won’t see this work. You must agree, this is a totally new audience, different from the audience of the former Soros Center. And they see only this new project, which emerged from your past work.

V.T.: You could say that there is a definite connection, but it’s not only linear…

A.K.: But even so, that work holds the beginning, where you reveal how everything (transmission, television, media) is set up, and in this new project you’re already ironizing.

V.T.: There was no irony in that work! To a great extent, this was a cold, theoretical work, a sort of “liknep” [literacy campaign].

A.K.: Absolutely. And it seems to me that you could have also shown that work here in the PAC. You didn’t have that desire?

V.T.: From time to time someone pulls out the old, but I see a problem with that. I don’t want to dig around in the past. Why are we all about the past? Perhaps it’s better to make something that will be in 20 years.

A.K.: So it’s not interesting to you?

V.T.: I don’t find it interesting. The past makes me queasy.

A.K.: Then maybe someone ought to show these works, take the trouble, if there is faith in them. And you just have to be generous.

V.T.: If…