The risks of isolation

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: I already stated the main question: are contemporary art centers (not museums or galleries – but specifically contemporary art centers) necessary? I mean, such centers that would take the role of popularizing and enlightening; the function of educating not only viewers, but also artists; that would offer expertise in the midst of countless questions about contemporary art; and would also be a place for meeting?

Vlada Ralko: You’ve practically said it all for me. It’s both an educational function and a part of artists’ lives… In fact, it’s impossible to confine oneself to gallery work. Then an artist’s work, little by little, but inevitably, becomes commercialized. No matter how serious a gallery project is, all the same, a gallery has a certain purpose, and there’s no way to evade the fact that galleries sell artworks.

A.K.: Yes, according to its classical definition from the beginning of the 20th century.

V.R.: There’s nothing terrible about it, but I can’t imagine that such a significant European center like Berlin, for example, would limit itself to just galleries. And that’s considering that in Berlin and Vienna and New York there are excellent galleries that show noncommercial projects. And that’s not even the point, simply, there should be places where art feels utterly free from any compromises. An artist should be able to allow himself an absolutely free and crazy project where he thinks of nothing else but the realization of his idea, and where he will be just as free as in his own studio. Because no matter how you look at it, showing a project in a gallery leads to the thought that there’s a potential buyer somewhere …

A.K.: While I was preparing for this interview, I was thinking of you like this: that you and Andriy Sahaydakovskyi are two figures in Ukrainian art for whom all this (what you were just talking about) “doesn’t matter.” Even the lack of contemporary art centers…

V.R.: To a large extent, when you’re working, you’re least concerned with what will happen to the work afterward, after it’s carried away somewhere from the studio. And that’s right, that’s the only condition. Of course, a bunch of nuances and interferences come up, it’s impossible to imagine an ideal vacuum… For painting is, after all, very concrete.

The thing is that along the way from the conception, the initial idea – which for me is a very important stage in a work’s creation – this very physical-material aspect of painting transforms a lot in the process, often turning the first plans in a surprising direction. What happens, say, with what I thought up: movement from an ordered idea to chaos; then, eventually, a certain new order emerges from this chaos; and with time I release chaos into the work again – and so forth, step by step, until I feel a point of support, a surface, the boundary between order and chaos.

I’m not talking about painting or about the artistic process in general. I’m talking about what I do, and what for me has particular value. So perhaps, because of this materiality, I don’t succeed in detaching myself from the world, from the situation in which we exist. Overall, what I do gives me a feeling of protection and freedom. But one way or another, encountering a lack of understanding or, more precisely, unwillingness to understand, such militant reluctance, it all vexes me. Two things amaze me: on the one hand, this incomprehension – it seems like an impenetrable wall; on the other hand, I’m astonished by the absolutely true and precise readings of my works by quite different people, who may be sufficiently removed from art. These are two, in essence, diametric positions…

A.K.: It seems to me that when something is not so clearly defined (when there are no words) – I’m talking about your painting practice right now, it’s not straightforward – it’s possible to avoid traumas.

V.R.: I also used to think so. But you can’t avoid them… Now and again you receive painful blows. Although, for the most part, I’m completely unconcerned with what others think about me, more precisely, it shouldn’t influence what I do in any way.

A.K.: That I understand, but traumas are something else. They don’t depend on what people think of you; they don’t even depend on whether the work you made is good or bad.

V.R.: You’re right, during the working process external moments remain in different planes. But, you know, on the other hand, I deeply value the artist’s sensitivity. If you’re such hot stuff – there is great danger concealed in this. I will always defend the artist’s right to doubt and vulnerability.

I believe that something actually happens with the work itself when you show it… I always feel this turning point between the private and public existence of the work. Even when you just show it in the studio, something changes. Let me explain: the work no longer belongs to me alone, I’m not inside the work anymore but outside, beside the viewer. This is an important moment, when you make up your mind to show a work… It’s basically finished, and you can no longer influence anything in it, but still, these are moments of intense anxiety.

A.K.: Tell me, did people ever say to you, “The work is weak,” and you agreed?

V.R.: Yes, of course. Really, here are those same two opposing aspects, two poles: on one side, when a person doesn’t see certain obvious things that I’m saying in my work; and on the other, you encounter a practically absolute viewpoint, in other words, you are transparent and open, with all your weaknesses… But on the whole, disregarding any remarks, there is only my own judgment and my responsibility – nothing else. After all, only I know definitely whether it’s a good or bad work, even if everyone around me says otherwise.

A.K.: Let’s look back to the formation of your artistic practice: I remember you from an exhibition in the gallery “Alipiy”; please forgive me, I don’t recall anything before that. Were there points of intersection between your history and the history of the Center for Contemporary Art in the 2000s?

V.R.: Practically none. I think one: I had a residency near Prague that was organized by the Czech Soros Center.

A.K.: Three months?

V.R.: Two months.

A.K.: And after that you didn’t go on any more residencies, there was no need?

V.R.: I simply don’t put any special effort into this. And a fair amount of things have to come together. You have to collect yourself, focus and work in an unfamiliar place, and there has to be some point in all of this.

A.K.: Right.

V.R.: Although I did work in Graz, in Vienna for a pretty long time, a large part of the plates from “School Wool” were made there. Residencies are a good experience if there is good company. There was good company in Cimelice, near Prague. I’m talking about parallel communication and work, which should result in new experiences. Otherwise, what’s the sense in leaving one’s comfortable studio?

A.K.: By the way, there was a discussion not too long ago in the Foundation CCA about the kinds of institutions there are in Kyiv and what kinds are missing. We analyzed Art Arsenal [Mystetskyi Arsenal], the Cultural Project [Kulturnyi Proekt], M17, galleries, the Pinchuk Art Centre… and a thought came up that there is no institution in Kyiv that could be a place for artists to meet, talk, drink coffee…

V.R.: Yes, really, there is no such center for artists… PAC is a kind of vitrine. It’s great that they’ve occupied a particular niche, surely this stimulates some artists, all these prizes… “the American dream.” For the record, I’m saying this without any special irony. It’s just that the PAC’s sphere of interests is pretty limited. And in terms of educational functions, then the PAC is certainly not enough. Everything there is too glossy, sometimes resembling tabloid images. When they show someone and ask, “What is it you’re wearing?” and he answers, “All of it’s expensive!” you get the impression that everything at Pinchuk’s is expensive. A vitrine!

A.K.: I once had a chance to sell my invitation to an opening at the PAC. The people who were asking had never been interested in art before, perhaps it was because they wanted to be there, where everything is expensive, I hardly believe that they wanted to converse with someone about art?

V.R.: Conversation – the kind that we began talking about and that could happen in contemporary art centers – is very important. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but I have a feeling that many [artists] exist in relative isolation. Artist Oleh Tistol called us recently to ask how we’re doing, are we alive and well? And I just thought: farther down the road, the more artists close themselves off, the more difficult it is to admit to your own uncertainty, weaknesses, the ideas about which you’re, again, rather insecure, you don’t know whether you will work on them or not. And in general, it’s sometimes scary to take on responsibility, make decisions and come out with a final result.

A.K.: It seems that now we no longer have conversation as an art…

V.R.: By the way, galleries have also changed dramatically. There was a time (when business was worse) when galleries generally took on some of the functions of such centers, but today everything there has become too serious.

A.K.: And they’re busy?

V.R.: Busy! Gallery owners have become respectable people…

A.K.: And here’s what’s happened with artists: artists have begun taking on various activities. Performance, installation, painting – these are all different things. And these different things, like various artists, are compared; in other words, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. In music it’s not like that. There are genres: jazz, country, pop-music… Everyone in music knows his genre, and there are no questions like, who sings better – a jazz or pop musician? Maybe this hypothetical center that we’re talking about, wouldn’t declare what kinds of artists it would like to support or have as guests? So it would be not even democratic, but, better yet, open?

V.R.: In a certain sense, what’s happening in Ukraine is what happened in the West, only with a certain delay: when artists find their own recognizable approach, they begin to produce their own sign. An artist moves along his own, self-discovered course, often the paths of various artists don’t intersect, and there is a great risk of division and isolation… And it’s like that in the West… And this center, essentially, could help those artists who are ready for a new change or twist. Honestly, it’s not always that easy for an artist to make that decision.