Walks along solitary paths

© Tiberiy Silvashi
silvashi 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 Alevtina Kakhidze 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: Are contemporary art centers (not museums or galleries – but specifically contemporary art centers) necessary? Is there a need for centers that would take on certain functions, especially educating not just viewers, but also artists? And that could offer expertise in the midst of countless questions about contemporary art?

Tiberiy Silvashi: It’s extremely important!

A.K.: And would it be a place for meetings? How important is it to have such a place? How was it earlier?

T.S.: Then, like today, for a small group of friends “such places” were studios, caf?s where people meet at a particular time for coffee. And of course – kitchens. But there were places where people who seldom or never crossed paths otherwise could meet regularly. During Soviet times, this role was filled by Artists’ Houses of Creativity. For two months, artists tore themselves away from the everyday bustle – just work, communication, exchanging ideas, information. For many, these two months were life-changing.

There was a sort of democratic atmosphere: an artist from the provinces and an academic from the capital became neighbors, as did people whom it’s completely difficult to imagine side by side. I remember, in the House of Creativity “Senezh,” Ilya Kabakov spent every evening in front of the television watching the world hockey championships. Even so, it seemed hard to imagine him in such a place. The Houses of Creativity were maintained by the Artists’ Union and were funded according to a particular scheme. Businesses, factories, collective farms were supposed to contribute 1.5-2% of their expenses toward visual propaganda. I may have got the numbers wrong, but it was basically like that. Of course, visual propaganda on ideological grounds had to be done professionally. This included paintings, sculptures and everything else. All commissions went through the Art Fund and the Art Production Enterprise, which supported the Artists’ Union and the Houses of Creativity.

A.K.: Let me interrupt you – today in Sweden, 1% of construction and renovation costs go toward art projects.

T.S.: In Estonia this percentage comes from tobacco and alcohol. Honestly, nobody ever invents anything new, there are various means for financing culture in different countries. What’s important is that they work. And it turns out that Western European countries have structures analogous to our Artists’ Houses. In Denmark, I think, there is a mutual aid fund that artists can join like a guild: once you’re working and start earning money through gallery sales or something else, you contribute a certain percentage to this group. And when times get tough, the fund supports you. This is key, since we all know that an artist doesn’t always have money, and of course, it’s good when there’s a place where you can make some. Working in the Art Production Enterprise, by the way, fed us well. Still, I protested against this internally, holding out until the end and earning money by making filmstrips.

But let’s return to the Houses of Creativity: if in the summer they functioned as houses of leisure, then beginning in fall and lasting till spring, artists would arrive for two-month-long residencies to live and work there. Here we had Gurzuf, Sedniv, I believe, Ochakiv. Actually, youth plein-airs “Sedniv” are originally from there.

A.K.: Basically, we’re getting to the point that today we no longer have those “art production enterprises,” and galleries are appearing, and many believe that that’s enough?

T.S.: Well, first of all, for a long time galleries didn’t just perform the function of galleries as, roughly speaking, commercial enterprises. They filled the shortage of exhibition spaces. And exhibition activity changed fundamentally. Each gallery gathered a circle of “its own” artists and a circle of its own viewers. Essentially, the gallery’s artists could mount small personal exhibitions each year. Not a bad life.

But at the same time, this was a new phase of dividing and fragmenting what essentially had never emerged – the artistic community. For the “Sedniv” generation, the generation of the late 1980s, there were only about 5-6 years when it was only about art. That was the thing that united everyone! Well, almost everyone. I will tentatively mark the end of that period with Oleh Holosiy’s death. After a while new distinctions began in the nonexistent and undervalued market – I can hardly even call it that. Then there was talk about money; there wasn’t any, but it was very desired. And that was our incorporation into the world art process.

A.K.: I would like to ask you a question, I hope that it’s relevant. In my opinion, ideas about commercial galleries and buying artworks and, finally, about auctions in Ukraine are formed rather strangely… In Europe I felt for the first time what it means to wake up in a room with a painting, one that’s finely painted, that, let’s say, takes up the entire wall. An astonishing experience. And if you’re a child, this stays with you for life. In my childhood bedroom there was no painting that covered the whole wall. Shouldn’t this be valued most in the Kyiv community’s discussions, as more and more commercial galleries that concern themselves with selling paintings are appearing? But in the Kyiv context, I encounter conversations not about this, but about sales, ratings, the success of one artist or another. Perhaps I’ve missed something, but I only see this.

T.S.: Me too. We live amidst such wild capitalism, and for many the only criteria that determine what is good and what is bad are success, power, money. And success is measured according to your level of sales or social success, media presence. Such illusory life. Actually, this has little to do with reality. On the other hand, what a space for social research! The entire glossy information sphere works toward one purpose: the only thing you can do is consume… youth, beauty, success. The more money you have, the more young, successful, beautiful you are. It’s a closed circle.

Culture became an industry a long time ago, and contemporary art – part of the tourism and entertainment industries. To a large extent, the system by which contemporary art functions is subject to manipulative technologies. Alas, that’s reality. But I think that art is not there, where the big highways are; it lives and walks along solitary paths.

A.K.: Maybe that’s why I like mistakes more and more as the opposite side of success. Although I really would like to go into that territory.

T.S.: Where?

A.K.: Well, those highways.

T.S.: You’d like to investigate them?

A.K.: The audience, first of all. Like my neighbors in the village of Muzychi, who aren’t interested in contemporary art…

T.S.: They have nothing to do with that highway, they’re observers of the success that we were talking about…

A.K.: And that’s illusory.

T.S.: Yes. They see a beautiful picture. And those who move along the highway see them through the glass of their “successful” cars. Sometimes they intersect, breaking through the screen of the illusion of secondary socialization. So the problem, really, with all of these things that we’re talking about right now lies in the fact that it’s possible to live in the space of these images until primary reality crashes down on us. With all the fullness of life – love, joy. Until we feel pain, until we feel our mortality – the illnesses of loved ones, our dying dogs. This comprehension of the finiteness of earthly life instantly brings you out of the illusory space into existential space, and this loneliness, this existential pain forces you to regard reality in a completely other way.

A.K.: What is this strange survival “instinct” – to ignore reality? As if there were no diseases? And no pain?

T.S.: Our civilization is a glossy civilization. And Ukraine is taking great pains to incorporate itself into this worldwide process. By many parameters, we’re completely “ahead.”

As for art, you know, the space of art reminds me of the Room in Stalker. So Dykobraz goes in to ask for his brother. And he receives a pile of money. It turns out that was his secret wish. Hidden from everyone, even from himself. Maybe, foremost, from himself. So it seems that everyone comes to art for the sake of art. And later the battle of ambitions, vanity begins, along with a thirst for money, success. And art honestly fulfills your secret wish. Like the Room in Stalker. You finally get what you wanted – or don’t get it. It means there was no real desire. Or that art wasn’t your “Room.”

A.K.: So how do you define adequacy? Comprehension of what’s happening with you?

T.S.: Part of adequacy is the ability to see yourself and your circumstances from the side, to feel and understand the context. I think that right now, with all the difficulties being faced in recent years here, perhaps an artistic community will emerge. And these discussion platforms at the Foundation CCA, various educational programs, the activities of several art centers and galleries give me hope…