April 29, 2016

News from Russia! Feminist Activism, White Nights, and Gianni Versace at the Hermitage

Putin merchandise

I went to Russia to give a workshop and a talk about feminist thinking in art. A bit strange, so I thought, to get invited for this topic in Russia, but the Goethe Institute must be knowing what they’re doing. I've heard about Pussy Riot of course, but I always thought of it as a smart marketing stint to get into the international art world (provocation is a good old one), which was then happily picked up by a lot of artists in the West to get attention for themselves on their turn (some activism is not so much about the other as it is about oneself). I was also weary about the image of Russia that Western media are propagating. What I did know is that there is no art blogging in Russia. Dilya Sharipova in Moscow told me so. Maybe because it’s better to express opinions when a magazine is backing you up? 

It's sure that feminism isn’t a supported activity in Russia. Art historian and curator Olesya Turkina told me so during the talk, she herself having co-curated in 2013 an exhibition titled International Women’s Day. Feminism From Avant-Garde to Our Days. A few months ago one tried to pass a law that would forbid feminism and the use of the word but without success. Turkina then summed up a whole bunch of feminist artists in Russia and asked me to do the same for the German art scene. I was a little baffled because I wouldn’t dare to call any artist here in Germany a feminist artist. It’s such a negative, stigmatized word that nobody wants to be pigeonholed into that niche. Who’s going to exhibit a feminist artist in these days? 

Polina Zaslavskaya, Masha Godovannya, Natasha Schastneva took me
to a Sovjet-Union style restaurant.
This is what you eat when you drink vodka!

Not that feminism doesn't have its relevance in the German art scene. The students of video artist Masha Godovannaya were surprised to hear about the numbers of women artists represented in the Berlin galleries. Masha Godovannya, herself a feminist activist, is teaching about feminism in art at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St. Petersburg State University. At night she took me for dinner with her artist colleagues Natasha Schastneva and Polina Zaslavskaya. They told me about their collaborative performance that takes place in a small five square meters kitchen, which is typical for the “khrushchevkas”, the concrete low ceiling apartment buildings constructed during the Khrushchev era. They changed the private space into a “queered” kitchen where desire can be acted out. During our night out, my dinner partners kept an eye on their watch. I learnt that at 1pm Saint-Petersburg opens its bridges, which makes it impossible to hop islands and get home till 5 in the morning.

The White Nights of Saint Petersburg also available in Moleskine

A café based on time

Dostoevsky lived here in 1844/45

Talking Saint-Petersburg, I think that the building in which my program took place in the context of a Rosemarie Trockel exhibition, was the only new one in the whole centre of Saint-Petersburg.  Everything is classical in Saint-Petersburg. That doesn’t mean that the city isn’t hip: I discovered a café where you have to pay based on the time you spent and not on the drinks you had. One hour was about 150 ruble, during which I had a coffee, a tea and some cookies. I also coincidentally came upon the house where Dostoevsky lived when he wrote Poor People in 1844/45 and I don’t know if it’s on purpose that it still looks poor. At the Hermitage Museum (one of the largest and oldest museums in the world according to Wikipedia) I found out the that the restrooms are designed by Gianni Versace. Funny detail, isn't it! 

April 13, 2016

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Art Critic Ignacio Szmulewicz, 14

"Haydn would supposedly wear a ceremonial wig when he composed."
Jonathan Cott in The Complete Rolling Stone Interview

Dear Ignacio,

How beautiful to hear about your travels. I’m traveling too. I’m leaving in an hour, so I’m writing this quickly, in between. The difference between your traveling and my traveling is that you seem to travel with time, whereas I’m doing it in haste. I’m awfully busy lately, and it makes me think of Siegfried Kracauer who wrote in 1928: “Nobody as boring, as those who are never bored.” Am I getting boring, Ignacio? 

Yet why I write to you in such a hurry, is because I read the The Complete Rolling Stone Interview with Susan Sontag, and it inspired me to answer on your last question about writing about art out of experience. I hadn’t read Sontag since university, and it was such a delight to read her again. How light she can be, easy to read, thinking deep and at the same time not forgetting about the surface. 

So in this interview she talks about how she beliefs that your writing style changes when you change your body, your bodily experience.  Let me quote her: “Don’t you think you’d write differently if you were all naked and wrapped in velvet? [laughing] There are all these stories about Goethe, or maybe it was Schiller, who used to write with his feet in warm water. And Wagner, who only composed in silk robes with incense and perfume in the room.”

I want to try this out. Maybe we can do this during our workshop “Playground. A Place to Write about Art with Fun” that we’re organizing here in Berlin while you’re visiting in May. Like put our feet in warm water (being all naked wrapped in velvet might make art writing too erotic?). What do you think?


April 9, 2016

Do You Read Me?

My friend's Texte zur Kunst collection

It’s a well kept secret in the art world that nobody reads Texte zur Kunst except for art students at the university, who are still in the illusion that something has to be boring to be good. Well, I never read Texte zur Kunst so I'm just going on the rumours. I must admit I even have this silly proud of having not read it (I feel the same about Hans Ulrich Obrist’s books, hehe). But once I did go to a party of Texte zur Kunst at HAU, because it seemed to be a German art event one had to go to (oh sure, I also want to be "in"). I remember that Isabelle Graw was saying that art critics are more free because they earn so little (everybody in the audience held their breath, so painful), and that Jutta Koether did a horrible performance in which she beat with a stick at her text. It had the air of being exciting, but I couldn’t help feeling booooored. Talking air, maybe that's the most annoying thing about Texte zur Kunst, the “We’re special!” air. Besides that art party (where, I suppose, everybody had read Texte zur Kunst, except for me), I’ve never met a reader of Texte zur Kunst. But then I did so this week - at least, sort of. A friend of mine, who wants to stay anonymous, revealed she has a subscription and this already for years. At her apartment there’re heaps of Texte zur Kunst issues, which she never opened. She did take them out of their plastic foil (wouldn't it be more fun if she hadn’t?). "Why do you keep the subscription?" I asked her. “It feels safe,” she said, “and that for only 45 euros a year.” She keeps thinking she will read it. A few days later we met again and she showed me the insides of her bag: it contained the latest issue of Texte Zur Kunst talking about “polarity.” "Alrighty!" I said, wondering how heavy Texte zur Kunst is, if it’s a light or a heavy weight, and how it will look like after being in the bag for a while. 

April 1, 2016

Village Art. How I Spent a Week in the Brandenburg Countryside

I took a week off in the Brandenburg countryside in a small village named Gottsdorf. In case I would get a crisis of withdrawal I brought my laptop but nope, I was fine. I did try to check the internet on my IPhone. To do so I had to walk through the village searching for a signal. I did so secretly with my phone in my pocket because nobody in Gottsdorf walks around while staring at a small screen. So there I was, enjoying a week of breathing, chakra chanting, meditation, yoga, and I won’t get into detail because you probably have a horror for the esoteric. Let me just say that if you breath really well, you don't have to take LSD... 

So yes, it was great and it would have kept me from thinking about work, which is art, wasn’t it for fate that brought art also to this tiny two-streets village of Gottsdorf. There it was, right in the village’s centre, although centre seems a big word for a pineapple tree, a wooden tower with a bell, and a fire place. It was a small shack, which used to be a smith in old times, then transformed into a waiting room for the bus, and from a waiting room it turned into an art space. This is the natural course of things. When the bus only comes by once a day, it’s bound to happen. “It takes a lot of time to be a genius,” Gertrude Stein said, “You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” The same counts for genius artists. In the city there’re no waiting rooms left (look in vain at the Hauptbahnhof), but in Gottsdorf there is still The Right To Be Lazy.

When I passed the little shack and turned left into a field road, I came upon some more art.  I’m talking about the magic art that you expect to find in two-streets villages. In the middle of ploughed land there was a patch of wild grass with a stone, which I presume is the altar, three sticks with strings that make the sound of sirens when the wind blows, and a labyrinth. I imagine that in the summer you can find the village people dancing around wildly, naked of course, living up the German Freikörperkultur. (hum, is here my LSD breathing kicking in?) 

A spicy detail: it was in the nearby city Luckenwalde that in 1867 the Pappteller (paper plate) was invented. Guten Appetit!