Vienna University of Applied Arts /Nina Kugler asking Q for Diological Inteventions curated by Martin Krenn/2018
Nina Kugler: You have been very actively working on artistic forms of resistance and political protest by engaging with various social groups. When and why have you started to receive art as social interaction?
Gluklya: It started in the year 2000 when Putin came to power, which coincided with our own “coming of age”. At that time my colleague Tsaplya, whom I was cooperating with for several years, and I became mothers. Before that, we were receiving ourselves rather as “gymnasium girls”, with our own mythology and our own poetic language. But when Putin came to power, we realized, that there was another world around us, and that power was not something abstract, but a reality we must deal with. We wrote the Manifesto The place of the Artist is at the side of the weak, which was then published in the first newspaper of Chto delat [a collective of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers].
N.K.: Since then you’ve carried out a range of political projects. One of your latest was the “Carnival of the Oppressed Feelings”, a performative demonstration with refugees, that took place in Amsterdam in October 2017. How did you come up with the idea of organizing a carnival?
G.: The idea of carnival was always close to me – it derived from performances we did in our private homes. In the 1990s we used to gather in my apartment and my friends – artists, poets, intellectuals, and musicians – spontaneously started to try on my clothes. We discovered that by changing your outfit, you can suddenly become free, change roles and your banal identity. It was a manifestation of curiosity. The carnival is a very effective method how to be free and maybe even change society – because, obviously, the transformation of society can only be done by free people; people with a dynamic identity, that are open to experience Others… I’m referring to Mikhail Bakhtin [a Russian philosopher], who wrote about the resistant potential of the carnival. Although I do not naively think, that this one day can change society in total, it’s still a model, a way to present an alternative. When this absence of status exists, when even poor people or refugees can speak out, regardless of social barriers, it’s sort of a laboratory to explore horizontal relations between people and the possible roll of art in it.
N.K.: For the project, you created a way of expression, that you call the “Language of Fragility”, which takes on further the concept of Fragility you developed in a number of works over the last decade. What’s your understanding of Fragility and how did it turn into a language?
G.: Fragility is a poetic name for something that is hard to describe in words, but that is profoundly substantial for being an artist. This word I once found to describe my language of art. It’s referring to the human world, in contrast to the world of politicians. We are fragile because we are not in power, we are not the ones that make decisions, that effect everyone else’s life. Fragility is also a way to describe the very special working condition of every artist: you have to be extra- sensitive, follow some rituals you created for yourself, and at the same time be balanced and disciplined. As an artist you have to be fragile, but also very strong – the word contains a dialectical approach.
N.K.: When talking about socially engaged art, how would you define the terms of collaboration and participation?
G.: In my opinion participation always has to go together with collaboration. Participation sounds less interesting to me, while collaboration means, that a person is engaged. I like the concept of Augusto Boal [who developed the Theatre of the Oppressed], who gives the spectator the right to create, together with the artist. When I’m working with people, I try to take the decisions together with the group, but usually there’s a kind of uniting line, that is defined by my concept.
N.K.: What importance do the visual forms have, that you are creating, and what’s their relation to the social processes, in which they are developed?
G.: “Balance” is the most important word here. There has to be a balance between the artistic result and the group dynamics. I was always a bit skeptical about process-based projects, because they don’t have such a dimension as failure – whatever you do, it’s always good, it’s almost like “paradise”. I’ve witnessed a lot of artists, who were believing in the process, but at the end they found themselves in a kind of desert and sometimes even isolated. Visual forms are a language. I am speaking about social processes. Visual Forms are the tool for transformation.
N.K.: What can you say about the results of your projects beyond the art system?
G.: It is hard to discover, what later on happens to all the people you worked with and with whom you tried to establish a kind of platform about art and how it works. But I’ve received verbal expressions about the importance of the entire transformation, that my collaborators gained because of my projects. And some of them became dear friends to me. So maybe establishing long-term relations can also be considered a result, because that leads to the horizontal idea of self-organization.
N.K.: One big part of your artistic practice is working with the clothes, for example, the demonstration clothes, you developed for the movement for fair elections in Russia inUtopian Clothes, from the installation Clothes for the Demonstration against Vladimir Putin election 2011/12,–2015, which were shown at the Biennale in Venice in 2015, or your long-term project FFC, the Factory of Found Clothes. What’s the reason you chose textiles for your politically and socially engaged artworks?
G.: I studied at the Mukhina Academy of Applied Art in Saint Petersburg and my family also worked with textiles. But in comparison to my parents, I think about the textile material conceptually. In the hierarchy of things, clothes are the closest thing a person can have. Clothes are the frontier between the public and private spheres of human life. They are situated between our desires and their realization. In a way they are questioning culture, rules, and notions of the Norm. It is also about empathy – when wearing the clothes of others, I am becoming an Other for that moment. When I started as an artist, I discovered a kind of spiritual technique, that I call “Talking with Things”. The first thing I spoke to, was a dress of my aunt, who was a member of the Communist Party in Tambov and who had a very complex destiny. She was raped at Dagestan, where she was sent as young teacher by the party. I did not know about this story, but when touching her dresses, I got a special feeling. I don’t want to say, that I believe in old Clothes keeping the spirit of the dead. I just mean, that they might provoke imagination and serve as a material representation of people’s destiny. They are protagonists of long-term performances.
N.K.: You are currently working and living in the Netherlands; still, you are very engaged with the political situation in Russia. To what extent are critical voices in today’s Russia still being received, within the art world and in the general, public discourse?
G.: Unfortunately, critical voices have not been heard at all. The situation for Russian artists and all cultural workers is very sad, tragic. But that’s also the reason, why protest is on the rise. Recently I attended the May-Day-Demonstration in Saint Petersburg, which the art community uses as a stage to realize their demands. I started a new project called MAMAresidence. Natalia Nikulenkova, who is a member and co-founder of the collective “Union of Convalescent”, that deals with the question, how supposedly mentally ill people are treated in Russia. One of our slogans was “Don’t take people to mental asylums against their will”. The power uses this method to grab activists and lock them up, like they did back in Soviet times. But resistance is growing: We’ve now got the “Party of the Dead”, the “Monstrations”, a Dadaistic way to express protest, strong feminist groups, the students of the Chto delat Roza School of Engaged Art, and the “Utopian Unemployment Union”, which I founded after FFC was finished. The First of May is a unique opportunity to show up in public and to connect with people.
Gluklya (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya), a pioneer of Russian performance, member and co-founder of the Factory of Found Clothes and Chto Delat, is an international artist, living in Amsterdam and St-Petersburg and working in the field of research-based art, focusing on the border between Private and Public, with the help of the inventory method of Conceptual Clothes.
Mass Protest against Putin continue… in Venice. The Work of Factory of Found Clothes at the Venice Biennale/ Publications /
Do you remember how you chose what to wear to the protests of 2011-2013? In winter, people got their white summer trousers out of the closet and bought white scarves and flowers. I remember how on Strastnoy Boulevard a “white knight” appeared, walking toward me out of a restaurant, carrying a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, a crane’s pink beak on his nose. Slightly drunk, smiling blissfully, he folded a couple of paper beaks for us, and we attached ourselves to the zany flock of the insubordinate.
What nostalgia we feel today, looking back at those white jackets, trousers and scarves that were our protest clothes! They hang gloomily on our hangers, tired and disappointed, or lie on shelves, remembering their glory days at the carnival, when they found their voice and served not merely to clothe the body, but, unthinkable as it may seem, to expose the emperor’s lack of new clothes.
An artist from Saint Petersburg with the childish-sounding pseudonym of “Gluklya” (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya) treats a piece of clothing as a living being. Anna Tolstova notes that “the most ordinary dress—fragile, throwaway, worthless, the ridiculous and frivolous material that the FFC [Factory of Found Clothes] works with in performances, video and installations, was conceptualized as a kind of pan-human universal, emerging from the everyday and inserting itself into culture. The dress is both a protector of the body’s memory with its intimate experiences, a record of cultural and subcultural codes, a political manifesto, and a weapon of resistance against gender and social stereotypes.” (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2394738)
Clothes have a life of their own: they travel, march with students, go into seclusion, go scuba diving, they may even, following in the footsteps of “Poor Liza,” jump into the Small Swan Canal (http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/history/10/982/), or they may go to a protest march against the falsification of elections. Gluklya’s installation at the Venice Biennial is called “Clothing for Demonstrations Against Vladimir Putin’s False Elections in 2011–2015.”
Gluklya has a special affection for white clothes, and does not like new clothes, which have no personal stories to tell. In her creative duet with Tsaplya (Olga Egorova) the two of them created the FFC (Factory of Found Clothes), which existed until 2014. I have always loved Andrei Bely and his metaphysics of the color white, so I therefore immediately took to calling the artist Belaya (White) Gluklya, all the more appropriate since one of the installations of the Gluklya-Tsaplya duet was entitled “The Psychotherapy Cabinet of the Whites” (2003).
Love for old white clothing fits perfectly with the theme of the white ribbon movement, which very quickly dropped into the past and simultaneously lives on in the protests and repressive actions of the present.
The hopes connected with these clothes have been replaced by apathy and despair; the Bolotnaya Square case became a new triumph of lawlessness and fortified the feeling of hopelessness. The subject of protests is in many ways a traumatic one: those who went out on the streets then were victims of injustice and violence, who soon became victims of a new violence, spreading into the bloodletting on the soil of Ukraine.
The white ribbon protests abound with stories, faces, images and themes that present a rich narrative for art, including the art of representing political practices, which Pyotr Pavlensky calls art about politics, as opposed to political activism using art as a means of direct action.
In an interview with Radio Svoboda, http://www.svoboda.org/content/article/27049832.html Gluklya said that the installation contains “a certain amount of ambivalence, without which, in my view, art does not exist. But at the same time it was very important for me to leave it ‘black and white’ in terms of my position. And that was a surprisingly difficult task. All my energy went into that.” Her mighty effort created a multiplicity of meanings.
Ghosts on Stilts
A few dozen tall T-shaped wooden poles stand by the wall. “Talking” clothes with slogans delicately embroidered in red on a white background (such as “Russia will be free”) hang upon them, with others written in black on white or orange (“You can’t even imagine us,” “NO,” “Power to the millions, not the millionaires,” “America gave me $10 to stand here,” “Does Russian mean Orthodox?” on a Russian Railways vest), or in red on black (“A thief must sit in jail”).
They look like a column of ghosts who have stepped out of the void to remind us about the recent demonstrations. These apparitions appear to be the rebellious spirits of protest. One-legged, they also bring to mind clowns on stilts, conveying the carnivalistic atmosphere of the first marches and rallies. The associations with ghosts and clowns add a multitude of visual and literary resonances to the viewer’s impression.
A simple pole with a crossbeam was used in the southern and eastern parts of the Roman Empire as a site of execution, on which criminals were crucified. This type of cross is known by various names: Tau cross (after the letter in the Greek alphabet), St. Anthony’s cross, crux сommissa, among others. It is highly probable that Yeshua of Nazareth was crucified on just such a cross. There is also a long white shirt—the charred “sackcloth of shame” in which criminals were led around the city—reminiscent of the robes of Christ.
The wall of “elevation of the cross” references Christian images of crucifixion, and more broadly, the typology of execution. The artist seems to have created an amalgam of different types of lethal execution: the trousers without a top and the shirt without trousers conjure up a dismembered body, the dress on poles a beheaded, hanged, or crucified one, and what is more, they are all placed up against the wall, as if in front of a firing squad.
This array of crucifixions can be seen, of course, as hyperbole about repressions or the expectation of wholesale slaughters of protesters, but today, with the police ready to declare their right to shoot in crowded places, including at women, Gluklya’s installation looks like something out of the evening news.
The Female Body
There is a girl’s white dress bordered with a blood-red thread; a ballet tutu with a rusty hammer-and-sickle bottle opener in place of a head (a vivid symbol of our culture); on the back of an overcoat, an image of a woman being dragged into a paddy wagon by OMON agents (riot police); on a summer frock, a drawing of a “witch” tied to the stake, on fire.
The theme of the sacrifice of women puts the viewer in mind of Pussy Riot, who have elicited people’s bloodthirsty fantasies and calls for the most horrendously cruel forms of punishment (pussyriotlist.com). The exhibit also contains headgear made to resemble a balaclava helmet. Not explicit, but ambivalent, a kind of hint.
Gender violence is one of the recurring themes of the tragic parade of clothes. It seems to be no accident that Gluklya’s exhibit at the Venice Biennial opened around the same time as Alketa Xhafa-Mripa’s installation at the stadium in Prishtina, Kosovo (http://www.wonderzine.com/wonderzine/life/news/214075-thinking-of-you; Xhafa-Mripa, born in Kosovo, lives in Great Britain): there, a few thousand dresses and skirts, hung up on white ropes, testify to the sexual violence that occurred on a mass scale during the armed conflict in Kosovo of 1998–1999.
In Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel The Funeral Party, Robins formerly Rabinovich, the far-sighted owner of a funeral home, “had difficulty in determining the client’s property status” at a funeral attended not only by Jews but also by blacks, American Indians, rich Anglo-Saxons and “numerous Russians,” comprising both “respectable citizens” and “out-and-out scoundrels.” Can social status be determined by protest clothing? Here, too, were various sorts of people: office clerks in waistcoats, hippie-punk-goths, sophisticated women and Poor Lizas, ballerinas and Lovelaces. Their clothing—the body of their souls—is torn and in danger. They, too, are the targets of Gluklya’s reproach: “Are all of us really like this torn old rag?”
A l’Arsenal, c’est l’artiste russe Gluklya qui dénonce le durcissement du régime de Moscou, à travers ses “Vêtements pour manifestations contre de fausses élections de Vladimir Poutine”.
Perchés sur des madriers en bois, ces drôles de pièces de tissu portent des messages en russe: “un voleur doit être assis en prison”, “je veux que la Russie devienne le plus beau pays du monde” ou seulement “va-t-en”.
In the best of all possible worlds one would hope to find works of art that are both visually engaging and layered with meaning. Of 136 artists or groups of artists featured in the International exhibitions, very few made me pause. One of them was Russia’s Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya Gluklya, who contributed a suite of clothes and placards for an anti-Putin demonstration, with many surreal, startling touches. Considering the treatment dished out to the band, Pussy Riot, Gluklya’s work was as politically edgy as anything in the show, but also witty and inventive.
The material was published on the website Aroundart.ru 27.07.2014
On July 13, Gluklya (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya)’s performance “Debates on Division” was presented as part of the parallel program of the 10th Manifestos on the New Stage of the Alexandrinsky Theater. Art critic Valery Ledenyov was one of the participants in the project, and has decided to share some thoughts and ideas prompted by some of its plot twists.
contemporary art action
Bound together by one thread
Gluklya and Tsaplya’s final performance
In the Moscow museum of modern art at Petrovka 25, Petersburg artists Gluklya (Natalya Pershina-Yakimanskaya) and Tsaplya (Olga Yegorova) presented a performance piece with the multilayered title “Final Cut”: it signifies simultaneously the final edit, the final wound, and a definitive separation, not to mention the title of a Pink Floyd album which in fact coincided with the beginning of the group’s dissolution. The performance symbolized the end of an artistic partnership of many years’ standing: henceforth the “Factory of found clothes” (FFC) will be Gluklya’s solo project, while Tsaplya will be a full-time participant in the work collective “Chto delat.”
By ANNA TOLSTOVA.
”The relationship between big and small things” Tsaplya and Gluklya, Factory of Found Clothes: Interview by Katy Deepwell’ volume 27 n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal (Jan 2011) Women’s Work pp. 81-92
The problem of migration is one of socio-political problems that have been stirring the Western social conscience up for the last few decades, generating all kinds of attitudes: from roaring optimism to deep disillusionment with the methods and strategies of the Western state multicultural policy.
All the more urgent is this problem for Russia which, unlike Western countries, does not have any elaborate and long-term migration policy. That is why sanguinary conflicts between people from different cultural backgrounds on the same territory arise regularly and lead to predictable consequences. In other words, uncompromising ethnical and cultural clashes and deliberate confrontations of various groups became a regular cultural mechanism in Russia, and its price is the human right to life. Thus the state principle of dividing and ruling is implemented in Russia. Naturally, any productive cultural dialogue and social unity on the basis of diversity is out of question. (more…)