Categories
#9: What do we have in common?

Glucklya and Tsaplya with Alexander Skidan and Dmitri Vilensky /// A Certain Number of Figures

To sacrifice oneself, to expose the king, and to come out in psychological attack – this is the mind-bending madness of Talev’s style. It’s only a shame that there are so few figures in chess. Laughably few.

Sergei Spirikhin, “Possibly, Beckett”

Alexander Skidan (AS): I would like to start with a simple but cardinal question. What exactly is the Factory of Found Clothes (abbreviated to FNO in Russian)? Is it a fellowship? A collective? A community? Or is it something more? How do you think of yourselves?

To sacrifice oneself, to expose the king, and to come out in psychological attack – this is the mind-bending madness of Talev’s style. It’s only a shame that there are so few figures in chess. Laughably few.

Sergei Spirikhin, “Possibly, Beckett”

Alexander Skidan (AS): I would like to start with a simple but cardinal question. What exactly is the Factory of Found Clothes (abbreviated to FNO in Russian)? Is it a fellowship? A collective? A community? Or is it something more? How do you think of yourselves?

Gluklya (G): We’re a group and this says just about everything…

AS: Two is a very strange constellation; usually a group consists of a number of people, three as a minimum. From the earliest days of the first Christian communities, the spirit of collectivity has been defined by the presence of a third party. But two isn’t quite a community, or a collective. At the same time, the “Factory” in “Factory of Found Clothes” implies a process of production that involves an entire multitude of people, some of whom are completely anonymous and unknown. They can come and go, but like fertile topsoil, their presence in the background can give rise to something that is later given the name of art. This is the kind of growth of collectivity that I would like to talk about with you today.

Tsaplya (Ts.): In the very beginning, in 1995, we used to say that FNO is a “well-organized day-dream”. And we didn’t only construct this space of the “daydream” on the territory of art, but in life at large. Of course, this was so typical for Petersburg, but at the time, it was important for us to create a game with rules that might seduce other people aside from ourselves. This, actually, is what happened, which is why FNO made the impression of being this huge organization.

AS: But you immediately called yourself a Factory, a word from a completely different context…

G: This was irony in relation to Warhol, the complete opposite of his Factory. For Warhol, the main thing was mass-production, the refusal of anything subjective and personal; even if his freedom was the freedom of a robot, some kind of unthinkable lightness shines through. With us, it was the exact opposite: things that seemed very subjective and appeared to be very intimate and autistic actually revealed the secret emotional experiences connected to hidden processes of living together…

AS: In my view, this dissonance has created a gap, a creative opening. Sure, these were little nets, traps and pitfalls, but they were extraordinarily productive just because of their lack of convergence. But the word Factory itself with its mechanistic connections rhymed successfully with the uncertain, washed-out form of collectivity that the Petersburg tradition represents. Unconsciously, FNO was heir to this very form, a form that was disconnected and not tied down to one form of activity or another. I mean “The Engineers of Art”, “The Society of Friends of Mayakovsky”, or Kurekhin’s “Pop-Mekhanika”, for that matter. Their activities couldn’t be reduced to some product, to paintings, texts, performances, or concerts, but basically produced a life-style. It is as if the mechanic quality of the name held together and concentrated the elusive spirit of the community to a single point, endowing it with a formal boundary. Strictly speaking, dissonance is a poetic device, the failure of the names to correspond with their things. In this failure to correspond, there is a certain amount of air to captivate and capture the audience, to involve it in the process of co-creativity. This moment of “capture” is veiled and simultaneously stimulated by its “absurd” name. We could remember the Oberiut-school of transrational poetry, and their famous performance “Three Left Hours” in the House of Printing toward the end of the 1920s, a performance that was absolutely essential to the Petersburg tradition: at some point, someone was reciting poetry on the corner of Nevsky and Sadovaya, which they announced in the House of Printing and paused. Of course, no one in the audience could hear the poems being recited, but what was important was the absurd gesture per se.

In connection with this, another question comes to mind. There is also a failure to correspond or a conflict between living and partying together spontaneously and developing artistic strategies that demand a conscious approach, reflections, and planning. How do you cope with this? Where is the boundary between your inner experience of living together and the outer frame of the project’s realization?

G: Of course there’s a conflict if you try to build everything on relationships between people: these relationships are always full of conflict, and if there’s no asceticism, no spiritual practice, then everything just falls apart.

Dmitri Vilensky (DV): What’s spiritual practice, I don’t quite understand…

G: I understand “spiritual practice” – and the quotation-marks aren’t casual – as the constant pressure that results from working not alone but with others. This really is tension, and not a sense of fellowship. The result is that you feel responsible in a twofold way, for yourself and for the other. For me, for an example, it was really hard work to develop a kind of virtual organ for the asceticism of uniting my own space with the space of some strange. Because beforehand, a great deal of strength was exerted in defending my space from the intrusions of the outer world, in the course of which I negated what was actually most positive. Because when you work with someone, you’re always sacrificing something, which gives rise to the feeling of fellowship in favor of the common. If you don’t like the term “spiritual practice”, let’s think up some other term, maybe like disciplinary practice or self-education.

Ts.: Work in a group like ours is always difficult and takes a path paved by compromise. These compromises limit you and create an external pressure. This leads to inner tension, which then results in something you yourself had not expected. In this way, compromise becomes a positive phenomenon, and this, to be honest, is something that is difficult to realize a lot of the time.

G: I wouldn’t call it pressure but exchange…

DV: An exchange thanks to which you continue to develop. Like with the classics: the free development of every person becomes the price paid for the development of everyone.

Ts. What exactly is free development? After all, there’s always conflict.

G: This is why I’m talking about disciplinary practice as an inevitable framework that allows you to turn conflict into a stimulus for development.

Ts.: Actually, you know, two people usually work together, because it’s love that  connects them.

AS: Love for one another? Or to some third party or object that unites you?

Ts.: Both for one another and to some third party. Because the third party is actually a densely packed space between the two, consisting of different efforts, desires, games, but also conflicts and contradictions. This is actually may be what distinguishes art that is made in a group. It has the potential to be more tense, and because of this, it also becomes more interesting. But a pure working relationship might also be possible, which is probably also capable of changing something or another…

AS: From what you are saying, one can actually extrapolate two traditions of collective creativity. You could say that one of them is from Petersburg and is based on intensive experiences of living together, on affective connections; the other, I don’t know, maybe we could call it the Moscow tradition, is based on deeply professional relation. Is this difference important to us?

G: This is where our favorite theme of the purity of action comes in. In Petersburg, everybody wants the purity of living together – pure pleasure, and the pure intoxication of the moment, not polluted by some document. But the world is moving in a direction that makes that kind of purity impossible, at least for those who consciously feel themselves to be artists.

AS: But isn’t this where you become a director, constantly constructing your life as a spectacle or a play?

G: Yes, and this is exactly you find yourself up against another purity, the purity of directing or www, of fixation. But you can’t fix everything; you have to leave something for private life. So we find ourselves returning to the old model: on the one hand, there’s private life, and the other hand, there’s art.

Ts.: Yes, you’re right, it really is very hard to direct your own life all of the time as if it were a play. This is how Warhol lived and this is actually why he was so great. We also tried to live like this, but at some point, you understand that this situation is over.

AS: You’re right in saying that the situation in Petersburg changed drastically at some point, and the vivid success of Timur Novikov’s “New Academy” was a symptom of this change, because it consciously began to give form to a strategy of self-representation according to a Warhol-Muscovite model, if one understands the latter as placing an accent on products, documentation, and on aggressive self-promotion through scandals…

DV: You’re right, but I’d like to think that at some point, in historical perspective, the success of the “New Academy” will be perceived as a curiosity, while completely different people – like the “New Idiots” (Novye Tupye) were creating things that were really important, which, of course, are genetically far closer to us. Changes of this kind usually take place eventually, only that as of yet, too little time has passed. So it depends on us and the form we give to the history of our local artistic community. But Sasha is actually asking which combination of circumstances leads to recognition. I think the problem with groups, as with individual artists, is that they need to hold out in some historical moment and defend their right to make a statement in this framework. In a sense, it is far easier for groups to do this, but in another sense, they’re far more vulnerable than any solitary figure. Very few people are capable of dedicating themselves to a common cause today, of making sacrifices. This causes sharp problems of leadership and also draws sharp boundaries of inner compromise. All too often, groups fall apart at a very early stage, before the moment of their condensation.

Ts.: The aspect of readability is also important: it was easy to read the “New Academy”, just like it was easy to read the “Mitki”. But what exactly are the New Idiots; no-one really knows. They were too local in their search for meaning and associated them with nothing but local spaces, with the circle around the gallery “Borey” and local, marginal philosophers…

DV: That make sense, but this is actually where we have the right to universalize this phenomenon. Some tragic hitch or slip-up took place with the New Idiots, and I don’t know why, but I almost feel guilt that we’ve lost them, and that we only understand now how many important things were woven into what they were doing, things that are still provocative and intriguing today. Essentially, their efforts amount to a local re-actualization of Fluxus, which means that in this context, the local tradition was combined with the international context in a paradoxical, highly productive manner.

AS: But before Fluxus, there were the Dadaists, the Nichevoki and OBERIU (=two absurdist schools of the 1920s). Plus the philosophy of Sergei Spirikhin, this combined Daoism, Heidegger and the Russian culture of laughter. These layers, of course, are not so easily read, nor are they accessible to a broader public. This is the source of the New Idiots’ problems with public recognition. Dima is right in saying that their lack of success is more valuable than other people’s success. Their collective creativity continues the tradition of hidden art, the art of resistance, arising now and here, without any expectations for success. It’s also important to remember that the New Idiots called themselves a “fellowship of comrades”, a fellowship that was successful in doing the most important thing: by following Beckett, but also Vvedensky and Daniel Charms, they confirmed that “to be an artist means to suffer misfortune like no-one has ever dared to do, that failure is, in fact, the artist’s world, and any attempt to evade failure is a form of desertion, skilled artisanship, good husbandry” (Beckett, “Three Dialogues”).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *