D. In “Streetcar named Desire”, your latest action with the Factory of Found Clothes, you invited eight girls whom Gluklya has been working with recently. Although they weren’t artists to begin with, each of them brought a historical street-cars in a Petersburg tram-museum to life with their independent work, consisting of installations and performances. When we talked about this action, both Gluklya and you spoke about “giving a voice” to these young girls. What does “giving a voice” to someone mean to you? Is this simply a figure of speech?
Ts. “To give a voice” to a girl or to anyone else means helping them to develop their own means of expression. The girls are the perfect example. They are still at a voiceless age (by the way, ‘age’ is also a metaphor for a certain state of mind). They don’t really know what their voice sounds like yet. What is it they really want to say? Which strength, timbre and fullness can they reach in doing so? Of course, we’re talking about the “voice” as the possibility for telling the world that you exist. As of yet, the girl’s voices sound uncertain, unoriginal, vulnerable. But the main thing is they are “speaking with their own voices” and all of the thing that they are made up of. Of course, there is always a great deal of danger: you might never find your voice, no matter how hard you try. This won’t ever happen to our girls, or so, at least, we hope. Because they have already developed the habit of “making themselves heard”. Our role is to supply a framework or a platform. On the one hand, this space supplies the voice with form. On the other hand, it creates a situation in which the girls NEED TO raise her voice. This seems very important to me: many people are cowards or simply have no idea how to go about saying something in a voice of their own.
D. Perhaps “resonance” is a good way of conceptualizing this framework. At the tram-museum, every street-car served as a box for one of the girls to present “their own world” through their own means of expression. As such, each street-car was a sound-box, a body of resonance. The girls were not only paying close attention to the reactions that their “voices” provoked. They were also intent on listening to their own voices. How important are resonance or feed-back in projects like the one in the tram-museum?
Ts. Of course, the framework or the “body of resonance” is important, if not central, anywhere. As artists, it is something that we always create for ourselves. Otherwise, our voices, to put it in your words, will fail to resonate. The voice needs to find some point of resistance. It needs to trace a contour. And finally, it will come back to you like a boomerang. All of this depends on how you construct the framework that you’re working with. Take, for an example, Tanya, one of the “girls”, a poetess whose poetry is full of the most carnal images you could think of. Her voice might have easily dissolved on porno-sites, and no-one would have ever understood that these poems are about a passionate desire for love.
D. Does therapy always mean resonance? Is resonance also linked understanding in how far your voice is vulnerable? Does vulnerability have anything to do with recognizing your own voice?
Ts. Of course. Therapy is always resonance. By the way, I really like this word. I’m even thinking that all of our work so far has been structured on resonance. Take, for an example, our “Psychoanalytic Cabinet of the Whites”. Have I told you about our “Whites”? These are characters which we become by putting on chemical protection suits. We really love to work with these heroes, because when we become the Whites, we turn into these strange, empty personages. We have no sex, no individuality, in fact you could add any number of negations and they would all be true. This is why we can do whatever we like. Our emptiness is perfect for “amplifying” the other people involved. In the “Psychotherapeutic Cabinet”, people came to us and told us about their problems. And when they started to “share” their problems, it was actually quite funny; they were actually laughing a lot of the time. This was because they could share their problem with the “Whites” and not with Gluklya and Tsaplya. But what for? You see, the “Whites” consulted and prescribed their “patient” a “medication”. This medication consisted of a mixed assortment of insignificant objects, all of which we found at the flea-market. Each object came with instructions. These instructions were funny, but at the same time, they contained hints of how the “patient” might solve his or her problem. But the whole point of the game was that we told our “patients” that we weren’t going to give them their “medication” in person. Instead, they had to go out to look for it themselves. We gave the patient a treasure map of the surroundings, which showed where the “medication” could be found. This map took different people to different places, to the grocery store, to the auto mechanic’s workshop, to a hospital emergency room and confronted them with different people, with a group of soldiers, or with a bum sleeping on a park bench. Here, they had to say the password, which was “The Whites sent us”. And then, someone would give them their “medication”. To get an object, an object that at least someone (i.e. the “Whites”) thought might help, you had relate to your social environment in an unusual way: instead of buying something at the store, you got it for free; instead of giving loose change to the bum on the park bench, you had to ask him for something that actually belonged to you, or you had to overcome your fear and approach a group of soldiers, which – in Russia is not as easy as it sounds. In other words, we offered you the chance of becoming vulnerable. You become vulnerable when you do something in a way that isn’t necessarily pleasant. Many people are so afraid of this vulnerability that they never overcome their fears. They’ve never ever felt the joy of stepping out into the world, of being fearless and bold, and not immediately being beaten up for doing so. This, by the way, is also connected to love: you have to find the strength to be vulnerable, otherwise it simply won’t work out at all.
D. Let’s go back a little. As far as I understand, therapy has been an important aspect of your art from the very beginning. It was also the central component of your earliest project, the “Shop of Traveling Things” (STT). Like most of your art, the STT was focused on communication rather than the production or exchange of objects…
Ts. Of course, the STT was a project that was entirely based on communication, on dialogue. First of all, it too was a variety of “psychotherapeutic office or cabinet”. The STT was a shop that served only one person at a time. The “client’s” choice of clothing was accompanied by serious conversations. Why do you need these clothes (as opposed to other clothes) at this exact point in time? What are you trying to change by wearing these clothes etc.? At the same time, the STT was also an art project. We made exhibitions and performances with the objects that were in the shop at a given moment. For an instance, we had a series of exhibitions called “Personal Collections”, which I now think were very important to our artistic development. In these shows, we presented different people’s ways of collecting things. What does it mean when you say that this is your personal collection? What exactly are you collecting with so much love? Are you collecting memoirs? Fears? Are you collecting them in order to keep them forever, or you actually trying to finally get rid of them? In short, these shows did not present artworks, nor did they simply show things; instead, they showed the people who owned these objects and their “voices”. But this wasn’t a public voice but a voice the way it sounds in confidential conversation. At home or in a kitchen, for an example, addressing you in person.
D. Less conflictual, more open: are these characteristics of the feminine voice?
Ts. I find it very difficult to answer this question. It is true that we work with feminine voices a lot of the time. Does this mean that they are more open to communication? Probably. In any case, they are far more ready to engage in play; they are more flexible, far more ready for transformation. They are happy to step into relationship of “resonance”, in order to see themselves from the side, to see themselves differently. They like to be “reflected”. The thing is that you don’t lose yourself in this “reflection”; instead, you grow larger, stepping into a complex relationship with the other and with yourself. By raising your voice, you hear its possibilities. In order to do this, you will need lots of bravery aside from desire, but you also need to be certain of the other voices with which you are resonating. This, of course, is similar to the praxis of love: in giving yourself away, you receive twice as much. Can we call this the specificity of the feminine voice? I don’t know. But in my experience, women are more enthusiastic about playing these kinds of games.
D. As far as I understand, notions of like “feminine voice”, resonance, “love”, “vulnerability”, “weakness” etc. continue to develop in your earlier audio projects, such a “Heloise and Abelard or Five Feats in a Submarine”, “Vera Zasulich” as well “The Last Day of Hippolyte Myshkin”, a piece which has not been realized as of yet. These three pieces all have in common that they use resonance chambers (submarine, installation, prison) to bring historical personages and their drama to life. This drama, it seems, is that there were many contradictory voices bouncing around, like echoes enclosed in a resonance chamber…
Ts. You know, it’s always amazed me. A single human being is made up of such a huge quantity of different desires, impulses, fears, and complexes! And they all exist simultaneously. We always contain many different voices. But which voice is leading the melody? This is the question we wanted to explore, for example, in the “Vera Zasulich” project. Each voice had its own little black box with a door, standing freely on long legs in the exhibition hall. The voice only played if you opened the box.
So everything depended on which box you opened. And this was particularly interesting in the case of Vera Zasulich. She was a killer (she shot at Governor Trepov point-blank and wounded him heavily without killing him, actually, but this doesn’t really change much). But when she was tried, the jury passed a verdict of not guilty, because they recognized the legitimacy of her moral reasons for this act. By the way, this lies in stark contrast to the recent trial of a Chechen terrorist who refrained from her act of terror and turned herself in to the police. The court of law condemned as sternly as if she had actually committed her crime. But getting back to Vera Zasulich, she wanted to draw society’s attention to the humiliating and lawless punishments that prison-inmates were subjected to. To us, it was important to understand which voices were tearing her apart and which voice it was that won when she finally decided to commit her act of (failed) homicide. This was particularly interesting because all we know is that she remained silent throughout her trial. I think that this is because she did not know which of her voices to use. Moreover, like all women, she understood intuitively that silence can prove to be a tremendous force. Which is why many women show their power through silence rather than speech.
D. Last year, you have started producing audio tours. Even though they are completely different from your earlier work with the Factory of Found Clothes, they also operate with voices and bodies of resonance, but they now seem far more socially critical…
Ts. It seems to me that I have finally found a way of lending a voice to space itself. In the last audio tours, the spectator only has a CD-player, a Hi-Fi head set, and a map. Of course, there is also the “piece of space” through which the map is leading you. And there are two voices: there is what you could call the “(many) voice(s)” of reality, consisting of sounds that I record on location, sounds characteristic of this particular space or place. And on the other hand, there is my voice, the voice of the guide. These voices are in complex relation to one another, contradicting, reflecting and amplifying one another. The trick is that you have to investigate the “part of reality” you are working with very attentively. Which voices are primary? Which voices are secondary? How do they contradict one another? Where is the conflict? What makes this space sound the way it sounds? Since I work with social spaces, these works often reveal the social ulcers of that surrounding “reality”. Personally, I like to think that my excursions are a departure from psychotherapy. They have far more to do with studying and exploring new possibilities in critical realism.
D. Maybe therapy inevitably leads to the criticism of outer reality, of “authority”, of the narrator’s voice?
Ts. Maybe. My audio guides always include the voice of the instructor-teacher, which I have been developing in an entire series of methodological projects. Here, the teacher is the one who knows all the rules. She knows the “order of things”, and she knows what to do. However, this non-existent but possible set of ideals collides drastically with what reality shows us. But my methodological projects are a completely different story and have very little to do with the theme we have chosen to pursue in this newspaper.