A (reconstructed) conversation
Yane Calovski, Hristina Ivanoska, Başak Şenova
Başak Şenova: What is the driving force behind your will to collaborate?
Hristina Ivanoska and Yane Calovski: Over the years we have developed a specific kind of collaborative dialogue that culminates from time to time with specific works based on shared research. Our projects animate multilayered conceptual possibilities through the intense associations questioning the dynamic of the practice inspired by accumulated knowledge, intuitive references, historical and present day political concepts. The logic of our collaborative practice is unusual in the sense that it is a result of a constant exchange of ideas and living and working together for a number of years.
Başak Şenova: How do you describe each other’s artistic approach and working methodology?
Hristina Ivanoska: Yane’s artistic practice comes from a very complex mindset. At first glance some of his constructions/installations might look simple because the things (object, drawings, prints, photographs, videos) are very carefully selected and organized in a way that makes you feel comfortable (at the beginning). When one goes deeper into the content to understand the meanings and the links between the things, one realizes that the creator of this set has a talent to twist the things in an unusual way. He is in a constant search for a new approach to tell a story, sometimes very personal and painful, at times a story that reflects our collective body. His concepts are never closed, his ideas always evolving. He is like an archivist dealing with one massy archive, persistent in his effort to keep things massy while finding something extraordinary that, at least for a moment, will shine a new light on an old story.
Yane Calovski: Hristina’s concern with historical narratives of women, the undocumented histories of activism and solidarity, has lead to always discovering new forms of actions – drawing, sculpting, writing, filming, speaking, direct activism. So, her practice is multidimensional. She is very attuned to what is happening around her but also within her. Her art is very personal and powerful, communicates with the audience who always seem to be engaged with her work. The works do not shy away from also being visual and are carried out with the confidence of someone who can draw, paint and sculpt.
Başak Şenova: Hristina, could you exemplify your interest and research with historical narratives by navigating through one of your recent works?
Hristina Ivanoska: The aspect of researching oral histories in relation to women’s history has recently brought me back to the story of Rosa Plaveva (aka Deli Rosa, 1878-1970), a social democrat and women’s rights activist that has been one of the main subjects I have researched over the years. The first time I started to study her life and work was ten years ago as I was working for the project Naming the Bridge: Rosa Plaveva and Nakie Bajram (2004-2006). This work is a research-based project that started in 2004 and it was concluded with a 3-channel video installation in 2006. From the collected materials in 2008, I developed a publication with limited edition posters.
The work presents my experience with the local authorities of the City of Skopje after submitting a proposal for naming the newly built bridge with the names of two women protestors and fellow citizens. This initiative was provoked by the lack of gender sensitivity in the decision making body of its society and the more obvious division of the city between different etching and religious communities.
Başak Şenova: Yane, in relation to historical narratives, two of your works come to my mind: Master Plan (2008) and Obsessive Setting (2010).
Yane Calovski: The story of the unfinished modern urban plan project for the City of Skopje is based in the research of the winning proposal by Kenzo Tange Associates for the reconstruction of the City of Skopje following the earthquake of July 1963. This has always been a very personal narrative for me, compelling for many reasons, but mostly for the aspects of the story that have been lost in the official narrative and are non-existent in the official documentation and photography.
So, I started to dig into various kinds of both official and unofficial archives and discovered materials that shed a light on the personal and professional relations of the people that worked on the plan, as well as intricate cultural and political differences manifested in these relations. I discovered the discarded parts of the narrative, the missing limbs of this archival ghost. Both projects became large-scale installations that ultimately give us a sense of how sometimes the intended brilliance in the rational space of diagrams comes to overlap with the mystical space of illusions.
Başak Şenova: What are the commonalities that bridge the gap between your individual research, ideas and the result as a production of art?
Yane Calovski: First of all, for both of us exist very intimate, personal interests in particular issues that are regularly appearing in our artistic practice. We are both interested in literature, theory and art history, as well as current political organizations of artists and cultural workers for self-identification in current post-communist society. Our active role in the cultural and political scene of Macedonia plays a role in the further shaping of our positions as artists.
Hristina Ivanoska: The research process is very important to both of us. However, we do not have a very systematic approach. Reading different things (recommended or self-discovered) are researched further and relate to ones own existence. Taking time and articulating the accumulation of information from different sources becomes a creative process, both as studio-based artists and as cultural/political activists.
Başak Şenova: Bearing in mind the conventional scheme and the selection process of the Macedonian Pavilions presented at the Venice Biennales, it was a deliberate and bold decision to work with a foreign curator. Hence, such an act also underlines the nature and the operation logic of a relationship that has built between you as artists and me as a curator over the years. How do you see my role, significance and responsibility in this specific collaboration?
Hristina Ivanoska: We have known you for more than ten years now and we have collaborated in many different projects over the years. For us you are more than a curator and a collaborator. You are a friend and a member of our family. During this decade each of us has gone through so many professional and private experiences that somehow have straightened our friendship and understanding of each other. Furthermore, being a curator of the Pavilion of Turkey six years ago, and having in mind our previous collaborations and projects, you were to be the right person for this challenge. We always wanted the three of us to do a joint venture one day. So for us this was the right time to do that. For you have the capacity, the energy and mind-set for it. This is the first time that a foreign curator has curated the Macedonian Pavilion and it is obvious that we take this very seriously and professionally.
Yane Calovski: But just as important, if not more, is your broad interest in cultural, technological and social phenomena, which we experience as the key postulates in your curatorial work. You are a hard-working, internationally established curator with an impressive network of people. We knew you would relate to the mix of references we are working with: Luce Irigaray, Simon Wail, Paul Thek, a church in Kurbinovo, an experimental gallery space from Kunsthalle Baden Baden, and our own personal narratives woven into it. We knew you would see this as a positive schizophrenia and would be supportive of its further development.
Başak Şenova: My thoughts and dreams are mutual and for sure, I see this as a big opportunity and responsibility to share this schizophrenia.
There are four main references, which belong to different periods in time and paradigms, that designate not only the starting point of the project, but also the segments that are being processed in each work that cultivates the project as a whole: the traces of the fresco paintings in St. Gjorgi church located in the village of Kurbinovo; the writings of Simone Weil; the text ‘La Mystérique’ by Luce Irigaray; and the recently discovered production notes and letters of Paul Thek.
Could you elaborate on them by explaining the links between them?
Hristina Ivanoska: The links between all the references are intuitive. They relate to a basic premise that faith is the necessity for self evaluation, evaluation of one’s beliefs and ideas about society and processes of emancipation, growth, desire, relevance or political stance and inquire into the work one creates and subsequently leaves behind. The conscious political idea of all the authors are what binds them. At the beginning of every research they are subjective reasons why some authors mean something to us. For example, I discovered Simone Weil while doing research on the personal letters of Rosa Luxemburg. I immediately became interested in her as a person and in her writings. She is very complex and interesting, unusual and determined. Through her writings I became interested in faith, belief, God, issues that were not that important in my artistic practice. She was addressing those very philosophical and abstract matters in a very provocative and original way. On one side, she sounds so simple, so easy to understand, but on the other side she is ready to question what should not be asked. And this is what I like about her.
Now if I should point to a believer that I can trust, she is the one. What was missing in her writings was the feminine side of her. She was a virgin and she didn’t like physical contact. But she was full of love. Crazy love. And she was definitely perceived as mysterious in her time and even today. And then, when I started reading this beautiful text, like poetry in prose, “La Mystérique” by Luce Irigaray (from her book Speculum de l’autre femme, 1974), I knew that I had found the missing voice. It fitted perfectly. Inspired by their texts I could now create my own little sentences, my own paper constructions, very simple and beautiful, like signs of faith.
Yane Calovski: For us at the beginning it was individual research without the intention of becoming a base for a collaborative work. Then over the course of the research phase, by speaking to each other about what we were working on, what we discovered from our sources was that faith has become something embedded in an evolutionary process regardless of religion. Faith, it seems, was something we had before we had anything else. Before the links were shaped we shaped our definition of the need to believe and how slowly this has become misconstructed in current socio-politics. We started to sketch a possible narrative, a script even, in which three characters and one site converse on the concept of faith on the margins of society.
Başak Şenova: Speaking of subjectivity, how do you route your approach to ‘religion’?
Hristina Ivanoska: We find the basic idea of religion as some form of self-identification that is constituted in all of the sources. How we are illustrating belief when not using religious generalization of imagery and verse has been one of the key issues. To paraphrase Duchamp, art becomes the religion of the individual who believes in science. It is interesting to think whether in this statement we accept a certain faith or remain reluctant. There is a very strong connection between all of them. Faith, saintliness, belief, procession, God, art, those are the issues that concern all of them on different levels that are expressed in different mediums (frescos, texts, objects, installations etc.).
Yane Calovski: Religion is less of an issue in the work. I do not associate my faith with that of the dogma of a given religion. What is fascinating for me in the church of Kurbinovo is the faith of the painter who worked on the fresco; his strong sense of purpose and its manifestation. I think that religion for me is a filter that taints the experience we are out to have with faith and God. I tend to believe in the work we do to make sense outside of the comfort of some narrative. Narratives that are dogmatic and preconceived by nature have never swayed me.
Başak Şenova: In the meantime, from a totally different point of view, Thek has always been an inspiration for you Yane, both through his writing and his art. How did it start and how has your relationship with his work evolved?
Yane Calovski: Paul Thek was someone I discovered very early in my studies in Philadelphia, in the mid 1990s. It influenced me right away; I was falling hard for what I thought I understood of the work and the man behind it. There was something toxic and sexy and honest and strange and foreign and God knows what else in there that stirred my interest and made me believe in his iconography, his positions, his attitude, his work ethic and manifestation of solidarity in practice. There was a lot to admire and appreciate, not to copy as style, but basically to remember. Early on he became the most important figure for me and there were works I did about some discoveries as early as 1999. He was also being rediscovered by the art world following his death and the market interest in his work made it possible for new travelling exhibitions, catalogues, books, etc to appear and be available. The more I learned about him the more I understood about my insecurities and myself.
Strange, but to me he has been a sort of interlocutor. So, at any chance to dig up some personal archive of a collector, I ask for anything on Paul Thek. I was lucky to discover one folder in the Egidio Marzona collection that belonged to his art gallery and handler in Paris ARTSERVICE. In it there were letters and notes written back and forth between Thek and Benedicte, the gallery manager. They are so informative about his whereabouts during 1971-74, his state of mind and the purpose of his work during this time. It is a small find, that only die-hard fans of Thek may care about, but on the other hand, for me it is an art history find, something really important in teaching us what faith has to do with social and collaborative aspects of current art production. How are the institutional settings changing our attitude towards what we make and how we present it? How hard is it to trust one another and keep belief in the same process we call art making? What are we doing when we are trying to survive? How are we generous to each other? What is the value of money?
These found notes open a new set of questions that remind me of Thek’s famous questionnaire given to his students at Cooper Union in the foundation class. These questions have become a classic read now. My interest in intimacy, poetry, society, comes from knowing something about my world and myself by having found him in the time of my life when I did. The prolific writer that he was, the amazing texts he has produced is some of the best unrecognized literature of the last century. How can we ever forget his words: I said I was. I never said I was. It is exactly this duality, this escapism and falling into your own trap.
Başak Şenova: Succeeding the research process of this project, you reflected on all these questionings and findings with the act of producing. While your artistic production merges with other lines of reading, you also create potential fields of further stories, sentences, records, and perceptions of the notion of ‘faith’ that are all connected – even if sometimes they convey contradictory thoughts- with the physicality of your production. How do you conceive this physicality?
Hristina Ivanoska: You offer some interesting analysis inside this question and, in a way, the physicality of the work is manifold, a result of all the experiences with the resource materials and the experience of various architectures. We are cultivating a process that suggests housing a thought process, reflecting, containing and keeping the knowledge of the initial installation, while at the same time adding new insight into the work as it continues to manifest itself in a new site, in context of a different spatial and also contextual logic.
Yane Calovski: The physicality is also a result of conceptual consideration of the architecture of the project. As drawing is a process of articulating a visual language to illustrate ideas, we undertook a careful consideration of what these words can mean and how they can build an experience. It is also indirectly an aural experience as we considered the act of reading and humming words, the near-silence that exists on a written page. That is why, for the most part, our drawings resemble text works to be comprehended in the language in which they have been found. But the physicality of our production at the end is a sum of many parts, many considerations and intuitive conceptualization of space and history.
Başak Şenova: Last but not least, how do you locate this project in the context of being presented in the Sale d’Armi of the Arsenale?
Hristina Ivanoska and Yane Calovski: Since it was important for us from the start to have the project evolve in contextualization, having it in the Arsenale brings it in context with the history of reclaimed spaces, readdressed environments. It is important that in some way it feels anchored in the context of this particular building that is redesigned to service various installations. So, the dynamic is different, we can rest the historical connotation this dialogue may bring and focus on having the project articulated as a concept and a built environment. Furthermore, it is interesting for us that in some way we are returning to the word Chapel, something that got dropped following the show in Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. But here we feel the space closely resembles these small chapels for contemplation, for prayer or religious service, very often as part of nonreligious institutions or can be part of a big structure or complex (military objects for example).
Our room for contemplation on one side can be seen as such in the context of Arsenale, having in mind the historic background of this complex environment and its current meaning and purpose. On the other hand, our project should not be perceived only as such. The created space We are all in this alone has its own history and identity that goes further and deeper into the meaning of faith; the faith in art, practicing art, living art, and art as an artist’s path to infinity.