David garcia on Mon, 24 Mar 2008 17:04:49 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Continental Intersections

A New Silk Road
Continental Intersections

In his essay One World One Dream, Brian Holmes describes how an  
entire "political economy is lodged in the tensions of intersecting  
realities." These realities are of course multiple but in his essay  
Holmes is referring directly to the example of China and the current  
condition of "transnational capitalism with Chinese characteristics."  
But at other points the essay also points to other more geopolitical  
examples of "intersecting realities" expressed as tensions operating  
between vast continental and regional blocks in a world where scale  
still matters. I want to propose an additional example: the  
comparatively recently formed central Asian Republics that once were  
part of the Soviet Union, now suspended between the great power  
blocks of China, and the Russian Federation.

Lodged precariously in the region is the remarkable ArtEast whose  
artist directors Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Jumaliev repudiate  
petty nationalisms of the so called "stans"; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,  
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Instead Kasmalieva and Jumaliev and the  
other artists associated with ArtEast  are struggling to address what  
Holmes called the  "unanswered question" namely how the tensions  
between the intersecting realities are being "expressed and  
elaborated by individuals: how is the emergence of a world society is  
tangled up with the production of new subjectivities."

In their piece featured in *Visual Foreign Correspondents* entitled,  
A New Silk Road, Algorithm of Survival and Hope. http:// 
www.visualcorrespondents.com/ we see the artists trace the new  
reality of the ancient trade route. In a carefully choreographed  
sequence of sound and video we see the detritus of the former Russian  
empire transported along the ancient trade rout to be sold for scrap  
in exchange for cheap Chinese clothes. In this work we see the  
intensity and immediacy of video is combined with the reflective  
detachment of ethnographic observation. Their approach embodies what  
theorists George Marcus and Michael Fisher term "anthropology as  
cultural critique an approach which involves regarding one's own  
culture as would a stranger from outside.

As well as their work as visual artists Kasmalieva and Jumaliev  
initiated and continue to run ArtEast as an important cultural and  
educational centre dedicated to the development of critical art and  
discourse. This organization is not only important in Kyrgyzstan it  
is highly significant for the wider region. In fact (as the interview  
below demonstrates) Kasmalieva and Jumaliev are profoundly skeptical  
of the value of the central Asian republics as separate entities or  
nations preferring instead to emphasize the intense cooperation and  
communication between artists across the different republics as a  
more authentic reflection of life beyond the nationalist ambitions of  
those in power. They hark back to a period of enlightened  
metropolitan expansion, the time of Gorbachev's  Perestroika when  
they were free to travel and study in St-Petersburg and Moscow art  
academies. A time (they claim) that gave people new hopes and  

Against all the odds Kasmalieva and Jumaliev as both artists and  
organizers have played a significant part in carving out important  
cultural scene in which despite difficult material circumstances art  
asserts itself as a language and a space of resistance.

There follows an interview conducted for Visual Foreign  
Correspondents in which we get a picture of the position and role of  
art and other forms of visual culture in shaping the future of the  

 David Garcia
Do you agree with the way McEvilley described you work?
As embodying: the approach that scholars George Marcus and Michael  
Fisher term "anthropology as cultural critique," which involves  
regarding one's own culture as would a stranger from outside. It is  
as if the Kyrgyz artists in Siberia were performing a cultural  
critique on themselves through anthropological researches into their  
own origins?

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Jumaliev
We respect the opinion of Thomas McEvilley as on of the outstanding  
art expert of post modernism. We think his description was based on  
our art practice in late 80s- beginning of 90s and revolving around a  
search for our origins. The problem of national, ethnic identity was  
very relevant at that time. In our earlier work: etchings,  
sculptures, installations we were searching out different issues that  
related to the pressures of living under the soviet regime: national  
language, history, mythology. Now our we are living through a post- 
soviet or post colonial identity, this ambivalent combination of  
local and European culture, allows us to be both within the society  
and but at the same time look at its problems as if we were  
strangers. This is by no means always an easy not easy but it remains  
a fascinating journey.

Before asking you about your work let me begin by asking you a little  
about the work of ArtEast. Does it still exist? Is it active? If so  
what projects are you currently involved in?

ArtEast is still exists and is still active and we try to combine our  
own artistic work along with an educational program consisting  
lectures, debates, presentations, workshops and exhibitions of  
contemporary art. This program is supported by Hivos Fund from  
Netherlands and Open society Institute from Budapest, but we also try  
to involve local society and governmental institutions. We have  
already organized two Bishkek International Exhibitions of  
Contemporary Art, In the Shadow of Heroes in 2005 and Zone of Risk.  
Transition in 2006. The next exhibition is planed to be this  
September and its topic will be on the damaging consequences of the  
architectural boom within Central Asia.

Is there much contact between the artists (and people) of the central  
Asian republics? How connected do the republics feel as region?  
Culturally? Could you forge cultural alliances to resist the larger  
forces of globalization? Do you see the emergence of a regional  
identity? Or perhaps national differences are more evident?

If we mean globalization as the intervention of global market, we  
have indeed been affected by it since the collapse of communistic  
utopia. A reaction to this collapse was of the simultaneous searching  
for national identities in all Central Asian republics. Today, after  
17 years of this process we have to accept the fact of total failure  
of this idea. The issue of national identity becomes something like a  
brand whose goal is to establish ambitions of Power. The only  
significant differences are visible only on how much natural  
resources each of the republics deploy as a means of selling  
themselves to the highest bidder within global market.
Of course there are borders, customs and other limitations which make  
it difficult to communicate but nevertheless all Central Asian  
republics (first of all Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and  
Tajikistan) still identify themselves as one region with common  
cultural roots and soviet past. This relationship is still strong and  
artists of our generation continue collaboration and friendship as if  
we were one country. This is especially visible in culture and  
particularly in contemporary art and this was one of the reasons of  
success of Central Asian pavilion in Venice biennial 2005.

According to McEvilley and others the video immediacy has been widely  
adopted as a medium by artists. Can you say something about your own  
artistic journey how you started as artists and how you came to adopt  
these practices?

We graduated in St-Petersburg and Moscow art academies during the  
Gorbachev's Perestroika. This particular time gave people new hopes  
and possibilities. We were not satisfied with only art education  
which by the way gave us very good artistic skills but tried to  
attend lectures and shows of European films, reading western art  
magazines and participate in the student movement against old  
bureaucracy in the academy as well as organizing exhibitions of young  
artists. Returning home we did limit ourselves only to sculpture and  
printmaking. We try to experiment with photography and different  
materials and interdisciplinary media in order to reflect surrounding  
processes in society the wild 90's gave a lot of inspiration for this  
process. In this sense we found video to be a very flexible and  
sensitive media, which allowed effectively realize our ideas.

Can you speak a little of artists from either your own region or from  
elsewhere in the region whose work has influenced or helped to shape  
your practice?

We have strong relationship within Central Asian artists from  
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Since the middle of 90s we  
intensively participate in group exhibitions mostly in Bishkek and  
Almaty (Kazakhstan) and of course this process includes active  
knowledge sharing and influence on each other. It is difficult to say  
much about particular one or even several artistartistss influences,  
as our work has been complicated due to larger influence of world  
contemporary art.

Are there other arts (literature, poetry, theatre and film), which  
collectively create a cultural landscape, or do you as visual artists  
relate mostly to one another?

We have never considered art as only art without the surrounding  
cultural landscape. Unfortunately the region is suffering from  
massive brain migration. But nevertheless the phenomenon of young  
Kyrgyz movie makers in 90, experimental city theater, the paper  
architecture music festivals are always connected each other. We are  
small country with population of five millions and we are also the  
poorest republic of Central Asia (by which we mean the we lack  
natural resources). So it probably seems odd that this country still  
attracts creative people from all the neighboring countries to  
participate in exhibitions, festivals and conferences. The reason for  
this in our opinion, are our unique human resources and this is the  
best example of vital creative forces of Kyrgyzstan.

In a way your adoption of certain technologies and some of the  
languages and protocols developed by western modern art points to a  
particular kind of globalization. But perhaps one, which might offer  
an optimistic scenario of the growth of a world society around  
values, which are, not only market driven. Do you see anything like  
that occurring?

Of course, using these particular technologies in art looks like  
manifestation of global market but at the same time almost all  
artists in our region (with a very few exceptions) who use for  
instance video, do not consider it as medium, which will lead to  
commercial success. One of the reasons for this is the very limited  
local art market which is orientated only for traditional techniques.  
Ironically it is the lack of commercial interest that makes video an  
ideal tool for independent artistic research. It does not mean that  
results of this activity could not be adopted by market in a future.  
But at least artists working with video are free of commercial  
motives. In this sense it is worth remembering that the soviet system  
with its repudiation of the market meant that the value of art was  
not necessarily expressed monetarily. And this is one of the best  
legacies of communistic utopia.

Is there a local audience for your work and the work of other artists?

I am sure that all artists here address their work first of all to  
local audiences whether they are radical, wild or conventional. The  
other question how global art audience reacts is another question. We  
think that topic of art??s relationship to the people is a highly  
relevant for our time. It does not mean that we need to follow either  
pop or commercial culture. It only means that art could be a medium  
for questioning the issues the touch on people is most fundamental or  
barest necessity.

How do people learn art in Kyrgyzstan? Is there anything like art  
schools in your country or region? Is there a younger generation or  
artists emerging?

There are art schools and several private studios for children, art  
college and art academy in Bishkek.
But due to very conservative, eclectic, low quality education,  
students tend to limit themselves a priori working only within local  
art situation. That??s why the main mission of our organization  
ArtEast is larger education of young artists providing them  
possibilities to realize their ideas not only in local but also in  
international art.

What do you see as the future for your society and in what ways do  
you see your work and that of other artist??s role in the future of  

These issues we would try represent during the Bishkek Exhibition  
this year. Due to dozen of factors: liberalization of market, passive  
cultural policy of government, educational crisis etc. artists in  
order to survive started produce kitsch and art became a service for  
national.  That??s why we consider contemporary art as one of a  
number of means of resistance. We plan to involve to this project not  
only artists but also architects, designers, anthropologists,  
thinkers and other representatives of civil society.

In the beginning of Perestroika Josef Beuys was invited to  
participate in exhibition in Russia dedicated to human rights. He  
refused and his explanation was: it is not time talk about rights but  
of duties. Perhaps it is one of the many legends about Beuys but we  
think this sentence is highly relevant for our time and our people.

Muratbek Djumaliev and Gulnara Kasmalieva interviewed by David Garcia  
for Visual Foreign Correspondents


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