You have recently returned from an art residence in Linz. What did you do there?
There’s this Ars Electronica Festival, which has been held since 1979. In a nutshell, this is a media art Oscar. Everything revolves around the Golden Nica prize, which they present each year in various categories: digital animation, sound art, interactive art, etc. If you receive Golden Nica, you are therefore recognized and cool. I’m glad I’ve seen the festival and made a project for pleasure.
What kind of project?
For the past two years I have been trying to combine two areas, visual art and music, and I have found a form that is interesting for me. In 2017, as part of Lviv Tetramatyka festival, I curated a project and decided to set aside its gallery representation. The project, which was called “Future Perfect”, was dedicated to industrial history and the concept of progress. I am interested in analog radio, so I came up with an idea. We bought on AliExpress eight radio transmitters that cover an area of up to 100 meters. Eights artists and musicians created audio compositions for eight locations throughout Lviv, where we hid the transmitters.
I had an idea not to use the city center, so we only went through the outskirts during the curatorial tour of the “exhibition”. We made a huge circle, during which we listened, talked, viewed architecture — sort of listening session. I thought this was a cool experience — to organize such walks with strangers and play certain tracks in certain locations.
In Linz, my idea was to deal with the concept of this festival and media art per se, that is to say, to analyze the very concept of “media festival” and “media art” as a phenomenon that has historically formed at a certain stage. I sought to trace how media art developed while referring to specific locations in Linz in particular and to the modern history of Austria and Europe in general. Therefore, I created sound collages using archival materials and abstract soundscapes for a few locations, four in total. We walked from location to location, spending 15 minutes in each, and talked.
What’s the difference between using a handheld radio and, say, a phone in this case? Is your approach romantic in a way?
Well, it’s not about romanticism, rather about opposition. My historical focus intersects with my fascination with technology. I was interested in media archeology as an attempt to rethink technical evolution. There are these notions that there is only one branch of evolution or only one way of technological development. All modern corporations owned by large capitalist companies promote one path of technological development and sell it to us. It is always interesting to delve into alternative branches — what if we’ve chosen a different path? What if radio was not regulated? Clearly, this is a Utopian construct. The answer, of course, is simple. The capitalist system cannot allow this degree of freedom. I wanted to give my audience an opportunity to reflect on this.
Do you strive to counter capitalist ideology with your creative output?
I have this agenda, but it hasn’t manifested itself fully. Capitalism does not lead to anything good. Glaciers are melting, right-wingers are ascending to power, abortion and same-sex marriage are being prohibited in some countries. I do not want all this; however, I observe repeating patterns. Although contemporary people are so technologically advanced, they still want to make something “great again”.
I am fond of critical theory which strives to “reinvent the future.” I work with technology, and technology has a very strong futuristic component. The 20th century demonstrated all the negative aspects of progress, and after the postmodern criticism in the 80s, everyone understands that it is foolish to regard faceless progress as the meaning of human existence. This is what my project in Lviv was about. I am interested in the concept of the future, and Utopian worlds, which I am trying to build.
Mark Fisher, a theorist who committed suicide a couple of years ago, coined the concept of the “slow cancellation of the future”. All this talk about technological singularity and the gradual folding of historical time: the same things keep happening. There are still wars, people die from gas attacks in Syria just like it used to happen in 1914 during the First World War. These points indicate that even the 20th century did not lead to any progress. All this makes me think about other options.
Does all this also qualify as a reflection on what is currently happening in Luhansk, your hometown?
Yes, before that I was less apt to speculate on these topics. I used to have a few works along those lines, but was not that political. Then I saw it all with my own eyes — the people who are being constructed like machines by media outlets.
I'm personally interested in concepts of home and identity. The Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora project is just about that. An attempt to answer this question “who am I?” We kind of relate ourselves to something common, but half of us no longer live in Luhansk. Probably the saddest thing here is that I will never return to Luhansk again; however, I’m not even sad about that anymore. So, I wonder how can one relate oneself to a region, and what do we, Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora, actually have in common.
I am concerned about the issue of nomadic existence. For two or three years, I travelled from place to place and did not have a permanent apartment. The feeling that you don’t have any kind of backup, no maternal home, no plan B — that is interesting.
Tell us more about Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora. How did you come together?
It happened spontaneously and randomly. Before the war, there were two collectives in Luhansk: I founded one, and my friend and artist Zhenya Koroletov founded another; Zhenya was in the Supovoy Nabor ("Soup Mix") group, and I was in Art-cluster R + N + D. We used to organize concerts and parties in Luhansk. Once we did the project “Black Olympus”, a strange expedition to the slag heap where everyone would do whatever they wanted: one would make performance art, another would record some sounds. We have documented everything and had and exhibition in Luhansk.
2014 was a difficult period, everyone who did something in Luhansk, had left. Then, already in Kyiv, representatives of Kyiv Art Arsenal’s Mala Galereya invited Luhansk artists to make an exhibition, and it was an occasion to gather as Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora. In a way, the gallery’s reasoning was clear — the topic of war is hot, especially in 2015. We wanted to show something old, but we had to rethink “Black Olympus” in a new way. We have received a prize for that project afterwards and were able to publish the Golden Coal zine with the money we acquired that way.
How is your collaboration in Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora organized?
The thing that unified us was the Golden Coal zine. It has more of Zhenya’s output, my only part is the editorial text. Zhenya continues to maintain active relations with young people who currently live in Luhansk or Donetsk. During the preparation of the zine, we met the guys from Donetsk, the Prism collective. They are young guys, students who, under curfew conditions, are trying to rave. They turned out to be interesting dudes. We invited them to take part in the presentation of the Golden Coal zine at Plivka art center in 2017, and they played at 20ft radio afterwards.
It was a valuable experience for us. I realized that it is possible to use various resources and capital in the field of grant economics in order to organize something together with the kids “from there” and provide some kind of opportunity for communication. We held Vostok parties in Kharkov and Kyiv (only two instances, unfortunately) and have recently released a compilation album. That is, it is more of a curatorial work — we are tutoring the folks, providing them with a platform for interchange.
You also present some tracks from that compilation in this mix, don’t you?
One third of the tracks in my mix are exclusives from producers related to Luhansk, like Maxim Tkachenko, or from those who still live there.
Do you consider maintaining this interchange as your mission?
Our zine, Golden Coal, addresses the youth that lives outside the friend-or-foe paradigm. Donbass has always been characterized by a degree of escapism. Even before the war, it was a harsh place to live, a tough context. If you are creative, you were an outcast, they would point fingers or, perhaps, beat you.
On the eve of war the situation began to change, though, I felt that globalism had eventually arrived: creative class emerged, coffee shops were opening, someone would try to do something at the old factories. Back then, I had projects in Luhansk, had exhibitions, events. We established connections in Kharkov, Kyiv, I was thinking of bringing someone. I was interested in developing a local scene. All that was in 2013, it began and immediately ended. I don’t feel anger, it’s rather resentment — our opportunity to experiment was taken away from us.
How was the Tatamovich project born?
I organized a season of theme parties in Luhansk — retro parties. For example, I would take electro funk, Parliament-Funkadelic, show a concert or a film about it, and play a DJ set. This was the beginning of the Tatamovich project. It was a joke and I still regard it as a joke. The very name Tatamovich is after a minor character in Red Heat, a movie starring Schwarzenegger.
At first, there was this retro mindset. I took old school funk, old hip-hop, early Chicago house, and prepared it all in separate blocks in Ableton Live. In fact, I do not mix tracks, I take a loop from here, a bass line from there, and then combine it. At the end of the season, I compiled a huge set list where Rage Against the Machine was mixed with dub, and Bob Marley mixed with hardcore. The idea of a mashup resonates with me, but I don’t make mashups for their own sake, I employ a retrospective approach and study the history of electronic music. Since I am a historian, it is always interesting for me to put myself in some kind of timeline. I began to learn what funk was, why funk went into disco, Detroit techno, and that everything actually goes back to the African American futuristic idea.
You have another project, Open Archive of Ukrainian Media Art. What is it about?
Open Archive of Ukrainian Media Art is an initiative where I try to apply my limited historical competence and some research aspirations to study the local Ukrainian context. My colleague Ianina Prudenko started the initiative in 2008 by digitizing video art tapes from Ukrainian artists. Gradually, broader problems and technologies began to be covered, so Ianina invited me to join the project and focus on sound art, as far as you can talk about “sound art” in Ukraine. I had developed a special attitude — not to be guided by the Western understanding of what sound art is.
I’m just interested in any experimental creativity through technology, mainly in the field of electronic music. So far, my main activity is interviewing various artists from the 90s in the field of experimental electronic music. I hope that one day this will be published and, in a perfect world, exhibited.
I am fascinated by the periphery, where people solder something, invent something, in total isolation. My activity comes down to such archival research. However, I am extremely inconsistent in this regard.
Speaking of isolation, you’ve mentioned that you’re from the periphery as well, but you have early Warp among your musical influences. Where did you find those records in the pre-internet era?
Luhansk is close to Russia, which helped a lot back then — and later backfired. A large volume of musical production was imported from Moscow markets. We had a couple of very cool shops. I went in 2003 after something like Prodigy or The Crystal Method, and a dude sold me Squarepusher, Autechre and Aphex Twin CDs. In Luhansk, you could basically have access to the Warp catalog. Not in its entirety, of course.
In 2005, I went to Kyiv and I got into the Morcheeba club. This strange place hosted a showcase of the Nexsound label. I had never been in a club overnight, but that time I stayed until the morning. I got into that club because of experimental music. Creating an unusual experience in a club has since become a kind of standard for me and still is.
In preparation for our conversation, I found a lot of information about you as an art curator and to a lesser extent about your musical activity. How do you balance both directions in your work?
I would like it to be equivalent components, but art brings me money. This is partly a forced position. Nonetheless, genre and stylistic divisions are mere conventions. Now I am a curator, but actually it is always somewhere between. An artist, a curator, where exactly is the line? I do not like to exhibit old works, like, I came, chose, and exhibited. I like it the other way around: to gather a group of people, sit down with them, give a topic, think together, and create a new work. Like it was in Lviv. I'm trying to be a co-creator of something new.
DJing and everything related is more of a managerial activity. I am interested in creating a party, and the mix that I made is a track list of my perfect party with Eastern Ukrainian artists. If I were organizing that event, it would sound exactly this way.