Jun 1, 2009

Dessislava Dimova - interview with The Krasnals in KULTURA

The interview with The Krasnals was published on April 30 at the Bulgarian magazine KULTURA.
Dessislava Dimova was talking with the artists.

Dessislava Dimova lives and works in Brussels and London. She is a PhD fellow at the Institute of Art Studies in Sofia with a thesis on Bulgarian art after 1989. She has published numerous essays on contemporary art and culture, including The Cultural Learnings of Ivan Moudov, catalogue of the Bulgarian Pavilion at the Venice Biennial, 2007; Supernaturalism in Postcommunist Bulgaria, The Weird but True Book, 2005.

The interview is the continuation of the series “School for revolution” by Dessislava Dimova, with interviews with artists, critics and curators about the problems concerning politics and market in the context of contemporary art.
The project works with the questions as today role and place of art and artist, their responsibility and possibility of influence on changes in society; art and market; are there possibilities and space for political reaction…

Balancing on the Edge of a few Worlds

The Krasnals - Polish group of anonymous artists, opposing to the basic defects of Polish art scene - uncritical match to the western market mechanisms, taking "fashionable" topics, intentionally but at the same time superficialy touched by the top artists. Behind all of this, there are hidden complex issues of contemporary art that The Krasnals more or less successfully try to touch. Aggressive tactics of attack, criticism, sabotage, copying methods, which seek to draw attention to the important questions for them.
These artists are interesting not only because they put the finger in the wound of disclosing antagonism, which characterizes the global art market, but also because of the same practice, based on negation and negative work. The Krasnals appear as a strange phenomenon, and contrast, as a refreshing self-reflection and anti-production against the general trend of political and social commitment of art, which today often uncritically takes the role of the production of positive cultural and social meanings.

We are used to see all kinds of critique suggested or implied within works of art, but it’s rare that an artist actually dares to oppose the art world and voluntarily take over the role of an outsider. It’s been a while since we’ve last seen artists whose work deliver such an overt critique towards the art system. I am thinking here of Alexander Brener for instance, but your actions seem to be more structured, more strategic even. There is a real agenda behind your activity, you have a blog, you also produce objects - paintings and videos. To begin with, could you tell us more about how you see your place within the artworld, but also your social role as artists in general? How do you position yourselves in regards to this very system you criticise?

Yes, our position has some features of an outsider, however we don’t identify with it so much. We decided to function independently from the system and art market machine. And to say it clearly – we are not against the art market, but against the hypocrisy and false ideas that cover the business. We love the market and its eventual profits!
We became outsiders because the seemingly free world has thrown us out to the margin. It was not exactly our volition.

We create our own circulation, our own world of our laws. Our tool among others is internet, which oppositely to art institutions gives us liberty and freedom of art expression.

Position from outside allows us to make free critic of compromised art world. We involve fully, exceptionally and actively, with critical attitude to appearances treated till now over-indulgently.
We are irritated by career of artists that use topics as Holocaust, Nazis and who don’t have any personal attitude to them (e.g. Wilhelm Sasnal, Luc Tuymans). We play with artificially created, trendy themes present in art area, we have cynical attitude to big ideas inflated by marketing staff represented by curators, critics and art dealers.

There were of course exceptions in recent art history, like ‘The conspiracy of art’ by Baudrillard, actions of Alexander Brener, Oleg Mavromati or more conservative opinions of Kuspith. But they were not much influential among the huge mass of activities buttering the art rules.

Our art arose from the frustration provoked by situation in art, hypocrisy of big ideas that generally cover big business. We concluded that in the circumstances where officially we can’t change anything, we ran to anonymity and the kind of different personality where we can use absurd, buffoonery and sharp tongue in unlimited way. And things seen through this perspective take right proportions against all odds.

We show that independent way of functioning is possible. We are the example of effective group activity, where determination and strong plan bring results. This is the real virtual agenda where everybody has its function. Exactly like Jozef Robakowski says in the interview for Polish Artluk: “It’s not necessary to conform to these who decide at the moment. It’s possible to create own area, shape the group which would create completely different way of art understanding. If this group is persisted, consequent and strong, finally it will win. (…) It is possible, using some impudence and exactly prepared explication, inject to art circulation something new.”

Our Project is created to show the hypocrisy that rules the art now. But our doings are run on many levels. Our critical activity towards contemporary art mixes with political and social one. For us in nowadays this is just one organism and these are its main organs. The actions as Georgia, Homo Sovieticus, China, Solzenitsyn, etc are the examples of this aspect.

In China Whielki Krasnal took part in monumental official art event – Olympic Fine Arts 2008, what was patronized by Chinese communistic party, where the main aim was to show the mastery of monumental Chinese art, and to use art as the tool for national propaganda. This experience showed us the essence and difference in functioning between communistic and capitalistic attitude to art role.
In Kislovodsk, the place where Solzenitsyn was born, we met with habitants if the city who remember times of Stalin and who were sincere representatives of communistic propaganda in the sphere of culture. We talked with them and made portraits in academic style used by socio-realism art. This experience provoked us also to the reflections about Homo Sovieticus and its presence in Poland, also in the field of contemporary art.

We are not the persons from outsider, and apart „The Krasnals” field we function as artists in official circulation. This kind of balancing on the edge of a few worlds gives us the possibility to catch at least some fragment of reality.

We don’t know exactly what will be the result of our action.

Your paintings are particularly interesting in respect to the position you take as artists.First of all the choice of the medium. Painting has undoubtedly high market value at the moment. But also the kind of images you paint have a direct reference to propaganda imagery, with texts and a very clear pictorial message. At the same time they are mostly re-makings of already existing works by the artists whose position you criticise. It's an interesting tactics of repetition, or may be we could borrow here the idea of "over identification" (used by critics to describe the work of IRWIN group and other artistic practices during totalitarianism) as a critical form. Could you tell us more about how your own art production functions? Do you exhibit your paintings and in what context? Have you already had reactions from the artists whose works you have "commented" upon?

About the medium and the way of functioning… We have accepted the method of using the tools of our opponents. So we paint in the same manner that we criticize. We use the method of pastiche, sometimes our message is sharp, direct and perverse, but this is the essence. We don’t only paint, we also send e-mails, press info, advertising gadget. We enforce confusion to homogeneous communicates produced by media concerning art, political and social situation. As Adorno said, in these times, only through making things larger the truth can be shown.
Our art activities have some common features with culture jamming. One of the methods that we use is adopting marks already functioning on the market. This is the strategy where we use already known name to become quickly present in public mind. Using it in internet, we are easily searchable. Our project The Krasnals is inseparably connected with the name Sasnal – the main Polish artist at the moment, and the example of perfectly promoted stock for the western market. Criticizing this product we use his promotional achievements and there is nobody in Poland now who wouldn’t associate Sasnal with Krasnal and Krasnal with Sasnal. Except the critic of some persons or occurrences, we use their names to be found by searching engines, and to be associated with them. We marked already Tuymans, Uklański, Solzenitsyn, Barack Obama, Yoko Ono, Monika Sosnowska, Zdzisław Brzezinski and others.
First our important action was provocation to Christie’s, where we used fictional name for correspondence. The auction house didn’t orientate that we wanted to propose Krasnal’s painting for an auction, and not Sasnal’s one. After long correspondence we received the documents, where the name Wilhelm Sasnal was written down. After admonishing the Christie’s worker for the mistake, we got the rewritten papers with the name Whielki Krasnal and the estimation of his painting at 70,000 GBP. Only in the next e-mail there was the question, if it’s this Sasnal. Afterwards it occurred that the painting can’t cost so much and appear on the auction.
The example of our political comments is a post about Barack Obama and his two portraits with the inscription “I am white”. We join the global euphory for the candidate for president with our guerilla communicate. Our message is equivocal as we suggest whitening Barack Obama because we wish him luck. This provocation results for example in the article in the news of the main Polish portal where we are disposed by the main Polish street-art artist Peter Fuss, American Robert Indiana and Ron English. Additionally our proposal was the most puckish and that’s why it received the biggest space at the article.
There are also many our actions not signed by us, it can be only suspicious that they are our job. As a result of this, there functions the saying that this is very ‘krasnalic’, in Krasnals’ style. People start to suspect we could nose into this or that case. We place anonymous information, perform auctions in internet portals, spread leaflets, etc.
Do we exhibit our paintings? Good question. We think about showing our things in Poland. Unfortunately we criticize the system, and organizing the exhibition can be very difficult. But if it happens, it would be the independent action. Poland has unfortunately quite strong complex of the West, artists that are noticed abroad, are quickly noticed and recognized here. So we woo for actions that would prove Poles that their Krasnals are a good artists valued abroad. That’s why we visited already China, provoked Adam Szymczyk at Berlin Biennale to perform in our movie, made contact with Christie’s (everybody in Poland wrote about it), we are invited to Lille, and just in a few days the exhibition in Miami opens with our part. We show there the portrait of Slavoj Zizek – guru of Polish Left.
And what are the reactions to our paintings? Artists prefer to be silent, their protectors defend them and fight with us. These situations look rather funny, and when they miss essential arguments, they start to use terms as ‘stupid’, ‘puke’, etc. One young critic erases all our comments from his blog, the off gallery refuses to make the exhibition despite one of the important curators wishes to curate it. The discussion follows in TV, on art blogs and political forums. Paintings referring to one of the artists were bought by some mysterious person.
Yes, some of the paintings are already sold, and apart the fact that this medium is the closest to us, this is probably the most commercial. Too bad, sometimes it will be possible to buy our paintings. Except the painting sent to Miami, the next one will be accessible at the November auction organized by the foundation Big Heart in Cracow.

Your position is extremely interesting and may be simptomatic of the particular situation in the arts in Eastern Europe.In the West artists and intellectuals are still strongly associated with the Left, although not in the same militant and direct way as few decades earlier.But eastern european artists rearly identify with leftist values and ideas. Your critique is focused mostly on the disbalanced relationship between the artworld in the East and West and on the production of art market values.Have you thought about where you stand, from a historical point of view, in the lineage of critical artistic practice, not only in the east but in the west as well? do you feel you belong to a certain tradition of critique or do you feel as coming from a completely different, new place with a different concept and target for that critique?

We just make what our souls prompt us... and we would rather prefer that critics place us in the proper space. Suggestions of art critics are very valuable for us, like your with Adorno, IRWIN.
We don’t thing that divide to West and East is essential here. But we have noticed also some convergence. Polish left intellectualists reproach Zizek that he calls for revolution, but he doesn’t say exactly to which one, and what does he mean. Persons who endorse our activity, described us as ‘trickster’ – somebody who puts the stick between the spokes and a driving trolley keels over. And this all is not done to demolish all the people being inside, just for fun. It’s done rather to put some matters once again under consideration, in intriguing and provocative way. Behind these provocations however comes some positive message.
We think this depiction is proper also for Zizek’s books interpretation. We see some convergence in used methods of making things larger. In this context we can boldly say that what we do is Left - because we really represent minority and try to do something. This is the kind of revolution more real in Zizek’s meaning, that all the activity run by Polish Leftists concentrated on improving the life of the middle class.

What we feel now is that we create the new value, our doings are full of energy - it’s a permanent brain storm. New ideas dominate and we don’t think so much about continuation, we rather refer by commenting. On the other hand we have no sureness if before us art wasn’t talking about similar things. It’s always possible, but we don’t feel continuators, we create our new value, own statement. And in this sense we come from different place, but it’s possible that we find somebody to talk about similar things.

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