Conversation transcription below
Tiziana Casapietra: In this conversation, I would like you to explain why you have selected these two artists and also, describe their works.
Viktor Misiano: This selection did not require a long and hard research to be honest, because the young art scene in Moscow – despite certain movements, certain dynamics which were emphasized in the course of the last years – in reality remains very closed. And the people to be considered were not a lot honestly. I thought these two personalities, Haim Sokol and Kazhdan represent, in reality, an interesting combination because at the surface they are total opposites. Haim Sokol is an artist who is working in a very specific field, on a very specific issue. He is focused on immigration in Russia and has been working with migrants. There are a lot of them: first of all, here in Moscow they are very noticeable. In fact, the appearance of these economical immigrants is becoming a crucial and important social issue because it is something absolutely new. These people are coming from the periphery of the former Soviet Union, first from the Caucasus and central Asia. So these people are ethnically different and it is visible, it is noticeable. Despite the fact that in most of the cases they speak perfect Russian – because it was the language of the country in which most of them were born; and they used to be citizens of the same country, absolutely equal in terms of all the rights which the Soviet State had guaranteed to its own citizens – in reality, they never had a lot of opportunities to meet each other, to contact each other, because mobility in soviet time was very limited. It’s the first time practically that Russians, slaves-Russians, are encountering Asians from central Asia, Caucasians from the former Caucasus and also from the Caucasus which is still a part of Russia – because the north of the Caucasus is still a territory belonging to the Russian Federation. But these people acquired the right for mobility only recently; including economic and social possibilities. The appearance of these people in the Russian cities is producing conflicts and in most cases hostility. What is also interesting is that even certain liberal public opinion, certain politically and socially engaged public opinion; well, I would say it’s not very sensitive to these issues. There is no clear position in defence of the rights of immigrants who in all cases are not illegal immigrants, in most of the cases there are also legal immigrants, but still they are unaccepted, still in many cases they are repressed by corrupt policemen and by the hostility of people in the streets. So, from this point of view, the position of Haim Sokol who focused his interest on this phenomenon, who has established direct relations with these people, who is involved them in his own work using the methodology of delegated performance – to use a term of Claire Bishop – it’s very unique. This sensibility of Haim to this issue, his full engagement, is a very honest and sincere engagement guarantees him a unique position in the Moscow art scene and I would say, in general his engagement, it’s something very rare.
From the other side, Kazhdan is working with another phenomenon which has also appeared recently, which also became a phenomenon only in recent social and political circumstances. I mean his sensitivity towards sexual minorities, which in the course of one and a half year, became a subject of repression and persecution in Russia. And also, in his own case, it is a very rare case, where a contemporary Russian artist is showing sensitivity towards this issue. He is the one who is very sincerely fighting with his art for the sexual minorities’ rights, he is the one who is reflecting gender issues.
From this point of view, both artists are working on completely different topics and both of them are unique and very original in this interest; but exactly because of that, it’s simply interesting to compare them, to put them in confrontation, to emphasize this strange dialogue in between these very solid personalities in Russian art.
TC: Could you explain the reason why they have difficulties to published their videos on YouTube?
VM: I think this is first of all because of a certain personal agreement which most of the artists have with the characters of their works. In the case of Haim Sokol, there is a group of immigrants from Central Asia in Russia; and in the case of Kazhdan, it’s two Moscow citizens who belong to the gay community. In both cases, the characters of the work (people whom both artists involved in their own work) they were simply insisting on not being openly shown on YouTube or in other circumstances where they could be seen by representatives of power or by representatives of certain reactionary groups who can repress them. Because this is the atmosphere in Russia nowadays: they are simply scared, they simply don’t want to be seen.
TC: But what would happen if they did an exhibition, for example, in Moscow ?
VM: I think in the case of an exhibition they are conscious that in this case the work will be shown in a professional field, in a certain public space but still reserved for a very fixed professional audience of art lovers, an audience of art professionals. I think in these cases they feel secure, protected. But to be shown on the internet, on YouTube, in this case they are scared because it is too visible: they could be seen by the secret services, by fascist activist or somebody else. I don’t know how realistic is this fear, but it exists, this is the fact.