Katya Chitova is an artist, filmmaker and film curator who joined the Spring Sessions program temporarily during the workshop by Andrea L. Zimmerman and Gareth Evans. Yvonne Buchheim facilitated a series of workshops throughout the program. Each workshop was linked to one of the programmed public lectures on the theme of utopia, and provided a starting point for exploring how theoretical ideas can nourish individual art practice.
Yvonne reconnected with Katya after her return to London to continue their conversation on what it means to be an artist, how we learn and generate alternative methods for production.
Yvonne: I would like to suggest a conversation rather than a traditional interview, since we had intense conversations and nearly did a workshop session together. I feel that maybe something beautifully unpredictable could come out of a conversation.
Katya: I am wondering how the workshop went? I remember that you initially encountered some resistance from the participants, who did not quite understand how you would substitute content with method and vise versa. That was the whole idea! So I am curious to hear their reactions.
Yvonne: Whilst the participants were quite quick to come up with ideas for content, it was much harder to turn it around and imagine content as a method. I asked them to make two artworks using one line from “Ourtopia Manifesto”, whereby this line constituted the content of one artwork, and then for the second piece they were ask to use this line as a method. For example
there is no center.
there is no time.
we know the possibilities of the unknown.
there is no taming and being tamed.
I think the last sentence worked really well. The resulting pieces were a set of illustrations and a book. For the content, the illustrations consisted of drawings of hairy legs and other untamed body parts. They were funny but maybe not really imaginative. Whereas using the line as method, resulted in a book that was completely unruly and didn’t follow any of the predictable ways that a book should behave. For example, the ending was the beginning, some pages didn’t properly open, other times you had to turn the book around, the rhythm kept changing and the whole book in itself became an experience of “there is no taming and being tamed”.
Katya: It’s interesting that it’s very easy to make content. In that way, it speaks of the whole difference between the creative industries and art. Because content is the easiest thing to do, whereas creating method is what varies from the creative industries to art. Form within art can be content and in other cases, form can be the method. While in the case of the creative industries form is usually employed for commercial ends and generally all the industries that want to be artsy use form just as a direct translation of content and that’s why their form is industry.
Yvonne: Do you think that is because form within the creative industries clearly needs to communicate a specific idea and also follows a financial system?
Katya: Yes, and consequently form can’t give people an experience because the products themselves create the experience. Therefore they handle this transmission of the idea of a certain product that keeps the experience of the product a secret, in order for it to sell. The only thing that the communication about the product aims to do, is to just give an idea and maybe create buzz about the product. So obviously, the content that they create cannot in itself offer an experience and actually only recently have commercial industries started going about this whole thing of ‘we want to give an experience’, by using mass and social media to create an illusion of public access for private or commercial goods. This is the rationale behind these whole campaigns or branded content where it’s all wrapped around the idea of virtual inclusion of consumers in the process of making.
Yvonne: Whereas an art experience also gives room for gaps and misunderstandings in moments where the viewer can find themselves in the work, using their own perspectives to try and understand and maybe even enter the conversation with the artist, So the art piece is not a dead object but more like an offer for a conversation or an idea. I took this notion of experience as a theme for the very first workshop that I program, which was a response to a critical introduction to utopia by our first guest speaker Abdullah Awad. He invited us to look beyond representation, to see art as something that happens within the everyday. Maybe there is no need to define art, but rather experience it. With this notion comes an awareness of rupture, disruption, and gaps. The workshop explored the limitations of language and moving across media. Most importantly, it highlighted the value that lies within these limitations.
Katya: It sounds like there was a natural and fluid process throughout the programming of your workshops, where you could guide them according to arising themes and changing contexts. It is like an art school process in the way it evolves.
Yvonne: Yes, evolving but focused on the link between theory and practice. I think there’s a real difference between understanding and embodying knowledge. How can we actually understand theory in an embodied way? How can our practice be an embodied response to theory rather than a rational understanding that is somehow disconnected?
Katya: Well I guess practicing knowledge, right?
Yvonne: Yes exactly. You know what we really struggled with? Group feedback sessions where everyone can comment on each other’s work.
Katya: (Laughs) oh my god!
Yvonne: Of course there was a lot of tension, and some participants hated it passionately. I wonder how much of this group experience was also about the mechanisms of letting other people into one’s individual process of art making, which is quite rare for an artist.
Katya: Well it is, exactly. I was thinking, if I was an established artist, I think at some point I would no longer need to be part of a process like that. It’s not just that I would be protective, but mostly I wouldn’t need it! Because I would have a huge identity, personality, that is very consistent, with a clear artistic direction and methodology. So my creative path would be figured out. In this sense, I would come as a contributor, as an artist, leading the way, and offer something. It’s hard! It does have to do with personal boundaries…
Yvonne: But don’t you think that there’s a danger in what you say? It assumes that you figured it all out, and you know what you are doing.
Katya: Of course there is a danger, absolutely! But that’s what I am thinking, there’s no way you can continue working on your own. When I say that an artist has to set on a path, this is the only firm decision there is, right? Within that path there’s a constant flow of ups and downs and certainties, and further uncertainties. It’s a very painful process of self-exploration. It’s just a question of how many things are set within your practice, versus what you don’t know? That’s what allows you, if you are in a group, to be more open to feedback and communication. Obviously it depends on people individually, cause someone can simply be too sensitive to take feedback from anybody. It’s interesting because it’s the life process of a group. The body is no longer an individual. The body is the group. And it’s a hard situation; even for the experienced artist to be able to see communal practice from the inside and try and make the best out of it for each one of the participants involved when seeing them struggling.
Yvonne: I think the debate on critique and how to grow as an artist, is very interesting. It is one that we all have to answer and it has nothing to do with age, it stays with us. When you look at the diverse age range of the participants at Spring Sessions, you realise that they come together for different reasons. Everyone has to decide for themselves how they choose to develop. For me, growing happens as a participant as well as a facilitator, with slightly different questions. But even as an educator, the questions feed back into my work as an artist.
Katya: And vice versa, yes. It’s all very personal.
Yvonne: Maybe it’s all about connection?
Katya: That’s a good question!