Co-operating under the name ‘Szuper Gallery’, Susanne Clausen and Pavlo Kerestey’s ambivalent multimedia practice spans video, performance, installation and paintings. Their latest exhibition, named in reference to the uniquely peaceful and non-hierarchical groups formed by Bonobo apes, explores alternative societal models as a means to conflict resolution and social integration.
Susanne and Pavlo formed the gallery as a tool to develop and expand the closed discourse that defined the concept of the gallery and have since continued to experiment with the combining of several artistic mediums as a path to easier communication, as well as exploring the ways in which art can alter the way audiences interact with each other. After Nyne’s Arts Editor Luciana Garbarni met the creative collaborative to discuss the exploration of artistic boundaries and how art alters the way in which we interact with each other socially.
1) Susanne, Pavlo – it’s great to have you on After Nyne. Tell me a little about “Szuper Gallery” and how you both met.
We met in the late 90s in Munich. Pavlo had just arrived from the Ukraine and was working as artist and curator at Szuper Gallery and Susanne had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. We started working together and managed the gallery dealing in contemporary art from the Ukraine. We initially started running Szuper Gallery as a tool to develop the formal vocabularies that extend and define the concept of gallery as institutional critique. The gallery went bankrupt not only because we weren’t focusing on selling work but because we turned the running of the gallery into an art project in itself. We staged private views as performance events, we performed our gallery sponsors as exhibits, we curated exhibitions and worked with artists who were equally questioning the frame of a commercial gallery, in what we think in interesting and challenging ways. We appropriated the name when we left the gallery. Since then Szuper Gallery has been a tool to test out a number of strategies, practices and collaborations with other artists.
2) As one of initial aims behind Szuper Gallery was to “explore the concept of a gallery as institutional critique” – how do you feel your approach allows you to re-examine the role of today’s contemporary gallery space?
Maybe it is still odd to see this name. We were always interested in this sort of soft irritation. Our experience with the commercial art world had really changed the perception of the work that we wanted to do. We realised that it made no difference whether you were to be inside or outside the system, as of course there is no outside. We began to develop strategies of intervention and or collaborations with various locations and places. These turned out to be mainly different institutions, places of work or authority. We became interested in structures of power. Therefore it seemed appropriate to continue to act from the basis of an institution or a form of enterprise ourselves. For a while we were concerned with placing and situating art practice within a post-1989 condition and have since moved to different sites for art production and, now, post 2008 we continue to address the anxieties embedded in capitalist fantasies. We also continue to re-negotiate our East-West experiences working between UK, Germany and Ukraine.
3) How does working with a vast range of mediums from performance to painting allow you to explore boundaries in your artistic practice?
Performance and painting are very closely linked in our projects. We have recently started to explore more theatrical strategies in our work, working with actors, singers, creating sets and stages for our performances. We also make model sets for our video works and paint the set and backdrops for video works. All this involves different image making processes. And then again we develop paintings out of images we find in our performance on video works. For example our project Ballet-Granite is a performance installation. It is set in a spectacular landscape of rocks whereby the large scale installation functions both as performance set and imaging space. Framed by an experimental performance choreography, deconstructing text, introducing sculptural figures, the installation casts ‘the visual’ and ‘the theatrical’ as interlocutors. The installation also features a series of paintings by Pavlo where kids and cameras show up in a forest at night or in a cave, the dreamlike images of figures glow in a toxic natural landscape, where nature becomes an extension of the urban. The cave appears again in the installation video, as a meticulously sculpted model set, reminiscent of the nineteenth century cave, as symbol of a kind of domestic splendour that found its fullest expression in the decadent literature of the late 19th century. In Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal (1853) innocent children are lost in a magnificent glacier cave. Ludwig II of Bavaria’s castle was furnished with a luculent cavern in which the mad king was rowed across an artificial lake to the strains of Wagner. Script and installation reference Adalbert Stifter’s novella Granite where the elemental and the catastrophic feature in picturesque descriptions of a lone child survivor of the plague. The performance features on a band of survivors who reside between the rocks. The characters, a group of psychedelic astronauts, hippies on a strange voyage of self-discovery, reminiscent of Barnet Schroeder’s search of the “Valley” (1977) or paintings by Antoine Watteau’s bucolic, rococo staging of the Voyage to Kythera (1718).
4) What’s significant about the nature of the Bonobo apes in relation to the concepts explored in your latest exhibition at GRAD?
Bonobo apes are an incredibly interesting species of apes. They are a tribe of small chimpanzees in Central Africa, where society is dominated by women but where social hierarchies play a less important role. Conflict in Bonobo societies is extremely rare and sex and intimacy are used as a means of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation. This interests us as a model for crisis resolution and social interaction and there are different links to this in our video pieces. We have been interested in disaster narratives, which are closely linked to societal anxieties and political narratives of manipulation. In 2012 we created a performance for the Kunstmuseum Thun in Switzerland as part of a programme of exhibitions curated by Dorothee Richter. We looked at what we felt were the implications of the permanent state of crisis that we continue to live in, be it economic, environmental and political a result of war. We invited a group of 60 primary school children, a primatologist who had studied the behaviour of gorillas and chimpanzees and coping mechanisms of crisis and as well as a Swiss army general, who had been in involved in the pre combat psychological training of soldiers to collaborate with us. We rehearsed a large-group choreography of flight and crisis with the children whilst the primatologist and the general reported on their experiences. All of which created a layered web of actions, images and references.
5) The theme of social interaction plays a key role in many of your performances and installation, how do you feel art can alter the way audiences interact with each other?
Art has the ability to negotiate new forms of usership of artworks or the understanding of ownership of ideas. It can make spectators questions their own position, challenge our understanding of who is the expert in the process of making art and of who owns the work or the ideas. We create filmed and live performances, video installations, interventions and curatorial projects. In these works the performance and the installation are a site for post and meta-production in which the stream of film and performance images are placed into a critical sphere. Installations resonate theatrical film sets and stages, where the development of the work can be experienced. Performers and actors are choreographed within these sets, enacting texts and movements, thereby generating a structure of social, cultural and political references and associations within the work. We just finished a complex collaboration for our Liquid Trust performance at the ICA where we worked with composer Jeff Morton and conductor DB Boyko, and group of artists, performers and singers who sang for us in our choir. Liquid Trust is the brand name of the “trust molecule” or “love hormone” oxytocin, sometimes prescribed for anxiety and designed to increase an individual’s social integration and trust. Natural oxytocin is released during sex and social interaction and induces childbirth.
6) What do you think humans can learn from the Bonobo apes?
These animal tribes who obviously have found inventive ways to resolve social conflict trough intimate emotional and physical engagement. Gorillas also have incredible emotional intelligence, in how they deal with their young, with social hierarchies and with rituals of mourning. Watching these animals, observing both the difference and similarities enables a strange and wonderful recognition. Deleuze and Guattari have explored this recognition in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of ‘becoming animal’ a romantically conceived ‘primordial’ call for a human reconnection with difference through the authentic becoming of animal plurality in the wild animal pack.
7) Naturally, the creative process involved in working as a duo is significantly different to that of working solo. What distinctive qualities do you each of you bring to your partnership that has worked out so well?
We like the term UIT (use it together) created by Stephen Wright as a development from the old Punk culture’s notion of DIT (do it together). We have been working together as Szuper Gallery for quite while. This has allowed us to develop complex installations, videos, performances, paintings and photographic works and to challenge notions of production, usership or ownership in relation to the work we make. We also regularly collaborate with other artists on different aspects of our practice. Over the last few years we have worked on several large scale performance projects with the Canadian actor and performer Michele Sereda and this opened up different ways of understanding performance. For instance this allowed us to involved groups of school children in a performance at the Kunstmuseum Thun and to collaborated with a group of young dance students from Perm in Siberia.
Bonobo runs until 30th August at GRAD (Gallery for Russian Arts and Design)
3-4a Little Portland Street
Szuper Gallery were speaking exclusively with our Arts Editor Luciana Garbarni (@LucPierra)