Photo by David von Becker
Haven't seen Slavs and Tatars' playful yet hyper-critical work yet? This month offers two chances, but one is only on through November 14 at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, so catch it fast.
The 10-year-old Berlin-based collective, made up of two to six unnamed members at any given time, focuses on the cultural, historical and linguistic nuances of the Caucasian and Central Asian region between the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China. They explore different facets of the topic at Hamburger Bahnhof (photo), in the finalist exhibition for the Preis der Nationalgalerie, and in Dschinn and Dschuice at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler. We spoke to one of the group's members.
Why is it important to focus on this region today?
If we’re going to counter the nonsense that Islam is on a collision course with modernity, or that the East and West are incompatible, then it makes sense to look at a region where this wasn’t the case for well over a millennium. The geography is both political and imagined, and it’s in between – mostly Muslim but not exactly the Middle East, mostly Russian-speaking but not exactly Russia, influenced by China but not Chinese. Despite different languages and faiths, people have lived there in peace and produced quite a lot of cultural content, including advances in astronomy, algebra, and modern medicine. But this area has fallen through the cracks over the past century. People seem to know more about Klingon, a language from Star Trek, than they do Kazakh or Azeri.
Tell us about Qit Qat Qlub, your contribution for the Preis der Nationalgalerie finalist group exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof.
It looks at language politics and German Orientalism, which started late and is different from English or French Orientalism. One reference is the German Intelligence Bureau for the East issuing a propaganda newspaper in the local languages of this region, declaring jihad on certain "Western infidels" in 1915 on behalf of other, acceptable Western infidels…
Does the title reference Berlin’s infamous sex club?
Yeah, it makes you think about the fleshy organs of language, the erogenous zones. Language is a form of hospitality and through translation you invite the other into your language, and yourself into the language of the other. It can also be a form of sensuous liberation. One part of our installation is a cabaret bar/reading room.
What will we see in Dschinn and Dschuice at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler?
We’re exploring language and alphabets as sacred platforms of knowledge, behaviour and communication. There’s a five-metrelong tapestry carpet that says in Arabic, “Jesus, Son of Mary, He is love.” The letters are walking in exodus, packing their bags, like refugees, and leaving as a commemoration and an objection to the disappearance of a Middle Eastern form of Christianity.
Why does language play such a big role in your practice?
We share the view of the philologists, that language is a generator through which everything passes. Speaking different languages offers a kind of productive schizophrenia, allowing you to be different people, with different sensibilities and senses of humour. With it we can ask stupid questions to get to quite serious subject matter. I don’t know how we’d do it otherwise.
Do your art objects stand alone without text?
If someone were to just lie down and cuddle their partner on PrayWay, the flying carpet, that would be just as legitimate an interaction with the piece as if they read the text and engaged in a lengthy discussion.
Your objects are often interactive, which is quite unusual.
It’s important for us to understand and learn things not just in an analytical or cerebral way, but also to include metaphysical, material, affective, and emotional intelligence. These are things you might not be able to learn from a book. They might have to be taught through experiences. Participation was part of that without us really being aware of it at first.
What’s the most interesting feedback you’ve ever gotten?
When the curator of the 2014 Berlin Biennale, Juan Gaitán, invited us to show, we told him we wanted to create a film. He pushed back and said, “The strength of your work is that people don’t know what to do with it. They don’t know if they’re supposed to sit on it or look at it. They don’t know if it’s a factual take on a historical event or a fictive one. Is it sacred or profane, is it serious or a joke?” It helped us realise that this not knowing is very important for us to maintain, cultivate, and consider – even for ourselves. We don’t have an either/or approach, it’s more of an and, and, and.
PREIS DER NATIONALGALERIE 2015 Through Jan 17 | Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstr. 50-51, Tiergarten, S-Bhf Hauptbahnhof, Tue-Wed, Fri 10-18, Thu 10-20, Sat-Sun 11-18
DSCHINN AND DSCHUICE Through Nov 14 | Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Karl-Liebknecht-Str, 29, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Alexanderplatz, Tue-Sat 12-19