questions by Juliana Höschlová
Piotr, you are performer but you also stay behind the camera. Can you tell us how do you perceive the difference between being the object itself at one hand and observing other objects and sceneries at the other one? What is your background?
I was born into the family of engineers. I studied computer science, of course it was very prestigious occupation, but I was more interested in humanism and philosophy. I liked to ask questions about life, pain, happiness and my father always called me: “you, philosopher”. But for earning money I chose computers. I was also very into theater but what I saw in my hometown in Donetsk, it was even worse than some clown performance. Clowns would be funny, at least.
So after two years of study it wasn´t enough for me and I wanted more. One of the other fact was for example the corruption in the school which I didn´t like. Then I was invited to small theatre in the Donetsk suburb. There I met Viktor Pelevin and didn´t know anything about him. I was so impressed so I started to visit a small studio in this theatre- studio "Zhuki”.
I studied “performance” as it is understood by the terms of Antonin Artaud. His theatre “The Theatre of Cruelty” is very rough and his theories are reflected by Jean Genet, Jerzy Grotowski, Michael Chekhov and other artists. So this is a stage from where I came out. It seems logical to me, developing more Artaud’s ideas and going to art performance through this true and existence of right here, right now. After my university graduation I just moved to Kyiv where I started to visit a Dakh theatre in 2007. We also worked with Pelevin´s colleague Klim who was invited there many times. There was a spirit for an experiment.
In Kyiv I started to explore more performance and art. I saw work of Josef Beuys, Marina Abramović thanks to CEAC gallery or Pinchuk Art Centre, for example. Actually I made there my first intervention. There was a show about sexuality and transcendence. Observing the work “Kiss” by Tino Sehgal I started to think about where is the point which distinguish the real art from a normal or ordinary situation. So with my friend we did a small performance to define that moment, what´s the difference between us and people who follow Sehgal´s instructions. We were wondering of people´s reactions and especially the security men. When they came we told them that we are the real performers, not the others. Sure they squeezed me and throw me into the elevator where they hit me, too. But I had my statement that I am artist which made them feel a bit nervous, so they commanded me to draw a cow to prove my talent. Then they just kicked me out of the museum. Later on I participated in a show there. I made a small revenge. Arrived there in a wheelchair to demonstrate how the institution is closed to public. Because there is no wheelchair access.
After your graduation from computer science did you go to study art?
I don´t have any art diploma or degree, because I learned art from people who were underground artists without any connections to official art universities. What can I learn from professors who don´t even acknowledge Kazimir Malevich.
You mentioned the situation in art school which is quite conservative and fusty. To be an artist in Ukraine mostly means to graduate from classical arts. Was there any sign of new art movements in such a field?
I think it has been changing within last years. Some people studied abroad, contemporary art has become more financially supported and become more fancy and prestigious.
You did a performance criticizing Pinchuk Art institution which belongs to its founder oligarch Viktor Pinchuk. Many artists and critics have a problem with such situation. What is your position?
Considering the context of national and state institutions with its deputies and officials who have money, there is no income to contemporary art. Few days ago I read some newspapers and there was a list with occupations that are very important and government should support its students. Around 20 occupations appeared. Such as a farmer, assistant of metro train driver and painter. The image of the painter in Ukraine is about very conservative academic painter with realistic painting skills. The money in Pinchuk are not clean but as a visitor of this institution I am grateful that people have a chance to see and learn about contemporary art.
It seems there are only two extreme ways. You can be only painter or you can be gracious to oligarchs and their charity.
Nikita Kadan, a young emerging Ukrainian artist was once asked how is it to live here as an artist. He said that maybe there is a way to go abroad try to succeed there and come back. Then somebody would appreciate you. Then you´ll get a respect from both sides. To be more optimistic I know about a group of people who are developers and engineers and they support artists. But we still need to convince the audience and public that it is good and right when state supports other projects, too. Not only painters.
You were one of the trained performers who participated in Marina Abramović´s show “Artist is present” in Moscow. Did you work with some group of performers in that time or how did it happen?
I read in some magazine that Marina will have this show in Moscow. There was written that she already chose people to work with. But I decided to be part of it, too. I really wanted it, needed it. I had the feeling that I have been studying art and artists in books like it is already a history and suddenly she is here in presence. So I wanted to experience it. And it happened through some unbelievable procedures and even with a fact that they accepted only Russians.
Can you share your experience of repeating Marina Abramović´s performances? Has something in your artistic attitude changed after this?
I think this case could be similar to what I did in Pinchuk Art Centre during the Tino Sehgal exhibition. Although Marina gave us some instructions she encouraged us to work like if we write a poetry. There are some rules but you can still create our own verses. Your limitation is different from some other´s limitations. Because of the exhibition rules, like opening hours for example, we could not perform like Marina in her performances. But we carried out the experiments with that. We also had a shifts but part of the group just decided to perform as long as we could. I stayed motionlessly with my colleague for 2,5 hours and it was just fine. For me it was important to experience how my body and mind react. And to be part of this 2 months long project also inspired us to create our own performances. We were practicing in the museum after the closing time.
Your performance “Dobra sa pesnicama” spontaneously originated just in that situation, after the closing time in museum?
Yes, I was thinking about a pain you feel but also about a pain you cause to someone else. After anti-Putin protests it has been strongly forbidden to fight on the streets because in that time there were too many fights. But it was very important for us to fight for what we believe. Anyway, the aggression is still present. Same in the schools. Kids don’t have any physical contact. They only show who is more cool but they don´t fight each other. They only fight with some aggressive jokes or comments on facebook. So it seemed to me that the last place for healthy fight is only in museum.
Since you started to perform you have been always asking “What is the performance, what is behind, where are the limits…”. When you stay behind the camera it seems your observing comes with more critics.
I would say camera for me is another form of my research. I was just simply amazed by observing scenes going around. I have been thinking about Ukraine during the time in Moscow and when I came back to Donetsk I saw many things which I wanted to understand so I took the camera. I also actively participated in Maidan in Donetsk. During that time, after I came back from Berlin where I went for one conference, people called me and were saying I should not come back to Donetsk. A lot of people already disappeared were kidnapped or killed and that I am on the black list, too. I couldn´t believe that but thought it is possible because of my activity in Maidan and I filmed a lot of people so I checked my name on the list and it was true. Of course I didn´t hide my name. And one thing happened before which might help to this situation. One day police came to interrogate me. Some anonymous letter appeared with incrimination that I am pedophile and showed my penis to little girl. Everything was arranged and faked, of course. But then they opened my website and saw a few videos where I show my penis.
In 2012 you made a performance about “Ukrainian body” where you were naked on the street pointing a finger on awareness about nudity and nudity in public. So then in 2014 you received very clear answer, right?
Absolutely, it is not possible to show nudity on public. It is perceived as a porn. Or if you pee on someone´s garden behind the tree they will accuse you of being a pedophile. So you know I was already a “bad guy” and there was kind of “haunting for activists” announcement. I was very frustrated and decided to stay in Kyiv but thinking about that I should do something. To go there just to check whether they would kill me or not was irrational. Then I was considering the option go to army. But my personal experience with some of the army men was that they were firstly corrupted, then stupid and fat. I realized it is not about defense it would be only imitation. I felt like schizophrenic. There were many voices in my head what should I do. In that time I finished my film about Volodia.
Did you find then the way how to defense your country? Maybe with your camera?
What actually helped me was the question I asked myself :“What makes us humans to be humans?”. I read a lot of books about Second World War and experiences of immigrants and decided not to go there. But what would be the next step after the war, how can we live all together in this planet? How we can deal with propaganda which has raised in Ukraine so much. I am trying to be open and film what I see. And I have found another way which help me to limit my frustration. It is to work with utopia and fiction. I can raise many questions there like :”How it would be if we change something in our past?” It is quite powerful.
It has been a long time since you made your last performance.
I can´t really enjoy to perform in front of the audience in Ukraine right now. Me and my audience, we everyday read about people who die in front lines. What else I can say then. I can´t raise the question about what is the performance now. I feel helpless. But I really miss it.