As our exhibition Open Jars (Открытые Банки) at the Tea Factory Center for Contemporary Art in Odessa neared its end last month, we sat down with Anna Litman of hudcombinat.com and Alexandra Dorset from the Tea Factory to talk about our trip and our work. Over tea, of course, we told them about how we started travelling, what we hope to gain from taking our artistic practices on the road and what’s been most interesting for us so far. Anna published the original interview in Russian on her website. Below is a transcription of the interview in English.
Anna was our interviewer and Alexandra was our utterly indispensable translator. In order to simplify things the questions Anna asked and Alexandra translated have been shown here simply as Anna’s questions.
- Could you tell us about how the idea to travel while doing art occurred to you?
E: The idea developed because we really had the wish to change something in the way we were doing art.
D: In this sense it was also not really an idea, it was more growing out of our lives.
E: So actually we were just talking about it today: how we started this trip really, and what the idea there for us was. And yes, we really wanted to find a way to bring art more closely into our daily lives, as we do now on the road. And the idea was to put all of our attention on it, invest all our resources is just doing art.
D: And in this sense it was also...we wanted to develop a new way of seeing and doing art.
- A way of seeing art?
D: Seeing the world. For us...if I can speak for us!
E: That was really the feeling at the beginning of the trip: hey, we need to try this!
A: Why did you decide to travel by bicycle? Isn‘t it extreme?
E: Well, first of all it‘s not so extreme, the way we do it...because some people who travel by bicycle do it really ‚extremely,‘ but for us it‘s just a way to move, it‘s not sporty bicycle travelling.
- I think you must have been lucky because I've heard of cyclists dying on Russian roads.
E: Yes, we also felt this danger, often. It‘s really dangerous being on the road, because you‘re really exposed. But we chose this method because we want to meet people, see places, and be in movement while traveling. When we first started talking about travelling we thought, ok, maybe we‘ll get a car. You have to pay for fuel, you‘re stuck in the car, you get sick of the car, you want to get out...so, we wanted to find a way of moving in which the moving is generating pictures already. You‘re just moving, you meet people automatically, you stop wherever you want, and it’s somehow just much more organic.
D: And of course also, when you travel like this, you see everything. You don‘t just see the big cities; not just Heidelberg, Berlin, Danzig, Kaliningrad, and then you go to St. Petersburg and Moscow and Odessa. You see, um, Eberswald, and all these little villages, and the forest. And this was very important for us; to see what is in between these big names, and how can we travel without them. We don‘t need these big trademarks of cities, they‘re not interesting for us. And therefore we were, for example, for one and a half months in a village in Bashkiria (Russia) which we had never heard of before. But this was a life-changing experience for us! In the best sense.
E: But actually, I‘d just like to add to it, this experience was already life-changing for me in Germany! Because in Germany, it‘s a neighboring country of Switzerland, and we‘ve been there many times-
D: We have friends who live there who we visit a lot-
E: Yeah, but travelling by bicycle in Germany was completely different than any other trip because suddenly you‘re just passing through village after village after village, and they‘re all a bit different from each other, and the people are completely different people than those you‘d meet in the city. And then there‘s just the forest in between; so much nothing! So it was really interesting to see that Europe is not only these metropoles, also lots of villages and fields.
D: This is also...maybe some people would say this is a romantic idea. But for us, this has nothing to do with romanticism. It is a way of observing. Of perceiving all these in-betweens. That‘s really interesting to us.
What did this experience give you as artists? You travelled such a long way, all the way from Switzerland, and you observed many different cultures and different places on the way. What impressions has it given you? What impressed you most?
E: In terms of our work as artists? Or personally?
E: It‘s difficult, that‘s why we‘re thinking about it a bit, because it‘s very difficult to look at it from outside and say, ‚ah yes, we learned these three great things!‘ Because it‘s happening all the time. We‘re still traveling, we‘re still very much in the middle of it.
D: Yes, it‘s really difficult! There‘s a lot of really small, little encounters with people, which are very nice. In many different ways: when we show our art, or when we just talk on the street, as foreigners we experience a lot of different things. And then there‘s this idea: this is a project, we have this artistic ambition, and so, the biggest experience I had was really with this question of how we invent our own practice. It never closes, it just widens and widens, and that makes it so difficult to answer this question.
- Why have you chosen Odessa for this exhibition?
E: Like many choices on this trip, it was less a choice and more a result of many things coming together at one place at one time. So we didn‘t point at Odessa and say, ‚ok, there we‘ll do an exhibition,‘ but when we got to Odessa we realised it‘s time. And then we found this great place, so a lot of things just came together.
D: Sometimes we thought about what the nature of our travelling is. We asked ourselves, what kind of travels are there? There‘s an expedition; there‘s a trading journey, when you go to sell something; there‘s a tourist trip-
E: There‘s a mission-
D: Yes, there‘s a mission, where you have a goal; and there‘s an odyssey, where you kind of get lost, and you don‘t know how to get home. And we…our traveling changes between theses types. Sometimes we are on an expedition because we want to go to this village, there, to find out how to make Bashkirian honey. And then something happens, and we‘re lost, and we‘re suddenly on an odysee. So we don‘t know what‘s happening then. And then we find ourselves again, on an island, in Odessa, and suddenly it becomes a business trip! And you know, these modes are changing, and maybe we‘re also trying to figure out how we can articulate this.
- This exhibition is part of a bigger project. Could you please tell us something about that?
E: Well, the bigger project is basically within the framework of our entire trip. So the whole trip is a project, and it kind of develops as we go. We‘ve done many other works on the road. That‘s probably the easiest way to explain it, because sometimes it comes into a form with some work. And they‘re very different because they‘re always reacting to some situation that we find, something we encounter. I‘m thinking now of texts, for example; at the beginning we were writing every day in a log book, a few sentences about something we saw or did, and this developed into some very nice texts, which we didn‘t expect. But it was a good form for us at the beginning. And later we did some collages, when we had more photo material, and later some performances as well. I don‘t know, it‘s...a very broad spectrum of things we do within the project as a whole.
D: It‘s really mostly about situations we encounter in different cultures and different places. These collages, for example, we finished in the first part of our trip, kind of closed the first chapter, and then we made a small exhibition. We sent a package with these collages back home to Switzerland and there was a small performance where they opened this package. In St. Petersburg we worked with the monument of Peter the Great. There‘s this snake that Peter‘s horse is crushing, and we had a lot of pictures from our trip of snakes on the road. So we decided to do a performance with this snake, and in the end we had a video. In Bashkiria, we worked a lot with photography. Or exclusively, even, with photography which really works as photography. We photographed beehives, these dadans. When you lift the top of one off, there‘s all the wax and the honeycombs. And the person we stayed with was preparing for winter, and covered the hives with insulation material. And these jackets he gathered from all his relatives and from the village.
- Real jackets?
D: Yes, real jackets, it was a fashion show of the last 40 years.
E: You have to imagine 200 bee hives, so a lot, a lot of jackets.
D: Yes, a lot, so we tried to collect these all, and we photographed them all from above. And it was really like harvesting. You open them, and they‘re already there. So we really try to be sensitive for what is possible for us in the moment, and also kind of…what we need to do.
- For the last question I want to ask you something which I always ask artists: Why have you chosen the difficult profession of ‚artist‘?
E: That‘s a good question!
D: Also a very difficult question to answer. You have to be careful with this one! Because...we were interested in it?
E: When I think about this question I have to say, I didn‘t choose to be an artist for my whole life yet. I didn‘t choose a career as an artist yet. I chose this profession for now because I think there‘s a lot I can learn. About my life, other people‘s lives, about the whole world. And with art, you have a tool with which to interact with the world, in a very particular way. It‘s hard to find the same thing in an office job! But for me the main thing is not the idea of the ‚profession‘ of the artist. The professional part is not in the foreground, the main part is the practice of interacting with things through art. If that makes sense. But it‘s an ongoing discussion between us also, about how we‘ll continue to bring our artistic practice into our lives when we‘re not travelling, when we have to pay more bills than we have to pay now. Because for now we won some freedom by going travelling, we don‘t have a house, we don‘t have a lot of financial obligations. So I‘m sure we will also have to find a new way to build this practice into our lives when we settle after this.