Contents When Worlds Collide Ingrid Swenson
Sir Thomas Tresham is Not Coming Out Zinovy Zinik
One Year in the Life of a Non-Conceptual Artist Zinovy Zinik
The Triangulation of the Scatterlings’ Union Sally O’Reilly
On Interdisciplinarity Sally O’Reilly
Sir Thomas Tresham and a Russian Cat Andro Semeiko in conversation with Zinovy Zinik
Siberian Trialogue Sally O’Reilly and Andro Semeiko
Biographies and acknowledgements
63 List of works by Andro Semeiko
Sir Thomas Tresham II, 2013 acrylic and oil on board, 25x15cm
The Rise and Fall of the Commanding Personality, 2013 mixed medium, detail of an installation at PEER
Arrival of the Sergeant-at-Law, 2013 oil on canvas, 120x200cm
Power of the Tres, 2013 acrylic and oil on board, 25x17cm
Spirit of the Tres, 2013 acrylic and oil on board, 25x17cm
Fusion alla Rejectamenta, 2013 site-specific book installation
Baron, 2013 acrylic and oil on board, 60x40cm
Instructions for making your site-specific book installation
Photo credits p.8 PEER frontage with scaffolding; p.9 Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire; p.13 PEER installation view; pp.14 & 15 Performance at PEER with Bill Bingham and Gemma Lloyd, 8-14 April 2013, based on texts by the authors; p.25 Rubbish chute in Hoxton; pp.27, 28 & 30 Hoxton Street; p.33 Zinik and grandfather, c.1950; p.44 Samson Antelidze, c.1934; p.47 Gold mine in Stan Utini, Kolyma
When Worlds Collide Ingrid Swenson This book is full of misunderstandings, flights of fancy, the mingling of metaphors, mixing of personal histories and proposing of impossible tasks. Its main protagonist is Andro Semeiko, who was selected out of over 180 applicants to undertake a three-month residency at PEER from mid-January to mid-April 2013. (This residency opportunity was conceived when we learned that refurbishment works to the flats above the gallery would cause considerable disruption and that we would be shrouded in scaffold during this period.) Semeiko’s application stood out because of his enthusiastic response for a proposal that not only took PEER’s specific location on Hoxton Street into account, but also developed a project that would engage with others, including local audiences and groups. From day one Semeiko was delving into local history, making contact with his two main collaborators Sally O’Reilly and Zinovy Zinik, setting up meetings with other Hoxton-based organisations such as Retz theatre company, and generally developing an elaborate and multilayered project for which he would eventually inveigle upwards of 30 people into getting involved. If Paul Klee’s idea was to take a line for a walk, then Semeiko’s has been to take a seed of an idea on an epic journey. One such seed was an episode in Hoxton’s history when, in 1597, Ben Jonson purportedly killed his fellow actor Gabriel Spenser during a duel in a field to the rear of PEER, which is now a council housing estate. Another comes from historical research into the life of Sir Thomas Tresham, a fanatical Catholic who, around the time of the fatal encounter between Jonson and Spenser, was held under house arrest on the spot where PEER now stands. Discussions between Semeiko, O’Reilly and Zinik around these two events evolved and morphed into musings that spanned triangles, transubstantiation, rubbish chutes, drunkenness and scaffolding. O’Reilly and Zinik produced texts that were adapted into a short vignette and then performed by Bill Bingham during an open studio week at the end of the residency. These were exercises in elaboration, excavation, embellishment and exegesis, and they continue throughout the pages of this publication. 5
But equally for me, this project has also been a fascinating experiment in creative collaboration – a concept that always sounds great in theory and often gains the attention of funders for its potential for shared learning. Experience, however, has taught me to be somewhat cautious about using this term too loosely, and the reality of engineering or curating a collaborative process can end up by being more akin to herding cats. In O’Reilly’s diagnostic analysis of interdisiplinarity on page 42, she is at pains to demonstrate some of the potential pitfalls of collaborative practice. Using an ingenious mnemonic of a cardigan and how it might be variously deployed, O’Reilly deftly illustrates how practitioners can and do co-opt the tools of another’s discipline to their own ends. More often than not the half-understood deployment makes for a half-baked result, but occasionally the results can be revelatory, shedding new light on something that we thought we already knew so that something totally fresh is created. The use of satire or the absurd can be handy devices for stitching bits of the collaborative practitioners’ disparate crafts together – qualities that are found in abundance in this publication. The many and various characters created by Semeiko, O’Reilly and Zinik – from Siberian cats and Elizabethans to dustbins, from Polish property developers to Russian artists – are by turns heroic, humorous and hopeless. Perhaps the message here is that the inherent impossibility of true collaborative practice means that we must derive our pleasure from the knowledge, acceptance and enjoyment of, as Beckett would say, failing better.
Sir Thomas Tresham is Not Coming Out Zinovy Zinik I was woken by the noise and shouts of the drunken mob carousing in the alehouse downstairs. The whole area is a den of iniquity. Once I was the richest man in the country but now I don’t have money to pay my builder Sandro. He is here to make my house more comfortable. It is a rotten three-storey house built for paupers, with an alehouse and a kitchen under my rooms, which are crudely and disjointedly boarded. The place is noisy and stinking of ale and cabbage. Sandro has recently rebuilt part of the house so that I now have access to the garden. He also put up a strong ladder to the loft so I am able to climb to the roof and look through a window at the town life about me. It is a good observation point. I can see something of what is happening outside the four walls that confine my own life. It is England, April of 1584, and the chaffinch is singing, but not loudly enough to silence the rowdy ale imbibers downstairs. I see two men fight on the street behind my garden. They draw some kind of sharp instruments and level them at each other. A duel. A matter of honour, I presume. It is very hard to see in the morning fog who is honourable and who is not, because the whole area is populated by riff-raff: drunks, prostitutes, actors. They quarrel constantly with each other. Actors are the worst. To be engaged in violence on the stage is not enough for them; they want to try it for real too. The world’s a stage and the men and women are merely players. They assume a posture to show off and insult each other. I see them gesticulating, but they use no words. I do not see which weapons they use to kill each other. Definitely not theological ones. And they don’t kill with words either. Swords or Sir Thomas Tresham, born c.1543, was sheriff of Northamptonshire 1573–4 and knighted in 1577. He was one of the most notable and sympathetic figures among the Roman Catholics of the period. In 1581 he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for harbouring Edmund Campion, the Jesuit. We first hear of Tresham at Hoxton in 1583, when, after about 18 months imprisonment in the Fleet, he was allowed a brief respite in the district, where he was ‘badly lodged … his chamber being allotted over a noisome kitchen’. 7
stage foils? Those who kill with words are called spies. They denounce you as a recusant, a traitor, and hand you over to the Queen’s gaolers and executioners. The two men keep injuring each other with sharp blades. I can see that one of the duellists falls down. There he lies, dying. His enemy has disappeared, running away with fear. I wish I could come closer and see what has happened. His hand moves. He is alive. But nobody comes for help. I don’t believe I am the only one who sees him dying. The others must be afraid to interfere, to take sides. I try to explain the complexity of my situation to my builder. I am not afraid to interfere, but I am not allowed to go out. I cannot cross the threshold. I, Sir Thomas Tresham, stand on the threshold of the forbidden. I am imprisoned in my home. My home is my prison. I am safe here but cannot go out. The world outside perceives me as a traitor to be punished if he declares his faith openly. The world outside, therefore, is a prison too. I am free only when I am on the border between two prisons. My builder has built the scaffolding around the outer walls. Shall I step onto it? Will I break the law by stepping outside the house if I step on the scaffolding? Is the scaffolding part of the house or is outside of it? I am afraid to step onto the scaffolding because the door behind could accidently shut (it is an old, draughty house) and I will find myself locked out. Although I don’t dislike the idea of being locked out as much as I dislike the idea of being locked in again. When you’ve spent a few years in prison you don’t like the doors of your house to be shut. The more unlocked doors the better, I feel. I have four doors in every room – a door in every wall. Even in the inner rooms, where the doors lead into another room, rather than outside. But don’t shut the doors, I say repeatedly to the builder. Keep them ajar. Not shut. I show him: now the door is opened and now the door is shut. But Sandro is a foreigner. The word ajar confuses him. I am Ajar, he says. What’s that supposed to mean? Are you half-opened, halfclosed? No, he says. Ajar. A jar?
A jar of beer? (I live above the alehouse, after all.) No, he says, I am an Ajar from Ajara, he says. What a strange name for a country. Where is Ajara? On the shores of the Black Sea, on the border with Turkey. Is he a Turk? A Mahometan? Not a Turk, he says. An Ajar. He believes in Jesus, but in his own strange way, which is like neither like us Catholics’ nor the Anglicans’ way. Everyone has his own Jesus these days and this is the cause of all the troubles in the world. I’m just thinking and talking to myself. If you start talking to someone else about these matters you’d find yourself in gaol or, worse, on the scaffold – hanged, drawn and quartered. To converse with someone is not to convert him, although through conversing you could be involved in an act of persuasion that converts your interlocutor to another religion, and thereby get yourself imprisoned. It is much safer to convert houses. I am trying to explain the difference between conversing and converting to Sandro, my builder. He converts my house. This house was converted into an alehouse. Now I am trying to convert it back into my home. I knew that I was breaking the law when I gave asylum to Edmund Campion, the Jesuit, in my triangular house up in the North. I broke the law. But what is the law? Whose law? This is a Christian country and how is it that the law of a Christian country makes it illegal to emulate the Good Samaritan of the Holy Bible? They put me in Fleet Prison. I was lucky to spend only two years there. I heard what they did to Edmund Campion. Why did he come back to England? Why did he cross the border? The man who welcomed the Queen in Oxford and who was even tipped to be her future husband. But inwardly, like all of us, he suffered from remorse of conscience and detestation of mind. And finally he went to Rome. After a few years he came back as a Jesuit in the guise of a jewel merchant to preach the truth at home. But at home everything had changed. You step outside your house to find out what’s going on in the neighbourhood. When you get back, you find its interior has changed beyond recognition. It is not your home any longer. Or perhaps you step outside your house to meet other people and
by the time you get back you have changed beyond recognition so that everyone back home regards you as an alien. It is not your home any longer. Edmund Campion was arrested by priest hunters and convicted of high treason. Lord Chief Justice Wray read the sentence: ‘You, Edmund Campion, must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open city of London upon hurdles to the place of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your head is to be cut off and your body divided into four parts, to be disposed of at Her Majesty’s pleasure. And God have mercy on your soul.’ His cell was tiny, bedless and crawling with vermin, so he slept perched on the window ledge. His gaolers left his excrement in the cell in an uncovered pail, and the stink was suffocating. That’s what happens to traitors of the Queen. They are disjointed on the rack, they are rolled up in balls by machinery and crushed so that the blood oozes out of their bodies. The prisoner, with his wrists in manacles fitted high up on a pillar, is left hanging, sometimes for several hours. I am afraid to step over the threshold and fall down to the ground. I pick up my spyglass – a best friend for anyone under home-arrest – to observe the victim of the duel as he lies on the ground across the road. A bizarre face. Painted as a woman. A creature of dubious gender. He is a pervert. These people make me shudder with revulsion. They are the dregs of society, engaging in abominable acts; they copulate with each other in strange ways, put their genitals into each other’s mouth. It’s sort of like the torture Edmund Campion endured at the hands of Topcliffe, Elizabeth’s chief torturer: before being disembowelled, he was dismembered and his genitals thrust into his mouth – to stop him peddling the Pope’s propaganda. I should have come out and saved this man with the painted face from dying. That actor is now lying between the heaps of rubbish. That’s what our streets look like these days: horse manure, rotting vegetable skins, slops, swill and hogwash; and everything else runs down the gutter. It stinks. But we know how to use piss to dye leather and dry horse manure for fuel. Our dead bodies are a good fertiliser too. Nothing’s wasted. Everything is recycled. Perhaps, a certain blasphemer was not that wrong when he said that the resurrection of Jesus was a kind of recycling: of the body into the idea. And we become part of this holy recycling through the mystical ritual of sacrament, because it is His flesh and His blood recycled into ours. 10
After he had been hanged, Edmund Campion was cut down so quickly that he stood upright like a man amazed. He was heard to pronounce distinctly, ‘God forgive you. Jesus receive my soul,’ whereupon a bystander put his foot on his throat to prevent him speaking anymore. The executioner cut off his genitals and opened his bowels. When he reached up inside to extract his heart, his victim was still so strong that he pushed away the men who held his arms. Bells were rung throughout the city, sermons and festivals held, fireworks set off, bonfires lit in the public street. I saw it with my own eyes. I pick up my spyglass again. A cat approaches the mortally wounded man. But how could I be sure that he is mortally wounded? Perhaps the wound might heal. Miracles happen. A street cat approaches him. A big cat. It looks familiar. It sniffs him – is he still alive? Yes, he is alive. I see his hand moves a bit and starts caressing the cat. Slowly. He is alive. He is about to die, but he cannot help but touch the cat, to make it purr. The cat sits down, lowers its head for its ear to be caressed by his hand. The cat licks his hand. Perhaps this means he is about to die. If he were just wounded, not that seriously, he wouldn’t care about the cat, he would try and crawl somewhere safe. But he is about to die and therefore doesn’t care what’s going to happen to him. So he gives up and lets the feeling of love pervade him, and since there is nobody around to love he starts caressing the cat. I hear some noise downstairs. I climb down. It is Sandro at the front door. He is searching around the house for something heavy. He finds a heavy hammer and goes to the door. What do you need a hammer for? To kill a mouse, he says. Here it is. It is lying on the threshold. I see immediately that it is half dead – and yet still alive. It has a wound around its neck that oozes blood, and its legs are trembling. Next to it sits a cat. I know this cat – it is a local cat, it comes frequently to my garden and asks for food. Now it is showing its gratitude by bringing home this mortally wounded mouse. The cat is proud of its catch. That’s what cats do – bring their trophies to show off. The mouse tries to turn over and stand on its trembling feet, but to no avail. Now Sandro wants to finish it off. 11
The mouse is still alive, I say, it will be murder. No, says Sandro, it will not be murder, but an act of mercy. The mouse is in pain. I can’t watch its contortions. The mouse is going to die anyway – we should put an end to its pain quickly with one blow, says Sandro. I am taken aback by these harsh words. Who are you to decide who is to live and who is to die, who is to suffer and who will be happy-go-lucky? This is all God’s will. Emotions are not good guidance for sentencing a creature to death. Those you regarded as torturers yesterday will themselves feel like victims tomorrow. Suffering is relative, and putting an end to someone’s life because you feel emotional about it will lead to people simply murdering each other. But they are not humans. They are a cat and a mouse, says Sandro. The world of animals has its own moral laws, I say. This is not for us to interfere with the destiny that the cat has imposed on this mouse. Let them sort their relationships out on their own. Thou shalt not kill. But I can’t watch the creature’s suffering any longer, says Sandro. It was destined to die; you said this yourself. Why should we watch this horror of death? We should put an end to this torture. And he clenches the hammer in his fist ready to strike a coup de grace. It looks like you’re a follower of the one called John Calvin and that you believe in predestination, I say. I am a Catholic and I believe in God’s grace. Sacrament. Absolution of sin. I have sinned, but having confessed my sins, I will be saved. We have to save the dying. We have to save this mouse while it is still alive. This is our religious duty. I don’t know much about theology, Sandro says. I just can’t watch it any longer. We have to do something to stop its suffering. You’re self-indulgent. You care too much about your feelings. You have to take it out of here, I say, because I can’t do it. I am not allowed to cross the threshold. Take it away and leave it in a field. But it will be hunted down by the same cat and killed, Sandro says. You condemn this mouse to death by prolonging its torture. And yet another half-dead mouse will be at your threshold again tomorrow. I’m getting cross with you, I say. Do you understand this expression – getting cross? I cross myself. I sit down and cross my legs. I should remain calm and rational or cross you off my mind, out of my life. I feel that your arguments are double-crossing me somehow. I pick up a hot-cross bun, I am hungry. How to explain the complexity of all this to this crossbreed, this Ajar man? 12
He says he understands English well, since he has been in this country for twenty years. We are talking cross-purposes, I say. We can’t be responsible for the cat’s moral choice. What if the cat itself is mortally wounded by some stray dogs? Should we finish it off too? No. We have to save our souls and not kill God’s creatures. Suddenly, I realise that I’ve forgotten about the dying man lying in the street on the other side of the house. Was it the same cat with the dying man and as the one that brought the half-dead mouse? We rush upstairs to have a look out of the top window. The body of the dying man has disappeared. Disposed at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Easter is coming and I will be thinking of the resurrection tonight.
One Year in the Life of a Non-Conceptual Artist Recorded in Hoxton by Zinovy Zinik Sorry for my breaking English. I am an unwanted Russian artist. Maybe I am the unwanted Russian artist. It is difficult for a (the) Russian like me to know whether I am an artist or the artist. There is no choice between definite and indefinite articles in Russian, because there are no articles. In Russia everything is indefinite, but there is still no choice. This is why I decided to emigrate from Russia a year ago. Everyone says in Russia that if you are either ‘the’ or ‘an’ artist you should live in London. But in London every artist says that there are too many artists in London. My Polish employer says I shouldn’t listen to all this nonsense: it’s good for London to have many artists. Too many artists are maybe not very good for art, he says, but they are very good for estate agents and pro-petty developers. He is a pro-petty developer himself. Some estate agents actually pay artists to go to very ugly and poor areas of London where everything is ugly and cheap and there is no underground transport. They occupy old ugly buildings and open big beautiful studios in them. They find ugly derelict houses and they sit squatting in them. Their music friends join them and play music in pubs and bars, so ugly pubs become full of beautiful customers drinking vodka and dancing, cocktail bars and cafes open to serve them vegetarian bacon and organic marijuana with tequila sunrise every morning. Then transgender multiculturalists and polyamorous metro-men create exotic clubs, fancy restaurants are opened every day and night, everything becomes jolly and gay from dusk till dawn. This gradually makes rich swinging people – city wizards from the bonking system and corporate executioners – want to live in an (the) artistic neighbourhood with a lot of sex, drugs and rocking RollsRoyces, because they don’t have time for art, so they want to live next to it, rubbing shoulders with art without getting bored of it. Then the pro-petty developers move in, buy ugly derelict houses, do them up and sell them to corporate wizards with one hundred percent housing benefit. That’s what happened here in Shoreditch and Hoxton. Prices are sky-high here. 22
Artists are good for business, my Polish employer says. That’s how he made his fortune – by employing illegal immigrants like me. When asked where I am from, I don’t say I am Russian. I am not sure, am I a Russian or the Russian? Sometimes I wish I could drop definite and indefinite articles altogether. England is a free country, let English people put in any article they like. Just in case, I say I am Polish. (I never heard anyone Polish say ‘I am a Polish’). Also, British people know who the Polish people are, so they don’t ask more questions and don’t think of me as an (the) oligarch. I am oligarch inside, my soul is very rich, my heart is big and my god is great, but British people don’t know it, because they judge everything from the outside. The Polish developer is not British and he knows that I am not Polish but Russian. He knows I am not oligarch. I thought I would call myself Polish because I came to this country via Poland in a truck loaded with cardboard boxes. They had the strange shape of a three-dimensional triangle. I was underneath these boxes. I paid a lot of money for this place underneath triangles. I didn’t know what was in these big cardboard boxes – maybe mousetraps or handcuffs or barbed wire. They produce a lot of traps and handcuffs and barbed wire in Eastern Europe, for use in Western European prisons or for sex and dancing. Or maybe they were pieces of avant-garde art from Eastern Europe. They were big enough to hide underneath in the truck and then on the ferry from Holland, but they were very uncomfortable. On the (a) English shore, I, along with other illegals, was met by pro-petty developers, who took us to London to renovate old ugly houses and to build new ones for the rich, famous and beautiful who want to live next to ugly art. It is difficult to be in London during the winter. Outside it is warmer than in Russia. But inside, a Russian can perish from the cold because the English don’t very often stimulate their central hitting in their houses. My point of you is that you Western peoples don’t care about what is inside the soul of the (a) man, while Eastern peoples like me are for inner freedom and warmth. I started living my London life in a bedsit where I had an old coin operator to stimulate hitting inside. You need to have enough 50p coins in your pocket not to die of cold there. The temperature is not as freezing as in Russia, but the cold and the north-east wind gets inside your bones, it settles in there like a squatter and never goes out. My Polish developer buys cheap 1970s council blocks and redevelops them into modern luxury apartments. These blocks have old rubbish chutes that look like crematorium chimneys. My boss says we have to restore these chutes, because his future buyers like houses with the original features. ‘In fact,’ he says, ‘these rich bastards like to have rubbish chutes in their apartments so they can throw away pieces of conceptual art into the chute. There is too much conceptual art on the market, so they buy it cheap one day and the next day they want to throw 23
it away to buy more. But they don’t want to look like barbarians, throwing this rubbish art into rubbish bins for everyone to see. And so they want their private rubbish chutes at home – to throw away unwanted conceptual art without anyone seeing what they are doing.’ To rebuild the rubbish chute is not a simple business. You have to remove the old rubbish that has become like a hard rock at the bottom of the chute. You have to work hard with the spade or mattock and scraper to get rid of rocky piles of rubbish before the chute can be rebuilt. I feel cold and miserable. But I clench my teeth and keep on working together with other Romanians, Poles and Ukrainians. In these moments of despair I always remember my grandfather on a building site in Siberia. He was arrested for stealing cheese (he was hungry) in the dairy factory where he worked. He was sent to a labour camp in Kolyma. There he, with the other prisoners, had to build barracks for more prisoners to come to that labour camp. My granddad told me how, in order not to freeze to death, he and his mates would give themselves all into work. Thanks to the quick rhythm and urgency of work, the first wave of heat would come over them – when you feel wet under your coat, under your jacket, under your shirt and your vest. But they didn’t stop for a moment: they hurried on with the laying of bricks. And after about an hour they had a second flush of heat, the one that dries up the sweat. Their feet didn’t feel cold, that was the main thing. I remembered that. Nothing else mattered for my grandfather. But in my case, I was worried not about my feet but my fingers. My fingers got frozen in winter from handling rubbish with metal tools. I was scared that another month like that and my fingers would not be able to hold a pencil to do my drawings. Because I am the artist and not the bricklayer. Sometimes, in the heat of the building activity around me, I thought to myself: what would we artists not do for the sake of our art of Socialist Realism? ‘You are an artist, aren’t you?’ the Polish pro-petty developer said to me one day. ‘You’re not fit to be a builder. You’d be better off working for Ms Cunst. Ms Cunst is looking for artists. She is an art dealer and curator. She will pay your rent and give you weekly benefits. For that, you have to be an artist and produce art.’ This is what I came to London for, I said. And he gave me her mobile number. Ms Cunst wore black leather boots and a black leather jacket. She also had black sunglasses that were twice as big as her small face. I could not see her eyes. I also thought that it would be very difficult to see art in black glasses. Very soon I found out that she was interested in art that doesn’t have to be seen. ‘The art of concepts,’ she said. It is called Conceptual Art. 24
‘Are you conceptual?’ was the first question asked by Ms Cunst. She knew from my Polish propetty developer that I was Russian and not Polish. ‘Are you doing sots-art? Don’t do it! Sotsart was a reaction to the overproduction of propaganda in the Soviet Union. It’s passé!’ said Ms Cunst. English people know about Russia more than Russians ever do. ‘I am not a Soviet artist,’ I said. ‘I am a Russian Socialist Realist.’ It’s good that you’re social, said Ms Cunst. No matter what you call yourself, the important thing is to behave like artists do and have something conceptual in your pocket for the next exhibition. She has very important local clients to entertain. She paid me my first weekly benefit and gave me a key for my 25
lodging above a pie & mash place on Hoxton Street. There was no central hitting in this place either, but now I had enough paper moneys to change them into a lot of 50p coins. I also bought a big wedge of the cheese I love most. In Russia we call this cheese rokfor, but in this country it is called stilton. I put a lot of coins into the hitting machine to get warm and fell asleep very quickly. But in the middle of the night I was woken up by a strange rustling noise. Maybe it was coming from behind the wall. The walls here are very thin, like paper, to remind the artist that he should take a pencil and draw something. What shall I draw? I fell asleep again. In my dream I saw a mouse. It ran across the room, passing my bed on the left side and looking at me all the time with its beady left eye. (It was all on the left side because I was dreaming in England, where they drive on the left.) In the morning, I wanted to have a bite of rokfor, but the whole piece of cheese had disappeared from the table. When I went to the communal bathroom and toilet inconveniences, I met my neighbour from the next room. I introduced myself, ‘My name is Ivan Denisovich’. I explained that the stress in my name is on the 'o' of the third syllable, not on the 'i' of the second syllable. But English people always put the wrong stress on Russian names. Take Abramovich, the oligarch. English people make the stress on 'a' in the second syllable of his name, but it should be on the 'o' of the third syllable. If the stress is on the second syllable, it will be like the patronymic, not a family name. For example, the full name of another oligarch is Boris Abramovich Berezovsky. Here Abramovich has the stress on the second syllable, because it is the patronymic, not a second family name. ‘I know, I know,’ the neighbour interrupted me. ‘I am from Romania’. ‘A lot of mouse in this house,’ I said. ‘Didn’t you hear the noise?’ ‘No, I didn’t. There is nothing here for a mouse to steal,’ I didn’t mention my wedge of cheese. Maybe, it was he who had stolen my cheese in the night. ‘Are you an artist?’ I asked. ‘The artist?’ ‘I am the one. Aren’t we all here?’ ‘Are you conceptual?’ I asked. ‘No, I am straight!’ he said. ‘I am going back to Romania. Everyone is queer here,’ he said. ‘All this artistic community in Shoreditch and Hoxton is fake.’ A decade ago there were a lot of real artists here. Then the property prices went sky-high. So those poor artists who didn’t make it 26
had to move out, they couldn’t afford to rent here any longer. And those who became famous – Tracey Emin and suchlike – they don’t even stay in their renovated houses, they open their own museums in Margate while we are kept here like animals in a zoo in order to produce the daily norm of this fucking conceptual shit commissioned by this fucking Ms Cunst. We are kept here to create an illusion for the rich and idle corporate men who live among artists in the bohemian zone. From time to time this fucking Ms Cunst gives us some additional cash as a premium payment for us to get drunk, to vomit on the street corners and copulate in alleyways and sing bawdy songs in our own multicultural ethnic minority languages. Once in a while she creates different exhibitions of conceptual art produced by us – her slaves. Some of these slaves become so famous and rich that they start their own independent business, producing this fucking conceptual shit by other inmates of this concentration camp. ‘But I am a Gypsy by birth, I can’t stay put in one concentration camp, I should go back to my roots.’ And off he’s gone to Romania. With the wedge of my rokfor, most probably, in his pocket. Only a triangle trace of the chunk of cheese left on my table. Since that day the noise at night stopped. But I started seeing the mouse again on a regular basis. Not a real one, as in my half-dream, but an apparition. I knew it was not real because
it was there only when I was watching it. The moment I took my eyes off it I knew it was not in the room any longer. It would come when something happened inside me, when I needed something outside of me that at the same time was dependent on me being aware inside myself of its presence outside. It was like my shadow. Not of my body, but, maybe, of my soul, which was like an illegal immigrant in the outside world, like a frightened mouse. And it was artistic, because it wanted me to draw it. It was as if it were projected from my soul on to a piece of white A4 paper lying on the floor. And I took a piece of real A4 and a real pencil and I copied what I saw lying flat on the floor. I did it like a Xerox copy of a mouse shadow on the floor. I made many of these copies because the shadow of the mouse was taking up different positions, depending on my point of you. I stuck my many drawings on the wall and waited for Ms Cunst to come and see my work. She came, looked quickly at the wall and started shouting at me. She said, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;This is representational art. Forget about your socialist realism or capitalist surrealism or sots-art. We are not in Russia, we are in the modern Western world. Do something conceptual, deconstructive and psychogeographical, about your roots or identity or failing memory or falsified past or 28
fabricated future – something that everyone is talking about, not a figurative depiction of this fucking mouse.’ I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. But she was right on one point. Drawing the mouse was bad for me. I saw this mouse everywhere and it was eating up my soul. This mouse was stealing the soft cheese of my crumbling inner world. It made me spiritually starved and exhausted. Ms Cunst told me that if I did not stop drawing this social realist mouse, she would stop paying me my weekly benefits and I would never see a wedge of rokfor again on my table. But I kept on drawing the mouse, I just couldn’t stop; and Ms Cunst said I was sick, a mouse addict with a socialist realist fixation, that I needed help and should be treated. ‘Perhaps, you are suffering from the Charles Bonnet syndrome, how would I know? Perhaps this mouse symbolises your mother’s vagina,’ she said, ‘and you want to fuck your mother?’ She couldn’t have known that both of my parents were dead, because she would never accuse me of necrophilia. She doesn’t have money to pay for a psychoanalyst for me, she said, but she can make me an assistant to the most famous conceptual artist in Hoxton and Shoreditch. His name is Cesar Trishkin. I can learn conceptual art from him and help him to produce more of it. I asked what sort of conceptual art Cesar Trishkin produces. ‘Trishkin does triangles,’ Ms Cunst explained. ‘Conceptual triangles,’ she corrected herself. ‘His triangles sell like hot bagels. The demand is such that he cannot cope with it,’ she said. ‘He needs an assistant to produce more triangles. He is Russian like you,’ she added. So off we went to meet this famous trianglist Trishkin in Calvert-22 gallery, where he was taking part in a panel discussion. This was about the screening of a new print of Eisenstein’s classic film Ivan the Terrible in two parts (the film, not Ivan). Trishkin was arguing with some English critic on the panel. We entered the gallery at the moment when the English critic was saying, ‘How about Eisentsein’s mousetrap? Ivan causes the conspirators expose themselves when he cajoles the pretender to sit on the throne and put on the Tsar’s royal robe and crown; and so it is not Ivan the Terrible but the pretender who is murdered in this case of mistaken identity in the cathedral. A brilliant example of art as a device.’ ‘It’s all so arty there’s no art left in it,’ objected Cesar Trishkin. ‘Mousetrap? What’s in it? Spice and poppy seed instead of plain bread and cheese.’ At this mention of cheese and mousetraps my ears pricked up. ‘It is not a mousetrap, but the justification of personal tyranny,’ Trishkin said. ‘You don’t understand, Trishkin, the art of montage and subtext. The episode could be read as an exposure of the Stalinist machine of terror. That is, Eisenstein sets a mousetrap for himself, 29
too, because Stalin could have arrested him for this. It was a double mousetrap,’ said the English critic. ‘Even if it was a triple mousetrap, it’s a mockery of the memory of three generations of Russian intelligentsia.’ ‘Art isn’t a matter of what but how.’ ‘But what is how?’ ‘It depends on the interpretation.’ ‘Then don’t call Eisenstein a genius. Geniuses don’t adjust their interpretations to suit the taste of tyrants!’ ‘It’s passé,’ Ms Cunst said. The panel discussion was over and Ms Cunst took me to Trishkin’s huge studio in the former building of Barclay’s bank in Shoreditch. It was full of triangles. ‘Eisenstein was busy creating complex interpretations of history with his montage, and subtexts for tyrants to crack the complexity of.’ Trishkin said. ‘I create simple triangles for ordinary people, and it is for them to interpret it any way they like. You can see all kinds of things in the 30
triangle. Napoleon’s hat. And bacon sandwiches. Or the pubis. The axe is a triangle. Napkins are folded in triangles. The triangle is also a musical instrument. A computer mouse, too. Or Georgian khachapuri.’ ‘Or a wedge of cheese,’ I suggested. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Or Ukrainian varenniki.’ It turned out that Trishkin is not Russian (as Ms Cunst always thought) but Ukrainian. ‘During the rule of Socialist Realism the artist had to produce art that was Socialist in its content but its form had to reflect his ethnic origin,’ Trishkin said. ‘In conceptual art the form is unrelated to your ethnic origin, the form is universally conceptual, but it is the content that reflects your ethnicity. And so the same triangle becomes Georgian khachapuri or Ukrainian varenniki, depending who is looking at it. If you put two triangles across each other you can get a Star of David – that’s good for my Jewish clients. Stalin, Sputnik and Samovar together are the Soviet history triangle.’ ‘But let me tell you my professional secret,’ he went on, confidentially. ‘Would you like to know my professional secret?’ ‘Yes!’ I said, thrilled. ‘I won’t tell anyone.’ ‘The secret is that I started drawing triangles simply because of my name – Trishkin. It starts with tri.’ I understood him immediately: tri means three in Russian, and in Ukrainian. I am successful because the triangle is simple and universal. To become successful you have to be universal and simple. No need to be Eisenstein.’ Thus Cesar Trishkin was talking, sitting in an (the) easy chair and drinking his Ukrainian schnapps, while I was standing in front of the (a) huge canvas and was covering every centimetre of it with triangles according to his instructions. After a few weeks, as Trishkin had become confident of my gift for drawing triangles, he would leave me on my own in his studio to go entertain his rich clients, showing off his bohemian life style in front of them. From the material point of you, my life became much more comfortable. I could afford to rent accommodation with my private inconvenience and hot water all the time. But the mouse didn’t disappear. It was haunting me day and night. So after a day of drawing triangles for Trishkin I would come back home and draw my mouse from different angles and in varying shapes. I knew it was bad for my psychogeographical state of soul and artistic career steps, but I couldn’t help it. Each time I had a picture of the mouse finished, I would take the piece of paper, nail it to the wall with pins or tacks and mutilate it with a knife and fork, abuse and spoil it with black ink in the Jackson Pollock style. Some of these pieces of paper I burnt, but only at the edges, so the mouse would feel pain and fear and wouldn’t come back. But it did. I kept all these half31
burnt and torn portraits of the mouse on my walls like wallpaper to frighten the mouse, but it kept on coming back into my mind. ‘What is it? What are these mice doing with my triangles!’ shouted Trishkin one morning, when he came back to the studio after a bohemian night with his clients. He was looking at the big canvas that I had just finished covering with ‘his’ geometrical triangles from top to bottom. But inside each triangle I had drawn a little mouse. I did this subconsciously, in an instinctive attempt to create a mental mousetrap to catch the imaginary mouse. I explained my problem to Trishkin. I told him about the apparition, the mouse that appears in front of my eyes and then enters my mind, without any preliminary knocking at the door, to steal the conceptual cheese of artistic ideas from me. It was a jealous mouse. It wanted me to draw her and only her – nothing else in the world but her. ‘So you’ve tried to trap her in my triangle, have you?’ asked Trishkin. ‘Did it help?’ ‘It did for a while,’ I said, ‘but not for long.’ Trishkin looked at the mouse in the triangle for a long time and said, ‘Very interesting. The mouse has a triangular shape, too, doesn’t it?’ He was interested to see all the mouses I had depicted. We went to my room and I showed him all the walls with the portraits of the mouse, mutilated and abused in every possible way: splashed with ink, half-burnt and partially torn apart. He looked like he was very impressed. He called Ms Cunst. At first she said she didn’t want to see ‘that mother-fucker’s Social Realist crap’, but Trishkin insisted that she should come. He showed her my walls. ‘This is conceptual, isn’t it?’ Trishkin said. She was surprised. The names of Guy Debord, Deleuze and Lacan were whispered between them. And they said they wanted to take all my mouse icons away. But I said I need these images on the wall for the mouse to be frightened and not come back. ‘Why wouldn’t you simply adopt a cat to scare the mouse?’ Trishkin asked. I told him I had thought of that. But firstly, there are no stray cats on the streets of London and a good cat costs money. And secondly, even if I had a live cat, it would not be capable of chasing away my mouse. My mouse is a mental phenomenon, while a live cat operates in a different category of reality – the material one. They do not overlap. The material cat cannot chase away the mental mouse. At this moment, Trishkin said: ‘I have a mental cat for you.’ And then Trishkin told me the story of his grandfather.
His grandfather was a doctor in a Ukrainian village. During the famine of the 1930s, when the Stalinist state took all the grain from peasants, leaving them to die of hunger, the People’s Commissar arrived at his village to give a speech about Communism. He spoke about how we have one foot in Communism and the other in Socialism. After the speech Trishkin’s grandfather asked the People’s Commissar how long our country was going to stay in this spread-eagle position. The same night, he was taken away by the NKVD and sent as an enemy of the people to a Siberian labour camp. After ten years in the camp, when the local doctor was looking for an assistant, Trishkin’s grandpa volunteered and, as a well-behaved prisoner and a doctor by profession, he was given the job. He was given a separate cubical in the barracks next to the clinic. Here a large white Siberian cat started hanging around his place. Now, being a doctor’s assistant, he could feed the cat regularly and it became his pet. At night it would climb on his chest, and that is how they would fall asleep, warming each other. But apart from political prisoners in the camp, there were criminal ones too. These zeks and the political prisoners hated each other. One day some political prisoners rushed to the clinic to alert my grandfather that his cat had been caught by a group of zeks whose leader, a criminal by the name of Denis, had been threatening for some time to kill it. Trishkin’s granddad found the gang of zeks at the other end of the zone, but he was too late to save his beloved cat: they had already murdered it and were grilling it on the bonfire, ready to eat it. The criminal Denis, their ringleader, was standing over it with a big knife. Trishkin’s grandfather, a big Ukrainian, could have killed that little Russian, but he realised that if they were chasing after a cat in order to kill and eat it, these zeks were dying from hunger, like those peasants he had tried to save during the famine in the Ukraine. So my grandfather turned his back and left these prisoners to have their cat dinner. But since that day the ghost of the Siberian cat would come to his bed every night to sit on his chest, looking into his eyes accusingly. For the rest of his life he suffered from severe insomnia. 33
I was listening to this story astounded and thrilled, getting more and more agitated. Because my grandfather Denisovich (the stress on ‘o’ in the third syllable), nicknamed Denis, happened to be in the same labour camp as Trishkin’s grandfather, and he would have been the zek who had stolen and eaten the doctor’s cat. After Stalin’s death, released from the prison camp, he was a ruined man. Guilt stricken, he started to go to church every Sunday to repent his life of crime. The most horrific of his crimes, he told me, was the murder of the doctor’s cat, and that was why he had become a vegetarian. I confessed all this to Cesar Trishkin and said, ‘Maybe the mouse that haunts my imagination has nothing to do with my mother’s vagina or my father’s penis. Maybe it is the ghost of my grandfather Denis.’ ‘In that case, this explains why the moment you entered the studio I started seeing the ghost of the white Siberian cat at night,’ said Cesar Trishkin. He took both my hands into his and, holding them tight, said, ‘Let's expurgate the sense of guilt and vengeance that we have inherited from our ancestors. Let the spirit of my grandfather’s cat enter your mind through me and release you from your mental pest of a mouse once and for all. And I will take all your drawings of the mouse away from you. You will sign a solemn pledge not to tell anyone that you have ever drawn these pictures. Ms Cunst, can you prepare the contract for Ivan Denisovich to sign?’ I was happy. I signed the contract. The same night an apparition of a cat appeared in my room. It sat on my chest and when the apparition of the mouse crossed the floor, it jumped off the bed and devoured the spectre of the mouse. I thought I heard a squeak and then there was total silence. The Siberian cat had done its job. The mouse didn’t ever come back. I then decided to go to the Polish developer and say that I had enough money to become his business partner in pro-petty development. A (the) Romanian artist returned from Romania to work for us. At the end of last year I bought a big house in Arnold Circus and I eat rokfor every day now. One morning Trishkin suddenly came to see me. ‘Do you have any more drawings of the mouse left?’ he asked. It turned out that by now he had sold all my drawings of the mouse. There was nothing left to sell. His clients demanded more. He said he had tried to imitate my style, but there was something uncanny about my way of depicting the mouse and then abusing its image. Something of a Georges Bataille in it, he said. This mystery he cannot recreate. Can I draw more mouses inside triangles for him? But I said, ‘No, I signed that contract, everything in my mind is sealed, the door of perception is shut for the mouse, and I see it no more. I am not an unwanted Russian artist any longer. I am a successful property developer. I develop rubbish chutes.’ And then I cried. 34
The Triangulation of the Scatterlings’ Union Sally O’Reilly Did you see the scaffolding on your way in? Did you spot those diagonals? Notice how there are always diagonals when they draw with scaffolding. If the aim is to raise men upwards, why bother with such digressions? Stability, they say, but there’s nothing stable about a slope. Things are always rolling or sliding or careering down slopes. An isosceles may claim to be upwardly constructive, but its real ambition is to undermine downwards. This is the whole point. Hah, there it is again – point. Apex. Barb. We’re surrounded by the jaggedy bastards. They’re everywhere. E-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. I feel bad pointing this out … oh pointing again! I feel bad telling you this, because then you’ll have to see them everywhere too. It’s better when you don’t know they’re here. The bliss of blindness is not to be overlooked. Look at the Red Dresses in high-ranking office. They seeped in like bright shadows and then it was too late. This lot are worse. Much worse. This hardedged lot don’t slope in casually, as if the situation generated the conditions of their appearance. They want us to think they’ve been placed with purpose and authority. And spontaneity. Go to the sandwich shop up the road, ask for salt beef on rye and just see if they don’t cut it in two from corner to corner as quick as you can say ‘square your actions by the square of virtue’. Oh yes, they’ll transform that quadrangle of bread quicker than Lot’s wife without a how’s your father. Or take a look around Iceland. Those party sized samosas look good don’t they? More au courant than a sausage roll. Aha – they’ve got you there, see. And the Laughing Cow seems so comely, so pleasant to have about the place. The Laughing Cow is the life and soul, you think, we’ll invite her along in spades. And let’s deck the place out nice and jolly you think, seeing as how we’re having guests. Let’s put up the bunting. Uh-oh. Bunting. You pull the end of the string out of the plastic carrier you keep under the eaves, and watch the little bastards being born, one by one, like vibrant pointy soldiers bred purely for fighting. You’re going to 39
hang them all about our heads so they flutter in our peripheral vision, agitating our eye and insinuating themselves into our conversations. That’s how they operate, you see – over the radar. And that’s how they make us do things. Us, who are good solid types. We start to fall apart and this is why. We are being bifurcated. We suddenly see choice where before there was constancy. We are made to pine when really we are quite content. A bikini top mocks us with its blank satin stare; it goads us into filing our teeth and pulling off the bottoms to root out the tousled drop-shadow. Those vajazzled young Brazilians are fighting for independence – there is some hope for the next generation – but the rest of us are lost in our compromising threesomes, menages à trois and love triangles… Oh god of the holy trinity, I’ve said it now. Love triangles. I love triangles. I. Love. Triangles. I kiss them in the Dutch style, ending on the cheek at which I started. But I am willing to pay for this excess, to be drawn off by the troika to the remotest bin, along with the other rubbish, and be made to think about what I have done. On our way we’ll speed past the red warning signs, with their silhouettes of falling or leaping or sudden or hidden things. And we’ll take in the pyramids and geodesic domes too; we’ll note their stability and tensegrity and decide which we prefer. Then we’ll install ourselves in a state of constant tension and discontinuous compression in our three-sided, three-floored bin. And we’ll think about what we’ve done, or not done, or could have done. We’ll suck Toblerone and green Quality Street until their corners disappear and our teeth round off again. We’ll ingest all the angles. We’ll become scalene, we’ll contemplate the edges, we’ll be acutely obtuse, we’ll be reflexive. And as is the folk thing to do, we’ll remake everything in origami to pass the time. We’ll make an alternative origami reality and mark it up with a forest of paper-cut warning signs. I shall write poppycock all over this faceted world and you will sit here and listen to an actor recite it as art. Artwork, artist and viewer will form an equilateral circuit of perpetual complicity and we shall all think we are getting somewhere meaningful fast, gliding along with the greatest of easels. We pause and take a step back to get some perspective on it, but we get a little too much. We vanish into the whole point of it all and fall out of the painting altogether, onto a mattress that has been thoughtfully placed below, where we help ourselves to a little rest before deciding what to do next. A spate of clapping, someone suggests, followed by a glass of wine? Or some beer? I’ll leave the details to you, but I think that you get the point…
On Interdisciplinarity Sally O'Reilly In practice, interdisciplinarity can mean a number of things. In the best-case scenario, two practitioners from entirely different subject areas find that they share common understandings and practices and generate new material that draws on both their sets of knowledge. This rosy outcome is relatively rare. More commonly, one practitioner will conduct a curtailed exploration of the practices of another and subsequently translate the findings into a more familiar vocabulary â&#x20AC;&#x201C; rather like the way that someone from London might ask someone from Paris where the French equivalent of Shoreditch is. There are many other ways that interdisciplinarity can play itself out, however, and I have devised a cardigan mnemonic that identifies a handful of them. In the following illustrations the human figure correlates to the trans- or inter-disciplinary practitioner and the cardigan to the discipline that is being engaged with. A discipline is taken to be a paradigm comprising preferred and accepted analogies, models and exemplars that might be understood differently within a different disciplinary matrix. For instance, in the paradigm of physics all actions are accepted as having an equal and opposite reaction, while in global politics action is often overwhelmed by an unequal opposition, and when conducting a romance actions are considered to be louder than words.
In the optimum mnemonic setting, left, the cardigan is worn as intended by its maker. The practitioner has identified the disciplineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s modes, models and exemplars and employs them in the accepted manner. 42
Here the visiting practitioner has identified some of the discipline’s modes, models and exemplars (in this case the cardigan as provider of warmth) and is partly using them in the accepted manner.
The visiting practitioner senses the potential of some of the discipline’s modes, models and exemplars and is keeping it close to hand in case she suddenly ‘gets it’. In the meantime it looks quite good, adding a splash of colour, although there is a danger of developing ‘a chill around the waist’.
The visiting practitioner has misidentified the discipline’s modes, models and exemplars and has repurposed them in a way that looks wrong to those who ‘know’, but that is quite useful nonetheless.
The visiting practitioner has misidentified the discipline’s modes, models and exemplars and has repurposed them to no useful end. 43
Sir Thomas Tresham and a Russian Cat Andro Semeiko in conversation with Zinovy Zinik, February 2013 Zinovy Zinik: Bearing in mind your Georgian-Russian past, don’t you find that there is something almost Freudian in the fact that you’ve become interested in Sir Thomas Tresham? It is a story of a certain ideological dimension that makes it familiar to both of us. We are talking about Protestant Elizabethan England riddled with Catholic conspiracies. Despite Sir Thomas’s wealth, influence and closeness to the court, being Catholic made him an easy prey for taxes to the extent that eventually he was incarcerated in his own house. This clash of ideologies extended to his son Francis, who was involved in the Gunpowder Plot, which eventually he betrayed. He was hunted down both by his co-conspirators and by the state, and imprisoned. When he died he was posthumously beheaded, his head publically paraded as that of an infamous person, a criminal. I am thinking that this story of Catholic conspiracies in Elizabethan England sounds very familiar to us because of its historical parallels with the Communist ideology and its dissenters. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were arrested by the Stalin regime, including your grandfather Samson Antelidze. Have you felt an immediate affinity with Sir Thomas Tresham’s life story? Andro Semeiko: I became interested in Sir Thomas’s story partly because of his integrity. He had a lavish lifestyle, but he was ready to give this up for the sake of his belief. He was a virtuous man who offered support to others, and it seems that his character was of a very solid kind. ZZ: To what extent was your grandfather a sincere Communist? Or was he apolitical? AS: My grandfather was ignited by the ideas of Communism when he was studying law in Tbilisi. He became a believer in the idea of equality and he held this belief throughout his life. Even imprisonment for 17 years didn’t break him. One might say he was stubborn, but he had a strong sense of honour and had set himself rules of conduct, which he adhered to. He was a compassionate person, and I believe this quality got him through the difficult circumstances of his life. ZZ: How old was Samson when he was arrested? AS: He was 22. After university he quickly found himself in the position of deputy for the Minister of Justice of Adjar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and he moved to Batumi with his wife and newborn child. ZZ: I was in Batumi. Maybe I saw his house. AS: Yes, maybe! He was kicked out of that house. And his wife was kicked out of the house the day he got arrested, with the baby in her arms. That was in 1937. ZZ: Batumi was the first place that Stalin became a real political activist, so it is partly Stalin’s town. There is Mikhail Bulgakov’s play Batum about Stalin, written when Bulgakov was in a state of despair and fighting for his survival as a playwright by trying to gain favour from Stalin. But it didn’t work. AS: Was it a kind of propagandist work? ZZ: Yes. By writing it Bulgakov betrayed his genius, and because of that in his novel The Master 44
and Margarita his hero, the Master, is granted after his death peace of mind and forgiveness, but not the vision of truth, because he too had betrayed himself. But let’s go back to your grandfather’s life story. So he was a loyal citizen and, theoretically, he believed in the ideas of Communism. Did he know who actually denounced him? AS: No. ZZ: At that time they were arresting people for nothing. But frequently people knew who had actually denounced them. Basically, sometimes someone wanted to get your apartment, your position or your salary – your place in life! AS: What happened was that the previous Minister of Justice was arrested and proclaimed an enemy of the people and shot, and my grandfather had to step into his shoes. There were two other candidates. He suspects that one of them might have said something about him. He actually wanted to meet them once he had returned, but by then they were both dead. They died young from illnesses. ZZ: So there is some justice in this world. AS: Someone told my grandfather that if it was one of these men who had denounced him then Mother Nature had done him justice. But he never found out exactly who or why. ZZ: Did he talk to you about his labour camp experience? AS: Yes. ZZ: He wasn’t like some of those who had gone through the Nazi concentration camps, not wanting to talk about it years later? AS: When I was young he told me lots of positive things and I am sure he left a lot out. But as I got older he told me more about the hunger and harsh living conditions he had to deal with. ZZ: Was he sent straight to Kolyma? AS: First, in autumn 1937, he was sent to the Ural Mountain logging prison camps. He stayed there until an incident with a prison guard in 1939. While walking in a line he tripped and fell, and one of the guards patrolling the convoy lashed out at him, swearing. My grandfather instinctively grabbed a tree branch that happened to be by his feet and smacked the guard with it. He was taken to the fence to be shot. The chief of the prison camp came and asked him why he attacked the guard. My grandfather explained that in Georgia swearing at one’s mother is considered hugely offensive and demands a response. To my grandfather’s amazement, the chief told the guard off and excused my grandfather. But for his disobedience, my grandfather was branded a dangerous prisoner and assigned transfer to Stan Utini, Magadan, Kolyma. This was one of the notorious camps where many writers and scientists perished. There were much harsher conditions there – a very short summer, the rest of the year freezing cold. The most important part of their rations was chocolate, to keep them working. Here people were exploited until dead. ZZ: What were they doing there? AS: Mining gold. ZZ: Oh, my God. AS: Samson mined gold for just under nine years and then he got lucky. There was an opening for the post of dentist’s assistant. Because of malnutrition most of the prisoners had scurvy and so there was call for a dental clinic onsite. As a well-behaved prisoner he was offered this opportunity. The 45
dentist grew to like him and taught him all his skills, and so when, within a year, the dentist asked for a transfer he recommended my grandfather for his position. Then my grandfather was allowed to live in a separate hut and could send a letter home. He wrote to my grandmother, saying that he was alive and asking whether, if she had not remarried, she would like to join him and live with him in Kolyma. My grandmother applied for permission to move to Kolyma, which she was granted a year later, and went to live with him in 1949. Their daughter Manana, my mother, was born in the camp in 1950. ZZ: So when Samson was released after Stalin’s death your mother was four years old? AS: Yes. ZZ: And then did he move to Tbilisi? AS: No, he moved to Maharadze, currently called Ozurgeti, where he opened a dental practice. Several years afterwards he returned to practicing law as Chief Lawyer of the Rustavi Metallurgical Plant. But I don’t think he liked it. I remember him mentioning something about widespread corruption and bribery. He was disappointed about how things had gone wrong in the Soviet Union. But he was never bitter or cynical about life. He was not naive in his belief, but I suppose he was a romantic and an idealist. The hurdles he experienced only made him more humane. He quit that job and in the 1970s returned to dentistry in Makvaneti, our ancestral village in Guria, where he gave treatment to locals for free or for small donations, like a sack of potatoes or a live chicken or turkey. I have many special childhood memories of the countryside with my grandparents. ZZ: So because of your grandfather’s life stories you felt a compassion for Sir Thomas Tresham? AS: Yes. And also, when I was reading about his time in Hoxton, I was astounded to discover that the actual building in which he was under house arrest was on the very spot where PEER stands. During that time a dual took place between playwright Ben Jonson and actor Gabriel Spenser in the field behind the house. I liked this coincidence and decided to explore the character of Sir Thomas who, like my grandfather, had strong moral ideals, and to juxtapose him with the young, talented actor Gabriel, who was not able to control his own inner demons and was getting into endless fights and duals, which eventually killed him. ZZ: Did you ever have fantasies of fighting a duel for your grandfather? AS: I might have. If someone is in trouble one imagines defending their honour. ZZ: It is interesting that the son of Sir Thomas, who was directly involved in a horrific plot to blow up Parliament, at a certain point realised that it was an inhumane act, despite his strong Catholic convictions. But he warned only his brother-in-law about the possible danger, whom he might have suspected would inform the authorities. This situation resembles the dilemmas that people faced during Stalin’s rule. Betrayal, repentance and confession – a complexity that would have been familiar to those who lived in Stalinist Russia. I want to return now to your grandfather and how he survived in the camp. AS: My favourite bedtime story that my grandfather told me was about a big fluffy white cat that he had in the camp. I don’t remember her name. She started to hang around my grandfather’s hut when he became an assistant to the dentist and soon became his pet. As he told me, she was more like a dog then a cat, hissing at any stranger that approached him and alerting him to danger. At night she would climb onto his chest and push her front feet against his chin, and that is how they would sleep, 46
warming each other. One day someone rushed to the clinic to alert my grandfather that his cat had been caught by a group of zeks (the nickname for criminal prisoners) and that it looked like they were about to kill and eat her. He grabbed a large spanner and ran to look for the gang. When he found them they had already smashed the cat’s head in by swinging it at the corner of the hut. There were quite a few of them, but my grandfather demanded the body of his cat. The ringleader of the zeks, who recognised my grandfather, ordered the cat be dropped and left. The zeks in fact had a kind of respect for my grandfather. He was a fearless person and had great compassion for any individual. As I understand, in the camp he had learned how to strike a balance between friendship with both zeks and political prisoners like himself, enemies of the state. ZZ: Why were they so bent on killing the cat? AS: People were starving. They were given tiny rations. ZZ: They wanted meat. AS: Yes, exactly. A large cat would have made a good soup, I suppose. My grandfather buried her. After the loss of this lovely cat he got permission to write back home, and eventually he was reunited with his wife. It was love, I suppose, that kept him going. ZZ: Probably the cat’s grave is still there. You should try to visit it. AS: I visited Stan Utini camp yesterday via YouTube. I found someone’s amateur video footage from about a decade ago of a drive to the camp, showing dishevelled sights and falling apart buildings. ZZ: You should maybe use it in your installation at PEER? AS: Yes, maybe. ZZ: I am thinking of terrible conditions that artists live in nowadays in the fashionable East End of London. Do you know anyone struggling to survive here? AS: I’ve known a number of artists who have made big sacrifices in order to have a studio, even sometimes living in it – as I have done. Lack of heating and hot water can make life really tough for young artists, and sometimes even some who aren’t so young. ZZ: Perhaps they were told that they could become rich and famous making art. But there is an overproduction of artists in the Western world. Too many of you around. Artists work for nothing and live a miserable life in pursuit of a utopian fantasy. It’s like a labour camp! AS: Yes, but many of the artists choose to live like that, because they truly believe in the work they are doing. ZZ: In labour camps they also suffered for ideas! For Leninism against Stalinism! But I’m very keen to know more about the intriguing vision that you yourself regularly experience here, in Hoxton. You told me that you frequently see the apparition of a mouse, right in front of your eyes. Perhaps you can get rid of it with the help of the ghost of your grandfather’s cat? AS: Yes, maybe, but this is the subject for another conversation, I think. 47
Instructions for making your site-specific book installation This site-specific book installation should be made after you have read the book and once you are prepared for emotional engagement with the texts and images within it. We suggest that you meditate before embarking on this task, or at least put aside a few moments to sit alone in a quiet, dark room and take a few deep breaths so that your mind is open and your thoughts ready to journey through the divergent channels and regions of your brain. Open the book on page 36/37 and, using scissors, cut along the doted lines on both pages, discarding the paper that is cutoff. Place cardboard or a cutting pad under page 36 and, using a sharp blade, cut along the dotted outline of the pipe-shaped rubbish chute. Bend the paper towards you, as demonstrated by the bent arrow symbols. Throughout the rest of the pages of the book you will find symbols for holes to be cut. Simply place cardboard or a cutting mat under each page and, using a sharp blade, cut out these holes. We encourage you not to cut out all the designated holes, but to choose the ones that you particularly relate to. You might also identify your own places for making holes. This book has been intentionally printed in black and white so that you may create associations through your own personal recollections of colour. If it feels appropriate to do so, feel free to colour-in any of the words or images or blank paper that you find especially compelling in this publication. When you have carefully cut out all the relevant holes, thread the long strips of paper that originate on pages 36 and 37 through them. Recent scientific research has shown that in the last half-century there has been a general decrease in the use of emotion-related words and images, but that the underlying desire for them is ever greater. By making this site-specific book installation you can think emotionally through words and images. It is intended to provoke at least five of the eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust and joy. Those requiring structure or guidance for this exercise, or advice on primary, secondary and tertiary emotions, please visit www.androsemeiko.com/tres WARNING: Please make sure that your hands are not shaking with fear, excitement or any other emotion when using scissors or a sharp blade. 62
Published on the occasion of Andro Semeiko’s residency at PEER
Writer Sally O’Reilly has contributed regularly to several art and culture magazines, such as Art Monthly, Art Review, Cabinet, Frieze and Time Out, and has written many essays and short fiction for international museums and galleries. She was coeditor of the thematic, interdisciplinary broadsheet Implicasphere (2003–8), her book The Body in Contemporary Art was published by Thames & Hudson in 2009 and her monograph on Mark Wallinger will be available through Tate Publishing in 2013. She also makes videos, has curated and produced numerous performative events and was cocurator of the Hayward Touring Exhibition ‘Magic Show’ (2009–10). She was writer in residence at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (2010–11), and producer and co-written of The Last of the Red Wine (2011), a radio sitcom based in the artworld and performed at the ICA, London.
14 January to 14 April 2013 PEER 97 & 99 Hoxton Street, London N1 6QL www.peeruk.org Charity number 1115091 © 2013 Sally O’Reilly, Andro Semeiko, Zinovy Zinik and PEER All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without prior permission A copy of this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-9560925-5-7 Edition: 500
Designed by Andro Semeiko and Yu-Lan Wang Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
London-based artist Andro Semeiko’s practice explores how painting can host multi-layered narratives by adopting satirical and performative methods, with objects depicted in the paintings, and the paintings themselves, often taking on the properties of theatrical props. Since 2010 Semeiko has been working with a number of writers from different disciplines, which has led to several exhibitions and related publications, including ‘Unveiling: Rocket MT2010’, part of Berwick-uponTweed Residency, 2010; ‘Lily of Blythenhale’, Acme Project Space, London, 2011; ‘Le Grand Charmer’, Phoenix Gallery, Exeter, 2012, and ‘Open Studio’, part of PEER Residency, London, 2013.
The authors would like to thank: Ingrid Swenson, Director of PEER and Gemma Lloyd, General Manager of PEER for tenderly nurturing this project throughout its stages of development; Achim Borchardt-Hume, Gavin Delahunty, Andrew Hunt, Mat Jenner, Jenni Lomax, Kate MacGarry and Andrew Wilson for their invaluable advice and mentoring; Felix Mortimer and Bill Bingham for the wonderful performances; JJ Charlesworth for skillfully leading the gallery discussion; Yu-Chen Wang and little Lily SemeikoWang for their dedication during this project. This publication has been supported by Arts Council England
Moscow-born author Zinovy Zinik lost his Soviet citizenship in 1975 and arrived in London via Jerusalem in 1976. Zinik’s eight novels, three collections of short stories and numerous essays dwell on the dual existence of bilingual immigrants, religious converts, political exiles and outcasts – from habitués of Soho to the sect of Jewish Muslims in Turkey. Recent books include History Thieves, an autobiographical tale in English (London: Seagull Books, 2011) and Third Jerusalem, a collection of new prose in Russian, is to be published in Moscow later this year.
PEER is generously supported by the Paul and Louise Cooke Endowment