Teodora Dinu: Looking at your portfolio of works, I am impressed with the versatility of your modes of expression – photography, installations, happenings, videos. How do you decide on the appropriate medium for your ideas? Do you feel comfortable working with one medium more than another?
Karolina Breguła: Every message requires a different medium, that’s why I do a variety of things. I guess I feel comfortable with each and every one of them. However I have noticed that when I begin thinking about a new project, it always feels easier to use the same medium as the one used previously. When my thoughts are used to thinking cinema, it takes some time to reprogram the mind to think photography. My latest work is a theatre piece, so at the moment I am struggling not to make another performance piece simply because it’s easier.
T.D.: Many of your works revolve around the role of art institutions, especially public ones, and how these institutions select, conserve, and make art available for the greater audiences. Museums are entitled to regulate and decide which art is considered good, and ought to be placed in this so-called cultural archive, but do you believe this decision should be extended to a more informal, somewhat arbitrary level, by art lovers, collectors, and artists themselves? How democratic should this process be?
K.B.: I think that the process of selecting art should be conducted by professionals but in a democratic manner, so that the public has access to everything that is valuable, no matter how fashionable the art work is, who the artist is, or where he or she has exhibited so far. Institutions have enormous power. They create art history. If for some reason they decide not to show an artist’s work, I think it’s very likely that this person will then not succeed as an artist. Obviously there are alternative spaces, private galleries, and other methods of exhibiting, but it is the institutions that the public trusts, so it’s them who have the power to define what is good and what is bad. This is also why I believe it’s so important to discuss and be able to question the decisions made by these institutions.
T.D.: The connection between your projects in recent years, which focus one way or another on the complexity of art, its role in today’s society, and its relation to history and heritage, made me think of a possible didactic dimension to your work, albeit an informal one. Do you believe that the contemporary artist can be seen also as an educator to the public masses?
K.B: I absolutely believe that one of the many roles art plays is educating others. And maybe all art educates to a certain extent through opening up the mind. My works are not meant to directly educate, but I am aware that a lot of people would perceive them to do so. What I want to do is to ask questions, show a variety of perspectives, and create some alternatives to what the institutions propose. However I am glad if they teach something at the same time.
T.D.: Your project Useful Art is a series of reinterpretations of various artistic gestures from the historical art canon. Alongside the purpose of this approach, I am curious to hear how you chose artists such as Richard Long and Bruce Nauman?
K.B.: Useful Art is simply the result of thinking about artworks I like. If I think about them too much, I start to incorporate them into my life. It’s the same with Butter Triangle, which you’re also exhibiting at Eastwards Prospectus. Usually the works I refer to are the ones I admire for a variety of reasons. Useful Art is a reflection on the position of conceptual art in museum collections. It’s a paradox when you know that what was meant to be free from the physicality of the art object is now meticulously framed and accumulating dust in museum storage, playing such an integral role in modern art collections.
T.D.: We draw two contrasting viewpoints from the video work on show in your exhibition at Eastwards Prospectus Gallery. For instance, it can be argued that in order for progress to be initiated we have to eradicate the past, or, on the contrary, we have to preserve cultural heritage and draw from it. The futurist manifesto radically promoted the destruction of museums and libraries, clearly not a realistic scenario, but do you believe it is possible for young artists to be burdened by culture and heritage?
K.B: I don’t see the two viewpoints as clearly as you do. If they are truly there, then they are meant to make viewers ask questions they may not have asked before.
The futurist manifesto mentioned in Fire-Followers forms part of the image of art being a self-destructing monster, assuming that art needs challenging environments and scenarios in order to sustain itself. I was trying to imagine what would happen if the world suddenly turned perfect. Where would art belong? Fire-Followers is set in a place where art no longer has reason to exist, so in order to fuel itself it produces fear. Progress suddenly changes direction.
Fire-Followers is by no means a conclusive comment on mankind as burdened with heritage. Although now that I ask myself if we are in fact, I have to admit that yes, we are a little. Contemporary art is obsessed with modernism and almost everything we do refers to it – not only in art, but also in architecture and design. Sometimes I think that we don’t move forward, we simply analyse the same things over and over again. As if we cannot digest them. So perhaps this is a burden that stops us from developing?
T.D.: Fire-Followers introduces a rich variety of audiences, from art lovers, critics, curators, to people outside of the art world, or those who don’t take any interest in it. One particular character drew my attention – the artist concluding the documentary who speaks about the personal archive, and how he cannot move to a foreign country without taking this archive with him. The scene made me think of your work Self-burial, where you talk about your fear of leaving a familiar, creative context, and working in a strange, different environment. Can this detachment be used as an instrument for progress?
K.B.: The elderly performer in Fire-Followers probably doesn’t want to leave because he knows very well that he really is the only person on Earth who is able to put the archive in order. I have seen a few archives of work by artists, who have been active for less than this 92-year old man, and most of them are chaotic masses of images and documents lacking description. As the performer says, nobody but the author can understand it all. While creating this character, I did not think of the fear I meant in Self-burial.
Self-burial refers to the situation many contemporary artists like myself face when travelling constantly. If I want to be financially able to focus on my work and have the budget to produce new pieces, I have to rely on the international system of scholarships and residencies. It is effective, as it offers me opportunities and enables me to travel. But at the same time it doesn’t give me enough time to be in a place long enough to actually understand it. This way every new trip puts you at risk of making artistic statements in the context of a place unfamiliar to you. Self-burial questions the value of the messages we produce as strangers in an unfamiliar location.
I love traveling and learning, but I also want to work in a context that I am sure of. This is why I will always miss that little Warsaw square in the picture.
interviewed by curator Teodora Dinu
“Progress”, Karolina Breguła’s personal exhibition can be visited until December 20th 2014 at EASTWARDS PROSPECTUS in Bucharest.
Visiting program: Thursday – Saturday 11 – 19
Sunday – Wednesday: by appointment only
+ 40 311 016 942