Artur Klinau says “Art Village Is A Project On the Verge Of Art and Real Life”

Art Village is a new format for cultural projects in Belarus. Four years ago, artist Artur Klinau began the creation of an art cluster in the village of Kaptaruny, located at a distance of 200 kilometres from Minsk.

According to him, the art industry will breathe fresh life into the region, where unemployment and apathy are now rife. Klinau himself spends the greater part of his time in Kaptaruny. He moved there from the cultural and eventful Minsk. What about other projects? The magazine, publishing and research work, which Artur Klinau has already been doing for 20 years? “To manage cultural projects, you don’t have to live in Minsk,” the artist believes. Moreover, the decentralisation of culture is, from Klinau’s viewpoint, one of the main tasks of today’s art management.

You are the founder and editor of the “pARTisan” magazine, a publication on contemporary Belarusian art that has been published for 15 years now. What is the concept behind the magazine? Are you planning on taking it online?

At the moment, the archive of pARTisan exceeds 500 original texts on contemporary Belarusian art, as well as thousands of images and a selection of visual material. You won’t find such a collection anywhere. We have an online version of the publication. However, the online page is like a bulb, you turn it off and it disappears. If there is no one to take care of the website in a few years, then all its content will disappear. Therefore, it is important for us that the print version of the almanac continues to come out. For the printed word will remain. 

When pARTisan was starting out, I was more of an artist, I was interested in current Belarusian art and pioneering thought. And all of this was reflected in the first issues. But with time, we realised that in Belarus we don’t have the privilege of having a separate magazine on art, another one for theatre, and another separate one on cinema or literature. That is why our scope of interest expanded, and we began to write on various subjects ranging from current culture, cinema, theatre to literature, music, philosophy and thought. Every issue of pARTisan is thematic. We wish to offer readers food for thought, share cutting-edge social, philosophical and culturological ideas. We try to adapt the material for a broad audience.

pARTisan is a platform for the latest contemporary Belarusian culture. When we began creating it, no one was writing about current culture and this topic was not explored.

What do you mean by “contemporary Belarusian culture”?

It is the latest, current culture that is making the search, conducting an experiment. It is that segment of culture in which new ideas and new meanings are reflected, where the most novel intellectual product is being produced.

The name pARTisan combines art and partisan, which is one of the Belarusian culturological archetypes. Did this wordplay occur by chance, or was it originally conceived this way?

Partisan is a very important Belarusian brand, a Belarusian mythologem. We consciously employed it in full. Especially that the word “art” fitted snugly into it.

There’s a notion that you need to know to understand Belarusians. Partisan is one of them. It’s a trait of character which is understood and deeply rooted in each person living here. It is our historical formula, our concept of survival. Going back 15 years, there was not a single gallery in Minsk, independent platform for presenting new ideas and trends. There was a creator but there was no “stage”, there was no structure for the dissemination of artistic and cultural products. That was why our creators were making use of those same “partisan” or guerrilla strategies of survival and self-presentation. It all came together. That is why pARTisan quickly became a cultural brand.

At the moment, the project has expanded. The Internet portal has been created on contemporary art, It is the independent version of pARTisan. Texts on the website do not reproduce the print version. Moreover, the website contains original visual content. The second one is the pARTisan Collection, which represents a publication series of contemporary Belarusian art. A total of 15 publications have already come out, and now we are preparing another one. No one had created such collections on contemporary art before we did. The third one is Kaptaruny Art Village.

Indeed, there is much talk about the new Belarusian art village that you founded. What is the project about? How did it come about?

I’ve been creating the art village for three years. It all began when I bought a house on the border with Lithuania, in an abandoned village where there was almost no one left. The villages in the vicinity were also unpopulated. Most of the inhabitants had left for Lithuania, and they had more ties with Vilnius than Minsk. Places there are very beautiful, obscure, unique.

I began to reconstruct my house for myself, and then I thought why not launch a serious social project here, in this place? A festival village or an art village? To create a community there, to populate the empty houses with writers, artists. I involved my friends in this project, and they too acquired houses in Kaptaruny. Creative people settled in neighbouring villages. But there are still many empty houses, and that is why the process goes on. Our idea is to create there a creative cluster that would cover the whole region.

Kapatruny is located 200 km from Minsk, in the Pastavy District of the Vitebsk Region. There has not even been a trace of any industry there for ages. There is a high rate of unemployment in the region. But there is great potential for tourism, agritourism and cultural tourism there. The project itself has only just began. Everybody has a stake in its success – representatives of contemporary culture, artists and local authorities. Art Village can give a very significant economic boost to the development of the region.

Have you moved to Kaptaruny for good?

I spend most of the year there.

Don’t you miss the rich cultural life that is in full swing in the capital?

You see, in Belarus today there is, in my opinion, a wrong structural distribution of centres of culture. Everything happens in Minsk, whereas in regional cities, towns, there’s almost nothing. In Europe, things happen differently. Culture there is distributed in a uniform way. In a small town, there could be a festival of an international scale held and attended by all the famous stars. That’s normal, that’s the way it should be in Belarus too.

The decentralisation of culture is a very important goal for us. In fact, the Kapatruny project is an effort to achieve that. The effort even if for a few days to move the “cultural capital” to a small town. And we’ve succeeded in that.

This summer we held the Chronotope art fest and the International Literacy Festival Kaptaruny. Over two days, Kaptaruny has been transformed into the cultural centre of Belarus with a significant concentration of creators and events. It was clear that in Minsk on that day there were significantly fewer events. We have to pursue the decentralisation of culture so that it begins to develop the regions.

The Chronotope festival that you mentioned was held in the Art Village Kaptaruny in early July. Tell us about the festival’s concept. Who does it target?

In the future Chronotope will be an international festival of low-budget auteur films. At the moment we have decided to begin with an annual summer film school. Over a week we have been holding classes, workshops, before that we spent two days on a quite intense programme with performances by musicians and lectures.

In which spaces?

The infrastructure is slowly growing, we had at our disposal playgrounds, gazebos, ad hoc locations for 100+ persons. It is worth noting that the festival was organised without sponsors, in the conventional sense of the word. We raise funds for Chronotope through an online crowdfunding platform. And the event took place and it was conspicuous and effective. Following this festival, around 20 participants coming to the film school stayed and took part in the A Film in 4 Days project. This year at the end of July we are going to repeat the Chronotop fest, but this time - in expanded format - with film screenings, discussions, meetings with foreign guests. For example, Andrey Silvestrov, the creator of the International Kansk video festival in Siberia, which is ideologically close to Chronotop will join us.  Andrey Kudinenko, one of the curators of the forum, suggested the borderland in the cinema as a theme of this year. Kaptaruny is an ideal place for this concept. We've already launched a crowd funding campaign, so we encourage you to join us - it's worth it.

You have a very broadly creative CV. You are a writer, artist, you create installations and, on the other hand, you have a technical education, you are the editor of a magazine, you create and implement artistic and cultural projects. Among other things, you firmly represent the Belarusian avant-garde. What is “Belarusian avant-garde”? How did it influence contemporary Belarusian art?

Avant-garde or non-conformism are the terms that were important for art the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, when the state supported and promoted only its own version of culture. At the time, non-conformist ideology was relevant.

We can talk of Belarusian avant-garde conditionally. Many artists called themselves “avant-gardists”, thereby expressing their disagreement with “official” art. Although the term “non-conformity” would be a more apt description for the art of the time. The alternative art of Belarus in the 1990s and 2000s can be called Belarusian non-official or independent art. In reality, it is the continuation of that anti-Soviet artistic tradition, but in a new version, in new conditions, in a new time period. But now even this period may be revised. We see that the state is beginning to actively use and even support contemporary art. The Centre for Contemporary Art is now open in Minsk, there’s a Museum of Contemporary Art – these are state institutions. And there’s a place there for quite daring exhibitions and art-expression. Therefore, contemporary Belarusian art cannot be now called “non-conformist”, “non-official” or “independent”. The confrontation between the state and contemporary art is disappearing, and the tension along with it.

Is this uncomfortable for you?

This is normal. The state should put its stakes on the new and not the old.

You are a man who’s always passionate about something. What are you working on now? What genre, form is most effective at the moment to communicate with the audience?

My projects are no longer simply artistic, they border on another reality. Let’s take Kaptaruny, for me it’s an art project. But it’s not simply a project – it is also life.

Now I’m more interested in literature. Literature gives more possibilities to express oneself. Contemporary art is becoming a sphere for a few, requires certain experience and preparation on the part of the viewer. Whereas the viewer is lazy by nature and is looking for something simple.

What about the reader?

It’s more straightforward with him. Literature has more means via which to communicate. Verbal language is simpler than the language of contemporary art. That is why a literary work can reach a larger audience than an artistic work.

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