DRESSES BY THE FACTORY OF FOUND CLOTHING
Artists Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya and Olga Yegorova - "Gliukla" and "Tsaplya" - talk to art critic Dmitry Pilikin, in their hometown St Petersburg. Here Pilikin tries to find out about the artistic concept behind their numerous identities and projects. Art Orbit is happy to present selected sections of the interview, including the introduction.
by DMITRY PILIKIN, Khudojestveny jurnal no 18, 1998
Saint Petersburg´s Factory of Found Clothing (henceforth, referred to as "FFC") is a concern specializing in the production of the well-organized Daydream - where "Justice prevails and there is no death". In the Factory´s ideology, clothing (the dress) is the ideal material for realizing this sort of Daydream. The dress´s natural duplicity - its perfidious, incorporeal fickleness and, at the same time, its corpulent, brutal ambiguity - imparts a realistic fullness and authenicity to the Daydream. All of FFC´s activites are dedicated to the Gymnasium Girl (in Russian "gimnazistka", a female secondary-school student - translator´s note), the Factory´s ideal heroine. In the context of Petersburg´s ambiguous and vacillating aura, these seemingly insignificant maidenly games reveal, under their surfaces, authentic and accurate artistic messages which makes FFC´s exhibitions and actions some of the most exciting events in the Petersburg contemporary art calendar. Dmitry Pilikin (DP) talks with "Gliukla" (Natalia Pershina-Yakimanskaya) and "Tsaplya" (Olga Yegorova).
"In Moscow there are "rosy-cheeked gymnasium girls". The Petersburg Gymnasium Girl is sad; she drinks vinegar to make her cheeks pale and her skin limpid."
DP:That is, your attention is very much turned toward the past, where living has its own realia?
Gliukla: We live in Petersburg, which is very much turned toward the past. You can´t help but take this into account. This is a made-up city, a city of literary characters. There´s no doubt that one´s sense of taste is dictated by the place where one lives. Journalists ask this stupid question, "Where do you get your inspiration?"; while it seems to me that I don´t make anything up: I simply interpret what I see and what I live in.
DP: All your silks and other objects are covered with inscriptions, letters, notes, commentaries. Why is this?
Gliukla: It´s in France that painting as a genre means pictures, but here in Russia you have to describe everything in words. Nevetheless, writing is also a form of painting, of describing life. Handwriting, paper, monograms, the lacework of script…
DP: Why does the Gymnasium Girl hail from Petersburg? Are there Gymnasium Girls in Moscow, for instance?
Gliukla: In Moscow there are "rosy-cheeked gymnasium girls". The Petersburg Gymnasium Girl is sad; she drinks vinegar to make her cheeks pale and her skin limpid. We see better in the twilight than in the light of the sun. It´s the "seamy side" of things that we investigate, after all.
DP: How is it that you - a young woman with the body that´s the picture of life-affirming health - should be preaching decadence?
Gliukla: It´s true that I´ve always liked the Decadence movement and the Silver Age. I find this duality amusing. I thought up a hyphenated surname for myself and people started using it as if it was my real surname. I´m perpetuating the traditions of volatile natures - it´s written all over me. My eyes are light-colored, but my hair is dark, and then these delicate fingers and wrists that I have for some reason.
DP: Within your game there is still one institution - the Shop of Traveling Things. What relation do the Shop and the Factory have to another?
Gliukla: The Shop is FFC´s favourite child, while FFC is a project in which we hide under a common name, because a name, just like a dress, is something one feels like changing - or, rather, one wants to have both a secret name and an explicit name. Once my parents sent me off for the summer to my relatives, in Tambov province. It was unbearable boring there - until I discovered some old dresses in a dresser. Handling this disintegrating material (and all this against the backdrop of the life-affirming, manure-fertilized, Black Earth Belt), I simply sobbed from happiness. I have found what I had been looking for.
Tsaplya: New things are stupid and uninteresting, they don´t have a history. All these missing buttons, tears, displacements and alterations mean something. From the very outset it was a shop that I want to open and not, say, a gallery because one has to acquire things in order to feel one´s power over them. You buy it, you´re the owner. Our shop is a dress-up game. People start trying things on and changing, and they go into wild raptures over this.
DP: We speak of acting as a changing of masks, a change effected with the help of clothing, as well. For example, Zhirinovsky suddenly appears in a lemon-colored frockcoat…
Tsaplya: Yeah. There he is, like a canary, and there´s already no way he can hide it. The Shop is precisely that place where someone can become whomever he wants - including himself.
DP: But I see a contradiction. One the one hand, a certain artistic message; on the other hand, the Shop as a form is forced to adapt itself to society. And you´re in between, as it were.
Tsaplya: You´ve touched upon a real tragedy. It´s true that there´s this secret desire to retain the possibility of keeping an eye on the Things - that is, to not let them out of reach. But liberation is essential too. You mark birds and ring them, but you don´t know what will become of them. And each time, liberation takes place as a kind of ritual, and by its nature ritual can´t be hurried. Some buisness!
"Right now we´re talking with you about the significance of our actions only because we have to communicate on the level of speech as well. But this verbal something I understand only in the process of our conversation."
DP: Where does your interest in the seamy side of things, their shadowy side, come from?
Gliukla: Without ugliness, beauty isn´t alive, it isn´t sincere, it isn´t truthful. Nowadays, it´s impossible to talk about "the beautiful" without naming its flipside. But, in fact, it´s already unclear which side is which. A thing which isn´t destroyed by time is not alive. When we are preparing projects "The Angelic State of the Thing"", I was thinking about what the heck we could do with those white silk dresses to make them come to life. It was then I got the idea for the clumps of hair showing through sewn-on pockets - it´s this hair that makes the dresses innocent.
DP: Why innocent?
Gliukla: It is the loathsome, the awful, the alien, the other, the seamy (whose presence witnesses to the fullness of being as well) that underscore the purity of the angelic state of the thing.
DP: That is, you were going on some personal experiences, not even thinking about the fact that, in terms of symbolism, that this is also the foreskin and, hence, a sacrifice?
Gliukla: I have my own insights, I´m an artist and a woman, and constructing logical schemes isn´t for me. Right now we´re talking with you about the significance of our actions only because we have to communicate on the level of speech as well. But this verbal something I understand only in the process of our conversation.
"Nevertheless, writing is also a form of painting, of describing life"
DP: The nineties are considered a period of women in art. And this is accurate, because mental and conceptual contructions are not in favor these days. Moreover, feminists are coming out with the idea of the "specialness" of the feminine model of art, which has been forced to shove itself into the framework of the prevailing masculine model. What do you think about this?
Gliukla: I don´t understand the meaning of feminism awfully well, but there is a grain of truth in this idea. Ideally, woman should be swaddled by man, surrounded by him to the point of completely losing any free space. In this "swaddledness" she germinates and acquires Freedom. But there are no men like this these days. And parodies arise, old-fashioned landowners, Gogol…But if it happens, then the woman doesn´t need anything already, she is prepared to deny her ambitions and this self-affirming, masculine model of art.
"It is that place where you are sure that princesses in crystal slippers exist, but, at the same time, it´s that place where you are capable of performing feats."
DP: The body is the ego´s physical boundary. In rapture and in horror consciousness observes the vitality and the pejorative vulcanism of the body. But where, in your opinion, is the boundary of this body? The Gymnasium Girl, is she body or incorporeality? To what extent is the dress responsible for the body´s contours? Your interest in secondary functions, Gliukla, what is this? An interest in obvious symptoms and the manifestations of corporeality?
Gliukla: The Gymnasium Girl is incorporeality thirsty for suffering, insofar as the acquisition of a body signifies a change in status. As an artist, I´ve worked a lot with painting on silk. That´s where my interest in the stain arose, in the saturated red stain which runs in silk. I couldn´t paint with blood, but I depicted it. As opposed to blood, hair and fingernails were things I worked with. I lacked evidence of the life of the Thing and I was searching for this evidence. Hair, nails, further - menstrual blood. I didn´t see why this couldn´t be an object of art, just like everything else. There is so much poetry in it, but it´s all connected with a taboo. But I was curious: why do ninety-five percent of woman criminals commit their crimes precisely during this period? Why? For what? In the very first encyclopedia I looked in i found these unbelievably beautiful things - the microscopic images remind you of the emergence of an eye, the appearance of a fern, then its disappearance. But I still need to work on this: I haven´t come to any conclusions. It was just that at that moment I had this passionate need to talk about it, because this instance human suffering is multiplied by cold description, through which poetry suddenly shoots.
Tsaplya: The Gymnasium Girl is the elusive element in us, no one brought it out in us - not society, not family. It is that place where you are sure that princesses in crystal slippers exist, but, at the same time, it´s that place where you are capable of performing feats.
DP: What is a feat?
Tsaplya: A deed, a conscious action. The Gymnasium Girl is a creature who makes impulsive and often tragic decisions. She dithers and dithers, then she heads into the forest, where she reads poems to the trees; or she decides things by the numbers of trams that pass by. In fact, this is something that exists in everyone - in you, for example. You´re standing at the stop, say, thinking that if the trolleybus #10 rolls up, then you´ll get on, but if not, then it just was in the stars. Does it happens to you?
DP: Well, maybe…
Tsaplya: There, you see, it´s the Gymnasium Girl in you acting up.
"Don´t you think you put that too prettily?"
DP: The Gymnasium Girl is likewise associated with a certain state of girlhood and erotic experiences…
Tsaplya: The Gymnasium Girl is not a girl at all, but that very same androgynous being known as the cherubim. What kind of sexuality could an androgynous being have? The handsome prince is already to be found within yourself, but that doesn´t mean that you won´t look for him.
DP: Is that where Gliukla´s latest maxim comes from? That she´s "a crocodile, not a girl"?
Gliukla: All concepts are displaced, it´s not clear who you are. A woman? A man? I´m an artist and if the concept of femininity is disappearing, then I have to introduce it artificially. That is why the Gymnasium Girl appears.
DP: To summarize. The Gymnasium Girl is a kind of unpredictable bouillon boiling with passions, a bouillon from which the beautiful is born?
Tsaplya: Don´t you think you put that too prettily?
DP: Bouillon - pretty? That depends…
Tsaplya: In any case, we take what we want from that bouillon whenever we want… ~
Translation by Thomas Campbell