The Netherlands project Freedom4all received a fresh perspective when artist Alexander Rodin, the initiator of the International Festival Dach-9 in Minsk, capitol of Belarus, invited Dutch artists to take part in it as well.
In 2009, COS Zeeland from Goes (center for international cooperation) celebrate 25 year old jubilees. To celebrate this does they in association with CBK Zeeland among the other things by organising a culture project called “Freedom4all”. The topic the situation of refugees/migrants in province of Zeeland in relation to the program “Four Freedom” has been formulated by Roosevelt academy.
Six artists can be inspired by the tale of migrants and make work which is exhibited at CBK Zeeland in Middelburg. The artists are: Wido Blokland, Ans Couwenberg, Tamara Dees, Marcel de Jong, Ludmila Kalmaeva and Paul & Menno the Nooijer. Every artist or artist duet makes a triad works. Every work has a format of 100 x 70 cm (altitude x breadth). The work arises under a huge scanner that state established at Zeeuws Archief. The picture which arises here is converted at “Printing-art-studio” into 12-kleuren pigment print. Stuck on dibond and behind shining acryl plate (so-called Diasec) the work is presented at CBK Zeeland. Photographer Martijn Doolaard from Hoek made a portrait of all migrants and artists that everybody can see in the time of the exhibition. These portraits are accompanied by short texts concerning the migrants and the ideas of the artists for the art work. The texts have been written by Els Koolhaas - the worker of the refugee organisation.
Two of the participants of the initial Freedom4all project held in Middelburg, The Netherlands, responded to this proposal. And these were Wido Blokland and myself, Ludmila Kalmaeva (http://www.kalmaeva.eu/
For his part, Blokland decided to show his series entitled: Apocalypse, which was connected to but a variation of the Freedom4all project’s theme.
The conditions of the Freedom4all Middelburg exhibition were to show only three designs. However, I made an entire series of six works that I wanted to show in Minsk, and took the initiative to transport these, along with other works by participating Dutch artists, with on the train to Minsk.
Hans Bommelje and Stein Bentall, Dutch artists designing a project they called, Bunny Power ( http://www.bentallbommelje.com/), joined the group as well. It’s a sort of ‘do it yourself’ project, expressing one’s own perspective of ‘rabbit’. Ramon de Nennie, with his work Red Thread, and Barbara Jean, with her project Mene Mene, Tekel, Ufrasin [trans. ‘Writing on the Wall’] (http://www.artifuse.com/), were among other participating artists.
The festival Dach-9 opened in late August, which you can both read and see more of by clicking on the following links: http://www.bellabelarus.com/en/content/view/136/11/http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eax8OXzxXtM The works themselves arrived in time for the opening; yet, I arrived late, coming straight from the station to the exhibition hall of the Palace of Art. The festival was holding two exhibitions: on the first floor was Dach-9, where under one roof artists of different countries gathered to display their works. On the second floor was the Victims of Art project by Alex Rodin and Zmitser Yurkevich, who is known as Mitrich. Works of other artists reflecting the Victims of Art project’s theme were included in this second exhibition as well, which has enabled me to launch the Apocalypse series by Wido Blokland .
The day I arrived in Minsk, I saw that Exhibition Dach-9 was arranged with pictures stacked everywhere in front of walls but not yet hung. As it turned out, a place to exhibit our work wasn’t planned. So, Alexander Rodin quickly reorganised the other artwork on exhibit, making wall space for us. I then rushed around and hung up our works to let everybody see that the space was now occupied.
When I returned the following day, I saw that our pictures were actually hanging too close together. In comparison, the rest of the exhibition was well spaced. Our corner, I observed, had lost its spatial harmony because of the clutter of too many entries. So, what did I do? I reconstructed my exhibit by completely removing my own works. I made this hard decision because the sizes and color schemes of mine had now conflicted with the rest of those of the other artists. It was a tough decision to make, indeed.
As for the rest, the director of the Palace of Art, Alexander Zenkevich, helped me find two panels of foam board. On these I placed the calligraphic work of artist Barbara Jean, which was entitled Mene Mene, Tekel, Ufrasin; project Bunny Power of Hans Bommelje and Stein Bentall; and, above these, I stretched the Red Thread with the T-shirt creation of Ramon de Nennie.
I did manage to hang two of my works on a small temporary wall in the other room, but after the opening this wall was dismantled and the works removed.
One of the Charter 97 (http://www.charter97.org/) opposition movement leaders suggested the project’s theme – freedom for all – which worked well in Holland might have some difficulty in Belarus. Dima Bandarenka, an actual friend of mine, said this slightly off the cuff and in jest. He did so because Belorussian artists are still subject to heavy censorship.
The exhibition Dach-9 was authorised by authorities, but its organizers feared that the exhibition could be cancelled if they introduced too many provocative ideas about ‘freedom’. This strong fear of closure presided over the festival like a dark shadow. In a personal interview, Alex Rodin had disclosed how he’d organised a similar exhibition a few years prior, and it was closed the following day after the opening (http://www.vimeo.com/6649040). Rodin also expected our exhibition to be undermined at any minute because he’d seen a middle-aged man in a hall sketching something in his notebook. This man, he suspected, was working for some authority and collecting compromising evidence to shut the festival down. When I learn of this I went over to the man and spoke with him directly. As it turned out, he was the illustrator Demarin who, like many artists of an older generation, is accustomed to thinking with his pencil. No spy there - and the danger of suspicion had passed!
It’s always a risk to hold an exhibition that doesn’t fit the criteria of the official authorities in Belarus. For artists like my friends and I such restrained thinking puts a damper on our abilities to display our works freely, especially in forums such as exhibitions. The artists must coordinate everything within certain parameters and restrictions by meeting and discussing their plans with such authorities. Because of this, many artists forgo exhibiting in their homeland, choosing instead to exhibit abroad. Dima Bandarenka even teased me that I should specify the project name as: "Freedom4all in Holland" instead of simply Freedom4all, because there’s no freedom of artistic expression in Belarus.
The picture on exposition in Dach-9 changed daily so many artists could show their works. Thanks to Larissa Finkelstein, one of the exhibition curators, my series had once more found its way to the spectators. She was instrumental in making space for me to show my works in the middle of September, where I able to display the Freedom4all project for three days. During this time, my series was noticed and I received an invitation for an interview on the Belorussian radio station. There I discussed my impression about the exhibition, my life in Holland and the project itself. A Berlin correspondent, Lothar Hartog, also interviewed me. And, later, journalist Natalia Sharangovich from the Belorussian art magazine “Mastatctva” became interested in my project as well. All this PR led to my works being able to remain hanging until the festival’s end.
The problems of émigrés in Holland are unknown to the general Belorussian public. So, I’d written a detailed explanation coinciding with my artwork, which spectators read eagerly. Many visitors, in fact, photographed my work for memory, telling me that it was of particular interest to certain professionals because of its high technical quality. These works were not placed in the venue of "trash art", a term stemming from the process of designing recycled throwaways into art forms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbGYayf1oP4
The exhibition Victims of Art was made in the style “trash art”, expressing very negative feelings of death and destruction that disclosed general feelings of the Belarusian persona. And it’s this very theme that has dominated the exhibition due to a social situation fully suppressing the liberty and freedom of the Belorussian people. And this very theme – the violation of human rights – was the most appealing to the public in Minsk.
Western art does not experience the Belorussian interdiction that hold down creativity, as Europeans tend to think more positively while arranging biennial exhibits of mega-technological projects. Europeans have a huge interest, awareness of and anxiety over issues such as ecology. They perceive art as aesthetic and embrace its cultural variety and penetration, such as using it thematically as a voice to aid the African poor, etc.
Maybe the presentation of the project Victims of Art will look to the outsider as somewhat naive. If so, they need to understand that Belorussian artists have only taken a first step - the second, third and forth will be better, stronger and more explicit. For now, we’ve attempted an initial breakthrough toward more freedom of expression for Belorussian artists. It is our deepest hope that this spirit will never again be suppressed at its root by government intervention and dictatorship.
Project Bunny Power by Hans Bommelje and Stein Bentall achieved great success with spectators that were drawn in by the enormous quantity of bunnies. Drawings were anonymous and presented as aids that enabled participants to openly express themselves in this exhibit. There were images of the Belorussian president "Father-figure", where the subjects themselves displayed such obvious political coloring, like the images of moustaches with a swastika in an ear and drawings of a president on skates with hockey sticks. These were also suggestive of a strict adherence by the Belarusian president to the rules of hockey, which is the one and only cultural phenomenon generously subsidized by the State Treasury. There were images too of patriots with his mouths sealed shut by red flags. The image of Zjanon Pazdnjak, the opposition leader now living in Poland, was also drawn with fastened mouth. For your interest, these bunnies can be found in near future on the following site: http://www.bentallbommelje.com/
So, what exactly is the present situation of my homeland? Belarus is located in the heart of Europe where in its capitol, Minsk, there is a so-called ‘sign’ monument pinpointing the geographical center. To me, this is so much like a cyclone center, called a “dead zone”, where no air circles round. Belarus is also an island of silence and calm; but, at the same time, in its center is a huge surge of power. Comparatively is the character of the Belorussian man. He is very calm and passive; and, at the same time, charged with huge potential energy. Yet, creative individuals don’t necessarily find this image reassuring. If one is content one doesn’t necessarily aspire to a maximum self-realization, which the artist thrives on. Not surprisingly, many talented Belorussians have immigrated elsewhere and become known in their adopted countries as masters of their talents and skills; e.g., novelist Dostoevsky, poet G. Apollinaire, painter Chagall and many others. So many leave the country; but this does not necessarily mean that they despise their roots.
All in all, the festival Dach-9 collected active, creative and informal art of many Belorussian artists. Everyday crowds were drawn to the festival, a fact which speaks for itself. While there, visitors experienced the fresh air of freedom. Exhibition organizers used a minimum of accessible means and materials, as the festival had no sponsors. The Union of Artists paid the rent of the hall. The remaining expenses were laid upon the shoulders of its organizers and participants, who showed unprecedented enthusiasm and selflessness. The exhibition was thus issued in the style of trash art, which reflected the current condition of the premises of the Palace of Art that was very rundown.
All exhibition platforms - and even the courtyard - where used in festival activities. Graffiti artists worked one after another, creating and recreating colourful outcomes. One had only time enough to take a photograph of a finished work before it had to give place to another and its following author. Such a continuous action of creating and recreating gave especially youth the chance to work out an albeit impermanent creative energy that minimised the risk of damage to other artists’ works on display. Only one of the photo works had been spoilt by paint from the paint-bus. It could have turned out worse, considering the lack of insured works amidst the huge gathering of visitors. I constantly “patrolled” works of the Dutch artists because, without protected glass, they were absolutely defenseless. Fortunately, all was managed with a positive outcome!
I was daily present at the festival as well, and the program was sated. Theatrical representations, films, musical performances, literary soirees - I did not manage to see them all – I could not, because events were developed simultaneously on all floors of the Palace of Art. From what I did manage to see, I especially liked the following:
Svabodny theatre from Brest: http://www.svabodny.kantakt.net/process.htm
Theatre of pantomimes: http://inzhest.belorus.by/gallery/page51.html
Theatre "EYE": http://yurakul.livejournal.com/317430.html
Festival of performance, Navinky: http://yurakul.livejournal.com/317430.html
Folks group Guda http://guda-group.livejournal.com/; and, http://guda.fromby.net/
Many exhibits were made of a temporary nature. Because of how it was represented it looked more like an artist studio than formal affair. There was a feeling of co-authorship available to everyone with an unspoken theme of the ‘common man’. People were sitting on the floor, touching and moving things and feeling quite relaxed, as the distance between the spectator and the artist was reduced. Youth, in particular, felt quite comfortable in the festival atmosphere.
Alex Rodin works were quintessential to the exhibition, and spectators were amazed by his great skill and artistic genius. His paintings carried a theme of magic, as it was, where items seemed to melt and crystallise, turning into high art forms that filled the canvas as if with a sense of sacrament.
As the festival closed, it ended with a positive impression. Noteworthy were the especially selfless natures of Alex Rodin and Zmitser Yurkevich who, throughout the long months prior to the exhibition, worked morning, noon and night putting it together. They made public admission free of charge, collecting large quantities of objects in its making. And all they had done, they did without any financing by sponsors. Rather, they rode on their own enthusiasm and modest budget. We have all treasured their hard work, effort and success with immense pride in all they have accomplished in the Dach-9 Minsk exhibit!
More of the photo’s you can see at the site: http://dach-9.blogspot.com/ ; and my own photos of the exhibition: http://picasaweb.google.com/Much4je/DACH9blog02?feat=directlink