srijeda, 7. studenoga 2012.

Slavs and Tatars - materinji jezici i očinska grla


Polemične, multimedijske, zaumne priče o euroazijskim transrazumnim identitetima - satiričnim narodima koji su još više nego od drugih, bježali od samih sebe. Jezici, značenja i slike preklapaju se kako bi stvorili komunislam (komunizam + islam), globalni ideološki sustav za kidnapiranje planina.

Slavs and Tatars: Reverse Joy / Tersten Neşe na Vimeu


For the Birds

by Kevin Kinsella

In Beyonsense, Eurasian artist collective Slavs and Tatars channels its inner Zaum in a celebration of the twists of language across cultures, histories, and geographies.
Installation view of Projects 98: Slavs and Tatars. 2012. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo courtesy of the artists.

“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird?”
     —Pablo Picasso

In Victory over the Sun, men from the future appear from out of nowhere and drag the bourgeois sun kicking and screaming from the sky, stuff it into a box, and replace it with a new energy source more appropriate for the times. A character called The Traveler Through Time declares that the future will be masculine and that all people will look happy, although happiness itself will no longer exist. Finally, an airplane crashes into the stage.
In 1913, the debut performance of this first Russian Futurist opera in St. Petersburg didn’t go over so well. Maybe it was Alexei Kruchenykh’s “nonsensical” libretto or Mikhail Matiushin’s chaotic music or the outlandish costumes and stage sets designed by Kazimir Malevich—or maybe the audience just didn’t expect a plane to crash into the stage. Whatever the case, they reacted violently. To be fair, Kruchenykh wrote much of the libretto in Zaum, an experimental, non-referential language he developed with fellow poet Velimir Khlebnikov, in which Russian was broken down into its fundamental sounds, the words stripped of meaning to expose the primal Slavic essence of the sounds themselves.
Kruchenykh himself described the new language as “wild paradise, fiery languages, blazing coal.” Khlebnikov, who contributed a prologue to the opera, called it the “language of the birds.” It’s no wonder members of the audience reacted as they did. Robbed of familiar contextual cues and cozy linguistic references, it was as though they too had been stuck in a box and pronounced dead alongside the bourgeois sun.
One hundred years later, audiences are still trying to make sense of Zaum, but if it continues to evade understanding, it is because by its nature Zaum resists translation. There are no word-to-word correlations. It doesn’t make sense, it is trans sense, beyond sense. Not caged by culture and geography, meaning surfaces from within the depths of a primordial forest of sounds, briefly flits about, then returns to the cacophony of its murky woods. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Why not try to understand the song of a bird?”

Slavs and Tatars. Mother Tongues and Father Throats. 2012. Digital print. Photo courtesy the artists.

And this is what visitors to the Museum of Modern Art are grappling with today. With Beyonsense, which runs through December 10, 2012, the museum presents the first U.S. solo exhibition by the Eurasian artists collective Slavs and Tatars. Developed, in part, from their study of the museum’s collection of more than 1,000 Russian avant-garde illustrated books, the group designed an unconventional reading room—a so-called “room of reversals”—to feature text pieces and artist’s books that incorporate the Farsi, Russian, English, and Hebrew languages and scripts as a “celebration of twists of language across cultures, histories, and geographies.” The installation focuses on the letters ח (Hebrew), Х (Cyrillic), and خ (Arabic)—three characters united by the single closed vocal sound emanating from the back of the throat that all of them represent.

Installation view of Projects 98: Slavs and Tatars. 2012. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Today, however, visitors get a chance to ease into Zaum. The quiet space created by Slavs and Tatars is a far cry from the confrontational 1913 production in St. Petersburg where audiences first reacted to the linguistic taunts from the Futurists. The small room within MoMA is an intimate and gently playful environment within the otherwise bustling museum setting, one more conducive to interacting with language experiments, as opposed to merely reacting to them. Visitors are invited to leave the museum—and New York City—behind, all the better to thoughtfully engage with the experiments themselves.
Acting as a kind of curated vestibule, the front area contains objects grounded in the group‘s literary and cultural interests, including a stack of books joined by a shish kebab skewer and a crown of braided wheat. Passing through hanging Persian carpets, which dampen any external museum noises, visitors enter a darkened, contemplative space featuring text pieces and printed publications. Suspended like a skylight at the center of the room, a light fixture inspired by a work that the American artist Dan Flavin made for a New York City mosque in the ’70s offers a soft glow. Below that, a fountain circulates a red liquid, alternately described by visitors as blood or Kool-Aid, in a small basin. Finally a selection of the group’s books, including the most recent title, Khhhhhhh—an approximation of the sound created by the installation’s three featured linguistic characters—is available on benches along the walls of the space.

Installation view of Projects 98: Slavs and Tatars. 2012. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo courtesy of Jason Mandella.
With members active in Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East—where populations and languages are all in transition—Slavs and Tatars plays with cultural registers and humorously blends academic tropes with pop vernacular. Beyonsense addresses the potential of language from its mystical perspective, to “both clarify and complicate” communication across cultures and geographies. According to the collective, “We imagine that language is always revelatory, but it can hide as many meanings as it can reveal or divulge.”
Why not try to understand the song of a bird?

Slavs and Tatars Bring Eurasian Transreason to MoMA

"Beyonsense," the first US solo museum show by international artist collective Slavs and Tatars, at New York's Museum of Modern Art, thrives in the rich, unstable spaces where language, meaning and imagery overlap.

Founded in 2006, Slavs and Tatars—whose members asked to remain anonymous for this article, citing safety concerns and a desire to subsume its individuals to a collective spirit—dedicate its socio-historical explorations to Eurasia, an ambiguous region the artists define as "east of the former Berlin wall and west of the Great Wall of China." On view through Dec. 10, the exhibition provokes interpretations as shifting and ambiguous as the transcontinental region it explores. That ambiguity begins with the exhibition title, a translation of the term zaum—a concept introduced by early 20th Century Russian Futurist poets to describe their experiments in deconstructing language and meaning, alternatively translated as "transreason." (It is also, as the group has noted, a wink to Beyoncé Knowles.)

View Slideshow Slavs and Tatars. Gastham Nabood Nagard. 2011. Embroidered fabric. 78 3/4 x 47 1/4″ (200 x 120 cm). Image courtesy of The Third Line, Dubai; Slavs and Tatars. Long Live The Syncretics. 2012. Painted steel. 145 11/16 x 74 13/16″ (370 x 190 cm). Image courtesy of The Third Line, Dubai;
The work on view is emphatically textual, exploiting tensions between accepted history and counter-narrative, linguistic atavism and poetic disruption. Kitab Kebab (2012) (literally, "Book Kebab"), is a sculpture that involves several books on religion, philosophy and language, skewered with a flat, pointed metal shaft, like meat on a skewer, or a sword.
In The Dear for The Dear (2012), we see a brown, shriveled cucumber atop a rahlé—a small lectern used to hold an open holy book. An artist with the collective cites an Egyptian proverb to illuminate the latter: "Life is like a cucumber," the proverb goes. "One day in your hand, one in your ass." The image is irresistibly repulsive, begging psychosexual and scatological interpretation. Why is the cucumber shriveled and brown? The artist cannot or will not say, except to note that it was carved from wood.
The physical and conceptual heart of the exhibition is the title installation, Beyonsense (2012), a calm, black-lit reading room, insulated from sound and light by dozens of hanging rugs, filled with several other mixed-media pieces.  Inside, the group's myriad textual offerings lie scattered atop benches on either side in an array of languages and scripts. From the ceiling hangs an homage in green neon to an installation by Dan Flavin, commissioned in 1982 for a Sufi mosque in lower Manhattan. Slavs and Tatars were attracted to the original in part because of the "cognitive dissonance" it created, the artist said.
"Flavin is somebody whom we would consider kind of secular and minimalist," he added. "But at the same time, what's more spiritual than light sculptures?"
At the far end of the reading room, a screen-printed mirror, entitled Kh Giveth (2012), references an Arabic letter that serves as an "anti-imperial phoneme," the artist says, "because it's the one phoneme that Anglo-Saxons sort of have a difficult time pronouncing because it doesn't really exist." Beside it, another painted mirror, Kh Taketh Away (2012), locates difficult phonemes on a map of the throat and tongue, a space of tension between breath and glottal restriction. The phonemes, as such, become "an oppositional gesture," as the artist put it.  
Gurgling placidly at the center, a fountain spews red liquid, which appears pink or black in places because of the unconventional lighting. Reverse Joy (2012) is a smaller version of a fountain installed by the group in Jerusalem, itself modeled after a fountain in Tehran's Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, hose water was briefly dyed red in the 1980s to commemorate  the martyrs of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.
Despite its heavy moral and political allusions, the fountain provokes diverging reactions among spectators, the unnamed artist insists: Children who observed its larger iteration in Jerusalem, for example, often interpreted the red liquid as Kool-Aid, not blood.  "It's really naïve and kind of festive on one side and, on the other end, it's, of course, extremely violent and politically manipulative—it's about blood and martyrdom," he says.
"It occupies two opposite ends of the spectrum at the same time," he added. "And that's what's quite interesting for us."
Of the texts and objects that make up the show, one might appropriately ask a question posed by several characters in The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie-another artist who nimbly, if perilously, straddles the shifting, uneasy territory where Europe meets Asia: "What kind of an idea are you?"
If the work could speak, it might reply as one of Rushdie's characters did: "What kind of an idea am I? I bend. I sway. I calculate the odds, trim my sails, manipulate, survive."

Slavs and Tatars’s “Too Much Tłumacz”

In 1983, Czech writer Milan Kundera defined Central Europe as those states that historically and culturally belonged to the West, but had been politically assigned to the Eastern Bloc in the geopolitical wrangling of the Cold War. His notable essay “The Stolen West” (1983) accentuated the shared cultural heritage of the countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain and held a strategic value in defying communism. Today, over two decades after the fall of Berlin Wall and almost a decade after the European Union’s border shifted eastward, such designations sound woefully outdated. Yet the artistic collective Slavs and Tatars locate their geographical interest “east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China.” Their first solo show in Warsaw is dedicated to linguistic complexities and what is lost (or gained) in translation. But what strategies lurk behind their approach?
In the center of the gallery stands a peculiar structure made of wood, a takhit, a type of furniture found in tea houses, kiosks, or restaurants across Central Asia. It resembles a bed, but lacks a mattress or upholstery and is covered instead with patterned rugs. Here it acts as a reading platform, with Slavs and Tatars’s publications placed casually on it. In their practice takhits, tent-like tea salons, small shrines, or flying carpets (like PrayWay (2012) at the New Museum’s Triennial in New York this year) are meant to bring in an impression of public space, hospitality, and generosity.
But they’re less known for their lounges, I suppose, than for research that finds form through lectures, books, and various types of artifacts. Steeped in geographically specific humor, their works go against constructing a homogenous picture of the East, emphasizing rather the idiosyncrasies and curiosities. The superficial similarities they uncover lead to crackpot theories, bilingual puns, and pure absurdities. Take the globe Slavs and Tatars fashioned, for instance, in which the Earth is substituted with an enlarged quince. The word dunya is the Arabic and Turkish word for “world” which, in turn, sounds similar to dunja (quince) in Serbo-Croatian. (The work is meant to bury a hatchet between the Turks and Serbs.) The exhibition’s title “Too Much Tłumacz” includes a homophonic translation too. “Too much” sounds like the Polish word for “translator.” So the title, if you can read both languages, would read “too much translating.” In the work Dig the Booty (2012) the aphorism “Dig the booty of the monoglots, but marry, my child, a polyglot” is transliterated into Latin, Cyrillic and Farsi, in homage to the circuitous paths of Azeri language, which in the twentieth century went through three transliterations imposed by various authorities. Consequently, generations of Azeris speak the same language, but read books written in three different alphabets.
While the artists’ statement disapproves of the power of translation, they themselves employ it incessantly. The walls around the takhit are hung with rugs, carpets, and prints, all using texts (at least bilingual, if not more) contributing to an incomprehensible linguistic brew. In the adjacent room, large-scale mirrors are painted over with short paraphrases of idioms and titles of popular books, referring to the countries or cities of the regions Slavs and Tatars are interested in. Looking at my own reflection, I learned for instance that “Men are from Murmansk / Women are from Vilnius,” or “Once a Tease, Always a Kyrgyz.” Let’s call the whole thing off!
As most of the works in the show are remnants of previous larger projects of the collective, they all needed extended captions (which were, unfortunately, missing). While a globe-quince is funny, to reach the deeper meaning one needs to plow through the collective’s books on the takhit (in this case Not Moscow Not Mecca) or attend their lectures. While the research results in books, the artworks turn out to be merely its by-products. What remains is an aura of luring exoticism: Sinbad the Sailor meets accretions of unfathomable convoluted oriental writings.
In their project comparing Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the breakdown of communism in Poland in 1989 (Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz, 2011), Slavs and Tatars delved even deeper into the past, referring to Sarmatism, a cultural formation in Baroque-era Poland, based on the conviction that Polish nobility descended from a long-lost Iranian tribe of the Black Sea, the Sarmatians. Supposedly, the Polish inherited their “national characteristics”—such as their love of freedom, hospitality, and courage—from them. But Slavs and Tatars themselves concoct similar myths. In Poland, their quixotic work serves almost as a reminder of these forgotten Eastern ties, served up as an exotic remnant proffering both wisdom and colorful decoration. In other words: intriguing—but also a little superficial.
The exhibition at Raster opened during Warsaw Gallery Weekend, which aimed to galvanize a fledgling Polish art market and bring it into the broader Western spectrum. Paradoxically, no artist or collective suits this goal better than Slavs and Tatars. But to escape the dense cobweb they spin, let’s quote the Gershwins: Potato, potahto!


Interview with Slavs and Tatars
by Federica Bueti

The first time I talked with Slavs and Tatars was by Skype, then I met them again (or perhaps for the first time depending on how you count these things) after a performance/lecture (79.89.09) they'd given at the Swedish  Embassy in Berlin. Since our first meeting, we have engaged in several discussions and exchanges. The following informal discussion took place over e-mail. It represents only a small window on Slavs and Tatars's  vast field of interests.

Federica Bueti: As you state on your website: "Slavs and Tatars is  a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia." Could you talk to me a bit more about the origins of your collaboration? When and where you decide to start to the project?
Love Me, Love Me Not: Changed Names, Wall application, for "The Past is a Foreign Country," Center for Contemporary Art, Torun, Poland. 2010,

Slavs and Tatars: We founded Slavs and Tatars in 2006 for equally intellectual and intimate reasons. Of course, we are interested in researching an area of the world–Eurasia–we consider relevant, politically, culturally, spiritually. But it is also the result of the end of a “western promise” to some degree in our respective lives: after having lived in the major metropolises of the West (London, NY, Paris), studied in some of the finest institutions, worked with leading companies, etc. we feel there is something missing.

FB: What do you mean with "something is missing"could you explain...

ST: We take issue with various ideas: the positivism that seems to be so rampant in the West; the pragmatic nature of knowledge versus initiative; the experiential nature of wisdom; the idolization of youth coupled with the dismissal of age; an excessive emphasis on the rational at the expense of the mystical; the segregation of children from adults at social functions; splitting dinner bills; disproportionate attention to the individual over the collective…
A Thirteenth Month Against Time, mimeograph print, off-set hand laid stickers, 21x28 cm, 2008.

FB: There are two points in your statement which I would like to discuss: One is the transmedial approach-—you have produced posters, objects, books, t-shirts, lecturesyour practice is, in its way, extremely pop. The popular media appropiation seems a way you get closer to the audience. Could you explain your idea of artistic intervention and the position you take in the visual field?

ST: Our work across different media stems from two things: first, a notion of indistinguishability: in a period suffering from a tyranny of transparency as is ours, it is important to be there where you are not expected. Working across several media also allows a polyphonic voice: we do not want our work to be only of relevance to a specific industry, whether the art world or academia. The second is a matter of access: we are not precious and would like our work to be accessible to a large group as possible.

FB: The second point is the need for revisiting and discussing history.  What does discussing Eastern History means today that we are facing the decline of an unitarian and true Western Civilization?

ST: We are interested particularly in redeeming, preserving, sharing and revising certain areas of Eurasia’s history because we feel it is of particular relevance to larger issues facing the West today: if, for example, we are to believe there is somehow a clash between the East and West or between Islam and the West, then it makes sense to look at perhaps the only area in the world where these have co-habited successfully.
Meanwhile, certain traditions and heritage are at risk of being dismissed in the region’s efforts at modernization. Too often, across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, modernization is equated with westernization, to disastrous effects and ironically at the very moment as you mention that this Western narrative is in doubt and decline.
Горе от Ума (Gore ot Uma) is a famous 19th-century play about Moscow manners by Aleksander Griboyedov, a close friend of Pushkin’s and diplomat to the Czar in the Caucasus. The play is translated in English as WOE FROM WIT or THE MISFORTUNE OF BEING INTELLIGENT. By changing the Е in the original Russian title to an Ы,the title becomes MOUNTAINS OF WIT and the urban premise of the original work is hijacked by an imaginative Caucasian setting, one which played an influential role in Griboyedov’s life and death.
"Ruins of Our Times," Ministry of Transport, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2010
Wall painting, 180 x 200  cm.

FB: Could you give us a precise definition for your terms "Westoxification" or "Occidentosis"?

ST: The term Qarbzahdegi, translated as Westoxification or Occidentosis, was first popularized as the title of a 1962 polemical booklet by Jalal al-e Ahmad, a social critic in Iran. Westoxification was used to describe the condition of secular Iranians who passively subscribed to Western values and did not sufficiently rely on their own cultural and religious heritage. Our work confronts a similar condition in the post-Soviet sphere where countries, in an effort to modernize, are subscribing wholesale to Westernization.

FB: What  is your personal approach to archivial materials?

ST: We are particularly interested in the wild swings of information that archival material offers, from the macro voice of statist propaganda to the intimate whisper of the samizdat. There are different degrees of abuse, if you will, to which we subject this material. On the gentler end is transliteration, a fat ugly cousin to translation, but no less important given that much of the research we do is in a non-Latin script, whether Cyrillic, Arabic, Georgian or Armenian. Then there's translation, simply making the material accessible to a global audience, as we are doing with Molla Nasreddin, an early twentieth century Azeri satirical periodical we are publishing later this year with JRP/Christoph Keller. Finally, we also revise and play with certain texts in a rather performative way as in our wall applications Mountains of Wit or Chven Gaumardjos Sakartvelos: the idea of repetition and historical continuity are crucial to the decision to work on an existing text as opposed to composing one ourselves. It's equal parts celebration and critique.

FB: Often you use graphic design in your practice. . . how do you envision and place the design in field of cultural production?

ST: Given the important role of discourse in our work, we work with design as an effective means of distributing content. We are not as interested in graphic design formally as we are in its potential. As we mentioned with humor or the use of pop, graphic design is simply one amongst many tools we can use
79.89.09 Installation view. Lecture/performance, contribution to 032c, edition. 2009

FB: Experimentations? Is art a free port?

ST: In some ways, yes. It does allow for an openness not found in other disciplines today. Take for example our writing—at once analytic, poetic, polemic–it doesn't sit entirely within journalism, fiction, or academia but rather across these. Art definitely espouses these interstitial spaces. The danger, though, is that one becomes satisfied with occupying margins and never confronts the beast, so to speak.  Art's intensive energy of late should not dupe one into believing it is a widely accessible or relevant world.

FB: I'm interested in infiltration as a strategy for producing and distributing ideas. What does infiltration means in your practice?

ST: Infiltration means for us using your enemies language, for example pop. We are acutely aware the use of pop is a tool to help share our enthusiasm and interest in areas which otherwise remain obscure to large sections of the globe. Infiltration is also another way of questioning linear, positivist and rational approaches to knowledge.

FB: Is the crossing of boundaries between different disciplines only a potentiality or is it also a limit?

ST: It is both interestingly enough. The very indistinguishability mentioned above of course has its limits. We often feel that we are not doing individual projects or pieces but rather installments in one larger project that is Slavs and Tatars itself. We don’t mean this in an insular, reflective naval-gazing way but by bleeding or blurring disciplines, each project becomes a platform, nodal point or trampoline for another and is informed by what follows and precedes its. So it almost becomes impossible to reduce the work to a sound byte. 79.89.09 is a perfect example of this: at once a lecture, an edition, a mirror piece, and an intervention in a magazine. But it is almost impossible to discuss one part—say the role of mirror mosaicswithout discussing the Iranian revolution of 1979, the Russian revolution of 1917, the visual or folkloric language that accompanies revolutionary ideology etc.
FB: Let's imagine a big cultural revolution. Which weapon do you find most effective?

ST: We believe most in speaking and the physical presence that accompanies it. If we look at knowledge vis-à-vis wisdom, the former is practical, it can be distributed, ordered online etc. Wisdom, however, has a necessary experiential, affective component and we are committed to restoring the importance of presence, via conversation, education, or an event. It would be preposterous for us to be against the digital or virtual: rather we simply believe presence becomes all the more urgent in the current climate.

FB: "Self-management body-your fate in your hands," Prague 1989. Is that motto still fundamental for your practice today? Could be this your real statement?

ST: We do believe in the idea of self-determination but at the same time in a resolute defeatism. It's probably a more Slavic defeatism than a Middle Eastern one: that is, we know we will fail but we'll try our hardest nonetheless.

Slavs and Tatars

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Slavs and Tatars is an art collective and "a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia" [1]. Founded in 2006, the group addresses a shared sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.
"Beginning with the collective’s name, everything related to Slavs and Tatars is about building connections between seemingly disparate subjects—whether places, histories or ideologies." [2] From the outset, print media has played a significant role in their work: namely, the Slavs Poster (2005) and the Nations (2007) series, with such quirky aphorisms as 'Men are from Murmansk, Women are from Vilnius' and 'Nice Tan, Turkmenistan!' exhibited at the 2nd Moscow Biennale and 10th anniversary of legendary Parisian Colette (boutique)[3]. The medium of print offered the group the opportunity to distribute delicately produced polemics and ephemera to a relatively wide audience, such as the Drafting Defeat:10th Century Roadmaps, 21st century Disasters, a series of 10th century maps of the Middle East by Al-Istakhri[4]. "Language is at the heart of [their] practice"[5] as is a brutal sense of humour and a suspicion of positivist thought and of modernization as a guise for westernization. Their work "attempts to reclaim history by retelling it, and primarily through the perspective of the defeated, as opposed to the victors."[6]
In 2009, Slavs and Tatars published Kidnapping Mountains with London-based Book Works: "a playful and informative exploration of the muscular stories, wills, and defeat inhabiting the Caucasus region"[7]. The book coincided with the exhibit of the same name at the Netwerk Centre for Contemporary Art
in Aalst, Belgium. Slavs and Tatars' work often takes place in the public sphere: via public space, institutions or media. They have repeatedly collaborated with and been featured in 032c, the bi-annual culture publication from Berlin. Their year long project 79.89.09 looked at two key dates–the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the fall of Communism in 1989–to better understand the historic year of 2009. 79.89.09 was exemplary of the multidisciplinary work of the group: consisting of a lecture series, a print edition, a mirror mosaic Resist Resisting God
as well as a feature in two consecutive issues (17 and 18 respectively) of the Berlin-based culture magazine 032c.[8] The 79.89.09 lecture series has been presented at the Rietveld Academy's Studium Generale in Amsterdam, Triumph Gallery, Moscow, the Dutch Art Institute, the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University as part of the Edifying
series of performative lectures, and the Nordic Embassies in Berlin as part of Correct Me if I'm Critical
. For the 10th Sharjah Biennial, the collective presented "Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz", an elaboration on "79.89.09" which looked at the folklore and crafts accompanying the ideological impulses of the end of Communism and the beginning of revolutionary Islam. Hymns of No Resistance–the group's first performance piece, performed by a Kurdish quartet–consisted of four pop songs rewritten to address geopolitical issues of identity, language, and territorial disputes. Stealers Wheel' "Stuck in the Middle with you" became "Stuck in Ossetia with you" about the Georgia-Russia war of 2008 while Michael Sembello's "She's a Maniac" (from Fame) becomes "She's Armenian" about the Armenian diaspora.
For the Wola Art Festival
, in the historical Wola District in Warsaw, S&T created Idz na Wschod! (or Go East!): a billboard featuring Charles Bronson (in fact from Lipka Tatar not Mexican or Native American heritage) invites Warsaw's residents to defy their parents and their government and head not west but rather east. A full-day trip for 50+ people was organized to the Polish Tatar villages of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany near the Bieolrussian border to visit the Polish Tatar mosques, cemeteries and a Tatar meal.[9] Idz na Wschod! offered an alternative, more cosmopolitan reading of Polish national identity, one unfortunately often considered homogeneous; as well as a unique, progressive view of Islam, via the vernacular architecture and customs of the Polish Tatars. In early 2010, Slavs and Tatars published Love Me, Love Me Not: Changed Names with Onestar Press
: a selection of 150 Eurasian cities whose names have been caught like children in the spiteful back and forth of history's custody battle. Some of the cities, i.e. Odessa, reveal a wholly Asian heritage in their previous monikers (in this case, Hadjibey). Love Me, Love Me Not was also part of the The Past is a Foreign Country exhibition at the Center of Contemporary Art 'Znaki Czasu'
in Torún, Poland. The collective also participated in the Frieze Sculpture Park
in Regent's Park with their Monobrow Manifesto, a large inflatable featuring the faces of a monobrowed Middle Eastern man on one side and Bert (Sesame Street) on the other. Their "Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz" at the 10th Sharjah Biennial offered shade in the form of colorfully, stitched banners with creolized slogans from the Iranian Revolution and Poland's Solidarność movement, such as "Help the Militia, Beat Yourself Up!" The installation featured a rare "interaction of the traditional with the political, the playful manipulations of language and patterns, and the invitation for dialogue through the seduction of the space and the rituals. The green space glowing with reflections of neon lights flickering in the mirror mosaics offered an alternative space for contemplation." [10]
The collective has worked on primarily three cycles of work: the first, a celebration of complexity in the Caucasus (Kidnapping Mountains, Molla Nasreddin, Hymns of No Resistance); the second, on the unlikely heritage between Poland and Iran (Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz, 79.89.09, A Monobrow Manifesto) and their third and current cycle, The Faculty of Substitution, on mystical protest and the revolutionary role of the sacred and syncretic. This new body of work includes contributions to group exhibitions–Reverse Joy
at the GfZK
, Leipzig, PrayWay
at the New Museum's 2nd Triennial, "The Ungovernables
", and 7th Asia Pacific Triennial–as well as solo engagements with Not Moscow Not Mecca
at the Vienna Secession, Khhhhhhh
at Moravia Gallery, Brno and Beyonsense
at MoMA as part of the museum's Projects series. Beyonsense, the collective's first solo museum presentation in the U.S., features a black-lit reading room as well as a reconstruction of a little-known Dan_Flavin work commissioned by the Dia_Art_Foundation for a Sufi mosque in New York's SoHo in the early 1980s. Slavs and Tatars will participate in ROUNDTABLE: The 9th Gwangju Biennale, which takes place September 7 – November 11th 2012 in Gwangju, Korea.

The collective has published several books which incorporate archival and experimental research, texts, original pieces, and innovative design.
Kidnapping Mountains
(2009, Book Works): on the Caucauses. • Love Me, Love Me Not: Changed Names
(2010, JRP-Ringier). An inventory and mapping of the names of 150 cities across Eurasia. • Slavs and Tatars Presents Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that would've, could've, should've
(2011) on the legendary early 20th c Azeri political satire Molla_Nasraddin_(magazine) with Christoph Keller Editions editions. The book received favourable reviews from the international press, including The New Yorker
, Guardian
, Asian Review of Books
, and Turkish daily Radikal
. Don J Cohen writes "[I]n the wonderfully reproduced color illustrations in this book...a range of subject matter [is] presented: landlords and peasants, marriage and class, women's rights and education, interethnic group rivalries, the Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, sacred and secular, Muslims and Christians. Editorial commentary and translations of the actual captions from the five languages that appear in the texts-Azeri Turkish, Russian, Farsi, Istanbulli Turkish and Arabic-go part of the way to educate the reader; but many of the subscribers to the magazine were illiterate. As intended, the pictures tell the rest of the story most convincingly." [11]Not Moscow Not Mecca (2012, Revolver/Secession): the story of syncretism and Central Asia’s particularly progressive approach to Islam from the perspective of the region's fruits including The Mulberry, The Watermelon, The Quince, and The Cucumber, among others. The book includes an interview with the collective by Franz Thalmair, critic and curator, as well as a chapter from Norman_O._Brown's Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis (1991, University of California Press), a reading of the Qu'ran thru Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.
(2012, Mousse/Moravian Gallery): through the perspective of single phoneme [Kh] in Hebrew, Arabic, and Cyrillic, Slavs and Tatars tell the story of sacred or numinous language, Khlebnikov, hospitality, amongst others.


For Projects 98, Slavs and Tatars present a new installation, Beyonsense, which takes its name from a translation of zaum—a word used by Russian poets and artists in the early 20th century to describe their experiments with nonreferential and sensorial verbal expression. Beyonsense builds upon a recent cycle of the collective’s works that celebrates nonrational and mystical episodes within modernity, and linguistic ambiguity, particularly productive mispronunciation and misreading across cultures, histories, and geographies. Incorporating a multitude of languages (Farsi, Russian, English, Hebrew) and scripts (Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic), Slavs and Tatars creates a reading room of reversals: passing through hanging carpets, visitors enter a central space that features the collective’s text pieces and printed publications and a suspended light fixture inspired by a work created by the American artist Dan Flavin in 1982 for the Masjid al-Farah mosque in downtown New York. In addition, a selection of the group’s books are available to read in the seating area.
August 15–December 10, 2012 at MoMA, NY


A reconsideration of pedagogy, progress, and the sacred role of language via the perspective of a single pesky phoneme, [kh]. Khhhhhhh explores the thorny issues of knowledge versus wisdom and the immediacy of the oral versus the remoteness of the written word thru a fireside chat around sacred hospitality and Velimir Khlebnikov.


Khhhhhhh, Mousse Publishing/Moravian Gallery; Brno, off-set print, 23 x 31 cm, 64 pages, 2012
Available via Mousse Publishing.

Download PDF of the book.

Not Moscow, Not Mecca

The story of syncretism and Central Asia’s particularly progressive approach to Islam via a shrine of fruits–both real and imagined–including The Mulberry, The Watermelon, The Quince, and The Cucumber, among others.

The Faculty of Substitution

The Faculty of Substitution, Slavs and Tatars’ third and current cycle of work, looks at the role of the sacred as a vehicle for social change. Not Moscow Not Mecca examines the potential for religious and ideological syncretism across Central Asia while Khhhhhhh examines the notion of sacred hospitality thru a single, wily phoneme while Beyonsense tells the story of the modern thru the mystical and divine love.
The Faculty of Substitution urges for not only intellectual acrobatics but also metaphysical ones: to cultivate the agility, coordination and balance necessary to tell one tale through another, to adopt the inner-most thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and sensations of others as one’s own, in an effort to challenge the very notion of self-awareness and distance, as the shortest length between two points.

Not Moscow Not Mecca at Secession, Vienna, 2012

Before the Before, After the After
Industrial foam, concrete, water-resistant paint, 145 Ø x 72.5 cm. Edition of 1 + 1 AP, 2012.
A fruit of caricature, of the Other, the watermelon is used as a racist shorthand for African-Americans in the US, in Russia they recall the contested Caucasus, and in Europe the countries of origin of the migrant populations, be it Turkey, North Africa.”
Placed in two pots by Robert Oerley at the entrance to their “Not Moscow Not Mecca” at the Secession, the watermelons call on visitors to experience the exhibition not just cerebrally but sensorially and affectively.

The Fragrant Concubine
Hand-blown glass, paint, bulb, electrical socket, 27 x 18 cm (each), in bunch of 8. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
Named after Xian Fe, the concubine from kidnapped from Uiguristan, China’s western-most, Muslim region, by the Qianlong Emperor, who requested the hami melons to remind her of home. Xian Fe never gave in to her suitor and the hami melon lights remain on in honor of her resistance.

Needle-work, silk, cotton, 200 x 120 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
“You Know of the How / I Know of the How-less” is attributed to Rabia al-Adawwiya, a Muslim saint and Sufi mystic. Considered to be one of the first female Sufis, she is credited with pioneering the notion of Divine Love, central to the veneration of God in Sufi Islam.

Dunjas, Donyas, Dinias
Fibreglass, steel, 52 x 30 x 25 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
Long-standing Serbo-Turkic enmity make peace in Dunjas, Donyas, Dinias: the word for the fruit “quince” in Serbian–dunja–is a common name given to women as a symbol of beauty and happens to be the homonym of “world” in Arabic and Turkic, donya.

The Offering
Carved wood, aluminum plate, inflatable rubber balls, 75 x 50 x 50 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
The role of hospitality is key to all three Abrahamic faiths. Yet, the root of hospitality is both guest and hostility. Here, a plate of inflated watermelon balls highlights the playful tension within the very notion of welcoming a guest into one’s home.

Holy Bukhara (Queen Esther Takes a Bite)
Reverse mirror painting, mirror, 70 x 100 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
Moving example of the syncretism – be it linguistic, religious, or ideological – found in Central Asia. Bokhori yeh Sharif is an homage to the Jews of Central Asia, aka Bukharan Jews, whose language (Boxori) provides an unlikely collision of Persian dialect with Hebrew script. Revising the epithet of Central Asia’s holiest city, Bukhara yeh Sharif, meaning “Holy Bukhara,” with one letter celebrates the language and the city’s pluralist approach to Islam.

Hanging Low (Bitter Sweet)
Fibre-glass, foam, steel, 110 x 140 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
Hanging Low pays homage to the conflicted relationship to memory, to pluralism, to joy thru mourning through the puckered lips of someone who smiles backwards.
Józef Wittlin’s Mój Lwów (My Lvov) laments the loss of the plural identities, languages, and affinities of a city that was Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and German and warns of memory’s selective, if unstated, agenda. He speaks of the strange mix of the sublime and the street urchin, of wisdom and cretinism, of poetry and the mundane—as a special indefinable taste, as bitter-sweet.


The Dear for the Dear
Hand-carved wood, etching, needle-work, silk, 30 x 40 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
According to an Egyptian Proverb: Life is like a cucumber: one day in your hand, the next day in your ass.

The Crown
Needle-work, cotton, feather, inflatable rubber balls 30 x 30 x 20 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
Modeled after the branch of a mulberry tree, whose fruits are white or black, Long Live the Syncretics dangles ribbons delicately as a nod to the progressive, syncretic approach to Islam in Central Asia, where Buddhist, Hindu, and pantheist rituals are incorporated into the belief system.

Long Live the Syncretics
Steel, paint, silk ikat, 150 x 320 x 100 cm. Edition of 3 + 1 AP, 2012.
Modeled after the branch of a mulberry tree, whose fruits are white or black, Long Live the Syncretics dangles ribbons delicately as a nod to the progressive, syncretic approach to Islam in Central Asia, where Buddhist, Hindu, and pantheist rituals are incorporated into the belief system.

Not Moscow Not Mecca
Not Moscow Not Mecca, Revolver Verlag/Secession, off-set print, 23 x 31 cm, 108 pages, 2012.
Available via Secession Shop
Not Moscow Not Mecca tells the collective story of syncretism—of Central Asia—from the perspective not of the fauna but rather the flora. More topographic, if not transcendent, an autobiography of the region’s fruits (from the persimmon to the mulberry, from the melon to the pomegranate) performs an etymological enema on triangulation. A platform of fruits—to read, experience, and taste—offers a third way, blessed between the two major geopolitical heavyweights of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: communism and Islam.
Download PDF of the book.

SLAVS AND TATARS: Not Moscow Not Mecca

Communism and Islam are the two grand narratives of Central Asia, claim Slavs and Tatars, and they go further: "In fact, Communism and Islam are the two most important geopolitical factors of the 20th and 21st centuries." With the exhibition Not Moscow Not Mecca in the Grafisches Kabinett and an outdoor installation at the Secession, the collective formed in 2006 writes the "autobiography" of a region that is little known in this country and that bears many names: from Central Asia to Greater Khorasan, from Turkestan to Ma Wara' al-Nahr—Arabic for "the land beyond the river". 
With this exhibition, which is part of a cycle of works with the title The Faculty of Substitution, the artists pursue the theme of self-knowledge in the broadest sense. "Substitution," say Slavs and Tatars with reference to the title, "means the mental agility needed to develop coordination and equilibrium so that we can tell one story through another." Not Moscow Not Mecca is the title of the show at the Secession—neither, nor. In their ongoing search for a basis for comparison between cultures, between Orient and Occident, between modernity and Islam, Slavs and Tatars discover similarities between things that seem incomparable. These processes of equation lead to an appropriation and reinterpretation of history, a process at odds with the familiar narratives of the powerful and victorious. 
So what do the two large watermelons in the pots by Robert Oerley at the entrance to the Secession tell us? "Watermelons are a caricature, the fruit of the Other. In the USA, they are often used as a racist substitute for African-Americans, in Russia they recall the contested Caucasus, and in Europe the countries of origin of the migrant populations, be it Turkey, North Africa, etc." Watermelons are also pleasant on the eyes, their surfaces seduce with graphic relish, the red flesh entices. They taste good. "And they are harbingers of spring, of summer. Ver Sacrum!" They embody a call to approach the exhibition at the Secession not only on an intellectual level, but also emotionally and sensorially, an invitation that is repeated and pursued by the "syncretistic shrine" inside the building. 
The artistic practice of the collective not only extends across the heterogeneous Central Asian region but also across a variety of media, disciplines, and formats, covering a broad spectrum of different cultural registers. In their primarily research-based works, Slavs and Tatars address issues such as antiquity and the past, the marginal and oft-forgotten, presenting the results of their processes of study in the exhibition space in poetic ways. 
Finally, in the Grafisches Kabinett, visitors are met by the "collective autobiography of the flora of Central Asia" that takes the form of a setting transferred from the region. Pomegranate, mulberry, sour cherry, cucumber, persimmon, quince, fig, apricot, and melon, this time in two varieties. "We offer many points of entry to the work," say Slavs and Tatars, "it's actually like at a bazaar. We put things on display and visitors choose the level of engagement they want." Based on the idea that fruit acts as a medium or talisman to challenge familiar notions of oral tradition and setting down in writing, Slavs and Tatars open up issues such as the influence of landscape on memory, or the dichotomy between sacred and profane knowledge, confronting them with the legacy of western modernity. 
The fruits in the Grafisches Kabinett are served in bowls to be eaten and are also presented in the form of enormous sculptures. From the branch of a mulberry tree to inflatable watermelons, or a globe with the quince's uneven surface in lieu of earth's smooth sphere. Each fruit stands for one or more forms of substitution, be it linguistic, spiritual, emotional, or political. They can be shared and enjoyed by the visitors or considered as objects. But it is also possible to relax on the mattresses from Uzbekistan or to read about the biography of the fruits in the extensively-researched artist's book edited and designed by the collective. Colored ribbons tied to the branches of a mulberry tree stand for the particularly progressive religious syncretism, including influences of Buddhism and Hinduism, in Central Asian Islam, an urgent alternative to the often rigid view of the faith.
For political syncretism, Slavs and Tatars chose a mirror—old, beautiful, half blind. It bears the words "Boxori ye Sharif" (Noble Buchara), in Hebrew. "Boxoro," another word for the Uzbek holy city of Buchara, also refers to the script of the Jews who speak Farsi, but write using Hebrew characters.
Originally a reading group, the Slavs and Tatars collective was founded in 2006. They travel, they conduct research, they have often lived in Eurasia and will continue to travel and live in the region in the future. "We will dedicate the rest of our lives to this region, and we want to share our enthusiasm for it with others." Sharing and generosity, then, is a central formula of their artistic work. Humor, they say, is generous because it leads to shared laughter, hospitality is generous, the transmission of knowledge, too.
Slavs and Tatars take a bold approach, mixing popular and high culture, historical and current material, supposedly incompatible levels and registers: "It is crucial to resuscitate the historical. We don't know of a better way to demonstrate its relevance to people who might otherwise consider our interests in the region or the history as arcane or irrelevant. We use the word resuscitation for a reason: its sensuality, the idea of breathing life into a subject (by placing one's lips on the mouth of the area of study if you will) points to an affective relationship with an idea or a text." 
Not Moscow Not Mecca is an exhibition that is sensual, humorous, and intellectual at the same time, which is something Slavs and Tatars also wish to be themselves, even as artists: "We want to be both happy and intellectual." -
Mystical Protest

Part of Slavs and Tatars’ third cycle of work, The Faculty of Substitution, Mystical Protest looks at the potential of the numinous, or the holy, as an agent for change in the concrete, material world. For I decided Not to Save the World, a group show at the Tate Modern with Mircea Cantor, Mounira Al-Solh, and Yto Barrada, Mystical Protest (Muharram) investigates the collapse of time in the annual Shi’ite ritual, from locus of protest to anachronistic passion-play (ta’aziyeh).

“If the success of a drama is to be measured by the effect which it produces upon the people for whom it is composed, or upon the audience before whom it is represented, no play has ever surpassed the tragedy known in the Mussulman world as that of Hasan and Husain”

— Sir Lewis Pelly, 1879

First photograph by Marco Rovacchi.

Mystical Protest (Muharram), paint on silk-screened fabric, fluorescent lights, 620 x 240 cm, 2011

Wheat Mollah, wheat, cotton, brick, with wood, brass and glass case, 45 x 145 x 45 cm, 2011

Study for Muharram banner with ‘Only Solidarity and Patience Will Secure Our Victory inscribed at the bottom, 2011

Molla Nasreddin

Slavs and Tatars presents "Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that would’ve, could’ve, should’ve." It features a selection of the most iconic covers, illustrations and caricatures from the legendary Azeri satirical periodical of the early 20th century, "Molla Nasreddin." The most important publication of its kind, "Molla Nasreddin" was read across the Muslim world from Morocco to Iran, addressing issues whose relevance has not abated, such as women’s rights, the Latinization of the alphabet, Western imperial powers, creeping socialism from Russia in the north, and growing Islamism from Iran in the south. "Molla Nasreddin" not only contributed to a crucial understanding of national identity in the case study of the complexity called the Caucasus, but offered a momentous example of the powers of the press both then and today.

The publication is part of the series of artists’ projects edited by Christoph Keller.

Offset print, 24 x 28 cm, 208 pages, color throughout, glue and stitched binding with solve gloss laminated and black foil embossed cover, edition of 1,700. Available via jrp|ringier.

Download PDF


The Guardian
Asian Review of Books
The New Yorker

Basler Zeitung
Metropolis M


Molla Nasreddin: Embrace Your Antithesis talk at SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul

Art Salon, Art Basel Book Launch talk

Book Launch Talk at Bidoun Library, Serpertine Gallery, London

Molla Nasreddin featured in a special presentation at the Bidoun Library at Art Dubai.

Presentation of Molla Nasreddin at the Global Art Forum, Art Dubai.

Molla Nasreddin: Embrace Your Antithesis talk at SALT Beyoğlu, Istanbul

Molla Nasreddin as part of A Rock and Hard Place at Alatza imaret, Thessaloniki Biennale: 3

Book Launch at Swiss Institute, New York

The Library of Equivocation (detail), river-beds, kilims, books, 2011

Adam Budak’s East: Excitable Speech: West as part of curated by_Vienna 2011. Installation view, Kerstin Engholm Galerie. Photo by Karl Kühn.

When Satire Conquered Iran

Slavs and Tatars

One of the most important contributions to modern Azerbaijani literature and culture was the irreverent early twentieth-century magazine Molla Nasreddin. What follows is an introduction to the magazine by the artist collective Slavs and Tatars, together with a series of magazine excerpts featured in their book, Molla Nasreddin: The Magazine That Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve, recently published by JRP-Ringier, in a series edited by Christoph Keller.

—The Editors
“I better hurry up and cover freedom faster so that no flies manage to sit on it.”
Published between 1906 and 1930, Molla Nasreddin was a satirical Azeri magazine edited by the writer Jalil Mammadguluzadeh (1866-1932), and named after Nasreddin, the legendary Sufi wise man-cum-fool of the Middle Ages. With an acerbic sense of humor and realist illustrations reminiscent of a Caucasian Honoré Daumier or Toulouse-Lautrec, Molla Nasreddin attacked the hypocrisy of the Muslim clergy, the colonial policies of the US and European nations towards the rest of the world, and the venal corruption of the local elite, while arguing repeatedly for Westernization, educational reform, and equal rights for women. Publishing such stridently anti-clerical material, in a Muslim country, in the early twentieth century, was done at no small risk to the editorial team. Members of MN were often harassed, their offices attacked, and on more than one occasion, Mammadguluzadeh had to escape from protesters incensed by the contents of the magazine.
Managing to speak to the intelligentsia as well as the masses, however, the magazine was an instant success and would become the most influential and perhaps first publication of its kind to be read across the Muslim world, from Morocco to India. Roughly half of each eight-page issue featured illustrations, which made the magazine accessible to large portions of the population who were illiterate. And like the best cultural productions, MN was polyphonic, joyfully self-contradictory, and staunchly in favor of the creolization that results from multiple languages (it drew on three alphabets), ideas, and identities (its editorial offices were itinerant between Tbilisi, Baku, and Tabriz). While it helped give rise to a new Azeri intellectual culture, Iran was arguably the country where it had its greatest impact: MN focused relentlessly on the inefficiency and corruption of the Qajar dynasty, and its essays and illustrations acted as a preamble of sorts to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1910, which resulted in the establishment of the first parliament in all of Asia.
During Molla Nasreddin’s two and a half decade run, the country at the heart of its polemics and caricatures—Azerbaijan—changed hands and names three or four times. By 1920, the Soviets had invaded Baku; the quality of the magazine’s editorial and art-direction suffered considerably as it was forced to toe the Bolshevik party line. Only three issues came out in 1931 and shortly afterward it shut its doors for good. Its impact, however, is difficult to over-estimate. Molla Nasreddin offered inspiration to similar pamphleteers from the Balkans to Iran and Serbia. The Azeri newspaper Irshad coined the term “Molla Nasreddinism” to describe the ability to tell things as they are.

79.89.09 looks at two key modern moments – the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Poland’s Solidarnosc movement in the 1980s – as a narrative strategy to read the recent past. Standing squarely as bookends to the two major geopolitical narratives of the last and current century – the communist project in the 20th and revolutionary Islam in the 21st – these two moments are explored through a print edition, an archive, a mirror mosaic, contributions to two consecutive issues of 032c, and a lecture touching on themes as disparate as monobrows, monotheism, The Beach Boys, and apostasy.

The lecture has been presented at the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; Triumph Gallery, Moscow; opening lecture of the 2009-2010 Studium Generale at the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam; Zurich’s Corner College; the Bruce High Quality Foundation University’s Edifying series, New York; Nordic Embassies, Berlin; SPACE Studios, London; Belleville Biennale, Paris; ARGOS centre for art and media, Brussels; 10th Sharjah Biennial and NAK, Aachen.
For ARGOS’ Salon5 one day event, we invited Agata Jastrzabek to tell us about Sarmatism, Ryszard Antolak to speak about Wojtek the bear and the Polish refugees in Iran during World War II and screened Khosrow Sinai’s ’Lost Requiem’ followed by tasting of Persian and Polish delights.

Watch 79.89.09 talk

Read Tehran 1979: Paper, Participation, Politics contribution to 032c

Read Poland 1989: In Praise of the Normal, Methodical and Slow contribution to 032c

The publication
79.89.09 covers several topics discussed in the lecture.Photo credits: 1st and 2nd photo by Kolya Zverkov, 11th by Maria Stauber,14th, 15th and 16th by Sven Goyvaerts.

Between 79.89.09
A limited edition print, Between 79.89.09 portrays a dervish’s exasperation at having to choose between East and West. The cover slip features a photograph of a Qaderi Kurdish dervish by Kaveh Golestan.
Screenprint with hand-written word unique to each edition. Offset print on slip case. 26 x 26 cm. Edition of 100. Signed and numbered. 2009

"Tehran 1979: Paper, Participation, Politics"
The first installment: a photo-essay on Iran 1979 for 032c (issue 17).Read full story

"Poland 1989: In Praise of the Normal, Methodical and Slow"
The second installment: a photo-essay on Poland’s Solidarnosc for 032c (issue 18).
Read full story

The publication 79.89.09 covers several topics discussed in the lecture.
See prev page for more details

Kidnapping Mountains 

Published by Book Works, Kidnapping Mountains is a playful and informative exploration of the muscular stories, wills, and defeat inhabiting the Caucasus region. The book is comprised of two parts: an eponymous section addressing the complexity of languages and identities on the fault line of Eurasia, and Steppe by Steppe Romantics, a restoration of the region’s seemingly reactionary approaches to romance.

Offset print, 20 x 26 cm, 96 pages, color and b&w throughout, cold glue and stitched binding with soft gloss laminated cover, edition of 1,250. Available via Book Works

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Pan-Caucasian stand at Book Works’ launch. A Foundation, London. 28 May 2009.

Rebuilding the Pantheon

An insert for fillip 8, the Pantheon of Broken Men and Women, which pays tribute to those individuals who have been shattered by a certain suspension of disbelief. As pantheons are more often than not dedicated to the victors (whether during their lifetime or via history), this will be an inverted pantheon, dedicated to the defeated.

Offset print, 58 x 86 cm.
Available via Stand Up Comedy

Interview by Ingrid Chu for fillip 8, 2008.

The following interview coincides with the Pantheon of Broken Men and Women, a special poster insert by Slavs and Tatars that took place over e-mail exchange after a preliminary discussion on Friday, January 24, 2008 between the author and members of the group during their exhibition A Thirteenth Month Against Time (January 23–March 1, 2008) at the Newman Popiashvili Gallery in New York.

Ingrid Chu: How did the collective come about? And the name? Slavs and Tatars: People often mistake the name to be a badge of expertise. For us, Slavs and Tatars, both as a name and as a project, was and continues to be a way for us to study, share, preserve, provoke, and discuss an area of the world that seems to provide answers to various questions of character, culture, and politics that we do not feel the West can fully address. In fact, Slavs and Tatars was originally meant to be no more than a reading group, a platform for us to share existing material and new work with each other and those around us. In so far as we are focused on Slavs, Caucasians, and Central Asians, our area of focus is at once clearly defined, yet quite fluid given the sheer upheaval this area has witnessed in its recent and distant history. Because of the rapid changes of late-globalization, cultural encounters with modernity etc., the geopolitical importance of the area, and the quest for natural resources, etc.—part of our mission is to preserve, slow down, concentrate, and thwart the positivism that passes for liberal, Western culture.
     As for the name, Slavs and Tatars is deliberately caricatural: it obviously brings to mind certain impressions and images with which we are not afraid to engage. Not only does it evoke a collective, but it also verges on the absurd, as if a horde of people, or “Darkies,” was coming over the horizon to conquer the “Whities.” So on one side, we address the first-degree, off-the-shelf sense of violence this engenders, and, on the other, our work is quite intimate, sometimes even sentimental.

Slavs and Tatars seems different from some of your earlier collaborative projects, particularly due to the group’s identification with a specific area of inquiry—namely Eurasia—that serves as the common ground between all of you. How does this collective entity build on or diverge from your previous work?
We’ve been collaborating since 2000, but Slavs and Tatars allowed us to legitimize our areas of activity, interest, even pleasure in a given area that will not only be relevant, but urgent—perhaps heartbreakingly so—for the rest of our lives. It was a very organic and yet somewhat resistant process: we had been increasingly moving East, both geographically and intellectually, despite these very Eastern countries wanting to move West.

So much of your work attempts to reclaim history by retelling it, and primarily through the perspective of the defeated, as opposed to the victors. What is your individual and/or collective identification with Eurasia? Why there? Why now
Eurasia represents, to our eyes, a historic and no less radical attempt to bridge and blur the East and West. One area of our focus—Central Asia and the Caucasus—was considered throughout the nineteenth century as the Great Game, the primary geopolitical focus and competition between the rival empires of England and Russia. On a more personal level, Kasia and my respective identities were also formed between various registers of the West and East, that is, between England and Poland, and Iran and the United States, respectively.
     Also, the countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia are at particular risk of losing their cultural treasures—both their specificities and their shared heritage—due to a faulty post-Cold War geopolitical narrative that says: you guys in the East lost (the war) so now you must do like us (in the West). You must join NATO, apply for the European Union and to do so you must modernize and liberalize your economy, etc. Our Slavs Poster (2005) best articulates this strange predicament and has become a kind of retroactive manifesto for our collective. Today, if you ask a Slovak how he identifies himself, he is likely to say: first as a European; then as a Slovak; and third as a Slav. While this is admirably aspirational, a Slovak doesn’t have more in common with a Frenchman than he does a Pole.
     To paraphrase George Gurdjieff, nobody can live without influences, so the best you can do is to choose your influences. Our interest in Eurasia stems from an inability to find the answers to several questions—both political and personal—solely in the West.

It is interesting that the collective members are based in various locales, with Eurasia and its attendant politics and polemics serving as the meeting point for your collaborative output. Your work also manifests in various forms and circulates in a wide range of public venues. What is the connection between your interest in these formats with respect to their widespread distribution? How does this influence your attempts to re-imagine, and thus redefine, the somewhat arbitrary borders that constitute Eurasia?
The methods of distribution and variety of media we use are driven by two concerns: one is a simple attempt to maximize the points of access to our work, and the other is a deliberate cultivation of disparate, sometimes conflicting points of distribution. That is, ideally, you would find our editions in an airport bookstore as well as a concept store like Colette in Paris. By and large, the countries within our area of focus share this heterogeneity: spaces are less codified, as are socioeconomic classes. What looks like a building that houses a museum is, in fact, a retail store, or what looks like a residential building is commercial, and what looks like a bank is a restaurant.

Your recent exhibition A Thirteenth Month Against Time diverges somewhat from how your work has been showcased in the past, but not completely. I am thinking about other projects, like when the group sold the Wrong and Strong Posters (2005) through the Paris lifestyle boutique, Colette. How does showcasing your work in such “retail operations” function as a platform to highlight the collective’s ideas to the public? How do you feel these sites help address issues related to locational identity and the politics of place? 
As mentioned above, our areas of intervention are diverse because the nature of our work does not sit comfortably within any single medium or locus: it is equally concerned with geopolitics, with an early-nineteenth century form of travel writing that doubles as arm-chair anthropology, and with forms of aesthetic inquiry to be found in the artworld. Similarly, our audience is just as much members of our splintered family as it is collectors or journalists. The reason most of our work is in print and in multiple editions becomes one of pure circumstance: it allows us to share and disseminate our work with others in a manner that is affordable to us and not precious to our readers. A person’s relationship to a poster is healthier and far more flexible and open-ended than a collector’s relationship to an art piece. Like, if a teenager puts a Kurt Cobain poster up in his or her room, takes it down at some point and replaces it with another one, then when older, he or she can frame it if it has particular importance. Similarly, our editions are to be cherished but not rarefied, whether read on the terrace, the tramway, or the toilet.

Thinking about your recent work, I am intrigued by the  publication accompanying the exhibition, also entitled A Thirteenth Month Against Time, that is inspired by an old version of the Jalai Calendar, which is still used in Iran and Afghanistan and is considered more accurate than the Gregorian calendar we use in the West. Compounded by your focus on source material ranging from old maps in Drafting Defeat (2007) and Histoire du Monde (2008) to nicked stationery in Stolen Letterheads (2006), it becomes clear that Slavs and Tatars has maintained an active interest in “alternative mapping.” Now that we are living in a so-called “post-Global society,” what is your relationship to mobility and displacement and how does this affect your work given the influence of older models used to measure time and place, past and present?I am not sure we are living in a post-Global society. The Poles use the European Union to advance a thoroughly national agenda. Iranians want a nuclear bomb to assert their regional power. The Russians are reasserting their Soviet area of influence by pushing Georgia out of Abkhazia and the Kosovars printed the headline FUCK YU with pictures of Nikola Pasic, Josip Broz Tito, and Slobodan Milosevic on the cover of their national newspaper one day after declaring independence from Serbia. Much of our work flirts with what could be deemed as a reactionary approach to identity and nationhood: as much as we believe in heterogeneity and Creolization, we do not believe this can or should happen without requisite attention to, and knowledge of, the specificities of the given identities, cultures, and societies in our area of focus. We are hell-bent on cherishing, fostering, and highlighting certain endangered elements of cultures, which we believe of particular relevance to contemporary society. In the past three months, we have been to Tbilisi, Yerevan, Tehran, Odessa, and Baku, for very concrete research purposes.
     In fact, I was in Tbilisi recently during the NATO summit in Bucharest where Georgia and the Ukraine’s potential membership were up for discussion. A cartoon in the International Herald Tribune best captured our thoughts on this whole process: all the NATO delegates are seated around the table and a Georgian delegate, in a typical long sheep’s wool papakhi hat, leans over to his Ukrainian homologue and whispers: “What exactly is Atlantic?” That is, to be very literal, “What exactly do Georgia and the Ukraine, both on the Black Sea, have to do with a Northern Atlantic treaty organization?”

As the exhibition title suggests, the notion of expanded time serves as the basis for the work in the show, as well as the associated publication. While you cite Zoroastrianism and the Jalali Calendar specifically, I can’t help but think of how my personal adherence to both Chinese and Gregorian calendars has resulted in two birthdays, two New Year’s, and a whole host of holidays and their associated rituals; all of which have served to cultivate an appreciation for inter-cultural experiences at best and to reinforce an ever-present sense of dislocation at worst. How does your calendar, which you intend “as an addendum to one’s everyday calendar/diary [as] a libretto of daily polemics, reflections, and musings” not come off as nostalgic, unless nostalgia and romanticism play a role in the group’s approach and interest in this region? 
The calendar is first and foremost about cultivating complexity. As you mentioned, the doubling of time adds a further layer much in the same way a thirteenth month stuck on at the end of a twelfth does. The entries themselves also serve to highlight the theme of complexity over one of simplification: the questions of Turkey, pomegranates, the Kurds, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Chenghis Khan, etc., are ones which, despite our polemics, we make no effort to resolve but rather to shake up, whip up, and “froth,” to use a term so dear to coffee-drinkers around the world. In other words, to let it overflow from its often pat, concise reading into a more unwieldy and debatable issue. We relish taking heavily loaded issues, the white elephants of contemporary society, and confronting them head-on . . . but also from behind. That is, without gloves to unwrap the layers of meaning. It is a very maximalist sense of dislocation, of always being outside and inside a given culture.
     As for nostalgia and romanticism, sure, in so far as we are keen on excavating and redeeming elements of the past in an area of the world at risk of looking only to the future. However, I would say that our work is more unequivocally intimiste and perhaps sentimental: that is, meant to be as affective as cerebral. If we speak to the head, it is perhaps a means to get to the gut.

In your projects, there seems to be a constant clash between conceptions of the old and the new, but also an ongoing impulse to find common ground between opposing themes. Usually, this is articulated through a presentation style that invokes polemics through popular forms—an approach Slavs and Tatars describes as “engineering complexity.” Would you say that providing an alternative means to navigate, if not to deny complexity, extends possibilities for potential new meanings in your work?
Absolutely, whether it’s drawing a line between Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky through to Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, Ali Khamenei, and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, or hijacking certain undeniably Anglo-Saxon idioms, we are very committed to opening up new meanings. Not only between the old and new, and the East and West, but also between the tasteful, intellectual, and subtle on the one hand, and the vulgar, dumb, and obvious on the other.

Slavs and Tatars has claimed to be “against editing,” yet the group consistently produce and distribute text-based works through a wide range of published formats. You also use provocative phrases like, “Yankee go home, and take me with you” and “It is of the utmost importance that we repeat our mistakes as a reminder to future generations of the depths of our stupidity”—such as in your Wrong and Strong Posters—and cite the historical import of the words and theories from figures lost or forgotten, like in your recent exhibition and here again, through the Pantheon of Broken Men and Women. In your re-reading of history, how does language serve as a means of recovery, reenactment, and reclamation?
I don’t know exactly what it means to be “against editing.” God knows we edit each other rather harshly in our work. As much as language opens up meanings, it also closes them off. The two pieces you mention above are perfect examples of the collapse and subsequent sense of defeatism in a given piece because they both start out with what seems to be a call to action and end with the exact antithesis or undoing of the thrust at the beginning. In the Wrong and Strong series, we were trying to produce political or activist posters that would be non-positivist, and which wouldn’t allow one to believe naively in any sense of progress. We wanted to express despair and doubt while still working hard to overcome it.
     Yes, we want to bridge certain cultural divides, yes we want language to be affective as well as analytical and discursive, but our aspirations are, from the outset, weathered by this notion of defeatism, rupture, or equivocation best described by Antoine Compagnon in his book Les Antimodernes (2005). We know we will fail but try our damndest to succeed nonetheless. And this, to a certain extent, is Eurasian. It’s a heady mix of the fatalism of the East with the positivism of the West.

Some artists use text-based formats as a way to feign an authoritative sensibility in querying the effects of how information is distributed. Your approach, while thought provoking, proves infinitely more humorous despite the complex and contentious area of inquiry that it addresses, like in I Still See Communism Everywhere (2005), a publication that explored “the clash of civilizations between the US and Iran across such cultural phenomena as the monobrow, soft drugs, and men’s ties.” In creating new documents for the future, is your interest to make work that invokes an anthropological impulse of a different kind?The use of text, whether in essays, in articles, or as graphics, should not be the exclusive realm of rational, analytical discourse. We are trying to make words and language affective, as visceral as they are cerebral. Despite popular perception, we believe that there is a greater amount of segmentation in cultural products today than at any point in the past. Despite the astonishing level of activity in the art world or the proliferation of books in the publishing industry, the reception of these pieces are often determined from the outset as X or Y and marginalized within their respective milieus. Our work attempts to undo this by mixing registers of high and low and trying to be sincerely accessible to people who are not necessarily interested in art, anthropology, or media per se. We believe in cultivating what Rem Koolhaas has called “a regime of curiosity.” Curiosity often implies a certain superficial, dilettantish approach to culture, but the word regime leaves no doubt as to the scope of work and intensity of curiosity we expect from our audience and ourselves.


Slavs and Tatars is a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia. Redeeming an oft-forgotten, romantic sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians, and Central Asians, the group’s work has been featured in a wide range of international venues and publications.

Ingrid Chu is a Canadian curator and critic based in New York. She serves as the Director/Curator of RED-I Projects, an organization she founded in 2004 to assist artists in the creation of new work in the public realm. As a critic, her writing has been featured in Afterall, friezeParachute, and Time Out New York.  In 2008, she will launch a project space in New York’s Lower East Side: Forever & Today. 

A poster to announce the arrival of a new project space Forever & Today sandwiched in between two historically immigrant-heavy neighborhoods in New York City: the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Offset print, 46 x 61 cm, 2008.

Drafting Defeat: 10th century Roadmaps, 21st century Disasters

A collection of highly stylized 10th century maps of the Middle East with translations of  the legends that accompanied them in a 1933 Soviet edition of Nasser Khosrow’s Safarnameh (Book of Travels).

Maps of The Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria, The Persian Gulf, The Caspian Sea and Iraq by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad Al-Farsi al-Istakhri aka Abu’l Qasim Ubaid’Allah Ibn Khordadbeh aka Al Farsi aka Istakhri.

14 pages, offset print, with Russian folktale in inside cover. 22 x 31 cm. Edition of 250.


We have always had an aesthetic weakness for the merciless and brutal banality of bureaucracy. Little did we know that such a weakness would extend to the bureaucrats themselves. The following are reproductions of 10th-century maps by Al-Istakhri (aka Ibn Khordadbeh or Al Farsi) found in a 1933 Soviet edition of Nasser Khosrow’s Safarnameh, or Book of Travels. Both Istakhri and Khosrow were Persian bureaucrats whose legacy was a paper trail of the very antithesis of administration: a regime of curiosity that attempted to describe and map out the Middle East as a coherent geographic and cultural region. Khosrow, an 11th-century Persian poet and philosopher, had led an uneventful life as a tax collector in present day Turkemenistan when one night, in his sleep, a voice told him to leave behind his life of worldly pleasures. Khosrow dropped his avowed weakness for the medieval Merlot and began immediately to plan a seven-year trip through the Caucases and the Caspian to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. Khosrow was, to some extent, the millenary Muslim equivalent of a 21st-century born-again Christian. Except where the former asked questions, the latter offers only solutions. Where the former travelled extensively, the other is unlikely to have a passport. 
     Academia, the publisher of Safarnameh, was itself an unorthodox outfit in the Soviet landscape of the early 20th century with a reputation for smart, unexpected titles on relatively limited runs. These maps were drafted during a period when Islamic geography rekindled an interest in Roman and Greek scholarship abandoned by the Christian West. Early draftsmen including Istakhri contributed to An Atlas of Islam, with a visible bias for the Farsi-speaking peoples in the Middle East, where a boundless taste for geometric shapes and symmetry belongs today more to the world of fantasy than fact. Later cartographers such as Al-Idrisi went on to craft intricate maps on improbably luxurious materials (e.g. a 400-pound tablet of silver) with even more improbable names (such as The Gardens of Humanity and the Amusement of the Soul) that would serve for centuries to follow. When Christopher Columbus studied these maps, before setting out to sea, we wonder: did it occur to him that his future would be no less unpredictable than our past?


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