Out of comfort zone

with Katharina Stadler

No secret, those 70 years of red occupation and 90’s decade of endless internal conflicts still carry the high barriers on the way of liberation, illustrating predefined conditions of closed spaces even among the new generations. Perhaps building up the society capable for activation of exchange processes seems to be more vital than the focus on solely artistic waves production condemned for the discussions at the other side of the almost locked doors. Meanwhile Georgian academy of fine arts is wrapped in the nearly eternal struggle between “progressive” and “retrograde” views (as public coined them) for the better academy and before the weight is fixed on the bottom of the closed tube, the Center of Contemporary Art – Tbilisi is turning into one of the main art educational platforms of Georgia. Not so long time has passed since formerly Berlin based artist Katharina Stadler was assigned as an educational programs curator at CCA – Tbilisi.

Katharina Stadler: I work at CCA – Tbilisi in a very local context. Though we try not to concentrate only on Georgia but the whole region and maybe even on the international scale, still we have to deal with a very local context and its problems and challenges, which I think come from Soviet past connected to the outlook to the West. We all carry our past within us. My past is different. It’s not connected to Soviet or Georgian context at all. That’s why I say; not thinking about these details may create additional problems… Basically it’s also a challenge for me to think on what art education is or could be because I have never attended art school myself. Thus I also deal with inexperience. So I’m concentrated on what I would have liked if I was a student. I’m not sure if my ideas can be implemented everywhere. Maybe they wouldn’t work in Western context or even in Armenia, I don’t know. What I’m doing at CCA is moving a structure built by Wato (Tsereteli) and other people to another level, because there are very good initiatives with great ideas. I add my vision. And the next question – does art education actually train artists? I’m not sure if this is the real or sole outcome of art education, or if it even should be… Many great initiatives came from teachers. Together with students they went through obstacles like not having sufficient funding or dealing with society’s unreadiness for the issue…

CaucasusArtMag: You have mentioned the individual past…

K. S.: For almost ten years I lived in Berlin. People there really don’t know any more what to do. Everything seems to be done; nothing makes sense. Quite often people ask me why I live in Georgia with all these daily life problems. But I have no reason to move back. The entire surrounding here makes me move in thought constantly. It triggers me. Of course, I can live totally comfortable there (in Berlin), everything is nice, but very little provokes. You have to understand what is behind you, I mean. The tricky thing is that if you go only for comfort it won’t lead you anywhere. And you’ll find yourself in the same stagnation, if you go to especially external and probably internal discomfort at the same time. So you have to be in-between those top two. Even in teaching what you should do is to go out of your private, your comfort zone to meet people really. If you only distinguish yourself and will be happy with that, you never interact with anyone, least your students. I’m aware that there occur situations when you have to explain your actions or words or motivations. If you put yourself too high in hierarchy it won’t lead anywhere in education… Here I’m within a small group of people who are constantly doing and creating, just changing the society on a little basis, day by day.

CAM: So it’s also a kind of huge complex motivation not to count the knowledge.

K. S.: Yes, a complex of knowledge, of motivation, of practice… You know if people think too much about their practice in terms like “I’m a video artist”, “I’m a sound artist”… they might miss that their work can also assist to young artists of other fields or those who are not artists at all. There is a lot of knowledge that can be transformed and discussed and thus given to people. And I think we are lucky enough to have a team with such a motivation to do so… We have nine months of study, that’s not much at all. I’ve suggested taking the first three months just for general study. Probably this doesn’t make sense for some people because we know about specialization, getting as much as possible in a short term… but I still find it interesting to be a member of a group, to help and support and collaborate with each other and not just stick on my own. Artist and non-artist have to be open to get off these borders and avoid putting categories. When other people categorize us as artists, we do the same. But what do we exactly mean with non-artists? Why do we need to say that? For me it’s more interesting to find some kind of common language and share interests in changing or maintaining something. I think we need to break through those boundaries (of artists and non-artists). In terms of interdisciplinarity I think we can do it at CCA… Many people need encouragement here, even in the critical field. I’ve met some professors calling everything crap and that’s their way of education, devastating criticism, that’s what they believe in. Not me. But I do believe in the honesty, in honest but constructive feedback.

CAM: But how to achieve honesty? Maybe it comes in together with pleasure? How to achieve pleasure then?

K. S.: You only enjoy if what you are doing makes sense and every topic can make sense more or less, yes? You just have to be someone who wants to learn. No matter which age you are. It’s about personality and about time awareness as well. A friend of mine died when I was 17. It really shocked me. Because until that point I was just… of course you know that also young people die, but I was never close to that. I then asked myself the most stupid question – why did she die? Why didn’t I? It just happened. And it changed my time awareness. It made me realize that I have limited time. Maybe it sounds arrogant but I understood that I don’t have time to be bored. People are quite careless about their time, even if it sounds contradictory since there is a constant complaint of not having enough time. They are lived out by something else. We all take decisions which might not be the wisest but still are worth to stand up for the and say O.K. I took those decisions and I can only change the present. Many of us are scared about that though.