“The Administrative Code and The Art history are completely different books, so you can make a mark in both”
- Ilya Sin about society, Belarusian literature and artist's responsibility
Ilya Sin is a winner of the Jerzy Giedroyc Literary Award 2019, part of the creative movement “Bum-Bam-Lit”, a performer who once came out of the monument to himself, the leader of the existential clowning group “Theater of Mental Imbalance” and the organizer of a large number of events. dadalog met him at an art party and, of course, didn’t miss the opportunity to invite him for an interview.
Anastasia: I would like to start by parsing one of your quotes:
Ilya:“No need to dig deep. This is one of the features of our literary process. Literature and art are of little interest to anyone today. People are interested in the wow-effects, which accompany the Gedroits prize with a large prize pool, which I received absolutely by accident. And art processes, unfortunately, interest us less and less. Something needs to be done with this, because it is a dangerous situation for everyone. Especially for society, sorry for the pathos word. ”
A: As for the interest in literature, how has it changed since the time of Bum-Bam-Lit and why, in your opinion?
I: In the 90s, people were much more attracted to some new experience, inner discoveries. The opportunity to tear myself away from the couch and get somewhere was a happiness - not like now. Everything unusual was interesting, and even negative experience was considered useful. Some people say that this experience is not that new - on a global scale. I don’t know, it is difficult to judge objectively here, and indeed, it’s not necessary. The main thing is exactly your own perception. You know, reading about some exotic dish is not enough. A new experience appears only when it concerns the receptors of your tongue. In the 90s, Minsk was completely different: a dark city where almost nothing happened. There are almost no coffee houses, no lofts, and interesting events happen once a hundred years... Now the menu is much more varied, but most of us choose their own sofa.
A: So, you want to say: more events means less interest in them?
I: Oddly enough, it seems so. Naturally, the attention spreads - and this is normal. A lot of things have appeared in terms of consumer culture. No one drinks beer and vodka on the street anymore. But here is a paradox: the growth of domestic culture, entering into European civilization, which we have dreamed about so much, in no way affected the interest in art. For example, the cult InZhest plastic theater for me (and, I hope, not only for me), as it has been marginalized for all forty years of its existence, has remained, while being absolutely exceptional. It somehow turns out like this for us: lofts are for the lofts, and art is for the art. Although we all really hoped that these phenomena are interconnected.
What are the reasons? Well, let's say the media approach: once I read a guide for Oktyabrskaya street, which tells where to buy new shawarma and what ingredients it differs from the others. But almost nothing was said about the cultural filling of this all. Therefore, the level of culture in our country is so behind the level of civilization. And in Minsk this is noticeably more than even in neighboring Kiev or Moscow.
A: Why is the decline in interest in culture a dangerous situation for society?
I: Complicated issue. And very provocative. Interestingly, it arises exclusively with us. For some reason, the neighbors don’t reflect on this score and silently support the culture, investing in it tens of times more money than we are, for example, Poland.
And the truth is: why the hell we need modern Belarusian culture if we a) can import a relevant product from abroad (they say it’s better there, which I personally doubt. In addition, foreign institutions that somehow support culture are ready to pay for this import and b) use the accumulated in the annals - in a country where intellectual property is less valued electricity, there is no problem at all.
Accordingly, we came to a completely rational conclusion that modern Belarusian culture is not really needed by society. I have almost no doubt that those who upstairs adhere to similar ideas. Check how much an artist of the highest category makes money here, and you will see yourself.
What counter argument can be given? Well, for example, this: the descendants will perceive our century not just through the quality of the sauce in fast food, but, first of all, through cultural events. And note: they will not care about how many copies of the book were sold and how many buns the author ate for this money - and this is what interests us now.
A: Is that bad in your opinion?
I: Yes, art lives by its own laws, not by the laws of commerce, and it is important that the author understands this.
But I don’t really think hard about the future of humanity, so for me such an argument is not very convincing. Personally, I just like what I do, I get some kind of hard-to-explain drive from this, I am saved from depression. That, in fact, is the whole explanation.
A: Who do you follow from a literary or general cultural environment?
I: I try for everyone, but I don’t have enough time.
A: Many of the Belarusian writers do it in Russian or another language, and it turns out that Belarusians do not create Belarusian literature. Could this change, what is your forecast?
I: I don’t know. Literature is an intimate thing, and in the place of the author I would create it in my own language, as I actually do myself. As for this stupid and endless discussion: can Belarusian writers be those authors who write in Russian but live in Belarus and position themselves as Belarusians... In my opinion, this is a meaningless terminological question.
Everyone is forced to admit that there are Belarusians who speak Russian. Some of these Belarusians write poetry - this is a pure statistic. Accordingly, this layer can be distinguished as “the literature of Russian-speaking Belarusians”. But it sounds rough. “Russian-language literature of Belarus” is much better. In general, I personally have always emphasized that I create Belarusian literature, and “just literature” in Belarusian. And our country has never been culturally homogeneous, and probably never will be. We just need to face it.
A: What do you think about the new publishing house of Svetlana Aleksievich?
I: Let's start from afar: private initiatives are always good. But I believe that all separation and identification attempts in the literary field should occur (or, rather, should not, but can) solely on the basis of aesthetic criteria. Gender, age, orientation and foot size don’t play the most important role.
A: So women will not start writing more when this publisher appears?
I: Maybe there is really a woman who for now for some reason cannot write, and now she will have such an opportunity. But I doubt it.
A: Svetlana herself to which literature would be attributed, by the way?
I: It’s hard to say because I never thought about it. I have no need to make such classifications. To which she relates herself - would be right.
A: What do you think about the fact that now art itself is becoming smaller, but creative industries are developing?
I: It is sad. An author's product is the basis of the art process. It doesn't matter what kind of sauce it is served under. There are author's statements, I see many new interesting projects, but they are often lost among all this tinsel. It seems that art and different industries follow parallel paths with us.
A: How do you distinguish art from creativity?
I: Complicated issue. And again, terminological. There is a democratic theory: if a person calls something art - this is art. What’s important is what the author invests, and direct communication between the author and the reader is also important. And it depends on two subjects and he also has an infinite number of different factors. I woke up in a bad mood - everything seems to you to be deceit and profanity. I rolled a good viskar - and suddenly cosmic meanings begin to be read in every driveway shop. It is hard to imagine specific criteria. I think it’s basically impossible.
A: How to build a communication between the artist and the viewer, to make it useful for each side?
I: Today this is the most difficult question, because exactly this kind of communication is lacking the most. There is something to show, there are places and there is (at least I want to believe) a potential audience, but it stays potential. So my answer is: you must do what you can do and what you want to do. As for some global approaches, I think they are, above all, in the information sphere. Desperately need some kind of common portal that would unite all the figures of the cultural field with their author's consciousness.
A: Once you spoke out about a situation where in 2018 12 people staged a performance near Auschwitz, and then were convicted. You said the lawyer's response was too much. I do not defend anyone’s position now, but how much should the law be different for artists and should it be at all?
I: It was inadequate because the article was called “desecration.” I have a question: can an anti-war action be considered as a desecration, no matter how formalized it is? If they were judged for any specific things - like public exposure - then I would have no questions. But this factor of appraisal in jurisprudence simply cannot but alarm.
The law shouldn’t be different for artists. These are just different planes. Everyone asks: “And if I do something disgusting, then what, don’t pay a fine because it’s art?” Of course no: the administrative code and the history of art are completely different books, so you can mark in both. In general, we have a problem when the concept of “art” has some kind of evaluative characteristic: they say that if it is art, then it is definitely necessarily good and important. I believe that this concept is absolutely neutral and doesn’t provide for an evaluation factor. Like, for example, a table.
A: What is the artist’s responsibility?
I: Each in its own way is individual. There is only one general rule: no living creature should suffer in a result, except the author. And then ... Art is not an industry, everyone has his own questions and answers. Controversial and conflict situations will always exist. Everyone has the right to do what he wants. But this, obviously, doesn’t relieve responsibility.