How contemporary art is developing in Kazakhstan?
Nowadays, many people might be quite curious, interested and concerned about the concept of “Contemporary art”. It is actually a reflection of the world in which we live and it is considered as an art that keeps up with the times. Basically, most of the innovations are created through the prism of various visual forms. For our today`s material, we decided to interview an art-director of the gallery TSE Art Destination, Baurzhan Sagiev about the popularization and development of contemporary art in Kazakhstan.
- Good afternoon, Baurzhan! Before we start our conversation, can you provide us some information about the history, establishment and execution of TSE Art Destination?
- TSE Art Destination is an art platform located in the historical center of Nur-Sultan, which combines a contemporary art gallery, an educational center and an experimental laboratory. The main mission of the gallery is to actively promote and develop contemporary art both in Kazakhstan and abroad, in order to make the contemporary art as an integral and organic part of our city. An-art gallery has been established in 2017 under the supervision of Dina Baitassova. She is art historian, fine art expert and graduate of the Sorbonne University of Paris. Currently, she is working as a director of Artios Art Advisory and the CEO of the gallery TSE Art Destination. Having returned to her homeland, she began to work on the first contemporary art gallery in Astana. At the moment, Kazakh and foreign artists are exhibited at TSE Art Destination, private and corporate collections are being formed and educational programs are being conducted as well. For more than 10 years, Dina has been promoting Kazakh contemporary art in Europe and abroad. Since 2012, Dina has promoted contemporary Kazakh art in Kazakhstan. That`s why, she has such a great potential and develops a modern art on the spot of our country, and at the same time, she conducts the collaboration with Europe and Western institutions.
- When did you start your career in the field of art and how did you come to work here?
- When Dina studied and worked in Paris, I worked in London. Actually, we have very similar paths and education. I graduated from the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, then I worked for the fashion brands such as “Alexander McQueen”, “Chanel” in Paris. The fact of the matter is that there is such a big trend and global trend in the world that many people come from fashion design into the field of contemporary art. Besides that, designers are handling and curating the big exhibitions in contemporary art, and this is a very related field. We have known Dina for a very long time, and we returned to Kazakhstan at the same time. We came to Astana and decided to develop a modern culture here. In particular, we wanted to explore an industry of modern art. An idea of creating art-gallery has definitely come to Dina. It was back in 2017, during the world exhibition EXPO-2017. The straight forward after the EXPO-2017, we started to work on the brand “TSE Art Destination” with her. We came up with the name, started working on the logo, also we have involved in visual identity (especially, brand and visual identity), and directly repaired the premises where the exhibitions are being held now.
- We would like to know, what is a general concept of contemporary art in Kazakhstan?
- When it comes to the development of contemporary art in our country, it is developing very well. I can talk about two sides. From the side of artistic endeavour and creativity, we see a very big development. I think this is due to the fact that Kazakhstan is an open country, additionally we are in the age of globalization now, the age of the Internet. As a matter of principle, young artists who are 20 years old, they are aware of all young trends, technologies and advances in the world. We have a lot of artists who use new media, such as light, sound, modern conceptual installations. On the other hand, we can talk about the overall development of contemporary art in global Kazakhstan. It doesn`t develop as we would like. Because our artists do not have access to the world's largest venues, there are only a few people who know about modern art outside of Kazakhstan, and the saddest thing is that even inside Kazakhstan, some people do not know contemporary art well.
- If people are curious about contemporary art, how should they start to investigate it?
- In any case, you just need to probably come and see the various galleries first. For example, there are a lot of exhibitions going on now. Even though we have been carrying out several projects simultaneously now. Here is the point that no matter how you force anyone, it mostly depends on the people. But if a person is interested and involved in culture and art, then he can understand contemporary art as well. There is no doubt that it is not worth studying the entire history of human art in order to come to the contemporaneity. But it is quite possible to visit the exhibition and look at the works of painters. I am often asked the question of how to determine the appraisement, value of a particular work. And, I always answer that the primary selection is your visual approach. You come, look, either there is a dialogue with the work, or there is no dialogue. If you find something intriguing, you can always ask for a guide, talk to an employee of the gallery, or go to the Internet to learn more about it. With these small steps, you will already be able to understand and investigate a field of contemporary art. What makes sense is that many people already know some names. For instance, I show the work to the people and say about it to Saule Suleimenova, or people just answer that they already know about that. That means, we already have some stars, an older generation and famous characters in art. Due to that, people already recognize and understand the world of contemporary art.
- What kind of Kazakhstani artists do you need to know about in the field of contemporary art?
- This is such a difficult question, because we have all the artists now who are versatile and diverse. I would say that of course you need to know, but these things will be considered as my subjective assumptions. But I think that you need to know about Askhat Akhmedyarov and Saule Suleimenova. Askhat Akhmedyarov is one of the few artists who live in the capital. Because their schedules are not aligned with ours, so as most of the artists of our country live in the south part of the country, in regions such as Almaty, Shymkent, and the South Kazakhstan region. In addition, there are not so many artists in Nur-Sultan who are actively involved in their activities. But in general, globally, there are such associations as “Red Tractor” (a well-known group of Shymkent artists) and it is just a galaxy of our outstanding contemporary artists.
- How should contemporary art be stimulated in our country and what role does the state play in the development of creative industries?
- I know firsthand about the creative industries program because it was the initiative of the Prime Minister, and then Danat Zhumin worked on this idea. Basically, he gathered all the creatives, representatives of all industries and all areas of modern culture, and he also collected our opinions and analysis of the current situation, trying to predict something for the future and what steps should be taken onwards. But the fact is that we have not seen this program yet. Since then, over the past 30 years, much attention has not been given for the modern culture. There was a focus on more traditional things like folk music, dancing, and so on. I don't think it's wrong, but the point is that it hasn't been given much attention in today's culture. That is, these were local cases, but globally, there was no support from the state, since these things were considered as private initiatives.
- What can you say about the globalization of Kazakh contemporary art?
- Yes, we have repeatedly touched on this topic among young people. There is such thing as an “Art residence”, that is, when artists go abroad to some kind of residences. An art residence is a studio and an institution where many artists work and share their experiences. These are artists from different countries. Many of our artists have already gone to the residences both in neighboring countries (this is Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan) and in faraway countries (this is in England, France, and Europe). They definitely get a lot of international experience there from international artists. And, this has an impact on Kazakh art, because they already think differently and see the world from a different perspective, and this can be called a product of globalization. On the other hand, there are more famous artists, such as Saule Suleimenova and Almagul Mendybayeva, who hold international exhibitions abroad. Thus, they show Kazakh art outside of Kazakhstan. For example, we organized an exhibition dedicated for Adil Aubekerov last year in Dubai, and it was a huge success. Anyway it comes to the question of globalization again. In any case, our talented artists can exhibit at any foreign venue.
If we are talking today about the country's competitiveness, then culture must also be global. We can and should exhibit at the world venues such as the Pompidou Center, the Tate gallery, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, and the Palais de Tokyo. We must bring to the world the artists such as Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliason, Marina Abramovich, and Yoko Ono. I am sure that it would be quite interesting for them to exhibit in Kazakhstan. A development of modern culture speaks about the country's readiness to be part of the global context, its openness to the world and desire to think independently. We are still closed to the world. When international artists start coming here, then they will obviously start talking about Kazakhstan in a global context. Modern artists should be the same as rock stars in music or eminent actors.
- What professions are in demand in the art industry in the current century?
- Speaking globally in the world, there is definitely a large market, and great demand for it. There is also a huge team of specialists, art managers, critics who have more requirements in the west countries. But if we are talking about our realities, we have not developed the industry and direction yet, so that there is a shortage of specialists. I think that on the contrary, we have a surplus at the moment. Because not much modernization works for us. In addition, we will have a large art center called “Tselinny” which will open in Almaty. But it will most likely be next year. Also, Smagulov`s center will be opened in Almaty in 2-3 years. It is actually good that large institutions and organizations are developing nowadays. But currently, among the large organizations we can name only the “National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan” and the “Museum named after Abilkhan Kasteev” where special attention is not paid to contemporary art. Therefore, in terms of choosing the specialties, it is being more difficult now. On social networks, you can come across artists who touch on current social topics in their works and sell them online in high resolution. Art managers, curators, designers, and exhibition space architects are also in high demand today. In Kazakhstan, this niche has not been occupied yet, but anyway there are many opportunities for the development and earnings.
- How can we pique the residents' interest in art and encourage them to attend exhibitions?
- But, first of all, I don’t totally agree. Young people are those who are interested in the art field. If we are talking about the average visitors to the exhibition, then, a very large proportion of the visitors are NIS students and the students from Nazarbayev University. That means, they are those people who read and see a lot, and they are young people who want to attend exhibitions, expand their knowledge and develop their skills. The fact is that they do not have a direction in culture and art at their university programs, but they come to our exhibitions and events by themselves on their own initiative. They are just so curious and concerned about the modern and contemporary arts. On the other hand, we are definitely carrying out a lot of initiatives in order to interest a wider mass. At least before the pandemic, we used to host the 100 events in a year. We usually handled two events per week, which included lectures, master classes and workshops. We even held the yoga sessions in galleries to appeal the different segments of the population completely. If a person comes to the yoga session, then this yoga session will take place inside the gallery between works of art. When a person is involved in yoga, he is already doing it spiritually and notices these things. And next time, he will come with his family and children, and the person will already have become a loyal visitor to our gallery. In our case, we try to regularly hold free meetings, master classes and excursions for the children, although this is beyond the scope of our site. Each new exhibition is a new physical experience. We work on the design, repainting the walls, moving, crafting and conceptualizing the space. It is significant to note that visiting the exhibitions will become an unforgettable experience for the children and adults as well.
- What exhibitions can be seen in your gallery now?
- In general, we are planning a program for a year, and right now we are preparing a very significant exhibition of Alessandro Sharafo. This is a well-known contemporary Italian artist who is involved in just the same new objects, exploring and investigating new things. This is a light and sound installation. It was made specifically for Kazakhstan, directly for the TSE Art Destination gallery, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Culture. We have been working on this project for the last two years. It all was started during the pandemic. And, Alessandro made an installation especially for us, which resembles the unification and unity of the people. That is, it will be an immersive work. We plan to open the exhibition on the 11th of March. The artist himself will be present at the event. Representatives of the museum “GAM Torino” (Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art of Turin City) will arrive. And, the catalogs have already been released, which indicate the gallery of TSE Art Destination in Astana. It will be such a big project. In parallel, we are planning to introduce a new expansion around the city. That means, now we have a very large exhibition in the trading houses “Luxury House” and “Elements Tour”. Other than this, we promote contemporary art not only through the gallery but also through public spaces, and we will try to carry out such an expansion in the city, so that any citizen will be able to see contemporary art.
- Can you share your work plans in the art industry?
- Yes, we certainly wanted to present our works abroad. Then we had big plans for an art residence because this particular educational area for the artists is not developed in Kazakhstan. Since the artists have painted and worked by themselves, there is no special institution or special training courses for them. This is considered as one of the important things. And of course, we do not stop and will not quiet at our exhibition activities, because this is just the same bridge between the viewer and artist, where they meet and contact each other. We also plan to host the local and international exhibitions. As for the art residence, we are planning one project with German and Chinese artists, so that they will come to Kazakhstan and work here, as well as creating some works of art. And, I would like to send our Kazakh artists to foreign countries. In continuation of our expansion into the city, we are planning to create and implement a lot of public arts this summer. This type of art is dedicated for the public spaces and street art.
- Thank you so much for taking your time and coming to our interview! We wish you continued success and the best of luck in your career.
(The pictures were taken from the personal archive of art-director and captured by the photographer)