Curator Denis Maksimov (D) sat for a breakfast talk with March 2017 residents of the Penthouse, transdisciplinary collective METASITU composed of Liva Dudareva and Eduardo Cassina who are based in Athens, Greece.
DM: How METASITU came about?
METASITU was born 3 years ago in Moscow. We met at the Strelka Research Institute and decided to work together as a nomadic collective. We knew that we wanted to work together and we want to work with the idea of a territory. At that time Russia just invaded Crimea and there was a huge recession, Russian ruble value halved, and it is also not really an easy country to migrate to as we are both foreigners [Liva Dudareva is Latvian and Eduardo Cassina is Spanish]. So we had this idea of travelling for a while from project to project, looking at the different urban contexts.
DM: Can you say that METASITU existence itself could be called a continuous art project, performative research?
MT: It is actually like that. We never conceived it like that, but a lot of people were telling us this looking at the project from the outside. We are living together, but we are not romantically entangled and we don’t live with our romantic partners. We are also buying property together, as co-owners. We are, through living, discovering the idea of “queering” the space and with it – the normality of what is understood as “relationship”. It is something that we have been talking about a lot. For us it is important that we practice the ideas that we are working with. Being artists we are not looking at ourselves as “professionals”. For us it’s a practice and a lifestyle, that we after convert into a video art.
View of the exhibition curated by METASITU at metamatic: taf foundation in Athens
DM: How hard is it to exist beyond institutional context?
MT: We made a conscious decision of not engaging with it. We don’t have a pressure of struggling for a external recognition of some sort.
DM: Are you in a way “carving out” your own profile?
MT: Yes, certainly. Once we will look at our life now in the future, it could be that we can contextualize it as a continuous performance. But not now. In general, it is a very small percentage of people in the art scene who “quit it” somehow. We live in a time when a lot of particular epistemologies are being hijacked. Being an architect nowadays is not only about planning houses, but also understanding how cultural paradigms influence the process of constructing something in the first place. So we wouldn’t struggle with labels. It is important to use the labels to our benefit in order to advance to where we want to go, but it is important not to submit yourself under its strictly defining influence.
DM: Does it remove the pressure of the idea of “success”? You cannot succeed of fail because it’s actually you who define the conditions of the evaluation in the first place.
MT: True. This is why carving your own path is very satisfying and you feel more grounded. Even it is more risky and unpredictable of course. You can’t apply the same set of questions and values in case you are making your own path.
DM:You play very many roles in the art world and beyond. Do you see it as a sort of “superposition” of METASITU or you always try to become better at each particular role you play – artists, curators, educators, performers, architects, interior designers, etc?
MT: For us deepening our own understanding of the space is the most important. This is actually what METASITU is about – understanding a space in different way, “queering it up”. We are creating new spacial narratives. So whether we are designing conceptual flat in Athens or engaging with a district in a newest city in Ukraine, we are always looking at an aspect how that is pushing our own boundaries of how we are perceiving the space.
DM: What have you been working on in Brussels?
MT: In the residency we worked on the new project called “Grey Zones”, which we initiated together with Avenir Institute. We used the time in Brussels to conceptualise and put foundations for the long term research that will result in several projects. We look at different places of exception: institutional, political, social, even in the human body speaking of biopolitical component. We identify loopholes in the systems that allow opportunities to emerge. It seems these are blurry spaces, but they actually operate on the basis hidden and invisible rulebooks. There is no long term in the greyness: it all depends how dense is “the fog”. Like AirBnB for example: being initially “grey”, AirBnB became institutionalised and “the fog” cleared up. Apart of the research component, we are also planning to produce an installation (probably with a component of a social experiment) and a video in Brussels in the end of this or beginning of the next year. So we are definitely coming back.
Liva Dudareva during the presentation of “Grey Zones” in the Secret Room of the Hotel BLOOM! on March 29
DM: What is the next upcoming thing for you after this time in Brussels?
MT: 14th district is a project based in Slavytich, the newest city in Ukraine that was built in 1986. It is a city that was designed to host families of liquidators and relocated families from exclusion zone in the aftermath of the Chernobyl catastrophe. It is a city that was modelled on 13 other post-Soviet cities. The planners asked the “models” to provide materials and plans for reproducing them partly in Slavytich. It is somehow a small prototype of the whole Soviet Union. And our project is about making spacial intervention based on the city of Athens, where METASITU is based now. We are basically “building” 14th district of the city based on it. Athens is one of the oldest and most symbolic cities in Europe, very iconographic. The tension between history of Greek capital as a place of origin of the European civilisation and 13 districts representing Soviet civilisational heritage is something that inspired us. We organised a thinking group and devised a district as an ongoing process which mission would to act as a seed of chaos, just like contemporary Athens was perceived by members of the thinking group who came from Slavytich to see and feel the city.
DM: What is your impression of Brussels?
MT: It’s more chaotic than we thought. One friend told us, before we embarked on a voyage here, that “Brussels is a place to hide”. And since we were working here on the project “Grey Zones” it seemed to be a perfect match. We find very fascinating about Belgium that national identity is formed without some of the crucial components of the concept of “a nation state”. In that sense, perhaps, there could not be a better capital for the European Union.