Slavs and Tatars, Mystical Protest (Muharram) paint on silk-screened fabric, fluorescent lights, 620 x 240 cm, 2011, courtesy of the Tate and Kraupa-Tuskany.
Slavs and Tatars, The Syncretics (from The Faculty of Substitution), 66 x 50 cm, c-print, 2011.
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. The collective’s work spans several media, disciplines, and a broad spectrum of cultural registers (high and low) focusing on an oft-forgotten sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.
Future Audience: What was the idea behind defining your practice in between some geopolitical borders?
Slavs and Tatars: The choice to embed ourselves between the geopolitical mammoths of the 20th and 21st centuries, Communism and political Islam, stems naturally from the very first-degree geographical remit at the origins of Slavs and Tatars: between the former Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China. In addition to sending up the very tongue-in-cheek connotation of a horde on the horizon, ready to rape and pillage, the name Slavs and Tatars acts as a brief. As opposed to positioning ourselves as authorities on Eurasia, the name doubles as an assignment, to devote ourselves to a region we consider urgent, for equally personal and polemical reasons.
Future Audience: I know that Molla Nasreddin book project was based on a long research process and required a lot of personal dedication. It was a hard work. What is the story behind that book?
Slavs and Tatars: It was through the devastating changes in the Azeri alphabet that we were firstly seduced by Molla Nasreddin. Like the story of our name, we dove whole heartedly into the subject matter of this satirical periodical without any hedging or hesitation. Of course, the more we translated, the more we realized that we had serious objections to much of the subject matter: we do not believe in modernity as westernization; we do not put the blame for all society's ills at the foot of Islam, etc. Not to mention, the last thing we would want is to have the book play into the hands of trigger-happy Islamophobes, eager to pounce on a publication done by Muslims themselves. It's safe to say that very few people spend 2+ years working on a platform with which they disagree. But confronting that which we do not know and might not like or agree with is a crucial step in attempting to move beyond the accumulation of knowledge to a semblance of wisdom.
Future Audience: What are the plans for 2012?
Slavs and Tatars: After devoting the past 5 years to two cycles of work, namely, a celebration of complexity in the Caucasus (Kidnapping Mountains, Molla Nasreddin) and the unlikely heritage between Poland and Iran (Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz, 79.89.09), we've been working on our third cycle of work, The Faculty of Substitution: replacing one thing for another, telling one tale through another–in the widest sense, from al-badaliya to mystical substitution. Adopting the inner-most thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and sensations of others as one’s own, The Faculty of Substitution offers a sophisticated rethinking of self-discovery in an effort to challenge the very notion of distance, as the shortest length between two points. As you know, we strive to bring together in one space, one page, or one voice two ends of the spectrum considered antithetical or incommensurate. In our practice, this collision takes place between macro polemics and micro poetics, humour and spirituality, esoteric language and slang. In Central Asia, between Chingissid and Sharia law, Soviet and ethnic allegiances, Statist China and Imperial Russia. What this amphiboly or forcing together of extremes emphasizes is an understanding of negotiation, compromise, and generosity that is at turns topographic and transcendent and highly contemporary.
The first installment in this cycle–Mystical Protest (Muharram)– was commissioned by the Tate for a small group show with Salt: we looked to the annual Shi'a holy month of Muharram as a potential agency of protest in collapsing conventional notions of time. Further installments will be exhibited at the GfZK in January, the Triennial at the New Museum in February before solo engagements at Vienna's Secession where we'll be telling the story of syncretic Islam and Central Asia thru the perspective of certain fruits and the MoMA in September where we'll resuscitate the mystical anti-modern via a disco library of sorts! Towards the end of next year, we'll be working with you, IASPIS, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, and the Asia Pacific Triennial to further look into the role of the mystical and sacred as agent of concrete change in the material world. As Maria Elisabeth Luow writes, "The stubborn enchanted-ness of the world is perhaps most telling in the parts of the world where the concrete efforts to disenchant it were extraordinarily organized and profound."