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Suture

05 May 2023

Weaving Collective Meaning:

a Conversation between

Members of Suture:

Reimagining Ornament

Research Group

Intro

Suture: Reimagining Ornament is an art-as-research project commissioned by the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT) in Hong Kong. In the course of six months, eight women artists-researchers, with varied connections to Central Asia, were brought together into a research group by curator and art historian Alexandra Tsay to build on their diverse positionalities, lived experiences and artistic/research interests to critically examine and creatively reflect on the concept of ornament and explore the intersection of art and research.

Consciously adopting a broad definition of what an ornament is and can be, the engagement involved biweekly group Zoom calls and in-person meetups – our space for discussion and feedback, – and culminated in the development of works presented at Clouds, Power and Ornament – Roving Central Asia exhibition at the CHAT, alongside a printed publication featuring essays from members of the research group – Alexandra Tsay, Asel Kadyrkhanova, Aisha Jandosova, Aida Issakhankyzy, Anna Pronina, Dana Iskakova, Lena Pozdnyakova, and Kokonja. Upon the generous offer from the Ruyò team, we are now able to make these texts widely available in this beautiful space.

We are opening this series of essays with a conversation between members of our research group on the fundamental questions about ourselves and our practice. We attempted to contemplate the significance of collaborating as a team and the benefits it brings to us, as well as our connection with/to Central Asia and our approach to its histories within our projects. As part of pondering interdisciplinarity and expanded forms of engagement with history(ies), we also shared our thoughts on art-as-research form of inquiry.

Image courtesy: Aida Issakhankyzy

About us and Central Asia

Alexandra Tsay


I am a curator and researcher interested in contemporary art in Central Asia. Much is contained within this sentence, but it encapsulates the essence​​: one’s living experience working with and around art, writing about and with art. My research aspirations revolve around theorizing and conceptualizing artistic and creative production in Central Asia during the twentieth century and its resonances and resemblances with global art histories. I view the exhibition as a form of knowledge production, and coming together with artists and researchers allowed us to explore the space of art and research, to discuss and unfold ornament as a concept, an affect, a process from different grounds we stay on.       

One of our first group discussions began with the concept of “home”. Central Asia is my home. It is the home of my research interests and curatorial practice. It is a place, but it is also a conceptual category, a starting point of thinking with and thinking about, about belonging and homecoming, about roots and movement. My roots are in Central Asia, but Central Asia gives me roots that are in flow. They belong to a place and they are in moving across places and spaces. To traverse is to know, to traverse is to exist. Movement is a form of belonging and movement is the form of knowledge production.

Asel Kadyrkhanova


I am a visual artist and researcher. Currently, I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Amsterdam. In my work, I look into memory, trauma, language (or the absence of it), empathy, and pain. As a postgeneration artist, born a few decades after traumatic events, such as the Kazakh famine, ethnic deportations, and the Gulag, I am interested in exploring the question of inheritance. What we inherit are gaps and silences, but also stories that are inevitably fragmented yet affective.

Like Alexandra, I have also been contemplating lately about the idea of home. What is home? Where is home? Or perhaps who is home? I refrain from defining myself as a Central Asian artist, as I feel it would put on an unnecessary label on my practice. However, I am from Kazakhstan, from Central Asia, a complex region rich in history and culture, burdened with colonial and totalitarian legacies. In the past ten years, I have lived abroad more than in Kazakhstan. I fell in love with the Northumberland coast and wandered Yorkshire moors, thinking about the notion of belonging. Where do I belong? Or what belongs to me? Now as I walk past the canals of Amsterdam every day, I remember my early series of paintings “Journey by the Water,” inspired by the myth of Korkut. Korkut was a musician who traveled the world trying to escape death but nowhere on earth he found a place without death. Then floating on the carpet spread in the middle of the Syrdarya River, Korkut played music, opening himself to death – and therefore for life – finding home in the flow of water, in constant change. To speak about cultural identity, I am interested in the ideas of adjacency, openness, and fragility. We are not mere labels but complex living beings who grow and change, and I believe we should retain the right to grow and change throughout our lives, thus avoiding becoming motionless monuments to past ideals. 

Image courtesy: Lena Pozdnyakova

Aisha Jandosova


I am Aisha (she/her), a Qazaq-Kyrgyz designer and a beginner-level diasporic person. These days, in my personal and collective practice (primarily as co-founder of BABALAR PRESS, with Aida Issakhankyzy), I am focusing on healing and empowerment for myself and my people through reconnecting to our real and imaginary ancestral worlds.

Central Asia is my home – the people and place with whom/where, I think, I most belong. Central Asian people are the primary audience for my work; I create my works as a Central Asian person for Central Asian people. At the same time, I acknowledge that within Central Asia, I only have some firsthand knowledge of two countries, the homes of my parents – Qazaqstan and Kyrgyzstan. I also feel that as Asians, we are widely dissimilar and that Central Asian people – with experience and legacy of life under the Soviet Union – with whom I relate to, identify with, and find the common language the most.

Aida Issakhankyzy


I am an architect who is also involved in some art-related practices outside my professional field. This gives me broader space for experimentation, access to the tools and techniques, and also some cool opportunities to collaborate and work with people from various fields and contexts. There is a lot to learn.

I define myself as a Central Asian – a person, an architect that comes from this place – it is about my home, people, and places I belong to. This describes a lot and also gives a perspective to my context. I also understand that the perception of what exactly Central Asia or being Central Asian means varies among different people, as Assel and Aisha have already pointed out. Therefore, I use this definition based on my own feelings and experiences. Meaning that I am also a representation of being a Central Asian, a part of a beautiful, culturally rich and diverse context, community of people, stories and histories.

Image courtesy: Aida Issakhankyzy 

Dana Iskakova


I am an artist from Almaty, Kazakhstan. Lately, I’ve been interested in participatory and interactive art — I like creating environments for people to make objects and meanings for themselves. I also appreciate the concept of imaginary art, where art exists solely as an idea. Recently I, together with the MATA collective, published the first issue of a fictional contemporary art zine called “If.” As a conceptual artist, I am drawn to the power and flexibility of ideas, the capacity of art to reshape and reimagine realities, allowing us to engage with and create something together.

Central Asia to me means people. I was raised in a post-Soviet, Russianized, and globalized culture in Kazakhstan, which is why I have always sensed the overlapping of identities. Thanks to the Central Asian projects I have had the luck to be part of, I have had the opportunity to meet many amazing artists and researchers from all over Central Asia. They make me feel more connected to the region as we unite beyond national borders and “engage in collective care for the futures of the region,” as we say in the Artcom Platform.

Image courtesy: Aida Issakhankyzy 

Kokonja


I was born in Zhalgyzkaragai, in the Akmola region in 1996 into an ordinary traditional Kazakh family. My mother is a seamstress. In 2019, I met Bakhyt Bubikanova and she invited me to learn to become a contemporary artist by teaching me composition of Moldakul Narymbetov’s school. That’s where everything began for me. I work with textile and sound, and I also DJ. These three avenues of creative work are those I currently engage with the most. My intentions and inspiration in making art usually come suddenly: in day or night dreams, sudden memories, blessed moments when external affections become internal.

Born and raised in a village, after turning 17 or 18 I moved to Astana and then Almaty. I witnessed the culture of two separate worlds that coexist in every Central Asian country. The culture of communication and the everyday economic struggles in my village are very different from those experienced in a big city, and it often feels like they can never find common ground. In order words, I saw a crisis through the transformation of family values, human values, cultural values caused by the economic problems in this capitalist neo-colonialist chapter of history. What I have heard from my mom and read in old poems about Kazakh traditions and nomadic spirituality has been torn to shreds in the last decades due to the Soviet regime, the end of the Soviet era, globalisation and everything that has transpired during this period. The yurt is a good example of what I want to convey once the most valuable and necessary foundation in everyday life, it has now become merely a modern Kazakh image used on tourist brochures, corporate pictures, and international blogs that proclaim “Welcome to Kazakhstan!” In other words, yurt became an image found everywhere but not in real life and for its foundational purposes. Local knowledge has experienced the same fate, being used to create an attractive image for something while losing its primary purpose. Now that I am 27, I see everything in its place, and I no longer mentally judge things as before. Instead, I am curious about where everything is headed. I love my people, and at times I have very intense conflicting emotions towards them, but wouldn’t want to move to another country. I wish all the best to people, to my fellow countrymen.

Anna Pronina


I’m a researcher and curator. My background is in academic research. I am a cultural historian, focusing on the history of Central Asia in the 20th century, more precisely, the Soviet cultural policies of the 1920s-1950s in Uzbekistan. My interest first came from a few architectural books that I read a long time ago and where I encountered some architectural projects built in Central Asia for the first time. However, my conscious move to study the Soviet history of Uzbekistan comes from the understanding that the existed narratives on Soviet history need systematic revisions. There is no single coherent history of the USSR but there are histories that vary so much depending on locality. 

 

I was born in Russia, where I spent the biggest part of my life. Later, I moved to Europe to study and spent years between Vienna, Budapest and other cities. Later, I moved to Tashkent to continue my work on the dissertation. Now I call this city my home. The question of home is not simple for me. In recent years with frequent moves, I have often felt a deep sadness when leaving beloved places. Yet, the connection with all of them still resides within me. 

It seems to me that "home" refers to a special kind of relationship with a place. There can be several of them. And in each place, these relationships develop differently, just like in relationships between people. Calling something home is, for me, an acknowledgment of love. I am connected with Central Asia through the work I do, the people I have met here, and perhaps most importantly, the everyday life that consists of numerous ordinary actions and practices, such as walking, cooking, and talking. These practices weave the fabric of life. A friend of mine once wrote that "family is made of repetitions." It's a simple thought, but I really liked it. I apply it to relationships with spaces: strong connections with them are also made of repetitions. To be honest, at first, I was hesitant to accept Alya's invitation to join the group as a person who is based but not born here. I am aware of my limitations as well as my strengths. With this, there is only one way to enter this conversation: to speak from where I am and stay open to learning from others.

Image courtesy: Karina Em

Lena Pozdnyakova


I am Lena Pozdnyakova, an artist, curator, and researcher from Almaty, Kazakhstan, currently based in Berlin, Germany. My professional work revolves around collaborative projects and research endeavors that address complex themes such as the culture-nature dichotomy, the tangible and intangible manifestations of the Anthropocene in our daily lives, and the fusion of the realms of life and art. With a background in architecture, while always working through the lens of art, my trajectory gradually evolved towards a focus on socially-engaged projects, driven by principles of collaboration, care, intergenerational cooperation, and community engagement. Presently, my professional occupation encompasses writing a PhD on socially-oriented art, and in the community practices, I am working with children at Neue Nachbarschaft Moabit during their weekly arts day, as well as collaborating with Lumbung radio on a project that seeks to de-institutionalize the audio format and listening experience through transdisciplinary approaches. As for my art practice, I continue to use various media (sound art, performance, sculpture and other) that art, as a form, provides to communicate on numerous challenging topics that touch me and my surroundings.

In my artistic practice and research, I delve into the intersection of materiality and relational elements. This exploration is deeply intertwined with my family history, the places I have called home, and the individuals who have shaped my development. Many of my projects, including those undertaken in collaboration with the2vvo (w. Eldar Tagi), stem from ongoing inquiries into the origins of narratives and beliefs that possess a hyperlocal character on one level and a broader, cosmogonic and planetary dimension on others. Specifically, I refer to the intricate relationship between the layered history and rich cultural diversity of the Central Asian region, and peoples living across the world and relating to other communities.

It is truly remarkable to acknowledge that my generation grew up on ground marked by both the “near-apocalyptic” remnants of the collapsed Soviet Union systems and the simultaneous shaping of an independent country and its opening to the wider world. And all meanwhile, the pagan narratives rooted in Tengrism persisted within the history of Soviet Kazakhstan, and Independent Kazakhstan through various expressions in people’s lives. These multifaceted aspects undeniably shaped my personal and professional growth, weaving a complex web of connections. This includes a determination to break free from political apathy, a sense of identity that is a blend of diverse influences, a profound respect for human relationships and respect to the elderly, the warmth of local hospitality, affiliation with elements of regional and yet multiethnic culture, and a deep love for the natural ecosystems. Consequently, all of my work is deeply informed by my unbreakable link to my past, layered atop the present reality of residing outside of Kazakhstan and collaborating with communities around the world. My bearing of a Central Asian (Central Asian women’s) identity, irrespective of its specific details, and the transgenerational facets I carry with me wherever I go, enable me to feel connected to the global community and living beings outside of my homeland. This is, precisely how people in Central Asia have historically perceived the world – as interconnected with the boundless sky and the fruitful earth. To that, I would only add that this connection to the sky and the soil transcends geographical boundaries and extends to wherever we happen to find ourselves.

Image courtesy: Karina Em

Image courtesy: Karina Em

On Art as Research

Alexandra


Art is my home. An object, an affect, a concept, a process, an interaction between and an interaction with. I have come here. The physical space of formal visual registrars dissects planes of meanings, sustaining the tension between affect and thought. Thinking and feeling all at once, it is the privilege that art grants us – their tension, their friction, their affinity. I have come here. It is a home that carries you and it is the home that you carry with you. I am writing about art and I am writing with art. 

Research is my home. A question, a curiosity, a wonder, a desire to understand, to share, to discuss. What does unexamined life’s worth? What is the worth of unexamined localities, histories, and practices? How does loss exist and persist? Central Asia is the focus of my research, it sets forth many questions, but it can provide unexpected answers. Power struggles, legacies of totalitarian structures, proximity to empires – it is a home that does not provide comfort, but it can nurture a habit of critical inquiring. And it is a warm home, filled with warm connections, strong communities, long-standing friendships and endless tea gatherings. 
 

Aisha


Artmaking and making – and, in my case, the remaking of ancestral craft practices – make possible a different kind of knowledge production. That knowledge-making is activated by the work of the body (hands, eyes, other senses) and happens in close collaboration with one’s mind and memory. Making/remaking creates room for conversations with yourself, today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Making, quite literally, makes you see and notice things, and establish connections that you wouldn’t be able to in text-centric/text-driven research. Maybe it is because to make/remake, you need a different kind of data than when you are only reading about how something is made to know without desire or need to reproduce it.

Art as research also means hours and days of simply making, without any palpable insights or breakthroughs. Many times, it leads to insights that are only meaningful and significant to you yourself. And that is ok. As Aida powerfully says, “The primary audience and beneficiary of a work is the author themselves, the person who creates the work.”

Asel


I define myself as an artist and researcher rather than an “artistic researcher”. I do not remove the ‘and’ between the two words—art and research—to keep the equal importance of both. Art is an inquiry. It is an open-ended journey, on which one embarks in search, if not for definite answers, then revelations, consolation, and connections. An artistic inquiry differs from scientific research in that it does not proceed along the “hypothesis-experiment-conclusion” scheme. It does not start with a hypothesis but rather with an urge, a stubborn yet unshaped idea that demands exploration.

Kokonja


Art is a language, an alchemy. It is a form to create the image of the soul’s experience, to open up hidden patterns. The process of creating each new piece is a path of research about  being in this body, in this time in history, in times of our own histories inhabiting places and circumstances, feelings and emotions, existing in this galaxy with the media that allows us to convey all of the mentioned above. Perhaps it is something like this, though I'm not entirely sure.


Aida


By refraining from labeling myself as an artist or categorizing my works outside of architecture as artworks, I think I am trying to keep my practices in a free, wild, unpolished spirit. For me, everything is research - self-exploration, exploration of life, examination of current states, experience of the shared reality we inhabit. I’m uncertain whether the things I do can or should be labeled as art-based research or research-based art. But, they are research-based practices that somehow also connect to the works of other people and I am just happy to do my small experiments and re-searchings, while also finding out about their connectedness to other people and their works.
 

Anna


I have long realized that the curiosity and love that underlie my work, serving as its driving force and fire, are not confined to academia. Rather, an academic text is just one form that the fruits of my labor can take, and the academic world is just one audience to which they can be presented. The same thoughts, discoveries, materials, and found connections can work through other mediums, from plays to poems and whatever else. I see a common root in them that is a pure form of attention to something and a creative state of mind. In general, I believe that good research is indeed a pure form of art, and I am moving in that direction. I also think that it works in the opposite direction too: art is a form of research (it's important to note that research and academia are not the same). Participating in this project was a liberating experience for me, although it also raised new questions related to my research.
 

Lena


The concept of Art as Research, in my perspective, warrants a closer examination while keeping the nature of open-endedness and aesthetic impact. On one hand, art offers a subjective and deeply personal approach, often occupying the ambiguous space between the realms of imagination and reality. In doing so, it harnesses its capacity for storytelling and wields the ability to influence broad audiences through immersive experiences that seamlessly blend aesthetics and narratives. Research, on the other hand, in its traditional sense, entails a process of "re-searching" or retracing steps back to the origin of an argument, substantiated by factual evidence, witnesses, and established protocols that underpin the entire endeavor. By amalgamating these two facets, Art as Research allows for profound investigative work accompanied by potent modes of communicating findings driven by its aspiration to capture untold stories, unveil concealed corners of history, convey messages derived from ancestral wisdom and forgotten branches of the family tree contemplate imagined futures, and much more.

For me, art as research has also a liberating potential. Given my deep commitment to academic research and its contribution to our understanding of complex issues, I was surprised to find certain pressing topics remained unaddressed and hard to discuss in academic settings. Similarly, within the artistic field, sensitive themes related to the violent factors of culture(s), identity, tradition(s), and religion(s) were often deemed off-limits. The concept of Art as Research, in this regard, seems to offer a unique platform for meaningful dialogues on contemporary issues by combining verifiable research findings with personal narratives infused with emotions and experiences. This is precisely because this approach allows blending personal narratives with factual materials and foster discussions on sensitive topics like reevaluating traditional practices, broadening ecological perspectives, exploring multispecies relationships, and delving into intergenerational narratives that I believe are urgent for aligning our values and working towards compassionate and sustainable future.

 


Dana


The creative process can begin with a question and develop into a search. Art itself has the potential to open up a significant discourse or become an elaborate statement that can complement research. I like the idea of art-as-research as it allows us to explore and think not only academically, but also through expanding our possibilities and experimenting with art. I hope my work will go further along this path.

On Groupwork and Shared spaces

Asel


In this group, many of us come from Central Asia but are based in different countries, such as the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Austria, and the United States. For me, gathering once in a while to think together means staying connected to home. We find many common interests in our practices, so it is mutually enriching to discuss ideas and share concerns. Being a part of the group also helps to remember that your voice is not just the voice of one crying out in the wilderness rather it is the voice of many who engage in a dialogue, a polyphony, a conversation (ideally, over milk tea and baursaks).

Alexandra

I am nurturing from connections, discussions, and interactions we engage in within the group. Collective work is an exchange of ideas and work-in-progress, but it is also about the delicate, intricate, and beautiful relationships we build. I find myself learning from the process as much as I enjoy it.

 


Aida


For years, in my academic and professional journey, I was raised in the environment of architecture/design critiques with specific relationships established in the field. I realize now that I was always “thirsty” for more sensitive, kind, and collective approaches in the working process. I was searching for, and tried to create such spaces with my friends or people with whom we, during those attempts, become friends. I am happy and grateful to join the CA research group with Alya’s invitation, as it has become one of those places for me. I find meaning in being near to, learning from, in conversation with and working alongside my Central Asian people. It also is very important for me to be part of spaces, practices, and dialogues created for and by womxn. I have and still continue learning from our collective work and through it, I am defining more precisely how, and with whom, I want to work and communicate, as well as what I want to accomplish.

Kokonja


While holding a more passive role in the group, I am happy and proud to be here.

 


Dana


One of the things that I like about people is when they understand themselves as a part of society and communities, and when they are willing to work together to make something better/different. Collective work can have many forms, and be joyful and insightful but also challenging and involve extensive communication. However, uniting under a common purpose with people who share similar values is what I appreciate and try to cherish.

Lena


As both an artist and a global citizen, I am intrigued by the potential for collective learning about intricate issues, and group work represents the best means to engage with the world from a multitude of existing and equally valuable perspectives. I have great faith in the power of playful acts of improvisation and advocate for collaborative endeavors rooted in mutual aid. Indeed, a group setting serves as an exceptionally fertile ground for these endeavors.


Within the CA Group, through a collective-based approach to discussions on topics that are often challenging but profoundly important, I believe we’ve built ourselves a nurturing environment where we can feel heard. This is of utmost importance to me. In a broader context, I have observed that groupwork fosters a more dynamic and creative environment, with the potential to generate a politically-charged force that instills hope and encourages proactive action toward the causes that matter to us as a community of human and non-human agents. This is the foundation upon which activists, community workers, mutual-aid-driven communities, and other coalitions are built, making groupwork a significant step toward assuming an active citizen position, which then could extend even further.

 


Anna


Alya's invitation to participate in this collaborative project was so incredibly valuable to me as I wanted to overcome the limits of purely academic work. It was the kind of step that was scary to take alone but in the company of wonderful artists from Central Asia, it became interesting, engaging, and not at all frightening. In my experience, this process was filled with respect and mutual listening. Working in a group, in my view, is the only way to truly see and hear the experiences, perspectives, and histories of others. Collaborative work is the most valuable form of interaction, the path to being able to understand, and, to me, it is always the foundation of any relationship. When we do something together, it means we are entering into a relationship. Something delicate and valuable has formed between us, and I want to cherish and cultivate it.
 

Aisha


This group gave me access to perspectives, ideas, knowledges, that weren’t available to me on my own. Most importantly, for the duration of the project and now beyond it too, our group has gifted me with a community – the brilliant artists and researchers in this space are my people, my audience, humans I want to be in conversation with and do my work with and for. Thinking of what I want from a group, I would say – more of the same, and also more collective meaning-/knowledge-making. What could we do as a group/collective that we absolutely and qualitatively couldn’t do individually?

Suture

05 May 2023

Weaving Collective

Meaning: a

Conversation

between Members

of Suture:

Reimagining

Ornament

Research Group

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