laupäev, aprill 23, 2011

MoKS 10 years!

Evelyn Müürsepp and John Grzinich, February 2011, opening of wholly renovated MoKS!

MoKS - Center for Art and Social Practice has made it to its 10th year of existence, so Artishok is glad to send its congratulations (find more at! Maarin Murky made interview with Evelyn Müürsepp and John Grzinich, which you can read below. Estonian translated version of this interview appeared in cultural weekly Sirp and can be read here:

Maarin Murky: To start with - what have been key moments in MoKS 10 years of activities for you personally?
Evelyn Müürsepp: of course starting off MoKS, after I went to be an AIR in Loviisa, Finland. Jouni Jäppinen was great help to me when I wanted to do something similar here afterwards and in the first year of MoKS he advised me quite a lot. At this time I didn't even know what an NGO was and how to organize things etc.

MM: Did you consult with someone from Estonia on how to initiate something like that?

EM: In the beginning we visited Kütiorg and Peeter Laurits together with Maia Möller. But this was more like mapping, we didn't have such tight communication with Laurits as with Jouni.

John Grzinich: For Jouni it was maybe easier also to understand the experience of someone who is visiting Estonia from abroad. This kind of import and export is actually one thing that we try to push here – Evelyn left Loviisa with an idea and people come to MoKS and leave with same idea of creating something on their own.

MM: Do you know how many things over the years that have grown out from visitors experiences at MoKS, something new that has got its inspiration from here?

EM: MoKS AIR 2004 Antonio della Marina got more involved with Topolo (Italy) making attempt to initiate residency program there as well, couple of Tampere artists initiated Hirvitalo after their stay at MoKS in 2004. I would really like to think that MoKS has influenced these artists to initiate and become involved with mentioned projects.

JG: After „Pushing the Medium“, Paolo Raposo went back to Portugal and that helped get the whole Nodar thing started. Mamoru Tsukada is now responsible for the Tokyo City residency in Berlin... So there are actually plenty of things.

EM: Going back to my personal key moments in MoKS history, another important one for me was when Macedonian artists OPA came for the residency in 2003. They were first guest artists here for longer time (3 months) and helped start this direction of social engagement. John joining the MoKS was very critical point, because my cooperation with Maia Möller was fading away at this time and John came in at the right moment with fresh ideas and contacts. Electing the new board was other key moment - feeling more confident as an organization, having new members etc. It was step away from very personal connections that characterized MoKS as an organization at the beginning, so getting a new board was almost like moving from a youthful phase into a more mature phase.

JG: These people of new board came because of MoKS itself, not because of personal friendships. Its not positive or negative difference between old and new board, but as organization it showed now some more maturity.

MM: John, what have been your personal key moments in MoKS history?

JG: There was moment in Postsohvkoz 4 where it became clear that we were capable of functioning as team, to produce the event. The third Postsohvkoz was also good, but then I had the feeling that some friends just came to hang out and not produce work, but with fourth we were able to move it to next level. But otherwise there are actually lots of small things, like coming to MÄRZ and seeing you [Maarin] doing your own project there... Its really visiting people, visiting projects that have grown out of MoKS. Going to „Pushing the Medium“ symposium to Italy and Portugal, seeing how people are taking the ideas and experiences from MoKS seriously and developing them further to another way.

MM: what kind of chance MoKS has wanted to create?

JG: it definitely affects people, you can see it from the artists who visit. It has at least shifted awareness of someones personal impact and responsibility. Again, it doesn't have to be major thing.

EM: The fact of founding of MoKS is itself proposal for change. Proposal for creatives to undertake an attempt to create its structure in society and experience what kind of influence can this structure have on society.

MM: Who has been MoKS audience, who are coming? – is it local people, international artists, Estonian art world etc?

EM: We create our own audience. It's participatory practice, not a showcase. Everyone can participate freely.

JG: That's a really difficult question. Besides the obvious – people who are visiting or participating in workshops etc – the audience is always people you don't see or know personally, an invisible potential of interested participants. The moment they get involved, they are not an audience anymore. You have to look at specific cases also. The „Food Club“ is good example because the audience is anyone who shares a common interest about food and cooking. But the long term audience of the „Food Club“ are the people of Mooste, because eventually a kitchen or cafe could grow out of this and the wider public would benefit. Or for „Helikoosolek“ - the audience is anyone who has an interest in sound and wants to share ideas. For the Artist Residency it seems that the audience is people who are working in very international waters. You can see this from people who apply – they are born in one country, they studied in another and now they live in third. We don't target much of any specific audience. Its similar to fishing, we just put information out there and we what happens. We always catch something.

MM: For me it seemed that the beginning idea was to deal more with local community, Mooste people. But at some point it changed and it became more about artists who visited the place, creating as you Evelyn said – we are our own audience-type of things. For me it correlated also to shifts of concepts between Postsohvkoz and AVAMAA - first was more about dealing with Mooste as a site and other is mainly doing just workshops and collaborations between artists, without direct involvement to Mooste.

EM: I have never seen MoKS audience as people in the village. MoKS is like bridge between local and global. Yes, it is in a village, but both sides have always been important, the local community and the outside visitors.

JG: Its the same with concept of Topolo; its called Topolo Station, it`s in the middle of nowhere, a much more remote village than Mooste. But idea was always that people come through, so they started a station where the travelers stop and do something. Its good model, because for a station it doesn't matter are these local or international people, but just those who pass through, some stay londer than others. If you look at the overall picture of MoKS, the audience constantly changes, so even if it was more local at some point, we had more connection with some local kids or with some people, lot of the people with whom we worked over the years, are not here anymore. So its not so fixed.

MM: John, you have also mentioned that what has been mostly produced in MoKS, is immaterial (art). Usually its quite common tactics for site-specific art practices still to deal with more permanent object kinds of art, creating public art through sculptures etc. In Mooste only Marisa Jahn's wall mural has survived all the years, other things have disappeared quiet shorty after being made.

JG: It has been partly conscious choice, because we decided not to be discipline based - like certain residencies are for sculpture, ceramics, textiles etc. Because we never had lots of space and special facilities, we were always operating on highest level of efficiency. There haven't been many objects produced permanently for Mooste because we simply didn't have space to produce them. But whole idea of artistic production has become anyway more and more immaterial.

EM: I think some kind of sculpture park is very widely spread idea and it was probably also expected from us too. We decided that we don't want that, mostly because we wanted to show what else could also be considered as art.

JG: We saw that there was real need for more immaterial things like social or sensory experiences. You can always go with materiality, like commissioning works or specific objects but when we started we found that people wanted social connections more than anything, so this gave us the way to go. Lots of art has been produced in isolation, totally outside of public sphere, in specific closed social groups, in the art world for example. That's fine, but it usually shows more the relationship between the artist and the object he or she creates, not their connection to a wider public. Since the 80s was very much market-oriented period, the 90s as response to that was more about processes and mediated experiences.

MM: One issue with the art practices that are concentrating on immaterial production, creating more processes, participation etc, still tend to produce hierarchies between artists who behave like anthropologists on a fieldwork trip and local people. Have you have sensed that in MoKS and how do you deal with it?

JG: We were aware of that from the beginning. This is where the anthropological interest came in (Maailmafilm Festival in Tartu) when we started to see how anthropologists work and we realized that we were very much confronting the same issues. Someone who comes temporarily, knows more etc. Its even more sensitive for us, because we don't leave, MoKS stays here and will get even more permanent. That's why we never require that artists to do something permanent in the village. Its more like really carefully deciding if the person is right for it and how much do you want to invest into this type of work and these type of connections. In the beginning we had these experiences that people got excited and promised something and then artists failed to do something. Sometimes its Estonians, sometimes its visiting artists who are not committed, but in the end actually its MoKS who has to take the responsibility for whatever happens.

EM: We are the interface to the village and to Estonia in general. When artists start here with their projects and start making contacts, they come to talk to us to discuss what would work and what not.

JG: Its also important - the understanding that this is all a process. Like immediately, if someone only stays for a month, we can already rule out any kind of deep collaboration with community, because we know from past experiences how much involvement it actually takes, how much time and energy etc. The other thing is that maybe there is a certain myth about this socially engaged practices. The examples which are used are quite large scale projects, big productions that take years of involvement etc. But actually social interaction mostly happens on the smallest human level of human communication. For example just the fact that local shop has adapted MoKS artists by buying in more fresh fruit – this kind of things. This isn't just a big thing that you could look at it and say that this is direct response to MoKS being here, but this is respnse in the local community. In that sense we are affecting local economy system as well. This is not something you engineer, plan or even decide. These are just side effects actually. So its not always about concrete visible objects, but about working out and building up complex relations. This is what communities are about, it isn't just a place where life is.

MM: MoKS is an artist run space – how have you personally dealt with both roles – managing MoKS and continuing your personal artistic practices?

JG: I think in a way we don't take more major or minor roles in this process than anyone else, its important to keep the level somewhat equal. At the same time we can't deny the fact that Evelyn, Siiri and I are taking up a huge responsibility. The main challenges are how to balance all the duties. With Postsohvkoz events for example we just crashed afterward and it took weeks to gather our energy again after each event. That era ended and we took a break in 2007 to do nothing during summer, and think about other possibilities of to structure the event, to distribute responsibilities. That peaked in the second AVAMAA in 2009 when there was practically no team, because everything was organized beforehand, then once it started, it just ran. I could give a workshop (Mutopia), and Evelyn could participate in a workshop. The only real responsibility was making food for everyone and Patrick McGinley was dealing with that, by having participants cooking themselves. So now we would like to keep all things under one roof, which correlates with that that one important thing have been sensitivity to want to keep the system open.

EM: Our aim is to try to not expand on the institutional and bureaucratic level. In that case we wouldn't be anymore artist run space.

MM: but where do you draw the line – when is there too much institutionalization?

EM: I think there is a point where responsibilities shift out to the hand of institution. Everyone who is involved looks at the institution as the only responsible structure. For me the ideal balance would be that each party or person takes responsibility, big or small. But its the same as with entering to relationship – you take responsibility for all your actions. Being here as an artist in residence, you are not just getting studio, all the services, assistants etc, you are also giving something back to organisation through your activities.

MM: You have both been mentioning that MoKS will constantly keep developing as an open organization. What exactly do you mean by this, how will you achive this? There are certain words that tend to repeat in those kind of initiatives as self-descriptions and I would like peek behind them a bit more.

EM: Its like taking time every morning to ask yourself what are you doing here. The organization is a collective effort of people gathering together to discuss these things.

JG: We've been discussing development plans and organizational strategies since 2004. The aim is not simply to grow in a linear way, you can always grow with more of everything. The intention was that whatever you do it still has to be relevant to something or somebody. Whatever someone puts in they must feel what they get back from this also. In larger institutions you can sometimes give input, but you rarely have the feeling that your work is part of overall development of institution. Maybe its just as simple as a quantity– involvement of more than 10 people might need more of an institutional structure. Its not a value- judgment, I just think size is sort of the key issue. Whoever is involved with MoKS, has to understand how the responsibilities should be distributed. We don't take responsibility away from an artist who visits. We think they should in fact take more responsibility, to take care of themselves, the house etc. Because otherwise what happens is that you need to expand and hire cleaning people or cook to take care of things for example. This is what starts to deconstruct the relations inside an organization. Of course Siiri Kolka is very new but somehow we have to be aware that she shouldn't only feel like she is obligated to certain duties, but she also helps creates what MoKS is. Its for us to let go even of our own idea because she can make something for herself here in MoKS.

MM: How easy it to explain MoKS way of functioning to artists who come for a residency or others with whom you cooperate? When you are selecting people from the pool of applications you can predict something about the person, but not all of course, how a person would fit here.

JG: (with the machine-like voice) It has always run perfectly.

EM: It really depends on the person. Some people need more reminding and some people get things really naturally. And you really have to be here and to be ready to explain the same things several times etc.

MM: Why it has always happened so that MoKS has had more connections abroad – in terms of artists visiting but also in terms of cooperation with other organizations? Have the steady cooperation with ERM and Y-Gallery, which are first of this kind from the Estonian scene, happened quite recently?

JG: I think Estonian artists would like to go abroad, as there is desire to see the world. Its like this in every country, where grass is always greener on the other side and things are always better somewhere else, more exotic. Lots of people are attracted to Estonia for the same reason. Estonian artists who have been visiting and organizations we have had contacts with – has been as fruitful as any other collaboration from abroad. In the end, when you get pass this first 5 minutes awkward introduction and distortions when you actually start working together there isn't much of a difference.

EM: As an artist I prefer also go somewhere abroad. I have my studio here, but I'd like to get away from my everyday problems etc. No one can catch me and I can really focus on what I want to do.

JG: The thing is when you are at MoKS, its not quite an Estonian space. When artists in Tallinn think of Mooste, they see it as an Estonian village. But I can guarantee you that five minutes after they arrive and meet somebody form Singapore, Australia or Latvia that image of where they are will disappear. You can easily find more of an international space at MoKS than you might at certain central cultural spaces. But its very difficult to communicate to those who have not visited.

MM: With whom you compare MoKS with – both from Estonia and abroad? What kind of organizations inspire you and have been role models in how to develop MoKS?

EM: my role models are mostly places I have been as an artist. Of course Loviisa in Finland; then Stanica in Žilina, Slovakia – really grass root organization changing this small town. Then residency in Akureyri, Iceland; Headlands Center for the Arts in California, US and bunch of smaller visits to different places too. But you can have role model, but place itself actually predicts everything. Its all about translating other experiences into your own context.

JG: I wanted to develop PostsohvkoZ more, because what I saw in Topolo (Italy). They were a very good model, because I always got something from it, I walked away with even more then I put in. I had been there three times before coming to Estonia and I saw that when you can come back to the same place you'll have different experience each time. That was indeed a direct model. Also my experiences in Slovenia with hEXPO, working with Marko Kosnik – where I became aware of deeper issues of post-socialist situations. Estonia and Slovenia are quite different, but at least some directions of what to look for or what to be aware of are quite similar.

MM: But with what initiatives from Estonia you feel companionship or stronger connection?

EM: At first we went to Kütiorg and its was other inspiration for me. MoKS is still growing and looking for its self, but not so much linearly, but through diversification of activities.

JG: Thinking bigger is a more linear progression, scale- and size wise. When we realized that we had the possibility to renovate the building and have more space we had to think what to do with it, maybe more educational projects, hosting more workshops and things like that.

MM: so the near future bring for MoKS...? And what kind of Moks do you dream of, lets say when we are making 20 year-interview?

JG: Pretty much the same but totally different.
EM: ten years is long time, but now I have for the first time experience in running an organization for ten years, so I know what this ten years actually mean. How long can it take for things to develop and what complexities to appear. In my dreams Moks in ten years is still autonomous self-organized unit, who is opened for co-operation with different initiatives (locals, similar creative grass root organizations in Estonia and abroad, creative people, schools etc). Moks is place in time and space where culture bubbles and blossoms in different forms – outcome is dependent in every inch raw material its made of. More concretely I see Moks as open academy, dynamic learning space, where people can change experiences. Its a constantly ongoing workshop, where different generations dare to communicate and open themselves.

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