Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Smuggle Tactics

The Bulgarian Collaborative: Joro Boro, Milena Deleva, Daniela Kostova/Mario Mohan, Vlada Tomova, Tushevs Aerials (Georgi and Nina Tushev) and Meglena Zapreva talk about their project Smuggle Tactics at QUEENS INTERNATIONAL 2013 


Meglena Zapreva (Imaginary International Community Garden Workshop): How it all started was that I received this open call from the Queens Museum of Art. Nina and Joro knew about it, I didn’t, but when it came to me, I thought I should call up Daniela because she might have some ideas and I’d love to write some programming for them but I didn’t know how to do it since I wasn’t sure what artists will be in it. So I called up Daniela and then we went on a tour in the museum. They have this new wing there which wasn’t open, it was under construction. The curator, Hitomi Iwasaki, was there. She explained what she was looking for and Daniela said right away, “That’s perfect for us.” Then Daniela invited everyone else. We were looking for a multidisciplinary, interesting project, so it’s not going to be just an installation, but it will involve a lot of participation from everyone who is visiting the museum.

Daniela Kostova: I think this was the initial idea of the curator as well, because when we went on the tour, they said something like, “Unleash your imagination, go wild,” and also, in the call it was explained that it’s not just about artistic projects, but they wanted to involve people from different walks of life, including musicians, literati, educators, architects, so we decided it was a perfect case for this kind of an interdisciplinary project. I think it all started with the concept of “up and down and all around”, with different perspectives.
Meglena: Because Nina and Joro’s project is so much about different perspectives of looking at things, we thought it would be great and then your project about the inside-out house…

Daniela: Again, a little bit of context, Queens Museum is one of the few museums dedicated to social practice and they really try to get the community involved not only within the museum but to connect it with everything that surrounds it, so the idea of doing something that is expanding on the construction side and creating a relationship between us, like a model of cooperation, and actually the collective came together because of this project, it’s not something we had done before.

Meglena: Bulgarian Collaborative is our official name.

Daniela: Also, at one of the presentations, Nina, Joro and Meglena were there, when we were presenting the project in public, Mario came as well, (for the record, he is not Bulgarian) and he presented his project. We talked after that and found out that our projects had a lot in common, and decided that we wanted to work together.

Meglena: Yes, he is the “smuggled” Bulgarian. But actually when we started working on the project and writing it up, Daniela sent me her description of whatever she was going to do, then Nina and Joro sent me their description, and so did Vlada, and I think at the very end Joro-Boro’s came in, so once I started reading it, I thought, “Smuggled music?! That’s just perfect! I can definitely wrap the whole thing around smuggling.” Then Daniela and I worked on the language so it would all fit together, and all the different projects and ideas started coming to a cohesive one. It’s not just about the events and happenings – there is also material, sort of documentation, that will remain in the museum from almost everything we are doing.

Joro-Boro: We chose the name “Smuggled Tactics” because tactics is something people employ to exploit weaknesses in the system, and in the beginning we were talking about perspectives, but we felt that tactics is much more manipulative in a way, also – much more functional, a little bit militaristic, also it has something to do with games, for example playing strategy games, so all of this shows our approach, and I think all the projects involved are going to use that, for instance building Nina and Joro’s drones definitely involves tactics. So tactics is the overarching project and it will take place in the flip house which is Dani’s project. Maybe we should also mention that actually, after the opening reception, the show will continue for about a month and the highlight of the show will be this flip house.

Daniela: About the house… I’ve worked with Joro-Boro before, on another house, the first one, which we made for an exhibition in Syracuse. It was a great project, so this time, based on what we saw with Meglena and on our conversations, I thought it would be great to capitalize on the reconstruction side, because what we saw there was a museum in flux – everything was open and under construction, there were a lot of materials, the empty space had a lot of potential. So I decided to use the materials found there and build sort of a house which would be an addition to the museum, an appendix, an expansion of it, if you want, and also to think about how to move this extra space out of the museum, how to connect the community, and then Mario came into play, he came up with an idea about how to move it and how to design the whole thing based on what we found there. The function of its space is to incorporate all the other projects.

Meglena: Originally we didn’t think that all the projects would be housed in the flip house but because the curator told us she was insistent on everything being cohesive and together, I think that only Nina and Joro’s projection is outside of it.

Nina Tushev: Two pieces of what we are doing are outside.

Meglena: Yes, everything else will take place inside.

Daniela: I honestly think it’s important for the curator to be part of the project to elevate the process above the result.

Mario: The main issue was to distribute all the artists and determine the space they get, so each wall is pretty much a different part of the exhibit, and also another part was figuring out a way to make it mobile, it’s such a big house that the space the museum has wouldn’t allow us to move the house out in the neighborhood, so we created these mobile shelves as a way for the book exchange to happen and also the temporality of the house – it’s made to look as if it’s able to be transported, even though we’re not transporting the whole house.

Daniela: But you could, if you wanted to.

Mario Mohan: Exactly.

Daniela: We’re working with the idea of shanty houses, like the ones in the favelas – if you go there, you can see that people live in these houses, so I think you can live anywhere and I think the idea of this house revolves around the idea of resources available to the immigrant community – people who go to a place and create a living space based on what they find.

Joro-Boro: These challenges are part of the project – you have to revise it as you go.

Daniela: There were also a lot of institutional limitations because we are not out in the street building something…

Milena Deleva (Smuggled Gobbledygook): About the Book Exchange project – there are two parts – the book exchange and a literary flashmob – the idea has to do with the homogeneous reading culture in America, Queens is one of the boroughs where more than 130 languages are spoken, so I’m going to reach out to these communities and hopefully we will get between five and ten languages – ten will be enough to create a Babylonian Tower, but the thing is that all these languages spoken here will be allowed and English will be kind of an adopted language – it will be allowed only in translation, for example from Turkish, Spanish, Bulgarian, Korean and so on. In a way this is a revenge on the mono reading culture, a tactic. I really like the idea of tactics because it gives us a lot of freedom, for example, we came up with the idea that we can do a flashmob on one of the subway lines here, for instance connecting Radiator which is our headquarters, to the museums: we’ll get on the train, do a flashmob on the subway, then we can video record it, upload it on the Internet, and it will always remain as a language noise which makes sense for the project. So it’s very simple – to challenge this mono-reading culture.

Georgi /Joro/ Tushev: You are turning it inside-out – the exterior moves to the inside, for example our video makes more sense inside the walls, but it’s taking place outside.

Daniela: That’s exactly what the concept of the Flip House implies.                 

Joro (Build Your Own Drone Workshop and Maiden Flight Demo): Our project has two parts – the first one is a video installation displaying aerial footage recorded over the past year and a half on the walls in the house, and the other part – we will basically teach people how to build drones.

Nina (Build Your Own Drone Workshop and Maiden Flight Demo): The video installation is a TV which is going to be placed on a pedestal inside the house, against the back wall, so you can see it through the door and if it's open, you can also see it.

Daniela: You can see it through the window too.

Nina: Yeah, maybe we'll position it so you can also see it through the window.

Joro-Boro: Are you going to put a roof on it?

Daniela: There isn't going to be a roof because there is a second floor so you can see it from above.

Joro: Also, if someone asks us why drones, it's because they’re something new, also something interesting I heard the other day – my friend mentioned the term drone art, and I said, oh yes, I know, drawn art, but he explained that it is art which fulfills the needs of the curator.   

Nina: And we're also going to have another piece which is a screening on a big screen (Queens Museum has a theater), so hopefully we'll get to do a screening there. The video is a compilation of different footage we've recorded around the world. The screening we're going to do in the house will show Queens and New York City.  

Joro: About the relationship between our project and Queens: Corona Park is a historically rich place.

Nina: The World Fair was there, back in the 60's, and it was about what the future was going to look like, so we felt that it's really appropriate that we chose that same location.

Joro: Wasn't the Fair in the 30's?

Nina: I think there were two – one in the 30's and another one in the 60's. Futurama was the name of the pavilion. Tony Stark is also a connection. Also, I work for the UN and its first seat, its first location, was actually there. One other thing about the project is that we actually fly the drones with virtual reality goggles, which is great, I love that part of the project, you can experience actually flying the drone.

Meglena: There were many reincarnations and ideas of my part of the project, but the kernel event is the fact that you can’t import any live plants or seeds from outside the US which always bugs me, so the idea was that there is always something that you find in another country or somewhere where you grew up in the case of immigrants which is really impossible to find here in the US, and for me these are round fleshy peppers (камби). I thought, well, I can never find this particular kind of pepper here, these were some of the ideas going through my mind when I was thinking about smuggling, and I thought that if I had to smuggle something into the US, it would definitely be fruit and vegetables. So basically what we are going to do on one of the walls is I am going to take one of the stills from Tushev’s film which is going to be shown inside the house and we are going to use that still to make up these fake custom forms which the people will fill out and instead of actually describing what they’re trying to smuggle, they are going to draw it. In a way, the idea was that if you actually could bring all these plants into the country and plant them in the park outside, this is going to be what it would look like. So it’s a project about what Corona Park would look like if it was a big community garden, and that’s why it’s called Imaginary International Community Garden. I’ve had many conversations with people who say for example, oh, if only I could find these kinds of spices because in India we have fresh leaves of whatever plant, so I want them to draw it so we can have a documentation of their memories.

Joro-Boro: We’re all doing export-import, or, as we say in Bulgaria, alash-verish (алъш-вериш).

Nina: This could be the name of your next project: Imp-Ex, haha.   

Joro-Boro: Anyway, I’m doing a party. I was invited to do a party because Daniela and I have worked before, actually that’s how we first met – she came to Mehanata and decided to make a documentary about it, and the rest is history. We’ve been doing parties ever since. This time however, since it needed to be expanded into a project, and there were already so many people on board, there was no need to do a whole new art project, so it was much easier to just organize the infrastructure of the party – what goes into preparing it on my side. Because usually people think that when you’re a DJ, you just show up and make great money for just one hour, but it really takes some time, we have to collect the music, go through it, prepare it, organize it, etc., so my project is basically that, but, instead of doing it in my bedroom, this time I’ll be doing it at the Museum. Basically, the audience coming to the House that day, since everyone has a phone these days, and most people have music on it, so I will offer them a charging station in exchange for them giving me one piece of their music. It needs to be local, not necessarily from their place of birth, but it has to be local-specific, for example if it’s from Chicago, it has to be juke, it can’t be a pop song that can be found anywhere. Ideally, by the end of the day I will have a bunch of files that I can just process, organize and do a 1-hour mix. During the mix I’ll be mixing them up because import-export is never a pure signal, there is always some kind of noise getting in the way, so I’ll take advantage of the fact that we’re going to be in a Museum and there are going to be weird moments when it’s going to be just noisy.

A cellphone is a very personal thing, so if the people don’t want to give me access to it, I’ll have a backup – I’ll buy a bunch of CD’s from local vendors around Queens, with different types of music, which I’ve been doing for years anyway.

Meglena: Is it ethnic music or just contemporary?

Joro-Boro: It is ethnic basically, I’ll actually go to a street in Queens with a lot of Indian stores. I know there is a whole scene of people in Europe and the US doing that, it’s called global bass. There are a lot of DJ’s specializing in that – they take local music genres and make them popular, famous and international.

Daniela: But the original concept was to reverse the one-way flow of Western music.

Joro-Boro: That’s still the concept – it’s the smuggling part. Basically, American culture has been exported around the world as a mom-culture, so if you go to Bulgaria, pop music sounds like American pop set in Bulgaria, so the idea is to take other types of music and play them in a sanctioned place like the Queens Museum. This way, if you have a Romanian listening to manelle, they can be like, oh, or maybe uh. If you hear Radka Piratka in Queens Museum, maybe a lot of Bulgarians will be shocked – we have ambivalent attitude to chalga.

Nina: You’re assuming there are going to be other Bulgarians in the Museum, that’s good.

Joro-Boro: I don’t know what to expect. 

Don't forget to check out the Bulgarian Women's Choir ritual greeting and blessing at Queens Museum - A!Capella!Blessing!

For a complete list of the events during the Queens Museum Reopening celebration visit:

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