CAF: March 2014 is a very exciting time for Slavs and Tatars. You have your first curatorial project with the Marker at Art Dubai, your first solo show with The Third Line and then of course the Love Me Love Me Not, which has moved from the Venice Biennale, to Baku, Azerbaijan. It has been a very busy year but let’s start with your show at The Third Line being your first solo in the Middle East – how important is this to you?
S&T: We’re very excited about the show: our work in the Emirates has developed rather organically: from participation in the esteemed Global Art Forum to our Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz at the 10th Sharjah Biennial, which was pivotal in our practice. Not to mention, we’ve been working with The Third Line since 2010, our first gallery in fact.
CAF: If someone is viewing your work for the first time and asks you to explain to them what it’s all about, what would you say?
S&T: Language, books and sacred hospitality.
CAF: How did Language Arts come about?
S&T: We have been looking at language politics for several years, but mostly in the former Soviet sphere. Since the beginning of 2013, we began to look at the Turkic languages outside this area, namely in Xinjiang, China and Turkey, the Eastern and Western frontiers, respectively, of the Turkic speaking world..
CAF: Does this body of work tie in with the work you have curated for the Marker at Art Dubai?
S&T: No, our work as artists looks to languages, religions, histories but rarely, if ever, to art per se. As curators, our remit is clear: we looked to art and artists as the source material, if not necessarily the end-point.
CAF: How does it feel now with your first curatorial debut at Art Dubai? Will you be looking to more curatorial roles in the future?
S&T: The context of the Gulf was a compelling reason for this assignment: it is safe to say we wouldn’t have accepted an invitation to curate art from Central Asia and the Caucasus for a venue in, say London or Berlin. All three regions– the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Gulf–share a relatively recent history of nation-building: 1960s and 1970s for much of the Gulf and the early 1990s for the former Soviet sphere. But perhaps more importantly, the Gulf has a compelling imperative to consider the role of these regions in the development of a pluralist, even modernist Islam. It can be argued that the Golden Age of Islam happened not in the Gulf or only in Baghdad or Cairo but equally in Bukhara, Khwarezm, and Samarqand where Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine, al-Beruni’s astronomy and al-Khwarezmi’s algebra appeared. Or more recently in Tashkent and Tbilisi, where the moderate modernists, such as the Jadidists, inaugurated crucial reforms in their education policy. Or Baku which provided half of the world’s petrol until World War II and the discovery of oil in the Middle East.
CAF: We’ve discussed education a number of times, and you are a mentor to one of the Caspian Arts Foundation students. What do you think is really missing for young artists within the region today, asides from the environment some of these students live in as well as the lack of access they have to information and high quality schools – what do you think is important for them to make the best use of what they have, especially when it comes to concepts and developing ideas for their work?
S&T: Despite the generous support of NGOs for exhibitions of artists from Central Asia, in retrospect too little thought was given to the necessity for educational programs, art-schools, etc. to provide a long-term platform of reflection, consideration and training for the next generation of artists. Both regions share an urgency of art-historical continuity, one where the knowledge and experience of a previous generation can be recognized and best leveraged for the next generation, especially given the historical and political ruptures of the past century.
CAF: Can you talk about your next project and what you will be doing after the Middle East / Central Asia tour?
S&T: Immediately after Dubai, we go to Ethiopia for research on the rich manuscript tradition within Eastern Orthodox Christianity, before the next installements of language politics for solo exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art, Kunsthalle Zurich, Arsenal, Białystok and GfZK in Leipzig.