Iwona Blazwick

Iwona Blazwick. Between the Universal and the Personal 0

Interview by Anna Arutjunova

Iwona Blazwick heads the arguably best-known, non-commercial contemporary art gallery in the world, Whitechapel Gallery, in London's East End.  Previously, she has worked as a curator at the contemporary art center, ICA, as well as at the Tate Modern, as part of Nicholas Serota's team. Blazwick can be safely called one of the world's leading art experts – last week the Financial Times placed her at the top of the list of the world's most influential women. As a jury member, Blaswick flew to Moscow to present the Kandinsky Prize.

What are your impressions about the shortlisted projects?

There was a very eclectic span of work and it was interesting to see how people are engaged with both personal and political subjects. I did feel that there was a connection with the social sphere. It was interesting that in this particular time, people felt that they could use art without being didactic. You could see, throughout different bodies of work, the concerns of artists about the loss of public spaces or the difficulties of certain communities.

The prize-winning work of Yuri Albert is based on the voting process and gains a certain additional meaning in terms of the current political context in Russia. Does art have to be political?

I think art is always political, but it's not that it is about politics. A work such as Yuri Albert's, which he made two years ago and which, of course, has been preceded by Hans Haake's 1970 work, MoMA Poll, is part of the continuity. It happens to be a good work because it keeps being relevant -  whatever happens in the social sphere around it, it somehow seems to make sense. And this is its strength — it doesn't just become defined by illustrating the moment or an ideology, it's open and can keep meaning new things. And this is why I think it is a successful work of art.

And how visible is Russian contemporary art on the international scene today?

There is big interest in what is happening in Eastern Europe and Russia, but it has been dominated by only a few people — Boris Mikhailov or Ilya Kabakov, for example. But through galleries, like Calvert 22 in London, we've come to see new art works from a new generation. The art world has become much more global and today it's more difficult to be heard above the great clamor of different voices. The horizons of the art world are very broad and it is likely that we will look at the artist from Morocco or Lebanon as well as the one from Russia and Korea. Now it's much more competitive.

Iwona Blazwick together with other jury members of the Kandinsky Prize

But do you think that globalization in art is a positive process? 

Everything is always culturally specific. There are big trends and sometimes you can see works that don't have distinguishing features. A lot of works are based on subjectivity and personal stories – it's been ten years since this mode of a diaristic approach has gained momentum. I'm not so interested in it anymore, but shared influences and tendencies are inevitable, because artists are keen to see each others' work. What makes a work of art very specific is a combination of individual talent and cultural specificity that creates something that transcends both. For example, everybody can relate to Kabakov's work, and yet he comes from soviet times. He keeps on creating scenarios that draw on his personal experience, but have universal meaning.

What other artists fit into this vision?

At the moment, we're showing the Polish artist, Wilhelm Sasnal. He comes from Krakow and is very interested in seeing how someone can find themselves expressing social trauma. There are two places for tourists to go from Krakow — the Salt Mines and Auschwitz. Sasnal doesn't deny where he comes from in his paintings, but at the same time, he is looking at his son, his studio, his cat or the news over the internet. And thus, he's global, personal and historical at the same time. >>