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A Strong Desire Explores Body Politics
Russian wunderkind Aleksandr Blanar stages subculture in Berlin show...
Art Stuff 22 Aug 2018

Moscow based art producer Kate Savchenko met with curator Aleksandr Blanar to chat about his sprawling exhibition “A Strong Desire”, he co-curated with Justin Polera at PS120 in Berlin. The show is exploring sexual identity and subcultures in the context of a capitalist society. In the curatorial statement, Christina Gigliotti writes that the exhibition, on view through August 26, “sets out to challenge heteronormativity and toxic masculinity by presenting artworks that examine a kind of deterritorialization from this – through reevaluating power structures, slipping through the cracks of gender constructs, and for some, ultimately escaping the material body altogether through dreams, fantasy, and altered states of mind.”


1.     While planning an exhibition devoted to the queer agenda, why did you decide to explore it specifically from the aesthetic and capitalist angle?
We live in a capitalist society and it is important part of our lives, it is necessary to understand that our desires and lifestyle can be canned and sold back to us or even invented for us. Specially speaking about the subcultures – people need to or sometimes want to satisfy their society’s vision. To be part of the society we often pretend to be someone else. And in this exhibition we are looking at some stereotype images and trying to find answers to ourselves on what are our real desires.
2.     Your exhibition is full of emotionally and sexually charged works. What do you think are the feelings that it evokes within your visitors? For you, what would be an ideal feeling to leave the visitors with?
Many of the artworks explore the themes of sex, love and desires that disrupt the norm and give agenda to individuals typically marginalized. But while working on the exhibition “A Strong Desire” and then seeing it live, I have to say that sex was not the main theme of the show. It would rather be great if visitors get a feel of freedom, which for me is the main point of the exhibition. That you can be free, that you can be who you want to be. You can do something or do nothing and still it’s your lifestyle and it should be respected by everyone. We have a number of different artists at the show – from David Hockney and Tom of Finland to Daniel Topka and Dimitri Shabalin, and their practices are so different but they all are equal within the show, and should be so for our visitors. Yeas, I think the main feeling from our exhibition should be freedom – freedom from any stereotypes from expectations.
3.     The works at the show are a mixture of media, generations and geographies. How do you track the line that brings them all together?
We knew exactly what we want from our exhibition and how it should look like. We were choosing the works which meet the mood of our exhibition. And one of our aims was to have a diversity- artists from different countries, different age, different style. When you are speaking about sexual identity, society and stereotypes we would like to show as many opinions as we could.
4.     You worked together with a US-born co-curator Justin Polera. Could you tell more about your collaboration? How did you come up with the idea? Coming from such different backgrounds did you discover many differences or similarities between your visions of the subject matter?
I know Justin for a few years since we met at Art Basel. I was always impressed by his passion about contemporary art and deep knowledge of young artists. I was so much in love with PS120 opened by Justin this April in Berlin that at once offered him to hold an exhibition there together. When we started to discuss the theme and artists, Justin suggested to make a show about sexual identity whilst living under a capitalist regime. We found out that we had similar views from the beginning, as one of the first artists we both had in mind for this show was Tom of Finland. It was really easy to work together with Justin, from the selection of the artists and artworks to installation and opening night. Although we live in different countries but the art world has no borders, Justin in now based in Berlin, a city has amazing art scene, and I visit it as often as I can.
5.    As someone coming from a country where queer is oppressed you must feel an urgency to discuss a number of certain topics. Are there any of such questions that you did not raise at the current show and would still like to talk about ?
This time I didn’t have any goal to speak about the problems of queer community in Russia, but I am happy to represent it in our show. We have some zines from Schwules Museum in the exhibition, including one from 90s published in Saint-Petersburg, and we have some Russian artists featured as well. I would love to understand when this kind of exhibition could be possible in Russia. I would love to speak about our community which is oppressed now in Russia and try to convey the idea that everyone should be perceived equal.

Image: Courtesy of PS120

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