Interview with Kirill Preobraschenski, 10.07.2019

See also: Piazzetta Moscow

The Russian video artist Kirill Preobraschenski worked on the Piazzetta Moscow and is now a professor at the Rodchenko Art School in Moscow.

Interviewer: Thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed for our project on Van Gogh TV. Let’s start with how you met these people. I think it was particularly Mike Hentz who was your first contact there. So how did that come about?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Well, it’s kind of long story. I have heard of these people when they made a big trip to eastern Europe. I think it was more or less their research date and we met shortly in Moscow, but we didn’t really communicate that much. Then, one of my friends who were the directors of experimental cinema told me that the group Van Gogh TV invited them to the Summerfest on Amsterdam but they can’t go, and they were occupied with that other stuff and they said maybe you go because you are much more in video and that were people from the more experimental film thing. I say, I don’t know maybe. One day I just phone to these people and ask them if they are ready to meet me if I come to Amsterdam and I came to Amsterdam from Germany where I partly live by that time. I think it was the first project of the Van Gogh TV which was somehow transmitted. It was one week…

Interviewer: In what year was that? Sorry for interrupting, what year was that?

Kirill Preobraschenski: I think it was maybe 90. I was in the frame of Summerfest in Amsterdam. I don’t remember particular what was the name of the project, but we were in the big pavilion and my part… When I came they asked me what I can do, and I said that I can film during the day on the themes which were somehow connected to the theme of the transmission. I was hanging around in Amsterdam getting some material and immediately editing it in small video art jingles and gave to them exactly this even the same day. These small videos were the part of the transmission. That’s how we met and then we became friends and I often invited Carl and Mike to Moscow. They stayed in my place. We made a lot of contacts in Moscow and I was creating the exhibition of Mike Hentz in Moscow in COA gallery and then next big collaboration was in the… I think it was 91 and it was Ars Electronica and it was the project which was called Hotel Pompino where I was also making thematic video jingles and I was one of the main live camera man of this project. Well, we met quite often in the Europe or in Moscow. We collaborated also in the conferences on the university TV and I made a lot of contacts, so these people in Moscow and Russia and when the project Piazza virtuale was clear that it will be possible Mike introduced me to the concept of the Piazzetta and I started to look for the possibilities how to organise Piazzetta for Moscow and that was big adventure.

Interviewer: Before we talk about that let’s just go back one step. You said that these members of parallel cinema couldn’t go to this event that you attended in Amsterdam but that was in 1990 so I would think at this time it must be a big deal for a Russian artist to be invited to western Europe. How was your reaction to that? Was it the big deal or how do you remember that?

Kirill Preobraschenski: The leaders of parallel cinema from St Petersburg and Moscow and some other people became very well-known and they represented a lot of the retrospectives and some of them were created by me also in Western Europe and America. For them they were really busy with other stuff.

Interviewer: Western Europe already? Was that also a way for you to leave Russia?

Kirill Preobraschenski: No. It wasn’t the first time. I was preparing the big retrospective of parallel cinema together with the early Russian film in Kassel, it was called “The last and latest” and that was a big project for me, so I already started to get abroad and also these authors of parallel cinema were getting abroad already quite often. They had big retrospective in America in New York and so on and so on. That was the deal. They said me that we are by now occupied with some other projects so maybe you go and we were big friends and there were one team so it was not big matter who will go but because I was more involved in video but not in film they said that because it’s connected with video art and TV art maybe it will be more interesting for you…

Interviewer: The reason I’m asking you about this is because some of the Piazzettas like Riga for example for them it was very important. For them it was like this gateway to the world. It was like their little way out of their isolation. So, you would say in Moscow this was not so important?

Kirill Preobraschenski: I would say it differently because I also participated in preparing Piazzetta Riga and the difference was that in Piazzetta Riga it was not by that time artists who were involved in preparation of this Piazzetta. You understand?

Interviewer: Yes.

Kirill Preobraschenski: It was not the people who were recognised as the authors of, I don’t know, painters or video art. It was young people as I remember Baiba Ripa and her friend and they were just young people who were I would say enthusiasts of new technology and new ways of creativity. Maybe that was the difference between Riga and Moscow people because in Moscow Van Gogh TV as a group has contacted the artists who were already I would say somehow established in Russian underground and then they started to represent their words in Europe and America. That was from my point of view different but of course for me it was also a big possibility to see the different medium because I was more concentrated on the narrative video art. Experimental but narrative, not formal. It was partly documentary, party mockumentary and for me it was the door to another medium which was the early media and TV art I would say so.

Interviewer: Can you talk a little bit more about why that was interesting to you, why were you fascinated by that, what was your response when they told you we want to do a television project at Documenta.

Kirill Preobraschenski: I think to say honestly these people, this group inspired me as artists and personality. They told me and showed me the documentation of their work which was connected with Minus Delta T performances, with performances which were made by Mike Hentz with the performances which were made with the group of Minus Delta T. As a group of performers they told me about the stone project and I found it that the roots of their ideas, of their performances were somehow very close to the discourse of Moscow conceptualism. Moscow conceptualism was the dominating style or discourse of that contemporary art of that art and of course it inspired me a lot. Their discursive and poetical and metaphorical sign of their art which was represented by Mike and Karel was somehow to Moscow conceptualism I had the theme for understanding it, but I was inspired by the different mediums. Like different kind of freedom of medium and freedom of expression of their idea but it was very close to my point of view what for example made the group which was called Collective Action in Moscow lead by Andrei Monastyrski. That was kind of the bridge which made them understandable from one point of view and from the other point of view I was younger than the rest of the Moscow conceptualism. I was part of the new wave or punk wave scene in Moscow so the expression and the language, the visual language of the Van Gogh TV and Minus Delta T was somehow more actual for me or more touching for me.

Interviewer: Mike said it was very difficult to set something up in Moscow. He said there was lots of conflicts between different artists and between different art groups and it took a very long time to convince them to participate them together. Is that also how you remember it?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Well, the difficulties had two basic condiments. I would say that the main difficulty was of course to organise it technically because we were researching like wild dogs and it was the time when everything was open. We could connect to high level businessman, high level scientist, high level TV producer. Everybody said to us well it’s very interesting what you are trying to do but nobody really understood what it was in fact. We were for example communicating with people from the space agency about maybe use some Russian communication satellites which will transmit the data from Moscow to Germany or we were trying to do it in different ways. That was the main problem and that was the main adventure. Through this research we not meet only the artistic circle who always has their own and small gangs for us in congruent relationship to each other. But we had vertical not only horizontal in art world communication. We had vertical communication to different fields of the society like business, scientist, special service because it was connected with space, it was connected with communication, it was connected with how to say, state secrets.

Interviewer: What did you end up doing technically? How did you connect your picture phone to the net?

Kirill Preobraschenski: It was very funny because we were trying to do it with different ways. Finally, I will not tell you the whole story because there was some interesting proposition on the way, but they never really worked out. Finally, through some connection of representatives of Philips company, we understood that Philips company was equipping I would say some secret studio in Moscow. I say that it was secret and it’s not a joke because it was in the house with normal apartment just on the first floor and the entry to it was looking like the entry to normal flat, normal apartment. Philips was equipping the studio with that technique. I don’t know what was the purpose of this studio.

Interviewer: You never found out?

Kirill Preobraschenski: I never found out. It’s like in my fantasies I can only, how to say, make the proposition. I don’t know, maybe it was the urgent governmental communication. Maybe it was just made for tests, but this connection was over the satellite. It was taking the analogue data from the live cameras in this apartment, in this place. Then, it was sent to Russian satellite, somehow coded and then it was going down I think in East Germany, probably in East Berlin. Then, in East Berlin or Berlin by this time it was the data, the analogue data – excuse me for this expression was unpacked. And then it was transmitted through territory of Germany, already west Germany to Kassel with different types of cable. That is more or less was the scheme. Because the data, the analogue signal was send through satellite and then on the earth it was unpacked and then coded and transcoded through different lines few times so the signal took quite long time to get to Kassel and back. So, we had this strange effect of I would stall the satellite echo, satellite feedback. It was coming back to us maybe one or two seconds later which is a lot of time.

Interviewer: All these technical problems you are talking about was that the reason why there were only three Piazzettas, three shows from Moscow?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Yeah.

Interviewer: Alright, so talking about the…

Kirill Preobraschenski: We had to change our plans because first we thought the Piazzettas will stay longer — a week or the months, I don’t know but it would be somehow permanent date. When the concept changed and this people to who we were connected who managed for us this secret studio they said you have three days and during three days you have, I don’t know – I don’t remember exactly, one hour or one hour and a half each day. We understood that we had to somehow curate these meetings and make the theme for these three meetings conceptually. The themes of these three meetings were the art and money, the art and power and the third was more formulated somehow how the artists live, which we thought was interesting to discuss because the context of Russian artists or eastern European artists was completely different from the context of western artists. So, that’s why there were themes.

Interviewer: I wanted to ask about actually, why was there this strong focus on the art world? I mean it was a program that was shown to a general audience, but you decided to talk specifically about art a lot. Why was that?

Kirill Preobraschenski: I think it was somehow the deal with the providers of the studio because it was a high level of some secret bureaucracy which could understand it only in the context of art.

Interviewer: I see.

Kirill Preobraschenski: That is general answer to your question because also the studio itself physically was very small. It was not the studio. It’s not the right even word. It was something like the TV conference room. So, it was the tables, and everybody has to be sat on this table. That’s why I also think that it was actually made for some secret communication. It looked like a mix of western technologies and probably bureaucratic style.

Interviewer: Yeah, go back to the people involved. I asked that before, how was the relationship between the different participants. Like I was saying Mike remembers that there were animosities and some people didn’t want to cooperate with other people and things like that. Do you remember that too?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Yeah, I remember that. When we was making this research of course our fundament from which we started was somehow the art surface. I was very young then. You should understand I was 21 by this time. We tried to find some people who would support this project but who already have some kind of institution. One of the institutions who decided to support us was the Centre for Contemporary Art Moscow and it was the director of the centre. It was already some kind of institution by this time. You should understand that each of these new fresh institutions which were built in first years, they had some kind of their lobby of their artist and friends with whom they would work. Do you understand it?

Interviewer: Yeah.

Kirill Preobraschenski: So, when I say Centre of Contemporary Art, it means that behind him was a group of his favourite artists and friends which he was represented and with whom he was collaborating usually. The other institutions which collaborated with us was Olga Sviblova who is now the director of Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow and by this time she had the association which was called the Art of the End of 20th Century. So, he gave us some direct contacts to some young politicians and businessman and scientists which were very helpful. Brings us nowhere by the end but we thought it was the possibility. Olga had kind of her own circle or her own lobby of the artists and friends with whom she was working. So, that’s why I think it was the… Mike has this… it was somehow divided things and the difficulties with communication. But at the end when we understood that we have the possibility to do it technically I invited everybody to participate. At least the people who are invited and who could come. Of course, they were all surprised. They were surprised by the technology, they were surprised by the satellite echo or feedback, by the technical difficulties. It was especially the first day, kind of mess. Everybody tried to represent himself and nobody really understood what means real time communication with the audience which is not only the artist. That was the difficulty of the context of the transmission itself. Everybody wanted to promote himself.

Interviewer: What do you think changed during these three days? Do you think they understood the concept better eventually and made more suitable content or do you think it was three days of self-promotion?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Well, I would say differently. People who were at the studio in Moscow they still couldn’t understand the size of the whole thing because they could not understand that it was really transmitted live on TV, so they had not this experience. I think it was not only organising or curating program it was the problem of no experience and I would say it was not only the problem of Piazzetta Moscow. As I can see now it was too experimental. I would say too advanced project. I would say it was the problem of the whole Piazza virtuale.

Interviewer: That’s interesting and of course you had no way of watching the show yourself. Only later you got tapes or something.

Kirill Preobraschenski: Yeah, of course we didn’t see it being transmitted.

Interviewer: I see. Okay. Now, if you think about it now what was the effect on you. Did it change your life in any way? Did it have any effect on your life in the long run?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Yeah, of course it was very strong, artistic, personal and professional communication. During this preparation of Piazzetta Moscow in frame of Piazza virtuale. I understood that we had to establish the new institution for new media art in Moscow. It was established and it had the development and somehow the result of the establishment and then the process of work of this institution and later institutions they inspired a lot of people, a lot of artists. It has absolutely long-term effect on my life and on my artist life, on my private life and on the life of some young artists in Moscow and Russia. I think this long-term effect was much more important than this particularly three days of the transmission, but this is somehow connected. It was magic. It was like dynamic which started some long-term process which is still going on.

Interviewer: Okay. What’s your own favourite memory of all of that?

Kirill Preobraschenski: Well, I don’t know. It’s complete experience. It was so shocking for me, young man to meet the people from different social agendas. It’s like during these few months of preparation and research I understood. I had something like type guides of what was happening in Russia by this time on the different levels of society, not only artistic — like business, power, whatever. Of course this three time transmission was obvious, but for me being in Kassel because I was there at the opening of Documenta. For me big aspiration was also how it looked lie, this container place on the side of the Museum and there’s big hopes and big enthusiasm. As I understood now big illusion of the theme of the group of the people who were working there in Kassel.

Interviewer: What were their…

Kirill Preobraschenski: 24 hours per day that was also inspiring and that was maybe for me now anonymous heroes of this whole history because this was people who were just providing the whole thing going on. It was the people who, I don’t know, serving coffee or just sitting in front of computers and taking turns at the whole technical architecture of the project is functioning in the right way. It’s absolutely complete picture. I don’t know. I can’t say there particular. It was very inspiring.

Interviewer: What were their illusions?

Kirill Preobraschenski: I call it illusions from today. It was the illusions of media art people that this instruments will blow up the audience mind and will bring them to more creativity because when it started to work, for example the first days of the Piazza virtuale people were just inspired and attracted by the fact of live communication which was on the TV. It was kind of 1000 times saying, “hello. Hello. Are you there? You are there. Oh, I see you. Yes, I see you too.” Also, when we had later on the live TV shows and Piazza virtuale was projected like live TV show based on the ideas of social interaction and this is the Piazzetta, this is the square, this is the space for everybody’s creativity. This artistic enthusiasm in the later years was used in more, I would say business models of TV like Big Brother or if you can compare it with the today, like YouTube is the mass of everything. It was the nice and very enthusiastic and very hopeful prototype but it brought the group Van Gogh TV itself nowhere.

Interviewer: Oh, you think so?

Kirill Preobraschenski: It had no strategical development. It was like very brave, very enthusiastic utopical monument to itself. Then, the small fragment of this utopical monuments were used in the commercial and the artistic activities but the protype had no development. That’s my point of view as I see it now. Because by this time we were of course very euphoric. We were very utopical.