Interview with Vahida Ramujkic and Aviv Kruglanski
by Paulina Jeziorek (Bec Zmiana)
How you learnt the craft of embroidering?
Vahida: I must have been very small with my grand mother when I learned it. I cant remember. So, after when I started doing it grown up I had a feeling I knew it since ever.
Aviv: Embroidery is easy and you can learn it in 5 minutes. I learnt to knit and crochet from my mom. I was taking part in a lot of activist meetings and these activists can really talk a lot, so i was looking for something to do while in the meetings. that's when I asked my mom if she can teach me to crochet and to knit.
What kind of activist meeting? Your family Has activist background?
Aviv: (laughter) no. my family is anything but activist. I was living in Barcelona and was involved in this project Las Agencias. it was a group of people who were creating art in the context of activist network, organizing creative disobedience actions agains the World Bank among other things. since everything works on the basis of large general assemblies and concensus decision-making, the process involves a lot of sitting around and talking, which was frustrating for me. My mom came to visit one week-end (she lives in Tel-Aviv) and i realized that i absolutely need to learn to knit and crochet in order to do something while all the talking is going on. crocheting during these assemblies created a funny image and many times i taught people how to do it while we were going so in the end we were a group of people crocheting while the meeting was going on.
You actually have Polish origins. What are they?
My dad was born in Poland in the city of Lodz. After the second world war he moved, with his mother and his little brother to Tel-Aviv, which is where I was born.
Vahida, and you? Where are you actually from?
Well, this is what I would like to know as well :-).
In 2008, after 9 years of living in Spain, I was getting a Spanish passport and nationality, and in the same year happend that Serbian governmant was finally issuing Serbian passports and all the people were obliged to return their Yugoslav pasports in order to receive new Serbians. So, in the same year I technically stopped being Yugoslav and became Serbian and Spanish.
On one hand comming from a mixed marriage, prevented me to porperly fit into new Serbian concept of identity, and Spain I decided to leave soon after aqureing the citizenship.
But I have to recognise that this situation of being in between and not being able to declare belonging to certain nationality, resulted very benefitial to me and my work. It gave me greater perspective and unbiased approach towards different nationalities, their cultures and politics.
For example now I am working on a project "Disputed Histories", that is dealing with history text books issued in different parts of ex-Yugoslavia after and before conflicts. In the workshops I am organising one can track how political changes, pass from comunism to capitalism, from multinational to national principles was followed by reshaping identities of the citizens of new formed countries that now continue being in conflict among each other, but trough history books, media, etc. Apart from entering conflicts between themselves, all this new text-books, each from its own perspective are giving critical view towards the Yugoslav period, that before simply was never questionable. Instead of one 'truth', now we have multiple versions of 'truths' in the small area. Being optimistic we could say that this situation where truth finds itself in crisis, could mean that we are closer to it...
What is your attitude toward tradition?
Aviv: I see the dichotomy between tradition and innovation as a false one. I think you have to always see things with new eyes, see them as something new, whether they are techniques that have been around for hundreds of years or something that is presented as an innovation. Learning to crochet was new for me and transformed the way I experience thing. It worked in constellation with other elements of my life and history to generate new ideas.
Vahida: In embroidery for example there is a great tradition in doing the things in the same repetitive way, that is something completely opposite from what we are intersted in. In embroidery we are promoting improvisation, variation, free lines . Good example could be: we were giving a workshop of documentary embroidery to a group of women experienced embroiderists, and we said them to make simple free lines conecting corners of square tissue, that was a part of some collaborative exercise. What happened is that they got completely stuck, didnt know what to do, they just knew to repeat patterns. We realised the problem with them was much deaper, that they exactley relaying on traditional way of doing embroidery were reproducing some state of repression.
As individuals and humanity we cant stop creating traditions, maybe just going to the same bar every morning. It comes from a need to fix something in time - establish some fixed values, standards, norms, to normalise. But when those things become normal comes the problem because noone remembers any more that this was not exacly normal since ever. This might be very general approach and there is good things about tradition of course but i gues always when it implements dinamic relations, fluidity.
Aviv, You use traditional craft in a very unique context. You use
textile and fashion as a medium in art and as tools for social disobedience
as I read in your bio. Can you tell about your activities? I am especially interested
in strange fashion shows that you mentioned. What was it?
What i've been doing is actually not so unique. Really just sewing, crocheting and embroidering in public space. It's a way to just stay put in one place, one corner of the city and get to know it intimately. It's something that used to be very common, but nowadays it attracts attention.
Before that I spent several years doing textile and fashion design as part of activist networks. We would organize direct-actions that were like fashion shows. I also designed a lot of magic-trick type tools as part of Yomango, a subversive unshopping projects. I see making stuff with your hands as related somehow to the feeling of having personal power, being able to intervene in your surroundings and transform society. Why I feel that way is hard to explain. I could be wrong about this:)
What is youmango?
Yomango is a brand which a group of us invented. it is a multi-national brand. it is the brand of shoplifting from multi-national corporations. here is a very bad and simplistic explanation in english:
Yomango (In Spanish slang, "yo mango" means "I steal") is a shoplifting movement that originated in Barcelona (Spain) in 2002. It is billed as an anti-consumer lifestyle.
It gained publicity when clothes were stolen from a store, put on and worn back to the store in a "fashion show". Some people claim that it is intended to be a parody of the Mango clothing line popular in Europe. Actually Yomango consider themselves as an informal community aimed at diffusing practices of social disobedience. The kind of shoplifting promoted by Yomango may even be a tactics of direct re-appropriation and redistribution of wealth. Yomango is connected with the European movement against labor and social instability.
all of the work we did in Las Agencias (and Yomango is no exception) was copyleft, meant to be re-apropriated, transformed and virally extended throughout activist networks and social movement. there are yomango actions and groups all over europe and south america and other groups of affinity under other names. all are collaborators and co-authors of this project
Is it still active?
Our group is not active, but yomango is a live virus attaching itself to multinational corporations and their branding mechanisms. it is still very much alive.
Why do you choose low-tech methods? using low-tech methods brings such associations as - access, personal power, idependance… How do you perceive that?
Vahida: All you say is true and important for my approach. I could just add that we (people) construct habits and use to relay on things as given. As the developpment in technology advanced so much the gap between us as producers (makers) and users increased tremndously that masivly converted us in users / consumers. Question I always like to pose is how all this things came to us, that would also help us understand how we got to this point where we are now.
Aviv: i think in general people feel powerless. they feel they are incapable of changing their environment and their society. in that sense i think activists are wrong in focusing their work on "informing" peple, "raising awareness". i believe people know what is going on, what multinational corporations are doing to workers and to the environment, to our health. they know what is going on in Columbia and in Palestine. do you know the Leonard Cohen song "everybody knows"?
at the same time they feel powerless. the powerlesness goes all the way down to their relationship with the objects that surround them. people, at least in western countries, are completely alienated from the products and services that define their lives and their physical surroundings. everything arrives ready-made and is there to be bought and then thrown away. this creates an invisible form of depression that to me is tightly related to the sense of powerlesness. when a person like that learns how to make something with their hands, not always, but sometimes, in the case of some people, a transformation occurrs. you can tell by their reaction that they surprised themselves, that their perception of themselves has changed. this is a transformation i went (and am still going) through and is one of the things that i love to do.
You engage yourself in social interventions in areas in proccess
of gentrafication. You come from a country that as you say - no longer exist.
is that what affects your work most?
Vahida: More than 'gentrification' I would refere to the areas in proccess of transformation or transition. If you are trying to find some connection between Yugoslav desintegration and the works I was working on in the same time in Barcelonas neighbourhoods undergoing transformation, I can confirm there is some connection, but I dont think that is something so specific for me - I think lots of people have been and still are afected by this transitions on different scales and levels. In particular for the work POBLE NOW we have been working on with Rotor collective in time span between 2001 and 2004 in Poble Nou, Barcelonas neighbourhood that was suffering big urbanistic transformations, the main thing was that exactley all this transitional time and space between before and after the transformations was declared our playgroung, our petri dish for exploring, experimenting, learning about ourselves and others from our own experiences and in contact with row material and information.
What’s Poble now?
Vahida: It consists of series of explorations, adventurous routs we started to do with my friend Laia sadurni in 2001 in Barcelonas neighbourhood Poblenou that in this time was a place of few huge urbanistic plans. It became a batllefield of corporations, city goverment, neighbours activists. In period of 3 years we, (me and Laia as rotor) were organising this routs inviting people to join us, we were issuing temporarry maps for orientation, there were discussions, lots of playing, it gave birth to small interventions, new collaborations and projects.
How come you started collaboration? And what are goals of your
Vahida: I liked Avivs work lots before we started the collaboration. We both worked with collectives in that time in Barcelona and belonged to say to the same cultural and activist scene. Later an oportunity showed to do a workshop project related to city mapping and fashion design in Cairo in 2008 that pushed us to start developping documentary embroidery technique.
Aviv: We have known each other for a while and I was always a fan of the work Vahida and her collaborator Laia were doing as part of the Rotorrr collective. Vahida invited me to collaborate with her in egypt and I've found that we are really on the same wave-length. With our Real-time documentary embroidery project, we hope to replace the practices of video and photography with the much more innovative and relevant practice of embroidery. It is clear to both Vahida and myself that for todays world embroidery is a much more suitable way of documenting reality. Embroidery is more efficient because you can create less images using more time.
Aviv, you have quotation on your page about creating alternative
reality intead of starting from destroying the old one. What is the reality
that you try to create?
Aviv: …where people have power and find meaning in their lives, collectively and individually. where people (myself and people around me) participate in society. where play is important. and importance is unimportant.
Vahida: for the moment i am just trying to understand a bit more this one :-)