20 December 2020


Sunday 20 December marks the final day of Ayatgali Tuleubek’s solo exhibition YOU WILL MEET A BIRD WITH STRANGE FEET at UKS. In this interview, Tuleubek offers some insight into his personal thoughts on screen-based healing and having an exhibition under the restrictions of COVID-19.



Nicole Rafiki: Hi Ayat, how are you coping with the current lockdown?

Ayatgali Tuleubek: I thought that I was coping with it quite well, both work and life-wise, but that was until yesterday, when I had a full day of tutorials with students at the art academy. It felt great, but at the same time it made me realise how much I miss the intensity of different social interactions.

NR: I can definitely relate. How has the lockdown affected your work as an artist? Did you have to change anything in your mode of production, for instance?

AT: Social interactions as I mentioned are important to me and, unfortunately, I have not found a substitute for them. But there was a wonderful break when I had a residency at BEK and Aldea in Bergen. It was very enjoyable to do that two months before the second lockdown hit.

NR: Sounds really nice! I remember that the current COVID-19 measures were announced on your opening day. You were actually the one who informed the rest of us about it. How did you feel about having to close the gallery right after the exhibition opening?

AT: I thought it was interesting, in a sense, that a situation of emergency is always expected, but always takes one by surprise. I am not sure what to make of it or how to relate to it. Although, thanks to UKS it is, as I jokingly say, the most COVID-friendly exhibition ever made, there is still an ethical issue of how to promote or encourage people to experience the show when the general consensus is to avoid leaving home, with which I agree. The way I console myself is by thinking that there are fortunately more important things in life than art.

NR: I hear you. It is a precarious situation to deal with – both as an artist and from an institutional perspective. Your exhibition at UKS is titled You Will Meet a Bird with Strange Feet. Can you tell us how the title is connected to your show?

AT: The phrase occurred when Ida [artist and designer Ida Falck Øien, one of the performers in the film] asked one of her colleagues in Russia about her experiences dealing with alternative practices. The colleague went on to mention that a healer told her sister that she would meet a bird with strange feet. I liked the phrase and decided to use it as the title for the film. I think of it as something promising and optimistic. It reminds me of an oral tradition in Kazakhstan, where people wish each other well using a ritual that often comes in a poetic form with rhyming sentences and beautiful metaphors.

NR: I see! Does the ritual involve words that have something to do with birds, strange feet or both?

AT: Not really, it’s just that different words and metaphors can have different meanings. The process of attributing meaning to certain events is an interesting process. Like, how meeting a black cat means bad luck in some cultures.

NR: Okay, I see what you mean. What does the blue color of the inventory mean?

AT: I wanted to create an environment that gave a sense of a medical facility, so employing the blue color was quite natural for me.

NR: That particular blue color made me think about the contrast between the serenity and calmness of the deep blue sea, and how that was somewhat transferred to a sense of institutional peace in your show. Which brings me to the next question: What inspired your work?

AT: It was mostly conspiracy theories that flourished in the beginning of the pandemic. I mean, their wildness is fascinating: people burning 5G towers and making all types of connections between the virus, technology, and secret groups of people, and so on.

NR: Very interesting. Your video work touches on screen-based curative connectivity, and remote therapy’s power to restore the body’s internal harmony. What’s your personal stance on this? Have you experienced screen-based healing?

AT: I am not into healing at all and personally feel quite skeptical about it, yet I don’t think it is a matter of dismissing or ridiculing such practices. After all, such practices have been with humanity before modernity suppressed them. Although there were, and are, a lot of problems with healing, such as its efficacy or that it may become an easy tool for charlatans, I still think that institutionalized medicine does not really offer a sense of care. That may be one of the reasons people turn to things like homeopathy or Eastern medicine practices.

But things get messed up, or interesting, when it comes to remote or technology-assisted therapy. I still wonder what role TV played in Chumak’s fame. It was, of course, Chumak’s TV appearances that played into amplifying his authority and credibility. But I wonder whether people perceived an element of magic in the technology itself; whether they thought that abstract notions of electromagnetic waves and cathode-ray tubes were themselves responsible for the healing effect; whether technology was part of the magic.

Today’s things are even more enigmatic for me. I could understand that there is a certain logic of a man on TV being some sort of religious icon and therefore possessing some healing powers, but when it comes to today, I can’t understand what is the healing mechanism of entrusting one’s body and one’s wellbeing to the algorithms and computation devoid of any intimacy and sense of human care.

NR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on that. Your show here at UKS is almost coming to an end. What’s next for you?

AT: Apart from a couple of group shows for which I will produce new works, I would like to continue exploring technology-assisted magic production.

NR: I’m very excited to see what you come up with next. My very best wishes for the coming year and all your projects!

Image: Jan Khür

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