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Mazipos. an itinerant exhibition

MAZIPOS is a project part of the “feudal entity” Visual Kontakt, based in Romania and it’s thought as a structure to connect artists and spaces at the periphery of culture and engage them in a dynamic and “productive anarchy” as the president of the association likes to call it. I’ve talked to both Gabriel Miloia, president of Visual Kontakt and Carlos Carmonamedina, curator of Mazipos to find out more about the story behind the project.

Rada Nastai: How would you define Mazipos and what is the concept behind it?

Carlos Carmonamedina: I like to define MAZIPOS (short for mail/zine/poster) as a limited edition fanzine that works as an itinerant exhibition. Every four months, we invite 25 artists to produce designs that are printed on an A2 size poster, which allows us to mail the exhibition and move it around in an inexpensive way. Then MAZIPOS sends the selected posters free of charge, as long as the host commits to display them in their space, and then return them.
It started as a way to link artists living in economical and cultural peripheries and expanded into a dynamic publication that can be exhibited in different contexts, using the artist’s own networks.

Gabriel Miloia: I don’t think Mazipos is a conceptual project. It came into being as a response to several circumstances, ideas, interests and necessities so, in all honesty, I believe trying to frame everything into a single narrative would be either a simplification or an outright lie. I can tell you about the main events that brought it into being. First of all, in 2015, Visual Kontakt unveiled an extensive exhibit dedicated to the present spiritual and conceptual condition of communities – in the context of the Internet world and the effort to create a global society. In this show, the curator of Mazipos, Mr. Carlos Carmonamedina, was invited to create a collection of artists’ books around the theme of personal life and living conditions in the immediate environment. After the opening, I felt this project deserved a life of its own, so I asked Mr. Carmonamedina to take it further. We planned a different structure, based on the desire to archive the artists’ work and make it available throughout the world (since the artists themselves are scattered across the globe) in a way that should not affect the unique encounter with an artifact – for this, the very limited series of 25, with 15 being de facto circulated, was the best way to preserve a certain preciousness and rarity and avoid mass production. On the other hand, Visual Kontakt will soon turn eight years old. My colleagues and I have grown a bit older and our organisations have become prosperous much beyond our initial perspectives. I couldn’t help but think that, as a young, weak and poor organisation, a project like Mazipos would have been a blessing. As president of Visual Kontakt, my focus has been to create infrastructure, so distributing recently created contemporary art to venues around the globe for minimal to zero costs on their behalf is wonderful. Finally, I always saw the possibilities of our own venues as a limitation: no matter how large, our spaces can only host a given number of artists and shows, in just two cities. I would like to see more art, more artists, and more people than these circumstances can offer. By the time I retire, I would like to remember having met, helped, inspired or worked with legions of artists and projects. It has to do with my spiritual views upon the domain: I think of the arts as a grand banquet and that can only mean the more, the merrier. Coming back to your questions, Mazipos is one way to fulfill these desires. Certainly, not the only one, but I am more than satisfied.

RN: How are Visual Kontakt and Mazipos connected?

Gabriel Miloia: Visual Kontakt has been called by many a feudal entity. And so it is. Throughout our existence, we have created several projects, branches, and departments. Some have survived, some haven’t. Each project is entrusted to a curator or editor who has full authority. Our managers make sure certain funds are appropriately spent, but the central board’s intervention in each project is close to none and certainly not at a content level. Curators and editors are entrusted to know what is best for their projects and are fully responsible for the outcome. This lack of oversight leads to what I call „productive anarchy”; it is my task to make certain that disorder will not degenerate into conflicts, but this is an easy task. Each project manager is free to select their artists, partners, to create their own contacts and interaction. Sometimes, one branch will cooperate with another – in this case, one of the galleries will host Mazipos for the next 6 months and our custodian has offered to create workshops and guided tours with local art students around the exhibit. So, in order to answer your question, Mazipos is a Visual Kontakt project, which is treated with an intentional lack of oversight by Management.

Carlos Carmonamedina: Although MAZIPOS works independently from Visual Kontakt’s line of projects (in the same way as Samizdat), we still use their infrastructure and experience. That ‘Productive Anarchy’ that Mr. Miloia refers to, allows us to grow at our own pace, and reach artists from places that Visual Kontakt probably wouldn’t.

RN: How does the process of selection of the artists work? Does the project promote a certain aesthetic?

Carlos Carmonamedina: During our first pilot year I did the selection and tried to include a diverse group of artists coming from different backgrounds and styles. Continuing the LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES intention, I wanted to reach out to creatives that work in peripheral countries and/or rural areas. In following editions the selection will be made by other agents, just as we did for our third edition, curated in collaboration with the tremendous experience of Kuš!, a Latvian comics publisher. If we alternate the selection, we allow the project to grow organically for different audiences and spaces.
Right now we have a catalogue of 75 artists, and in the future, we want to offer the chance to the viewer to curate their own exhibition.

Gabriel Miloia: This is not easy question to answer. I know many believe in the polarised, dialectic approach of antagonising the traditional “establishment” with dynamic, generous and alternative views on the arts. But, for one, I find contradictions can live next to each other. I strongly believe that artworks are precious, luxurious items, a sign of wealth, power, and refinement. I also believe, just as strongly, that everyone is entitled to contemplate art and be moved by it. Juggling between the two is not so much a conceptual matter, as it is a question of skill. Mazipos is one such attempt: visible on the Internet and accessible to all, it keeps the precious aura of a rare item by means of its limited series. Mazipos are not images, they are objects, and this is something very important to me. I believe the Internet is a wonderful way for people from across the world to find out about art. But I don’t think it is a proper medium to contemplate art, because contemplation is special and sacred, something for which you need to „go to the mountain”. Once people stop going to see art, it stops being art. The important thing is, I believe, to make art reachable, to bring it closer, but not to deliver it plain and simple, as it would be with a completely digital transition, accessible at any time on any „intelligent” gadget. Of course, if we consider disaster fantasies, it would be even worse to live in a non-electrified post-apocalyptic world where the last years, decades or centuries of art were lost when the lights went out. I have no wish for Mazipos to become an online gallery or library, but rather to have it as a real archive, available via the Internet to real people, real communities, and real galleries.

RN: How involved does Mazipos get in the curation of the exhibitions it supports?

Carlos Carmonmedina: As much as the host (and the distance) allows us to! It has been really interesting to see how they use the posters according to their conditions and limitations. The same posters acquire new life depending on the context.
We provide the posters and help with the promotion, and it’s interesting how the other artists that will have their work on display, replicate the exhibition through their own social media profiles.

Gabriel Miloia: Well, what can I say except that, years before our „global fanzine”, Visual Kontakt created a small publication called Samizdat, which grew exponentially and is now interviewing me. Of course, the difference being that, while ideas, opinions or theory happen to be purely abstract and therefore fit for any medium, Mazipos must be treated according to their status as artifacts. I think all this is connected to Visual Kontakt’s „ancient history” when our first activity was technically a system of self-publishing for artists: we would invite them to create projects for which they would take full responsibility. Now, each department (the gallery, the magazine, the fanzine etc.) has its own goals and developments, but they are all built by a simple, albeit general policy, that enforces work and acknowledgement thereof.

RN: What is your opinion on art and curation migrating towards the online? Would you be able to see Mazipos evolving into an autonomous online gallery?

Gabriel Miloia: Mazipos… none whatsoever. Except for keeping small and poor organisations afloat. But I believe that an orchestrated effort of several such enterprises can bring stability and create a decent status quo between global and local trends. One real effect I can believe in is purely circumstantial: since the Mazipos archive is being coordinated from Washington DC, but stored in Visual Kontakt’s venue in Oradea, Romania, there is a distinct opportunity to have it interfere with the locals. Most exhibitions, however far from home (Santiago de Chile, Belgrade, DC etc.) will only stay there for a few weeks, while having 100 works per year stored permanently in one community gives us the chance to influence local artistic trends and consciousness via workshops and mini-projects. During our opening, we were graced with the presence of Romanian MPs and had glittering reviews. People are proud to have this project „reside” in their town and I feel it would be a pity to let the implicit opportunities pass unnoticed. As for the „world” and ways of „saving” it, one’s sense of proportion must clarify that no single effort can ever make a difference. But, judging from a historic perspective, there are times in which artists and writers need to create and write more than usual. Now is one such time. Of course, History will make up her own mind, with or without them, with or without us. But I think each is better off playing a part, even if a blind one, than retiring as a spectator.

Carlos Carmonamedina: The system of galleries, fairs, and museums has long been overused and becomes insufficient for the artistic needs of our contemporary society. Thanks to the Internet, the public is consuming now more art than ever, but the online conversation is not the only channel, neither the most democratic one. Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram filter their content according to the user experience, limiting the exposure of young artists. Instead of featuring arrays of existing talent, they funnel it based on likes and it gets buried beneath tons of memes and selfies.
I agree with Mr. Miloia that the online version of MAZIPOS functions more as a catalogue of the art pieces. Let’s not forget that the posters are made so they can be displayed in the more unexpected places (libraries, churches, restaurants). The least we want to become is another Saatchi gallery that rates the artists based on popularity.

RN: Mazipos is also dubbed a „global fanzine”. To what extent does the term apply and how related is the idea of small press publishing to the project?

Carlos Carmonamedina: That sounds rather pretentious, considering the limited amount of posters we produce on each edition, but we do try to enable a massive crossover between people from varying art backgrounds and approaches.
I believe that small press has an extraordinary cultural significance. The medium has allowed disenchanted creatives to find a safe harbor to create and engage with their communities. It is refreshing going to conventions and markets in order to find out how generations have been embracing that DIY spirit. Counterculture -when it’s good- will always make it into the storyline of the mainstream conversation. MAZIPOS is definitely inspired by that energy

RN: What role do you see Mazipos having in the dynamics of artistic communities?

Carlos Carmonamedina: Galleries and cultural institutions are restricted not only by their physical limitations but also by the commercial component that supports their existence. MAZIPOS offers the artist a chance to explore other mediums that go beyond those traditional methods of content distribution. It explores alternative spaces and provides exposure for the artists, without the confines and expenses of traditional galleries. Most importantly, it generates dialogue with artists and public that otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths.

Image courtesy: Alexandra Chis and Visual Kontakt.