Almaty is not a city that conjures thoughts of a creative and exciting arts scene with a dynamic counterculture. However, there remains a small counterculture of artists, musicians, and others that continue to work to shape the city (or eventually grow sick of it then move off to Europe or North America). Increasingly, it appears the former is the more preferred option.
One of the most dynamic voices in the Almaty arts scene is the wife and husband duo of Lena Pozdnyakova and Eldar Tagiev that form the group The2vvo (pronounced zwo). Although both appear reluctant to contextualize their work in Almaty, their embrace of noise music and soundscapes might be the most logical answer to a city postulated upon order. The illogical nature of the city demands a response that The2vvo is providing. It perhaps may not be their intention, but with Death of the Author-esque logic I’d propose they do offer an ideal response to Almaty. Either way, please check out the interview with Eldar and make sure to follow them on Soundcloud.
Thank you for speaking to me. You guys are currently based in Berlin, where Lena was educated. Like many artists from both Kazakhstan and beyond, you decided to move there. Obviously, Berlin is the epicenter of artistic creativity in Europe but what exactly compelled you to move away from Almaty? What did Almaty lack that you can now find in Berlin?
Technically speaking, we are still in the moving stage. We are in Leipzig sort of by accident for now. Lena has a contract with Hochschule Anhalt and I’m waiting for my visa. Overall, we’ve been moving for a while now and Almaty became more distant to us over the years. We still have family in the city and so we always come back here to spend some time.
We like to travel a lot while meeting new people and doing projects outside of the local environment. Every new destination is exciting to us. This gives us challenges and, we hope, helps us grow both professionally and personally. Berlin or LA, where we used to live, are very comfortable places for us because of the diversity of cultures and people. You can get lost there and rediscover yourself. It’s easier to build or join communities and we feel that there is more interest in artistic output from the public. At this point in our lives we want to have a base in one of these cities. We like the experience but we probably won’t stop travelling.
I laughed when you sent me the link for your mix that was entitled What Almaty Doesn’t Sound Like. Even after visiting the city, I struggle to understand it. It is a place that pushes and pulls between the authentic and the superficial. Much of this has to do with Almaty being both a newer city and the colonial influence of the city. It appears that it wants to be what it never will be. What do you believe Almaty has to reconcile with itself to truly evolve into a confident city?
Haha yes, the name of the live set is what it is. Almaty doesn’t sound like that for sure. The main flavour of the sound here is whatever is played on mainstream radio: a lot of Russian and Kazakh pop music, a good dose of German pop from the 80s, and some newish Western hits. This is what you hear in taxies or from the speakers in the bazaar. The same goes for the few venues that are here.
There was recently a solid attempt to establish a place with alternative music and it ran for almost a year but unfortunately had to shut down. There is also a local party for some techno music, but that’s really not what you experience sonically in the city unless you go to those specific venues.
Overall, in our experience, we don’t feel that music or art is an integral part of Almaty. It is definitely important to a few but it seems to us that there is no demand for it. It exists nominally. The “look” is more valuable here, arguably because of the importance of personal status. What you create seems less important than what you have. Of course, this mentality exists probably everywhere but usually there is an alternative way of living and some sort of balance.
Confidence always comes with experience, so the evolution of Almaty pretty much depends on locals doing and making things by trial and error. It is happening on a small scale now and some people do create interesting social or business projects. It hasn’t transcended into art or music yet. Obviously, the more free people feel to try new things and ideas, the faster the process will go, but self-organization and enthusiasm are essential.
Your mix frankly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, however I loved it. I think in many ways utilizing noise and soundscapes poses more questions upon the listener in contrast to most of our mixes. It has an almost de-geographical approach to it. However as we are on the issue of Almaty, I must ask how does Almaty shape you as artists? Or, does it at all?
So far, we feel that our artistic development and shaping happens mostly contrary to Almaty. The city influences us when we are in it, to feel certain things or to have certain thought patterns like any other city would. The fact that we were born here and had our childhood experiences here must also have a specific mark on our psyche. But Almaty never really determined our artistic direction or choices, not directly anyway.
Kazakhstan has only recently introduced visa-free travel for Westerners. Naturally, there has only been minor interest in the country among Western audiences. As such, Kazakh art has only begun to garner a small amount of international interest. Could you please suggest which Kazakh artists and musicians a non-Kazakh reader should check out?
There was recently published a book called Art Atmosphere of Almaty. It was written by Zitta Sultanbayeva, an artist who was one of the members of The Green Triangle art community in the 90s. She has a vast knowledge of the players, so this would be a good walk-through, though maybe a dictionary will be needed as it is written in Russian.
Saule Suleimenova is among the most active ones in visual art, she belongs to the generation who were very radical at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There is one outstanding character from the list of artists of the same period as Saule – Rustam Khalfin. He is no longer alive, but his works, be it spatial installations, paintings or experiments with video art and performance, are always exceptional. We would count him as our favourite one among the Kazakh artists.
Also very established, yet very conceptual, are the works of Yelena and Victor Vorobyev, who are active at present and soon will be shown at the Venice Biennale. Kuanysh Bazargaliyev, also known as Kuba, has a very interesting painting series called Tables and Chairs.
From young artists – Alexsander Ugai, with installations and media experiments, is great, Bubikanova Bakhyt, with her paintings, is very interesting, Syrlybek Bekbotaev, with spatial installations and sculptures, is also aspiring for experimentation in his work, geometrical metaphors in the form of paintings from Liza Kin are great, and media works of Suinbike Suleimenova are very courageous too.
In music there’s Galymzhan Moldonazar, who does a synth pop type of thing and people here like him a lot. Zzara is a project from a local singer, but we’re involved in it, so it’s biased. There is also an interesting ambient duo called Akkord I On worth checking out.