I’ve known Kristina ever since my first Nuart Festival. Together, we marvelled around the streets of Stavanger soaking up the creative atmosphere, something we were both experiencing for the first time. Fast forward to Nuart’s latest edition, we sat down to talk about the poetic tribute to Stavanger and its long-standing street art festival that is featured in MZM’s documentary “Imaginary City”.
Kristina Borhes: “There are so many films and pictures on internet, all consumed so quickly. What we do is slow; we play around with the image and text a lot. We want people to step away from ‘bing watching’ and look for the deeper meanings hidden between the lines.”
It took them four years to realize “Imaginary City”. Four years during which Kristina and Nazar, two video artists from Ukraine under the name “MZM Projects“, kept coming back to Nuart in a different role each time, thus witnessing the inner workings of the world’s leading street art festival.
Kristina Borhes: “The first time we came to Nuart we were painting walls, posting flyers, and doing all kinds of volunteer jobs. At that time we already completed our first documentary, but we didn’t come to Nuart for filming. We just wanted to see how Nuart works. I think we didn’t even mention that we were doing some filming, which we did in between our volunteer duties.”
It was only after their third Nuart Festival that Kristina and Nazar started thinking about how to bring all those fortuitous shots together.
Kristina Borhes: “The writing was hard, because we came here many times and built a lot of memories. There were hundreds of stories we wanted to tell, about both the festival and the city, but at some point I understood that I needed to just do it. We didn’t even use all the interviews we recorded, because we didn’t want to make it longer than 20 minutes – which is just the right amount of time to not bore people, especially with the rhythm that we use.”
The title of the movie comes from French novelist André Malraux, who in the late 1940s, conceptualized the “imaginary museum”. According to Malraux, there are so many works of art in the world that it would be impossible to put them all under the same roof. Art history should, instead, be in one’s mind; the collection of artwork in our imagination.
Kristina Borhes: “André Malraux’s imaginary museum is also connected with the photographic reproductions of the art, which I find to be closely entangled with street art. For me, street art really fits into this concept of an imaginary museum. However, André Malraux calls his imaginary museum a ‘museum without walls’ and I can’t imagine street art without the walls. So we thought, if not a ‘museum’, since street art is connected with the city it might be an ‘imaginary city’.”
In the same way we remember only some corners of a city we visited, the “Imaginary City” is a collection of places that somehow moved us, as opposed to the actual city, in its entirety. It’s the anthology of places we keep in our memories. Places that often (for me, Kristina, and all street art lovers) happen to be characterized by a piece of street art. In their documentary, Kristina and Nazar show us their collection of Stavanger-related memories and artwork.
Kristina Borhes: “We wanted to show what makes Stavanger so special. It isn’t because Stavanger is covered with graffiti and street art; there are lots of cities like that, perhaps even too many. But in those cities, street art doesn’t work like in Stavanger and with this movie we wanted to understand why.”
Kristina and Nazar visited Stavanger for the first time in 2012, years before they got involved with the Nuart Festival. Years before they got into street art, too. They spent only a few hours in the city and they still noticed artwork in the streets. “One of them is still there,” says Kristina, “and it’s by Nick Walker.”
Back then, they were working on youth projects for an NGO, researching art as a tool for social change. Kristina studied the Gezi Park protest, the silent revolution in Serbia, and the Arab Spring in Egypt. The more she researched about protest art and non-violent resistance, the more she came across different types of stencils and posters, which eventually led her to street art.
Kristina Borhes: “With these projects, we talked a lot about Bahia Shehab and the stencils of the Egyptian Revolution. I was so excited when I found out that I would have met her at Nuart in 2017.”
Documenting these youth projects was their filming debut, and in the following years, they didn’t stray too far from a strict documentaries. Aside from their activities at the NGO, they also documented -twice- a festival of street art and post-graffiti that takes place in different abandoned buildings in the Ukrainian woods, called “The Black Circle”.
A major step toward a more narrative approach is the fictional formats they experimented at Nuart Aberdeen 2019. “Tales of the Silver City” are five different short movies where the city’s street art is an element of the story alongside statues, historical facts, and architecture. An anthology of urban fairy tales set to premiere at Nuart Aberdeen 2020.
Kristina Borhes: “Tales of the Silver City is yet another step toward a more narrative approach, which is the direction we want to take currently. However, we still believe that it makes sense to do a strict documentary: just artists talking about their work. We’re happy when we can find documentation of artists from the 1970s, and the reason we can is because there was someone there recording all of it.”
Another characteristic of their video projects is giving a voice to the artists who are not well-known. Their film on the Ukrainian post-graffiti artist EAS has just become the winner at the Berlin Underground Film Festival.
Kristina Borhes: “EAS is quite respected in the Ukrainian post-graffiti scene, but that’s all. Nobody else knows about him. He is a true artist, so we really wanted to share his story, even if only a few people will see this movie. Our priority isn’t getting the views or likes. We know that we are not doing mainstream products and won’t be popular for many reasons. We know those reasons and there is no point for us to try to do it in any other way. Yes, we could try to do those cool videos, but what’s the point? There are so many things we want to do besides that, and when you invest so much time into something it should be something you care deeply about.”
Unlike the production of mainstream videos, Kristina and Nazar don’t plan much. Rather, they enjoy seeing where the story brings them; a spontaneous approach that worked outstandingly well for “Imaginary City”.
Kristina Borhes: “Staging the shot might work for a massive production, when you need to control everything, but we work with what we see. It’s basically us, the camera, and our ideas. It all comes naturally, so we cannot plan. Here, for example we will do something ‘experimental’ about the indoor exhibition in the tunnels. We are already filming, but we just have a general concept about what we want to say or the rhythm we want to use. I have a lot of ideas and I still don’t know what it will be at the end. This is very different from a commercial approach, where you need to plan everything in advance and be in total control. We don’t like it. Our favorite part is when our movie comes naturally, like when you’re interviewing an artist and he says something that you couldn’t predict, something that affects the direction of the whole movie. We are still experimenting and in the future we want to work in a more artistic way, which is less documentation and more video art.”