Anton Kats is an artist and musician from Kherson, South-Ukraine. Born into the family of a WWII wireless radio operator, Kats’ practice derives from informal everyday relationships within vibrant neighbourhoods of his hometown. His works often unfold in public space in the form of sculptures and interventions, musical compositions and concerts, learning sites and public programs and include elements of video, sound, research and dance. Drawing on the overarching methodology of radio Kats explores different forms of knowledge transmission as a question of agency and intentionality through the concepts of the radio narrowcast and concrete listening.
Kats has been awarded a practice-based doctorate degree from Goldsmiths University of London. His works have been exhibited and performed in venues including the Serpentine Galleries, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, 10th Berlin Biennale, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Showroom Gallery and at the documenta14 in Athens and Kassel.
Here he speaks about his practice, biography, and work at the Pepper House Residency, Satellite Island.
Raised with the Radio
I would like to begin with my grandfather’s story. My work has a lot to do with the radio, but because of my grandfather it holds a different connotation altogether. My grandfather grew up in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 40s, and the 40s were a peculiar time for him because it was the time of the Second World War, and a very harsh moment in the history of the country. My grandfather really wanted to go and fight fascism. The issue that he had that he was only 16 years old, and he wanted to volunteer for the Second World War, and he wasn’t taken to the army. As many people did at this point, he decided to forge his age. Despite saying that he’s 18, he was quite little, and no one believed him. So instead of a rifle to go and shoot Nazis, he was given a Radio Station. Since he was small, he could go and hide in enemy lines and use the Radio as a strategic tool to acquire information and send it to friendly forces. Inevitably, you use the information to win the war. It goes back to the history of Radio not as an entertainment device but as a strategic tool for the military State.
In a film we made in 2012, he’s talking about why he’s not talking about the war. An instance of why this Radio station was special for him – once he said that he got caught in a cross-fire, and had to hide in a pond, and he was standing in a pond for a couple of days holding his radio station up with water quite high up, and waiting until the fire was over. It’s interesting because art explores this state of being in-between, a transitional state between different forces. Very often, when I’m asked what in-between means, through my grandfather’s example, it means you can be shot from both sides. Growing up with him was very significant because I grew up surrounded by many radios, constantly played and tuned to different channels. Despite having worked with the Radio for more than a decade, I don’t like it at all. I kind of grew up with a very natural aversion to it.
Times of Transition
I grew up in the 1990s, which was a significant time that informs my practice. It was the time when the Soviet Union collapsed, and for the first time the free market was introduced into what used to be a planned economy for 70 years. The radios were a device that transmitted the political situation of the time. The wave of proclamations of independence, in this region, caused a series of military conflicts in the region. This was a transitional state at the level of political conflict, while my own personal transitional state was determined by the change in economic and political systems. In 1999 I was of conscription age, and several comrades, classmates and friends were being sent to war. Without too much hesitation, my family decided to become refugees and that influenced my work a lot because on one hand was a transitional state of my grandfather via radio had to do with pragmatics, and on the other hand one had to be cognizant of the aesthetic visions that developed in response to current political and social context
In a work I am revisiting again, called ‘Tourist’. A part of it is my passport which I had for 11 years, and in it my nationality was XXX which was another kind of in-betweenness. One state always wants to expel you, while Ukraine that wants to take you back eventually wants to send you to war. In this state, as an artist, on one hand I had to deal with the pragmatics of legalizing myself and on the other hand had to develop artistic forms deriving from that. So in this work, for instance, I document a ceremony of citizenship inauguration and the title comes from the simple fact that I’m wearing a camera, as a tourist would do, around my neck. I’m just queuing to talk to people about their passport, where they’re from, listening to their national anthems and exploring this ridiculous situation.
Satellite Island at Pepper House Residency
At Pepper House in Fort Kochi, I installed a little radio station. It’s transmitting on 87.7 FM, which I think the navy base is very happy about. In my work with my grandfather, is a room that is on Satellite Island. I think my point of departure for this residency was quite particular. Very often when I’m invited to places, I just go to the site and figure out the direction of the work. There’s a little difference this time. It has been important for me, after having left Urkraine in 2000, to go back – not just to this environment but also to many different contexts that are very formative to my upbringing. It was very important for me to reconnect with this place and start a new work that would allow me to renegotiate my own practice but also to look at this place from my own perspective. The work that I came here with started in June 2018, in my hometown of Kherson. The working title in my mind for that is ‘Bridges without Rivers’. It has a very special connotation because when you talk to artists, and also politicians quite often, there is always this kind of discussion on building bridges. For me, personally, I wanted to be very open towards what I would find, and I didn’t want to build bridges, or create a particular connection to anything else. However, I would really like to locate rivers, to see what kind of energies and streams and directions from this work can appear.
My hometown is built around ship-yards. This is my first attempt to do that, and my work at Pepper House is a work in progress with the idea that the materials and engagements that I’m doing in my home-town will be then expanded, built and drawn upon in other parts of the world that also have a little island – like Kochi, in a way, and also places that have a history of shipyards.
This project started unfolding through the traces of four ships Vishwa Umang, Vishwa Asha, Vishwa Tarang and Vishwa Abha. These ships – Universal Hope, Universal Desire, Universal Joy and Universal Grace were built in my birthplace at the Satellite Island in Kherson, Ukraine for India in 1971, 1972 and 1973. Taking these ships as a literal and metaphorical point of departure for the work, my project seems to become a case study of the social and political trajectories of both Kherson and Kochi. Several days in, it focuses on addressing the building blocks of communist desires, hopes and practices, its loss and alienation in respect to the worker-unions, sea-waves and sonic-waves and the ships traveling the space both: vertically and horizontally.