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A talk with Fabian Beluki

Hi Fabian, thanks for coming, glad to see you on 2chairs. Could you please start with a story how you have come to the art? What is your first chair about?

Hi Lena. Thanks for the invitation.

My journey to the art was rather twisted. The beginnings can probably be found in my childhood. I was very interested in all kinds of crafts and spent most of my free time working with wood, concrete and paint. But at that time it did not occur to me that the stuff I was doing had any connection to art. I only found out about that many years later.

In my family security is very important. And so it was more or less unthinkable for me to choose an uncertain profession like art or even any other creative profession. I wanted to do something "proper". At the end of high-school I decided to study law. I went through 7 years of university and the following practical law-training. It was not always fun, I can tell you that. After that I was working for another 7 years as an attorney for major law-firms in Berlin. My speciality was litigation on the plaintiff side. This means more or less bringing large corporations to court for their wrongdoings. In some of these cases hundreds of millions of euros where at stake. It was a lot of pressure, but also a thrilling experience – at least sometimes.

Although I was successful in my job, I became increasingly unhappy. Something was missing. In my free time I was trying out a lot of different things. I was doing many craft works in my apartment, I volunteered as a bartender and helped organising art-projects. I even started setting up a little business. That was all very nice, but it was still not what I was looking for.

Things changed completely in 2017 when the long-lasting relationship with my girlfriend came to an end. This event acted like a catalyst. I spent a lot of time walking around the streets, thinking and feeling into myself, trying to find out what I wanted for my future. One evening I spoke with a very good friend about these things. I told him about the craftwork I did when I was a kid and also that I would like to do more work with my hands. Then he suddenly said: "Maybe it is art what you want to do." I disagreed with him in that moment, but something had made "click". A few days later I realised that he was right.

Wow, it's really inspiring. Do you see how your background reflects into your artistic practice? What is your concern as an artist?

I have dedicated more than a decade of my life to a certain profession and that of course shaped my personality. As a lawyer you learn to address problems in a very analytical way. You tear apart a complex situation and create nice little subsets. Everything is structured in a very logical way. That can be a powerful tool. But it also comes with a downside. It is a rather unemotional and cold way of looking at human beings and their concerns.

In my art I try to integrate my background, but I also consciously work against it. That is why I use a lot of intuitive elements. I do not figure out a concept sitting at my desk with a computer or an empty piece of paper. Instead, I begin with a haptic process. I have to work with the material.

My current work for example is about the concepts of confinement, prison and punishment. It all started with a board of wood on which I randomly casted plaster. In the beginning I had no idea where this was going. But after one day of work certain shapes appeared. My hands were building circular walls around empty spaces. Suddenly I felt that these spaces are cells, and I associated them with confinement. That immediately brought up feelings like solitude, isolation, despair and so on and so forth.

Once I have established the emotional network, I switch to an analytical perspective. I make a thorough research of the topic. This is where my background as a lawyer is useful. But I also try to look into other fields like Psychology, Philosophy, Biology...

Do you feel an injustice, an unfairness during your research? Do you believe that there are a number of discordance cases between a social behaviour and punishment consequences?

When you really try hard to feel yourself into a person that is being locked up in a prison-cell, you cannot avoid developing feelings of injustice or unfairness – no matter how convincing the reasons for the incarceration might be. Every prisoner has this feeling of being treated unfairly.

And there are definitely cases where crime and punishment are out of balance in my opinion. For example with drug-related crime or other minor things like driving without a ticket. The justice system is occupied to a large extent with the punishment of these "little fish". The "real" crime is often not prosecuted at all.

Besides historical sources what have you explored? Any fiction novels of philosophical treatises? Or movies? What are your references?

Michel Foucault is definitely a very important reference. In Discipline and Punishment Foucault delivers a comprehensive historical overview of the concept of punishment and explores a theory of the prison as a means of social technique.

There is also a lot of great fiction about the topic. For example the The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig which describes the devastating effect of solitary confinement on the human mind. As far as movies are concerned Cesare deve morire by Paolo & Vittorio Taviani was very inspiring for me. The actors in this movie are actual convicts of a high security prison outside of Rome. They are filmed while they are rehearsing for a performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

However, the concepts of prison and punishment are not limited to actual crime and the justice system as such. The Prison is rather a symbol for a broader set of phenomena in our society. It points to power structures in general: in families, in the education system, at work and so on and so forth. Thats's where psychology and behavioural biology as well as political theory come into play.

What do you think about intentions behind your artistic practice? Do you have any reach points in your mind?

For me, the process of making art is the most important thing. I love the feeling of working with the material. I also learn a lot about myself and the world and I like to share these insights with others. Art is a great medium for that. Apart from that I don't have any specific intentions.

I can imagine that you faced with enormous pressure from the family as your career shift didn't meet their expectations. Do they accept or understand your decision? Then or now?

There was some pressure indeed, but that was more when I was younger. When I told my parents that I gave up my career as an attorney, they where surprised. But now they have understood that I am serious about it and they are very supportive. Of course they are still a little worried, because of the uncertainty involved with a life as an artist. But that is understandable, I guess.

Yes. that's understandable, our relatives often worry about us. Do you feel yourself misunderstood by others? Ex-colleagues, friends or strangers?

Actually, I mostly get positive reactions when I tell people about what I am doing. Of course there are always people who enjoy it, if they can put you down. But you get used to that.

Probably, contemporary society also puts its expectation onto a personal life. As a male, who graduated a proper university and built a successful career, you don't challenge only yourself by switching to the art, but you question an established order and a role and a place of men in it. Do you agree?

Yes, I agree – at least to a certain extent. It is still quite common for a woman to give up a promising career and rather go for a more family-focused life. Man on the other side still have the tendency to be more career-focused. But I am sure that this will change a lot in the future. More and more young people don't want to work for the corporate world any more. And the whole "career-focused" approach is probably doomed to collapse anyway in the coming years, because of the incredible technological progress. It is by no means certain that a good university education will guarantee you a good job for the rest of your life. Artificial intelligence might do the job much better than any human brain. So we definitely have to think about alternative lifestyles in the future.

Could you please share your plans? What will be your next steps?

I am a very curious person and always like to play around with new stuff. In the next couple of years I want to keep on moving and explore new topics, materials and media.

Seems that your point of no return is passed. What have supported you on your way? Do you have any insights for people who hesitate?

Yes that's right. There is no way back. On my way friends have always been the most important support. As an artist you have constant doubt as to the value of your work. And you will sooner or later fail in one way or another. That's why it is very important to have people around you who wish you well and who are able to restore your self esteem when you need it the most.

Many thanks for the talk, Fabian. I believe your story will inspire other to change their life and make dreams happened.