Artists

Usurping Lenin's vantage point.

The statue of Lenin in Kyiv in 2011. Photo by Andrea Wenglowskyj

The statue of Lenin in Kyiv in 2011. Photo by Andrea Wenglowskyj

You may have heard that new rules were passed for the "decommunization" of Ukraine. In February 175 towns and villages were given new non-Soviet names and 139 monuments from the totalitarian state were dismantled, many Lenin statues included. And of course, it was heavily contested by groups nostalgic for the Soviet past.

Izyolatsia, a contemporary art foundation now based in Kyiv, commissioned Mexico City artist, Cynthia Gutierrez, to stage a "temporary art intervention" called Inhabiting Shadows at the former site of the Lenin monument in Kyiv. Rickety steps were added in place of where Lenin once stood overlooking the center of the city so that people could climb to their own Lenin view point. 

Click here to see images of Gutierrez's installation. 

Peter Pavlensky, recommended by Pussy Riot

First, my hiatus on blog posting is due to having had a child and moved to a new home within the past year. 

I had the chance to see Pussy Riot in conversation as moderated by Karen Finley at Hallwalls in Buffalo, NY. The purpose of their ten city tour was to educate us not on the actions of their past but to let us know about all of the important missions and projects that they are doing now. They shared the work of Peter Pavlensky, who set fire to the doors of Russia's Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in an act of performance art. He is now imprisoned. Look him up. 

The work of Peter Pavlensky, on screen at Hallwalls presented by Pussy Riot

The work of Peter Pavlensky, on screen at Hallwalls presented by Pussy Riot

The Special Fund

An exhibition up at the Ukrainian National Museum in Kyiv showing work from the "'Spetsfond,' or 'Special Fund,' vaults — a 1939 inventory enumerated 1,747 entries, from paintings to newspaper clippings indicative of subversive activity" during Soviet Rule. Read more in this article, and on the museum's website. To think what these artists would have produced if given the freedom to do what they pleased. 

Installation View, courtesy of the  NAMU Website

Installation View, courtesy of the NAMU Website

Fear and hope in Ukraine at Pinchuk Centre

Open for a few more weeks at the Pinchuk Centre in Kyiv is Fear and Hope, group exhibition including artists Nikita Kadan, Zhanna Kadyrova, and Artem Volokitin. According to this article, the exhibition is "inspired by the dramatic events that have changed Ukraine forever, the show invites guests to reflect on the Maidan protests that resulted in tragedy, violence and political change in Ukraine—and to think about the future."

You can read more about the entire exhibition on the art center's website which summarizes it nicely. It brings up many questions that have passed through my mind: How do artists deal with and react to national and personal tragedy happening around them? Do these works create enough of a distance for the Ukrainian audience to reflect? Is it too soon? Is it therapeutic? How would this work resonate outside of Kyiv, away from the area where the tragedy occurred? 

I especially respond to Kadryrova's pieces using cut out imagery from newspapers:

Zhanna Kadyrova - Crowd, 2012 – 2013, installation: glass, collages of newspapers, co-produced by PinchukArtCentre

Zhanna Kadyrova - Crowd, 2012 – 2013, installation: glass, collages of newspapers, co-produced by PinchukArtCentre

Mikhailov at Manifesta 10

Boris Mikhailov, Berlin, Germany, 2004 (Portrait from llesphotographes.com) via http://blog.asalto.pe/boris-mikhailov-1938/

Boris Mikhailov, Berlin, Germany, 2004 (Portrait from llesphotographes.com) via http://blog.asalto.pe/boris-mikhailov-1938/

The Manifesta 10 biennale is open through October 2014 in St. Petersburg, Russia after much controversy, and expects over half a million visitors. Exhibiting work by an international cast of contemporary artists, included among them is Boris Mikhailov, photographer. He created a new project for Manifesta called The theater of war. The second act, intermission, documenting everyday life behind the barricades from Kyiv's Euromaidan in December 2013.

 

See this article for an installation view and this one of Mikhailov's photographs at Manifesta 10.

Artists Support Ukraine

From their website: 
"Artists Support Ukraine is an art initiative aimed at turning the attention of international public towards the current situation in Ukraine. There is an urgent need to stand against military aggression, propaganda and injustice. We are engaging artists and cultural workers from all over the world to make a statement in order to support peace and freedom. #supportukraine"

See messages from artists on their site, there is everything from messages to puns to paintings to general words of support. This piece by Fred Tomaselli is really powerful.

Courtesy of Fred Tomaselli via  artistssupportukraine

Courtesy of Fred Tomaselli via artistssupportukraine

Online/Offline, Visuals in the #euromaidan revolution

In the images I see of the huge crowds gathering during the Ukrainian revolution, I have been moved and overwhelmed at all of the hand-made signage and large gorgeous Ukrainian flags waving. At first, the meme that was everywhere was Keep Calm and Carry On, adapted to:

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From Cleantechnica.com

From Cleantechnica.com

Changing one's profile picture to these images and sharing them around social media have been powerful ways to show support and solidarity with the Ukrainian citizens. 

I was really pleased to see this article in Korydor* by Catherine Sergatskova explaining how an individual designer or artist can have a huge impact by allowing their visual messages to spread freely through downloading, printing and using posters on the streets. This article brought to light a very important dual effect that can happen during mass protests: A viewer can take action and become a participant by showcasing these posters in public and the designer of these images can produce a great impact while remaining (preferably) anonymous.

Strike Poster (Страйк Плакат) is a group formed to do just that: share posters to be used during the protests. They write the following on their Facebook page: 
"We are convinced that the fate of the country is being decided today . We encourage all creative people to join nationwide strike and make posters or any other materials. We've created a resource where artists , illustrators , designers can post their works, and anyone can download them to print or put on their pages on social networks." In other words, this system allows a viewer to then become a participant. You can send your works via Facebook or email them

*Korydor is an online journal about contemporary art and culture in Ukraine, put out by the Foundation Center for Contemporary Art in Kyiv. (If you can't read Ukrainian or Russian let your browser translate for you and you will get the gist of most articles.) These are young, smart contributors who are really analyzing and thinking about their country.

From the  Strike Poster Facebook page   Image depicts Ukrainian President Yanukovych

From the Strike Poster Facebook page

Image depicts Ukrainian President Yanukovych

This poster depicts a caricature of President Yanukovych.

This poster depicts a caricature of President Yanukovych.

From the  Strike Poster Facebook page   Translation: I breathe freely (over the colors of the Ukrainian flag)

From the Strike Poster Facebook page

Translation: I breathe freely (over the colors of the Ukrainian flag)

One of the themes that is seen everywhere is the blue and yellow water drop, illustrating the mass movement of protestors: "I am a drop in the ocean, which will change Ukraine." The KRAPLYA website (kraplya translates as "drop") is incredible, and has a page for downloads. The designer of this message remains anonymous as of now, but I hope that this person (or people) understands that it's a powerful, poetic message that is rare to see in the barrage of brisk headlines, flames, and photographs of corrupt politicians.

From the Kraplya website

From the Kraplya website

From the Strike Poster Facebook page: "Italian creative station  H-57  expressed support us and sent his poster. Wished "Che la forza sia con voi" (yes you will arrive with force)"

From the Strike Poster Facebook page: "Italian creative station H-57 expressed support us and sent his poster. Wished "Che la forza sia con voi" (yes you will arrive with force)"

And in the States, when too many people were paying attention to the fate of Justin Bieber, Andrea Chalupa organized #digitalmaidan to tell the rest of the world what was happening in Ukraine. This article and the images below explain it all. 

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Arsenal and Kuznetsov

In late July I received an email from artist Volodmyr Kuznetsov with the following images:

Kuznetsov's mural pre-destruction

Kuznetsov's mural pre-destruction

The work of Arsenal director Zabolotna

The work of Arsenal director Zabolotna

According to this article, I knew that Mystetskyi Arsenal in Kiev's director Nataliia Zabolotna covered the mural with black paint but I did not understand it's complete destruction until I saw the images he sent over.

The piece, a mural measuring 11 meters by 5 meters "showed a flaming nuclear reactor with priests and judges semi-submerged in a vat of red liquid. A car that appeared to be carrying officials was shown plunging into the vat — likely a reference to the numerous traffic accidents caused by officials in the country. A hodgepodge of other figures were grouped alongside, including what appeared to be the image of Iryna Krashkova, the woman who accused two police officers and a civilian of beating and raping her last month. Her case has prompted a wave of protests. "

Kuznetsov's decision to make socially conscious work like this is an important addition to Ukraine's art world. Like in any community, artists have the role of distilling the world around them to represent it to their audience, and in this case, make people aware of certain broken social and legal systems.

According to this article, Zabolotna said, "'You cannot criticize the homeland, just as you cannot criticize your mother. I feel that anything said against the homeland is immoral,' she added. Zabolotna also claimed that Kuznetsov had diverged in his work from the concept that was previously agreed upon." Through this statement it is clear that fear motivated this act of censorship due to the Ukrainian President Yanukovich's visit to the Arsenal.

The words of Oleksandr Solovyov, the deputy director of the Mystetskyi Arsenal who also stepped down in protest, summarize his feelings well"This is not censorship but self-censorship. In the work of Kuznetsov, I see nothing more terrible than our life."

 


Alevtina Kakhidze: expanding history

Alevtina Kakhidze is a Ukrainian artist whose work ranges from performance to drawing and her work is a seamless blend of art and life. I really admire her for this. Her work is often funny, poignant and reflective of living in a post-Soviet country. She hosts an artist residency on her property every year. We'll explore all of that below. 

Alevtina with one of her buddies

Alevtina with one of her buddies

Alevtina lives in Muzychi, a village 19 km outside of Kiev, where she lives with her kind, amazing cook of a husband, and her many (giant) pets– the zoo, she calls it. She invited me to her home for our initial interview where every room is intentionally beautiful and minimal. So much care has been put in to where she lives and what she has, which is such a pleasant surprise from most of my experiences in Ukraine. I think I can safely attribute part of that to her recognition of having grown up in the USSR, and the introduction of fashion and luxury goods was a shock to entire system as Ukraine rapidly became financially polarized.

 A few projects summarize this recognition very well: i cannot draw without words especially if i draw my house,  where she drew all of the items in her home, The Most Commercial Project, where she drew items she liked from store windows and priced the drawings the same as the actual objects, and For Art Collectorswhere she drew works by blockbuster contemporary artists and photocopied them into editions for sale. All of these projects question value, desire and materialism while being deeply autobiographical. Having grown up in the Donets region of Ukraine, known for coal mining, she has experienced Ukraine’s abrupt and chaotic changes from the days of the USSR to the post-Soviet imbalanced environment that it is today.

 

Alevtina's living room, and another buddy

Alevtina's living room, and another buddy

On my visit, she took me to her studio, separate from the house, which she gives up annually for two months to host an artist residency called the Muzychi Expanded History Project. For the past five years she invites artists to come and make work and do what they do in Muzychi, because she believes that "one person can expand the history of a place – particularly when it comes to small towns or villages. Such places can be particularly famous because some 'great' person was born or spent some part of his or her life there. Mostly it is connected to tourism, but still we must agree to the fact that a person does expand the history of a place." 

And so without external support or any green light she started forging connections with international artists around the world. They arrive, have quiet time and/or engage with the interesting people she has befriended in the village, and all do interesting work. All of it is documented on her site and she has an open call every year.

Alevtina looking through work in her studio

Alevtina looking through work in her studio

The beautiful village of Muzychi

The beautiful village of Muzychi

I asked Alevtina a lot about Ukraine and where she thought it was going, and she had similar views to so many others. What is very exciting about her work and contribution to Ukrainian contemporary art is that she doesn't hold back, she is brave and she is open to change.

Performativity

From the  Performativity website .  

PERFORMATIVITY Educational Art Project was initiated and produced by TanzLaboratorium (Larysa Venediktova, Olga Komisar, Oleksandr Lebediev, with Larissa Babij) in 2011. For two weeks in Kyiv in the summer, choreographers, theorists, artists, and curators from Portugal, Russia, Poland, Canada and other countries converged for a series of events including research laboratories, lectures, performances, and discussions.

This project was really great to attend and see that through passion, concern, a hunger for dialog about art education, and what is actually happening in Ukraine,  a new annual series could emerge. By inquiring about new alternatives, they have begun to establish one.

Larissa Babij, an American living in Kyiv and part of TanzLaboratorium, provided the following on their site: 

"In Kyiv, there is little intercommunication between traditionally divided artistic disciplines (theater, dance, visual art, etc.). The lethally stagnant, formal approach to culture results in most artistic activity being either the repetition of old, established canons or the repetition of "new" international trends; neither of which involves significant reflection on art as art, as Ukrainian art, as part of a local  and  international artistic community-network.

Four members of TanzLaboratorium are discussing the need for alternative art education in Ukraine, more precisely, a platform that could propose a whole new kind of communication – through working together, learning by doing, exploring the concept of performativity. In the context of the project, we understand performativity as "time-based artistic activity that thematizes temporality; it researches the process of transformation of concepts (nouns) into action (verbs)." 

She summarized it quite perfectly.