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Modern Art Research Institute of the National Academy of Arts of Ukraine

25 YEARS OF PRESENCE CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ARTISTS

Concept: Igor Abramovych

VOLUME 1


ORGANIZERS WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND THEIR GRATITUDE FOR HELP WITH THE PROJECT TO:

ZENKO AFTANAZIV PETRO BAGRIY STELLA BENIAMINOVA ROBERT BROVDI VIKTOR GORDEEV ANDRIY ISAK YURIY & OLENA KHOMENKO LEONID KOMSKYI KOSTIANTYN KOZHEMIAKA OLEG KRASNOSELSKYI BORYS LOZHKIN & NADIA SHALOMOVA LIUDMYLA & ANDRIY PYSHNYY LEONID SOBOLEV VOLODYMYR SPIELVOGEL IGOR VLASOV JULIA & MAX VOLOSHYN IGOR VORONOV

MEDIA PARTNERS:

ART UKRAINE, IN-ART, CHERNOZEM, CULTPROSTIR, ARTSLOOKER


VOLUME 1 APL 315. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20 OLEKSANDR BABAK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24 NAZAR BILYK. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28 VOLODYMYR BOVKUN.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32 SERGEY BRATKOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36 VOLODYMYR BUDNIKOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42 YANA BYSTROVA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46 ILIYA CHICHKAN.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50 MIKHAILO DEYAK.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .54 OLEKSANDR DIACHENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58 OLEKSANDR DRUGANOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 DMYTRO DULFAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .66 OLEKSA FURDIYAK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .70 OLEG GOLOSIY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 DMITRIY GREK. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .80 IGOR GUSEV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .84 KSENIA HNYLYTSKA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .88 OLEKSANDR HNYLYTSKYJ. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .92 ILYA ISUPOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .98 NIKITA KADAN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .102 ZHANNA KADYROVA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .106 ALEVTINA KAKHIDZE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 VLODKO KAUFMAN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114 PAVLO KERESTEY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118 LESIA KHOMENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .122 ALINA KLEITMAN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .126 OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .130 VITALIY KOKHAN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .134 DARIA KOLTSOVA.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .138 IGOR KONOVALOV . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .142 PAVLO KOVACH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .146 TARAS KOVACH. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .150 VOLODYMYR KOZHUKHAR. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .154 NIKITA KRAVTSOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .158 ANATOLIY KRYVOLAP.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .162 SASHA KURMAZ .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .168 ANTON LOGOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .172 PAVLO MAKOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .176 TATYANA MALINOVSKAYA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .182 MAXIM MAMSIKOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .186 OLEXA MANN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .190 MYKOLA MATSENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .194


VOLUME 2 BORІS MIKHAILOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200 ROMAN MIKHAYLOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206 ROMAN MININ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .210 ZOYA ORLOVA.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .214 SERGIY PETLYUK.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .218 YURIY PIKUL.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 222 VLADA RALKO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 226 VINNY REUNOV.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232 MYKOLA RIDNYI.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 236 OLEKSANDR ROITBURD. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 240 STEPAN RYABCHENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 246 VASYL RYABCHENKO.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252 ANDRIY SAGAYDAKOVSKY.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 256 OLEKSIY SAI. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 260 ARSEN SAVADOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 264 NIKITA SHALENNY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 272 MASHA SHUBINA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 276 TYBERIY SILVASHI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280 MARINA SKUGAREVA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284 YURIY SOLOMKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 288 ANTON SOLOMOUKHA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 292 ANNA SOROKOVAYA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 298 ANATOL STEPANENKO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 302 OLEKSANDR SUKHOLIT.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 306 IVAN SVITLYCHNYI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .310 SERGEI SVIATCHENKO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .314 ANDRIY SYDORENKO.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 320 VICTOR SYDORENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 324 OLEG TISTOL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 330 VALERIA TROUBINA.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 336 VASYL TSAGOLOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 340 MATVIY VAISBERG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 346 ANNA VALIEVA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 352 MYROSLAV VAYDA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 356 ARTEM VOLOKITIN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 360 STAS VOLYAZLOVSKY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 364 ALINA YAKUBENKO. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 368 OLEKSANDR ZHYVOTKOV.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 372 EGOR ZIGURA. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 378 GAMLET ZINKIVSKIY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 382 OLEKSII ZOLOTARIOV. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 386


The present edition marks the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s sovereign statehood. Over this period, contemporary Ukrainian art saw several generation changes and had gradually become one of the most prominent phenomena of the national culture, mirroring its potential, challenges, ambiguities and innovations. In a way, it follows up on the earlier 20 Years of Presence project, extending its scope and increasing its diversity. I see my main goal as the popularization of contemporary Ukrainian art both in Ukraine and abroad. Therefore, I would like to represent it in all its various mediums: traditional painting, graphic art, sculpture and photography coexisting with exceedingly prominent new artistic practices and new kinds of art made possible by cutting-edge technologies and new media. I have also broadened the creative field, both in my exhibitions and in my publishing projects, by including the growing number of artists from different generations and movements, enriching the panorama of contemporary Ukrainian art. All artists were offered an opportunity to describe what these 25 years of presence meant to them. Regretfully, we did not get a chance to talk to all artists featured in the present edition: several prominent late artists are represented by memoirs or essays on their works. I would like to state outright that this is neither a Top 10 nor an encyclopedia, and neither does this book seek to offer a comprehensive catalogue of the contemporary Ukrainian art scene. Many artists who are not included here are well worth public attention. Their works should be featured in subsequent editions. For now, our team of art scholars have reached out to the artists who had garnered public attention over the last two decades. They already have “a story of their own,” longer and richer in the case of the older generation, shorter yet no less vibrant for the younger. We contacted those who have created a singular artistic universe, immediately recognizable to viewers and captivating to critics; they have a thing or two to say both about art and about life. Our selection will map out not only different generations but also different groups, movements and communities that were either active in the 1990s or remain active to this day: the artists of the New Wave and the Initial Response Unit, the legendary Painting Preserve, Kyiv squats, R.E.P., SOSka, Open Group and other alliances represent the broadest “artistic geography,” covering Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Lviv, Kherson, Dnipro, Uzhhorod, as well as artists of Ukrainian origins that currently live abroad. It is our firm belief that the present format of illustrated interviews or monologues is not only interesting but also crucially important. It presents an opportunity to discover more about the artists, hear their voices, and closely compare their works with their statements, their focus in art and in life. The commonplace clichéof “What did the artist mean?” acquires new nuances here. I would like to stress that the 25 Years of Presence is not only a cross-section of the contemporary Ukrainian art scene or a richly illustrated guidebook to Ukrainian art. It is also a nuanced and often surprising “soul-searching” of our art with all its dynamic tensions that propel the culture forward. It offers a compelling and vivid exploration of the artist’s role and place in society that provides raw material for new observations, projects, dreams, efforts, discoveries and achievements. After all, no matter what course history might take, it is art that ends up creating and recreating life, giving it meaning and granting us hope eternal. Igor Abramovych, concept, project curator

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It has been 25 years since Ukraine gained independence, so it might be time to draw up preliminary conclusions. The fabric of events, beliefs, trends, discoveries and disappointments have mostly come into focus. For this very reason, 1991 became the benchmark or the point of origin, if you will, for the present anthology. What traits were typical of the period? What were the crucial landmarks of contemporary Ukrainian art? How did imagery, formal language, genre and medium preferences reflect changing trends and generations? How did Ukrainian art relate to the global context? The title Presence might seem purely descriptive, but, in point of fact, it boasts a tantalizing plurality of meanings, raising and analyzing all these questions, and more. The book offers a compelling cross-section of contemporary Ukrainian art over the course of the last 25 years, or thereabouts. It represents various branches of art (painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography), various generations and various creative methodologies. This delightful diversity, however, has some uniting motifs: contemporary Ukrainian art is at the stage of “the paradoxical logic of imagery,” producing startling transformations in a complicated collision of contradictions. Ukraine is a country with a nonstandard trajectory, living in the perennial Age of Change and startling unpredictable paradoxes. Contemporary Ukrainian art is informed by the unpredictable national turbulent element, made manifest not only in apparent “discontinuities” in plots and formal language, but also, in deeper mental associations. Contemporary Ukrainian art had always had a proclivity for figurative imagery. It found its most consistent and prominent manifestation, provisionally defined as “the will towards the figurative,” in painting. This branch of art that keeps dying and rising from the ashes seems to be the most compelling rallying cry of the new Ukrainian visual art. The late 1980s and the early 1990s saw the first rise of figurative painting, often described as the Transavantgarde neo-baroque; it is recognizable in its vitality, large formats, mythological lean, and parodic usage of quotes. After a brief slump in the 1990s, paintings were rehabilitated again at the turn of the century, with a twist. Quite a lot of Ukrainian painters remained proponents of figurative, narrative, hyperexpressive art and of the monumental format, but postmodern appropriations of art history were sidelined by transmedia storytelling, which enriched art works with screens, magazine stylizations, purely visual practices and technologies that were previously considered alien to painting (for example, photographs, TV, cinema and digital images, graffiti, etc.). What we are dealing with here is not just simplistic borrowing of photographic or video tropes. Paintings are insistently “presented as a site of discontinuity or dialogue between irreconcilable forces: pop imagery broadcasting the din of history is reflected in the dark waters of existence” (S. Shuripa, Triumph of Painting). The noughties brought optical experiments: painting rediscovered itself as a relevant medium that can productively address the key symptom of the age, namely, the loss of the Real. The faster the media erodes the materiality of physical reality, the deeper “the metastases of pleasure” reach into the body of art. This process is particularly intense in painting. The noughties were the age of the final and irreversible loss of reality, the triumph of sweeping imitations, the totalizing play of ersatz objects that produced transparently visionary “post-media realism.” Post-media realism visualized phantom bodies that replaced objective perceptions of material reality with a growing sense of unreality, approaching a metaphysical conundrum. The Presence amply represents not only the figurative but also the abstract trend. In fact, the first upsurges in abstract art in Ukraine predate its independence. And I don’t mean just the distant 1910s –1920s: the late 1950s also offer examples of geometric, expressionist and minimalist abstract works. Plastic abstractions became particularly prominent during the independence era, largely associated with the Painting Preserve group that cultivated the modernist tradition on local

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soil. No matter what experiments the group or its individual members might embark on, they cherish painting as a practice steeped in introverted visions and subjective sensibility. Gradual changes in the Ukrainian art scene began in the mid-noughties. Young artists often debuted in public spaces or by analyzing mass “democratic rituals,� producing a new volatile and ever-shifting monumental sensibility. Many turned to socially and critically relevant problems. The new generation focused on the language of the streets and on the performative political life of the post-Orange Revolution Ukraine. Solidarity and self-organization, which often took institutional forms, became a prominent part of their activity, forming creative communities and group projects spanning various media. The host of artists that practiced these new trends in personal as well as artistic life are comprehensively represented in the present edition. Oleksandr Soloviov

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Whether within the scope of an individual life or the life of a country, 25 years is a substantial period of time, especially if it saw social upheavals, societal shifts, political and economic crises, revolutions, military engagements and other historic moments that leave a mark on each citizen, one way or the other. The 25 years of Ukrainian independence had all that, and more. They posed a number of tough questions to culture, art and artists, and we are searching for answers to this day. The questions included the interplay between freedom and responsibility, national self-determination and integration into global processes, critical revision of national experience and the need to make oneself legible to the world, the yearning both for creative autonomy and for integration into political movements. A lot had changed over these 25 years. Now it might be hard to imagine the ideological “superstitions” that had once defined the national art, affecting both art works and their reception by viewers and critics. One might say that the hard-earned dream about artistic freedom had finally come to pass. We had also discovered that freedom might be cruel, and comes at a cost. These days, one can do just about anything in art, but that does not make it any easier. Moreover, the social situation poses new challenges and pressing problems. During the Soviet era, art suffered from ideological censure and was forced to adapt or seek “aesthetic nooks and crannies” in order to survive. Now that the state has no cultural policies to speak of, art is at the mercy of the “wild market,” having to fend for itself without grants, museums or centers for contemporary art, and with few galleries, that is, without the artistic infrastructure every modern society needs. Without this scaffolding, full-blooded creative life is simply impossible. The recently proclaimed “orientation towards Europe” encourages us to rethink how Ukrainian art might integrate into the Western cultural space. It might seem like isolation from the wider world is a thing of the past. But is it really? More and more Ukrainian artists exhibit their works abroad, but could we really say that our art is present on the global scene and well-integrated into its most prominent processes? The state stays out of it. It is no coincidence that the approval of almost every Ukrainian project for the Venice Biennale was accompanied by scandals and misunderstandings. Suffice to mention the already legendary 2001 project (V. Raevskyi, O. Milenti, A. Savadov, O. Tistol, Yu. Solomko, S. Panich). Passions ran high, and in retrospect their “tent” looks like a dark prophesy. Military tents became a prominent part of public life in Ukraine since 2004. The 2013 project had also surprised me: Ukraine was still at peace, but the works of Ukrainian artists O. Ridnyi, Zh. Kadyrova and H. Zenkovskyi exhibited in Palazzo Loredan featured clanking weaponry, threateningly rising military boots, and grey spatial forms that seemed to try to keep viewers out, overpowering visitors with their volume and weight. Was it another premonition? The new dramatic events in Ukraine started in the late 2013. It seems like artists are well worth listening to. It’s a pity nobody in the country does. The Western world that we long to join had long been monitoring art works and creative projects. True artists have a special gift: they have a certain prophetic power and see things that remain overlooked in the bustle of the quotidian. Remember the wonderful film The Draughtsman’s Contract by Peter Greenaway, where the artist saw hidden secrets and drew what he had no right to know? It got him killed. It is fairly clear, as metaphors go: art is socially relevant and carries a risk for its author. Soviet ideologues knew it well, supporting the artists cum propagandists and agitators, and destroying or hindering those who might say something different. Artists look in the direction you least expect, and are capable of seeing new possibilities, new routes and new meanings in life and in the world. Is this limited to politics? Certainly not. It extends to a certain approach to the world, to life, to humankind. It is worth noting that a “critical stance” of any color was never prominent in Ukrainian art. For this very reason, the works of Borіs Mikhailov, Vagrych Bakhchanian or “Odessa conceptualists”, which, however, mostly focused on unmasking “the total disconnect between what was said and what was done” that crested in the late Soviet decades, deserve particular attention. The artists of the New Wave made interesting attempts to reevaluate certain aspects of the national tradition. For Ukraine, which remains enthralled with a purely mythological notion of itself, the theme remains exceedingly relevant. But this function did slide to the side as artists lost interest in it. The artists of the R.E.P. group declared a social and critical program, but these days they

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are mostly exhibited abroad. The events of the last couple of years had made the theme of “politics and art” newly relevant. Many artists joined the Maidan protests and supported political and social movements, but that was mostly a manifestation of their civic rather than artistic position. Illustrating one’s feelings or impressions does not suffice to make sense of the events. To be an artist, to analyze the “inner structure” of events and social processes, and, even more crucially, to find a humanist stance that is so important in the world at large and in our country in particular, one needs distance. What is the artist’s role in a society torn apart by contradictions, in the throes of destruction and distress? Should artists stand back and do whatever their talent dictates, representing their understanding of art, the world or their very being, or illustrate political slogans du jour? It is dubious whether political art of any description exists in Ukraine at this stage: we do not have sufficient creative reserves. Or could it be that we just don’t see the full picture? We cannot demand of art what it lacks. Discussing what is indeed on offer is more productive. This brings into sharp relief the possibly most pressing problem of the social dimension of art, namely, the lack of sufficient representation. The need for a museum (or museums even) of contemporary Ukrainian art was first voiced during Perestroika. Even in Kyiv, one has no opportunity to see contemporary art unless there is a big show at the Art Arsenal or at the PinchukArtCentre. At present, our country has no collection that would offer a comprehensive overview of national art from the latter half of the 20 th century to the present. Art publications or texts about artists are few and far between. It is no coincidence that the “little-known” artists or works of the latter half of the 20 th century keep being discovered. The dimensions of contemporary art, or art as such, for that matter, remain undefined. We do know, however, that the 20 th century art was diverse and multidirectional, spanning interior design and political activism, as well as wonderful works that decorate streets or private spaces. How do we define the difference between skilled craftsmanship and works of art? What separates “a professionally manufactured artifact” from an artwork reflecting the Zeitgeist, artist’s personal vision, cultural challenges and innovative imagery? These issues need further elaboration, especially given that our country still harbors, in collusion with its Union of Artists, outdated Soviet principles with their anachronistic “kinds and genres,” or “themes and ideas,” that “produce” artifacts distant both from the pressing issues of contemporary culture and society, and from art as such. State acknowledgements (such as the titles of the People’s Artist or Merited Artist, Shevchenko Prize, various awards, and more) still rest on these “traditional values.” Society still treats contemporary art (as an umbrella term for everything from modernism onwards) as something “strange,” “provocative,” “avant-garde” or even “immature.” Contemporary art has a hard time reaching museums and collections. It is often exhibited in abandoned factories or industrial spaces, which might explain why young artists often think that “contemporary” means amateurish, brutal, markedly provocative, jejune and feckless. Meanwhile international exhibitions and art forums indicate the growing prominence of “mature creative statements,” the very “meaning” that defines the value and validity of formal languages, materials and fantastic technologies. The perennial questions of “how?” and “what?” are supplanted by the no less complicated “what for?” which just might be the most relevant. 25 years is a huge era for Ukrainian art, producing dozens of deserving artists from different generations and movements. They try, each in his or her own way, to “say the most important thing” over the din of time, describing what haunts and preoccupies them, our country, its past and present, the challenges of contemporary life, war and peace, joy and pain, and, last not least, art, this most human of all activities. And they are well worth listening to. Galyna Sklyarenko

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25 Years of Presence seems to brim with vibrant emotions. This catalogue just might glow in the dark, or levitate. Just ask those who will keep it as a document of the era, a memoir of those who transformed our reality over these 25 years. Transformations, after all, are artists’ specialty, their professional shibboleth, their goal and their responsibility. As the curator and art historian Hans Ulrich Obrist had put it, “Art is that which remains a step ahead of reality.” Ukrainian reality, with its moist feminine Slavic element and all the tantalizing multinational elements of the European crossroads, produces artists year after year, generation after generation. Ukraine is like a woman who needs a mirror to admire her unique, imminent, vibrant, twisted beauty marked by crow’sfeet of tragic twists of its complicated history. A voyeur and collector of details by nature, I am particularly grateful to those who allow to be observed and do not mind sharing details. The union of an interviewer and his or her interlocutor is blessed in the heavens of historiography. I am blessed: I never tire of posing questions, and artists never begrudge me answers. Ever since adolescence, when I first found myself in an artist’s studio (it was at a theater), studios seemed like the most interesting place in the world to me. This is what curious people of the Middle Ages must have felt like in an alchemist’s den: you see reality take shape in front of your very eyes, in the here and now. No matter how far contemporary art might have strayed from its origins in craftsmanship, this remained, and shall remain forever: artists shape reality, and who knows if it even had shape before their touch. In discussing the beauty of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Jean Cocteau, the coeval of modernism, said that modern beauty might seem tired out from outracing its times, but that makes it no less gorgeous. Alone with this beauty, artists create reality from blank slate. No matter what changes art may have undergone over the last century, no matter how prominent curators may have become, one thing remains unchanged: “Curators have to follow art, and not vice versa; artists, not curators, make all the discoveries” (Hans Ulrich Obrist). I am grateful for this opportunity to witness the transmogrification of gold in the alchemical crucible. As I see it, 25 Years of Presence is important precisely because all artists, with the exception of those who are no longer with us, were given an opportunity of direct speech. We recorded their unique voices and intonations. There is no such thing as a collective portrait of artists because “the artist is a person who has chosen a life of ‘independence’ from the conventional structures. He is by nature unequipped for group thinking or action” (Lucy Lippard)*. Ukrainian artists, however, had joined Maidan, the Revolution of Dignity, both as private citizens and artists, on barricades both real and cultural. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to those who conceived this book and helped it come into being: I know from personal experience how hard it is to weave all threads into a single tapestry. Inga Esterkina * Lucy Lippard, The Art Workers’ Coalition: Not a History. Lucy Lippard is an American writer and journalist, art critic, activist, curator, proponent of feminist art, the author of multiple books about contemporary art.

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Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art — and in criticism — today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are. Susan Sontag*

Writing about the national cultural scene’s history over the last 25 years when you are just 27 yourself is no mean feat. It might be better to refrain from writing altogether. The feeling of engagement with collective history and memory, as well as personal responsibility for the present, preclude my silence. The processes and phenomena that occurred in Ukrainian cultural life of the 1990s have been sparsely documented and little analyzed. Among its living witnesses, critics and curators who described and analyzed their experience are few and far between. Their efforts and works are underappreciated, and a handful of scholars can hardly make up for the lethargy of the professional community, the absence of established analytical framework or systematic archival projects. Both society at large and our professional community had not been prone to self-reflection, this sign of maturity. We are gradually laying the groundwork for it, tackling flashbacks to our unprocessed past, for we cannot constructively shape the present without first coming to terms with history. We proceed, now successfully, now clumsily, catching up with the advanced lessons we missed. Coming to terms with history is a painful and inevitably traumatic process. The pain of reawakened traumas brings us to our senses and forces us to move on. The last quarter century (and more) was a complicated period for Ukraine and the world at large, rife with ambiguities, challenges and crises. Ever new challenges surfaced from the murky waters of the raging stream of history. It would be naïve to say that art was the crucial agent in the years past. We should not overestimate its social function. We should not underestimate it either. It is art, after all, that serves as one of the most prominent signs of presence, of a cultural field that supports self-analysis and makes meanings legible and intelligible. Art is a sign of time but not its subject, reflecting social, political and historical issues or delving deeper into mythological or formal problems as means of resistance or escapism. We are frantically trying to ascribe meanings to our history in order to escape the beaten path that has neither a start nor an endpoint. Self-awareness, self-reflection and responsibility are always necessary, but, as a society, we seem to be just approaching them, trying to avoid past mistakes. We skipped many crucial steps along the way, and it seems like we are finally learning to do the necessary things when opportunity arises. We should learn not to cast blame and buckle in for the long haul in our inevitable ongoing transformations. Currently the art scene often breaks out in superficial conflicts. Conflicts, of course, are a natural and inalienable part of evolution. The problem lies in the fact that ostensibly irreconcilable differences often stem from simple misunderstandings: a thorough analytical framework would have fostered productive dialogue, but multiple blank spots and misinformation push us into a game of musical chairs with “legitimacy.” Instead of encouraging productive discussions, these conflicts mostly unfold as petty squabbles on the social media that seldom demonstrate anything but the low level of culture. Deconstruction — conscious dismantling of received assumptions and clichés in order to change perspective and return to meanings — is a valid analytical tool and an effective instrument for innovation. It shouldn’t be confused with destruction, blind indiscriminate demolition. Deconstruction offers a far better chance of success and eventual progress. The rising number of art journals and curatorial projects that might shed light on the situation is an encouraging symptom. They foster dialogue between artists and the public, between the cut-

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ting-edge art movements and the lagging scholarship and state apparatus, and improve communication within the art scene by goading contemporary art out of its ivory tower. These years saw the publication of countless catalogues about discrete artists and projects, but editions that tackled the broader context were rare. The present publication is a part of a larger puzzle, a line in the long list of what had to and remains to be done to establish bridges where there were none, and to reconstruct reality from artifacts, witness statements and memoirs. As an attempt to analyze the present as the direct result of the past and as foundations for the future, it seeks to establish a constructive and functional system of relations in the chaos of ostensibly random trends, phenomena and agents. This system would have to be founded on transparency, allowing alienated artists that clawed their way to the global level out of the quicksand of the indifferent local art process to become a real community. I was heartened when I discovered that this book would contain not only works and biographical information, but also interviews with each artist. I am grateful to all authors that I had the honor to talk to during the project for their common sense, discipline, mental clarity and, last not least, sense of humor. Artists’ commentaries are indispensable for understanding the art process, its participants and ourselves. There is a growing list of departed artists who were cultural phenomena unto themselves, generating unconventional thinking and offering insights that would be of crucial importance now. Having lost Oleksandr Hnylytskyj, Oleg Golosiy, Valentyn Raevskyi, Anton Solomoukha, Fedir Tetianych and many more, we shouldn’t waste a chance to record the commentaries of those who are still here. After all, past that point only interpretations remain. Natalia Matsenko * Susan Sontag. Against Interpretation and Other Essays. — Picador USA, 2001 (First published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966), p. 14.

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While collecting interviews for this book, I listened to many people. Their personalities or views might have differed, but one thing united them all: they believed that their presence on the planet was justified by art. Artists constitute a unique group: they might fail to understand the most mundane things or feel out of touch with the commonplace “normal” life, but they have an intuitive grasp of the world, its shortcomings and singularity. It falls to artists to establish the values in any given society, defining its future preferences and intellectual paradigms. Artists treat such crucial matters as memory, traditions, or time. They have the right to work with these categories, but they have to be aware that, should they misuse or abuse them, the consequences may be grave. Art should offer alternative models for our coexistence, help us to reevaluate our cultural identity, and explain the laws of the universe. A true artist’s presence is not subject to the conventional understanding of time. Artists exist for a while in the material world, and then continue in their works, ideas and pronouncements. In his article “Background Stories: Modern and Contemporary Art, World Currents, China,” the art scholar Terry Smith noted that Placemaking, world picturing and connectivity are the most common concerns of artists these days because they are the substance of contemporary being. Increasingly, they override residual distinctions based on style, mode, medium and ideology. They are present in all art that is truly contemporary. Distinguishing, precisely, this presence in each artwork is the most important task for an art criticism that would be adequate to the demands of contemporaneity. Tracing the place of each artwork within the larger flows that are shaping this present is the task of contemporary art history.

The present book is not just a collection of conversations with artists: I see it as an important attempt to analyze the artists’ world, the parallel reality they inhabit that sets the framework for the reality we all share. Each artist’s philosophy, singular sensibility and observations on their existence offer a valuable, gripping and useful guide for self-reflection. These artists hold up a mirror to our identity. They hold up a mirror to our customs, mentality, goals and dreams. Their art makes manifest our failings and fears, mapping out what needs further attention so that our lives could be more harmonious, accomplished and joyful. Artists protect their society, standing up for justice, protesting, defending human rights and our civic stance. We are recognized in the world thanks to art. Culture is any country’s best trademark. The recent colossal social and political changes in Ukraine jumpstarted painful transformations. The world’s exposure to them was limited to patchy and often biased news coverage. Few foreigners come to Ukraine to learn more: the majority think about us in clichés and stereotypes. Art can tell more, and more persuasively, about what we fear, what we want, and what we are. I will not overestimate the role of contemporary Ukrainian art on the global scene, but one should not underestimate its role or evolution either. Over the last couple of years, many captivating events presented Ukrainian art in the global context. No event is exempt from criticism, but one cannot discount the broad public reaction to them. For example, the 1st Kyiv Biennale Arsenale 2012 showcased a large cross-section of global art, introducing international big names to Ukrainian audiences. The second Biennale, The Kyiv School, was completely different, but made no less of a splash in Ukraine. The symptomatic Ukrainian international festival of contemporary sculpture Kyiv Sculpture Project hosted such stars as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Nigel Hall, Jaume Plensa, Sui Jianguo, Eva Rothschild and Ukrainian artists. Since 2010, Lviv-based artists have been actively showcasing Ukrainian art at the Ukrainian Cross-Section triennial (Lublin, Wrocław). International Biruchyi and Kaniv symposiums also foster intercultural dialogue and often invite artists from abroad, as well as send Ukraine artists on international tours.

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The DAAD Gallery in Berlin hosted The Ukrainians exhibition, showcasing artists from Ukraine and Germany, including Nikita Kadan, Lada Nakonechna, Lesia Khomenko, Zhanna Kadyrova, Vlada Ralko, Borіs Mikhailov, and more. The Open Group had an interesting project in Prague entitled Where’s My Gallery?, uniting 8 artists. The first artists’ residency of the Futura Art Center, the project unfolded in several Ukrainian and Czech cities simultaneously. As participants searched for a gallery, the process was tracked and exhibited in Prague. Roman Minin got acclaim in America, London opened up Saatchi Gallery to Ukrainian artists, Paris hosted the Open Stage festival of Ukrainian culture, and recently the Art and Film Biennale in Worpswede (Lower Saxony) chose Ukraine as the main guest, inviting 29 artists from all over the country to the project entitled Transformation. Evidence. The list could be continued. Experts believe that Ukrainian art is garnering more interest from connoisseurs abroad not only because Ukraine became better known after making the news, but also because its art is interesting as such, and unique in still believing in harmony, beauty and craftsmanship, uniting strong artistic training and singular sensibility with a conceptual approach. What are these events if not a sign of presence? They leave little doubt that Ukraine is actively developing its cultural space; no matter how challenging the political and economic situation might get, Ukrainian citizens always appreciated and valued art. Kateryna Ray

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Cultural revolution always precedes its social counterpart, creating spaces for self-expression and experimentation for intellectuals but remaining illegible to an average citizen. Ukrainian artists sensed the coming changes long before upheaval reached the streets, but Ukrainian society circa 2013 was too lethargic to listen to creative prophesies, take off its rose-tinted glasses and overcome largely internal enemies (irresponsibility, immaturity and the docile Soviet mentality). The last few years has mobilized the nation’s internal reserve. Audiences have become smarter, more attentive, active and better educated. They seek dialogue and deep reflection on the notions of self-awareness, self-expression and freedom, seeing how the three now affect their lives. The title of the book is far from random. The very notion of presence defines the structure of the catalogue. Presence is not limited to our representation or place on the map of global culture. In this case, presence is coterminous with the philosophical concept of Dasein (German for “being there, as experienced by me”). Humankind establishes the meaning of life by exploring Dasein’s existential structure and discovering what is worth improving, and what is worth fighting for. The book addresses attempts to catch up with the West, integration into the global cultural scene while preserving national values and ethnic specificity, the yearning for globalization and new creative innovations. An artist is a person who exists in the state of perennial analysis in search of truth. On these pages, artists often discuss the nature of freedom and escapism. The dream of freedom is intimately linked to our historic past. In retrospect, we can say with certainty that totalitarianism was doomed from the word go: humankind perceives any constraint as bondage that it would eventually want to shake off. After a struggle, once the main goal seems to be within reach, comes a moment of the highly anticipated leisure, but it is illusory. In his book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm explored “what for” and “from what” humankind yearns to be free. Ukrainian artists also tackle this issue in the present book, answering an interesting question: what happens once you finally attain freedom? Do you proceed to build a new democratic society, or do you make the first step towards the abyss of anarchy and choke on the long-yearned-for freedom? The second theme of the catalogue deals with reasons for and results of aesthetic escapism. Attempts to escape horrifying reality into the illusory world or a neat nice room just might be the leading motif of contemporary artists across the globe. Humankind is suspended in artificial alienation: the material world it created makes it weaker, gradually subsuming and destroying its individuality. Humankind fell victim to scientific and technical progress of its own making: little wonder that it yearns to escape industrialization, simplification of human needs, devaluation of intellectual legacy insofar as it has no practical application, mechanistic mentality, technological discoveries that might destroy the world, and virtual reality. Artists try to explain both the sources of escapism and their possible effect on the emergent generation that would be unaccustomed to struggle. They also describe people who flee society into art, which offers opportunities that they cannot or do not want to pursue in real life. With this selection of portraits in hand, a reader is encouraged to come to his or her own conclusions about the developments in Ukrainian fine arts over the last 25 years. This book is also important because it tackles the charged issue of mass reception of art. Scholars note that for the longest time the public reacted to art like a picky child, indiscriminately accusing artists of imitation, bathos or overusing Western clichés. Art gains new significance during crises because it is tasked with transforming consumers into creators who would be open to discussions, constructive criticism, self-expression, new experiences and impressions. A quarter century is too short a time to put a young country on the world map, but the first cardinal shifts are already evident. The national art is shedding official clichés and state-dictated styles in its search for universalism. Shortcomings outnumber accomplishments, but this is just the beginning of our journey. 25 Years of Presence attempts to create a well-rounded image of this period in culture and time. Readers are offered stories, frank memories and shocking admissions of artists from several generations. The artists of different ages, styles, beliefs and views are united in their desire to produce and implement new ideas that would form the body of Ukrainian art. It is a noble cause indeed. Roksana Rublevska

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APL 315

Born in 1986, APL315 developed a serious interest in graffiti in the late 1990s, at the height of fascination with Western street art. He currently works both in public and in exhibition spaces. His solo shows were hosted in galleries and museums in Kyiv, Warsaw, Baku, Berlin, Seoul and other cities, while he continues to paint graffiti in train wagons all around the world. He developed into a mature artist with recognizable imagery and plastic language by the 2000s. Starting in 2005, he works with galleries, creating canvasses that combine graffiti aesthetics with neo-expressionism. Selected exhibitions: Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Enfant Terrible. Odessa Conceptualism (2015, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Top-10 of Young Odessa Artists (2015, KhudPromo Art Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Project. APL315 and Oleksiy Zolotariov (2014, G13 Space, Kyiv); Fake Hikers. Changdong National Art Studio (2014, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea); No Idea (2014, V9 Gallery, Warsaw); Hype (2013, Kicik Qalart Gallery, Baku); Arsenale 2012 (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Fail (2012, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Sad Shit (2011, Na Insty­tutskiy Gallery, Kyiv); Igor Brutalinskyi (2010, Norma Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Inside-Outside (2009, Matthew Bown Gallery, Berlin); Interactive (2009, Viuro-Street Art Gallery, Warsaw).

I moved from Russia to Ukraine and started school the year the USSR collapsed. I remember the moment when Russian got reclassified as a foreign language but neither the teachers nor the children had managed to master Ukrainian. Those were dark, hungry and desolate times. We had nowhere to go. We didn’t know what to do with our free time, and made up our own games. The hip-hop culture, with graffiti as one of its key components, reached Ukraine in the late 1990s. It became an instant hit, spreading through residential areas like wildfire. Ukrainian city blocks soon acquired the look of an American ghetto of the early 1980s. The trajectory of Ukrainian graffiti differed significantly from the classical (North American) school. Information vacuum and isolation prompted artists to make up rules of their own. We eventually went from the first cautious dabblings to a recognizable competitive product known well beyond Ukraine, primarily for its singularity and originality.

Middle Class, installation, 2011

When I was applying to colleges, I didn’t so much as consider applying to an arts program. The vast majority of local graffiti artists didn’t have the foggiest that graffiti had anything to do with art, and that’s despite doing it for over 5 years. Back in the day, my “street colleagues” and myself were apolitical. We cared for little outside finding money for art supplies. In the late 1990s through the early 2000s, finding art supplies, establishing an Internet presence and traveling to network and acquire new experience was a struggle if you were a part of the Ukrainian graffiti scene. The survival of the fittest and our yearning for work produced quality output though. The majority of Ukrainian graffiti artists didn’t start talking politics until the Orange Revolution, when they went to Kyiv to support the movement. Everyone wanted changes, but, like always, reality didn’t live up to our expectations.

Don’t be a tourist be a terrorist, canvas, mixed media, 2012 20


Klementowice, graffiti, 2016

After those events, in 2006, I found myself in Moscow, invited to a festival celebrating the opening of a wine factory. I started new side projects under conditions I wasn’t quite used to: galleries, canvasses, exhibitions. It was a good start, I had it all: a scholarship, a studio, exhibition spaces, supplies. I’ve been juggling genres ever since, but without mixing the two. In graffiti, I experiment with shapes and colors, integrating my works into their environment. On canvas or paper, I document the absurdity of our time. Maybe it’s my way of staying sane. The street attracts me, essentially, with its freedom and independence. I get to decide what’s good and what’s not. For me, this feeling, real and authentic, lies at the core of art as such. Official art, of course, is somewhat more complicated. There are many factors that hindered me at first, to the point where I could no longer do what I wanted. I always felt the pressure: pressure from gallery owners, collectors, art critics, art scholars. Learning to tune it out when creating my projects took time. I think I became an “official” artist after that.

For a while, I lived in an expensive new high-rise, rubbing shoulders with corrupt coppers, politicians and other silver spoon types while subsisting on a daily budget of a dollar. That would buy me 2 bottles of beer, a bag of instant ramen and chips. The rich, meanwhile, had this thing where they imitated each other’s tastes and all bought the same thing, like, say, a black Jeep Cayenne. These luxury goods inspired some works: for example, an installation of a Cayenne stuffed full with instant noodles created for an exhibition marking an anniversary of Ukraine’s independence at Mystetskyi Arsenal. Ukraine might be a good place to start, but local artists should travel abroad to hone their craft and see their place in the world. Otherwise they start to reinvent the wheel like the majority of our artists. And, in general, how do you foster the feeling of freedom if some artists don’t have normal living conditions, never mind opportunities for self-realization? Do you just convert to Buddhism and live off solar energy? In conversation with Roksana Rublevska

Berlin, graffiti, 2015 21


Stone, canvas, mixed media, 100 x 160 cm, 2011

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Shadows, canvas, mixed media, 200 x 100 cm (each), 2013

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OLEKSANDR BABAK

Born in Kyiv in 1957. He graduated from T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and the Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Lives and works in Kyiv and Velykyi Pereviz (Poltava Region). Selected exhibitions: Art School (2016, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Volume (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian Landscape. The Wrong Side of Despair (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian Formula. Line of Landscape (2013, Ivan Honchar Museum, Kyiv); Double Nude (2012, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Grisaille (2011, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Folk Relevant. Landscape (2010, Ya Gallery Art Centre, Kyiv); Fence (2009, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian Motifs (2007, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Cossack Mamai. Ukrainian Folk Painting (2004, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Landschaft of a Pictorial Sanctuary (2002, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Crossroads (2001, Kunsthіstorіsches Museum, Vienna); Formal Portraits (1998, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Peer Gynt (1997, Trondheim, Norway); Ukrainian Classical Avant-Garde and Contemporary Art (1996, Ukrainian House Convention Centre, Kyiv); French-Ukrainian Encounters (1994, Ukrainian House Convention Centre, Kyiv); Art of Ukraine (1993, Musee des Augustins, Toulouse, France); Oleksandr Babak. Oleksandr Borodai (1992, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv).

Presence. For me, it’s not about taking up as much space as you can. It’s about quiet introspective focus on yourself, on what you do and how you do it. I don’t think you should obsess about presence: it comes on its own. Art. To discuss its role and function in general and at present in particular, you should turn to the possible reasons for its emergence. White handprints on cave walls proclaim: I EXIST. They reflect on the egotistical human desire to extend one’s space: I might pass away, but a part of me — be it this handprint, my self-portrait or my twin — shall remain. This, too, is presence. Perestroika. To be honest, I don’t think Perestroika changed anything in my works or personality. My expectations about myself, as a person and an artist, remained unchanged. In general, I don’t understand how one can change one’s principles depending on this or that factor. For me, art is always relevant, no matter when any given artwork was created. Art, with everything we mean by it and everything we expect of it, is relevance incarnate. It cannot be relevant because it is “in and of the moment.” Quality is the key criterion. Art cannot pander, dazzle with redundant external effects, compromise or kowtow to the market. Artists have to stay true to themselves, no matter what society might think. Based on these criteria, I consider myself a practitioner of relevant art. National art. Insofar as art is a language and each nation has a language and history of its own, art is national by its very definition, even if it’s not immediately apparent. As to Ukrainian art, I think that it should be just art first and foremost, and Ukrainian artists should be just artists, without any qualifiers. We should eschew modifiers “young,” “talented,” “merited,” or other hybrid epithets. Artistic method. Over the last 30 years, I’ve been working with the same object. It’s a “dead” village, abandoned by its residents more

than 50 years ago. I created several projects as I documented the stages of its disintegration. The themes of my studies changed accordingly. The Necropolis project (1989) focused on old wood. The exhibition showcased house roofs, ceiling beams, window shutters, lintels, looms, and more. Dwelling/Sculpture, Sculpture/Dwelling project (1997) focused on objects built of adobe, like rural clay houses. I invited local residents to work on the project: they created the structures based on my blueprints, and manufactured adobe communally. Carpet/Self-Portrait project (1998) is comprised of two cardboard sketches for the Self-Portrait with Tamara carpet (150 x 600 cm and 250 x 150 cm). The project recreated the local traditional ornamental stitching; local artists weaved a carpet based on these sketches. Formal Portraits project (1999) was based on pictures of former residents found in the “dead” village. Ten reconstructed figures, all over 2 meters tall, were printed out on transparent film. I created more than 10 projects on the territory of this object. I watched the village gradually disappear and recreated it in another dimension, as an artistic reconstruction. The archaic. When working with the archaic, you have to take care to avoid quoting it verbatim. Rather than adopting its form as is, you should try to creatively reconstruct the idea contained within it. Identity. It’s in our DNA: it elicits a feeling of belonging. Ukraine and the world. Ukraine gave itself to the world as is, understanding the importance of its present and continued existence. Culture. Culture covers an entire range of phenomena that lie beyond biology. It includes self-expression, among other things. In conversation with Kateryna Ray

From the Formal Portraits project, installation, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv, 1998

RE-construction archeological project, Olbia, Ukraine, 1995

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From Still Life series, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 220 cm, 2016

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Cain and Abel, acrylic on canvas, 300 x 500 cm, 2016

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Velykyi Pereviz Shepherds, acrylic on canvas, 300 x 500 cm, 2014

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NAZAR BILYK

Born in 1979 in Lviv. Graduated from M. Boichuk Kyiv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts and Design, and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (Kyiv). A sculptor working with public spaces, he lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Ukraine. Transformation der Moderne (2015, Osterreichisches Museum fur Volkskunde, Vienna); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art, 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Vessels (2014, Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Sculpture ON Sculpture (2013, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Industrial Eden (2013, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Counterforms (2012, Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv); Spaces (2011, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); Dream Catcher (2010, Art Basel, Miami, USA); Solo exhibition under the aegis of the Pro Helvetia Art Council (Switzerland) (2007, Irena Gallery, Kyiv); Triennial of Sculpture (2005, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv).

I TOOK A STEP BACK FROM EVERYTHING THAT WASN’T ESSENTIAL I had my doubts about applying to the Academy’s department of sculpture because I was also considering graphic design. Looking back, I can see why it appealed to me. Painting is sensuous and dramatic, it deals with color and emotions. What mattered to me though was the language of signs, clear and legible minimalist symbols, hence the choice between sculpture and graphic design. Everybody got their first commissions while still in college [M. Boichuk Kyiv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts and Design. — N. M.]. I always knew that you can take commissions for a year or two, but then you’ve got to choose. I have seen sculptors get stuck in a rut of just taking commissions for years on end, never to return to their original projects. I chose to step back because I knew I would get stuck otherwise. By 2010, I had enough money set aside to cast my sculptures without taking commissions. I also chose to step back from everything that wasn’t essential because I had my priorities straight. I just knew it had to be like that. We have all lived through the turbulent 1990s and learned to trust our gut feeling, because nobody knew what might happen next. When I applied to college, my mother said, “Lordy, what did you choose? That’s no life!” She changed her mind later. My grandfather and father were both sculptors. We, children of artists, have our track laid out for us. Environment matters a great deal: about 70% of artists’ children never manage to change their course. They remain defined by the worldview, lifestyle and beliefs of their parents. Back in the day, I managed to change course: a year after I graduated from college, I decided to leave art. “This is not my thing,” I said, driven by the spirit of adventures and defiance. I don’t quite understand myself from

back then. I don’t remember was prompted this. Everybody rallied against me: not only my parents, but my entire dynasty — my aunt, my uncle, my grandpa — are all artists. I eventually saw that I was outnumbered, and capitulated; I got into sculpture. I wouldn’t say that I wanted to become a sculptor when I was a kid. I don’t think that was the case. But everything developed sort of organically. There was no generation conflict in our family because we seldom clashed. Our opinions may have differed, but it never became a standoff, because none of us were ever 100% sure that he or she was doing the right thing. These doubts left us space for negotiations. Artists need doubt, and it all worked out for the better. I had shared a studio with my father for 6 years. We had separate rooms, but shared a kitchen and day-to-day arrangements. My friends would visit me at the studio, and we were often loud. Everyone wondered how we managed to get along. But we never had a problem: each had his own space that the other never meddled in. I think it worked out because my father used to share space with my grandpa once. In general, I always had it easy. My family was supportive, I never had a problem. The contemporary state of monumental art and schooling. The situation at present is as follows: what our grandfathers and fathers in the trade had built, the grandchildren have to see destroyed. I’m not saying if this is good or bad. A while back, when I was still in school, there were criteria in monumental art, even once you discounted ideological underpinnings: plastic principles, things like composition. All schools in sculpture relied on them. And now these criteria and teachers, much like Soviet art, are disappearing, you cannot find them outside of books. Exhibitions at

Counterforms, polymers, metal, h — 160 cm, 2012 (Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv)

Memory Construction Kit (fragment), polymers, glass, h — 40 cm, 2016

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Quotes, metal (Biruchiy Contemporary Art Project, Biruchiy Island, Ukraine), h — 150 cm, 2015

the Academy demonstrate a degree of disorientation. Ukraine does not yet have a generation that could create new sculptural plastics, whereas the older generation is dead, and its works with it. It’s a strange situation, a sort of chaos. The younger generation cannot yet offer a meaningful substitute, just trinkets and baubles. It cannot offer works that would stand the test of time. The ones that would are few and far between. The war has made the issue even more pressing. Each city and town has, I think, an average of three sites with statues: the World War II memorial, the Afghan War memorial, and now the memorial to the counter-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine. Last year I traveled through many towns to check out how these sites are managed. Aesthetically there’s nothing to write home about, it’s all terrible. Regional administrations put something up on a measly budget, put up photos. It’s all ad hoc. It’s all “folk art” because nobody has the funds for it, but there’s this drive, this commemorative grassroots initiative. A number of so-called “sculpture brigades” had emerged: they tour provincial towns with a ready-made catalogue of statues, “cheap yet fancy.” I’d rather Kyiv and smaller towns didn’t replace the leaders of yore on empty pedestals with another set of ideologically-charged monumental statues, but reconsidered our history. I’d rather we developed park sculpture, not to replace the destroyed monuments but side-by-side with them. We need a space for search and doubt that would unite sculptors and architects in new urban practices. The new sculpture should start in parks before eventually entreing squares or getting integrated into the cityscape. It would be wonderful

Signpost, granite (Recreation, the town of Irshansk, Ukraine), h — 160 cm, 2015

if someone created a park of contemporary sculpture because as things stand, we witness nothing but destruction and dissolution. Everything gets destroyed, whereas it should be brought to an open-air museum. I don’t have a personal account of social shifts because they coincided with personal changes in me. Those turbulent days were just the time of my adolescence for me. They brought things that are essential to my identity and life. I cannot analyze them dispassionately, from the vantage point of wisdom acquired with experience: I look at them the way the person who grew up in those days would. It’s hard for me to talk about it. I don’t focus on external factors, social processes, societal transformations. I had my experiences, and I try to stay true to them. I’m talking about reflecting on personal existence. I don’t know how to answer this question. I think that the past and present events are very important, but as an artist, I focus on something else entirely. I’m attuned to the present situation, but if it were different, I don’t think my works would have changed all that much. This shimmering surface is not quite my thing. It’s not that I took a step back from society. Of course, I don’t mean to say that these things are too minor for me, an artist perched in my ivory tower. It’s just that the world at present is too full of manipulations and political intrigues. I draw my own conclusions, but then, I don’t set out to keep abreast of the events. I try not to sink into the political and the social. Works like Memory Construction Kit, which deals with war, appear anyway because I’m not alienated from my country and I feel its pain, but this is not my main goal in art. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Space Around, polymers, metal, h — 450 cm, 2016 29


Rain, bronze, glass, h — 190 cm, 2010 (Landscape Alley, Kyiv) 30


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VOLODYMYR BOVKUN

Born in 1951. Graduated from Kyiv State Institute of Art (1975), where he studied at Tetiana Iablonska’s workshop. USIA Governmental Program fellow. A member of the Union of Artists of Ukraine since 1986. Volodymyr Bovkun’s works can be seen on the permanent exposition of the National Art Museum of Ukraine (Kyiv), State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow), Norton Dodge Collection (Washington, DC), the collection of the Austrian Parliament (Vienna), and Checkpoint Charlie Museum (Berlin). Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Kyiv Landscape (2016, Museum of Kyiv History, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Different Reality (2015, Karas Atelier Gallery, Kyiv); Freedom (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Retransmitter (2010, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Flash (2006, Karas Atelier Gallery, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2005, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Silence (2004, Soviart Gallery, Kyiv); Illusions (2003, Triptych ART Gallery, Kyiv); Plane (1999, Karas Atelier Gallery, Kyiv); New Directions (1998, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); White on White (1996, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); ARKADIЯ (1995, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Nonfigurative Painting (1993, Palais Pálffy, Vienna); Doors (1991, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv).

When it came to choosing my profession, my mom was a formative influence. She worked at the bureau of urban planning and architecture at the local administration. I grew up with drawing paper, drawing boards and colorful Chinese try squares for drafting. My mother was a skillful drawer. As a child, I dreamed of surpassing her. Eventually I started to attend art classes to support my growing fascination. This meant that I felt quite confident when applying to the Republican Art School, although I did worry a bit. At the Academy, I thought in different categories. My conflict with professors who stayed true to the old Erotic Column, oil on canvas, 200 x 100 cm, 1994 ironclad system escalated. nd In my 2 year, I got several Fs for formalism, and a threat of transfer to the dreaded department of education, which would spell a death sentence to a beginner artist. I was about ready to transfer to Kharkiv when I met Tetiana Iablonska in a corridor. She asked if I wanted to join her workshop, and, when she saw my beaming happy eyes, she told me to apply. Only the best students joined her team, so the moment I joined, the institute’s archive set aside my works as a model for instructors.

When I was still in high school, there were radio broadcasts of show trials of the Sixtiers, accused of nationalism. I always had an interest in the prohibited, attending closed cinema screenings and reading anti-Soviet literature, but I knew that their way was not for me. I supported the heroes who stood up to the party leadership without fearing public opprobrium, but I was not ready to lay down my life for ideological strife. I never found it expedient to sacrifice my art for an idea of freedom. After the Academy, I wound up at the monumental workshop of an art bureau. Official commissions for mosaics, stained glass windows and decorations left me little time for art. Nevertheless, I was brimming with ideas and decided to go into graphic art. It required less time and materials than painting, and it drew quite a lot of attention. This is how I became a graphic artist, showing my works at all the international republican shows. Painting didn’t enter my life until much later, during the Perestroika and glasnost, and I don’t regret that for a moment. The 1990s were particularly productive for artists of my generation. The Paris Commune art group emerged: I was invited to join, but made the choice to stay on my own. By the way, my last name, Bovkun, means a lone bull in archaic Ukrainian. That must be it. [Laughs] I don’t like teamwork and don’t want to hide behind somebody else’s curatorial vision. Sensing that the collapse of the USSR was coming, the team of

Guard, oil on canvas, 190 x 190 cm, 1994

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Volodymyr Bovkun’s exhibition. Freedom Project, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, 2012

Trio, oil on canvas, 130 x 170 cm, 1994

experts from the Tretyakov Gallery toured the republics to conduct the last systematic acquisition of new works they judged to be the best. They visited my studio too. In 1999, they opened the new exposition entitled Masterworks of the Latter Half of the 20th Century, and my Prayer had been on the permanent exposition for a long time. My American solo show was organized by the Moscow-based MARS gallery, which recommended me to a Chicago-based gallerist. My second visit to the USA came when I received a governmental grant to explore the culture of this wonderful country. I could choose the theme of my visit myself, and I was curious about the shape of non-profit art in a country as commercial as the US. A customized program of visits to museums and art institutions was tailored to my wish. In a way, it was a business trip. Why? The US befriend those they consider useful. These lucky ones return home changed, becoming better propagandists of the American world, obviously, in the good sense of the word. 25 years of independent Ukrainian art is a phenomenal thing! Despite mounting challenges of our historical crises, Ukrainian art kept producing new ideas. Artists did not only survive but thrive. Obviously, art does not necessarily get better as time passes, but it does progress.

Speaking of the local art market, it remains unbalanced. The galleries remain weak. Their current strategy speaks to the fact that nobody treasures artists as their number keeps growing. Esteemed institutions willing to support their artists remain few and far between. This doesn’t stop artists though. Instead of making the pragmatic choice and quitting this beggarly profession with its anxieties and inconsistencies, they bring staggering ambitions and hopes to the table. The conflict with Russia didn’t come as a surprise for me. War made manifest what existed in that civilization from the very beginning. The arrogant “Northerners,” driven by their barbarism and ignorance steeped in Christian Orthodox madness, have a false sense of self-righteousness and power, but that will not last forever. Vatican, too, organized the Crusades, but the Dark Ages are long over, even if our brothers in the north have not noticed it yet. My works are nonfigurative. I do not seek to offer concrete understanding of a fragment of the material word. I’m a retransmitter documenting subtle feelings that concern nobody but myself. I think we should clean images of everything nonessential, leaving only their essence. My projects are supposed to inspire viewers to become artists, whereas I withdraw and remain face to face with my reflections. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska

Turn Off the Light, oil on canvas, 145 x 200 cm, 2016

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Temple, oil on canvas, 201 x 302 cm, 1994

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Religion is the Biggest Un-Freedom, oil on canvas, 201 x 151,5 cm, 2016

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SERGEY BRATKOV

Born in Kharkiv in 1960. Graduated from I. Repin School of Arts (Kharkiv, 1978) and the Polytechnic Academy (Kharkiv, 1983). Co-founded the Fast Reaction Group with Borіs Mikhailov, Sergiy Solonskyi and Victoria Mikhailova in 1984. Selected exhibitions: Portrait Photography in Europe Since 1990 (2016, Museum of Photography GB, Thessaloniki, Greece / Netherlands Photo Museum, Amsterdam); Moscow Biennale (2015, Lead Project, VDNH, Moscow); Chapiteau Moscow (2013, Almine Rech Gallery, Paris); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale for Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Scream (2011, Regina Gallery, London); Heldenzeiten (2010, Haus der Photographie / Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany); Ukraine (2010, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Glory Days (2010, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany); Glory Days (2008, Fotomuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland); Sergey Bratkov (2007, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK); Vagina is My Motherland (2007, 52 th Venice Biennale, Palazzo Papadopoli, Venice); Birds (2005, Anita Beckers Gallery, Frankfurt, Germany); S.M.A.K. (2005, Stedelijk Museum, Ghent, Belgium); Kids (2004, Manifesta 5, San Sebastian, Spain); Menschen im Bunker (2004, Kunstbunker, Nuremberg, Germany); Return of the Artist (2003, 50 th Venice Biennale, Russian Pavillion, Venice); Fayurcity (2001, Regina Gallery, Moscow).

Bratkov’s works offer a clear illustration to the notion of contemporary world as a total performance, and of self-realization through play, in which human existence as such, rather than a discrete artwork, is at stake. Victor Misiano The tagline of our book is “25 Years of Presence.” We would like to still consider you a part of Ukrainian art. Do you think that’s appropriate? Would you describe the circumstances of your move to Moscow? It was on the cusp of the 1990s, wasn’t it? Yes, I do consider myself a part of Ukrainian art. I moved to Moscow after our Kharkiv-based Fast Reaction Group, which also included Borіs Mikhailov and Sergiy Solonskyi, collapsed. In 1998, Oleg Kulyk introduced me to Vladimir Ovcharenko at the Soros Centre in Kyiv, and he liked my works. He offered to host my show at his Regina Gallery. The Kids show happened in 2000, and then I stayed in Moscow. Let’s go back to the discussion that sprang up at the spring Biruchiy [Biruchiy Contemporary Art Project art residence. — I. E.]. When young artists presented their project, you decided to remind them that art is, first and foremost, visual. Let’s talk a bit more about that. Do proponents of new media understand what they are doing? Can we consider them artists? There’s this trend in contemporary art that asks the same questions as humanities scholarship and often adopts its methodology. The line between an artist and a scholar is often blurred, but once artists start borrowing scholarly apparatus, they stop being magicians who conjure up visual miracles. What they do cannot be described as conceptual art that changes and challenges our understanding of familiar objects. It’s a descriptive summary of the familiar rather than its problematization. Therefore, discourse overshadows the visual product as the end

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result. I doubt if discourse can be described as an artistic act, but that is my private opinion. I have talked to many Ukrainian artists who live and work in Europe and the US. Many believe that Ukrainian art can be competitive globally, but that it lacks professional promotion. What place does Ukraine occupy on the market, so to say? This is the issue of art infrastructure. It would be best addressed to art promoters. I have talked with Stas Volyazlovsky about pushing boundaries. Is there room for provocations in art? If so, what is it? Pushing boundaries is a necessary component of art, allowing us to dismantle stereotypes and immature perceptions. It is, however, a sharp instrument that can hurt deeply. You should never call for violence. Which Ukrainian artists do you find interesting, and why? I follow the careers of my friends. Among young artists, I’m interested in alumni and students of the Rodchenko School: Zina Isupova, Alina Kleitman, Sasha Kutovyi, Dima Tarusiev and Yulia Golub. They have recognizable plastic language and a modern sensibility. What should art education look like? What are your goals as a course instructor? From what I remember, you are happy with your current batch of students. You teach them to think first, right? Young contemporary artists have a collage sensibility. They seek novelty by combining diverse phenomena while retaining their authenticity. To do so, you have to teach your students to trust their instincts and mindfully observe the world at large. Developing a singular visual language and recognizable plastics is important. Artists don’t necessarily have to be intellectuals, but they have to preserve their sensitivity and ingenuity. This is our goal for the Photography, Sculpture, and Video course, and I’m happy with the results so far. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


Station, installation, Pale Bozar, Brussels, 2005

Balaklava Panache, installation, Regina Gallery, Moscow, 2009

Vulkanoids, installation, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK, 2007

Peace. Work. Heaven, earth, wood, iron, paper, lamps, Stedelijk Museum, Ghent, Belgium, 2005

To Leave To Forget, photograph, neon, 140 x 272 cm, 2013

Vagina is My Motherland, iron, video, 52 th Venice Biennale, Palazzo Papadopoli, Italy, 2007

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Sergey Bratkov’s Slogan reveals a strange kind of bravado. The artist frequents spaces where young people gather and relax. He described how listeners at rock concerts, mostly stern and focused young men, start to shove harshly. This is their way of manifesting their shared admiration for the “behemoths of Russian rock” who sing about the jackals from abroad hungry for “the gold of our bread and icons.” Who wouldn’t want to lay their lives for that on the spot? Russian rock differs substantially from the global style by the same name, and Russian fascist drive differs from “Viva la muerte!” by Jose Millan-Astray. Ultimately, nobody plans to die here and now, it’s just rhetoric. Bratkov spells out the true meaning of the formula across the photograph in flaming letters. A group picture transforms faces into theatrical masks. A spectral voice escapes from the mask’s mouth hole, proclaiming the familiar slogan, “Welcome the present badness so that tomorrow might bring goodness!” This slogan enshrines the compensatory glorification of hardships that masked the systematic failures of the Soviet rule. As David Samoilov described it, “The spirit of Russian spaces, / A passionate and trusting spirit, / Came to believe in the loftiness of tyranny / And in the blessings of continuous hunger.” I should note that Bratkov depicts this spirit as neither trusting nor passionate. And yet, there’s something of passion in it: after all, the young men shove one another, as if imitating a beating or inviting someone to bang them up for real. The slogan recreates the logic of a masochist pact: the harsher the punishment (“the badness”), the sweeter the reward (“the goodness”). Since this pleasure mechanism had put down roots on the mass level, the present is liable to remain bad for quite a while. Eugenia Kikodze

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Welcome the present badness so that tomorrow might bring goodness!, digital print, neon, 180 x 635 cm, 2010


Jesus of the Landing Party series, color photograph, 70 x 190 cm, 2002

From the Neither War Nor Peace series, color photograph, 70 x 190 cm, 2011


From the Police Race series, color photograph, 70 x 190 cm, 2003

From the Neither War Nor Peace series, color photograph, 70 x 190 cm, 2011

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VOLODYMYR BUDNIKOV

Born in 1947. Graduated from the Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Received a scholarship from CCN Graz (Graz, Austria). The Artist of the Year-1998, Volodymyr Budnikov is also the laureate of the Golden Ratio prize of the 3rd International Art Festival. A Merited Artist of Ukraine, Budnikov is a professor of the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. He lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Art School (2016, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art, 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Poet’s Shelter, with Vlada Ralko (2014, Chervonechorne Gallery, Kaniv); T. H. (2014, National Taras Shevchenko Museum, Kyiv); Objects (2012, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Heat, with Vlada Ralko (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Landscapes. Retrospective (Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Heaven (2009, Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv); Gogol-Fest (2008, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Drawings (2007, CCN Graz, Austria); New Works (2006, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Paintings Exhibition (2001, In den Gerbgruben Gallery, Burgenland, Austria); New Directions (2000, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Objects (1999, Soviart Gallery of Contemporary Art, Kyiv); Triennial of Sculpture (1999, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Oasis (1998, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Ukrainian Avant-Garde, 1910–1996 (1996, Odense, Denmark); Mystery of Life (1995, Alipii Gallery, Kyiv); Exhibition of Paintings (1994, Intercontinental Gallery, Berlin); Exhibition of Paintings (1993, Logia Gallery, Hilton, Vienna); Exhibition of Paintings (1992, 13 Inselstrasse Gallery, Berlin); Exhibition of Paintings (1991, Handelsverband, Vienna). “TO CREATE A WORLD OF ONE’S OWN”: THE ARTIST VOLODYMYR BUDNIKOV In the winter of 2016, the Kyiv Museum of Russian Art hosted the Art School exhibition, showcasing your works along with those by Vlada Ralko and Oleksandr Babak. The show ostensibly focused on traditional tenets of art education, but your works, exploring still lives as a genre, were adversarial, I think, to the so-called “academic school” as enshrined in the

Kyiv National Academy of Art and Architecture, where you have been teaching for almost 45 years. What does this tradition mean to you? Indeed, I’ve been teaching at the Academy for a long while, since the Soviet times. I don’t think that the show “criticized” our education, which is beyond criticism in that it is too alienated both from the contemporary art process as such and from Ukrainian art scene. I don’t see a point in modernizing our academy, this quaint and interesting “historical theatre” or “skansen.” I think we should create new innovative universities, open to the global artistic experience, new technologies and new languages, alongside the already Burning Heart, object, metal, paint, composite aluminum, 2011 (Gurzuf, Ukraine) existing institutions. Anyway, artists need education. It gives them their background, their craftsmanship, it teaches them to think, to see, to recognize “artistic merit” — Contemporary art is very diverse, it has room both for conceptualists like Kabakov and for openly emotional figures like Basquiat, but artists’ thinking and self-expression should be held to a high standard. I think that the problem of Ukrainian art lies in its pervasive amateurism, in dilettantism spreading through the creative milieu. As to my works at the Art School show, they explored how artistic vision emerged in the process of art schooling. They explored “the origins of art.” They dealt with the eternal mystery of creation that brings obscure, secret images from the darkness of the artist’s imagination to the light of canvas. You began as an artist back in the 1970s. Your career spans the era of stagnation, Perestroika and Ukraine’s independence. In the late 1970s through the early 1980s, you were part of a very interesting and symbolic movement: “the young art” that seemed to have developed in parallel to Socialist Realism, beyond ideology, focusing on imagery and plastic problems. You created small tonal works depicting lyrical urban motifs. Later

Oasis 1–6, oil on canvas, 90 x 150 cm, 1998

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Still Life with the Black Square (from the Art School project), acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2015

your style changed completely. You turned to abstract works and elaborate metaphors. What prompted your creative evolution? It might look like that to an outside observer, but I see all periods as consecutive developments that proceed organically one from the other. There’s little doubt that Perestroika had left quite a mark on us all. The world around us changed. Now we could travel, see art from around the world- I remember how stunned I was by shows of contemporary Western artists in Moscow in the early 1990s: Rauschenberg, Uecker, Gilbert & George, Bacon– They showcased the dramatic, sophisticated space of contemporary art. In the early 1990s, I worked and had frequent exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna. There’s no doubt that these cities, with their galleries, shows and museums, had left a mark on me. I used to produce romantic figurative works, but they no longer sufficed. I wanted freedom, creative gestures, spontaneity. Could this explain why you changed mediums, switching from oil and canvas to paper? Large series on paper, such as Drawings (2000), Hunt (2007), or Untitled (2013), came much later. Painting is an exacting medium. Once you start a work on canvas, you have to finish it, whereas drawing on paper allows for improvisation, spontaneity, freedom- I work in pencil, India ink, sometimes in black acrylic. The traditional notion of color does not interest me at this stage, but I think my works still retain a connection to the painting tradition, not because of colors but primarily because of spatial relations, the space of each work. I turned to spatial objects when the two-dimensional plain of paper or canvas no longer satisfied me. I worked in wood in the Objects series, and with metal in the Heat project. Which events in Ukrainian art life of the Independence era do you consider the most important? I remember the exhibitions of Ukrainian artists hosted by the Soros Foundation at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Kyiv) in the 1990s. They lay the foundations for comprehensive work with Ukrainian contemporary art. Coincidentally, Ukrainian audiences were introduced to Warhol, Nauman, Viola, Kounellis and many others in those same rooms. The National Art Museum, Kyiv Museum of Russian Art and Mystetskyi Arsenal also had important exhibitions. How do you see the role of artists in the present cultural scene in Ukraine?

Still Life with a Bullet (from the Art School project), acrylic on canvas, 150 x 150 cm, 2015

This question is both easy and hard. One is tempted to mention Archipenko, Malevich, Ekster and many others who left these parts and gained global fame. Artists always had it tough in Ukraine. Why? We used to believe that it was all fault of the Soviet regime, but now that it has collapsed the artists remained marginalized. The independence years didn’t bring the necessary artistic infrastructure: scholarship, media that would cover art, museums, galleries, foundations to support artists… At present, Ukraine has only one large institution that deals with contemporary art systematically: the private PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv. The Centre, however, focuses on introducing Ukrainian public to the international stars of contemporary art rather than supporting and showcasing Ukrainian artists. Besides, art doesn’t benefit from continuous political and economic crises. Much like their country, artists struggle to get by, and many grow more interested

Shelter for Light, iron, light, 2011 (Gurzuf, Ukraine)

in the market price of paintings than in art as such. It’s understandable but tragic for art. The state has little interest in art: insofar as it supports anything, it has a preference for traditional forms, shying away from contemporary art. In any case, I believe that artists have to create a world of one’s own, not subject to ideological or commercial pressures. This is their mode of existence, and this might be their crucial role. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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Big Bang-2 (from the Shelter project), acrylic on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 2015

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Untitled series (from the T. H. project), pencil and India ink on paper, 220 x 150 cm, 2014

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YANA BYSTROVA

Born in Kyiv in 1966. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican School of Arts and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Starting in 1991, she lives in Paris and Kyiv, working in painting, photography and silk prints. Selected exhibitions: Zeitgeist (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); VUCA (2014, Russkiy Mir Gallery, Paris); Intеrieur — Extеrieur (2013, I Gallery, Paris); Une pause, le temps de contempler! (2013, Russkiy Mir Gallery, Paris); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Born In The USSR. Made In France (2010, Espace des Blanc Manteaux, Paris); Espace Nature (2009, Blue Square Gallery, Paris); Close-Up From A Distance (2008, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Hype Gallery (2004, Palais de Tokyo, Paris); Body Count (2003, L’oeil du Huit Gallery, Paris); Your Photo Here (1998, Attache Gallery, London); One Thousand Nine Hundred Ninety Three (1993, Salon De Mai, Grand Palais, Paris); Exposition De Dessin (1993, Acadеmie des Beaux Arts, Paris); Explosition (1991, Festival d’Avignon, France).

IF YOU CAN TELL AT LEAST THREE TIMES… We were supposed to meet in Kyiv, but it didn’t come to pass: Yana Bystrova’s exhibition at Mystetskyi Arsenal was cancelled. Therefore, we talked on Skype: a dark computer screen bringing the noise of distant life, voices lost in the labyrinthine web. The Paris-based Ukrainian artist Yana Bystrova discussed the present and the past, casting her private biography as an artistic fact, and her private circumstances as an integral part of creative life in which history became a plot unfolding right as we speak. Intellectual intensity and honesty, as well as emotional resilience, completed the portrait of the unseen artist as her works flashed across the listener’s mind. The works, of course, are evocative of their author: they are testimony of her passionate rationality and well-honed craft that allow her to implement her unhampered ideas. What do you think about the events in Ukraine? After all, we do consider you a representative of Ukrainian art to the extent you allow it. You know, when you leave your homeland, you become a perennial wanderer; your home is either everywhere or nowhere. For example, I never thought I’d live to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, but collapse it did. It gives me joy and hope despite the high cost. Ukraine might be paying for it with war, poverty and disorientation, but it’s a beginning of her own future nevertheless, separate from Russia as the Soviet Union’s latest reincarnation. I do hope that this reincarnation doesn’t last another century. I will never become a native Frenchwoman, but 25 years in France inculcated me with French ideas about art, about the role of personality in art. My perspective is slightly different, I understand things that are not necessarily visible from Kyiv. I can say that, sadly, Ukraine, like all post-Soviet countries, is extremely alienated from the global art process. There are countries and cultures that had made alienation their trademark, prioritizing their singularity and authenticity. Ukraine had not yet managed to pull it off. It’s possible we don’t even need it. Sadly, here — in the West, in the broad sense of the word — Ukraine remains a terra incognita. The Iron curtain, semi-transparent at best from both sides, remains. The language barrier is another thing. We live in the Cyrillic rather than Latin world, and that’s another barrier. My Facebook feed is multilingual, and I often regret that this or that article on Ukrainian art wasn’t written in English or French, wasn’t made accessible to the public not necessarily invested in the topic, but that could potentially develop a clearer view. There’s a paucity of information in widely-spoken languages and in a form accessible to a Western reader. It upsets me because Ukrainian art is worth recognition, despite a certain degree of provinciality. Ukraine is ready to make herself seen, if not for the language barrier! Granted, that doesn’t stop Igor Abramovych.

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Golden Ratio, 7 modules, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 327 cm, 2016

In earlier interviews, you said that your fields of interest include the universality of color as a conduit for emotions, perceptual ambiguities, and articulation of the rational, the intuitive and the sensual. Indeed. Speaking of perceptual ambiguities: being defines consciousness; when being changes, consciousness follows suit. For example, I’m working on a plein air retreat project. I’m a city girl born and raised, but I cannot fail to notice the differences in perception when you are in a city or in the country, for example, in southern France. This is one easy example of shifts in consciousness: you start to see colors differently, you seek new compositions. A seemingly minuscule change prompts unexpected formal discoveries. Ambiguity is a huge issue. Interpretations of any given fact depend on innumerable aspects: a moment in time, the context, each person. Different people interpret the same facts differently. On the one hand, interpretations propel art forward, because each artist is an interpreter. And yet- One of the biggest challenges for an artist is to break past preconceived, familiar, immediate conclusions and make the public see what you want to tell. Or else, you might make use of the potential malleability of interpretations. Painting is a traditional form. It implies a pact between an artist and his or her viewer, a shared code of a kind. I think the most interesting discoveries in contemporary painting could emerge as the result of breaking this code and providing viewers room for interpretation. You could say that I offer viewers a set of elements and create intentionally ambiguous imagery to open up space for multiple interpretations. The system of probabilities is an important part of the game then?


The Goddess of Freshness on Crimean Southern Coast, oil on canvas, 110 x 200 cm, 1989–1991

I’d say that the laws of the game imply an element of surprise and unpredictability on viewers’ part. In other words, I leave the viewer alone with his or her culture, background, and mood. They might be open to dialogue (or not). Oleg Tistol introduced me to the crucial and, as we now know, almost unique and definitely foundational artistic manifesto of Ukrainian contemporary art, “The Willful Boundary of National Post-Eclecticism.” As had often happened in history, the text itself is lost, or at least none of its authors-proponents-theoreticians-creators no longer have it. I know that you were directly involved in its creation. I’d like to talk about it. Yes, I was involved from the very beginning, in a way. We were two couples: Marina [Skugareva] with Oleg and me with Kostia Reunov (at the time). We mostly met at Kostia’s father’s studio on Andriivskyi Descent in Kyiv. It was all a jejune joke, or so we thought, until we realized that we’ve put something very important into words. It coincided with the end of the regime, Perestroika started, we were invited to Moscow, Mitia Kantorov came to invite us- It was like a secret handshake for the Ukrainian group in the Moscow context. That’s it, I’ve said everything I had to say. What came afterwards was another story altogether. You’ve discussed your teachers in many interviews. You said that your interest in color was informed by Zoya Lerman and Borys Lytovchenko, whereas Mykola Storozhenko inspired you to explore forms. You know that story, right? There was this scary moment when the administration wanted to kick us out of the institute. There was this conflict that is best described as ideological. We had this professor, I don’t even remember his name anymore. He was very pro-Soviet: he wasn’t even old, this died-in-the-wool Soviet brownnoser. Our cohort included Golosiy, Hnylytskyj, Max Oriabynskyi, Sasha Klymenko, Kostia Reunov, and Lioka Ryzhykh. The conflict reached the stage where the professor tried to get our entire group, all 6 of us or so, expelled for preparing an “inappropriate” exhibition. This

professor gave us failing grades and wanted to make a show trial of our expulsion. And he failed! In those days, nobody knew what was already allowed, and what was still punishable. Everybody started to rock the boat. People stood up for us. My grandma was a censor for art scholarship in Ukraine, and all my professors had to go through her if they wanted to get anything published. She stood up for me then, but I suspect that, obviously, I don’t know all the details of this episode. In a word, he didn’t manage to get us expelled, but we had to foot the bill for the yearly course exhibition as punishment, which we did, more or less. We had to choose a department, and everyone who hated Soviet painting chose Storozhenko’s program. Mykola Storozhenko never pressured his students, encouraged creativity and free-thinking, and taught everyone the craft of monumental painting. That wasn’t his biggest achievement though: none of us became a monumentalist, although everyone created large-format works back in the day. Kyiv still bears the mark of this gigantism. Storozhenko’s biggest accomplishment lies in the fact that he didn’t crush any of us and guided us towards graduation without professorial authoritarianism so characteristic of the Soviet mentality. Your works show that you are a Western artist, and here’s why. I have a homegrown theory about Ukrainian artists: they have this feminine moistness and an excess of raw talent, but very little by way of ratio. As a theater scholar, I have this example from my field: Ukraine always had brilliant actors, but much fewer directors. Indeed. Because these are Western phenomena. I’d like to talk about Louise Bourgeois. She’s my role model, I don’t even know what to say about her. The thing is, Bourgeois somehow combines vibrant, tense emotions with a solid intellectual background. I always find this appealing, especially given that women are often accused of putting too much emotions and too little ratio into their art. I find this combination very heady: for example, she offers a literal representation of hysteria, but the description remains detached, intellectual and full of dignity. This is very touching. They are very feminine, these works, you would never assume that the artist was a man, these are feminine motifs seen from the inside, but everything remains coordinated, her control never wavers. If one has really developed a world of one’s own and feels good in it, and this world miraculously describes objective reality while staying legible and interesting to a viewer, then I’d consider that a success. As to Louise Bourgeois’s thinking, I believe I can tell why she produced any given work in this way or that. If you can tell at least three times, I believe you understand the artist’s thinking. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

A Girl Without an Oar, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 100 x 80 cm, 1995 47


Unmet Needs, oil on canvas, 160 x 120 cm, 1990–1991

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2

3

Giant Cypresses, A Splatter of Flowers, Quiet Resistance, Weeping Apricot,

4

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on on on on

canvas, canvas, canvas, canvas,

50 x 50 50 x 50 50 x 73 50 x 30

cm, cm, cm, cm,

2014 2014 2014 2014

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ILIYA CHICHKAN

Born in 1967 in Kyiv, in the family of the nonconformist artist Arkadiy Chichkan. Emerged as an artist in the golden age of the Ukrainian New Wave, under the influence of Russian art groups Cloud Commission and MedHermeneutics. An active participant in multiple shows, he has a reputation as the edgiest Ukrainian artist. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: ParCommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Zeitgeist (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); New Ukrainian Dream (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The Show Within The Show (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Backside entrance to the museum, with Psyfox (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Monkeywood (2011, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); If/Yesli/Iakshcho (2010, Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm, Russia); Der’mo & Zoloto (2010, Chocolate House, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Dreamers’ Steppes (2009, Ukrainian Pavilion, Palazzo Papadopoli, 53th Venice Biennale, Italy); Mind-Player (2007, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Ukrainians (2006, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Psychodarwinism (2005, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Timeout (2005, DAAD Galerie, Berlin); L.S.D. Bunnies (2004, Remont Gallery, Belgrade); Iliya Chichkan (2001, Querini Stampalia, Venice, Italy); Acrobats and Bunnies (2001, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Sleeping Princesses of Ukraine (2000, Mulhouse, France).

My parents were “the bright young things.” They joined the Hippies, leaving our grandmother, herself an artist, to raise my brother and me. A Jewish grandma with nerves of steel and unshakable determination, she deloused us, took off our flared jeans, gave us these spy-style brown trench coats and new shoes, and we set out for our new life. I applied to art school too late to be admitted, so my grandma taught me to draw too. By the way, she lived in the house Vrubel had lived in when he painted St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral. I read her entire library, partly because she didn’t have a TV. I’ve read everything, even Émile Zola. By the way, I cannot recommend him. Reading Zola as a child is traumatizing. [Laughter.] My grandma was a member of the Union of Artists. Pragmatism was in her DNA, so she came up with this scheme: I would draw still lives, and she took them to an art salon for sale, signing them with her own name. We divided the profits 50/50. In the Soviet era, your voice didn’t matter in the least. Events were few and far between. If someone died, they would broadcast a ballet. You couldn’t escape the system unscathed. Once you realize that everything was a sham and your anarchism couldn’t change a thing, you developed immunity to changes and a distrust for power. What mattered to me was getting a stable job so that my children would have bubble gum. I drew the first picture that I’ve put my own signature on in a trolley, with wet ink. A foreigner bought it the next day. I thought that I could earn a living by riding the trolley every day. I always liked adventures. What happened here after the Soviet Union collapsed was a grand adventure not unlike Indiana Jones. Nobody knew what would happen next, and it was captivating. I decided to draw monkeys when I lived in Berlin. The Checkpoint Charlie crossing point had two giant photographs of soldiers. I thought that soldiers always had something animalistic to them, that human evolution led to war. This inspired the Psychodarwinism performance. That was the first time I drew monkeys inspired by those photos. Monkeys help me to get by to this day. [Laughter.] Marat Guelman liked the project and invited me to organize a show in Moscow. There was this funny moment. The Palestinian Consulate saw a monkey in a kaffiyeh and sent Guelman an open letter accusing me of ridiculing their leader Yasser Arafat. Marat found an appropriately diplomatic formula, “If your consulate

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recognized your leader in this monkey, that is not our problem.” Indeed, how can you recognize your national hero in a monkey? Such patriots belong in prison! [Laughter.] I think I’m at home wherever I go. My wife [the artist Maria Shubina] and me winter in Goa. In a way, it’s our summer house where we buy furniture, household items, transport, what have you. India has something of the Soviet Union, it always reminds me of childhood, and not only with its songs, dances and the Roma. Suffice to mention that the Indian economic system was based on Soviet socialism. Bribery is not frowned upon: it is a necessary part of life, a simple and efficient solution to any problem. If you land in bureaucratic red tape, you are over and done with. It happened to us once. It was properly Kafkaesque. I was stunned by how many people are paid to shuffle papers. They have families, mortgages, stability. It reminded me of the USSR. For me freedom is not limited to freedom of movement. It also implies freedom of speech, of actions, of conscious choice. I think everybody should do what they do best. I marvel at artists who suddenly become political experts. I know nothing of it, so why would I, an amateur, meddle in it? I have no intention of spoiling anybody’s impressions, no matter how wrong, with my opinions. Not to overindulge in nostalgia, but artists had more freedom during Perestroika, because the Soviet Union suffered from serious information deprivation. Now everyone knows that you can turn to trite topics: gender difference, homosexuality, national identity, what have you. It’s a DIY kit for beginner artists. The masters — Savadov, Golosiy, or Hnylytskyj — had it much harder than representatives of our generation, or the one after that. The gallery spaces that are being established now have outlived their usefulness. You can take a picture of a work and share it with a broader audience on social media. In the former socialist camp, galleries don’t serve their function at all: grant-giving institutions have proven much more effective. I think galleries should represent and promote artists the way they do in the civilized world, otherwise the demand for Ukrainian art might never arise. I think that new media produce new trends in art that encourage artists to seek our roots, promote intellectualism, explore archetypes. You can find a charred tree stump and see a deer in it: why not? In conversation with Roksana Rublevska


Museum’s Back Entrance, installation, 2009 (Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv)

Mind Games, with Blue Noses Group, interactive installation, 2007

Exposition of the Ukrainian pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009

Exposition of the Ukrainian pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009

Backside entrance to the museum by Iliya Chichkan and Psyfox, 2011 (PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv)

Totalitarian Psyhodarwinism, oil on canvas, installation, 2007 (Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv)

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Monkey Business, oil on canvas, 135 x 195 cm, 2016

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Yalta Conference. From the Psychodarwinism project, oil on canvas, 160 x 200 cm, 2005–2007

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MIKHAILO DEYAK

Born in 1984 in the village of Zolotarevo (Khust District, Zakarpattia Region). Graduated from Adalbert Erdeli College of Art and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in Kyiv. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Imaginary (2016, Voloshyn Gallery, Kyiv); Space. Genesis (2016, SCOPE Basel 2016, Clara-Huus, Basel, Switzerland); Behind the Glass (2015, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Infinity (2014, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Dialogues with the Subconscious (2014, Cultural Treasures of Ukraine Museum, Kyiv); The Essence of Things (2013, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Color Visions (2013, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Solo Exhibition (2013, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); TERRAPY (2012, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Art Trip Over Europe (2011, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Recent Works (2011, KUMF Gallery, Toronto, Canada); Color of Emotions (2010, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); Recent Works (2009, Cobalt Gallery, Kyiv).

MIKHAILO DEYAK: “IT ALL STARTS WITH COLOR” Journalists describe you as one of the most successful young artists in Ukraine. You have had around 20 solo shows, your works were sold at famous auctions and exhibited at international art fairs… That’s right, but I don’t think there are successful artists in Ukraine. How so? Our art does not have enough of a standing at the international art scene to talk about success. Even in Europe, you often have to explain that Ukraine is not Russia, and that we are Ukrainian artists. This leads me to believe that it’s too early to talk about success. But your career is doing well. More than well, for an artist who graduated from the Academy in 2012. Could be. Granted, I did start early… When I was a 3rd-year student at the Academy, my works started to attract attention, first of my professors, and eventually of viewers. Maybe they were drawn to pure colors and the Zakarpattia painting style, not quite famous but intriguing in Kyiv. Your art schooling began in Uzhhorod, which has a unique painting school with distinct traditions. How did they affect you? That’s right. Studying at the Adalbert Erdeli College of Art in Uzhhorod was an interesting experience. Coincidentally, that’s where I had my first solo exhibition and received a prize at a painting competition… Erdeli, Manailo, Kotska, Kashshai, Konratovych and other local masters were our role models. They focused on color, expressive space, paint, movement… These artists have quite a lot of clout in the Zakarpattia region. I first saw their works when I was still in school. A teacher would show his pupils his private collection, which featured works by Kotska, Kashshai,

From the Chairs series, oil and acrylic on canvas, 140 x 200 cm, 2015 54

Konratovych and others, and say: “This is true art, this is what you should aspire to.” That became my benchmark, maybe because it coincided with my personal preferences. The atmosphere at the college was rather free, nobody limited our stylistic choices. To the contrary, professors insisted that we should try out different methods and look for our own way in art. Granted, decorative style and a rich palette were still defining features we all engaged with. And what about the Kyiv Academy? Everything was different here. The Academy’s principles are different, it’s closer to realist tonal painting. At the Academy I first faced criticism: a professor attacked a work of mine at a student show as an Water, colored steel, 200 x 100 cm, 2016 “antithesis to painting.” Paradoxically, his criticism made me more popular with the students. The very next day, crowds of visitors swarmed to the exhibition: everyone wanted to see what monstrosity this Deyak painted. Had I been praised, I’m certain I wouldn’t have gotten half the viewers… It’s telling that the pretext for criticism was my stylized palette. At the Academy, it’s still the matter of heated debate whether the sky absolutely has to be blue, or whether grass is necessarily green. Be that as it may, I’m still grateful to the Academy, it gave me a lot of useful information and taught me much. And yet, the Zakarpattia Painting School tradition remained the defining influence. Your works have a very rich and vibrant palette. In an interview, you’ve even said that “those who paint in grays must feel like that.” For me, color is the basis of art. Everything I’m doing is based on colors. Every work is conceived as colors, followed by the plot, theme, other expressive means… Vibrant colors convey human personality and unmediated emotions, which, I think, is of crucial importance in art. I wish nothing would stand in the way between viewers and my works,


Solo exhibition Imaginary, Voloshyn Gallery, Kyiv, 2016

no shadows or anything, I want them to dive right into the imagery. Lately I developed an interest in non-figurative art, the theme of the void that can be filled with feelings… I don’t think artists should explain their works, it’s not exact science that needs experiments and conclusions; viewers should seek answers on their own, and thus their contact with the artist is established. Your works keep changing: first compositions on glass, then somewhat startling spatial objects or “color sculpture”… Yes, I keep changing, and so do my works. I try to do what interests me, experiment with new directions, learn, see as much different art as I can. I started with somewhat Fauvist landscapes, objects in a stylized colored space, stylized figures that conveyed not only formal but also emotional tensions. Then came works on glass. As you know, painting on glass has a long history in Ukraine, but I wanted to bring this technique up to speed. Those were mostly landscapes too, but more stylized and laconic. However, they, too, referred to the real space. I think painting on glass is very interesting, allowing for singular optical games, juxtapositions of the illusory and the “painted.” In it, paint develops unexpected qualities. Perception changes based on angle or vantage point, lighting… And then you turned to volume. Did painting become too constrained for you? No, I kept painting, but I wanted to try something new, to switch to volume, to enter real space… Although I think I’m treading in my own footsteps. My compositions from the most recent series Genesis are non-figurative, that’s new for me; besides, I think my colored compositions of deformed metal are “pictorial” too: they might differ in size or spatial scope, but they unite impulses of painting, plastic art and design. They intrigue me insofar as abstract sculpture or color endowed with volume open space up for broader meanings. Each viewer can have his or her associations with it. Sculpture allows me to understand painting better, although I cannot explain this connection yet. The synthesis of painting and sculpture helps me to expand my vision, tracing new opportunities and routes that might lead me to something unexpected. You belong to the rare category of artists that manage to balance creative work, art and entrepreneurship. You created a successful paint production company Academy. Many local artists buy your paint. Tell me more about it. The idea to make my own paint first came to me when I was a 5th-year student at the Academy. There was a sudden hitch in the price for oil paint. This caused problems. In reality, most artists occasionally make paints to suit their needs, they polymerize oil and then stir in pigment.

I realized that nobody produced paint for artists in Ukraine, and became the first to create a large-scale company for the purpose. I also made a point of making these paints accessible in Ukraine. Paint production is an absolutely creative project. I took an old recipe, created my own ratios for each color based on it, and selected several new shades not offered by any other producer. Paint production turned out to be a fascinating but tough process. This sort of enterprise requires flexibility and thinking outside the box, I’m creating a new product instead of reselling something, and this product remains atypical for Ukraine. It was an interesting and important experience. In the From the Space series, colored steel, 200 x 100 cm, 2016 6 years of their existence, Academy paints have covered the entire market in Ukraine, their popularity is on the rise. Besides, they are almost twice cheaper than foreign analogs. Academy paints can now be found in studios of most Ukrainian artists, from the stars to beginners who are most affected by the price of materials. I want to develop and introduce new colors. I’m also considering philanthropic actions to support artists. What would you recommend to young artists who are just starting out and discovering art? I don’t think giving advice is a productive endeavor. Based on my limited experience, I can say that you shouldn’t limit yourself just to Ukraine. The world is large and very diverse. Ukraine does not figure on the global art map yet, but it will definitely be there, and that’s up to every one of us. Don’t be afraid of doing something “different,” don’t limit your dreams to “a solo exhibition in Kyiv.” Take a chance, and it will all work out. Thank you for the conversation. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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From the Emotions of Klitschko Brothers series, oil and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 120 cm, 2014

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From the Infinity series, oil on canvas, 200 x 140 cm, 2014

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OLEKSANDR DIACHENKO

Born in 1956 in Kyiv. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican Comprehensive Art School and the Lviv National Academy of Arts. Works in sculpture. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Point of View. From West to East (2016, National Sanctuary “Sophia of Kyiv”, Kyiv); Man Portrait (2016, A. Sheptytskyi National Museum, Lviv, Ukraine); VII Great Sculpture Salon (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); 3rd International Symposium of Granite Sculpture (2014, Kniazha Hora Art Residence, Kaniv, Ukraine); Fine Art Ukraine (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Match Point 88: A Second Before New Life (2013, Kyiv); Portraiture Exhibition (2013, WerkKunstGallerie, Berlin); Great Sculpture Salon (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Great Sculpture Salon (2010, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); De Profundis (2009, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Great Sculpture Salon (2009, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Oleksandr Diachenko, Petro Antyp, special project of the ART-UKRAINE magazine (2008, Akko International Exhibition Hall, Kyiv); Oleksandr Diachenko (2008, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Great Sculpture Salon (2007, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Triennial of Sculpture (2005, National Union of Artist of Ukraine, Kyiv); Oleksandr Diachenko (2000, Theater of Youth, Chernihiv, Ukraine).

25 YEARS OF PRESENCE A lot has changed. We now have a state, we have absolutely new Ukrainian art that used to be unthinkable outside of the Soviet context, ideologically, I mean. During the Soviet era, “ethnic” meant primitive because that’s what ideology dictated, but after Ukraine gained independence, or even earlier, during the Perestroika, Ukrainian art started to develop as a singular phenomenon in the global context. The Soviet Union had first noticed Ukrainian art as a serious contender during the Youth Exhibition in Moscow, when Savadov and Senchenko showed their Cleopatra. I wandered in the dark, as one does, for the first 5–7 years after graduation, and developed my guiding principles that I follow to this day during the Perestroika. The national element in art usually manifests itself in ways that are not limited to folkloric or ethnographic forms. In relevant art, which, by the way, did not emerge in Ukraine until the Perestroika, artists reflect on their moment in time for their country and nation, and on ongoing social changes, or else they feel a deep connection with their land. This does not describe all artists, but it does describe the trends I’ve noticed. I don’t work in relevant art: sculptures are too long in the making and too lasting to be confined to topical relevance. Ukrainian sculpture. Obviously, the first plastic impressions, both tactile and visual, from the future sculptor’s earliest childhood — his or her mother’s body, landscapes, skyline, surrounding objects — inform their subsequent understanding of plastic forms. They define their plastic code. The code is later affected by art objects created on this territory before their time. In central and southern Ukraine, the plastic language was affected by stone statues, whereas in western Ukraine it was wood, the Catholic church, its traditions. I feel affinity for the steppe plastic, I understand and grasp it better, I represent this region. As a student of the Republican Comprehensive Art School, I would often ask myself: where is Ukrainian archaic art? The collection of steppe sculptures at Yavornytskyi museum had been a sacred site for me ever since. Crucially, the artist has to be on and of this land. Besides, artists’ thinking is also informed by world art. It is a multifaceted process. Personal preferences that emerge over time also matter quite a lot. Identity. The country is exploring its identity. The recent events had catalyzed the process. Identity was relevant even during the Soviet times,

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I never thought I was a Soviet or Russian artist. Artists by necessity reflect on their background, which is why the majority of them had made a choice about their identity. It is very important to not conflate ethnicity and nationality. This way of life, this relationship with land and traditions, this folklore and epic tales are all ethnic elements, stable and already formed. A nation is something else. Both Mazepa and Taras Shevchenko tried to help Ukrainians emerge as a nation, the late 19 th and the early 20 th century history was defined by these attempts. I think this process did not gain final momentum until recently, and the majority of ethnic groups living in Ukraine understand this. On the meaning and function of art. The recent events affected me strongly, but sculpture as an art form leaves no space for negativity. Paintings and graphic art can voice criticism in a way that sculpture, as a message to the future, cannot. Also, sculpture is tactile. I’m hard-pressed to imagine tactile negativity. Unlike animals, humans have a death drive, and I think this impetus is a great inspiration for artists. Tsvetaeva phrased it in her poem “How many people fell in this abyss.” Speaking of themes, I’m captivated by everything about people, their appearance, their inner world. This topic is endless. Humankind is a part of nature, and I wonder how perfect it is. Art has to build emotional balance in society. For example, Assyrian art is a threatening demonstration of power, whereas Egyptian art took a closer look at humankind. Artists were priests’ equals: it was believed that you could breathe life into a portrait. Art always revolved around death. Humankind might have understood art differently at different stages of its development, but there wasn’t a time when it wasn’t present in society. Much like religion, art informed the development of humankind, creating a balance and playing an important role in explaining human existence. Culture is society’s readiness to accept artists’ works. Some refuse to accept the works of their nation’s best representatives, and become donors for other cultures. Culture is about society. Artists produce cultural artifacts. The level of culture in any given society is defined by its desire to accept and appropriate these works. Art is about personal power, and a viewer perceives this power. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Female Head, granite, 90 x 60 x 110 cm, 2012 59


Pregnant, chamotte, h — 155 cm, 1990 60


Pyramid, bronze, h — 45 cm, 1999 61


OLEKSANDR DRUGANOV

Born in 1961 in Severodvinsk, Russia. Graduated from the Republican Comprehensive Art School and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in Kyiv. Works in photography, painting, stage design, graphic art, book design, performances, video art, and installations. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Quantum Uncertainty (2016, RA Gallery, Kyiv); ParСommune. Community. Space. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Ukraine: Short Stories. Contemporary Artists from Ukraine (2015, Luciano Benetton Collection, Italy); Ukrainian Landscape (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Space Odyssey 2011 (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); European Theatre Encounters CLOSE STRANGERS (2011, Poznan, Poland); 90/120 (2010, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Stamps (2009, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); 360° (2009, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Month of Photography (2007, A-House, Kyiv); Oedipus (2006, Warsaw / Gdansk, Poland); ZUKKO (2004, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); STEREO CAT (2003, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Practice Makes Perfect (2002, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); New Directions (2000, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Month of Photography (1998, Bratislava); Photo… synthesis (1997, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); For a Family Album (1996, Kyiv); Barbaros (1995, Kyiv); Space of the Cultural Revolution (1994, Kyiv); There Is So Much Air & Moon (1993, Kyiv); Postanaesthesia (1992, Munich, Germany); Dialog mit Kiew (1992, Munich, Germany); Dead Calm (1992, Kyiv). BIRDS DON’T FLY: THE WIND CARRIES THEM. FISH DON’T SWIM: THE CURRENT CARRIES THEM On photography. I was primarily a graphic artist until the 1990s. I worked in etchings and book illustration while teaching and doing photography on the side. Etching is all well and good, but I wanted to document the here and now. My style was informed by black-and-white Italian Neorealism, Hitchcock and many wonderful films of the 1940s –1960s. My photos are like movie stills, they document a moment preceded by other moments, and followed by something else. I might have developed this approach because I imagined films of my own. I tell my students that it’s important to learn to see, not just look, but that’s a long and esoteric story. Being in the here and now, seeing what is happening in the here and now, produces experience. You cannot necessarily analyze everything that is happening in the moment. Analysis comes somewhat later, but a trained eye automatically gathers all the details into a cohesive whole. For this reason, it’s important to grasp the moment. Art represents that which does not exist. I have long stopped painting landscapes and portraits. I hadn’t painted a portrait since my sophomore year in college. I just stopped. It all exists: come, admire it. What’s the point in copying reality? Love is not itself conceptual, but it is the brightest energy that gives life to everything. Strange as that may sound, when you are in the space informed by love, you might be inspired to create conceptual objects because you start to see and feel what others see. It’s in tune with Castaneda’s teachings: you grow in strength when you do what you like.

Around 1990, I got a commission to illustrate a poetry collection by Ivan Hnatiuk. He was sent to Matrosov Concentration Camp in Kolyma for his long poem about the Hetman Polubotok, which he wrote as a student at a college in Kremenets. NKVD agents found him (someone must have written a denunciation) and threw him into prison. We traveled all over 4 regions, and I took about 20 rolls of film worth of pictures. This man is worthy of a movie. The culmination scene is his escape from NKVD agents in Kremenets. We went to that park, and nothing had changed: the same brick wall, the same old trees. He showed me the road along which he had fled. Then our car got stuck in the mud, then we went to his native village of Dzvyniacha in the Ternopil Region, we visited his home, he introduced me to his wife and daughter. He said to me, Druganov, why would you waste your time on me? It was nice. So many deep experiencesIn the 1990s, during the ParCommune era, there was this important transformation. The powers that be said, “everything is allowed, nothing is prohibited.” Of course it worked. We did what we wanted anyway, but now we could host an exhibition officially, and show it to everyone. Now, of course, you have absolute creative freedom and a plethora of technological resources. At that time, finding a video camera and recording music was a challenge, whereas now you can record an entire symphonic orchestra at your PC, if you wish and know how to. If you follow this logic, you would assume that the present should have brought an explosion in art- but then, there’s the philosophical condition. The condi-

Crossroads (ballet music: M. Skoryk, choreography: R. Poklitaru), 2012

Oedipus, performance, Odessa, 2003

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On the Shore of the Jung Island, mixed medium, 150 cm in diameter, 2016

Fishermen, from the Quantum Uncertainty series, mixed medium, 150 cm in diameter, 2016

tion, that is, described by philosophers: Nietzsche, Baudrillard and others. The line between the real and the virtual gets blurred. It’s like a computer game: what’s in your head is real, and what’s around you doesn’t exist as such. It leaves a mark. It destroys boundaries of good and evil. Now everything is permitted! Some try to observe the Ten Commandments, and some live as if they didn’t exist at all. There are many scenarios for how this could develop further. In a sense, art is like a mirror: it reflects subjective worlds. Half the country might live in the modern world, and half a country might live in the postmodern world at the same time. It’s physically hard to keep track of everything that is happening in art at this point. I’ve recently noticed that there’s a lot of emptiness, it lacks energy and depth. There’s no lag between an idea being conceived and its implementation, although the ancient trite saying “Discretion is the better part of valor” still holds. Art should have multiple meanings. It’s like a good book, the more you read the more interesting it gets. Multifaceted art will always last longer. Art can bring together the polar opposites in one object, but these combinations won’t work unless they resonate with viewers’ consciousness. I have collaborated with the theater director Dmytro Bogomazov for over 20 years. Oedipus was his best play, both as a cohesive whole and from the perspective of teamwork. Everyone who contributed to the play — its director, stage designers, choreographers, the music team — worked in harmony. Actors looked like Greek sculptures. In certain scenes their movements were perfectly synchronized as they repeated poses from the most

famous Classical statues (an archer, a discus thrower, and more). They seemed to quote my Practice Makes Perfect project. The deeper the inner need for something, the faster you react. The same is true of creativity. I might have many needs, but the revolution changed my priorities, pushing many needs deeper into the background. There came a point when I told myself, enough’s enough, it’s time to get to work. This is how the Quantum Uncertainty project emerged. I wanted to step back from what I did previously, both intellectually and formally, and this is why I made do without canvas stretchers and produced these strange colored “rugs.” This project deals with the chaos reigning in the universe. Its title is no coincidence. You cannot measure the impulse’s position in space and its speed at the same time. You’ve got to choose one or the other. When chaos reigns, when all agreements and moral principles are discarded- you sometimes think, what can art do, why do you need art? But I made the first step towards art after a long pause, and I cannot turn back, I have to hold fast. We really do have a chance to create livable conditions on this planet of ours. Ukraine and its revolution remind us that thinking people still exist. The more people dare to think, the higher the likelihood of salvation. The world combines a multitude of subjective worlds. Who keeps it together? Who holds it whole? I once heard this ancient Chinese saying, “birds don’t fly: wind carries them. Fish don’t swim: current carries them.” I think it encapsulates the endless mystery. Someone will read the text and ask, what is a fish? In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Bridge, photograph, 180 x 120 cm, 2010

White Snake, photograph, 150 x 100 cm, 1992 63


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From the Jonathan Livingston series, 220 x 110 cm, 2010

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DMYTRO DULFAN

Born in 1971 in Odessa. Graduated from M. Grekov Odessa Art College. A painter, graphic artist and sculptor, he also works in objects, installations and performances. Lives and works in Odessa. Selected exhibitions: Ethereal & Bodies (2016, KhudPromo Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); ParCommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Whitespirit (2011, KhudPromo Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Anatomy of Time (2010, Chaina Fabryka Experimental Centre for Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine); Cosmofan of Dmytro Dulfan (2009, Yatlo Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Everything for 3 (2009, Norma Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Punk Glamour (2008, Rabouanmussioun Gallery, Paris); Exhibition of Contemporary Art (2008, Museum of Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine); I Believe (2008, Winzavod Contemporary Art Centre, Moscow); Laboratory of Light (2005, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Studios of Art Moscow (2004, Central House of Artists, Moscow); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Donumenta (2003, Regensburg, Germany); Laboratory of Light (2001, RA Gallery, Kyiv); Untitled (2001, Versta Gallery, Berlin); Two Sides (2000, Centre for Strategic Research, Kyiv); Underwater (1998, Hasselt, Belgium); Undermining Your Own Self Through Self-Deception (1997, Tirs Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Shamans Strike Back (1996, DA-DA-DA Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Spit (1995, Land-art Project, Kinburn Spit, Ukraine).

MY OBJECTS EVOKE THE UNDERWATER WORLD A member of the Odessa art scene, Dmytro Dulfan creates objects and has a unique style of representing the vibrant porto-franco life. He once said in an interview that as a young man he believed that artist’s life “is the Warrior’s Way, the loner’s way. The artist has to be alone to create something unique, something unparalleled.” DmytroDulfan does deliver on that promise, both in his striking objects that synthesize underwater flora and fantastic fauna, and in his democratic window gallery based at a liquor store. We are talking about 25 years of Ukrainian art, but you were born in an artistic family. Indeed. My father is an artist [Lucien Dulfan is an artist who participated in multiple international exhibitions; lives and works in New York since 1990; his works can be seen in museums of Odessa, Saint Petersburg, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, Seoul, Warsaw, Poznań, the Kostaki collection, and in many private collections. — I. E.], my stepfather is a poet and writer. I was born in the artistic milieu. Everyone had a passion, I grew up in squats and studios, in a spiritual atmosphere. I remember white walls at Margaryta Zharkova-Anufrieva’s place, this atmosphere of open conversation. These people were all around, you would meet them every Saturday or Sunday no matter where you went, be it to Maryniuk’s place [Victor Maryniuk: a representative of Odessa nonconformism. — I. E.] or to Valik Khrushch [Valentyn Khrushch was a Ukrainian artist, a founder of the Odessa school of unofficial art, and an organizer of the first “apartment” exhibitions. — I. E.]… It was all well and good. At first I didn’t even think I’d become an artist. It was all a game. Of

Liopa is Dead, oil on canvas, 190 x 177 cm, 1992 66

Postanaesthesia, oil on canvas, 400 x 300 cm, 1993

course, I wanted to be like Valik. The community itself was striking. It lasted until 1980 or even into the 1990 s. What came later was different. The 1990s were tougher. They brought a new set of problems. Instead of reflecting on spirituality, everybody just wanted to earn more money. Meanings changed. Even the meaning of works changed. The way we approached reality changed. There were those who lived through those times and had not changed in essence, like my father. They don’t have the overweening drive to sell their works and get a ton of money. So, your famous bar gallery, run by your cohorts and yourself, manifested the spirit of freedom in the face of total pragmatism? Yes, visitors come there to chat and hang out, to have some wine. There are events. We are having problems at the moment, but it will get better by spring. Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out. The point is, yes, everybody knows about the place, some just like to drop by. Sometimes we don’t have a single event in 6 months, not as a choice but because of issues with the landlord, but people keep coming anyway. Once some men who didn’t belong dropped by and tried to tell us how to run the space. I got riled up and started yelling, and the crowd threw them out. The space itself chooses who stays and who leaves. It’s in the downtown, there’s no shortage of bars around, but our gallery has its loyal crowd. They treasure the atmosphere and spend hours there in conversation. Obviously, your objects play with light and create a space of their own. This gallery is an extension of your projects: it creates a different space in reality. Let’s talk about your objects. The objects have not changed. The only difference is, I used to place them on the floor, whereas now they jut out of frames. They are usually hung on walls. If customers show no interest in floor objects, maybe they might buy other kinds of spatial arrangements? For whatever reason, post-Soviet territories show a preference for spatial objects: if it hangs on the wall, it’s art, if it stands in a corner, it’s not. I remember bringing several works to Kyiv and leaving them with a gallery owner. I called her in half a year and asked about them. She said, “You know, Dima, Ukrainian audience is not yet ready for your works.” That was a surprise. I thought that a designer object created by an artist should sell well: it’s both decorative and useful, two birds with one stone. My works are not quite designer objects. Designers create perfect


Dmytro Dulfan’s studio, Odessa, Ukraine, 1994

objects, which is what I’d rather avoid. An object has to be somewhat avant-garde so that nobody would say, “Oh, it’s designer goods!” It should leave some ambiguity, it should leave something unsaid. I think that your works are informed by this Odessa atmosphere, you know. To be born in Odessa is much like to be born in heaven: you live in the space where everybody wants to come. What’s the point in going an extra mile then? This “heavenly” origins set certain limits. There’s ennui. There comes a time when an artist paints himself into a corner and can no longer do anything. Winter comes, summer goes, it’s the same old thing. There came a point when, it seemed, everyone thought I wasa drunkard. But I want something interesting, something different, this drives me forward, and the more new things you see the faster you move. There are life cycles, and the place of origins has no more influence on it than anything else. Let’s talk about your first object. What inspired it? What inspired you to work with these materials and light? Frankly, my aquarium was my first object. I did all sorts of things with it, filled perfume bottles with various liquids, submerged things, threw in necklaces, meddled with lighting. I was intrigued by it, probably because I studied at a decorative design program. I wanted something different, not painting. I like painting, I still paint. I sometimes wonder why would I drift elsewhere. Anyway, college instilled the basics of other arts in me, something beyond painting. Anyway, my fish tank was my first object. That was in 1990. That’s when I went to Moscow and showed up at Arkadiy Nasonov’s place on Petrovsky Boulevard [Arkadiy Nasonov: an artist, representative of the youngest generation of conceptualism and psychedelic realism. — I. E.]. Nasonov had a studio in this giant basement. There was this giant creative community. It included Petlura [Alexander Petlura: an artist and collector who organized the first Moscow art squat Art Preserve on Petrovsky Boulevard in 1990. — I. E.], Vinogradov [German Vinogradov: an artist, poet, musician, stage designer, director, and actor who pioneered the usage of fire, water and other elements as an integral part of mysteries played out in confined spaces. — I. E.]. In his basement, Nasonov created this strange playful space: you would be doused in honey, you had to stick your arm somewhere, someone would recite poetry from around the corner- I was so excited! Afterwards I came back to Odessa, and so it goes. At that point, I was working at my dad’s studio. We climbed roofs to collect broken neon tubes

and dragged them back to the studio until it started to look like one giant lamp. Everything was flimsy, neon rattled, dying sound system hummed- It was one giant chill out! That’s when I made my first lamps with large neon tubes. Later, in Berlin, I had a series with plaster bandages: when moist, they become semi-transparent and very tough. I made lamps with these medical plaster bandages. They were so gorgeous, strikingly white, like aliens, like the Alien from the movie. And then Hnylytskyj [Oleksandr Hnylytskyj (06/17/1961, Khar­ kiv — 11/01/2009, Kyiv): a Ukrainian artist and legendary figure. Belonged to the Kyiv Paris Commune art squat in 1994. Co-founded the Institute of Unstable Thoughts in 1996. — I. E.] said, “Why bother? Buy a dryer and make plastic works. Take my dryer, I don’t need it.” Anyway, someone gave me a dryer, I started to melt plastic and was stunned by its beauty. And there was this mystical story: three days after Hnylytskyj passed away, he showed up in my dream with a dryer in hand. I said, “Shura, but it’s mine!”, and he parried, “No, this one is mine.” These stories have so many facets and characters, it seems like everything you do springs up organically, branches out- I would like to ask if you consider yourself a part of Ukrainian art. Yeah, probably, obviously. But I’m part of this strange psychedelic Ukrainian art. Of course, it is rooted in Odessa. It is Odessa style, all these underwater forms. I liked scuba diving as a kid, you know, this is why my objects evoke the underwater world. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

Maya Gold, oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm, 2011 67


Darker, cellophane, net, spray paint, 150 x 50 cm, 2012

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Thorny Path to Light, oil on canvas, 190 x 150 cm, 2012

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OLEKSA FURDIYAK

Oleksa Furdiyak was born in 1962 in the town of Skalat. Graduated from the Lviv Academy of Arts in 1996. Works in Lviv in sculpture, performance, photography, videos, painting and installations. He participated in contemporary art projects and exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad. Selected exhibitions: Ukrainian Cross-Section (2016, sculptural installation, Wrocław, Lublin, Poland); Galicija Cult (2016, CCA Yermilov Center, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Art Kyiv Contemporary (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Heritage (2015, Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko, Poland); LUD (2014, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Ukrainian Cross-Section (2013, Warsztaty kultury, Lublin, Poland); Ukrainian Cross-Section (2010, Warsztaty kultury, Lublin, Poland); L2. (2009, Warsztaty kultury, Lublin, Poland); Untitled (2009, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); Untitled (2008, Margines Gallery, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine); Uwaga (2005, Opole Municipal Gallery, Poland); Rubbish (2005, Art Muzeum, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine); Caliban Meltener (2002, Art Contemporary Centеr, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine); Protein, Part 2 (2000, Art Muzeum, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine); Pilot (1998, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Victory (1998, BZ Gallery, Kyiv); Event (1997, sculptural installation, Art Museum, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine); Transylvanian Dog (1997, happening, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine); Jan Sobecki (1996, sculpture, Głogów, Poland); Wolf and Masks (1996, sculptural installation, Lviv, Ukraine); WZE (1992, Art Museum, Lviv, Ukraine); Event (1991, Art Museum, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine).

NATURE IS DRAMATIC In performing their creative practices that foreground meanings rather than expressive means, artists, or, strictly speaking, performers, are akin to mystagogues: they establish rituals and sacred objects by recreating mechanisms that govern society and individuals as its integral constituents. By scrutinizing life, artists seem to follow its flow by observing and analyzing its processes, employing irony and enlivening it with emotions. Are you rooted in any city or locality? I’m a Galician. I always stressed my belonging to this land, to this frame. My consciousness developed in the Lviv-Frankivsk-Ternopil triangle. Obviously, it matters where you grew up, what sorts of landscapes surrounded you, what books your grandma had in her library. It might sound very pedestrian, but that’s the way it is, and it becomes more evident as time flows. Galicia is a multicultural land (or locality, as you’ve put it), it hangs in a fine balance and it has always been like that. It had its own unique traditions, including urban customs, and people that either carry or destroy this culture. Well, obviously, those who destroy it don’t carry it. All these traits, smells and emotions stay with you forever, empowering you to become kind, and promote or develop certain things. It is about subconscious ties. I don’t believe that people who promote cosmopolitanism don’t eventually return to their own “landscapes” to develop something new, if it is in their nature. Freedom of choice is in human nature, even in this case. Fallow indifference has the opposite effect and is much worse. Can I sum up that you address your viewer or listener from on high? No, why would you say that? In any way, it’s not a dialogue, it’s more of a detached need for one another. Nobody teaches or instructs any-

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body else. I would describe it as tolerance. It’s a utopian pseudo-casus, this belief that art essentially has to influence things. It’s just one facet of the artist’s essence: to scratch and to mold, to create an alterity that is free. With all due respect to viewer-listeners (a very small subgroup in society, by the by), they’re the ones to decide whether this aesthetics is needed. There are different levels of presentation and selection. Do social processes matter for you? Yes, and not only processes but society as such is an object of artist’s observations. What matters is the drama, the theme that ostensibly lies on the surface, and that we ostensibly need addressed, or the predatory human essence needs addressed. It doesn’t matter what sort of instruments or medium the artist chose: it’s more interesting what metaphor or poetry will emerge as the result of his or her intervention. Fortunately, our ethical and aesthetic palette is now broad. I once had an interesting experience checking out landscapes and genre works at Socialist Realist shows. For example, you’d see a forest painted in beautiful colors, but beyond the trees there’s blood, a bear slaughters a deer, you hear cry and roars. Where’s the lie? Nature is dramatic, hence alive and living. Imagine hat happens beyond walls, beyond human relations, in each human being. It’s all about beauty. What about contemporary art in our country? Everything develops organically, all laws of nature extend to this evolution too. Artists are free and have all they need, that is, freedom. Such is the basis of this structure, everything else develops later, and it doesn’t matter how long that might take. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


Blowing, metal, sculpture, performance, 2012

Moneybox, sculptural installation, steel, pigment, electric current, 2009

4, steel sculpture, welding, h — 2,7 м, 2016

Head, steel sculpture, welding, 2015

Cow, black-and-white photograph, 2005

Liars, steel sculpture, welding, synthetic fiber, 2008

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Library, polypropylene, ink, relief, 2016

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4, steel sculpture, welding, h — 2,7 м, 2016

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OLEG GOLOSIY

Born in 1965 in Dnipropetrovsk. Graduated from the Dnipropetrovsk Art College (1980–1984) and the Kyiv State Academy of Arts (1984–1990). Lived and worked in Kyiv and Moscow. Died tragically in 1993. Selected exhibitions: Oleg Golosiy (2003, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Art Firsthand (2002, Manege, Moscow); Art Against Geography (2001, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia); By the Edge (2000, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Views on Ukraine (1999, Passage de Retz, Paris); Phantasmagoria (1998, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Days and Nights Come and Go (1994, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Oleg Golosiy (1993, UKV Gallery, Kyiv); Angels Over Ukraine (1993, Apostolic Church, Edinburgh); Dead Calm (1992, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Oleg Golosiy (1991, Central House of Artists, Moscow).

Self-portrait as a bee that slashes through dusk hovering inches above ground. Elephants rushing to hug one another. Islands against oceanic stillness. Heart-rending “neo-naive” works by Oleg Golosiy lay uncertain and treacherous ground for pictorial pleasure that belies verbalization. On the one hand, they imply affectation: it’s a play of a play, a mask of childishness. On the other, this sort of pictorial trance is the rarest. Golosiy’s paintings broadcast stills from his mental film. Overwhelming currents of waking dreams become manifest on canvas. The dream content is so frank that, to quote Pavić, the viewer seems to “wake up in the soul of the other.”

ible phenomena were diffused in blinding light. His works can be provisionally subdivided into three periods. The earliest neoexpressionist or mythological period started in 1988 or 1989 — the breakthrough year for Sedniv open-air residencies — and lasted through 1990. It was marked by a conventional dialogue with tradition. The artist used universal sacred symbols to mark his belonging to a closed community of painters. His language and vision lost the shackles of conventions in 1990, with the start of his psychedelic period. Reimagined through the prism of altered consciousness, his motifs became phantasmagorias. The period also introduced pop art irony towards reproduced imagery, that is, to all imagery as such (24 Plots and Their Kangaroo). It also produced the “childish discourse.” His final years (1991 and 1992) brought an exhibition at the Moscow Central House of Artists, a group show Dead Calm, a Munich art residency, group shows at Villa Stuck, in the Lothringerstrasse Gallery, and more. His unapologetic intertextual kleptomania peaked during that period. His paintings became “cinematographic essays.” The works from this period vividly represent the stream-like “cinematographic” nature of consciousness. They implicitly evoke Deleuze’s notions of The Movement-Image and The Time-Image that have come to displace the classical image of thought. In a way,

Trio of Horses, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 1992

Golosiy’s soul is topographic. Viewers are dazzled with the flickering procession of well-defined spaces. Once there, they are greeted with discomfort mixed with pleasure, and proceed from canvas to canvas, from image to image, carefully exploring each new detail of the internal landscape. Attempts at orientation in this dreamscape, or, if you will, dream interpretation, would destroy the mystery of dreams. These canvases document the pleasure element, pure ecstasy and the “unspoken knowledge” that doesn’t require explanations. A viewer is tempted to take them “as is,” mesmerized by their “reticent” code. Despite the fact that these works had long become history (Golosiy died in 1993), they have not lost their potential for causing deep trepidation. Historic distance does not “defuse” these images. They don’t acquire a patina of bookish dust. Golosiy’s paintings, style and tone shifted rapidly from suicidal depression to absolute enlightenment. And I do mean literal enlightenment: visLittle Ship, oil on canvas, 200 x 140 cm, 1992 74


Self-portrait, oil on canvas. 80 х 70 cm, 1988

Golosiy’s paintings explore the experience of “meta-cinema” as a matrix for dynamic and decentreed perception. 1990 provisionally marks the evolution from conventional postmodernism to “New Sincerity,” and this sincerity is deeply psychedelic in its thrust. Cultural movements of the 1990s harkened back to the euphoric psychedelic heaven of the 1960s, when the quotidian was recast through mandala kaleidoscopes. Golosiy’s Psychedelic Attack of Blue Bunnies (1990) quoted In the Line of Fire by Petrov-Vodkin with the goal of postmodern “deconstruction.” He mixed the high and the low, stripped the lofty vision of its bathos and gave it a pop frame. The deeply culturally symbolic shade of blue met Playboy bunnies. Golosiy’s paintings swarmed with baby elephants, bunnies and kangaroos. Honest childishness as the end to the “adult discourse” was another symptom of altered consciousness and perception. Elephants were Golosiy’s totem animals and “the second Self.” His cohort of friends knew him as “Slon,” or “The Elephant.” He always drew an elephant trunk next to his signature. Golosiy’s lifetime exhibitions highlight the fluidity and stream-of-consciousness nature of his paintings, their mosaic optic models and symbolic avatars. In 1991, Regina Gallery organized Golosiy a large solo show, exhibiting around a hundred works in the Moscow Central House of Artists. The exhibition was inspired by stage design drawings and suggested by Oleg Kulyk. To visualize the artist’s unstable fleeting glance, the paintings were mounted on wheeled carriers. During the opening, young children in white shirts embroidered with butterflies wheeled them around the hall. Most works created by that point were inspired by the aesthetics of epiphanies and by the equalizing Buddhist vision that doesn’t discriminate between the great and small, between the meaningful and meaningless. They created the illusion that each object reflected something else. Wet asphalt in A Wood Path (1992) becomes a stream of light. Humid sun-pierced tropical air shimmering around Flower Stilts (1992) looks like a riverbed. Sunlight becomes tangible, scattering in bright glitters and creating a mesmerizing vision of brittle beauty. The Wounded Flower Bud (1992), lurking among leaves like a drop of red blood, hints that such is its predicament: it blossoms fast and wilts without warning. The arch of The Bridge (1992) and

its reflection create a marvelous oval-shaped portal into another dimension. Mesmerized, a viewer notes that the central opening opens onto yet another bridge, making the illusion stretch further into infinity. It might seem like Golosiy’s artistic sensibility had reached maximum freedom in these works, but he kept coming up with ever new visions or images, almost weightless, somewhat sickly, emancipated from media or any other reality outside their inner logic. They were unparalleled in their formal open-endedness. Female heads with manes of hear in Eyes (1992) are evocative of flower buds. Or take Waterfront (1992), for example: it is hastily lit up with multiple sources of light, including the giant eye of the sun, stars, and street lamps. Jacques Ranciere tried to trace the Odyssey of images in our times through the lens of notions Barthes introduced in Camera Lucida, namely, the studium and the punctum, the general and the particular. Studium is subject to interpretation and belongs to the cultural context. Punctum cannot be spoken or explained: it is life itself, imperiously affirming its presence. In Golosiy’s works, punctum denotes the presence of painting as such. Its main function lies in representing the metaphysical reality, transforming pictures “of nothing in particular” into “undifferentiated blocks of the visible.” Victoria Burlaka

Whales, oil on canvas, 300 x 200 cm, 1992

Oistrakh, oil on canvas, 119 x 80 cm, 1987 75


Trip (Muse), oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 1991

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Reading a Letter, oil on canvas, 135 x 200 cm, 1991

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Waterfront, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 1992

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Flower Stilts, oil on canvas, 197 x 150 cm, 1992


Shot, oil on canvas, 150 x 195 cm, 1991

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DMITRIY GREK

Born Dmytro Snihyr in 1987. Graduated from the Department of Decorative Ceramics of the Myrhorod Art College. In 1997, he was admitted to the Kharkiv Institute of Industries and Arts, eventually graduating with a BA in Easel and Monumental Sculpture from the Department of Fine and Decorative Arts. In 2001, he transferred to the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, receiving qualification of a Painter/Sculptor. He has been participating in exhibitions since 2006 under the pseudonym Dmitriy Grek. He participated in open-air seminars of stone sculpture under the tutelage of Oleksandr Sukholit, and created a series of landscape sculptural projects. Selected exhibitions: The Great Sculpture Salon (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Self-Portrait of an Artist (2015, Triptych Art Gallery, Kyiv); Breathe of Space (2014, Triptych Art Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainian Triennale of Sculpture (2014, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Spring Exhibition (2010, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian Triennale of Sculpture (2008, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian Youth Art Exhibition (2006, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian Triennale of Sculpture (2005, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian Autumn Art Show (2004, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian Triennale of Sculpture (2002, exhibition hall of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); New Art of the Independent Country (2001, Kharkiv Municipal Art Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Prologue (2000, Kharkiv State Polytechnic Institute, French Center, Kharkiv, Ukraine).

My personal experience with art is about fighting inertia and proceeding towards freedom. Freedom from clichés, from triteness. I express my experience, primarily of the spiritual kind, in my artworks. Many of my works address philosophical notions that I grasped and adopted as my own. I think contemporary art is in dialogue primarily with artists of the past. Of course, this is dialogue in conditional tense, unfolding in the subconscious. We all know their works; information is easily accessible these days. Earlier artists were more authentic: not knowing what was going on around them, they could stay “on their own wavelength.” Imagine there were no styles, no schools, no traditions: you just drew things. It’s no longer like that: we navigate our way between eras and artifacts. About materials. In sculpture, material puts up resistance. Take painting, for example: it yields. In sculpture, meanwhile, everything resists: wires don’t bend because they have to be tough in order to serve their function, not to mention stone or bronze. Sculpture requires patience and perseverance. You have to think and live in sculpture. You have to keep the final material in mind instead of the one used in drafts. That’s always tough. It takes experience. You cannot master your material without experience, just like that. You need someone to teach you to see and feel, to teach you the ropes of the trade the way the masters of old did. You can read about many facets of the trade, but you cannot truly feel and understand a thing

Dmitriy Grek’s studio, Kyiv, 2016 80

unless you approach it through a person. You often understand cinema or music better if a person near to you recommends it and focuses your attention on something he or she had grasped, leading you up to the material like Stalker in the eponymous movie by Tarkovsky (1979), leading the group into uncharted lands. Art too requires a “Stalker,” a teacher to lead you in. I had my “Stalkers” at every stage: I had mentors who taught me skills, and did so with love. I started learning in school. I had supportive instructors both Adam and Eve, bronze, h — 170 cm, ed. 10, 2016 at college and at the Kharkiv institute. In Kyiv, the students were left to their own devices. After school, however, I had spent a long while working with Oleksandr Sukholit. We got on well, I learned a lot, and I’m grateful to him for many things. It was a crucial stage in my life. Now I’m in the subsequent stage, or even the post-subsequent stage. [Smiles] Of course, books can be mentors too. Reading is almost like a conversation with the writer. This is sacred. Mindful reading brings you into direct contact with someone else and warms your soul. This is especially true of spiritual literature. For example, I love the writings of the Church Fathers. I don’t think one can understand humankind without them. As long as you remain unpredictable to yourself, you have no hope of understanding those around you. There were times when I created a work, and then the thing depicted in it would happen to me. An image or a symbol came first, whereas the event as such came later. I did not see the true meaning of the work until


Chariot, patina bronze, 41 x 134 x 42 cm, ed. 10, 2009

then. I have a work entitled A Trip. It depicts a family in the boat rocked by waves. Humankind is one big family, both physically and spiritually. In this work, people in the boat are calm and peaceful even as the elements rage around them. I think it illustrates our times: humankind could and should remain calm despite social cataclysms and upheavals. The boat is our shared home, an image of our cohabitation. I focus on people. The elements rage, but people live on. Important events happen right next to you, to yourself, to your near and dear, and that is important. Each and every one of us has responsibilities. An artist should work in art, and refrain from meddling in other spheres. Otherwise you enter somebody else’s space, barge into a surgical theater to wring your hands. Unless you are a surgeon, what are you doing there? Social life is like a spring. Some take the mechanism keeping the spring coiled for granted. But we only ever see the mechanism’s effect without knowing its true strength. Neither do we know where the spring might hurl us next. We know neither its goal nor its source. The hand guiding it remains in shadows. The present world is wreaks havoc on human soul, bodies and psyche. Art contains many dangerous elements that could drive a practitioner to distraction. Of course, they interest viewers; they work. Youtube videos of a person taking a fall garner millions views. I have no interest in this sort of phenomena in art. Some artists charge their works with their personal charisma, making them sparkle, but that is a rarity. High-quality works that say something truly new, be it in materials, tropes or themes, are rare. It comes as no surprise that they are few and far between, much like good music. I love music. I rejoice in discovering interesting composers. Music supplies me with aesthetic succor and made me understand many things about sculpture. So did photography, and painting, to a lesser extent. You cannot learn sculpture through sculpture. You may see sculptures without understanding their laws and harmonies. Those lie in music, literature, psychology, mythology, but not in sculpture as such. You can only understand it in roundabout ways, whereas direct approach obscures its principles. God set humankind its key task long ago. I’m talking about spiritual salvation. Nobody knows how it happens. It’s a mystery. Working towards spiritual salvation is hygiene for the soul. Temptations are many. Sometimes I come up with marvelous new ideas or plastic solutions that might stun viewers, but I understand that they should not be done, or at least that I should not tackle them. Not everybody understands how to set boundaries for oneself. Some think you should just surge forward towards the goal. But let’s go back to our earlier topic, the law of seeking spiritual salvation. What you do and think forms your soul. A soul is a vessel. Many

think it’s already full. To the contrary, it’s an empty space that you fill and form as your life progresses. If you don’t take care of the vessel’s contents, you can do great harm to yourself. And if you harm yourself, you harm those around you with your art too. It doesn’t matter that they might enjoy it. [Laughs] Wouldn’t it be cool if there were more things that did something beautiful and mysterious to the soul? I noticed that art has a period of relevance. I created a score of art photographs a while back. They aged differently: they remained mere pictures, but their condition and effect on people changed. Each work has its time. Some works remain highly relevant. We have many imitative works though. We follow in the footsteps of century-old discoveries that had long gone out of fashion in the West. They might be of interest to those who explore an artist’s trajectory, but they have little interest in the global context. On the other hand, humankind is the most important and interesting object. This makes artists so important. Their trajectory traces their biography and treasures life offered them. I think artists should be tempted by already existing canonical topics at certain stages. There are many Davids all over the world, for example. And a plethora of Adams. I produced my own Adam too, for example. I think nobody had depicted him from this perspective, the way I see him, at the moment of his creation. It is a very important theme that concerns both myself and all of us. I make my viewers approach the act of divine creation, the mystery of human being. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Dmitriy Grek’s studio, Kyiv, 2016 81


Dmitriy Grek’s studio, Kyiv, 2016


IGOR GUSEV

Born in 1970 in Odessa. Graduated from M. Grekov Odessa Art College. A poet and rock musician, he is also one of the leading Ukrainian artists. He creates performances, objects, and installations. Lives and works in Odessa. Selected exhibitions: Zeitgeist (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Resident’s Confession (2016, Pizana Gallery, Podgorica, Montenegro); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists and Panton Chair (2014, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Space Odyssey (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Restart (2009, Marine Art Terminal, Odessa, Ukraine); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Beyond the Threshold (2002, Central House of Artists, Moscow); Exhibition of Paintings (2000, Art Museum, Odessa, Ukraine); Labyrinth (1998, 2nd Biennale of Graphic Arts, Prague); Kandinsky Syndrome (1995, Museum of Regional History, Odessa, Ukraine); Space of Cultural Revolution (1994, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Dead Calm (1992, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv).

CONTEMPORARY ART IS A UNIVERSAL WEAPON There’s this story, I shudder to retell it, but I sure can. I decided to become an artist after visiting Ilya Glazunov’s exhibition. I was in first grade, maybe second. My parents and I went to the museum and found ourselves at the tail end of a giant line. When we finally entreed the exhibition, I saw giant paintings with flying men, axes and kings. I couldn’t believe

Pistet, oil on canvas, 130 x 200 cm, 1991

of Ukrainian transavantgarde.” Scholars described them as “the New Gentle.” We would pass around the wonderful Decoratyvne Mystetstvo [Decorative Art] magazine: ostensible mouthpiece for Soviet art, it kept abreast of modern trends and actively publicized them thanks to its strong team of journalists and art scholars. I think they belonged to the circle of enthusiasts that penned books like The Anti-Art, or the Pernicious Influence of Modernism, masquerading informative overviews of Western art as criticism. The magazine was a visual feast: the paucity of information was the scourge of those years. When Decorative Art replaced realistic paintings of milkmaids and tractor operators with the works of Ukrainian trans-avantgardists (Slon [Oleg Golosiy], Hnyl [Oleksandr Hnylytskyj] or Arsen Savadov), DM became the local Flashart. In those years, during Perestroika and glasnost, censorship let up. Every other engineer discovered Salvador Dali and fell in love with his works (by the by, Dali remains “the love of the life” for scientists to this day). Then Boris Vallejo crawled out of kiosks with cheap publications and took the hearts of Soviet citizens by storm. Contemporary Ukrainian art emerged against this patchy background. It started with a bang but didn’t last long, primarily because the Soviet Union collapsed. There was bigger fish to fry after that. I met the Paris Commune artists in 1992, during the Dead Calm exhibition at the Union of Artists. What a time it was! I was just beginning. I didn’t realize until later that I entreed Ukrainian art at the moment when

my eyes. In a word, it was naive surrealism that was not quite accepted in the Soviet Union. I still remember standing mesmerized in front of a canvas depicting a shuttle launch next to a pig under Pushkin’s watchful eye. When I applied to Odessa Art School, where I was admitted without examinations, the director asked me what artists I liked. I mentioned Vasnetsov, Aivazovsky, Repin, and Glazunov. The director said, “Well, you shouldn’t like Glazunov.” To this day, I don’t know why. Of course, I eventually changed my opinion about Glazunov, but he left a mark, there’s no way around that. To tell you the truth, I’ve never seen Cleopatra’s Sorrow by Arsen Savadov live. I’ve only seen a life-sized poster, printed out, I think, by Sasha Soloviov for a project of his. Be that as it may, Cleopatra’s Sorrow signaled that Ukrainian art would never be the same. It marked the point of no return. What was it like in Odessa? In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, conceptualism was all the rage. Anufriev, Voitsekhov, Chatskin and other artists chose Moscow trends as their beacon. Roitburd raised the banner of postmodernism. A brilliant artist and organizer, he gathered a flock of young artists, and they started to develop the so-called “southern branch Chains, oil on canvas, 193 x 145 cm, 1998 84


Penalty, oil on canvas, 90 x 140 cm, 2007

it was sliding into a years-long slumber. At the Dead Calm, I met the banker Krendeleva who bought my works off the walls, as they say, for what was quite a sum at the time. That was my first run-in with “the scowl of capitalism.” I didn’t receive the money until half a year later, when the conversion rates changed. That was my first introduction to the notion of contemporary and timely. I’m ironic even by Odessa standards, although I think everyone in Odessa is ironic. In essence, irony is a way of sharing your thoughts without telling the whole truth, which might be bitter or unpleasant. You don’t necessarily need the whole truth. Allegories and irony are preferable: you’ve got your message across, but also left space for interpretation. This is what always appealed to me in art: you might be working with the truth, but, unlike in other spheres, you offer no foolproof recipes. Additionally, Odessa mentality is steeped in European culture, which is essentially based on parables and allegories. Your average Odessa resident doesn’t differ much from tourists. The only difference is, most tourists descend on Odessa once a year. The surplus of free time helps Odessa residents to produce rhetorical gems that transform speech patterns. Their speech patterns rely on humor, which is a local sport in Odessa. Which is to say, the post-imperial Odessa is not going anywhere. The empire did collapse. In the past, it was considered bon ton to say that Odessa is a Russian city, with its legacy of Catherine the Great, emperors, the Russian fleet — It’s all gone with the wind. Nobody talks about that anymore. Contemporary art is a universal weapon. This much is true. It figures in the geopolitics of all developed countries. Promote your culture, your musicians, your writers and artists, and before long you’ve conquered half the globe. Obviously, only the global superpowers, like China, the US or the UK, affirm their domination this way. The state started to promote the Young British Artists (a formally defined group) in the early 1990s, and they are considered cutting edge to this day! The same can be said about the Chinese artists micromanaged by the Communist Party. Much as I love Ukraine, it is too early to talk about its statehood. Sooner or later it will have to start promoting its art by engaging with scholars that actually know their metier. You cannot just invite those who, in their infatuation with the local customs, stuff any and all Biennales with borsht and Ukrainian bread. It is high time the Ministry for Culture started to hire professionals. Until culture gets a real budget, we cannot really talk about cultural policies or goals. Granted, experience tells us that, in all likelihood, Ukraine will just proceed along its paradoxical path. But let’s hold our fingers crossed.

There are several reasons behind Ukraine’s proclivity for painting. 70 years of the Soviet regime had taught an inexperienced viewer that fine art is limited to painting, graphic arts and sculpture. Several generations grew up with the belief that there’s no art beyond painting (and, well, graphic arts and sculpture), and with no love for other forms. Hence the general public thinks that the new media, performances or installations are not art proper but mere trickery. We are not used to paying for ideas. The newly rich entre an exhibition, look around and state with authority, “Even my chauffeur could do better!” The chauffeur fails, of course, but his younger brother from a PR agency volunteers to recreate the works at a fraction of the price. It is hard to explain to the businessmen who steal by wagonloads that they should pay for ideas. When you buy an object of contemporary art, like a pricy installation, in the west, you automatically invest in your country’s cultural development and can write off that expense for tax purposes. If you buy an installation for your office, you can write it off as a business expense and, again, write that off for your tax returns. You might also buy an island or two while you are at it: it’s a well thought-out strategy. Not that I know much about it. I’m an artist. I’d gladly do nothing but installations, but I don’t have the space to store them. Therefore, paintings are our be all end all, but why not? In conversation with Inga Esterkina

Petro, Where’s the I-Phone?, oil on canvas, 100 x 130 cm, 2013 85


Agents of Time, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm, 2014

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Elvis Returns, oil on canvas, 195 x 145 cm, 2010

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KSENIA HNYLYTSKA

Born in 1984 in Kyiv. Graduated from the State Art School and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Works in painting, graphic art, objects and video. Co-founder and member of the R.E.P. group since 2004. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Between Volga and the Danube (2016, Aircraftgallery, Bratislava); Degree of Dependence (2016, Wroclaw, Poland); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Through Maidan and Beyond (2014, Architekturzentrum Wien, Vienna); And Now? The Power of Art. Ukrainian Art in a Moment of Crisis, Reflection and Mourning (2014, Lavra Art Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainians (2014, DAAD Galerie, Berlin); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Colortest (2013, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Open Air (2012, Triumph Gallery, Moscow); Open Air (2009, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Carambol (2008, Fine Art Gallery, Kyiv); Bloomsday (2007, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Competition of the Eidos Fund (2007, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); GENERATIONS. UsA (2007, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Strength (2006, VP Gallery, Art-Strelka, Moscow); Postorange (2006, Kunsthalle, Vienna); Hot Ukraine/Cool Ukraine (2006, Art Centre on Neglinnaya Street, Moscow); Artists Respond. Ukrainian Art and Orange Revolution (2005, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, USA); J’en reve (2005, Fondation Cartier, Paris); Doublethink (2005, Stella Gallery, Moscow); Expanded Painting (2005, Prague Biennale, Prague); Auto-cellulite (2003, Jazzclub Leerer Beutel, Regensburg, Germany).

WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME SIDE NOW The fact that I came from a family of artists gave me an edge, but I kept looking for a trajectory of my own. I never made peace with the fact that there might be ready-made solutions, I never cut corners, so to say. I joined some subcultures as a teen, as you do, but kept searching. Permanent tension between what I saw at home and the “classical” art promoted at school and later at the academy fostered an inner conflict. In the end, I decided to part from the roots, from the academic tradition, and to go searching for myself: this was the mantra of our professors anyway. On the creation of the R.E.P. group. I traveled abroad as a teen and saw artists illustrate their demands at manifestations. When I came back, I saw protesters wield ready-made posters of two parties. I felt we lacked opinions, individual statements. We decided we’d draw our comments and make our own posters. Then we detoured to the Centre for Contemporary Art in the Podil district for a ladder. They lent us a ladder, but it didn’t stop at that: the Centre’s then-director Onuch gave us space there for a couple of years. He hosted many of our projects, and that’s where we developed a better structured program. Take the interesting Ukrainian Hermitage project, a collaboration of about 20 artists. Some left, some joined us later, until there were only six of us left. We’ve worked as a team for a while now. The R.E.P. group celebrated its 10-year anniversary recently. We often drift away from one another, only to pull our resources and keep working together later. Sadly, we mostly work abroad, often in Poland, where our works are known and receive a critical reception. In Ukraine, nobody writes our history.

We founded the group partly in opposition to the older generation: they were ironic, whereas we were serious and ready to believe. We are all on the same side now, united by the war. One way or the other, we all, both the older generation and the younger, became more patriotic as time passed. It’s not that I’m tired of the political discourse, but, in my personal opinion, the space is oversaturated with it. On the other hand, social art is just one tool in our generation’s toolbox. This is good. There’s been too much of it of late, and it does not necessarily appeal to me. But if we take the art milieu as a growing organism, it does in a way mark a significant growth: we have learned to think conceptually. It is very important because it allows us to climb to a new discursive level. In a way, as an artist I even enjoy the archaic medieval cruelty of Ukrainian political scene. Professionally speaking, illustrating its savagery is tempting. It would be good, I think, if our society demanded a museum. Sure, let’s host interesting shows in innovative spaces, but we also need a specialized space, a cutting-edge museum of contemporary art. I’m not sure if the demand exists at present, and to what degree. Everyone has their own criteria and preferences. We even had a project about it: Presentation of Ukrainian Artists in Vienna. We put up penny banks for various Ukrainian institutions and even collected donations, which we intend to transfer to the addressees. I’m not sure if we could have produced this project in Ukraine. I don’t think an artist has to be absolutely independent. Artists should flock together. Humans are social animals, and we should always cooperate, starting from families and onwards, not only in the profession-

Passports, from the Fragilty of Identification series, chamotte, ceramic glaze, 13 x 9 x 0,5 cm, 2013

ID Code, from the Fragilty of Identification series, chamotte, ceramic glaze, 14 x 20 x 0,5 cm, 2014

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Untitled, from the Open Air series, oil on canvas, 140 x 210 cm, 2004

al dimension. Socializing is often hard, especially for artists. Those who choose creative professions are often somewhat autistic. You shouldn’t mistake networking for normal human relations with your surroundings. What I mean is, belonging to a community is all well and good, but you should also be kinder to those around you, say hi to The Dream of Maria Ivanovna, oil on canvas, 130 x 125 cm, 2013 your neighbors, etc. Tragedies bring people closer, and I do mean the war. Some things seem to indicate that, as a nation, we have learned to pull our resources. This raises the question of democracy and its boundaries. We should read more, develop an interest in what’s going on abroad. If you have no interest in what is going on around you, you are not that interesting either. We might think that we are pioneers, but this is a normal symptom in the development of a post-Soviet country. I like that we developed various grassroots initiatives and curators’ unions. Their number has increased drastically. Many were represented at a recent project in Poland [Dependence Degree]. Anton Lapov and Ievhen Korolitov, our Donbas “diaspora,” joined the project too. To be honest, my gut feeling is, we deserve the reality we found ourselves in. This far-away Donbas only had one art institution, the Isolation… If not for this break, we could have developed contacts. I want unity in consciousness. I don’t want to sound like a crazed jingoist, but my taboos proliferate: I boycott this, I avoid that. It gets tougher. The more you know, the more you try to develop in yourself certain things. It is universally relevant, this is a question of personal growth. At present, Ukraine is only represented globally by discrete figures because it cannot become an equal economic partner for the leading countries. But we might yet grow teeth, for good or ill. Our culture lacks theoretical nexuses that would match the global frame of reference. Ukraine has so many specialists in all spheres, and nobody knows about them. As the result we seem to live in parallel dimensions rife with Ukrainian space programs, Ukrainian football, Ukrainian art, what

have you. We might make startling discoveries, but they never align with lists of generally recognized accomplishments. I once talked to this person who studied abroad: he told me that other scholars had made the discoveries that our school curriculum ascribed to Soviet people. It’s a question of ideology: what will textbooks tell our children? I don’t want to talk about second chances. It’s an attempt to manipulate public consciousness. We have short memory spans: we forget and move on. Short memory is our #1 enemy. That’s what I think. I’ve spent a year painting ruins [for the Stratigraphy project], and liked it. It was soothing. I will set it aside for a while. I have feelings for Kyiv. There’s no other city where I have so many feelings for each building. I conceived the Stratigraphy series as an exploration of poetics of ruination, desolation, dilapidation. It is a romantic preoccupation of mine. I think Ukraine had a very strong Romantic tradition and very talented Romantic artists. There are projects that haunt and taunt you like an open wound. You do something that you find important, and then you don’t know how to live with it. Our history might have blank spots, but manuscripts don’t burn. Painting is a luxury, an engaging process that requires dedication. Once you slip into this state, it’s hard to be both an artist and a manager, a Jackof-all-trades the way a contemporary artist needs to be. Painting is heady and thrilling: it’s like sex, you might say, but it also requires rationality. All in all, I think artists should think more and produce less. I should anyway. [She smiles] In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

On Vorovskogo Street, from the Stratography series, watercolor and India ink on paper, 35 x 27 cm, 2015 89


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Untitled, from the Inertia of Waiting series, oil on canvas, 210 x 470 cm, 2011

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OLEKSANDR HNYLYTSKYJ

Oleksandr Hnylytskyj (1961–2009) was born in 1961 in Kharkiv. Graduated from the Kharkiv State Art College and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. In the late 1980s, he was an active member of the Kyiv Paris Commune art squat. He was a leader of the groundbreaking New Wave movement in Ukrainian contemporary art (the 1990s). As a painter, he worked in transavantgarde and hyperrealism. In 1996, he co-founded the Institution for Unstable Thoughts public organization and art group, promoting new media in Ukrainian art (videos, installations, performances, etc.). He represented Ukraine at the 52nd Venice Biennale. To mark Oleksandr Hnylytskyj’s 50-year anniversary in 2011, the National Art Museum of Ukraine hosted a memorial exhibition Hnylytskyj. Cadavre Exquis. Selected exhibitions: Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Restart (2009, Sea Art Terminal, Odessa, Ukraine); The Perfect Age (2009, Bloomsday’09 Festival, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Modesty and Fat (2008, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); New Ukrainian Painting (2008, White Box Gallery, New York); Postorange (2006, Kunsthalle, Vienna); The Era of Romanticism (2004, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Donumenta (2003, Regensburg, Germany); New Directions (2000, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Views on Ukraine (1999, Passage de Retz, Paris); Angels Over Ukraine (1993, Apostolic Church, Edinburgh); Dialogue With Ukraine (1992, Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany).

Oleksandr Hnylytskyj is a prominent representative of the New Wave in contemporary Ukrainian painting that emerged in the late 1980s. Painting remained his main field of interest, but over the course of his career as an artist Hnylytskyj had worked in most, if not all branches, genres and techniques of contemporary visual arts. He shot videos, created installations and kinetic sculptures, turned to anamorphosis and zoetropes, worked in paradoxical design and produced DJ sets. Hnylytskyj was the most unpredictable member of the Ukrainian art scene, and his irrational protean being produced ambiguous and blurred definitions. For this reason, his strategy was congruent with neo-Dada absurdity, and implied continuous mimicry, transformations, elusions and transfigurations. Even his transavantgarde period went through several stages, including “the curly style,” the green “wave painting,” the black-and-white grisaille, and the “childish discourse.” Subsequently, Hnylytskyj had the courage to question the picture-centric slant of Ukrainian artistic sensibility. The first years after Ukraine gained independence happened to coincide with a pervasive crisis in painting and a reorientation towards the new media that dealt with space and mobile imagery. This trend reached Ukrainian art that was then undergoing rapid changes. Hnylytskyj was among the first Ukrainian artists to turn to video art. In the early 1990s, he shot his action poem Sleeping Beauty in a Glass Coffin, where Morpheus, Eros and Thanatos joined in a decadent sacrament. In Magic Mirrors, co-directed with Natalia Filonenko and Maxim Mamsikov, author directors also appeared as actors. The video does not have a well-defined idea or message. A viewer is confronted with a stream of visual improvisations and erotically charged surreal hallucinations produced and coordinated by fun house mirrors as deforming optical filters. Hnylytskyj later used the principle of optical rather than electronic projection in his Sun City. Reviving the visionary tradition that harkens back to the London 18th century Eidophuzzikon or the protocinematic age, Hny-

lytskyj developed and rendered valid the idea that archaic “media,” such as camera obscura or magic lanterns, could become “new media.” He developed this media vector in cooperation with Lesia Zaiets, founding the Institution of Unstable Thoughts. The two artists introduced original technology that balanced between the real and the artificial in their programmatic Visual Vinyl, The Room, Mediacomfort and other projects. The artists usually described their works as “cinematographic meditations” that highlighted the psychedelic aspect of quotidian reality. Visual Vinyl is a singular multimedia performance spanning analogue animation, dance music, video, kinetic sculpture and a DJ set. This simple but effective optical illusion made real objects come alive in front of the viewers’ eyes and allowed the artists to forgo digital technologies. The critic Volodymyr Levashov described this performance as metaphor made flesh: “Objects seem to follow the stylus in its movement along vinyl tracks, audio becomes video, matter springs to life ‘from the spirit of music’ to merge with it in 3D cinema, blurring the line between this so-called ‘cinema’ and the so-called ‘life.’” The installation The Room is an audiovisual mediacollage of nonlinear short stories relying on choreography of light and special arrangements to merge the real with the illusory. In the Mediacomfort project, quotidian objects arranged in the hall broadcast visual information, whereas rhythmic changes in the background plunge the viewers into a sweet trans-like state. The 2007 Ukrainian pavilion at the Venice Biennale was based on this room. Inscribed into the historic interior of a Venetian palazzo, this room lured the viewers into the world of visual trickery. Wandering between screen projections and “fluid objects,” plates and sofas, fridges and radios, lamps and other things, the viewers unwittingly lived through a procession of strange metamorphoses and were confronted with changed psycho-objects. This universe was based on the principle of media hybridity. Each object enshrined a different correlation between the media and

Windup Skeleton Blowing Soap Bubbles (1994), Show Me Yours (1998), Protester for Rent (2001), mixed media 92


Hnylytskyj. Cadavre Exquis exhibition, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, 2011

their carrier objects. Exhibited side by side, they documented the boundaries between various media, such as painting or digital art, only to blur these emergent fine lines. They explored how brittle or tangible various data carriers could be. What mattered was not their technical dimension but the emergent aggregate state and alien rhythms: each objects had its own pulse and temporality. Neo-Dada kinetic objects, including A Mechanical Skeleton Blowing Soap Bubbles, Grave for a Tamagotchi, The Old Beggar, or The Miner on Strike, represent another direction in Hnylytskyj’s works. The mechanical installation Show Me Yours explored jejune desire, as well as the conflict between “dead” technology and “animated” flesh. The sculpture was first exhibited at the Day in the Life show at the Livadia Palace in 1998. Placed in a historical room, it lent the space new and unexpected meanings. For the Symptomatic Anonymity show at the Kyiv Soros Centre (1997) Hnylytskyj created a processual Growing Art project: he created a surreal installation by planting green grass on objects beyond the gallery’s windows, including a cot, ceramic phalluses and suspended “droplets.” In the “Noughties,” Hnylytskyj continued to explore new media but much preferred pseudo-narrative paintings, recoding the myths and semantics of iconic animation, TV series, fairytales and legends (Cheburashka and Gena the Crocodile, Stierlitz and Mueller, Fantomas, the Little Mermaid, and more). In his painting The Mermaid, Hnylytskyj reimagined the old myth: the mermaid wants to go to an underwater disco. Denied entry, she slashes her fin in two in her frantic desire to become human, painting the water with blood.

Mermaid, oil on canvas, 165 x 200 cm, 2004

Hnylytskyj also made iconic various quotidian objects, including, though not limited to glasses, toilet bowls, can openers, tennis balls or vinyl discs, magnifying them to startling, non-functional, unwieldy and shocking size. His pseudo-realist style and magical illusions transformed them into alien, mysterious and ineffable things-in-itself. Although ostensibly unprepossessing, his last paintings (Bedside Table, Stairs, M. N. Ge, Zink) brim with inner drama and deep existential reflections. The appeal of these “object-based” painted stories lay in their “double-coded message:” the artist encouraged the viewers to take the image with utmost seriousness, but also undermined their trust in the visible, revealing it as a fiction, an unreal phantom, or, to quote Jean Baudrillard, a restored “dream, total unreality in its minute exactness.” Not long before his death, the French philosopher who had earlier introduced the now commonly accepted notions of simulacrum and hyperreality had made a trenchant observation about the paradoxical charm of such images. In his last article “Aesthetic Illusion and Disillusion ” Baudrillard noted, “Trompe l’oeil is the ecstasy of the real object in its immanent form, which adds the spiritual charm of the artifice, the mystification of the senses to the formal charm of painting. The sublime is not enough; subtlety is also necessary, the subtlety that consists in diverting the real by taking it literally.” Oleksandr Soloviov

From the Summer House series, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2005 93


Car, oil on canvas, 125 x 157 cm, 2008

Ping Pong, oil on canvas, 220 x 283 cm, 2008

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Untitled, oil on canvas, 100 x 160 cm, 2008

Plumbing (Self-Portrait), oil on canvas, 136 x 104 cm, 2008

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Ulysses, oil on canvas, 300 x 200 cm, 2003

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Sky. Olegivska Street, oil on canvas, 310 x 209 cm, 2008

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ILYA ISUPOV

Born in 1971 in Vasylkiv (Kyiv region). A graphic artist, painter and video artist. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School in 1988. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); New Ukrainian Dream (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The Show Within the Show (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Anthill (2013, Triumph Gallery, Moscow); Botany. Chemistry. Physics (2012, Shcherbenko Art Centre, Kyiv); Columbarium (2009, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Millet (2008, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Beach (2005, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Science and Life (2002, RA Gallery, Kyiv); New Desires (2000, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Berlin Bunker (1999, Kunstbunker, Nuremberg, Germany); Movie Version (1998, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Views with Jam (1996, Centre for Contemporary Art, National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv); Banana Republic (1995, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Space of Cultural Revolution (1994, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Genetic Mutation, with Iliya Chichkan (1993, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); End of the Year (1993, YKV Gallery, Kyiv).

VISUAL ART HAS GOT TO BE VISUAL The process, the result — do you think artists ever think in those terms? Nobody cares. The moment an artist starts to think like that, he’s over and done with. That’s the dream: to live in a world of your own, and project it onto everything else. It’s not business. There are artists-there were always artists-who treated it like a business. All the doors are open now. Some say, “I think it’s important that I do this in Ukraine.” Well, go you. Playing on your home field is always easier: a local viewer always understands you better than the international public. You went to the same school, you have a similar understanding of irony, humor, the basics. Of course, the locals understand you better. I always noted this. Take Hnylytskyj, for example: he lived in Munich for 15 years, but he never sold outside of Ukraine. Although you might think that paintings translate well. The 1990s are somewhat obscure. It was fun at the beginning: glasnost, the first shows, the vibrant community- The first large shows were organized in Kyiv and Moscow. That must have been in 1986–1987. I remember taking my works to Moscow for Manege exhibitions and to the Cen-

Bathroom, watercolor on paper, 90 x 70 cm, 1996 98

tral House of Artists. There were some foreigners, some grantsInflation caused panic. The early 1990s were a blur. It was like a drinking spree, see. There were these strange buyers of paintings. Some funny projects, someone hurling paintings out of a helicopter. What didn’t we do! The funniest moment came when the Union of Artists had finally let young artists into its cavernous halls. All those who participated in shows there remained in art. This first step spotlighted a marked contrast: the Union used to exhibit conventional portraits Equipment, watercolor on paper, 80 x 50 cm, 1994 and landscapes, and then let in the young artists. The young offered fresh, innovative works. It was funny. Then it turned into a blur: something kept happening, but the first thrust was already in the past. Commercial structures started to vie for space. It was strange. Nothing had acquired organized forms yet– The 1990s were a bit bleary. The ParCommune, you know. It was dark, but in a good way. To be or not to be an artist… I never had much of a choice. I had no choice as a child. I considered leaving art later, forgetting about it. But that was never serious. London… Well, I was in my teens. It felt like joining the army. Well, not quite, but I was never enamored with London either. Travelling is always fun, especially when you are not just a tourist, when you acquire new experience. I cannot tell whether it left a mark on my art. It’s like a sandwich, it all sticks together. In art, too, you collect layers and layers… It all starts in the childhood. Then you gain experience and analytical skills. You analyze everything you see. Collaborations are a way to keep your viewers’ attention peeled. We did many projects, all good. I always tried to have exhibitions with someone else. First, it’s easier, because it means you no From the Heads series, oil on paper, 100 x 100 cm, 2009


Love and Nurture, watercolor on paper, 50 x 70 cm, 1997

longer have full responsibility. Second, it’s more interesting. It’s one way of developing. Exhibitions as such are boring: well, you did more of the same, right? It’s cool if you know how to develop and grow. It’s cool if you can mix your style with somebody else’s. An exhibition as an event has to be interesting. It shouldn’t be the same posse looking at the same paintings and swooning, “Kudos, you are so adept at painting a glass.” I’m preparing an exhibition in April. Well, all my collaborators fled, so in the end it’ll have to be a solo show. I came up with the title: “Based upon these artists.” The exhibition will be hosted by the Book Arsenal. Biruchiy Contemporary Art Project. I keep telling myself: that’s it, that’s the last one. But I keep coming back anyway. It keeps you on your toes, you wait for the spring. It comes with strawberries, cherries, apples. Before long the summer’s over. Biruchiy is a chance to savor the last slice of summer. Biruchiy grants you freedom and brings you closer to others. You always meet new friends. It’s cool. You might have met some of them before, but this summer camp vibe takes relationships to a new level. New artists come, and you realize that there are some you don’t know. Take Katia Berlova for example. She’s a wonderful artist, very innovative, but I’ve never met her. Or Alina Yakubenko. I see them at exhibitions: excellent projects, great artists. Knock on wood. Biruchiy was not the only residency in Ukraine I’ve participated in, but the others were risible. After Biruchiy, I went to Kaniv with Gusev, and it was ugly. You realize you are a part of some strange business plan. Nothing too blatant, but still pathetic. I even started jogging in the morning. The hotel we lived in was right next to the hill the poet Shevchenko was

You Should Obey Your Parents, watercolor on paper, 70 x 90 cm, 1996

buried on. After jogging every day, I finally managed to run all the way up to the top. But, generally speaking, it wasn’t interesting. You do everything intuitively. If you take art too seriously, it’s no longer art, it morphs into something else. It has to be playful, but instantly legible. I recently saw this object, you know- once you read the captions, everything becomes clear. Disabled rights, blah blah blah. But I wouldn’t have read the caption if I were not waiting for someone there anyway. Visual art has got to be visual. It has to be cool, it has to appeal to the viewer. Yes, themes and ideas are all good, but, essentially, visual art has to be legible without explanations. It has to be cool, or so bad it’s cool, or very cool. When it’s just a silly object with a wall of text… I don’t like it. In essence, paintings have to lead their own life. And do whatever they want. Although you’ve got to admit that all this silliness about the mystical dimension of art is a sham. There might be a mystical dimension alright, but it’s all in our head. You recognize an object as a painting when it hangs on a gallery wall, but if it’s gathering dust in my garage behind broken glass, you look at it and think, it’s all bullshit. In a happy accident of fate, I know how to make what I imagine with my hands. In conversation with Inga Esterkina On the Bottom, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 40 cm, 2000–2002 99


Blessed Fire, painted wax, 60 x 50 cm, 2013

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Gold Fish, watercolor on paper, 82 x 100 cm, 2013

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NIKITA KADAN

Born in Kyiv in 1982. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in 2007. Member of the R.E.P. art group, and the Khudrada curator and activist union. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Uncertain States (2016, Kunstakademie, Berlin); As Rights Go By — On the Erosion and Denial of Rights (2016, Freiraum Q21 International, Vienna); Saltwater: a Theory of Thought Forms (2015, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul); Demonstrating Minds (2015, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki); Kyiv School — Kyiv Biennale (2015, National Museum of the History of Ukraine, Kyiv); EUROPE. The Future of History (2015, Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland); Hope! (2015, Ukrainian national pavilion at the 56th Venice biennale); Square(s) (2014, Francois Ghebaly Gallery, San Francisco, USA); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Fear and Hope (2014, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); The Ukrainians (2014, DAAD Galerie, Berlin); New Acquisitions of Contemporary Art (2013, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, Germany); The Future Generation Art Prize (2013, 55th Venice biennale); Disobedience Archive (The Republic) (2013, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Italy); The Desire for Freedom. Art in Europe since 1945 (2013, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin); Newtopia (2012, Museum Hof van Busleyden, Mechelen, Belgium); Cantastoria (2012, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, USA); Public Folklore (2011, Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria); Eyes Looking for a Head to Inhabit (2011, MSL museum, Łódź, Poland); Court Experiment (2010, Centre of visual culture research at National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv).

A BIT ABOUT HISTORY, ART SENSIBILITY AND THE REAL SITUATION Your career as an artist began during the Orange Revolution, which, as we know, inspired the foundation of the R.E.P. group. R.E.P. became one of the most prominent phenomena in Ukrainian art, jumpstarting or rather laying the routes for innovative social / critical trends and conceptual practices. How would you evaluate that experience now? R.E.P. was my school. We proceeded from class to class with each subsequent protest, developing the potential that was already present at the Orange Revolution of 2004. The Orange Revolution taught us to distrust professional “representatives of the people.” We learned our next lessons later. The authorities would find new and cunning ways of duping the people, and the people would distrust them all the more, and resist being duped. Then there came the Russian invasion. We were very young when we entreed this school. Looking back at our works of the time (2004–2005), I think we had intuitive distrust for the very rhetoric of professional politics, no matter what slogans it might proclaim. The grassroots, “amateur” politics meanwhile is based on the invention and constant renovation of language. By hanging up absurdist posters on the walls of the blocked Cabinet of Ministers in 2004, or by holding a political rally in an empty field during the 2005 election campaign, R.E.P. was highlighting the distrust for existent political rhetoric, and tried to invent its own tropes. Between the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan protests of 2013–2014, “social criticism” united various artists of our generation. But then, there were “social critical” artists long before us, like Borіs Mikhailov… These days, I focus on deeper philosophical touchstones that might unite artists. I think we share the process of developing a new historical identity that transcends the exclusively economically driven state of “post-history.”

What traits of the present historical identity draw your attention? Maidan protests of 2013/2014 and the beginning of the war saw “the return of history” in Ukraine, and there’s no going back from it. Then the newly relevant memories, including some about the 20 th century, got adapted to the new ideological canon, and their uncomfortable aspects were erased. But then, authentic historical memory contains a multitude of irreconcilable narratives, and you should not seek to reconcile them. It is uncomfortable by definition. In an interview, you said that the analysis of urban landscapes and architecture as a reflection of public life and the motif of human bodies as sites of manipulation had been the key motifs in your works. How does another recurrent motif — history and memory, as first introduced by the 2011 Pedestal — fit in? All these themes are interlinked, creating an ornament of interconnections. The Pedestal explored, among other things, how the struggle for any given version of “historical memory” distracts us from the struggle against more tangible social problems. The former literally displaces the latter, particularly in urban spaces. Citizens’ bodies, meanwhile, are a primary site of resistance once police brutality entres the scene. In 2012, “museums” and “archives” as sites of struggle between various value systems and myths were added to my catalogue of motifs. As of now, my most important image is that of historical memory gnawing on itself, like a sinner in hell, and of historical consciousness as an unending trial over yourself. This trial plays out through an unending clash of conflicting historical narratives in a single media space that renders ideological myth production impossible. Collaboration with the Khudrada group (founded in 2008), which focuses primarily on discussions and debates around art, holds a special place in your career. Do you think its programs are still relevant?

Chronicle, India ink on paper, 2016 102


Little House of Giants, found object, steel, wood, plaster, paint, 2012 (PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv)

Khudrada, and R.E.P.’s curatorial projects before it, emerged because we wanted to exhibit our works in an appropriate context, and to do so, we had to become curators. Few people understood how you put together an exhibition then; in point of fact, little has changed to this day. Therefore, we had to come up with our exhibitions on our own, and to organize them ourselves. Discussions mean that we still find one another interesting. Self-organized exhibitions, I think, are the most important thing going on in Ukrainian art. Which of your projects do you consider the most important? The keystone works include Treatment Room, The Little House of Giants, Grandma, Boundaries of Responsibility, Madmen Can Testify in Court, and GAZ Car. They are keystones in that they introduce this or that trope that might subsequently get developed in later works. All these works treat “odd,” marginal, superfluous objects that manifest certain social or existential symbols. A “mausoleum” filled with hundreds of cheap bread loafs, a pedestal that reaches the ceiling, leaving no room for a monument, and a rusty mobile home with a modernist front: these are my “odd objects.” I’m now working on the Chronicle series. This is something completely different: I’m drawing people killed on the present-day Ukrainian territory in the 1930 s –1940s. Killers belonged to this or that side of the conflict, but we don’t know whether the victims thought they belonged to any side as such. These drawings unspool a rare and horrifying roll of film, where unwinding and repetitions, the very act of drawing, serve as an ostensibly comforting, normalizing practice. I don’t know where this will take me. You have lately been working and exhibiting your works abroad more and more. What does this experience give you? “Lately” covers the last 8–10 years. Over the last couple of years, I had more shows abroad than at home, although the ratio might change. Importantly, working internationally makes you lose the breathless euphoria about the fact that you are working internationally. “Foreign,” or, to be more precise, western art life has structure: public representation, state support, academic research, private collections and museum acquisitions are all interconnected. Here it all sinks like water into sand, whereas it accumulates there. I’m searching for that sort of structure here, in Ukraine, and usually see none. But I wouldn’t want to base my “final judgment” on this structure of accumulation: there usually comes the time to destroy everything you’ve accumulated, but that’s for the artist to decide, not for art institutions.

I wouldn’t analyze my experience abroad in the categories of success or lack thereof. The question is, are there people abroad who want to talk to us, and who we’d like to talk to? How would you evaluate the current state of art in Ukraine? Let’s be honest: my affiliation is with Ukrainian society, not with Ukrainian art. I’m not a Ukrainian artist, I’m my own artist, but I’m Ukrainian, a Ukrainian citizen. Its isolationism, the fear of opening up to the international public, mass frustration with the dwindling public demand stemming from oversaturation or even disgust, and self-promotional histrionics do not bode well for the Ukrainian art scene. Art criticism is perched between advertising and scandal. Scandals are a permanent fixture in Ukrainian art life and a symptom of general inability to solve systemic problems. They mean that we exist outside history: the previous scandal has to be forgotten, clearing the space for a new one; everything repeats itself and nobody learns anything new. The post-Soviet inability to tell public and private spheres apart makes us vulnerable against state institutions, that is, against institutions that are in public property. As the result, these institutions are run on feudal principles or choose to turn a blind eye on glaring problems until the very last moment, until the brink of catastrophe. The pervasive belief that “the rise of the art market” would bring salvation is also symptomatic. I think this model is wrong: it’s like starting to build a house with a chimney or a façade. Public institutions and an education system that would define the eventual art market have to become foundations. These are the things that we need first. Maybe that doesn’t sound too hopeful. I pin my hopes on small art groups that function as workshops or sects: they provide space for meaningful dialogue about art because they do have active self-organization. The fact that our society is learning to stand up for its interests also gives me hope. Let us put it like this: art is lagging behind society for now. What do you think an artist is to do at this historical rift, in a new revolutionary and post-revolutionary situation Ukraine is going through? The same as always, artists should use their singular sensibility to reveal the real situation. They should create instruments and methods for overcoming historical blindness, which always returns to us in one form or the other, or to develop techniques of “sensitive blindness,” alternative means for finding way in the darkness of history. They should make these techniques, instruments and methods publically accessible. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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Boundaries of Responsibility, steel, wood, paint, live plants, slide, 2014 (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien)


ZHANNA KADYROVA

Born in 1981 in Brovary (Kyiv Region). Graduated from T. H. Shevchenko State Comprehensive Art School (Kyiv). Was awarded Sergey Kuryokhin Prize and Kazimir Malevich Prize (2012), the Main PinchukArtCentre Prize (2013) and the Special Future Generation Art Prize (2014). Creates sculptures, installations and works in public spaces. Member of R.E.P. group. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Mia casa, mia fortezza (2016, Continua Galeria, San Gimignano, Italy); Hope (2015, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy); Performance IV (2015, Voss, Norway); Street Collection (2014, BARO Galeria, São Paulo, Brazil); R.E.P. 10 Years. On Method (2014, Labirynt Gallery, Lublin, Poland); Through Maidan and Beyond (2014, Architekturzentrum, Vienna); Future Generation Art Prize 2014 (2014, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Places. Laureates of Kazimir Malevich Prize (2014, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Monument to a Monument (2013, 55th Venice Biennale, Italy); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Crowd (2012, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); City Project (2011, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); Impossible Community (R.Е.P.) (2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow); Eurorenovation in Europe (R.Е.P.) (2010, Kunstraum, Munich, Germany); No More Reality (R.Е.P.) (2008, De Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam); Intervention (R.Е.P.) (2006, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Contested Spaces in Post-Soviet Art (R.Е.P.) (2006, Sidney Mishkin Gallery, New York); Ukrainian Art and the Orange Revolution (2005, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, USA); R.Е.P. (Revolutionary Experimental Space) (2004, Centre for Contemporary Art, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Kyiv); 21 Views (2003, Soviart Gallery, Kyiv). WE’VE GOT OUR INTERNET AND WE’VE GOT OUR CHANCES: WHAT’S THERE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT? When I was in the 6th grade [12 years old], my parents sent me to art school. The competition for the sculpture department was less steep, so that’s what I chose. Later I also frequented the studio of Georgiy Khusyd, a late Kyiv-based sculptor. He really taught me a lot. I was introduced to contemporary art by Ksenia Hnylytska and her entire family, and so it went. I loved the Republican School. We had both gen ed and professional classes. Everyone was an artist, there were lots of creative types. The dorms were an interesting experience in their own right. It was my school of life with plenty of adventures, a joyful collective childhood. I wasn’t accepted to the Academy. I applied the same year as Nazar Bilyk, by the way. I wasn’t even applying to the Department of Sculpture: I applied for the conservation program because it had less competition, but I wasn’t accepted anyway. Thank God. Academy gives you structure, which is not necessarily bad, but our academy remains very conservative. There are some reforms now, but more than 10 years ago, when I was applying, it was fairly hopeless. There was no talk about contemporary art at all. I had many friends and schoolmates at the academy, so I always hanged there and saw what was going on. Besides, I traveled all over the Czech Republic and Poland to check where my other friends applied. Having seen those academies, I decided that I don’t want to apply to ours. And those were not even the most progressive schools either. Our school, of course, provided good academic training. Our project in the final year could be cross-registered as Academy’s sophomore year course project. So you might say that I do have academic schooling, just not higher education. I had a wonderful art history teacher at school, I loved her classes. Then Lesia Khomenko invited me to audit art history lectures at the Academy. You might say I crowd funded my education. [Laughter] I was a permanent fixture at the academy, which led to this funny story. We were sitting in a park with my friends, former academy students. A professor walked past us, said “I remember this student,” and hugged me. Maybe he just recognized my face. About R.E.P. We were friends even before the group emerged. R.E.P., which had headquarters at the Centre for Contemporary Art at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, was inspired by the Orange Revolution (2004). The revolution inspired us to create works that were a direct reflection of events in the country. It was like an act of collective unconscious. The CCA director Jerzy Onuch provided us with resources, giving us space and some money for materials for three or four weeks. Later we got a residence for a year or more. The CCA’s support was invaluable. Who knows if R.E.P.

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Monument to a New Monument, tiles, iron, cement, stone, h — 350 cm, 2007–2009

would even be here if not for our luck with this “institutional crib.” R.E.P. changed, going through several stages. At first, there were 20 of us. All in all, I think about 60 people passed through our open studio. Eventually we defined our interests more clearly and those who didn’t share them gradually left the group. There were 6 of us left. Having worked as a group for 10–11 years, we became very close. Besides shared professional interests, we know each other so well that it’s no longer just work. It’s a lifestyle. We evolved as artists together; of course, there were quarrels. The group keeps changing. We all matured, some have kids. Now everyone has their own personal projects, everyone is busy, so we


Roll of Honor, black-and-white photograph, painted wood, 2003

rarely meet live or go out together. Fortunately, Skype allows you to work long-distance. Talking with these people is always interesting. If only we had time, but that’s always the problem. The main change of the last years happened in our heads. People learned to help one another, discovered this function of working together. The horrifying information war encouraged people to take media more critically. Of course, not all people, but most, I hope. On the other hand, I gave zero positive illusions about the current government. Art has great power. And I’m not just talking about the critical, social, or political art that focuses on society’s problems. I’m talking about everything. Even if a sculpture just stands in a park or on the street, the people who pass it become somewhat more cultured than those who walk through an empty square littered with gum wrappers. The person who sees this alternative in his or her landscape and date-to-day life will have a different perspective. Art affects people on this subconscious level. It can inspire people to develop passions and learn more. There are lots of different branches of art, the more the better. For me, art in public spaces differs drastically from art in galleries. If you work in a white room, so to say, the artwork functions precisely the way you intended. When you work in urban spaces, you have to account for millions of facMonumental Propaganda, metal structure, tiles, porcelain enamel, cement, polystyrene, wood, 2013 (PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv) tors. It’s somewhat similar to what architects do: a sculpture has to fit the place, serve a utilitarian function, be weather- an abstract sponsor, they use their own resources. This readiness to rely proof and, of course, vandal-proof. You have to take scores of external on yourself and do your own thing and evolve despite all odds is a very factors into account, and it’s fascinating work. important mental shift. This is what I like about Kyiv: it is a vibrant, liveI think art has no nationality. When I go somewhere, of course, ly scene where something is happening all the time. I think that if peoI’m a Ukrainian artist, but I cannot describe my art as Ukrainian. I follow ple work professionally and consistently, they always have a chance. It global trends. I work with what interests me and keep an eye on what doesn’t matter if you are a Ukrainian, a Kazakh or whatever, as long as others do. For me, my art is interesting because it discovers some new you take your work seriously. We’ve got our Internet and we’ve got our chances: what’s there to comthings at a certain level. There’s more than enough information on the Internet. Kyiv offers a plethora of new educational initiatives that devel- plain about? In conversation with Natalia Matsenko oped over the last 5 years. The city had changed. People no longer await

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Performance III, within the framework of the “Kyiv School” — Kyiv Biennale, Pedagogical Institute named after Drahomanov, Kyiv, 2015

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ALEVTINA KAKHIDZE

Born in 1973 in the town of Zhdanivka, Donetsk Region. Graduated from the Department of Graphic Art of the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in 2004. Studied at the Jan Van Eyck Academy (Maastricht, Netherlands) in 2004– 2006. Was a member of the Open House Iaspis residency in Stockholm in 2009. A proponent of conceptual art, she combines various media, spanning drawings, installations, objects, videos, performances and texts, in her projects. Selected exhibitions: Event Horizon (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); All Times News (2015, 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow); Manifesta 10 (2014, St. Petersburg, Russia); Double Game (2012, Arsenale — 1st Kyiv Biennale, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Drawing Class for Collectors (2011, 7th Berlin Biennale, Berlin); You Are At the Home of Volodymyr Alevtina Suzy Penelope (2011, Ya Gallery Art Centre, Kyiv); Working for Change (2011, project for the Moroccan Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, Italy); I’m Late for the Plane I Cannot Miss (2010, “Development of Ukraine” Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, Kyiv); Iakshcho/Yesli/If (2010, Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm, Russia); Endless Sphere (2009, Centre for Contemporary Art at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv); I Don’t Need It. I Want It (2005, Glaspaleis, Heerlen, Netherlands); Invitation to Australia, or The Museum of One Story (2002, Centre for Contemporary Art at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv).

“KOKHADZE” IS FROM UKRAINIAN “KOKHATY” (“TO LOVE”), MEANING IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE Alevtina Kakhidze is a singular figure in contemporary Ukrainian art. marginal to begin with.” That was in 2012. What did you mean? Did you rethink your position since then? She is both an artist, a curator and a residency host. This means that As long as I use my female body and address female-coded themes, her projects are by definition both emotional and analytical; the subject is coterminous with the object. It is symptomatic that Kakhidze collabo- my position will remain marginal. I could sidestep this unjustifiable disrates on interesting, unconventional, breathtakingly courageous collabo- crimination by not stressing my female identity when reflecting on my ideas and experiences. For example, I recently worked with a male perrative projects with, say, Zoya Orlova or Stas Volyazlovsky. Alevtina had son on a project. I had more responsibility, so I received a higher salalong straddled the provisional line between contemporary Ukrainian and ry. Then I worked with another man on a different project, and he said, European art, feeling equally at home in both worlds. All artists had an epiphany when they realized what they were. It usually, “You are not a feminist, you are just smart!” What I think he meant although not necessarily happens in childhood. How was it with you? When was, our positions were equally valid. But if you take a closer look at our project, you’ll see that we spoke from different positions. He wrote and under what circumstances did you realize that you were an artist? I could say that I painted more than other children when I was little, a man’s speech, “She’s a catch!” I wrote a woman’s response, “I canand be done with it. In sessions with my therapist, I couldn’t figure out not say ‘he’s a catch,’ I can only say, ‘he let me catch him,’ it’s not like if painting was my conscious choice. I asked my mom about it. Mom I can just grab him, I’m twice smaller.” Episodes like this encourage you cut straight to the core: “You never said you’d be an artist, you just said to constantly review your beliefs. You are not just an artist but also a curator and a residency host. How that you would paint.” It made sense to apply to the Institute of Condo these roles differ? How do you manage to serve different functions struction Engineering after high school. It wasn’t until my final year at the Institute that I decided to apply to the Academy of Arts. But even at the same time? this yearning, supported by my move to Kyiv, did not mean that I “realI’m always an artist first and foremost. These are all different aspects of ized what I were.” That came later, when I finally made peace with my the same role. As a residency coordinator, I’m a tourist who never leaves drawings and with the voice in which I read at my performances. Now her home, bringing the residents’ countries to my village. I visited SinI wouldn’t hesitate before exhibiting any drawing. I don’t waste paper. gapore through Gerald Leow. In the short term, residency is my creative But then, I don’t draw much either. vacation. As a curator, I produce creative ideas that I cannot implement I draw only when I know what I want on my own. This is long term, a panorama of sorts. I saw your performance I Can Walk Your Dog. It impressed me quite to create, and why. The same is true of performances. Pauses in my per- a lot, not least because of your courage. Painting remains the prioriformances stem from my belief that ty, or at least the best-publicized aspect of Ukrainian art, and perforviewers won’t leave. This belief mances remain an oddity. I’m certain that it all started with a strong impression, an interesting event. What was the first performance you stems from understanding what I’m doing in the here-and-now. My saw? Or maybe it’s not about detached impressions? Of course it was a risk. Nobody taught me to perform, I never graddrawings and performances are my reactions to everything around me: uated from a performance school. But there were events and circummen, things, stereotypes, the war, stances that inspired me. Take Karim Rashid’s lecture on design in Kyiv, animals, plants… That’s the kind for example. I don’t share his tastes, thoughts, ideas and conclusions, of artist I became fairly recently. but I enjoyed his boundless faith in his words. After his lecture, I came to the conclusion, which grew into certainty, that a read, performed text I’m a late bloomer. When receiving the Kazimir can be art. I took acting classes that year. My first questions were, how do you breathe when reading the text? And what do you do when you Malevich Prize, you said, “If you are a female artist, your position is misspeak? To misspeak on stage is like drawing a wrong line: you have From The Most Commercial Project series, 2007 110


News from the Future, from the All Times News video performance series, 2015, 6th Moscow Biennale

to either erase it or else correct it. I wondered how do you correct a scenic performance. Then I learned to rehearse each performance. I saw Joanna Dudley do it at Whitechapel Gallery: I went upstairs to iron my stage dress and walked in on her rehearsal. Joanna was repeating the same phrase over and over and over again. 2010 saw your project-within-a-project I’m Late for the Plane I Cannot Miss. I think it helped you to formulate crucial principles about the hidden nature of creativity, like, for example, the fact that you are not that interested in visual art. Am I right? Was that your first media project? No, I wouldn’t agree with that phrasing. The project highlighted my interest in the visual. That was the first time I commissioned clothes from a designer. Usually I choose something on my own. I had two costumes made: one for the flight, one to change into after landing. Private jets have special changing rooms. These costumes, these suits differed slightly. I wanted to stay true to myself in this project, to keep transformations to a minimum. Maybe you meant that the project focused on an action rather than a visual image? That I boarded a private jet with a giant tube and didn’t draw a thing during the flight? Journalists act-

ed disappointed, but it was still good enough for media coverage: the intrigue, the unexpected ending… Yes, that was my first media project. I prepared for the media aspect of it. I prepared short answers to the most predictable interview questions: why the title? Why did you take public transport to a private jet? Where were you flying? I didn’t want anybody to twist or cut my answers. Your situation is interesting in that you are both the subject and the object, a picture of your own making. How does that feel? My nearest and dearest, my family and friends have it the toughest. I expand the limits of my private space, and they land in the public zone with me. Not everybody is ready for that, and not everybody wants that. For example, I came up with a name for my mother. When I decided to describe and depict her and my experience of the war, I called her Strawberry Andriivna. Sometimes I change my name too. For the Moscow Biennale, I changed two letters in my last name, coming up with a persona of a TV reporter Alevtina Kokhadze. In the Russia-based project focusing on news past, present and future, I wanted to manifest my subjectivity not directly but through an invented persona. “Kokhadze” is from Ukrainian “kokhaty” (“to love”), meaning it’s all about love. I signed my drawings about marital infidelity with my real name though. That was unpleasant or even unsettling for my husband. Then I made this textual drawing: “I cannot be as strong and beautiful as my art!” In life, I’m weaker, sillier, clumsier. By the way, the best strategy for working “with yourself” is to laugh at yourself. In London, I played up my Slavic accent for the British public and invited this Brit onto the stage to correct my mistakes. The audience collapsed in peals of laughter. I laughed with them. Now I want to laugh at my imperfect Ukrainian, or rather at my own shame. I already tried it in 2010, for Candice Breitz’s project You+Me. Now, 6 years later, I want to explore this pitfall languages lead us to again: you speak a language that isn’t yours, it limits you, it creates one image of you. The moment you switch to your native tongue, you are completely different. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

Facebook Battle, 2015 111


Artist to Artist, from the project in collaboration with Stas Volyazlovsky, 2015

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Artist to Artist, from the project in collaboration with Stas Volyazlovsky, 2015

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VLODKO KAUFMAN

Born in 1957 in Karaganda (Kazakhstan). Painter, performer and installation artist. Graduated from the Ivan Trush Lviv College of Applied and Decorative Art in 1978, and from the Department of Architecture of the Lviv Polytechnic in 1980. Lives and works in Lviv. Selected exhibitions: Body Parts (2016, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Volunteers (2014, Market Square, Lviv); Fish Therapy (2012, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv / Rotunda Gallery, Łódź, Poland); Organ, Jazzcollapse (2012, Jazz Bez Festival, Municipal Philharmonic, Lviv); Hour of the Fish (2010, Bruno Szulz Festival, Drohobych, Ukraine); Attempted Premonition (2010–2014, Days of Lviv, Kraków, Poland / Noc Kultury Festival, Lublin, Poland / ZAZ Festival, Tel Aviv / Museum of Freedom / Museum of Maidan, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Bird Therapy (2009, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv); Show in the Clock (2008, Bruno Szulz Festival, Drohobych); The Carpathian Rift (2007, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv); Quotes for Nests (2004–2006, К-11 Club Gallery, Kyiv / Alchemia Gallery, Kraków, Poland / Dzyga Gallery, Lviv); Fall of Flight (2004, Stryi Park, Lviv / L-art Gallery, Kyiv); Mechanic Anatomy of Sound (2002, Powder Tower / Kyiv Highway / Hamaliivka Peatland); Technology of Gentleness (2002, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv / Sensus Gallery, Kyiv); Nests for Trees (2001–2015, Vyshkivka Pass / Regensburg / Kyiv / Freising / Orońsko); Vision: Time-Constant. Second Hand. Hunting Time (1999–2000 Dzyga Gallery, Lviv); Return of Icarus (1998, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv); Comedy of Ecstasy (1995, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv); Mirror Carp (1994, Znesinnia Park, Lviv); Birthday (1994, Powder Tower, Lviv); Letters to Earthlings, or The Eighth Seal (1993, Municipal Art Gallery, Lviv).

ART AS A SICKNESS THAT CURES SOCIETY I was born with the desire to paint, to be an artist. I no longer like the descriptor “artist,” so let us say that I have been creating things since childhood. I started to create consciously in the early 1970s. It looks like masochism, I have reached the stage where I would gladly abandon it all, but I cannot, it’s like drug addiction, you’ve got to live with it. …It started with paintings and graphic art, until one day I realized that traditional art technologies with their established conventions no longer sufficed to realize my ideas. I couldn’t cope with this challenge and slid into a crushing crisis. I couldn’t create a thing for a couple of years. Even my membership in the Shliakh Art Union, probably the first Ukrainian unofficial alternative to the Union of Artists, didn’t help. It eventually turned out that the only thing uniting us was our dislike for official art. I keep saying, artists only flock together in order to realize that they should stay apart. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, the need for ideological activities disappeared with it. It wasn’t until 1993, when I prepared the Eight Seal, or Letters to Earthlings action, that I realized that my works had reached a new level. This is how “the art of action” had entreed my life, blurring the line between reality and art, and pulling viewers into a collaborative project, sometimes against their will. It was a happening, which, in my opinion, is the most complicated art form. It was the first happening in Lviv, by the way… To me, the crucial thing in art is the fact that I do anything at all. It means that I react to my surroundings, that I do care. The moment I stop care, I will stop acting too. The desire to act is the most important thing. I can never tell beforehand what I will do at any given action or at any given point in time. Now the war had changed everything, including our social and personal outlook. As an artist, I do not address the changes directly: imagery and tropes that allow to create something based on the experience cannot emerge until you process those feelings. Art only has one way. You cannot get lost. Well, you can stay by the roadside or leave it altogether. As long as an artist is active, he keeps proceeding along the same road. Unless you are so dazzled that you start walking in the opposite direction. For me, ideas are primary, whereas methods and technologies are a secondary concern. The branches of art, I think, are technologies too. Each idea needs a fitting technology. You can work in painting one day, and in performance art the next. I find performances appealing because they allow to implement ideas instantly, producing inherently energetic works that do not require substantial financial investment. They are a drive in themselves. In the sense, performance is one of the most interesting kinds of art for me, because it is so very broad: you can do noise, linguistic or even olfactory performances.

The stars of performance art teach us to materialize energy, because performance presupposes the knack for working with energy. It is very important. Poetry recitals transmit spiritual information, whereas performances materialize the energy poetry gives. When you listen to voice performances, you can tell that it’s not a recital, it is indeed a performance. The very idea of materialization is very different. You can recite a poem standing on a chair, or you can perform it. That’s what Ewa Zarzycka or Alevtina Kakhidze do: they recite texts, transmitting not only information but also energy. I like to explain it through an astronomic metaphor: there are stars, and then there are black holes, much smaller and, accordingly, much more energy-dense. A 3-minute performance would take a 3-hour theater play to unpack. I try to respond to what we did to nature, or, more globally, to the Earth. It pains me. Human beings are strange creatures: they understand that they are destroying themselves, but keep doing it anyway. Most of my latest projects deal with ecology, one way or the other. It might be too early to speak about the emergence of a recognizable Ukrainian performance movement, but certain trends are already here. Ukrainian specificity is emerging, most visible at various festivals

Fish Therapy, graphic art installation, Lviv-Lublin-Poznań, Poland, 2010–2012 114


Mechanic Anatomy of Sound, vision, Hamaliivka peatland, Lviv, Ukraine, 2002

in Poland, Germany or elsewhere abroad. New names keep cropping up, but there’s no telling how long these artists will stay in performance. We have no programmatic performers as of yet. Performance has a long history in Europe, but it did not reach Ukraine until recently. It started with acts and actions rather than interpretations. Eventually they coalesced into action art, which some art scholars had started to describe as performances. It’s a curve of accomplishments and failures, and we are only in its third wave. Once the Iron Curtain collapsed and we discovered global art, I suddenly realized that we were generations behind it. I’m not speaking about quality, just in terms of possibilities. I suddenly saw how much broader their range is, how many more technologies, statements or perspectives their art offered. Stunned by this cornucopia of possibilities, I decided to experiment with installations, paintings, performances and theater, everything I could come up with, in one project. That calmed me down because I realized that there’s nothing wrong with occasionally using absolutely obscure art technologies. Performance is propelled by social shifts. Because what is a performance, after all? It is an instant reaction to a stimulus. Ukrainian performance art didn’t start to engage with social issues until after the Maidan protests of 2013–2014. Some even claim that Maidan as such was a giant performance. We lack art criticism, art analysis or in-depth scholarship of relevant art to draw far-reaching conclusions. As a curator at the Dzyga gallery, the Week of Relevant Art, the Performance School and at the Ukrainian Cross-Section project, I have to research, search, and evolve constantly. It allows me to see what is going on with all of us, with the country at large, through the lens of art projects, the works of various artists, their perspective and projections. Those who work in contemporary art, in a way, have to be able to make prognoses or diagnoses. They are not doctors, but they have to be able to make a diagnosis. They keep poking at sore spots after all. Why is contemporary art so uncomfortable, so yucky, so scandalous? Because it wants to shine the light on society’s wounds, and people don’t like that. They are suffering, and these pesky artists keep pestering them with their bullshit… I’m certain that 98% of what is done in art now will be forgotten in 50 years. It’s not up to me or society: it’s up to something else entirely. Contemporary art runs parallel to traditional art: they are like two rails. There’s traditional art, and then there’s contemporary art, and never the twain shall meet. But should one or the other rail disappear, the trains would run to a standstill. Such is the strange conglomerate of culture.

I have tried it all, and the conventions of traditional art do not do it for me. I want to find new technologies. Something has to keep moving. Sometimes you soar, sometimes you fall. But as long as you are moving, it’s all well and good. Speaking of Ukrainian culture, it’s undergoing fermentation. Many secondary stimuli prod at the consciousness of both artists and average citizens. The Soviet era had left its horrifying trace, and the Soviet mentality had put down roots even in Galicia, although it had been a part of the USSR for shorter than “mainland Ukraine.” Nevertheless, it runs so deep that it will take several generations before this mentality departs. Sadly, we do not create artifacts for our own culture: we create artifacts to spite the previous culture. There used to be all these Lenins, so let us put up pedestrian and talentless monuments to Bandera or Shukhevych, cast in the same tasteless molds used to create Lenin or Dzerzhinsky. Even worse, the Soviet Lenins and Dzerzhinskys were more tasteful than contemporary Banderas or Shukhevychs. And this is what we will raise subsequent generations on. I don’t see how anything good could come of it, and I had always been a proponent of a short moratorium on erecting monuments. We have this sickly copycat habit: we want to look no worse than our neighbors, we don’t want to stick out. With our rich centuries-long cultural tradition, chasing after somebody else seems somewhat absurd. I think we should explore our roots and legacy. There are two extremes: one part of society wants to turn its back on the world and just sit around in our folk costumes, while the other wants to chase after the west, and that’s not good either. There has to be some synthesizing way. If we knew our culture, its history and trajectory, we would find it easier to navigate our way around art. I wish politicians realized that culture is not a moneymaking scheme. Culture needs investments, otherwise the country won’t survive, and business won’t prosper. You can unpack these statements extensively. Once the rich realize that Days of Art culture is important, they will stop their idiotic chatter about the national idea. Nurturing culture will answer all questions. But, once again, they have not reached this realization yet. I’m talking not only about politics and economics, but also about priests and their parishioners. It’s a vicious circle. We have to keep evolving. These 25 years do not yet allow us to describe ourselves as a culturally evolved nation. We are a nation with a colossal legacy, strong foundations, history and potential, but they still await the opportunity to be brought to light. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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Show in the clock mechanism of the Drohobych townhall as part of the 3rd International Bruno Szulz Festival, Drohobych, Ukraine, 2008

Carpathian Rift, vision, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine, 2007

Silence of the Light, adapted installation, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine, 2012

Organ. Jazzcollapse, installation, Jazz Bez Festival, Lviv Philharmonic, Ukraine, 2012

Days of Art, performance, Lviv, Ukraine, 2010

Volunteers, TAM installation, Market Square, Lviv, Ukraine, 2014

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Fish Therapy, performance, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine, 2012

Attempted Premonition, performance, Lublin, Poland, 2011

Ecotheater ІІІ, installation, Museum of Ideas, Lviv, Ukraine, 2009

The Town of Prypiat, performance, Ukraine, 2008

Nest ІІ, CRP installation, Orońsko, Poland, 2015

Ecotheater ІІ, installation, Fort.missia Festival, Lviv region, Ukraine, 2009

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PAVLO KERESTEY

Born in Uzhhorod in 1962. Lives and works in Munich and London. Selected exhibitions: ParCommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Liquid Trust (2015, ICA, London / Western Front, Vancouver, Canada); Bonobo (2015, GRAD, London); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists and Panton Chair (2014, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ballet (2011–2013, Kunst Museum, Thun, Switzerland / Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Canada / Perm Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm, Russia); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Work. Arbeit. Trud (2007, Artists Studio, Knightsbridge, London); Nightshifts (2006, The Western Front, Vancouver, Canada); Performance Art Biennale (2006, Vancouver, Canada); Video Art Biennale (2000–2010, Toronto / Barcelona / Geneva / Graz / Bolzano); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Abstraction in Russian Art, 1920–2000 (2002, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia); Weightless Radicals (1996, Blank Gallery, Kyiv); Radical Chic (1994–1996, Szuper Gallery, Munich, Germany / 1993, Grassi Museum, Leipzig, Germany); Dialogue With Kyiv (1992, Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany); Postanesthesia (1992, Kunstlerwerkstatt Lothringerstrasse, Munich, Germany).

I THINK I’M AN ARTIST Paints interested me as an object. Or, rather, color interested me as an object. Nothing else did. Both 25 years ago and now, my public image and the ways to improve it had been of interest to me. I’m talking, that is, about paintings and their titles. Kaputt Mortum, Paintbrush Ductus, Antique Green, Painter Paint Me a Painting and other works were created for the imaginary Ukrainian Gallery of Contemporary Art, and they have been biding their time ever since. Speaking of the Painting Preserve, that was a purely superficial identification. Kerestey can be a Ukrainian artist too, if you wish. Identity, I think, is about the last thing an artist should bother with. Artists always escape identification. They don’t want to be identified with anybody or anything. Yes, Ukrainian is my native language. But my parents had changed citizenship at least 7 times without moving from the city they were born in. During the Paris Commune era, I was by myself, my own friend and my own muse. I am a feminist. Yes, this is my stance. Galleries are an industry. I was an invited curator at a Ukrainian gallery in 1993–1997. We started to expand the state cultural exchange program between Ukraine and Germany. Kyiv and Munich are sister cities. Not three and a half years later, I led the gallery to bankruptcy. All employees of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture visited our events. “They were all in Munich for sex tourism,” said the then-Bavarian Minister of Culture Zehetmair. In response, the Ukrainian side accused the gallery owner of money laundering and murdering a Ukrainian MP. On orders of the Ukrainian Attorney General, the German police instantly arrested our books, our team, and Tistol’s and Matsenko’s show Swiss Money in Collaboration. But we kept up our work as gallerists, artists and curators, all at the same time. After the gallery’s bankruptcy, we appropriated its name — Szuper Gallery — for our collaborative projects. Now I work at Szuper Gallery with Susanne Clausen. Szuper Gallery is an instrument for exploring galleries as institutional criticism in action. It is an ongoing mutable performance. At that time, you could live and work abroad as a nurse, an athlete or an artist. Later I signed a contract with myself and successfully emigrated. I share my experience in order to set myself free. Ultimately, I think I’m an artist. You can start and end the interview here. I think I’m an artist… This is the structure: there’s the beginning and the end, but between them, there’s only the murk of “who’d bother with it? Who needs it?” Weightless Radicals: monochrome red, yellow and green sheets; green and yellow decorative paints. Oleksandr Blank’s Gallery at Andriivsky Descent in Kyiv, 1996. I showed the Szuper Gallery administration photos

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from Weightless Radicals exhibitions I organized as a curator, artist and dealer. They asked me, “Pavlo, you work with art. Do you paint?” I did indeed, and produced the Radical Chic program. I know I’m responsible for what I say. On the other hand, I’m not responsible for what I’m saying… So, for example, there was this exhibition entitled SZUPERNOVA. It was a test show. It was a test drive, with all those shooting stars that burn up and never reach the surface. Everything sells. These bullets — #1, #2, etc. — can give names to a new cocktail. I tested how the Gallery can use ideas and propositions. What’s the Ukrainian word for “entrepreneur”? A businessman? My friend wanted to develop a new strategy for art industry. I suggested color test tubes. I offered him a new format, a test for his new cocktail, an explosive nuclear cocktail. What does he do with the product afterwards? About trust. I lost all interest in the gallery after we bankrupted it in 4 years. Robbing banks is a business for amateurs. As Bertold Brecht had put it, creating a bank is the best robbery. What better way to rob a bank than to become a banker? It’s all a game: who’s with you? What is your side? Am I an atheist? Have I no interest in myths? Do I only have interest in true stories? Am I a socialist? Am I interested in what I have to offer? I’m interested in my art insofar as I can share it with others: that’s the most important thing. If I’m a socialist, should I only speak of the past and present? Who will ask this question in the future? Who will be educated enough to be happy? This is a confrontational interview. We should confront the neo-liberal bourgeois mainstream. Obviously, protest can become coopted and appropriated by the mainstream. These days being outside the mainstream, on the margins, beyond the boundaries is tough. I take utmost care to ensure that my utterances don’t become mainstream: the moment that happens, you should just up and leave. You should always leave. This is why I left the Soviet Union: I had no interest in joining the establishment, I’m against that, but I also have no interest in being a struggling artist. I still shudder to give interviews to glossy catalogues. It always works, periphery was always there. That’s what interests me. Periphery interests me more than mainstream. Productivity… these days, being productive is an apolitical gesture. You’ve got to be unproductive. You have to produce statements and let others develop them further. Loner artists lose themselves. We have to work in groups. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


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Dance of Entrepreneurship — The Extras, 2008, stills from a video performance (1, 2) Ballet Granite, 2011, stills from a video performance (3, 9, 11) Liquid Trust, 2015, stills from a video performance (4, 7, 8) Work. Arbeit. Trud, 2007, a still from a video performance (5) The Extras, 2006, a still from a video performance (6) Liftarchiv, 2001–2004, KVR München (10, 12) all photographs: Szuper Gallery

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Group Dynamics, oil on canvas, 300 x 200 cm, 2013

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Cadmium Cave, acrylic and oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 1990–2006

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LESIA KHOMENKO

Born in 1980 in Kyiv. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Was a resident of the Centre for Contemporary Art at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in 2005–2006, and a resident of the Leipzig International Art (LIA) project with the R.E.P. group in 2008. A co-founder and member of the R.E.P. group since 2004, and of the curatorial union Khudrada since 2008. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Amor (2016, Oi Futuro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); School of Kyiv (2015, House of Clothes, Kyiv); Ukrainian News (2013, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Mixed Feelings (2013, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Better Times, Worse Times (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Impossible Community (2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow); Wonderland (2010, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); If / Yesli / Iakshcho. Ukrainian Art in Transit (2010, Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm, Russia); Big Surprise (2010, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Gender Check (2009, MUMOK, Vienna); Gender Check (2009, Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw); New Ukrainian Painting (2008, White Box Gallery, New York); GENERATION.UsA (2007, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Postorange (2006, Kunsthalle, Vienna).

THE MAIN THING IS TO TELL MARGINALITY FROM PROVINCIALITY How did your career as an artist begin? Do you remember the moment of choice, and what factors contributed to it? I studied at the T. H. Shevchenko State Art School. I applied as a child, so my choice was only semiconscious at best. I didn’t think of myself seriously as an artist until I was about 15 years old. In high school, our teacher was Oleg Zhyvotkov, a genius professor and a wonderful painter. He taught us to be artists. I also joined Cherkov’s experimental theater studio and got sucked into the theater laboratory. Then I applied to the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, and had to choose between my studies and theater. It was a tough choice, but I eventually dropped theater. It might sound funny, because, after all, I studied at the Department of Stage Design, but for me it was more of a studio than a dogmatic department. I still feel traces of stage design in my works. 2004 was an iconic year for Ukrainian history, enshrining, among other things, the importance of collective action and collective social responsibility. Could you tell me a bit more about how the R.E.P. group emerged? What drove you as a group and you personally, what pushed you all together? We thought long and hard about what made us a cohesive generation, and why we emerged at that point. There were no easy answers. Certain actions in a certain place at a certain time added up to a historical moment. This stunning energy was brewing around us, and it might have set things into motion. This, of course, is an insider’s perspective. Most of us had graduated from the academy by then, or at least I did. Some were completing their studies. We all felt that these 6 years did

Painting on Maidan, installation, 2015 (courtesy of Art Collection Telekom) 122

not give us what we wanted: we yearned for a shared creative lab, a new creative language. Fortunately, we were not naïve. We had a well-honed critical perspective, primarily on ourselves and our milieu. We wanted to create a professional network where there was none. And we did have a lot of energy. In its first year, R.E.P. was a lab shared by 20 artists who worked individually at the Centre for Contemporary Art at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.” By the end of the year, we started to work as a single composite artist with no individual voice. R.E.P. became the unified author. This format didn’t work for all, so only 6 artists remained. We’ve worked like that for 10 years now. Each of the 6 of us also has solo projects, and we never had conflicts. Time management is the only issue. We discuss everything and come to a consensus. This is a practice with few historical parallels. Not everything can be done that way. Therefore, solo projects are of crucial importance. By now, obviously, they are a priority: the group had long switched to the “energy saver mode.” We have several long-running serial projects. It seems that Ukrainian culture develops in leaps and bounds, and all attempts to build up a structure are doomed to fail. But in the long-term perspective, I see quite a lot of progress from one generation to the next. If you compare cultural development to organismic development, you might say that we are now in adolescence: the body is already grown up, but the brain has some catching up to do. Due to rapid globalization, the present-day 20-year-olds have access to much more information than we did. The last couple of years saw a crucial shift in art schooling. Turns out

Step, view of the exposition, acrylic on canvas, 2015 (Closer, Kyiv)


Congenial Work, installation, acrylic on canvas, stretcher, 2012 (National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv)

you cannot reform our academy, but many cool private educational initiatives had emerged. I think they have huge potential, and once they accumulate enough symbolic capital, official academic education won’t have a choice but to succumb to the pressure of reforms. You have been working with Soviet and post-Soviet themes since the very beginning, conducting an ongoing dialogue with the Socialist Realist legacy. But your focus has changed recently. How would you describe the changes in your works, especially in the light of the recent events? Well, I’ve been working in art for over 10 years now, and I have to move forward. My monumental figurative paintings engaged with my academic background and deconstructed its visual language. I deconstruct images to this day, but in more elaborate forms. I’ve been working on a personal catalogue over the last 2 years, and, when reviewing my projects, I see a direct continuity between them. Lately my works became more mobile: I started to work on paper, as well as with other materials. The analysis of forms, the deconstruction of tropes and the exploration of my own place as an artist, however, were always a prominent part of my works. Now our society has descended into a prolonged panic. With so many deaths, minds try to counteract their disappearance and produce an excess of meanings and interpretations in order to feel alive. It’s important to control oneself lest one gets lost in all of it. Art, which functions at a much slower pace, struggles to survive under the onslaught of excessive information. Nevertheless, it has mechanisms for counteracting visual and informational manipulations. I explore these mechanisms in my latest works.

How do you see the social role and function of artists? What is a Ukrainian artist to do under the circumstances? Can they change anything in society? Artists work with imagination. Imagination infects human consciousness. It is a slow, yet effective process. Your works always exhibit a deep awareness of history. Do you, as an artist, see history as a continuity or a procession of discrete acts? The history of 20 th century Ukrainian art had been described as “ridden with intervals.” Do you agree with this interpretation? Do you think you could influence the present-day historical outlook and its approach to the past? Yes, I think that most everything I do as an artist can be described as attempts to “patch up” these intervals. I feel this deeply. Besides, I think that our provinciality stems from these historical discontinuities. Now that more people have come to understand that, positive changes started to accumulate. How do you see the place of Ukrainian culture in the global context? Is it marginal? How could it integrate better? Ukrainian culture is highly marginal. Discrete cultures are so closely integrated into the globalized world that they no longer exist as such. I no longer perceive marginality as a bad thing. The main thing is to tell marginality from provinciality. Our provinciality manifests itself in excessive monumentality and grandstanding. Meanwhile, the civilization’s margins are more exciting than the dense competitive community. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Self-Portrait, video projection on a painting ‘7,34, looped, 2013 (view of the exhibition at PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv)

Stepan Repin, installation, acrylic on canvas, stretchers, walls, texts, 2014 (Labyrinth Gallery, Lublin, Poland) 123


Painting on Maidan, A4 carbon paper, 2015 (from Art Collection Telekom) 124


Step, view of the exposition, acrylic on canvas, 2015 (Closer, Kyiv) 125


ALINA KLEITMAN

Born in 1991 in Kharkiv. Graduated with a BA in Easel and Monumental Sculpture from the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts, and from the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia (the workshop of Sergey Bratkov and Kirill Preobrazhenskiy). Winner of the NonStopMedia Youth Biennale (Kharkiv, 2010), PinchukArtPrize winner (Kyiv, 2016). Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Hurrah! Sculpture! (2016, CCA Winzavod, Moscow); Super A. Shave My Heart (2015, Special Prize of the PinchukArtCentre nominee, Kyiv); New Life (2015, Kyiv School Biennale of Contemporary Art, Kyiv); The Voice of Moscow (2014, Ekaterina Cultural Foundation, Moscow); City of One Minutes (2013, CCA Garage, with The One Minutes Foundation, Amsterdam); 24 RU/NL. 60 Seconds of Freedom to Express an Artistic Concept (2013, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow); Ukrainian News (2013, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Frame of Reference (2013, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Construction. From Constructivism to Contemporary. XX–XXI (2012, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Gender in IZOLYATSIA: The Right to Self-Construction Under Patriarchy (2012, IZOLYATSIA Cultural Initiatives Foundation, Donetsk, Ukraine); Zero Budget (2012, Week of Apartment Exhibitions, Kharkiv, Ukraine); PinchukArtCentre Prize Nominees Exhibition (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Girls Plotting Mischief (2010, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); Numbers (2009, CCA EIDOS, Ludmila Bereznitska & Partner Gallery, Kyiv).

About the context 25 years of presence is a good title. Ukrainian art is indeed present, needless to say. [Smiles] Ukraine has been present for 25 years, and, despite all odds, its citizens keep producing art. I’m coming into my own as an artist. At present, I’d be hard-pressed to identify the place of Ukrainian art and myself as its representative in the global context. It’s also hard to make definitive pronouncements about changes. You are so deeply steeped in the context that it’s hard to analyze it. If you asked me about it a couple years ago, when I just came back from Moscow, I might have said and formulated something, because I did see a difference after my return after a lengthy absence. After staying in the context for a couple of years, it blurs into invisibility.

I think every person, and artists first and foremost, needs to travel now and then, to encounter new contexts, new values, new opportunities. To develop within your own context, you need to stray outside it. I know many good artists in Ukraine, and I think that’s what they did. They went outside the context in order to see it. Although I do think that opportunities are all in our head. Obviously, they are contingent on our environment, but our own understanding and perspective are primary and more important. If you were to compare creative development with exercises, in Moscow [at the Rodchenko School. — N. M.] I engaged with a different muscle group. At first I could barely move and walk, I didn’t yet understand what I could do. The muscles I worked out previously were of no use. I couldn’t get up, I could barely lift my head. And then new muscles developed. It happens when you join a class led by a new coach: he assigns you new exercises, and muscles you never knew existed start to ache. The places you never thought of start to ache. This is what happened to me at the Rodchenko School. At first I couldn’t even open my mouth, never mind producing anything. Obviously, once the muscles developed, gained strength and started to work in harmony, I felt much stronger and freer. My goals became clear. On medium Besides videos, I’m also very interested in sculpture. I feel affinity and sympathy for these two mediums. Sometimes I also take photographs and paint, but sculpture and videos remain the most suitable mediums for me. I chose videos because they are accessible: they allow you to express your idea fully and rather fast. Sculpture takes longer. There are these colder periods when you only have one idea and you can afford to dwell on it. But then, there are hotter periods when you are brimming with ideas, and you need to work, work, work. As I see it, I’m interested in rather orthodox moulded sculpture at present. Which is to say, I’m not that interested in readymades and such. Had I worked in this technique, maybe I could have realized my ideas faster. Besides, I think video is a very contemporary medium. It has everything you need to get the message across. When we want to learn more about anything, we watch videos. They have everything: the visuals, the text, the sound, everything you might want. You can get across everything you want.

Market Basket, photograph, 2010 126


For the First Five Years of Our Marriage Your Dad Didn’t Even Know I Have Hair, installation, video

On teaching Now that I started teaching, I discovered much more about the subject and grew to love it. At the Rodchenko School, they emphasized the hands-on approach, and it was stunning. I’m transmitting this experience, along with my own additions and earlier experience (I started out as an artist fairly early, at 15, so I already had my minor discoveries and achievements, ideas and exercises). I don’t think I’m the sort of teacher who broadcasts grandiloquent truisms from the stage. I just show how you can think, how you can create, and I demonstrate that based on the works of artists that had created stunning things in their time. I show my students both the classics and the vids created two days ago. Authenticity in my works is both traumatic and curative. I had it hard at first. After I finish a work and the exhibition opens, I take it hard. I didn’t handle it well at the beginning: I’d escape, hide, flee, I had histrionic fits. I shudder to remember that now. But, eventually, it makes you stronger and better, it strips you of atavisms. In the last couple of years, I’ve been doing art therapy, first unwittingly, now consciously. My latest works are 100% art therapy. I think that a feminist is an independent woman who takes responsibility for her life. In this sense, I’m a feminist, and I cultivate this part of my identity. I wasn’t always like this. This makes my present identity all the more important. It was a conscious choice, and I value it. In this context, I would describe myself as a feminist, well, I’d do that in any context, but, sadly, I have to take into account the fact that any movement attracts very different people, with different ideas and texts. Obviously, I wouldn’t sub-

scribe to all of them. I have to admit that, when I was younger, I thought feminists were angry and hurt women who were not truly independent and clung to their limitations. I don’t like that sort of thing. I think that an independent woman is the one who pays for herself, not the one who doesn’t care for makeup. Speaking of the present situation in Ukrainian society, I wouldn’t say that I’m facing challenges when realizing my ideas. I don’t know, it could be indicative of the situation in general or it could be my own accomplishment, but I’ve noticed that, whenever I want to do anything, I always find the resources. I don’t have the feeling that everything’s in decline. I cannot say that the resources flow into my hands, that wouldn’t be true. But if you have a well-defined idea and you know what you should do, there’s always a way. There are so many opportunities you have to take advantage of. In order to stay in touch, you have to know more, you have to learn all the time. There’s a lot of information, and you’ve got to filter what you want to accept, and what you don’t. You have to find a balance, like in all things. The older I get, the more information I can accept. And, in general, the older I get, the more I like everything. I think I will be a very happy old woman. Everything is getting better. Now everything is better than it was a month ago, never mind a year or five years ago. On precision I always knew that utmost precision would be the best choice for me. You can reach precision either through craftsmanship or through authenticity, that’s the two scenarios I saw. My earlier works were often provocative just for the sake of being provocative. That’s no longer my goal, I only care for precision. The older I become, the fewer secondary imitative elements I display. I always imagined art as diving, as delving deeper to reach the bottom. Great artists touch the bottom and document it. When you look at their works, you are changed, and the world at large changes too, acquiring new meanings and focus. I recently saw a fine definition: art is a conductor to inner freedom. I imagine it as a blind dive into the unknown. As I accumulate experience, I can dive deeper and reach something authentic. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Capture, photo wallpaper, 2012 127


Inter-Girl, video, 2014

Wonder Ass from the Super A Project, video, 2014

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Inter-Girl. Remake, video, 2015

Nails, video, 2013

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OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO

Born in 1963. Graduated from the Kyiv Institute of Art. Research fellow at the Modern Art Research Institute of the Academy of Arts of Ukraine. An artist and curator, he also wrote multiple studies on theory of contemporary art. He developed his own theory and style of abstract art: solar/spectral glorification, which he described, in parallel to Suprematism, as Arcsencielisme (from the French arc en ciel — “rainbow”). Selected exhibitions: I Leave Never to Return (2016, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); ParCommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985– 2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Curatorial project on Kazimir Malevich Conversations Over a Century (2015, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); New Horizons (2007, Ukrainian Cultural Centre, Paris); United Nations 60th Anniversary International Exhibition (2006, Palace of Nations, Geneva, Switzerland); Carefree Travels Over Infinity (2005, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Solo Show (2003, Ukrainian Institute, New York); Crossroads (2001, Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna); Eurasian Mysteries (1997, Municipal Gallery, Göttingen, Germany); Art Vision Curatorial Project (1996, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Mon Plaisir Curatorial Project (1993, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Beginning Curatorial Project (1992, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian 20th Century Art. 1900–1990 (1991, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv). My works are based not so much on the toolbox of contemporary art soning from whence but rather on philosophical, spiritual and esoteric notions. I respected stemmed his Black the Book since childhood, and had not yet quit my Journey to the East. Square. I am absoI’m interested not only in art and literature, but also in scientific discov- lutely certain that eries in astronomy, physics and chemistry. I had followed theories about this painting symthe origins of the universe throughout my life. The starry sky, every- bolizes a turning thing mysterious, lofty and awesome beckons; I’m mesmerized by, say, point in the history Hugh Everett’s Parallel Worlds theory, the string theory, all that. It directly of civiliza­tion. It is affects my works. I put my thoughts down in my diaries and texts, I must a warning of sorts, have several volumes’ worth of them. After I graduated from the institute, like the black spot I lived in the already legendary ParCommune art squat, and could not quite in Stevenson’s Trea­ decide what I found more interesting: fine arts or philosophy, the word; sure Island. It seems at that point, I painted little, preferring to read voraciously and look for that we live in unique Solar-Spectral Glorification project, acrylic on canvas, knowledge. I had always had broad interests beyond painting, which is times of un­paralauthor’s technique, 150 x 200 cm, 2015 why I always preferred artist intellectuals, like Wassily Kandinsky or Paul leled and unfathomKlee, to the majority of contemporary artists. I had spent years poring able events; accelerated changes of the last couple of years substantiate through the works and texts of the medium and mystic Kazimir Malevich, this interpretation of mine. arguing with some ideas of his. In point of fact, everybody who stood at Rejecting the inferno that The Black Square represents, I found it importthe origins of contemporary art reached it through spirituality. I prefer it ant to offer my own universal symbol, only with a positive charge, the to most aspects of contemporary art. I much prefer the higher meaning symbol that celebrates the fullness and joy of existence, to counter its of art, its ideas, its philosophy; it inspires me to follow in the footsteps darkness and emptiness. This is the origin of my round paintings. The of artists from a hundred ears ago, to pen my own theories and mani- celebration of colors, the vibrant bright circle against the black square, festoes, to express my concepts verbally. Generally, I agree with the idea “rainbow” spectral structures against darkness, the energy of movement that history is cyclical and time runs in circles. Therefore, the challenges against petrification. Ever since the early 20 th century, art had been intent we face now are reminiscent of the early 20 th century as the era of colos- on destroying everything in its path. I think everybody would soon grow tired with it, and the new era of creation will begin. I think it is now parsal changes, the avant-garde era. How could I, an artist who lives and works here, not be interested in ticularly important to discuss the awesome in art and to celebrate existhe works of Malevich, the most famous Ukrainian-born artist? The Com- tence, and this is the reason why the title of my most important project modore is too great to be ignored. I would like to grasp the mystical rea- features the word “glorification.” About the Paris Commune squat. That was the unique, unparalleled time of absolute freedom. Not every generation has the luxury of that experience. We landed in a singular mystical rift between systems and, for a while, were left to our own devices. The old, fraying ideological straightjacket of the empire had let up for a while, whereas the new dogmas were not yet in place. By now it is evident to me that the new dogmas are even more dangerous, because woven covertly. We were really lucky to have experienced the miracle of true freedom. It is unforgettable.

Library. Transtemporal Glosses to the History of the Civilization project, photography, print, 110 x 80 cm, 2012 130


Personal exhibition Solar Ukraine, Museum of the History of Kyiv, 2015

On the advantages of abstract art. Out of my entire circle, I was the only artist to switch from figurative postmodernism to abstract art. That was a deeply conscious choice. I saw that abstract art was the most innovative and relevant branch of art over millennia. And, most importantly, I’m certain that it’s also the most metaphysical. The first abstract works came as a tough, but fascinating challenge: I started developing a style from blank slate, did structural and semantic research, came up with new techniques for creating abstract images. I always experiment and explore new possibilities. I’m still searching, and I believe that this is the highest joy and pleasure that makes one appreciate the fullness of life. About my Library. Transtemporal Glosses Towards the History of Civilization project. I don’t have religious devotion to abstract art. It is just a means of expression. Certain things are best expressed through figurative photography or graphic art. This project was born of my dream about traveling through time and space. It synthesizes many philosophical and scientific ideas and unique cutting-edge technologies. In some ineffable way, the most recent scientific discoveries are expressed in the visual works of their contemporaries, as if according to Jung’s theory of archetypal tectonics of the collective unconscious. About priorities. I don’t understand why abstract art remains a poor cousin at the very territory whence it originated (the entire world recognizes the primacy of Malevich and Kandinsky). Aside from these pioneers, we also had a strong generation of avant-gardists: Popova, Rodchenko, Kliun, Lissitzky, Archipenko, Bogomazov, and more. Why is abstract art so poorly represented in present-day Russia and Ukraine? With few exceptions, art is commercial, predictable and figurative. Why did its motherland renounce the most innovative of arts? There’s no logic to it, this is so stupid that I cannot wrap my mind around it. I’ve been

Solar-Spectral Glorification project, acrylic on canvas, author’s technique, 150 x 150 cm, 2013–2015

to many of the leading art festivals and biennales: abstract art is among the most prominent trends in the entire world. And it’s not only about the great classics of abstract painting that sell for millions: there’s a large cohort of young American abstract artists, the young British abstract art, the Germans… Contemporary abstract art differs from its modernist or mid-20 th-century iterations, it has different principles. My Solar Spectral Glorification project is steeped in very private philosophical and worldview notions, so I was startled when I discovered how similar it is visually to the most cutting-edge global contemporary abstract art. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

Library. Transtemporal Glosses to the History of the Civilization project, acrylic on Indian handmade paper, author’s technique, 74 x 54 cm, 2014

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Avant-garde 21. Sacred Cosmography 2, acrylic on canvas, author’s technique, diameter 100 cm, 2016

Metaphysics of Light project, acrylic on canvas, author’s technique, 230 x 200 cm, 2015 132


Solar-Spectral Glorification project, acrylic on canvas, author’s technique, diameter 150 cm, 2013

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VITALIY KOKHAN

Born in 1987 in Sumy. Graduated from Sumy Art College and Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Art. Laureate of the Stedley Art Foundation Prize for Young Artists (2012). Works in painting, graphic art, objects, installations and land art. A regular of the Borderland Spaces Land Art Symposium. Lives and works in Kharkiv. Selected exhibitions: Social Circle (2016, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Internal Territories, as part of the Shredding Maps project (2015, Giesinger Bahnhof, Munich, Germany); PC1-500-N (2015, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Indemonstrable (2014, In primo luogo Gallery, Torino, Italy); Draft (2014, Contemporary Art Space Batumi, Batumi, Georgia); Our Kin (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Freedom Square (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Industrial Eden (2013, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Indeed For a While (2013, as part of the K.A.I.R. residency, Košice, Slovakia); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Emergency Exit (2012, under the aegis of Goethe-Institut in Ukraine, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Untitled (2011, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Exhibition of Young Artists (2011, Soviart Gallery, Kyiv); Painting School (2010, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); New History with I. Svitlychnyi (2009, Museum of Art, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Non Stop Media Festival of Youth art Projects (2008, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Night (2006, Irena Gallery, Kyiv).

WE WORK FOR THOSE DOWN THE ROAD Why Kharkiv? When I was applying to university, I had a choice a word, it was cool. And then… some were shot, some were thrown between Kharkiv, Kyiv and Lviv. For whatever reason, I ascribed them into camps, some were intimidated. these specializations: if I wanted to do monumental art, I should apply They might be dead, but their ghosts roam the streets to this day, to Kharkiv, whereas I should go to Kyiv for graphic art, and to Lviv for forcing us to do the work. Yermilov’s ghost sidles up to you and says, ceramics or glass. I failed in Kyiv and Lviv, but had all the chances to “Dude, are you off your mind?” And we burble, “Who needs art now? get accepted to Kharkiv. And this is how I became a Kharkiv artist. These philistines? Look at them, they don’t need a thing.” And he says, I think Ukrainian art, and global art too, for that matter, is at the “So what? Philistines didn’t need a thing in our times either. Rememcrossroads. This is a global trend. Whatever worked in Ukrainian art ber how I made a platform for the Revolution’s 10-year anniversary…” after the collapse of the Soviet Union stops working nowadays. There [an agitation/advertising platform for the show celebrating the 10-year was this entire cohort of artists that founded a new phenomenon and anniversary of the October Revolution, 1927. — N. M.] I think Yermihit the mark with their art in the early 1990 s. I feel like we need some- lov’s cohorts were the only ones who appreciated his work. So we, too, thing slightly different now. I think all these artists will change too, in work for those down the road. tune with this still undefined movement. Kharkiv’s aura is not quite steeped in the past, but Kharkiv has its The good thing about Kharkiv is, it doesn’t have an art market. You have style. I notice that many cities have their styles, but those usually emerge no chance whatsoever to sell a thing, and that keeps you honest. [Laughter] on their own, without artists’ input. Curiously, artists who live in any givI recently reviewed our so-called Executed Renaissance, the genera- en city find themselves under its influence. I noticed that when I went tion of innovative artists that perished in the Great Terror of the 1930s . to my first residency: I felt differently there, and it affected my works. I once heard, long ago, that the sectarian principle used to reveal the We had this vibrant art scene, mostly in Kharkiv, until 1932, when the law about artists unions was passed. There was a writers union, around five true meaning of words and human names can also be applied to place unions of artists and many other alliances. They did interesting things. names. So I was told that “Kharkiv” means “to forge character.” Sounds In 1928–29, these artists organized a show entitled Cultural Advance true enough. I recently took a look at my studio and noticed that I have On Donbas. Seems like it wasn’t all well and good even then. The show been trying to create a working atmosphere for so long that the space toured small towns for two years. There’s a 1930 book about the show. now looks really severe and forbidding: everything in it has its place and There were many magazines and newspapers published by unions. In goal. Take this lathe, for example: it might look like nothing much, but

Waiting to Be Filled, plaster, dresses, Land Art program at Art Pole Festival Chufut-Kale, Bakhchisaray, Ukraine, 2011

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Installation for Between a Dog and a Wolf exhibition, 21 Gallery, Sumy, Ukraine, 2012

it does exactly what I need. Kharkiv, too, is a lathe that gradually whittles at us, it’s just that its mechanism turns very slowly. Derzhprom is the lathe’s screw [a constructivist architectural landmark on Svoboda Square in Kharkiv. — N. M.] Kharkiv had a tough life. It was a product of high hopes that left nothing but agglomerations of factories in their wake. Many things were conceived for a comfortable life, but reality did a U-turn, and they lost their usefulness. I think all Kharkiv artists produce recognizable Kharkiv products. There’s intellectual, rational art, and then there’s art that is less concrete, more divorced from verbal expressions of thought. I think Kharkiv products have a little bit of both: they are both sensual, poetic and expressive, and also rational, cerebral. They, the artists, had reached neutrality, and cling to it for dear life. This is the Kharkiv style, the Kharkiv aura. Kharkiv is based on a well-balanced duality of order and disorder. I also think that it’s a cold city. A light breeze of depression blows through it. I think we should prohibit the descriptor “abstract.” It’s better to use the term “non-figurative.” Non-figurative painting, non-figurative sculpture. Housewives don’t describe their soup as “abstract.” It looks abstract enough at first glance: slices of carrots, potatoes and grease drops floating around. But you should just eat it, because it’s delicious. Artists have this thing about comparing painting to soup. Some great classic, either Renoir or Picasso, said, “I never created a painting as good as my grandma’s soup.”

You never know whether you painting works the way you intended until it meets the viewer. It is not complete until it reaches an exhibition, when the circle closes. We tend to conceptualize Ukrainian art as a product of certain cultural and historical processes, but it is a phenomenon on par with Kharkiv art, Kyiv art or any other local branch. The aura of the place influences you one way or the other. Who knows how it does that: it’s magic. These are our ghosts, our “shadows of forgotten ancestors.” I doubt if artists think about their roots when creating something new, and even if they do, the result must be mediocre. If it’s not mediocre, it does not limit itself to, say, just Kharkiv: it instantly manifests on the Ukrainian and global scale. This is the main goal of art: to make things manifest, preferably something that didn’t exist previously. Things that already existed don’t count. [Laughter] This is my Art 101. Artists are like that: it’s not that they create stuff, they make it manifest. The world gets its due. Everything that can be imagined, can also be made, can exist. And also, most of it really exists. [Laughter] The goal is to make manifest something that didn’t exist before, something nobody even thought possible. According to this line of thinking, conceptual art exhausted its potential the moment it appeared. And yet, sometimes it can sparkle with life. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

From Impressions from the Preserve, enamel on canvas 100 x 100 cm, Biruchiy, Ukraine, 2015

Installation for Indeed For a While show, K.A.I.R. residency program, Košice, Slovakia, 2013 135


Installation for Czerstwe owoce show, 26 Yefremova Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine, 2014

Untitled, concrete relief, for the Đ&#x;C1–500-N show, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine, 2015

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From the Sculptures Spilling Sand series for Indeed For a While show, K.A.I.R. residency program, KoĹĄice, Slovakia, 2013

Object of Design, old couches, granite, Recreation project, Irshansk, Ukraine, 2015

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DARYA KOLTSOVA

An artist, curator, researcher, author of installations and interactive projects, performer. Born in 1987 in Kharkiv. Graduated from the Department of History and Theory of Arts of the Kharkiv Academy of Design and Arts in 2015. PinchukArtCentre Prize nominee (2015) and the laureate of the Grand Prix of the MUHi competition (2015). Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: What is your name? (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Event Horizon (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Deep Inside (2016, 5th Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Moscow); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); MUHi 2015 (2015, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Pinchuk Art Prize (2015, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Special Project DIALOGIA. Ukrainian art in times with no name (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Decompression (2015, Beaubourg Centre, Church of Saint-Merri, Paris); Manifesto. IV Odessa Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015, Museum of Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine); Long Path to Freedom. Ukrainian Art Between Revolution and Hybrid War (2014, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, USA); Elements of Reality. IX Art Kyiv Contemporary (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv).

A conversation about Ukraine should start way before 1991, which just marked the beginning of a new stage. I’m from a Russian-speaking Kharkiv family. I never had a traditional embroidered shirt, I don’t remember any specifically Ukrainian traditions from my childhood years. Until the age of 10, I believed that only peasants spoke Ukrainian because I’ve never heard it in the city. At home, we discussed history, art, sciences, culture and philosophy in the global context, but never its Ukrainian dimension. This is probably down to the specificity of the city 40 miles from the Russian border. When preparing for a performance 2 years ago, I pored through my family photo archives, and suddenly noticed that my grandma, her friends and students at the music school all wore traditional embroidered shirts. That’s when I realized yet again how little I know about my history. I had a similar feeling when, as a student of the Kharkiv Academy, I discovered archival documents about Lviv residents sending provisions to eastern regions during Holodomor, the man-made hunger of 1932–1933. Of course, the provisions never reached destination. Common people knew nothing about it, and neither did I. So what do I know about Ukraine? Now I try to reach the bottom and filter out the propaganda and historical manipulations from both sides. When preparing my projects, I do archival research, collect stories, interview people. The country’s history is preserved in family photos, in songs and fairy tales that were passed down through the generations, in memories and stories of real people. Over the last 25 years, we’ve been doing archeological digs in a seismically active zone. Nevertheless, some things cannot be destroyed: memories are our most crucial resource in the search for our identity. The Soviet Union made everyone equal by destroying national, professional and personal identities, but people still preserved unique traditions. My work Theory of protection, which won the Grand Prix at the MUHi competition, explored the ability of culture (in the sense used by Arnold Toynbee) to survive and make itself manifest in the most unexpected things. It explored faith in the irrational, which becomes an instrument of psychological adaptation in wartime, and our helplessness in the face of constant danger. Also, it treated memory and humanity. Humankind is probably the only thing that really interests me: decision-making, cognition of the world, our history, experience, nostalgia, illusions, and the subconscious. I like to listen, watch, and remember. In my own works, I try to understand people, and through them the society I live in. All sociopolitical problems stem from someone’s history, a multitude of histories and lives, and only through them you can reach the contradictory, multifaceted reality, as opposed to abstract black-and-white theory. My Archive of the contingent listener project for the PinchukArtPrize 2015 show was inspired by this need to understand.

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My recent project Tale of Tales is a trip into the depths of collective subconscious, rife with archetypes, memories, fairytales and codes. My trip to the Subcarpathia, where I collected local folklore, was integral to preparing the project. Ukrainian villages are a veritable mix of different traditions and cultures. For example, when working on the project, I interviewed an elderly lady born in 1923. She stuck me with a mind-blowing mix of Christian, Communists, local and pagan beliefs that might seem irreconcilable, except that you have a living, breathing example of this synthesis right in front of you. Fairytales are a fantastically interesting research topic because they preserve the great subconscious. Many countries might have similar fairytales because they are an important instrument for preserving knowledge, teaching and encoding information. Interpreting traditional Ukrainian culture through the lens of contemporary art practices is interesting because it requires analysis, critical thinking and cutting-edge conclusions. I had little interest in my national identity before the Academy. The issue became even more pressing during the Maidan protests. In school, a teacher once asked us to write essays about famous Ukrainians. The entire class dutifully wrote essays, and then the teacher spent 45 minutes yelling at us because apparently there were never any famous Ukrainians, and nobody in the world knows the people we wrote about. It was both fairly traumatic and emblematic of the 1990s context. At that stage, my knowledge of Ukrainian history was limited to the list of collective traumas, and I still have many questions about it. I remember that day whenever I learn something new about the role Ukrainians played in history, culture, and sciences, about globally famous discoveries and inventions by Ukrainians. What are “market trends”? Adapting to given conditions might be a good synonym. These are convenient themes, convenient shows, locations and institutions. But it destroys art, because I value honesty first and foremost. Each of my projects becomes a personal experience. I jump into the depths where decompression begins. The freedom to only do what you want, and to only do it the way you find necessary is a great joy, I think. This is the only precondition of vibrant art processes. Maidan gave me an important impulse, lending my experiences clarity that made me stop questioning whether any given project was worth it. I never thought I’d address social or political issues in my works, but when Maidan and the war started, I could no longer stand back. For an artist, success means more opportunities for work. It means being able to realize your craziest, biggest projects without waiting for shows, curators, budgets, technical and organizational resources to align. Besides, it means being in demand, especially internationally, being able to influence public opinions, it means quality, professionalism and freethinking. For me, art is a metalanguage. It is about communication. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Trophy, installation fragment, wood, artificial hair, metal, video, 2016 (Shcherbenko Art Center, Kyiv)

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Red Boots, sculpture, wood, paint, fabric, metal, 2016 (Shcherbenko Art Center, Kyiv)

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Archive of the contingent listener, interactive work, 2015 (PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv)

Theory of protection, installation, audio, 2015 (Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv)

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IGOR KONOVALOV

Born in 1965 in the town of Novyi Bug. Graduated from the Dnipropetrovsk State Art College (1983–1987), Kyiv State Art Institute (1987–1993). Member of the Squat at Olegivska Street art commune (1993–2015). Author of the FGE (Fiction Gallery Expedition) project (1996–2006, Kyiv). Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985– 2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ratio of Independence (2015, America House, Kyiv); Man and Woman (2014, Museum of New Art, Pärnu, Estonia); Squat at Olegivska Street (2012, M17 Centre for Contemporary Art, Kyiv); Space Odyssey (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); OUT (2011, Museum of Contemporary Fine Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv); Independent. New Art of a New Country 1991–2011 (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); OUT (2010, Chocolate House, Kyiv); Infa (2010, Les Gallery, Moscow); Konovalov I. (2010, Museum of Contemporary Fine Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ctrl-Z (2008, RA Gallery, Kyiv); Return of the Prodigal Son (1995, Slavutych House of Culture, Kyiv); Rehearsal (1994, State Institute of Theatre, Kyiv); December (1993, Ancient Kyiv State Historical and Architectural Preserve, Kyiv); Spring 91 (1991, Central House of Artists, Kyiv).

CONTEMPORARY ART IS THE WORLD OF COMMUNICATION For me, the goal and meaning of art lies in communication. An artist becomes a medium between the world of artistic imagery and the society he lives in. This might stem from my biography: I have been hard of hearing since childhood, which limited my communication. The 1970s did not yet have all these technologies (listening aides, cell phones, the Internet and more) that expand our opportunities to communicate with the world. For this very reason, art became my personal point of access to the wide world, and the space of self-realization. After graduating from school, I started working at the Dnipropetrovsk Railroad Car Repair Plant, in the department of technical control. The plant was right next to our home, so it all worked out. I had to collect technical data from various shops. Once I was seconded to artists drawing a poster for some office. They sent me to buy wine, we had a drink together, and I liked their workshop. I started to drop by in my free time, and even helped them to draw posters. That’s where I discovered that our city had an art college. I made a choice. The very next year, in 1983, I applied to the Dnipropetrovsk Art College, and was accepted. It was a different world, and this world was mine. Then I applied to the Kyiv Art Institute. That, too, was a different world. Kyiv was stunningly different from Dnipropetrovsk, a poem of a city! I had the first important shift in my outlook as an artist when I lived in the dorms at 69/71 Lukianivska Street. My meeting with Oleg Golosiy changed everything. He, too, was from Dnipropetrovsk, and his dorms studio was right across the corridor from my room.

Yellow Habit, oil on canvas, 147 x 190 cm, 1993 142

Bluebell Time, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 1992

In the mid-1980s, the students of the Art Institute, including those who lived in the dorms, started to develop an initiative that transcended the boundaries of “academic art” we were taught. The works by Valeria Troubina, Vasyl Tsagolov, Marko Geiko and other artists that defined the Ukrainian New Wave carried a powerful creative impulse, a new vision, a new understanding of art. Inspired students wanted to have a studio of their own, which my cohorts and me found on Olegivska Street. I remember Oleg Golosiy suggesting that we should move to the Paris Commune Street squat, but by the late 1980s — the early 1990s we already had our own “shelter,” later known as “the squat at Olegivska.” During Perestroika and the collapse of the USSR the art scene changed. We sought out information about contemporary world art and tried to make ourselves heard. Exhibition venues were few and far between, as were the critics, curators and institutions that could form an art market. We wanted to show our vision of the changing world to our community, to state loud and clear what we were working on. In 1993, we decided to host the first show of artists from Olegivska Street (Konovalov, Varvarov, Padun, K. Meletynskyi, Potapenkov). We started to look for a venue. Ancient Kyiv State Historical and Architectural Preserve was based in a small building just off Andriivskyi Descent in downtown Kyiv, and its administration approved the show we offered. We decided we’d organize it in December, and call it, with-


From the FGE project. Departure, 1996 (Olegivska Street, Kyiv)

out any pathos, December, to underscore our agnosticism towards various art trends. December is the last month of the year, rife with desolation and melancholy leave-taking of the past. Besides, that was a snowy year with giant snowdrifts. Our studios on Olegivska were as good as cut off from the world. While biting cold and blizzards raged outside, our studios were hot; we could use as much gas, electricity and water as we liked, because nobody checked up on abandoned houses. This is how we worked on “paintings for the show,” without any rush, without any desire to prove ourselves. Art communication of the 1990s was based on hosting art projects in various public venues and documenting them in the only active journal of the time, Terra Incognita. Varvarov and us organized group shows at studios and venues that were never used for exhibitions: on Kyiv hills, in the choreography class of the Karpenko-Karyi Institute of Theater (1994), at Slavutych Palace of Culture (1995). Artists had to be jacks-of-all-trades, acting as curators, gallerists, sponsors, what have you. In the late 1990s, I came up with the Fiction Gallery Expedition (FGE) project; its realization lasted into 2006. The Departure performance (1996; participants: I. Konovalov, A. Varvarov, V. Zaiichenko, S. Kornievskyi, K. and O. Meletynskyi) marked the initiation of the project. It was a singular artistic intervention into the landscape of Kyivan hills. The projected strategy for exploring the society offered new communicative models. It emphasized direct connections to people, unmediated by the institutionalized art establishment, through the so-called “qui-

et cultural interventions,” which placed brick and cement sculptures in various environments. The conceptual FGE project proceeded illegally, without permissions from the regime and administration, as guerilla art. It acquired a new meaning for each viewer. Its goals and history were shrouded in legends and documented in cinema (Urban Landscape, 2007) and in pictures on the Internet. The 10-year history of the noncommercial FGE project invites us to answer the question: can you treat these objects as “public art,” free of propaganda or agenda, not trying to feed the viewers any given “perspective,” or were they drawing attention to obscure “mythological zones” in Kyiv urban spaces? Analyzing the FGE within the context of global art movements allows me to identify it as an offshoot of land art, which I would define as hill art. Building objects on Kyivan hills was not an extreme goal. It was a unique synthesis of polisemantic spaces and the conceptually defined idea of the project. The FGE participants addressed the realities of contemporary art spaces and brought hill art into the framework of Ukrainian art phenomena of the late 20 th — early 21st century. The spread of IT technologies expanded methods of communication. After the FGE project was completed in 2006, I turned to painting. I approach my works through the lens of conceptual art and connect them to “infodelics” (it’s my own term derived from information and delos, which means clear), that is, the effect of huge information streams on human consciousness. The effect of the information world on the real world, our lifestyle and general outlook could not be imagined until very recently. “Information bunnies” lurking around us like invisible atoms in my paintings are a metaphor of these influences, the interventions of information “clones” into the world around us. The future, much like the past, is not real, so we should value what we have. Paintings with “information atoms” should inspire viewers to seek solace in our turbulent world. My paintings unmask this temptation, highlighting empty promises and CGI joys of “the consumerist heaven” of the early 21st century. Paintings inspire viewers to grasp and notice how natural communication in real spaces gets replaced with impulses in microchips. Exploration of communications shall continue. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

From the FGE project. Om-Aum, concrete, 2006 (Dytynka Mountain, Kyiv)

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Debriefing, oil on canvas, 110 x 135 сm, 2016

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Informer, oil on canvas, 185 x 135 cm, 2016

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PAVLO KOVACH

Born in 1987 in Uzhhorod. Graduated from A. Erdeli Art College (Uzhhorod) and the Department of Decorative Ceramics of the Lviv National Academy of Arts. Co-founded the Open Group with Yuriy Biley, Anton Varga, Ievhen Samborskyi and Stanislav Turina. Winner of MUHi Prize 2012, 2nd place. Laureate of the Special PinchukArtPrize-2013, with the Open Group, and the Main PinchukArtPrize-2015. Lives and works in Lviv. Selected exhibitions: Hope! (2015, Ukrainian National Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, Italy); Exhibition of PinchukAtCentre Prize Nominees (2015, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Open Ateliers ZO Artist in Residence (2015, Amsterdam); Futura (2014, Karlin Studio, Prague); Granny Hall (2012, the village Samiilychi, Volhynia region, Ukraine); Trace (2012, Piękne kłamstwo, Warsaw); Traveler (2012, Akcija 27, Lublin, Poland); Week of Relevant Art (2012, Lviv, Ukraine); Time. Vibration. Movement (2012, Program Gallery, Warsaw); Moan (2011, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); Earth (2011, Detenpyla Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); Cleansing (2010, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine).

NOTHING CAN SUBSTITUTE EXPERIENCE How did the fact that you come from a family of artists affect your professional development? Was it hard to develop your own position as an artist? Everything affects you, and of course so does your family, but responsibility for what you do is the most important thing. Frankly, I wouldn’t say that my position as an artist is already formed. It’s a work in progress, and that’s good. Tell me more about how the Open Group emerged. What were its ideological foundations? What goals does it set for itself? Ievhen Samborskyi and Yura Biley and myself decided to found the Open Group towards the end of the Gaude Polonia scholarship. After Ievhen’s and Yura’s collaborative project in Warsaw, we decided to form a group, initially joined by Anton Varga, Stanislav Turina, Pavlo Kovach, Ievhen Sambroskyi, Yuriy Biley and Oleg Perkovskyi. The experiment with “defining space” remains our primary goal, I think. You are not only an artist. You have cofounded the Detenpyla Gallery with your friends, and initiated interesting collective projects (lately The Degree of Dependence in Wrocław). How would you describe this organizational and communicative experience? Nothing can substitute experience. Everything developed gradually: first Detenpyla (in the active stage), then the 26 Iefremov Street Gallery, then we tried to organize 360 Performance Festival, then each had their solo projects besides working with the Open Group and curating a large show The Degree of Dependence in Wrocław. Each project shapes you and the people around you into a certain “scene” that keeps evolving and changing. In a way, it is a hobby club you enjoy visiting. The Open Group represented Ukraine at the latest Venice Biennale with its performative project Synonym to Waiting, which addressed the relevant and painful topic: hopes and expectations in wartime. Do you think you managed to communicate this successfully to your audience? You know the way it is: those who want to listen do, and those who

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don’t don’t. That never changes. Waiting, I think, was actually an important part of it. You sit there all day doing nothing, just waiting. For whom? For what? Will anything change afterwards, or not? We spend our lives waiting. When there’s war, we wait for it to end, and when there’s none, we wait for it to begin. Both Uzhhorod and Lviv have their own traditions, ‘atmosphere’ and local cultural specificity. Do you think Ukrainian art has regional trends? If so, how would you describe the key peculiarities of Uzhhorod, Lviv and maybe Kyiv, the cities you had lived and worked in? Each place, obviously, has its own climate and atmosphere dependent on many factors, from art schools to architecture or geographical position, teachers or leaders, institutions, galleries or the art market. It all requires further research. Our curatorial research focused not only on Uzhhorod, Lviv and Kyiv, but also on Kherson, Odessa and Kharkiv: each city has its own traditions and peculiarities. For whatever reason, some artists had always gravitated towards Kyiv, believing that it offered more opportunities, but that is not necessarily true. If you need something, you should at least try to introduce it where you are at the time. How would you describe the crucial transformations in Ukrainian society and culture during its independence, and especially over the last couple of years? Obviously, we live in very interesting times: constant changes, revolutions, the war. It keeps us on our toes and keeps us up, but when you forgo sleep for a long time, you grow really tired. We now have the moment of exhaustion. How do you see the social role and function of artists? Can they change anything in society? Should they? There are different artists: some are more active socially, some are more ascetic. Either way, you should take responsibility for your choices. Frankly speaking, an artist doesn’t owe anybody anything. Each person has his or her own way. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko


Wax project, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv, 2012

Earth project, kinetic installation, performance, original technique, Lviv, Ukraine, 2011

Earth project, kinetic installation, performance, original technique, Lviv, Ukraine, 2011

Wax project, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv, 2012

Wax project, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv, 2012

Earth project, kinetic installation, performance, original technique, Lviv, Ukraine, 2011

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Balance, performance, Interakcja Festival, Poland

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Balance, performance, Akcja 27 Festival, Poland

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TARAS KOVACH

Born in 1982 in Uzhhorod. Graduated from A. Erdeli Art College (Uzhhorod) and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Received 1st Prize at the Ukrainian Triennale of Graphic Art in 2009 and the Gold Medal of the Academy of Art of Ukraine in 2010. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: HERE AND THERE (2016, State Scientific and Technical Library of Ukraine, Kyiv); Shared Border (2015, Kyiv Biennale, 33 Soshenko, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); IX Art Kyiv Contemporary (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian Landscape. Beyond Despair… (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Recognizing the Potential (2014, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Noise (2013, Shcherbenko Art Centre, Kyiv); Frontman (2012, Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv); Wallpaper for Soshenko (2012, Project Space Gallery, Kyiv); Paper Work (2011, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); Ukrainian Triennale of Graphic Art (2006, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); International Competitions of Small Graphic Works (2001–2007, Finland / Poland / Belgium / Bulgaria / Greece / France / Lithuania / Spain).

ENGAGING WITH SPACES IS THE KEY Perestroika, the 1980s –1990s always interested me. It might be tied to childhood memories, that day-to-day life, that music, that fashion and TV… It is all vivid in my memory: behaviors and psychological states of the time, the way we talked… Later you learn more about the post-Soviet culture and start to analyze the effect of social factors on lives as the old political system collapsed and the new state emerged. It was a radical, dynamic and uncompromising era. This makes it so crucial to subsequent developments in culture. This period is interesting because young artists departed from the established Soviet canon and started looking for new modes of self-expression. They experience is inspiring in its drive. Our present situation is somewhat similar. The established artistic canons of earlier years are losing relevance, gradually replaced by a new mode of communication between artists and viewers. The line between artists and their objects is progressively blurred, and direct interaction is becoming the most important experience. I think that an active public stance, independent creative spaces, largescale collaborative projects and urban participative practices are the most effective ways of establishing social communication. It allows the art community to reach a new level and become society’s integral part. Most of my projects deal with human life in cities. For this reason, I’m interested in urban studies: the way cities function and develop, their prospects. The projects of the last couple of years are closely connected to environments. Environments are informed by a range of factors, tied first and

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foremost to their residents’ worldviews, which are a product of the post-Soviet legacy, historical context, personal stance… As an artist, I explore how an average citizen imagines “the ideal world” and how this notion affects day-to-day life. I’m fascinated by creative imagination of the people who live in residential neighborhoods on the outskirts, how they create new forms of applied arts, improving public spaces and residential buildings. The post-Soviet culture has a tradition of photographic wallpapers depicting romantic landscapes, tropical forests or veritable gardens of Eden. My projects engage with the aesthetic of wallpapers, but with urban landscapes. This lends landscapes monumentality and recasts them anew. Many of my projects make use of the classical technique of etching. I might be appropriating some of the defining features of this technique, but I transform its tropes: prints cease to be discrete images on planes and become an integral part of cohesive spaces. In general, engaging with spaces is the key. Other projects explore the notion of borders as such, both mental and physical. The issue of openness and tolerance is particularly relevant in the present-day world, but many of us subconsciously step back from the global turmoil in the hope that its direct consequences will not touch our comfort zone. In closely guarding our comfort zone, we lose sight of our surroundings and sink into our experiences and anxieties, building up our own illusory world. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


A series of objects from the Noise project, carbon paper, lightboxes, 30 x 21 x 5 cm, 2015

Frontman project, etching, paper, 2012 (exposition fragment, Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv)

Hurdle project, metal, welding, 200 x 300 cm, 2014 (exposition fragment)

Twilight project, metal, welding, 2015 (exposition fragment)

Noise project, etching, paper, 2013 (exposition fragment, Shcherbenko Art Centre, Kyiv)

Noise project, etching, paper, 2013 (exposition fragment, Shcherbenko Art Centre, Kyiv)

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Pravdy Avenue. From the Noise project, etching, paper, 290 x 150 cm, 2013

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Vynogradar. From the Noise project, etching, paper, 290 x 150 cm, 2013

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VOLODYMYR KOZHUKHAR

Born in 1968. Graduated from the Department of Graphic Art of the Oushynskyi South Ukrainian University of Education. Lives and works in Odessa. Selected exhibitions: Resource (2015, Yatlo Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); The Show Within the Show (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Odessa School (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Temporary? (2011, Ya. Gretera Art Centre, Kyiv); Resource (2010, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Resource (2009, Yatlo Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Wood (2007, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); For Sale (2007, Fine Art Gallery, Kyiv); Point (2006, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Ukraine, Forward! (2006, Regina Gallery, Moscow); My USSR (2005, Regina Gallery, Moscow); No comment (2003, М17 Centre for Contemporary Art, Kyiv); New Ukrainian Painting (2003, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Ambiguity of the Visible (2003, L-Art Gallery, Kyiv); The Best (2002, Passage, Moscow); When I’m Sixty Four (2001, Regina Gallery, Moscow); TV-lization (1999, Centre for Contemporary Art, Moscow); Living Boxes (1999, Tyrs Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Lacuum (1999, Tyrs Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Be Seen (1998, Tyrs Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine).

ART DESERVES RESPECT …I graduated from the institute in the mid-1990s. Formally speaking, Perestroika was over by then, but, as they say, it was “in the air:” we all expected changes, everybody was enamored with contemporary western art, everybody wanted to “be acknowledged on the global art scene.” Sotheby’s legendary 1988 auction selling works of Soviet nonconformists was, I think, emblematic of that time. That might have been one of the first signs that something had changed. We thought that we had joined the global world art. We were wrong. We wanted to live under capitalism, as one does; well, be careful what you wish for. In the early 2000s, I was present at a meeting with a curator in Moscow, which supported my assumption: the West had little knowledge and less interest in our neck of the woods. So what? Be that as it may, we have our own distinct past, we have traditions of our own, the main tension lines of the era came to the fore in our country… why should we make Bentleys to foreign specifications? Even if we manage to produce a perfect copy, the original is still preferable. My 2005 series of paintings My USSR was not about nostalgia but about our shared childhood, all these rusty chain-link fences, old cars, woods and fields. It’s all a part of our life that we can neither forget not cross out. I knew that I would paint from the very beginning. It is, I think, the most important branch of art, “artistic ontology incarnate,” it is the starting point and, no matter what one might say, despite all its “crises” and “lack of relevance,” so it shall remain. You can study it your whole life. The more you learn about its history and the great artists of past eras, the more you question, the higher you set the standard. As Hokusai had put it, if I had another life, I would have become a true artist… I’m in flux, on the road, I try to be critical of what I do, I’m not in competition with anybody, you cannot come “first” or “last” in art. If you know what you want to say, if you know the tropes of art, you are in art; if you need what you do, someone else will need it too… For me, painting is a way of understanding the world, life, and myself. Most of my paintings are figurative.

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I like observing the world around me, tracking the movements in the space where the quotidian, the aesthetics and deeper metaphysical meanings intersect. I don’t find straightforwardly social art appealing. By choosing a “position” in society and politics, an artist becomes a hostage or instrument for external forces. It’s not that you “play with the world” through images, forms, languages or meanings: the world starts to manipulate you. I don’t find that acceptable. In my works, I try to highlight how brittle our existence is, the complicated and dynamic interpenetration of the foundational principles and random absurdity. This is what my Optional Landscapes painting series is based on: changing compositions, unexpected perspective and traditional connections display the familiar world in new light, showcasing something which we have not acknowledged yet… The narrative in my paintings is purely superficial, I think. I am most interested in representing a certain illusoriness, ambiguity of the real world where the conventional and the authentic are hard to tell apart. I treat it through subdued palette that I find most appealing, and through careful selection of elements that comprise the work. I am contemplative, both as an artist and as a person. My paintings are informed by my personal experience, not only quotidian but also emotional, spiritual, and sensual… I think this is a characteristic of painting, which demands time, leisure, and concentration. The present-day world is very rich in art. The postmodern era amply demonstrated it. Art is drowning in quotes, remakes, retellings, what have you. It’s hard to compete with old art: traditions, craftsmanship, legends and myths are on its side. On the one hand, it can be described as “art about art,” but on the other, it presupposes an illustration of someone else’s ideas and themes. I never had an interest in it. That’s too easy. Real values get lost in the deafening aesthetic clamor. I think art deserves respect. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko


Noon. From the My USSR project, 95 x 130 cm, 2005

Then 2, oil on canvas, 65 x 95 cm, 2007

Practice of Dreaming, watercolor on paper, 30 x 42 cm, 2016

From the Wood project, oil on canvas, 130 x 190 cm, 2007

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Passage. From the Wood project, oil on canvas, 140 x 200 cm, 2007

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Sea Wind, oil on canvas, 70 x 120 cm, 2012

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NIKITA KRAVTSOV

Born in 1988 in Yalta, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (2010). Participant of the Genofond project of the Ya Gallery Art Center. Participated in exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad. Lives and works in Kyiv, Paris and London. Selected exhibitions: La Guerre Est Finie (2016, Hélène Nougaro Gallery, Paris); Je m’appelle l’etranger (2015, The Corridor, Paris); Bestiaries (2014, Ya Gallery Art Center, Dnipro, Ukraine); Art Kyiv Contemporary (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Naked Lunch (2013, Small Gallery at Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Super M (2013, Small Gallery at Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Races (2012, Ya Gallery Art Center, Dnipro, Ukraine); The Body Mechanism (2012, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); The Sleep of Reason (2012, Museum of Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine); Kilogram (2011, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Big Construction, with Anton Logov (2010, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Miniart (2009, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv).

In our 25 years of presence, we managed to show the world that Ukraine is not limited to football, Shevchenko and Chernobyl. Europeans no longer equate Ukraine with Russia. For them, Eastern Europe is a trashcan “somewhere over there,” and they have little interest in finer details. Everybody is only interested in their own country. But the important thing is, they already acknowledge that we do exist. Focus I work against aggression, against war. I address violence and sexuality in my “kinetic” drawings (drawings that work like videos in 2D) to illustrate what should be avoided. Even before the recent political events, I started to engage with old maps. For the French Spring, a French team and myself prepares an Archive project, a series In the Dark Ages. I used the images of monsters from nautical maps as allusions to Europe, America and Russia. Immigration In my opinion, the desire to leave your country, to forget, to flee is a post-Soviet syndrome, a fear of a totalitarian regime, a temptation of the American dream. I’m perfectly content with my country. I travel all over the world, I’ve lived in London and prepared a show there, I recently had a show in Paris. Chasing illusory freedom is not my cup of tea. Freedom I became an artist so that I wouldn’t have a boss hanging over my head. I do not work for anybody, I’m working with many people. Freedom is being able to go somewhere for a couple of days, clear your head, and then go home. Changes Changes in industry leave an important mark on culture. The emergence of the Internet, the free media space, free access to information is of crucial importance, particularly for a country that had been isolated from the global context for 70 years. During the Soviet era, there were dogmas that dictated the artists “the rules of engagement,” blurring identity lines and quashing national specificity. This explains, I think, why we don’t have the cultural tradition that Europe boasts, where everything developed gradually, calmly. And what did we have? The Soviet regime came and destroyed marks of the previous regime. And now we destroy the identifying marks of the Soviet regime, its golden calves. In a way, I understand the desire to get rid of those sym-

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bols and idols, but I would preserve artworks, mosaics and some statues. It would be more productive to use this legacy as a resource for subsequent creative explorations. Personally, I would recast all Lenin statues as Shevchenko statues. It would be an interesting performance. [Smiles] After a half-century silence, the Perestroika brought the New Wave, but that group too worked itself into a corner and failed to develop further. That circle of artists went down in history. Then came the Noughties, the R.E.P. group, for example, that started to push art in the right direction and made many understand that art is not just about pictures on the wall. Art can be an action, a performance. This makes me think that the development of our culture began in the 2000s. Art Eastern European art stands out against its Western counterpart in that it is very ambitious. Each work is crammed full with meanings whereas Europeans just relax. I think art is dead and decomposing, it keeps repeating itself, nothing new emerges. Societal problems change, and culture follows them. For me, art is an attempt to stay afloat in cultured society. I’m happy for my friends who managed to catch the wave: I think this is art. Paintings and installations are just rubbish that doesn’t have any value anymore. I like Andy Warhol who leveled art down and tried to devaluate it. You can see an artist by what he left behind, and by what he attained. For me, this, rather than quality, is the starting point, because the paintings we find beautiful today might be deemed ugly tomorrow. It’s all about how much money was invested into promoting any given artist. It’s no mystery how legends are created. You can make anybody a star. There’s no art as such, there’s just a system you either fit or not. Culture It is a very deep philosophical question… [Laughter] It is an empty vessel circulating energy. It is a space where you can discuss anything. It is one of the most democratic spheres of dialogue. Quiet dialogue gets tougher once someone tries to put his hairy gold-ringed paw on it. Then the very notion of culture disappears. Many cannot tell culture from religion. Culture deals with cultural issues, whereas the clergy deals with religious issues. Religious dogmas make us sometimes mix up the two. The guarantee of success Tolerance, understanding. Overcoming your dogmas, fears and anxieties. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Man Throwing Out a Cat, wooden relief, installation, 2015

Illustrations to What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz, ballpoint pen on A4 paper, 2015–2016

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Loneliness (condom), acrylic on canvas, 140 x 150 cm, 2015

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Red Lamp, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 160 cm, 2015

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ANATOLIY KRYVOLAP

Born in 1946 in Yagotyn (Kyiv region). Graduated from the Department of Painting of the Kyiv State Art Institute. A founder of the Painting Preserve Ukrainian art group, which proclaimed the emancipation of artworks from all traces of “real life” as the main goal of painting in the early 1990s. In the 2000s, he moved from Kyiv to the village of Zasupoivka outside Iahotyn, where he lives and works now. Selected exhibitions: Zeitgeist (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Museum Collection (2016, Cultprostir Hub, Museum of Kyiv History, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Ukrainian Motif. Evening (2011, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Structures (2008, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Ukrainian Motif. Silence. 2005–2008 (2008, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Landschaft of a Pictorial Sanctuary (2002, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Crossroads (2001, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); International Spring Salon (1998, Municipal Palace, Lyon, France); Spektrum und Aspekte der Маlеrеі (1998, Magdeburg, Germany); Non-Narrativity (1996, National Gallery, Odense, Denmark); Ukrainian Art (1993, Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France); Painting Preserve (1992, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv).

THE WAY OF COLOR. THE ART OF ANATOLY KRYVOLAP My way as an artist is comprised of two visibly different large parts. The first started with my student years and ended with Perestroika, serving as a precursor to the second, current part. I graduated from the Kyiv Art Institute in 1976. Although I joined the Union of Artists in 1978 and

general, art, and painting in particular, should be enjoyed exclusively through the originals. Reproductions are shadow memories of an artwork. The earlier young people meet great art, the faster they can find their way as artists, and the easier they will House, oil on canvas, 70 x 100 cm, 1992 develop their tropes, their stance, their imagery. Hopefully, they won’t have it as tough as we did. This is why I established a scholarship for gifted art students in 2016, covering the costs of a visit to European art centres (Paris, Berlin, Rome and London), where they would see not only the world-renowned museums with the classics but also contemporary works in galleries and exhibition venues. I think this is crucially important, useful, generally necessary for an artist… My long years of post-Institute experiments, when, alone in my studio, I tried to grasp the basics of painting and the interactions between its elements, such as color, space, depth and

Spring Soil, oil on canvas, 140 x 200 cm, 2009

would occasionally participate in its exhibitions just to keep my membership and access to the Union-provided studio, I was stumblingly searching for a path in art until the mid-1980 s. I was never an underground artist, but what I saw did not give me much: it was not real art, or a real art life, for that matter. I saw neither rhyme nor reason for it… Truth be told, my relationship with myself is not smooth. I’m very selective when it comes to art, I’m far from catholic in my tastes. I keep looking for styles that fit my understanding of art. For years, a reproduction of Vermeer had graced a wall of my studio. Personally, I never worked in subtle tonal painting of the sort, but I was fascinated and stunned by the mystery present in his paintings. I wanted to solve that mystery… As a young man, I went to Moscow twice a month and carefully explored, fragment by fragment, the paintings at the Pushkin Museum, including works by Cézanne, Rembrandt, Titian, Vrubel… I remember how stunned I was by Sisley’s landscapes when I first visited the Hermitage Museum as a 22-year-old. They were authentic and, most crucially, close to my understanding of art… In Evening Specter, oil on canvas, 140 x 180 cm, 2014 162


Wall. Painting Counterpoints project, painted wood, 300 x 500 cm, 2000

movement, were a laboratory where I toiled not against the grain but for myself first and foremost. It was important for developing my own relationship with paint. It so happened that Perestroika and the early years of Ukraine’s independence marked a qualitatively different stage in my career as an artist: I grasped what I had to do, and started to understand myself as an artist. There is little doubt that the Painting Preserve group, which we founded with Tiberiy Silvashi, Mykola Kryvenko, Oleksandr Zhyvotkov and Marko Geiko in 1992, had played an important role. Although I joined it as a mature artist, it gave me not only a community of likeminded friends, which is very important on its own, but also a useful tuning fork, a quality test… Each group member had his own priorities. Gray, almost monochrome works by Zhyvotkov inspired me to keep my bright colors under control: they had to be held up to the same high level of plastic expression. In a way, we tested each other, inspiring us to keep evolving. During that time, I mostly departed from figurative painting. Paint captivated me. This is how my large Pulsing Coordinates series, on which I worked throughout the 1990s, was conceived. It led me to the conclusion that each color presupposes certain compositional and plastic solutions, imposing its spatial schemes on the canvas. It directs me, defining imagery. Each new color is like a new sound,

which you have to not only hear but also feel and acknowledge. I do not come up with colors: I find them in nature. But, obviously, the selection of colors is not infinite, particularly in the environment I work in now, in central European landscape. Lately a new landscape has entreed my life, and new colors with it: the Carpathians. I never come up with projects rationally, they emerge irrationally, out of feelings and experiences. Once a new color theme forms within me, it “pushes” certain color “ideas” and motifs onto canvas, and I start to develop them. It can produce a cycle or a series, spawn new works… As an artist, I’m a loner focused primarily on myself and my own works, but as a person, I’m very invested in what is going on in the country and the world. I wish Ukraine’s period of uncertainty and dramatic tension was over. Naturally, as an artist, I’m most interested in cultural problems. During Ukraine’s independence, art, too, became independent. But there’s a catch: during the Soviet times, it was tough for artists to work, whereas now they find it tough to subsist. The state doesn’t support art and outright ignores strong demands of society and the art milieu. I’m talking not only about paintings but also about cinema, theatre, museums… The Soviet inertia is still strong in all areas, from politics to culture. Obviously, it is hard to overcome. Discrete initiatives of creative people might break the ice of inertia and take the country to a new level. I’m an anti-globalist. I think that both people and countries are interesting primarily in their differences, peculiarities, their singular charm. Looking for a place on the global art scene, Ukrainian art, which now has access to modern artistic tropes, should try to speak about itself, its historical experience, its problems, its mental dimensions that might differ from others. Back to color… I remember how struck I was by the disconnect between the brightly colored world I saw in nature, in interiors of folk houses, in folk art, and the almost-monochrome art we were taught at the institute. I think the early 20 th century, the 1920s brought an important shift in self-perception through art: just look at the Boichuk school, Malevich, Ukrainian avant-garde artists, modernists in literature and theater. This experience cannot be cast aside, but, obviously, you should not imitate it literally these days. You should address this legacy conceptually, so to speak, by looking for your self, your way, your modes of expression. For me, it’s the way of color… In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

Composition, oil on canvas, 125 x 157 cm, 2001 163


The old polemic between abstract and figurative art that ran through the history of painting for over half a century (from the late 19 th till the latter half of the 20 th century) found startling expression in Anatoliy Kryvolap’s landscapes. Inspired by real landscapes of central Ukraine, they offer a sophisticated combination of literary allusions to the works of Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Kotliarevskyi and Taras Shevchenko, folk art aesthetics dominated by bright colors, and the staggering legacy of modernist painting that rediscovered the value of colors, textures and space for art. Therefore, Kryvolap’s works are transformed into “formulae of color,” both stylized and concrete. His Evening Road is a programmatic Ukrainian landscape; in general, landscapes were the dominant theme in Kryvolap’s artistic career since the late 1980 s . Painted in his favorite vibrant palette of warm lilac blues, flaming reds and yellows, it represents a generalized landscape of epic scope, where the view becomes a metaphor for the nostalgic “unity of mankind and nature,” progressively impossible in the contemporary civilized world. Anatoliy Kryvolap’s painting depicts memories about the sweeping meadows of childhood years, a dream about spiritual beauty and equilibrium, “celebration of the native land” that constitutes one of the most ancient traditions in Ukrainian art. Kryvolap gives this tradition new urgency, whereas expressivity and tension inherent in his palette lend it inimitable personal subjectivity, making nature the fact of art. Galyna Sklyarenko

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Evening Road, oil on canvas, 200 x 500 cm, 2011


Evening. Steppe, oil on canvas, 140 x 140 cm, 2008


Horse. Haze Heat, oil on canvas, 160 x 200 cm, 2015

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SASHA KURMAZ

Born in 1986 in Kyiv. Graduated from the Department of Design of the National Academy of Managerial Staff of Culture and Arts in 2008. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Degrees of Dependence (2016, Awangarda BWA Gallery, Wrocław, Poland); The Marble Angels With Bows Were Shaking in Shadows Their Small Penises, Bending Their Bows and Carelessly Laughed at Death (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Method (2016, C/O Berlin Foundation, Berlin); Into the Dark (2016, WUK, Vienna); Lost Youth (2015, Triangle Gallery, Moscow); Zaraz Wracam (2014, NOVA Gallery, Kraków, Poland); Capture (2014, IZOLYATSIA Cultural Initiatives Foundation, Kyiv); After Victory (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Global Activism (2013, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany); Ukraine: Expropriation (2013, Greenberg Gallery, Moscow); Cooperation Territory (2013, 16th LINE art-gallery, Rostov-on-Don, Russia); Ukrainian News (2013, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); The System Of Coordinates (2013, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Partly Cloudy (2012, IZOLYATSIA Cultural Initiatives Foundation, Donetsk, Ukraine); Santorini Biennale of Arts (2012, Santorini, Greece); Ukrainian Body (2012, Centre for Contemporary Art at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv); The Frenzied Urge To Struggle (2011, Paperworks Gallery, Moscow); Bartholomew (2011, 12 Mail Gallery, Paris); Talking Walls (2010, Viuro Gallery, Warsaw); Germ Free Adolescents (2010, Radio Gallery, Milan, Italy); Recusansy (2010, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Graffiti in Focus (2006, Centre for Contemporary Art at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv).

We’ve met on the occasion of the publication of the 25 Years of Presence, a book that represents a certain “cross-section” of Ukrainian art during the era of Independence and gives artists an opportunity to speak their opinions about art, to voice their vision of current difficulties, goals, etc. In a word, this book is a historical document or archive of Ukrainian art over the last couple of decades. Is it comprehensive? Don’t you think many emblematic figures won’t fit into the album? Agreed. But, as far as I know, that wasn’t the goal either. Luckily, contemporary Ukrainian art has so many interesting and diverse artists that you cannot fit them all into one book. Any list of the dramatis personae of our art scene will by necessity be subjective. Who do you think should be added to the edition? I think a “panoramic” view should include more diverse art practices without which our understanding of contemporary art isn’t complete. Personally, I’d like to note the absence of such names as Voitsekhov, Marushchenko, Masoch Fund, Sokolov, the Kopystianskis, Boiarov, and From the Life Without the Sun series, photograph, 30 x 45 cm, 2011–2012 younger artists of the Open Group (Kamennyi, Kleitman, Salmanov, Burlaka, Yakubenko, Kruchak, Tanz Laboratorium). All these artists have to be included in the general context. Otherwise a viewer would get a “line- of course, is a patent falsehood. Once they are invited onto the relevant art up” on the Ukrainian art scene that is not only an incomplete but also scene, it disorients the viewers, and the fact that they are equated to such outright false. artists as Mikhailov, Sahaidakovskyi or Hnylytskyj legitimizes their practice. You are right. But, again, no book could fit all worthy Ukrainian artists I see nothing wrong with this sort of art. It has as much right to exist of the last decades… unless it was a biographical dictionary. as any other sort. Instead we should probably discuss the definition of Then it begs the question: what is the point of lumping artists so diverse “relevance”… It’s a matter of one’s perspective, obviously. In the context, I think that or even diametrically opposed in their goals as, say, Boris Mikhailov and a creative process that is slightly out of step with the present, art out of Anatoliy Kryvolap under the umbrella of contemporary art? It is a legitimate concern. But, since we are discussing Ukrainian art, we tune with its time, experimental, seeking changes, innovations and evolution, can be described as relevant. have to take into account its singular cultural context which differs from Sounds about right. So, the main trends of contemporary art include the European mainstream, and the understanding of “modernity” current the social-critical movement, which analyzes social problems and repin our society. The wide public recognition of Kryvolap is actually quite resents certain underrepresented groups, the analysis and expansion of symptomatic: it seems like his works tell Ukrainian viewers precisely what media space, and explorations of the boundaries of art. Where do you they are ready to hear. Mikhailov, meanwhile, remains less known and even see yourself as an artist in these coordinates? scares off viewers with his painfully honest creative truth and biting social Frankly, I’m a representative of an underrepresented group you’ve mencriticism. You might say that these artists define the diametrically opposed poles of Ukrainian art scene, which cannot be imagined without them. tioned. The only difference is, I have a platform and occasionally make use Regretfully, I cannot agree with you. I think commercially oriented art- of it, allowing myself to speak “from the first person perspective.” This ists distort or twist the real state of things. Their mediocre, purely deco- chance to speak up places me in a privileged position. What is an artist rative, exclusively commercial works are described as relevant art, which, to say in the present-day world that remains divided into the rich and the

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Untitled, intervention in the public space, 200 x 450 cm, 2010

poor, the powerful and the weak, the sated and the hungry, in the world where the interests of capital are valued over those of society? Obviously, “important” is a subjective category, but I have defined a range of questions that are important to me now: what is contemporary culture? Whom does it serve? Who is its intended audience? What is it fighting for? What are its goals? And how do you answer these questions? In essence, my art is an attempt to answer all these questions. It is an honest heartfelt desire for freedom, somewhat romantic maybe, but then, art is the zone of freedom. In an interview, you mentioned interpretations of urban spaces as one of your main themes. What interests you in the life or image of cities? I have to note that urban and, more generally, public spaces are my studio, my stage. First and foremost, a city is a living space, the space that a number of factors had transformed into the site of enrichment for the ruling classes, which had transformed it into the space of coercion. For this very reason, helping the public to get the city back is one of my meta-goals. Don’t you think street actions or art objects in urban sites could also undermine urban spaces? First, you have to define what sort of actions or objects we are talking about. Obviously, a lot of what the government imposes on the city is trite populism or commercialism with no cultural value. These days, cities prioritize the economic and political issues faced by the powers that be and the capital, to the exclusion of the real problems that city residents face, including the horrible uncontrolled urban development, parking issues, visual cluttering of environments, decaying public transport, etc. Kyiv is a dying city. Its urban space aggressively oppresses and crushes human will, transforming it into a soulless biomachine. If it continues at this pace, the space will soon become unlivable. Under the circumstances, a street artist is an activist, a city guerilla fighter. Artwork in public spaces turns into radical social criticism, direct actions, protest rallies or guerilla interventions seeking to increase tensions within the system. We seek to humanize the city! You also work in graffiti. What does this practice mean for you: an opportunity to speak publically, a way to draw your audience’s attention, an intervention in the environment? Graffiti was my first “creative” experience. Strange as that might sound, grassroots subcultural art movements taught me more than the

academy of arts. Graffiti is freedom! It gives you a platform to speak openly, either honestly adopting the tropes of your tradition or, vice versa, undermining it. It is an experience of contextual interaction with your environment. Those were the best years of my life. At the same time, the graffiti community has plenty of problems that pushed me out, including the lack of critical thinking and ignorance of both the mechanisms of power and the social framework of contemporary culture. All these factors contribute to the fact that most graffiti artists either become a fashionable “protest” fetish, a utilitarian commodity, or a decoration for political propaganda. Most graffities and murals in the city amply demonstrate this. What does photography mean for you? Digital technologies had undermined faith in photographs as documents, “truth documented.” What does it mean now? Does it document the artist’s subjective gaze? Does it transform reality? Does it engage playfully with imagery? Or is it something else entirely? There’s little doubt that photography is one of the most dynamic spheres in contemporary culture. Working with photography, or, more broadly, visual images is very interesting. New technologies open ever new possibilities that expand the boundaries of photo space and our understanding of photography. Moreover, you no longer even need a camera: you can work with images that were created before you. More generally, photography is a way of thinking, a critical instrument that allows you to explore social reality with its wide range of problems. So you are an artist with a broad range of interests. You have worked both in Ukraine and abroad. How is Ukrainian situation in art different? Obviously, the international art system is a part of a large political system. The processes in the global political and social space, therefore, are directly connected to the local cultural climate and art scene. Moreover, this system, much like society at large, has its fair share of corruption, competition, under-the-carpet tussles and whatnot. This world is by no means perfect. As to the Ukrainian situation, its most striking peculiarity is the fact that Ukrainian artists, and contemporary Ukrainian art as such, are not at all integrated into international/pan-European art processes. Sadly, Ukrainian culture lingers on the margins of the European culture, remaining in the provincial dead area. Lone voices or shouts might emerge from it, but mostly it’s incoherent mumbling. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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Untitled, intervention in the public space, poster, 120 x 180 cm, 2012

Untitled, intervention in the public space, poster, 120 x 180 cm, 2012

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Untitled, intervention in the public space, graffiti, 2007–2010

Untitled, intervention in the public space, photograph, D-print, 300 x 400 cm, 2013

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ANTON LOGOV

Born in 1984 in the town of Rozdilna, Odessa Region. Graduated from M. B. Grekov Odessa Art College in 2004, and from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in 2010. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Zeitgeist (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Exhibition (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Art Vilnius’15 (2015, LITEXPO, Vilnius); Fest I Nova (2015, National Museum, Tbilisi); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); Climate Control (2014, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Tatlin (2013, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Industrial Eden (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Geo (2012, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Lobotomy, with Igor Yanovych (2011, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Space Odyssey 2011 (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Genofond. Pinakothek (2011, Vilnius Academy of Arts, Vilnius); Distance (2010, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine).

I grew up in the provincial town of Rozdilna in Odessa region. I remember sitting in front of a TV as a 4-year-old and drawing Gorbachev. Granted, I was interested not so much in his role as in the birthmark on his forehead. I like to joke that that moment marks the beginning of my career as an abstract artist. My grandfather, who had taught humanities his whole life, was the only person in the family with any connection to art. He had a giant collection of reproductions from the Soviet illustrated weekly magazine Ogoniok, and I started to copy them. This was my first “museum.” I wouldn’t hesitate to describe my childhood as happy. I graduated from music school first, and joined an art studio as a 13-year-old. It was a conscious choice. Anatoliy Osadchyi, my first art instructor, sent me to Odessa Art College. In 2004, I moved to Kyiv, where new art movements were emerging, so to speak. I knew nothing about Kyiv, so everything that happened to me here encouraged me to express myself. I instantly realized that this is a city of high speeds and broad opportunities. The city intrigued me with its notion of time as a component of reality, its abstract cosmic dimension and social neutrality. For me, conscious engagement with art started when I made the choice to sign up for art school. I made that choice, or, to put it differently, started to develop a long-term, life-long project. I was interested in Impressionism at first. I prioritized my personal experiences and impressions over reality. Later I had a period of Expressionism, abstract art, and tentative attempts to conceptually define my own time. Now I see that all past experiments were instrumental to forming the present me. Of course, I went to Maidan during the Orange Revolution of 2004, but mostly out of curiosity. I had my own revolution at the time, dealing with my personal understanding of art, which ran counter to what we were taught at the academy. I offered works that didn’t fit the program for the 2005 semester overview, and the administration wanted to kick me out, although the USSR had been dead for 14 year by then. I was stunned by their rigidity and came to the conclusion that the revolution doesn’t exist outside your head. Consciousness, I think, is defined by daily self-cultivation. Consciousness is language, the nation’s culture, the museums we lack. Mostly, consciousness arises when you feel the need for self-knowledge. It’s splendid that we can now talk of Ukrainian art evolving. I think it

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will definitely be sovereign and authentic. Ukraine has plenty of talented people to be proud of. I always liked things that exist outside time, possibly hidden from ourselves. They are hard to write or speak about, but they can be expressed visually. Images for me are more important than plots. I cannot say I always keep a viewer in mind: I’d rather surprise myself. Dialogue either will happen, or it won’t, depending on the audience’s readiness to hear what you have to offer. After the events of 2014, my works acquired new urgency. As an artist, citizen and private person, I wanted to reflect on war. I wanted to offer my viewers metaphors that would inspire them for something magnificent and answer important questions. After what happened at Maidan, I’m often reminded that life is stronger than art. There’s no unified trend in Ukrainian art: it either continues traditions or combines several movements. But the promulgation of “non-art” means that it is time to make a selection and single out the best works. Ukraine inspires. It is important for me to be here. This is my mission, because there are people who believed in me here. Of course, I love to travel, to return home with new interesting ideas that could later inspire artistic designs. Freedom stems from our humanity, our views, our actions. I think I’m free, or freed, because I myself am responsible for my actions. I think each artist should either find his or her own time, or stay beyond the boundaries of time altogether. Ukrainian artists Mykola Malyshko and Igor Yanovych, who discuss eternity through the structure of their materials, are a good example of this: their works remain relevant, and viewers don’t find them boring or monotonous to this day. When teaching, I try to understand myself. My students help me to understand what I’m doing and where I’m going. I had long known that communication is the most important thing in art. The works that I would personally describe as a success are installations Another Time (Art Vilnius 2015) and Reincarnation, created for the Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors project. I think that this project about Parajanov’s film was one of the best multimedia initiatives in Ukraine. The idea of Reincarnation was to buy an authentic house in Verkhovyna, dismantle it, move it to Kyiv and reassemble it again, if differently, to convey all the dynamics of the film of the great master of Ukrainian poetic cinema. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska


Another Times installation, Art Vilnius’15. LITEXPO, Vilnius, 2015

The Book of Times installation. Premonition. Ukrainian Art Now project, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2014

Reincarnation installation. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors project, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2016

Arch installation. Hebdomeros project, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015

Moment of Truth installation. Elements of Reality project, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2014

Match Point installation. Kylym project, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ukraine, 2016

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Polyphony. Practice of Changes project, installation, 2015 (Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv) 175


PAVLO MAKOV

Born in 1958 in Saint Petersburg. Graduated from the Crimean Art College, Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts and the Department of Graphic Art of the Kharkiv Institute of Industrial Design. Member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (UK) and a correspondent member of the Ukrainian Art Academy. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Terni Lapilli / Giochi di Guerra (2016, Fondazione Il Bisonte Gallery, Florence, Italy); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); The State of Things (2016, Dukat Gallery, Kyiv); Encounters, with Victoria Vynogradova (2016, Doris Ghetta Gallery, Ortisei, Italy); Margin (2015, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Paradiso Perduto (2014, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Blanket, Garden, Tower, Cross, Fate (2012, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Donrose (2010, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Gardens, Postimperial Disquiet (2007, The Czech Museum of Fine Arts, Prague); Siege of the Pentagon (2004, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); UtopiА. 1993–2003 Retrospective (2003, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Tin Diaries (2002, Groll Gallery, Naarden, Netherlands); Book of Days (2000, Centre for Contemporary Art, Kyiv); Fragments (1999, Municipal Art Gallery, Tallinn); Our Landscape (1998, Soros Centre for Contemporary Art, Kyiv); Waters (1996, Blank Art Gallery, Kyiv); Place (1994, Szuper Gallery, Munich, Germany).

Presence is a late 20 th century notion that became a purely philosophical term. At least this is how the German American philosopher Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, with whom we talked at my studio, uses it. He often visited Kharkiv, and he has a book entitled Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. The book was not well received by Gumbrecht’s colleagues. Some went so far as to say that he would have been better off without it. But for me, presence is a philosophical or, to be more precise, aesthetic category that I continuously work with. In the 1990s, I found it hard to function in the postmodern reality. Everyone worked with meanings. That was the only trend. For me, however, meaning was always secondary, whereas presence was the primary concern; music cannot exist without it, to name just one example. You cannot base anything exclusively on meaning. Presence is the first meaning. First you cannot peel your eyes off an artwork, and only then you look closer: what’s there? Why was it drawn? My social presence is much the same. If my works appeal to you, if they blur personal boundaries, if they answer your questions, I’m present. All my projects, from The Fountain of Exhaustion to, say, The Chronicles of Utopia, treat presence. The thing is, people have not yet grasped the fact that they are responsible for everything that happens to them. The irresponsibility of Soviet and pre-Soviet Russia stems from the fact that people always relied on their daddy the czar who would come and hand them everything. There’s a certain mentality behind that system. Support for the revolution, too, was steeped in concrete mental experience. They toppled the czar, redistributed the goods, and then nobody wanted to do the work. The famine started. In point of fact, the last 3 years of World War II were the most productive in the country’s history, due to the fact that the country’s brightest minds were locked up in so-called “sharashkas” (secret research facilities of the Gulag) and invented things. Everything went downhill from there. Identity. I think that there’s no ethnic difference between Russians and Ukrainians, but they differ in their attitude to private freedom. Ukraine thinks of it more highly because for a long time it was under the power of democratic countries: Poland, Austria-Hungary. Why Holodomor, the man-made hunger of 1932–33? Because the authorities wanted to destroy this mentality of free men. Peasants don’t need the state as such. As long as they have their plot of land, their hens and their cows, they are free and independent. Their interactions with the state boil down to the simple “leave me alone or help me, or else I have my pickaxe, and I can live without you.” Destroying these people was a meticulous plan. This program also touched southern Russia, which still had bastions of Russian Cossacks, who remained free even under czars. Our attitude towards freedom is what unites us now. Now that the country is smaller and less populous, it is easier to come to a consensus. Culture is the skill of living together, respecting differing opinions and estab-

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lishing relations under which these differences wouldn’t obstruct coexistence. Unfortunately, our society includes both those who want to live independently and those who plan to live with a high degree of dependence. This is not about differences in opinion, these are two parallel universes. Society lends art its most crucial element, namely, the drama. The more dramatic life gets, the bigger the impetus for art. The more orderly our life, the calmer our art. Look at Scandinavian art: its drama is often highly artificial. For me, art is about settling accounts with myself. Whether contemporary art can offer society anything is the question best addressed by institutions, of which we don’t have nearly enough. For example, should political unrest start in Toulouse, should they start to destroy museums, it would affect me directly because I have a great affinity for Toulouse culture, it’s a part of my life, I know it. The French make sure that we know it. Ukraine has French cultural centres. Unfortunately, Ukraine is not broadly represented abroad. When our boys die in the East, the French don’t feel it as a loss because they know nothing about us. All our institutions are private, we don’t have state representation. Art is the science of feelings. We always work with them. We should contribute to this science every day. Presence appeals to feelings, senses appeal to minds. Art treats human lives. Human lives always revolve around the same range of topics. Take the 10 Commandments. Why do we feel for Giotto? For Dante’s tragedy? Yes, art might have adopted new technologies, but its two main instruments, coal and brush, have not changed in millennia. And if your instruments don’t change, neither do your messages. But, speaking of such new media as installations or performances, they always coexisted with brushes and coal. What is Stonehenge? Is it just a watch? Or just a calendar? It is a global installation. It is an aesthetic affective construct. And what about public executions? The audience’s breath hitched during decapitations. Art cannot scare you any worse than life. It has its own role. Art does not change life, it helps us to survive it, to change in order to survive life. This makes me think that meanings changed little, it’s only our approach to describing them that has changed. The meaning is always the same: staying human. I fully agree with Italo Calvino that, if Hell does exist, it exists in the here and now. It is a site of our own making, and there are two ways of dealing with it. The first is to get used to this hell and to eventually become a part of it, whereas the second is to do everything to make sure that that which is not hell should increase and multiply. To a degree, this is what art does. Why shouldn’t artists leave their country forever? Because they cannot part from the local context, even when they treat global issues. For example, even when I’m in Italy, I still react to what is happening here, in Ukraine. The street and what happens to me when I cross paths with real life are my main impetus. Life always helps you to grasp something new. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Noughts and crosses II (or grownups games on the white ground), graphite pencil, multiple intaglio, acrylic, paper, 50x50 cm (each), 2016

Noughts and crosses II (or grownups games on the black ground), graphite pencil, multiple intaglio, acrylic, paper, 50x50 cm (each), 2016

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“The presumed life’s journey becomes a real route that winds along well-trodden or not-quite-well-trodden paths, along wrong byroads and ways that seem nearly ideal. It might as well be that our fingerprints map one such path. We follow it not to find an exit but for the sake of movement, passing houses and trees, between the sky and the sea, alone and together with those who meet us halfway, becoming our destiny. Visible landscapes change over time, and who knows if we would have been happier had the maps of our roads been tried and tested beforehand.” MH-PM September 2016

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Garden I. A., multiple intaglio, drawing, collage, acrylic, paper, 121 x 208 cm, 2016


Paradiso Perduto, drawing, repeated intaglio printing, acrylic on paper, 286 x 341 cm, 2012–2014 181


TATYANA MALINOVSKAYA

Born in 1980 in Sevastopol. Graduated from Sevastopol Art School and Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Art. Lives and works in Kharkiv. Selected exhibitions: Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankisk Region, Ukraine); New Ukrainian Dream (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); New Perspectives (2015, Voloshin Gallery, Ukrainian Institute of America, New York); Small Potatoes (2015, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Ridicule (2014, Dymchuk Gallery, Kyiv); Industrial Eden (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Svoboda Square (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Oscillation (2013, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Landscape (2012, Museum of Modern Art of Ukraine, Kyiv); Feminine (2011, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Whites (2010, Gogolfest, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Evening Conversation (2009, Academy Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Women’s Secret (2008, Academy Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Bottega (2007, Art Museum, Kharkiv, Ukraine); 3 (2006, National Academy of Electronics, Kharkiv, Ukraine); March 8 (2004, National Art Museum, Simferopol, Ukraine); Three (2002, Maestro Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); One Day (2001, Art Museum, Sevastopol, Ukraine); Circle (1999, Art Museum, Kharkiv, Ukraine).

WOMEN PRODUCE WORKS THE WAY THEY PRODUCE CHILDREN: ORGANICALLY Ukrainian female artists are independent. They don’t have to worry about earning money, so they create freely. For example, Marina Skugareva has very strong works, she evolves with little regard for commercial concerns. Valeria Troubina is very lyrical. Many, like Victoria Konieva from Zaporizhzhia, create ingenious works without aspiring to a place on the art scene. There is a long list of strong and interesting people who explore their opinions and feelings with verve and panache, without thinking about the commercial dimension that men have to consider. Women produce works the way they produce children: organically. Men, I think, are destined to grueling and responsible work, to competition. That might sound like a stereotype, but men are racers, they are aggressive and want to outpace one another. Women meanwhile are cautious, careful, calm, safe; they prefer to enjoy the process. You have to enjoy your speed, whereas speed for men is just means to outrunning their competitors. We have different goals. The form of this or that emotion or idea, be it a painting, an installation or an object, flows organically from its content. My solo show at the Yermilov Centre featured an installation of rolled silk ribbons under a glass dome. By placing traditional decorations under the transparent dome, we receive an art object, an artwork that is a cross-section of its time. This is spontaneous archiving based on conventional symbols, like Greek emblems. It was a game: I tried to define women’s role in society and the way women change as their career evolves. I made huge silk wallpapers printed with sports symbols or signs of a donor folding into rhythms or ornaments. These were symbols of what we do: sport is a way of life that actively propels both men and women forward. I played the game too, enjoying results alongside my viewers. It was a deep and engaging process that I enjoyed tremendously. Two artists in a family. Artem [Volokitin] does his thing and shows it to me, I do my thing and show it to him. “I found a mushroom! Cool, me too, and I want to find another one!” This is like hunting or fishing together, based on shared passion and mutual trust. I don’t know if it has any parallels. A woman can be both a subject and an object in art. Women often compliment other women. Men preen, women enjoy. This is a deeply personal thing. Some women like being objects, having a director assign them a role or an artist paint their portrait excites them. No woman, no matter whether she’s an artist or not, would say no to being an object, unless she’s a despotic artist. Monument № 8, Artem’s work for which I modeled, was exhibited at PinchukArtCentre. Seeing myself as a monument was interesting. I was in dialogue with the Statue of Liberty, the statue of Motherland in Kyiv,

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with all the large monuments depicting women. With Greek and Roman statues, obviously. It’s natural. We came up with Botany project together; it was mounted in the COME IN gallery. COME IN is a professional gallery that found interesting framing for it. The idea was to find a very traditional and very pretty theme that unites very diverse artists, from Leonardo or Albrecht Dürer to Salvador Dalíor Georgia O’Keeffe. Then we invited Tamara Lempitska, as well as Ukrainian artists Nina Murashkina, Olga Selyshcheva and Victoria Konieva, to engage with this endless and multifaceted topic. It is interesting to trace the differences in approaches: for example, a man would draw a flower straightforwardly, frontally both in the literal and metaphorical sense, whereas a woman would approach it from the inside, as if she were both a flower and a gardener. I liked painting since I was a child. It’s soothing, joyful. I came to art school 3 years too young, at 8 rather than 11, and was accepted. I love to spend time painting. For me, painting is about the process rather than the result, and this is where I differ from Artem. When I was about 30, I realized that I’m an adult and hence should be interested in the result, I should stop being so childish. I started to keep the result in mind and paint 2-meter paintings. Before that, I liked to doodle on walls or scraps of paper… I think my works are divine and perfect. I think they are perfection and the absolute incarnate. And that’s the problem: I think the end result is too perfect to touch. My mind outruns my hands, I come up with more ideas than I would be able to implement. I now need to create something for a show. I have 5 2-meter canvases and 3 1-meter canvases. I could also create 3 ovals, or 5, better yet. I want to do everything, but I’m just one woman. You have to choose. All ideas are strong and could look interesting at the exposition. You’ve got to live with this struggle: leave something for later, do it later. It will find a space later. So you come up with a project or an idea first, and don’t find a space for it until later. I’ve always been lucky. I always find ways to keep myself surprised and impressed, now more than ever. For example, England has very good collections of paintings, you always have something to look at, and I always return inspired. I find answers to many questions, gather materials, write them down, try them on for size, implement what I like, reframe and borrow. This produces a synthesis: I enjoy finding things I like and doing something uniquely my own with them, making a mosaic of reinvented wheels. This is my creative method: I like the look of it, and I’m proud that this is my wheel. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


Evening Promenade, oil on canvas, 200 x 176 cm, 2007–2009

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Traditional Solution, oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm, 2016

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Landscape. Daytime, oil on canvas, 120 x 160 cm, 2010–2011

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MAXIM MAMSIKOV

Born in 1968 in Kyiv. Graduated from the Kyiv State Art Institute. Mamsikov paints quotidian objects, but from an unusual perspective: from bird’s-eye view, in the state of free-fall or takeoff. In the early 1990s, Maxim Mamsikov was an acknowledged leader of the Ukrainian New Wave. Selected exhibitions: ParCommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Giant Balloons and Pocketsize Cars (2009, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); New Ukrainian Painting (2008, White Box Gallery, New York); Long Walk (2008, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Kyiv Winter (2007, Bereznitsky Gallery, Berlin); Ukraine, Forward! (2006, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Beauty Free Shop (2005, Prague); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); First Collection. Ukrainian Art (2003, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Donumenta (2003, Regensburg, Germany); Intervals (2000, Henie Onstad Kunstsentre, Oslo); When Screens Grow Slimmer (1999, Passage de Retz, Paris); Accommodation (1998, U Jezuitow Gallery, Poznań, Poland); Just Painting (1995, Blank Art Gallery, Kyiv); Free Zone (1994, Museum of Fine Arts, Odessa, Ukraine); Suspect Reality (1993, Centre of Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine); New Works of Kyiv Artists (1992, Astoria Gallery, Helsinki); Dead Calm (1992, Kyiv Union of Artists, Kyiv); Artists of the Paris Commune (1991, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv). CONTEMPORARY PAINTINGS GREW FLAT I had a show 25 years ago. It was in 1991. The first show I participated in was a Soviet-wide kind of youth exhibition, for which I painted a large-format painting Spring. The Paris Commune started when I was still an Academy student. As far as I remember, Sasha Klymenko met some businessman who worked in real estate, it seems. He offered us spaces for squats, some with walk-through courtyards, the first was next to the Ministry of Culture. Our first studios were in the neighborhood. All these artists later moved to the Paris Commune. That’s when I joined them. Generally speaking, squats were popular back in the day. The Paris Commune was not the only one. There’s the opinion that Ukrainian art (as a system and infrastructure) has its own trajectory, different from either European or American art. But why bother talking about it? Reality offers no alternatives. It couldn’t have worked out any other way. I’m not complaining, honest. We have an art market of sorts, although maybe it’s not quite a market. I know little about the market, so why would I waste time thinking about it? Ukrainian experience is all I know. Let those who have something to compare it with talk. Me, I have nothing to compare it with. I work with acrylic now. I wanted to try something new. I always worked with oil. Oil is a wonderful medium, but it has its limitations. So does acrylic, but they are different. You change, you learn something new. I might go back to oil later, because it is indomitable. It’s a splendid technique that requires precision and craftsmanship. I didn’t always succeed. I switched to acrylic, it’s a cruder and more forgiving instrument. But once you delve deeper, you reach certain nuances you shouldn’t touch. Bluebells. It all started with black watercolors. I needed money then, and fast. I needed to transfer this work onto something more solid, onto canvas. Then I found the size, I had successful shows in Kyiv and Moscow. It was a success. I’m not trying to change the world. I’m not against it either, but that’s not what I’m doing in my works. What I can work on is the space I’m in. In general, a painting affects the space it’s hanging in. A classical canvas is a painting in a box, not dissimilar from a theatre scene. Classical painting has this element of theatricality. Starting with the 20th cen-

From the Downtown project, clay, acrylic, 2003 186

tury though contemporary paintings grew flat, they are no longer ashamed of being flat. Painting stopped imitating perspective. “I’m flat!” it said. It is an absolutely artificial space that never intersects with the real world. You still have to do something about space, but you can deal with it differently now. I have tried all sorts of solutions in my works. It’s a visual play of sorts. I have never followed the Ukrainian trend for vibrant “juicy painting.” It’s not quite my thing. My professors criticized me for it. They would say, you are not yet 40, you should try something brighter. Still, it’s not my thing. I’m a modest person, I don’t need much. This is why I don’t worry overmuch about market prices for art, and I think it’s normal. Why should you rend your garments? What matters is that viewers should have an interest in your works. And it is there. I have once quoted someone who said, “Art is like a blonde who wants to be both smart and pretty.” Obviously, I’d rather be smart. As an artist, I mean. When I was younger, I was trying to do smart things. But I have more of a knack for bright and festive things. I started in bad painting. Then I thought, fine, I know how to do bad art, but can I do something normal? I tried to make good paintings, and it seems to have worked. People liked them. I developed in that direction. Biruchiy art residency is a very successful image, both flat and voluminous. I often visit it, I like the format. You get to work and hang out with new people. It’s been a while since I saw something interesting in art. The last 20 years or so had been fairly uniform. Of course, some things are more fun. I no longer follow it that closely, but take those books that everybody liked in the early 2000s: Art Now albums from Taschen. They are as similar as Star Wars episodes. They even had the same authors. The same genres: videos, paintings. The same message: our favorite multiculturalism. It’s all well and good, but it’s all identical. It’s not a good sign, I think. But I’m loathe to pass judgment: maybe it’s actually good. Our world has few changes too, although we are going through a new crisis: we now have new Internet money and the new rich. This economic model crashed in 2008. But what is it to us? Artists were, and still remain, an artisanal guild. Personally, I produce paintings. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

It’s Time To Whip Russian Art!, performance, 2007


Shark, oil on canvas, 192 x 192 cm, 2010

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Beach, oil and acrylic on canvas, 130 x 170 cm, 2012

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Naval Combat, oil and acrylic on canvas, 140 x 180 cm, 2008

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OLEXA MANN

Contemporary Ukrainian artist and curator. Born in 1978 in Annaba, Algeria. Graduated from the Department of Painting of the Dnipropetrovsk Art College and the Department of Monumental Painting of the Lviv Academy of Art. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Ergo Sum (2016, Dukat Gallery, Kyiv); Deformation (2016, Sky Art Foundation, Kyiv); Edge of Trust (2015, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); A4 (2015, Biennale of Contemporary Art, Vilnius); Practice of Metamorphosis (2015, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Ukraine Extra Ordinaire (2015, Slow Galerie, Paris); Experience of Solidarity (2014, Fulbright Foundation, Chicago, USA); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Theory of Reliability (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Stand with Ukraine (2014, Gateway Art Centre, New York); Bacteria (2013, NT-Art Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Industrial Eden (2013, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kyiv Сontemporary Аrt (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); One of N (2013, Detenpyla Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); 12–12 (2012, Kyiv-Moscow-Novosibirsk); Kyiv Сontemporary Аrt (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Chav Art (2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kyiv); Ukrainian Young Relevant Art (2010, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kyiv); We Are Not Outsiders (2008, Kraków, Poland); Versus (2004, House of Architects, Kyiv); Youth Art Festival (2002, Lviv–Kyiv); Silver Square (2001, National Museum, Przemyśl-Debrecen–Košice–Lviv); Solo Show (1998, Lalka Art Club, Lviv, Ukraine); Solo Show (1997, Yarosvit Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine).

Presence is about living honestly and doing what you find important. That’s your presence. As to my country’s presence, some believe that its presence in the world is not random. When the good old Europe calmed down and retired, thinking that it will just chill on the sofa, Ukraine reminded it about revolutions. The Ukrainian revolution started as a struggle for the European choice, a rebellion against the revival of Soviet values that were being shoved down our throat. Ukraine is facing an uphill battle with Russia, a giant, old and experienced predator who wanted to swallow it whole. This sickly anti-system requires concerted united efforts. Ukraine showed Europe that you cannot sleep when the enemy is at the gates. The world might also take note and productively adopt the interesting phenomenon: in times of crisis, when the state apparatus was paralyzed, the Russian army was grabbing our land, and the leadership of our state, army and security services were corrupt and recruited by foreign secret services, Ukraine produced an unparalleled volunteer movement that stopped the enemy. It was a parallel state based on horizontal ties within the rotting oligarchic structure. I grew up during the Perestroika, and all these processes informed the world of my childhood. Previously unknown books, movies and art trends became accessible. The first shows exhibited collections that had been exported to the West. Everybody’s social status was changing. The meek inherited the earth. The transformation produced a vortex that whirled and brought up a lot of scum, pulling many shell-shocked and unprepared people under. Many good people found themselves on the margins. The powers that be were sidelined by new protagonists. New hopes often gave way to depression. I saw it all. Granted, I have spent a part of my childhood in another country, where I went to school. Having returned with

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a different mentality to a late Perestroika Soviet school, I saw that I just could not accept certain things. I don’t accept them to this day. Despite chaos, hopes and dreams were in the air in the 1990s. The Noughties, marked by ostensible stability and bourgeois style, were dominated by disenchantment and cynicism. That how I’d put it. I feel much freer now that I have learned to put aside the unnecessary and the superficial. It’s been a struggle, but I’m learning. I think I’m good, or at least good for my age, at calibrating my mind to reach equilibrium. It’s like tuning an equalizer to get the best sound. A single model does not exist because there’s ongoing progress, and each new experience expands our boundaries. For me, unity means cohesion. Cohesion presupposes autonomy. Autonomy, meanwhile, presupposes individualism. This is the unity of opposites. What had changed in me as a man and an artist? I always wanted to become more playful. I’m gradually developing self-irony. Or at least I hope so. I cannot do without, given that I work in borderline anthropological studies. What is culture and do Ukrainians approach it effectively? Culture is the thing that most people can happily do without, without ever considering whether they approach it right. That’s regardless of the country they live in. Contemporary art and Ukrainian society exist in parallel dimensions. It’s like a stone and a mirror. They only ever cross paths and interact if someone hurls the stone at the mirror, or if the mirror falls on the stone. Even the most learned men fumble when trying to see what happens in these cases, what meanings they give one another. This is the singular and interesting national specificity of these mutual influences. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


It’s Not the Right Time for It, from the Renewed Man project, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 100 cm, 2016

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Altar of Chavness, from the Chav Art project, acrylic on canvas, mixed technique, 120 x 280 cm

Portrait of the Era, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 2010

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Lucky Boy, from the New Anthropology project, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Illumination, from the New Anthropology project, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

The One Who Thinks With His Heart, from the New Anthropology project, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

M-84, from the New Middle Ages project, acrylic on canvas, mixed technique, 100 x 100 cm

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MYKOLA MATSENKO

Born in 1960 in the village of Prutivka, Ivano-Frankivsk Region. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and Lviv State Institute for Applied and Decorative Art (now the Lviv National Academy of Arts). Co-founder and member of Natsprom art group (with Oleg Tistol). A painter and photographer, he also creates installations, sculptures and performances. He lives and works in Cherkasy and Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Ukraine. Transformation der Moderne (2015, Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art, Vienna); New Perspectives (2015, Voloshin Gallery, Ukrainian Institute of America, New York); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Our Kin (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kraków, Poland); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Neofolk (2012, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Riadom/Prochez (2011, Docks en Seine, Paris); Roses & Grapes (2010, Regional Museum of Art, Cherkasy, Ukraine); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Glory to Plakhta (2009, Proun Gallery, Moscow); New Ukrainian Painting (2008, White Box Gallery, New York); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Buy Ukrainian (1998, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Ostry nawrot dekadencji (1997, U jezuitow Gallery, Poznań, Poland); Schweizergeld (1996, Szuper Gallery, Munich, Germany); Lebensmitte (1995, Christoph Merian Stiftung, Basel, Switzerland); Stepy Europy (1993, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Kosyi Kaponir (1992, Kosyi Kaponir Museum Fortress, Kyiv). ART DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE BETWEEN THE LIVING AND THE DEAD 25 years might be a mere moment in global history, but it’s an entire era for new Ukrainian art. These years mark its exodus from colonial cultural bondage towards absolute creative freedom, both as a nation and on the individual level. Fortunately, fine art, unlike, say, industries or even theater, was “easy on the uptake.” Independent of bureaucracy and infrastructure, it did not require major investments or changes in industry standards to depart from Soviet norms. Hundreds of years as a stateless nation allowed folk art to put down strong roots, which fostered a cultural renaissance. The moment this treasure trove could be accessed without censorship or, more crucially, self-censorship, everything went back to normal. This explains why our art entreed the global scene so organically and almost painlessly the moment Ukraine gained independence. Now we see that Ukrainian art is congruent and competitive globally, despite its low budget, which is not necessarily conducive to the production of contemporary art, and certain dissonant, if not outright anachronistic elements. I was lucky to have started my career as an artist, somewhat belatedly, in independent Ukraine. I came of age as an artist when we gained Independence; I somehow wasn’t in the mood to paint during the Soviet era, although I had good professional training, more than sufficient cultural background, and an understanding of my desired trajectory. To put it slightly differently, I could write, but my words never fit into a poem. Neither school teachers nor institute professors would ever describe me as “the hope of Ukrainian art” or “a young genius,” but I was lucky to have a good school and institute friend. Constant communication with Oleg Tistol inspired me. We co-founded the NATSPROM [National Industry] program and collaborated on several large projects under its aegis, Kyiv National Building Company, acrylic and oil on canvas, 180 x 60 cm, 2008 194

addressing banal aesthetic stereotypes and adapting them to the criteria of contemporary art. This did not preclude us from doing “solo” projects. What always worried me was how blurred the term “artist” was for the broad public. The majority believes that anybody who can draw is an artist. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues are of the same opinion. You could equally describe anybody who can write as a writer. I’m happy that during the last 150 years From the Neofolk project, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm (each), 2011–2012 cameras took on the function of visually documenting the events, and artists were left to do their job and explore the world. Some explore color, some texture, some the social or cultural aspects of reality. I chose the role of an artist who’s also a cultural anthropologist or archeologist. I explore the cultural layers of my own background, digging up now a Turk scimitar, now a Ukrainian incunabula, now a Scandinavian axe, now a Chinese phone, now a Trypillia pot with Hutsul ornaments. I meticulously handwash them, bring them to a boil in my head, let them simmer and put them on clear canvas. I don’t like to follow existent recipes or borrowing vegetables from somebody else’s garden. I cook borsht and pierogi, and I doubt if anyone has much interest in Ukrainian sushi, Ukrainian pizza, Ukrainian cognac or Ukrainian Pollock, Rothko or Rauch. I hardly ever paint from life (I’ve had more than my fair share of that during my school days), and avoid visual props. I draw not shovels or axes but my understanding of these objects, not traditional ornaments but my childhood memories of them. I like to construct reality from imagination. I’m just a link


Armored personnel carrier. From the Buy Ukrainian series, orgalite, oil, felt-tip pen, 180 x 360 cm, 2004

in the long chain of continuous artistic tradition. Once you understand that, you no longer waste your time and energy on copying existent phenomena. Hence, off with visual quotes or straightforward representations of reality. As to earlier generations in Ukrainian art, we had plenty of forebears, both great, talented, self-sacrificial heroes and treacherous talentless hacks. We had Archipenko and Malevich, and we had those who went at their works with axes. I try to keep in mind the former and ignore the latter. I admire the younger generation of intrinsically free people. There are no clear boundaries between generations. Moreover, I think art doesn’t discriminate between the living and the dead. All members of the cultural process flow in the same continuous stream. Obviously, art affects society, but it does so slowly. It represents soft power devoid of imperative mechanisms. But it already has tangible results, I think: many aesthetic forms that were unacceptable for the masses until recently no longer provoke condemnation or aggression. Drop by tiny drop, we are wearing away at this stone. The last quarter century saw many changes in our culture. First and foremost, culture mostly lost state support. I don’t see that as a tragedy. A cat that goes unfed is more fit and is better at catching mice. Jokes aside, we do not have the resources for large-scale art projects.

We cannot afford the scope of Gormley, Kapoor or Quinn, so we have to make do with oil paintings or “small forms.” But then, great things have small beginnings. I’m an optimist. Meanwhile, we make do. Heaven forefend someone erects a 30-yard high Cossack in downtown Kyiv over Dnieper instead of the Soviet-era Statue of Motherland. Unfortunately, to the extent that the state supports anything, it prefers projects of this sort… But complete artistic freedom is the most crucial change. You can no longer make excuses saying that you wanted to do this or that, but you were prevented. You bear personal responsibility for your work and your fate. Despite bureaucratic inertia and the reactionary forces trying to take revenge, our country saw many rapid changes over the last 2 years. The Ukrainian nation finally started to think of itself in political rather than ethnic terms. We see civic society and political nation emerge. Social and cultural initiatives proliferate. It’s sometimes sad to see how three steps forward warrant two steps back. But we are moving in the right direction. I don’t doubt it, and I believe that our sacrifices were not in vain. I believe that in another 25 years Ukraine will be a regional leader in the global cultural process. We have all the prerequisites for it. We shouldn’t squander this chance. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Book Is a Source of Knowledge, acrylic and oil on canvas, 165 x 200 cm, 2007

Power of Knowledge, acrylic and oil on canvas, 160 x 200 cm, 2012 195


The Natsprom duo of the early 1990s, which united Mykola Matsenko and Oleg Tistol, was not so much an alliance as an ideological and aesthetic program describing the works of both artists, including even their solo projects. The key themes the artists addressed included the issues of identity, interpretations of historical experience and its incorporation into ongoing cultural processes, popular stereotypes and mythology. The artists have offered several explanations for the title “NatsProm,” including “national crafts” (natsionalni promysly in Ukrainian), “national industry” (natsionalna promyslovist in Ukrainian), “national promotion,” and more. The NatsProm produced personal creative explorations that could hypothetically result in brand art products that would organically synthesize the specificity of national culture and represent it in the global context. The artists’ propensity for irony and mystifications does not undermine the gravity of issues they addressed in the early 1990s, in the early days of Ukraine’s independent statehood, when its cultural space was at the nascent stage. Most of these issues remain divisive to this day, provoking historiographical debates and becoming instruments of political and ideological manipulations. In appealing to emblematic historical events and legend-shrouded figures, the Natsprom was creating its own myth, rife with semantic nuances and paradoxical juxtapositions. In considering Ukraine’s place on the European and world map, the artists conducted historical studies of a kind. One of their conclusions suggests that, as the result of its protracted statelessness, Ukrainian history is partially inscribed in the histories of present-day Russia, Poland and Turkey, which had vied for influence on this territory. This explains why the works of Natsprom often featured characters like Atatürk, Peter the Great or Józef Piłsudski. Created in the style of the New Wave, expressive and baroque Piłsudski treats the momentous occasion of the signing of the Treaty of Warsaw between Piłsudski and Petliura. Its disastrous consequences for Ukraine had made the latter a highly controversial figure. The figures of protagonists are repeated and cut like fragments of an endless report. Its horizontally stretched proportions and the text cutting off at the beginning and the end serve as a visual metaphor for cyclic history, comparing it to a frame in an endless tape that runs in circles. Natalia Matsenko

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Pilsudski. Natsprom (M. Matsenko, O. Tistol), oil on paper, 248 x 576 cm, 1993


H2O, acrylic and oil on canvas, 200 x 320 cm, 2009


Culture, acrylic and oil on canvas, 200 x 160 cm, 2008

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BORІS MIKHAILOV

Born in 1938 in Kharkiv, he has spent most of his life in the city. An engineer by training, he became active in photography in the late 1960s. Laureate of the Coutts Contemporary Art Award (1996), Albert Renger Patzsch Award (1997), Hasselblad (2000), Kraszna Krausz Photography Book Prize (2000), London City Bank Photography Prize (2001), Spektrum (2013) and Goslarer Kaiserring (2015). Selected exhibitions: Collection (2016, Tate Modern Gallery, London); Ukraine (2016, FОАМ, Antwerpen, Belgium); Borіs Mikhailov: io non solo io (2015, МАDRЕ, Naples, Italy); New Collection (2013, Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland); Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (2012, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Waiting Time (2012, Berlinergalerie, Berlin); Case History (2011, МоМа, New York); Poem on the Inner Sea (2007, 52 th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); At Dusk (2006, Victoria & Albert Museum, London); Cruel + Tender (2003, Tate Modern Gallery, London); Case History (2001, Saatchi Gallery, London); Case History (2000, Frans Hals Museum, Netherlands); Borіs Mikhailov. Retrospective (1998, Stedlijk Museum, Amsterdam); Borіs Mikhailov. Retrospective (1996, Kunsthalle, Zürich, Switzerland); Borіs Mikhailov. Retrospective (1996, George Soros Art Centre, Kyiv); New Photography-9 (1993, MoMа, New York).

MY PHOTOGRAPHY IS LARGER THAN ME. I’M NOT CALLING THE SHOTS. THEY ARE CALLING ME. At present, Borіs Mikhailov is one of the most recognizable artists of the post-Soviet space. Boris, Henry Moore, Max Ernst, Gerhard Richter, David Lynch, and Baselitz had been awarded the Goslar Kaiser Ring. Would you say that the prize opens new opportunities? Nothing but a job well done can open new opportunities. The prize is important in that it draws up the balance of your career, in a way. You’ve been busy at it for a long time, and now it is celebrated and recognized as valuable. There are still ongoing discussions: what kind of a photographer is Borіs Mikhailov? Is he a true artist or an impostor, a provocateur or a serious scholar of society? Some might say, see, he documented underground communities in the Soviet times, and photographed the homeless in the 1990s. He shows our dark side, and is rewarded for it in the West. When I was young, I knew photographers who worked, and work to this day, in art photography whose main virtue was its beauty. They always had support; their aesthetic matched the popular demand and was better received. Most everything I did can be described as “a challenge to public tastes,” I developed this aesthetic of debauchery. I think that my stance in social photography was the main, or even the only critical strand in Ukraine. My colleagues and me started from the same place, each chose a direction, and time will tell whose ideas were more important. The prize announcement stated that you received the award “for documenting the Soviet and post-Soviet life.” The general description said something about the prominent contribution to art and lifetime achievement, but that sounds true enough. I started to compile my photographic “luggage” almost 50 years ago, and I dragged it up like a mountain climber, never losing faith in its importance and never stopping defending it. It wasn’t until the early 1990 s , when the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine emerged, that there came demand for my works. I can say that my past was eventually legitimized. My old, Soviet-era works and the new ones are selected for museum exhibitions. It all started in October 1991, when a show at Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh) included Borіs Mikhailov of Kharkiv, Ukraine, among other artists I did not know at that point: On Kawara, Christian Boltanski, Bruce Nauman, Loise Bourgeois … Your stunningly original Layers show has caused a stir at several European shows this year. Yes, last year a series of layers (Yesterday’s Sandwich), a slide show set to music by Pink Floyd, was exhibited in the masters’ section of the

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Frieze Art Fair in London as one of the 15 important methods discovered in the last century. Shelved for 40 years, these works were created in the 1960 s –1970 s . Well, “shelved” isn’t quite the right word, because I kept working with this material. For whatever reason, I thought that what I was doing was important. It encouraged me to work on and champion its significance. You may say that that was my first series: it helped me to recognize myself as a photographer. What I did then differed from everything I’ve ever seen. I added two slides to a frame, like a sandwich. These unions produced a series. I showed it as a slide show set to music by Pink Floyd. The shows were unofficial. The country’s most prominent critic yelled that as long as he lives, this will not see the light of day. Then, in the mid-1970 s , this slide show helped me to get my wife interested in photography and make her follow the art and myself. Vita is my life, we work together and win together. The Berlin-based museum curator Udo Kettelman, who introduced me in Goslar at the Ring award, wrote a rather interesting article about the series, entitled “The Dark Side of the Moon.” He thought that it made manifest the difference between the “European” and “Eastern” mentality that the post-Soviet space contends to belong to. Kettelman sees the roots of this mentality in Dostoevsky, whose protagonist kills only to repent, and the pangs of consciousness destroy him. The West does not have this exorbitant self-criticism: once the protagonist has come to the decision, he just shoots. Our scenario deals both with murder and with doubts, this is torture without end. The images of the series treat inherent ambiguity, constantly uniting the opposites. For example, Stalin and a naked woman… You once defined photography as “reality’s mass culture,” as opposed to painting, “the ideal’s mass culture.” Quotidian life not informed by imagery is the subject of photography. That which is not figurative is life. In my opinion, the imaginative explores facets of fantasy whereas photography documents what was really seen. 90% of artists base their utterances not on what they saw but on photographs. Photographers meanwhile have to roll up their sleeves and go looking. I have to see, feel and shoot. This is the difference between photographers and artists. Photography is what you have seen, what was. But taking a photograph is no guarantee that you will get an artwork. It often happens that you shoot and shoot with no results. You hardly ever predict the next move. You just have to watch life happen. I can say that I sometimes succeeded. For example, for last year’s Par-


Requiem. Medical History, 1997–1998

is Photo, which opened on November 10 and closed right after the terror attacks, I exhibited a 2-meter photograph of myself in wires, with my face covered by black cloth, hiding behind a shield with a cross and a crown of thorns. I entitled this picture The Defender of Christian Values. The show’s organizers saw this work as a premonition of the tragic events in Paris and told me that they were deeply impressed by this startling coincidence. What about the early years, before the 1990 s? You still have shows and sold works, right? The 1990s marked the beginning of capitalism. Times were tough for many. At the same time, they brought the feeling of unparalleled freedom and opportunities: you could think differently without hiding, you could work freely and speak up against stagnating official museums. I had the first shows in Ukraine and the first trips to the West. State ideology no longer controlled and policed us. The visual heroes of Soviet propaganda lost their position. In the early 1992, I created my series I Not I as the declaration of the new emerging antihero, the opposite to what existed previously. Action art became an important dimension of my creative experiments. We organized a creative group that responded to political changes (Fast Reaction Group, which initially united me, Vita and Sergiy Bratkov; we were later joined by Sergiy Solonskyi). I created the series If I Were a German (1994) challenging stereotypes and voicing desire for Western life. The 1990s saw 3 crucial series that, I think, were the best chronicles of the transition period in the entire post-Soviet space. 1991 — In the Earth, a brown, toned-down series showing everything (the state, the city, the man) in decay and ruin. 1993 — At Dusk, a blue toned-down series that made me think about war. 1997 — Case History, a series about the homeless, a significant swathe of those who exist outside society and no longer even have shelter. The series documents the period when all hope for help is already gone. Pinpointing the ongoing changes in life and finding formal tropes for documenting them were my primary preoccupation in these series, the Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino (treating the Noughties and describing the new era of small business), as well as in the later series Industrial Space and The Theater of War. In 2014, you organized a show about Maidan at the Saint Petersburg Biennale Manifesta-10… I first found myself on Maidan in mid-December 2013, when nothing much was happening. Frankly speaking, I saw something like a market. I was invited to Manifesta before that, in October. For me, Saint

Petersburg is the city of revolutions. I kept thinking about Alexander Block’s poem “Twelve:” “The wind, the wind! Blowing across God’s world.” So I find myself at Maidan and take pictures that resonate with Block. And then it all boils over. Therefore, the June show was based on materials shot in December. By the way, a Ukrainian flag stayed in our hall throughout Manifesta: I put up a large-format photo of a student wrapped in a flag. I was trying to understand who was there, who staid at Maidan. For me, it was important to offer a social cross-section of the place. I hope I managed to document the key types: a student, an idealist, a homeless man, a middle class woman, a naïve high school student, men itching for a fight… I also took pictures of fires as a premonition of the conflagration to come. As an artist, you have to know when to stop. The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen paid a high price for describing 9/11 as a great work of art. By the way, speaking of visuals, the street clashes on Instytutska Street during Maidan protests were the strongest TV footage globally after the attack on Twin Towers. What we were shown was, roughly, a war. It needs no metaphor. Each shot, each picture was a metaphor of such pain and strength… The works for the show were an attempt to grasp the roots of this war, its background. Is coming up with something new, say, your own method, sufficient to earn a place in art history? I don’t think so. First, you have to discover something really new. Second, you have to always reflect on life. Photographs are social. There are also many other contributing factors. I don’t think there’s a method for creating great artworks, especially in documentaries. Each new historical era brings new challenges, and old methods stop working. We have to find new ways to creating a photo icon. Capa’s photographs were one such icon. A great artwork is often defined not by your method but by something unique that seldom depends on your skill. I also think that people, both photographers and their viewers, are easily bored with the inexhaustible, and that works against any method. A method is repeatable, and thus undermines greatness. I eventually came to realize that photography is a way of perception. Your personal knowledge is much smaller than what you can grasp through it. You have to always strive for new knowledge. You have to seek, evolve, reach beyond. My photography is larger than me. I’m not calling the shots. They are calling me. In conversation with Roman Yusypei

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Times change. So does public interest. How would you describe each stage in these changes through free associations? I think you can do it by looking for a “picture” that would reflect “the here and now.” This search is my primary goal as a photographer. I would look at my project Industrial Zone (2011) through the lens of this search. They say that we have not built or rebuilt anything over these 20 years… that our country earns money from exporting steel and chemical ingredients… I wanted to see and shoot industrial regions, and I would like to express gratitude to the IZOLYATSIA Foundation of Cultural Initiatives for this opportunity. You can also grasp “the here and now” by comparing technologies. I sometimes look back on photographic series by Bernd & Hilla Becher shot in the 1970s that appear to document the ending of a technological process. They photographed ostensibly perfect objects that became outdated and stopped working. For me, they are a celebration of outdated technology, the celebration of the dead harmonious technology. Our factories were outdated during the late Soviet times, but they kept working, and still work… Leafing through my photographs, we are transported back to the 1920s –1930s, when the factories were being built. And it’s also our present. Intuitively, as if by chance, I combined some shots with ellipses, and this frame brought them closer to Cubist paintings, all the Picassos and Braques: another throwback to the past. Of course, I tried to document and photograph something new, but I don’t yet see it very clearly against the tide of the past. The new is still too amorphous to become characteristic of its time. We are still crossing the train tracks the way we did in our childhood days.

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Industrial Zone, 2011


Twilight, 1993 205


ROMAN MIKHAYLOV

An artist, painter, author of installations, video and media projects. Born in 1989 in Chuguev. Graduated from the Department of Painting of the Academy of Design and Arts (Kharkiv). PinchukArtCentre Prize nominee (2015, 2017). Winner of the best installation prize at the UK/raine competition for emerging artists from the UK and Ukraine at Saatchi Gallery in London. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Event Horizon (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Stolen Flight (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); PinchukArtCentre Prize (2015, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Special Project DIALOGIA. Ukrainian art in times with no name (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Manifesto. ІV Odessa Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015, Museum of Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine); Decompression (2015, Beaubourg Centre, Church of Saint-Merri, Paris); Theory of Reliability (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Guilt (2014, NonStopMedia 7, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Elements of Reality. IX Art Kyiv Contemporary (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Self-Government. ІІІ Odessa Biennale of Contemporary Art (2013, Museum of Contemporary Art, Odessa, Ukraine). At the present stage, we are trying to figure out who we are. We cannot move forward unless we figure out our identity, because we won’t have a base to lean on. I see that Ukrainians are rooted in the land. Land as a symbol of tradition, continuity and heritage is an important part of our self-understanding. We were forced to think differently for a long while, and this process was destructive of our identity. I’m only interested in the theme of migration within the present context. The theme does not concern me personally, I don’t have experience of internal displacement or exile. It touches me as a member of society that faces this problem. I carefully observed this process that emerged way before the war started. For example, I had friends who were forced to leave Kharkiv after the current mayor, Gennadiy Kernes, was elected. Many people were forced to emigrate from Russia as Putin’s dictatorship consolidated. I know and feel their stories. They affect me as a person and an artist. The project Shadows, which won a prize at the Saatchi Gallery in London, stems from my 2014 graphic works. After the annexation of Crimea, I painted a series of black silhouettes of ships on paper in India ink. An installation of charred planks was the next step. I created sculptures shaped as ships, and then charred them. The loss of naval fleet is the first association. But for me as an artist, the theme of migration and displacement, memories and experience of loss implicit in the project is much more important. Ships hanging in the air symbolize those who were forced to leave their land. Of course, some might say that the problem of migrants in art is speculative at best, millions artists all over the world engage with it, there are countless grants. But, on the other hand, I don’t get how the migration crisis can leave people cold and unaffected, how it can not produce essays or manifestos. Some might say that it’s commercial, but let’s be honest: these days, anything can be commercial or speculative. Art no longer discriminates between underground and commercial. A work can be either deep and good or profane and superficial, regardless of its subject. Most importantly, an artist has to be honest in broadcasting the events in society that is largely alienated from the most pressing issues. An artist cannot afford that luxury. The older generation is visibly traumatized by the Soviet era, pushed into certain boundaries. But the time of change has come, you’ve got to understand that. I look at some people and see that they are excluded from the current processes. The last couple of years saw a clear differentiation between

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those who want to change something and those who don’t care. Our country’s subsequent course depends on how many people will take a stance and become fully present. I think contemporary Ukrainian art is competitive. We need to show it. Most official Ukrainian events in Europe end with diaspora coming to feast on traditional food, listen to folk songs and ogle traditional embroidered shirts. There are also many private initiatives seeking to present contemporary national culture. But there’s no cohesive strategy. In the 1990s, Ukrainian art developed important cultural codes. The last couple of years saw strong projects and meaningful utterances. I’m reflecting on changes that happened in Ukrainian art over the course of its 25-year presence. I treasure communication with those who were an active part of art processes of the late 1980s — the early 1990s, like, for example, Arsen Savadov, Oleksandr Soloviov, Victor Sydorenko, Oleksandr Roitburd. Until 1991, the country officially had no accessible contemporary art. There were underground phenomena that the broad public didn’t notice. I’m speaking of the period that started as early as in the 1930s. And then that country collapsed, and independent Ukraine saw the proliferation of names that, I think, became very prominent in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine made a strong entrance onto the stage of contemporary art. Freedom in art means doing what you want the way you think it needs doing, and being happy with the result. You can do any number of outlandish things as an experiment or a challenge without fully adopting them. Freedom for an artist means being able to show what you like personally, and being able to change when you deem it necessary. Once a work reaches an exhibition and the dialogue with a viewer begins, the artist is no longer present in the process. Granted, our public has somewhat belated reactions. I don’t understand the roots of its aggression towards contemporary art. Maybe it stems from the absence of schooling or necessary background. With the Internet, books and open archives of the best museums from around the world, everyone can make sense of contemporary art. Everything else is just excuses. Even if someone faces financial hardships, that doesn’t mean they can just ignore culture and leave museum or gallery visits for later, “for better times.” In this sense, I see no difference between an oligarch and a teacher subsisting on minimum wages. Everyone has to develop, cultivate curiosity and try to understand the contemporary culture of their country. Globally speaking, culture is a huge swathe of heritage. Contemporary culture is what is happening now, what we do here and now. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Fragility, object, paper, author’s technique, 550 x 500 cm, 2015

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Radif. The Last Child, installation, metal from freight wagon, video, Azov sea water, 2015 (PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv)

Stolen flight, paper, ink, 270 x 160 cm, 2016 (Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ukraine)

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Shadows, sculptural installation, burnt wood, metal, 700 x 500 x 300 cm, 2014 (Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv)

Spirit of Freedom, installation, paper, author’s technique, 2014 (Church of Saint-Merri, Paris)

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ROMAN MININ

Born in 1981 in the town of Dymytriv, Donetsk region. Graduated from the Kharkiv Art College and Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Art. Shortlisted for PinchukArtCenter Prize (2013) and the Malevich Prize (2016). A painter and graphic artist, he also works in street art, photography, objects and installations. Lives and works in Kharkiv. Selected exhibitions: Miners Folklore, As a Keepsake (2016, CCA M17, Kyiv); Identity. Beyond the Veil of Ambiguity (2016, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art, Kraków, Poland); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Exhibition of 20 PinchukArtCentre Prize nominees (2013, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Ukrainian News (2013, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); The Plan for Escape from Donetsk Region (2012, Palazzo Cantagalli, Foligno, Italy); Collective Dreams (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); If / Esli / Iakshcho. Ukrainian Art in Transit (2010, Art Museum, Perm, Russia); Dreams About War (2010, VovaTanYa Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Gogolfest (2009, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Art Manege (2008, Moscow); 27th Miniprint International of Cadaques (2007, Taller Galeria Fort, Cadaques, Spain); Ukraine-Wide Exhibition Commemorating the 60-Year Anniversary of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine (1998, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Regional Exhibition of Donbas Artists (1996, House of Artist, Donetsk, Ukraine). PUSH TO OPEN 25 years are an endlessly long period spent many years learning the plastic in art history. Even 5 years can change tropes of monumental decorative art, the scene from the ground up. Take the which, like many other world languages, last 5 years, for instance… The world is disappearing. I’m a speaker of a disapchanges twice or thrice over a quarpearing language, so of course I would like to make it newly relevant and find ter century. The speeds are increasing, it new interesting uses. everything develops at exponential pace, and I cannot even imagine what awaits Once you look at the context, you us in the close future. “Nano-contemunderstand why you created precisely porary art”? Experiments with body and the works you needed. Many ignore this soul? In all likelihood, future art will deal question altogether, but I think the answer with virtual reality. In any event, the lies in the context. We all lived in different regions and places. Our different cirpotential of virtual reality with expand, whereas human imagination will remain cumstances and experiences informed as limited as ever. our works. What did we have in comThese 25 years offered us the best mon? Other than the context and adventures, I think, we shared the experience and possibly the last opportunity to live of survival. through the entire history of painting, Mantra, concept for representing Ukraine globally, 2016 starting with grinding your own paints, I would like to go 20 years back in s the most primitive ancient tricks of the trade. In the 1990 , we could time with this project and this entire company. There were no cultural not even imagine that we’d have digital cameras. We couldn’t imagine policies then, no goals to form a cultural layer, never mind consciousthese possibilities! In those years, buying supplies was so hard that you ness. Art was not used as an instrument, although it should have been. had to make everything yourself, starting with canvases and stretch- It’s an instrument that exists in time, and you have to wait 5–10 years ers. I even made my own brushes. In a way, that was the good thing. before you see the result. The bad thing was, we wasted copious amounts of time on mastering We know perfectly well what we were before, so we might draw some unwieldy primitive technologies, covering the entire course from prehis- conclusions for the future. Maybe we’ll have enough smarts, resources tory of humankind to contemporary art. Then came the advent of digital and power to create development programs once we collectively decide technologies and the Internet. Watch me, who once walked with a club what is it that we really want, and find common ground. It’s not a one and swaddled in furs, dis- man’s game: you need cuss virtual reality, integra- movement and synergy to tion of the ancient genre change society’s chemisof monumental and dec- try. If we all push on this orative art into enhanced door, it will swing open. reality, and whether con- I think these last years temporary technologies did make us realize that could help it find a new you have to push to open. life. I couldn’t even dream You should try to give peoabout that. Maybe I will ple more rather than shovabandon this understand- el everything your way. We ing of the genre in a cou- kept pulling. Some would ple years’ time, but I find break off the handle and it valuable for now. I have shove it into their pockTo Mine or to Drink?, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm, 2007 210

Shiva-Shmiva Dances, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 cm, 2008


I can feel the protagonist of my et. It took a while to realize that we had to push. works change. He used to be an These days, everyone keeps authentic severe Christian, a spiritalking about identity. Ukraine is tual warrior defending eternal Christian values and concepts of this tiny actively addressing the notion of the region. I celebrated miners as icononational idea. There’s this misconception that you can replace the national graphic saints, an ideal, archetypidea with traditions. It doesn’t work al mankind. Now he can transcend like this: traditions are the past, and past boundaries. He is becoming the past cannot be the national idea. a gladiator, a magician, a spirit callThe national idea is about building the ing forth something new. My current future, not about something you saw protagonists are bringing light rather yesterday. The national idea has to than mining coal. They crawled out be grandiose, it has to offer an ecoof their mines and became heroes nomic plan, a place in the global sociof data mining, mining data in the ety, the explanation of who we are. data sea. In a way, finding the data you need in the large corpus, too, is I’m not talking about pseudo-unique a trade that requires craftsmanship. things, but about our natural uniqueness. It’s a long way. In any event, We were too lazy to pay attention the road we walked over the last 25 to one another, and now the chickyears was a road to ourselves. In part, en are coming home to roost. We the events happening in the country thought it was someone else’s job. Holy Rockets, bas-relief, foamcore, digital print, author’s technique, 123 x 92 cm, 2015 now drew global attention, and we We had no program for being open saw that we are a part of the world. We are starting to grasp our posi- to one another. So, speaking of a program for the future, I hasten to add that we should be open, at least to the growing generation. It deserves tion because there are others around us. I saw the coal industry change over these 25 years. We all saw it, nurturing care if we want it to be united around a shared idea. It’s anothI’m just talking about myself because I had an interest in this topic. Over er task for us as society and artists. We should give them reasons to these years, the coal industry had outlived its welcome, it’s departing from communicate. This book will show what we did and how we united people over these 25 years. history. It’s taking an entire genre with it, and you’ve got to acknowledge that. The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we will change and I would like to thank those who started this conservation, to thank restore new order in society. This procedure will be very painful, and my them for this book. It’s somewhat like a diary or those “questionnaires” personal goal is to use art to explain this idea of transformation from the we filled out in school. Diary is a form of love for life. Those who valpast to the future to the people, and to alleviate some of the pain. I cre- ue life value art and creativity as the most intense expression of love for ate miner fairytales to record it for posterity. In a way, it’s an ongoing life, desire to make life as diverse, good and unique as possible. This is chronicle of our times: some contribute to it wittingly, some unwittingly. what artists seek to do. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Meaning of Miners’ Toil, bas-relief, foamcore, digital print, author’s technique, 30 x 174 cm, 2015 211


The Plan for Escape from Donetsk Region, bas-relief, foamcore, digital print, author’s technique, diptych, 194 x 265 cm, 2015

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Carpet of Promises, bas-relief, foamcore, digital print, author’s technique, 197 x 277 cm, 2016

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ZOYA ORLOVA

Born in 1981 in Kyiv. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Comprehensive Art School in 2000, and from the Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in 2006. Member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine since 2008. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: 36 Months… (2016, Museum of the History of Kyiv, Kyiv); Event Horizon (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Unknown Persons (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv / CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Vacation (2013, Muzychi Art House, Ukraine); 21 Points (2012, At Instytutska Gallery, Kyiv); Just Painting. New Ukrainian Figurative Art (2012, Art Kyiv Contemporary, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Space Odyssey (2011, Contemporary Art Week, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Pictures Manager (2010, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Substance and Temporality (2010, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Lost in Translation (2010, At Instytutska Gallery, Kyiv); Children’s Verandas (2010, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv).

I LIKE LARGE FORMATS, I HAVE TOO MUCH OF A PERSONALITY TO FIT IN SMALLER FORMATS In 1993, when I was little, my parents bought a house in the Cherkasy Region, in central Ukraine. Of course, quite a few artists lived nearby: Victor Ryzhykh, Galyna Neledva, Oleg Zhyvotkov. Sasha Zhyvotkov would drop by with his young daughter… He once visited my parents and told them that there’s this school in Kyiv known as T. H. Shevchenko Comprehensive Art School. My parents knew nothing about it. Sasha said, “I think she should apply.” This is how it started. Had he not dropped by then, I probably wouldn’t have studied at that school. Do you believe that everything is predetermined? What is to be, will be. I think the most important thing a school offers is a community. It’s your nest, your hotbed. I went to school in Kyiv. My mom is from Leningrad, a Russian speaker. Of course, having spent 30 years in Ukraine, she understands Ukrainian, but she doesn’t speak it. My father, a teacher of Ukrainian literature, speaks the language fluently, but to show support for mom our family speaks Russian. It so happened that I speak Russian. But language, verbal signs are not that important for me: I think in visual images. Playgrounds. You might say that it is an old project. But it’s recent for me, it’s still relevant. In my life, everything happens organically. I celebrate things that irritate me. I don’t worry all that much about the things I like. My parents live in the Voskresenka part of Kyiv, that’s where I went to kindergarten. All these Soviet-era standardized 5-story houses, bricked-in windows, grates, all those bunnies and squirrels painted on walls, the asphalt: I’ve been drawing it since childhood, without a pause, this theme came to me. I’m drawn to these attempts to prettify children’s spaces: they do

Unknown Persons, oil on canvas, 100 x 200 cm, 2016 214

what they can, and when paint starts to chip away, they give it a hasty paint-over… These horrifying, monstrous images are a readymade artwork, a chronicle of heart-rending pathologies. And these sites proliferate all over the post-Soviet space. Curiously, these bunnies and rhombuses are ubiquitous. So are these tiles in toilets, at bus stops, at train stations, everywhere. I don’t understand how some people can work on a project, feel it, experience it, and forget it the moment it’s over. And start on a new one. I don’t get it. You live with it, it follows you everywhere… You cannot just step over it and move on, or at least I cannot. Some things change: your materials, your expressive tropes… You search for a language. It’s strange if an artist refuses to try everything. I will always love oil. I studied at the Department of Conservation at the Academy. When I graduated form the art school in 2000, I didn’t know where to apply. I was thinking about monumental painting: I like large formats, I have too much of a personality to fit in smaller formats. My parents said, “Do whatever you want, but you should learn a trade.” Parents in all families want their child to learn a trade, a craft, something down-to-earth. I agreed. My parents have icons, so, practically speaking, yes, they have a point, I should learn a trade, there are things that need conservation at home. I learned what I needed, but not a breath more. I wasn’t among the nerds who sat there morning to night. I spent every free moment painting. I often paint in watercolors and gouache, but that’s not quite it. Generally speaking, I love many materials, but oil is another story altogether. Granted, it became a costly affair. My uncle lives in Saint Petersburg.


Art Project Tango At the Funhouse, Contemporary Art Research Institute, Kyiv, 2016

He always supported me and brought me oil from a Petersburg factory, paints and tubes. It was cheaper there. We went there every year, I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Petersburg. The theme of letters comes from childhood too. My grandma wrote me letters. It was very important for me. I think my canvases are letters. I’ve had this thought for a long time. This is why I never kept a diary, I think. Do you know what painting is? I don’t. I’m still thinking about it. Yes, obviously, I studied it, but I don’t know what it is to this day. I don’t know what’s a contemporary artist. Our living contemporary? Contemporary tropes? Self-expression? It’s nice when you have someone to discuss these processes with. My dad and me keep analyzing things, I think it left a mark on me. Strangely enough, while I studied at the Academy, I didn’t discuss anything with my colleagues. Dad said that, before the Internet, there was the dearth of communication, books, information, so people would gather at studios. Now we are all left alone with this black hole, alone to soak it all up. This global dumpsite could take you anywhere, so you’ve got to learn to find a way. For me, an artist is a very broad term. It covers writers, musicians, philosophers. You can express yourself any way you like. The art of war, the art of cooking. Some come up with new meals when inspiration strikes them! We are all of us artists. I wish I could show you my archive, my photo archive. My mother is a photographer and an archeologist, she traveled a lot, documenting burial mounds, burial sites. My grandfather, Semen Orlov, died in WW

II under Leningrad. He was a photographer, so I think that’s where my mom’s got her genes. They were very poor, but he collected postcards. Imagine this tiny room, a table with a crochet tablecloth, a bed, and that’s it. And a reproduction of Rembrandt’s Danaë on the wall… As an art college student, my mom bought postcards. My parents have this crazy collection. The first thing my mom gave me when I was little was a Smena camera when she bought herself a Zenit. I was mom’s apprentice. We would spend nights crouched over tubs with developer solution in our kitchen… It was staggering, like an awesome mystery. In the morning you would have a bathtub full of water with photographs floating in it, all sorts of photos. Mom would hurry off to work, so glazing, hot-pressing and drying them was my job. I don’t get photorealism, painting from a photograph. Why would you do that? You can just take a photograph. I don’t get why one would literally copy a photograph. We have to record everything, or else our children won’t have any heritage. What will they read, what will they watch? I think we have to chronicle every last thing. I think documentation is very important. Thirty-Three Artists. The pictures are toned-down, but that was the idea: the text speaks for itself. I would like to thank Kostiantyn [Kozhumiaka, director of ArtHuss publishing. — I. E.] who published it. It was a real gift that they published the catalogue Folk Dolls. Folk Dolls From the Collection of L. Orlova and O. Naiden. For me, it was deeply personal: books were my best childhood friends, I even developed an allergy to book dust. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

From the Snowflakes series, oil on canvas, 200 x 400 cm, 2013 215


Tachycardia, oil on canvas, 200 x 190 cm, 2012–2016

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Espresso, oil on canvas, 200 x 190 cm, 2014

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SERGIY PETLYUK

Born in 1981 in Ivano-Frankivsk. Graduated from the Department of Monumental and Decorative Painting of the Lviv National Academy of Art. Lives and works in Lviv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Ukrainian Cross-Section. Transformation (2016, Triennale of Ukrainian Contemporary Art, Wrocław, Poland); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); PinchukArtCentre Prize 2015 (2015, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Х Art Kyiv Contemporary (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); 15 Media Art Biennale (2013, WRO Pioneering Values, Wrocław, Poland); Week of Actual Art Biennale (2012, Lviv, Ukraine); PinchukArtCentre Prize 2011 (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Week of Actual Art Biennale (2010, Lviv, Ukraine); Non-Stop Media (2009, Festival of Youth Projects, Kharkiv, Ukraine).

MEDIA ART AS A BRIDGE OVER BARRIERS Sergiy, you work in media art and new technologies. What appeals to you in these practices, given that you started out in abstract painting? Media is not a goal in itself. It’s not a symbol of the fashionable, relevant or cutting-edge but an instrument and means of expression in art. I eventually realized that the norms, laws and rules of painting limit me and don’t let me fully implement my ideas. This inspired me for the search that continues to this day. Zone of Direct Influence, 4-channel video installation, 2015 Breathing, video installation, 2010, Lviv Palace of Arts I think new technologies are a better fit for the themes, images and issues that concern me, and their tropes by the functioning of society and humans within these boundaries, and are a better match for my outlook. Maybe I will eventually discover that attempts to transcend them. I work with several aspects: human physmedia art as an instrument is no longer enough, and I will turn to other iology and urban physiology are explored through large-scale corretropes and media. spondences and formal structures that express the interplay between Your works are rather diverse. Your interactive “wall manuscript” Cross- the emotional and the social, the particular and the general… Most of your projects were created outside Ukraine. How has your expeword in Lviv (2008) was included on the list of the most unusual European art objects, you created video installations Clone Me Gently (2008) rience abroad affected your works? In point of fact, most of my projects were created in Ukraine, but preand Untitled (2015), which won the Saatchi Gallery prize in London, you had the Dayton video (Empty City, 2011)… What is your main theme? sented abroad. The reason lies in the fact that, unfortunately, our art instiDo you think your works have a recurring motif? tutions, galleries, museums and art centres are not oriented towards “nonMy recurring themes include barriers, borders and taboos. I treat traditional” art. Many are unprepared to mount these works. The project is personal, social, political, cultural, physical and other stereotypes that over before it began for really trite reasons: institutions don’t necessarily inform communicative norms and affect human expression. I’m intrigued have projectors, monitors, computers or what have you. Everything’s much easier abroad, where nobody would be scared off by a lengthy technical rider of a project. I should note that Ukraine had recently started to change too. The presentation of my project Boundary of Understanding in the Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal in Kyiv in 2015 was a good positive example. It was a 10-channel installation. Its preparation and realization was a real technical challenge, but we did it. As to my experience abroad, it has mostly been positive: I realize my ideas, show them to viewers, receive feedback and get a chance to see the works of other artists from all over. It enriches and inspires me as an artist. By the way, how do you see your viewer? Whom do you imagine? Are you upset when a viewer misunderstands your works? I don’t divide viewers into “my viewers” and “other viewers,” into those who are prepared to grasp my works and those who are not.

Boundary of Understanding, installation, mixed media, 2015, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv

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Primitive Manipulation, installation, mixed media, 2016, Kharkiv Municipal Gallery, Ukraine

I think my works can be read at several levels. My viewer is an ordinary person. Sometimes baffled, sometimes aggressive, sometimes apprehensive or perplexed, he or she thinks and tries to understand… The search for “perfect understanding,” however, has little appeal for me. I don’t think it is possible or desirable to create something that would be interesting or accessible to everybody. A new work is “formed” and complete once I realize the idea that I have been contemplating from the very beginning, once I receive moral, intellectual, visual satisfaction. If a few of my viewers share my ideas and feelings, it had not been in vain.

Untitled, video installation, mixed media, 2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv

You once said that Ukrainian art is contextually connected to global art. What are the signs of that? Ukraine is a part of the civilized world, more or less. Therefore, Ukrainian art and culture are also parts of the world, to an extent. Of course, we have unique experience and local specificity, but there are

no borders in culture and art. No matter what Ukrainian artists do, their art is an inalienable part of the global context of the time. How would you estimate the current cultural and art situation in Ukraine? I don’t think it differs from the situation in other spheres in the country, from politics and economics to science and education. Institutional chaos on the state level, the state’s disinterest in culture… Art remains a “private matter,” an alternative to consumerism, which has become a new official program. Private institutions and initiatives, however, had started to evolve and inform art life. They might be the future… Sergiy, you live and work in Lviv, among ancient architecture, in a fairly traditional community, and create cutting-edge art. How does it feel to be a contemporary artist in an old city? Indeed, Lviv is an ancient city, an openair museum. This makes it largely conservative. There are few galleries of contemporary art or art centres. But over the last couple of years a fairly strong circle of young artists has started to emerge, working in nontraditional art. Festivals of contemporary art, including the annual Performance Week, had affected the city’s “art climate.” Obviously, this is not enough. My life hack for surviving as an artist in Lviv’s silence is to occasionally “flee” Lviv, either abroad or to other Ukrainian cities. Breathing different air helps you to live and work without a fear of stagnation. What would you recommend to young artists who are just starting out? The key advice for young artists would be to keep faith in themselves and in the chosen path, to live through hardships and work under any circumstances. To read more, to watch more, to analyze more, to avoid thoughtlessly copying old models. The world of art is huge and fast-changing, and we shouldn’t fear the shifts. We should try to understand them and find a place among all this diversity. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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Tolerated Violence, video installation, mixed media, 2016


YURIY PIKUL Born in 1983 in Kyiv. Studied at the studio of the artist Yuriy Sorokolietov in 2002–2003, and at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture starting in 2003. He dropped out of in 2005. As a painter, he worked in realism, cubism, minimalism, and keeps experimenting with different styles. A member of the MMM art group. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Our Kin (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); To Sad Residents of the Earth (2013, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Vinyls (2013, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Ordinary People (2012, At Instytutska Gallery, Kyiv); LiftArt (2012, as part of the project of CCA Poshuk, Kyiv); Torn Necklace (2010, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Things (2010, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Restart (2009, Sea Art Terminal, Odessa, Ukraine); We Are No Worse Than the Rest (2008, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv) Art Moscow (2008, Central House of Artists, Moscow); Oats March (2007, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv).

I WANT TO BE MINDFUL In the years since our country got independence, several generations changed, political and social shifts occurred, and new trends emerged. First the state independence brought political freedoms, access to information, and emancipation from many taboos, which sparked creative energy. The subsequent generation leaned towards criticism, political art and art activism. It was somewhat more aggressive. Initially, the prospects seemed bleak, whereas art institutions and the market were virtually absent; life was tougher, and the hardships drew artists together. They formed tight-knit communities on less pragmatic principles. Now we have discrete interest groups. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t mingle, it’s hard for me to tell. In any case, there’s a clear trajectory there. My parents didn’t come from the artistic milieu, I’m an outsider. When I started out in 2002–2003, I had neither a community of my coevals nor the Internet, although I did have a PC; I had nothing. I approached contemporary art from the blank slate. I would frequent Kyiv galleries and discover something new about Ukrainian contemporary art almost weekly. It was often a shock, because my family collection consisted of albums like the Tretyakov Gallery, The Hermitage Museum, Levitan or van Gogh at most. I was often impressed by shows. Art was happening in the here and now, right in front of me, vibrant, expressive. My friend Dima Kornienko and myself would sell our pictures at Andriivskyi Descent, right next to Karas Gallery, which we often visited. The strongest initial impetus, the first shock was the show The First Collec-

From the ZBV series, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2014 222

Head With the Inner Part Sliding Out, from the Nothing Changes series, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2014

tion on the 2nd floor of the House of Artists. Dima and me went together, we were struck by it all, it was very interesting. I visited that show one more time. It was in 2003. That started me on the course towards contemporary art. I signed up for a class at the Academy of Art that very year, but soon realized that something was off, these were two very different arts. That art was bright and vibrant, whereas here these stuck-up men told me to draw plaster casts. I wanted to learn the craft, so I continued with the course at the Academy. I did not fall under its sway or charm, which many describe. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to side with that other, living art; that was what I wanted to do. Proclamations about the death of painting are voiced all the time. By and large, painting, I think, is being pushed out into the sphere of interior decoration. I would like to suggest this slightly awkward allegory: there’s a war, soldiers rush across the field of flowers, and you stop for a second to admire the flowers, but the war is still raging. Painting is like flowers: no matter how much you admire it, that is not the point. You can no longer address relevant issues through the tropes of painting in the world that became faster and more complicated. There are new tropes and methods. Painting can remain a personal practice that helps one to evolve and search for personal truths. I have no desire, say, to work with a computer, that’s not my thing, but I am considering abandoning the flat world of painting in favor of spatial objects. I think


A Policeman Under a Fir Tree, oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2013

that’s what I will eventually do, but I’m dabbling in painting for now. I want to be mindful. You might work in painting, but you’d better be aware of its history, of the trajectory of contemporary art, of its changes and chronology. Philosophy is a part of it, as are many other things. You have to be aware of all that, and to approach painting mindfully. In any event, your paintings will be in dialogue with some existing movements. If your works are reminiscent of someone else, you best be aware of that. If you are doing something similar to what Frank Stella did, you should understand why minimalism emerged, what were its roots, what made it disappear, what it evolved into, what came later. Mindfulness is important for me. When I’m with my colleagues, I feel as if I jumped onto a soccer field with a tennis racquet and yelled, “Friends, I’m here to join you!” I’ve had this feeling for a while now. What amazes me the most is that I’m still invited to some shows. Someone must think that I’m worth inviting, meaning that I’m worth something. I hope I’m not just “the best of the worst,” the first to be invited once they see that they have too few participants. [Laughter] Self-resistance is an inherent element of my works. At a certain stage, you inevitably turn against yourself. You might be doing something with passion and dedication, intensely focusing on the process. But then new people or information entre your life, and you are forcibly shaken out of your earlier state and plunged into something new. They show you what you did from a new perspective. You see everything in a new light and

From the Forest Belt series, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2015

try to escape it; in order to evolve, you have to depart from the past. As long as you cling to the past, you cannot grasp the new. I dread falling into a rut, becoming recognizable, finding a style and clinging to it, because I treasure the feeling of discovering something new, the childish joy; but you have to be aware of what you are doing. Once you look at what you are doing disinterestedly, you see who your cohorts are, and you want to take a step back and move forward. I want to get smarter. I’m discomfited when I realize that I don’t understand something, but I feel no shame admitting it. I care not so much about saving face as about understanding more and evolving. It’s really tough. I don’t know if art can change the world, but it does change the society it belongs to, the society it was created in. Art is not a direct impact instrument, it works slowly and obliquely. There’s little doubt that it matters a lot for the nation or any community. I cannot say that art only responds to events, but I wouldn’t say that it sets trends either. I think art evolves and proceeds apace with its era. Take modernist era for example. Communism, fascism and other modernist projects evolved in concert. Collective mentality or humankind at large are made manifest in everything, including art. For me, art is a way of reaching equilibrium. I am my primary preoccupation: life isn’t easy, and art as a spiritual practice helps me to preserve my integrity. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

From the Forest Belt series, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2015 223


A Merry-Go-Round of Happy Hopes, oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm, 2015

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Chromatized Karina, Size 1,5, oil on canvas, 100 x 140 cm, 2014

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VLADA RALKO

Born in Kyiv in 1969. Graduated from the Department of Easel Painting of the Kyiv State Art Institute. Her works demonstrate that art cannot be divided into “feminine” and “masculine.” Unlike western female artists of her generation, who engage with post-feminist ideas, Ralko rejects contexts and represents “art for art’s sake.” Selected exhibitions: Art School (2016, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv): Fantasy. Reality (2016, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv): Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystestkyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Lest The Two Seas Meet (2015, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw): Shelter, with Volodymyr Budnikov (2015, Chervonechorne Gallery / Mystestkyi Arsenal, Kyiv): T. H. (2014, T. Shevchenko National Museum, Kyiv): Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); The Ukrainians (2014, DAAD Galerie, Berlin): Independent (2011, Mystestkyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Paper Wars (2011, LITEXPO, Art Vilnius, Lithuania); Military Sanatorium (2009, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); School Wool (2007, Moscow Biennale, Central House of Artists, Moscow); Sliding (2006, Ya-Design Art Centre, Kyiv); Pink Strong (2005, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystestkyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Chinese Erotic Diary (2004, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Donumenta (2003, Regensburg, Germany); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Girl, Nymphette (2002, Rebelminds Galerie, Berlin); Etchings (2001, In den Gerbgruben Gallery, Burgenland, Austria); Čimelice Castle (2000, Centre of Contemporary Art, Prague); Better Times (1997, Tadzio Gallery, Kyiv); Treasures of a Forgotten Country (1995, Lincoln Centre, New York). VLADA RALKO: ART AS PERSONAL RESISTANCE Vlada, your career as an artist coincides with the years of Ukraine’s independence. You graduated from art school in 1987, studied at the Kyiv Academy of Arts, had successful exhibitions and critical acclaim… Nonetheless, the drama of human existence remains your central theme, and the challenges of human existence often reach tragic pitch in your works. Does this stem from concrete circumstances or from your personal tragic outlook, which can be very productive for art? The early years of my professional life coincided with the collapse of the system, which, I think, was more of a gift than a hurdle. I studied at the Republican Art School during the last years when it was still training students for state commissions. It was assumed that we would become “soldiers of the ideological front.” I came very close to dropping out of the Art Institute on the third day of classes. It’s hard to take the institution seriously if, having discovered that I had little respect for Socialist Realism in my private works, a professor of drawing challenged me, “Living a double life, aren’t you?” Those were the death throes of Socialist Realism. The system could no longer control or influence artists. For my final project, I prepared a series of paintings in the vein of Italian Neo-Classics instead of a traditional patriotic work. Professor Puzyrkov raged and gave me an F, but the others weren’t cowed and made the point of giving me straight As. This little episode amply demonstrated that the times were a-changing. I have 13 years of classical academic art schooling. Besides craftsmanship, it instilled in me hate for officially-sanctioned art. The Soviet model presupposed that art should follow strict rules. Coercion and the learned habit of resistance were an important part of my schooling. The rules of our so-called “school” dictated that all depicted objects should be coerced into adherence to the “one true” representation model. Human bodies had to adhere to certain standards too. In later projects, I would occasionally engage with standardized heroes of the Socialist Realist era in new contexts (the project T. H. of 2012– 2014, Red Sun, Heavy Skies). I believe that everything that happens around us — political and social events, complicated processes of national self-determination, what-have-you — “passes through the body,” making it Drawing for the Military Sanatorium project, mixed media on paper, А4, 2009 226

both personal and general. So, the theme of humanity. No matter what else might be happening in art, no matter how twisted its paths, no matter what creative languages it might adopt, humankind remains the most important, and the most complicated, of themes. In your works, the theme of humankind is always conceptually dominant. What would you describe as its most important aspect? I was always interested in people, that is, in bodies branded by a system (primary by the Soviet system, because I bear those brands too). I was interested in how society’s repressive mechaUntitled, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm, 2003 (From the Common Man project) nisms act on bodies. A complete multi-faceted person has to be whittled down to a system’s subject, which always implied coercion. I was always fascinated by that which resists generalities and the system that violently codified and thus simplified human existence. I depict bodies of post-Soviet people: no longer required to be ideal social “units,” they are still abashed by their imperfections and the devaluation of ideas that once nurtured them. Weaknesses, faults, imperfections and traumas always fascinated me more than the fake optimism of triumphalist heroes: these unique and changeable signs mark difference and become a rift through which truth might entre. These scratches or traumas show how a real person could merge with an idealized silhouette. I always cared, and still do, about wounds or deformities resulting from one’s disconnect from the system, and those are made manifest in traumas. “Diaries” are your recurrent format. They are a way of tracking, analyzing and documenting your emotions, circumstances and reflections. What do these “diaries” mean to you? Are they just a formal trope that allows you to unfold a “narrative in pictures,” or are they a private confession, a reflection of the private world? It’s hard to pinpoint the form and degree of authorial presence in The Chinese Erotic Diary (2002), School Wool (2007), Should Be (2007) or The Kyiv Diary (2013–2015). Obviously, these are imaginary diaries in which I just “playact” first-person narration. That said, this quasi-personal narrative allows me to unmask social, political and mental differences, peculiarities and shifts. Although my “I” is present in the “diaries,” they are not about me, obviously.


From the Chinese Erotic Diary, watercolor and ballpoint pen on paper, А4, 2002

Let us go back to one of your first series, The Chinese Erotic Diary. First exhibited in Kyiv in 2002, it caused aesthetic shock: the public was unprepared for images of fragmented human bodies, stunning perspectives, explicit and physiological imagery. It was not about erotic images. The series was primarily about the tension between divergent national, cultural and political models, about the lack of cohesion in our Weltanschauung, about the pressure of social stereotypes, about the disconnect between the internal and the external. In The Chinese Erotic Diaries, the trope of bodily fragmentation hinted at trauma, and represented the lack of cohesion in superficial visions or memories. In the Kyiv Diary, which I began with the start of the events at Maidan, I interrogated bodies from a different perspective: the events unfolding right under our very eyes, and then in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, were absolutely eloquent. Traumatized or burning bodies were both metaphors and reality. Many drawings document literal reality speaking through the events of the time. The yearning to live, fight, lose and die was a concrete human project coming to life right under our eyes. I drew what I saw, what I heard on the news. I drew the mixture of rumors, hearsay, fears, myths and premonitions. Which art events in Ukraine were formative for you as an artist? Head in the Morning, acrylic and felt-tip pen on canvas, 160 x 100 cm, 2009 (From the Military Sanatorium project) I remember the early s 1990 , when many Kyiv halls started to mount large-scale exhibitions of the new free art. They were a breath of fresh air after suffocating shows at the Union of Artists. We were frantically making up for the lost time and filling the blank spots. Feed the Cat by Oleksandr Hnylytskyj or The Yellow Room by Oleg Golosiy flash before my eyes. During the student years, my friends and I would go to the foreign literature library. Its reading room stocked foreign journals on contemporary art. Library books and journals usually had a small log on the last page, listing the names of those who checked them

From the Kyiv Diary, watercolor and ballpoint pen on paper, А4, 2013–2016

out before you. I often saw familiar names, including Hnylytskyj… We were starved for information: you might find books about classical avant-garde in libraries, but the current goings-on in world art were much harder to track. Lately you have been collaborating with the artists Volodymyr Budnikov and Oleksandr Babak. What do these projects mean for you? I have never worked in a group previously. For me, it was more natural to “slip out” of all organized systems, to stay outside currents, to avoid clear definitions, to stay on my own. Our joint projects, first with Volodymyr Budnikov, then with Budnikov and Babak, started not so long ago. Granted, our shows with Budnikov (Heat in 2011, Poet’s Shelter in 2014, Shelter in 2015) united two independent artists who reflected on certain shared themes, but our projects with Budnikov and Babak (and the curator Valeriy Sakharuk) had a joint plan and theme. The three of us are fairly different, we belong to different generations and have different perspectives. We watch our shared themes evolve through time, but each of us has his or her own timeline. Even in joint projects, we work separately and independently, rendering any chance of mutual influences impossible. Everything we do share stems logically from our differences, and this is how events happen. Our country is going through tough times. How do artists feel? How would you describe the role of artists in the present cultural situation? Every society is tempted to manipulate values and fill the blank spots left after social shifts with something conveniently inoffensive. The state is trying to back art into a corner yet again, so artists have to resist. There’s nothing new about the situation. For as long as I remember, collaboration with the state had always been considered indecent, irreconcilable with freedom of speech. Independent art finds itself almost outlawed yet again in present-day Ukraine. In Soviet times, any encounter with the state could have repercussions for the artist. These days, artists are just ignored or used, much like before, as a “smokescreen” for the West: their works demonstrate our ostensible adherence to contemporary cultural trends. The important things attained during the Maidan protests are lost, we are going back to the beginning… It seems like there are two countries: the dependent and the independent Ukraine. Should the state remain Soviet in essence and imitate independence instead of fighting for it, its artists would have no choice but to fight for and defend independence. Artists are backed into the role of incomprehensible, unpleasant or difficult aliens. I think the present-day Ukrainian situation, when almost every event reveals a global problem, grants power to some artists, to the very few. I don’t think we should expect a renaissance of art under the circumstances: the state does not understand artists’ role. “Official” art projects initiated by state institutions are as bogus as Soviet art. When an artist says something truly important, the state ignores it outright. But an artist is Ukraine, especially now, when identifying as Ukrainian is a meaningful choice. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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…Vlada Ralko’s works are instantly recognizable. Their style, dominant formal and plastic tropes, and the very “model of representing the world” were formed in the early 2000s, and since then the artist consistently developed and elaborated them. Most of her plots are essentially referential and, moreover, autobiographical: they stem from her impressions and the surrounding world. Her unique creative perspective transforms conventional natural forms and grants them unexpected meanings. “I was always drawn to the disconnect between the internal and the external,” the artist said, “to the ambiguity and illusoriness of the visible. I start working with the most banal form or gesture, destroy it where its logic appears too artificial, wander the ruins and eventually rebuild the form from anew… My exploration of the subject presupposes ruination, an explosion, something akin to emancipation. I despair, not managing to grasp both the internal and the external at the same time…” Her large-format canvas Hydroelectric Station depicts a real landscape: a beach next to the old hydroelectric station on the river Psel by Shyshaky village in Poltava Region. In summer, this picturesque spot turns into a noisy beach swarming with dozens of swimmers. In Vlada Ralko’s work, however, this world brims with unexpected drama and inner tension. Deformed human bodies in the water and the dark sky pregnant with thunder tell a very different “story:” not about carefree summer vacations but about something else entirely, something that lurks a step away from becoming real, something no normal eye can see. Created in 2014, during the tragic events in eastern Ukraine, the painting documents the sense of foreboding that swept the entire nation. The artist depicted anxieties and hidden dangers, as if proving right the well-known adage that “a painting resists the flow of time, hence resists death.” Galyna Sklyarenko

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Hydroelectric Station, acrylic on canvas, 230 x 480 cm, 2014


News, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 100 cm, 2015 (From the Art School project)


Sleep!, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2015 (From the Shelter project)

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VINNY REUNOV

Born in 1963 in Kyiv, he graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Co-founded The Forceful Aspect of National Post-Eclecticism with Oleg Tistol. In 1989–1991, he worked in Moscow, and was a member of Furmanny Lane and Trekhprudny Lane art groups. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists and Panton Chair (2014, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Miracle About George and the Dragon (2007, with Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Dust-Cover (2006, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Working Exhibition (2004, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Power of Art (2004, Art-Strelka Gallery, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, The Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Currency Exchange Rate (2001, Soho House, London); Mercy (1993, At Trekhprudny Lane Gallery, Moscow); Sea of Vodka (1991, At Trekhprudny Lane Gallery, Moscow); End of the Millennium Art (1991, World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland).

The “widely unknown” artist Vinny Reunov makes a point of balancing between mass and elite culture. His biography as an artist is tied to such global cultural capitals as Kyiv, Moscow and London. In the 1980s in Kyiv, he co-authored the programmatic text The Forceful Aspect of National Post-Eclecticism with Oleg Tistol. Its key idea was to make national discourse an object of creative studies, and to reframe creative tropes, art history and the very foundations of painting. In 1988, he moved to Moscow, where he worked at the Furmanny Lane squat. In the early 1990s, he was the director and curator of the Moscow gallery at Trekhprudny Lane (with Avdey Ter-Oganyan). His exhibitions include: Mercy and The Sea of Vodka (Gallery in Trekhprudny Lane, Moscow), End of the Millennium Art (1991, World Economic Forum in Davos and the National Gallery of Iceland in Reykjavík), Humanitarian Aid (ICA, London), A Tour of Moscow (London Film Festival). Presence? In primordial bouillon, we crawled our separate ways, only to flock back together as a civilization now. Once all civilizations become one, we will recognize ourselves in the mirror. This disconnect, and a new connection, are important constructs that have not yet been fully developed by classical humanities. Every end is a beginning, everything is built on macro-centrism and micro-centrism. Ukraine is the last rung on the civilizational ladder of Roman culture. It is pivotal for the global cultural intrigue. There is no Ukrainian art, but an absence, too, is a possession. There’s this notion “global art” that allows us to discuss local matters. It is a fairly classical matrix used by contemporary philosophers. Every artist has to suggest his or her own life program, but only if he or she is intellectually mature. These days, “to be an artist” no longer equals “to paint.” There are few artists in art; conceptual art swarms with toffs who dress up as artists.

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In the classical definition, an artist is a person who is a step ahead of time; harmonizing the situation is an artist’s function. Society selects a group of misfits and entrusts them with life navigation. Do I think that I’m above society? Good question. After all, this reality brooks no equilibrium: everything is either above you or below you. Few let themselves be artists: you’ve got to be strong, and not obsessed with consumerism. Creativity is very repressed in present-day society. Individuality became a label. I believe that society at large strives for comfortable life. And we cannot live comfortably unless we are surrounded by comfortable people who are similar to us. There are two opposite opinions now: that society has no influence on artists, and that it does. My art is what you might do in prison. To broadcast values, you have to be friends with your equals. Collages are my preferred form, like words. Words are a collage too, a new language, a new Shakespeare, what we are doing now. Music is a direct irritant that does not require reflection, but once you merge it with literature or, say, poetry, you will get a single archetypal language. I’m mastering a new genre that unites mass culture (mass-reproduced objects, that is), the Internet culture (the language of contemporary art) and classical painting. I unite mass art with elite art that is not universally accessible. Quotidian life can be utilized as an artwork. I’m mining new quarries of harmony and joy. Vinny is a product of the Soviet experiment. The Soviet experiment was about equality. It is a prototype of the future social organization: we will evolve out of the food chain and treat reality as our equal. I have programs that I describe as “social sculptures,” more about them later. I’m like Mozart or Einstein: talent plus memory. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Forbes, oil on canvas, 302 x 204 cm, 2013

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Vinny Reunov’s studio, Kyiv, 2012 235


MYKOLA RIDNYI

Born in 1985 in Kharkiv. Graduated from the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts in 2008. A co-founder of SOSka group and curator of SOSka Lab Gallery in Kharkiv. Was shortlisted for the PinchukArtCentre Prize in 2011, 2013, and 2015, and for Malevich Prize in 2014 and 2016. He works in films, video art, photography, sculptures and installations in public spaces. Lives and works in Kharkiv. Selected exhibitions: Under Suspicion (2016, Edel Assanti, London); Forecast For Yesterday (2016, Blockhaus DY10, Nantes, France); Sentsov’s Camera (2016, Museum of Contemporary Art, Leipzig, Germany); All the World’s Futures (2015, 56th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); Hope (2015, Ukrainian Pavilion at the 56th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); Kyiv School (2015, Kyiv Biennale, Kyiv); Least The Two Seas Meet (2015, Museum of Contemporary Art, Warsaw); Phone Calls From The Cemetery And Other Stories (2015, Academy of Arts of the World, Cologne, Germany); Through Maidan And Beyond (2014, Architekturzentrum Wien, Vienna); The Ukrainians (2014, DAAD Galerie, Berlin); Global Activism (2013, Centre for Contemporary Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany); Monument to a Monument (2013, 55th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); Ukrainian Body (2012, Centre for Visual Culture, Kyiv); The Global Contemporary. Art Worlds After 1989 (2011, Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany); Impossible Community (2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow); If / Yesli / Iakshcho. Ukrainian Art in Transit (2010, Museum of Contemporary Art, Perm, Russia); Rebellion Mausoleum (2009, Stella Art Foundation, Moscow); Communities. Young Ukrainian Art (2007, Arsenal Gallery, Białystok, Poland); Team Colors (2006, FAIT Gallery, Kraków, Poland); Artists — SOS (2005, SOSka Gallery Laboratory, Kharkiv, Ukraine).

CALM AND RELAXED PLACES SELDOM PRODUCE ANYTHING OF INTEREST I was born in the family of artists: my father was a sculptor, and my mother was a teacher of painting. My decision to apply to art school came as no surprise. You could say that I was a part of the milieu from my birth. But it had little to do with contemporary art: the Kharkiv academy taught you the craft, not the thinking. I think art schooling as it exists in Ukrainian schools is not only unnecessary but could even be harmful. I engaged in self-education and frequented the main municipal library: its Goethe Institute hall received the most recent German art publications. In the mid-2000s, I met Borіs Mikhailov, and this meeting proved important. He ran something like a workshop for young artists: he gave us assignments, we completed them, gathered at his place and discussed the results. We stayed friends, although we see each other only rarely. I have little sympathy for Kyiv artists of the older generation, with a few nice exceptions. By and large, this is not a generation conflict: it is about politics. The censorship scandal at Mystetskyi Arsenal, when Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s work was painted over, brought festering conflicts to the surface. I was stunned when artists openly supported the censor in the fear of losing the platform that helped them to sell their works. It paints them as conformist artists and people. SOSka Lab Gallery was founded in Kharkiv in 2005, when we had no art institutions. Now the city has several institutions working with contemporary art, but 10 years ago we had nothing but the Municipal Gallery, which had its own rules and traditions. We founded our own space where we could do whatever we wanted. SOSka had several functions: it offered us a lab, communication and representation. It gave people what neither public exhibitions of contemporary art nor schooling offered at the time. They could experiment, exchange thoughts and exhibit their works without fear. This inspired us to create SOSka group as a collective author. In the early 2010s, many new grassroots initiatives emerged in Kharkiv: no matter what opportunities reality offered, artists were interested in small projects in garages, flats and studios. The main idea was that creating a work, exhibiting it in a gallery and then either selling it or taking it back home wasn’t enough. We were process-oriented. We produced results, that is, the works that would later get exhibited at apartment shows and facilitate discussion. We consciously chose the fairly archa-

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ic form of apartment shows, evocative of the Soviet underground tradition, because it offered what Ukrainian institutions lacked: a discussion among participants of the art process. The community’s reaction was mixed, from accusations in snobbishness and sectarianism to expressions of solidarity and collaboration proposals. We eventually co-organized apartment shows with the Open Group and organized a Skype conference between Kharkiv and Lviv. What is Kharkiv’s specificity? Kharkiv lay on the crossroads, and it was always a conflict site, both in art and in politics. This tension fostered many radically different cultural phenomena, from Constructivism to social-critical art. This is not a comfortable city, but then, calm and relaxed places seldom produce anything of interest. On the other hand, Donbas demonstrates that tension is a breath away from catastrophe. My solo projects of the last 5 years are complex and combine various media. I usually combine documentary videos with objects and sculptures. Monument / Platforms (2011) and Shelter (2012) follow this principle. The works that touch on sensitive issues (the dismantlement of Soviet monuments and the war) were created before people started to talk about them on TV daily. Now I’m wrapping up my new project, a feature-length film. Contemporary art and independent cinema are ever more closely intertwined. Artists and film directors are two very different skill sets, but we see people cross over from cinema to exhibitions, and vice versa. My favorite artists and directors, like Harun Farocki or Chris Marker, did just that. Ukrainian art has no place in the international context. Some artists do. The situation won’t change unless state develops a new cultural policy that would not only support institutions that spout clichéd patriotic rhetoric but would also be open to self-criticism. Ukraine does not have a single cultural process, it does not have a system: it has discrete groups that do different things. The most interesting phenomena emerge not within the cultural machine but against it. We experience information war. Ukraine answers Russian propaganda with counterpropaganda. It turns people into idiots who cannot think for themselves. Within this context, art should seek an alternative perspective. It would be absurd to try to vie with mass media for influence on society. Art cannot change much, but every little bit helps. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko


Shelter, video and objects, concrete, installation at the Leipzig Museum of Contemporary Art, Germany, 2015

Power, object in public space, concrete, 1600 x 300 x 80 cm, under the auspices of PERMM Museum on the Perm Mall, Russia, 2009

Blind Spot, print on cloth, 1000 х1200 cm, under the auspices of DAAD Artist-in-Berlin program at the facade of Kule house, Berlin, 2014

More Flags, series of sculptures, plaster, paint, h — from 25 to 75 cm, installation at the Kyiv School biennale, House of Clothes, 2015

River Cuts Through Rock, sculpture series, granite, 50 x 50 x 20 cm, installation at PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2013

Connection Fault, railroad tracks of 1435 mm and 1520 mm width, length: 30 m, mounted on Lokietka Square under the aegis of Open City Lublin, Poland, 2013

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River Cuts Through Rock, sculpture series, granite, 50 x 50 x 20 cm, installation at PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2013 238


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OLEKSANDR ROITBURD

Born in 1961 in Odessa. Graduated from the Department of Painting and Graphic Art of Oushynskyi Odessa State Institute of Education. In 1993, founded an association New Art, which caused the so-called Odessa Renaissance. Curated several key art projects of the 1990s, including New Figurations (1991), Free Zone (1994), Academy of Frost (1998), etc. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Roitburd in the Museum (2016, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); If there is no water running from your tap (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Passions After Zurbaran (2011, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Roitburd vs Caravaggio (2010, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Humanity’s Plateau (2001, 49 th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice, Italy); Space of Cultural Revolution (1994, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Grassi Museum (1993, Leipzig, Germany); Angels Over Ukraine (1993, Apostolic Church, Edinburgh, UK); Postanesthesia (1992, Kunstlerwerkstatt Lothringerstrasse, Munich, Germany); Dead Calm (1992, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv).

I was interested in art since childhood, but I did not seriously consider its nature and the power of art language until I graduated from the institute. Artist’s formative influences are usually provided by other artists. My first meeting with great art proved formative: I saw a Caravaggio at the Odessa Museum and leafed through multiple albums of reproductions. I remember Rembrandt’s tercentenary when I was 8. We had a block calendar, you could then hang these sheets of paper on your wall. My mom bought one with a Rembrandt reproduction, his self-portrait with Saskia. I wondered who was this man and his companion. As a young boy, I was also curious about books that criticized and denigrated contemporary art: they made it all the more valuable in my eyes. Ukrainian Soviet culture, much like the cultures of all former Socialist republics, functioned as propaganda, window-dressing for nonexistent cultural life and entretainment industry. As to its specificity, the official line dictated that it should be “national in form and socialist in content.” Hence the heavily underscored pastoral folkloric dimension of the art of the Ukrainian SSR, its cultivated rustic and archaic elements. Soviet art was extremely limited, but some art movements developed despite total control. I keep saying that I’m an artist of the lost generation. When I was just starting out, Ukrainian museums stopped acquiring art. The last comprehensive acquisition of the National Art Museum happened in 1989. Who

knows when to expect the next one? I think the absence of a museum policy is a crime. It will have pernicious results: several generations of Ukrainian artists are rinsed out of the cultural process and public memory. We should note that Ukrainian history also functions as an oral tale. It is evidence of our provinciality. Even Russia fares better now. Tretyakov and Tereshchenko were essentially 19th-century figures. Present-day institutions are of a fundamentally different type. Ukrainian art needs comprehensive museum policies and systematization, whether from an art patron or a rational state policy. I had good feelings about the Orange Revolution, I often came to Maidan and actively supported it. Paradoxically, it so happened that I was hired by the opposite side for the election campaign. At that point, many people took the money of one political side, but in reality supported their opponents. When my contract was up, I breathed easy and rejoiced when the reelection was announced. I felt strong aversion towards Victor Yanukovych from the very beginning. I felt shame that a person like that could run for president in my country. Ukrainian art is independent because nothing depends on it. How would I describe these 25 years? As a history of failures. We have not yet managed to legitimize contemporary art on state level, we do not have strong institutions to represent it, all we have is the post-Soviet ossified officially

Adoration of the Sacred Heart, oil on canvas, 190 x 290 cm, 2013

Ball at Folies Bergere, oil on canvas, 190 x 290 cm, 2009

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If there is no water running from your tap exhibition, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2011

sanctioned culture divorced from life and cultural processes. We are not represented internationally. There were some victories, there’s no arguing that, but the list of what remains to be done is longer than the list of what was already done. I think we need a comprehensive and objective historical narrative: not that objective truth exists, but we need to make the right emphases in our past. The description of contemporary art is also in chaos: some artists are touted as geniuses, some as the highest-selling champions, while the process as such attracts no analysis. I might be missing something, but I don’t think any Ukrainian, except for Borіs Mikhailov, is present on the global market, and even Mikhailov had long left Ukraine. We have fewer galleries than we did before the crisis, in 2008, when new institutions were being opened and tried to develop their own political and aesthetic programs. The few we have are not that active. Galleries have to be workshops for emergent artists, helping them to entre the art scene. Maybe the very notion of “the art scene” is very 1990s, but we definitely need a defined artistic elite. In the civilized world, political, scientific, financial and cultural elites are in closer contact. In Ukraine, the 1% is indifferent to local culture and does not think in terms of development, and without that national progress is impossible. Revolutions, including cultural revolutions, are the business for the young. Me, I have to work. I wasted too much time on attempts to trans-

Voltaire and a Wood Nymph, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2016

form social consciousness. These days, I have more interest in art and don’t waste time on fights. The efficiency of that sort of activity in our country is too low. The reasons for that include social inertia, low education, and conservative values. The last tragic days of the Maidan in 2014 had affected me so deeply that they had bled into what I do, although external events seldom inform the plots of my works. I think too much about the war and political events, more than I’d like to. It sometimes stands in the way of my work. Obviously, everything changes, priorities shift, new players emerge, but I wouldn’t tie it to politics. One thing I can say for sure: the miracle everyone hoped for didn’t happen. I don’t think there is such a thing as absolute freedom, but still, I’m fairly free, I seldom do what I don’t want to. Emigration equals death. Sometimes a new life begins after that, sometimes it doesn’t. Culture has its own codes, despite the ostensible universality of art language: it is read differently in different places. Besides, each artist has a formative community, and abroad he’ll find himself outside his normal circle. Among artists of the countries that emerged from the rubble of the USSR, only Ilya Kabakov and Borіs Mikhailov managed to get integrated into the global context. We should consider the reasons for that. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska

Farewell Caravaggio, oil on canvas, 200 x 300 cm, 2008 241


Oleksandr Roitburd’s large-scale work Sacred and Profane Love manifests startlingly expressive artistic language. A viewer is invited into an imaginary provisional space, plunged into darkness and left to face fantastic images without explanations. The objects are depicted realistically, in waxing and waning flashes of yellow, which creates the impression of a murky candle or a gas lamp. The painting depicts birds inspired by engravings from ancient ornithological books. Their proximity to a Torah scroll evokes the myth of the bird Mil’kham, which, according to a Judaic legend, refused the forbidden fruit, for which God granted it eternal life. The painting also features a golden ritual pointer Yad, used by rabbis to avoid touching sacred scrolls. The centre of the painting is occupied by a fantastical Chinese figurine of a monkey, which is as paradoxical against other objects as an ancient Hebrew scroll with squiggles that generously decorate the work. The figurative image results from quotations, collages and concrete deconstruction of the object of knowledge. “Roitburd’s graphic art has its source in random doodles the artist created in Surrealist-inspired ‘automatic writing,’ childhood drawings, cave paintings, street graffiti, schemes from technical treatises and medical atlases. But spontaneity remains its defining feaure,” Daryna Zholdak noted. Oleksandr Roitburd’s Sacred and Profane Love is not derivative of Titian’s painting by the same title. The artist himself explained the title as follows: “Since my childhood years, I have been fascinated with titles of great paintings, to no lesser degree than with paintings as such. Their music captivated me: The Union of Earth and Water, Sacred and Profane Love. Having become an artist, and a fairly well-known one at that, I got into the habit of stealing them, dressing my own products up in my favorite titles.” Therefore, we should not search for correlations with the sources: Roitburd himself stated that that would only confuse a bewildered viewer further. Roksana Rublevska

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Sacred and Profane Love, oil on canvas, 190 x 580 cm, 2012


Feast of the Rosary, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2015


Self-Portrait With Two Canes, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm, 2015–2016

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STEPAN RYABCHENKO

Born in 1987 in Odessa. Graduated from the Odessa State Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Shortlisted for PinchukArtCentre Prize (2011). Laureate of the international Kyiv Sculpture Project Prize (2012). Works in digital art and new media, sculpture and architecture. Selected exhibitions: Honey Plant (2016, Invogue Gallery, Odessa, Ukraine); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); New Perspectives: 8 Contemporary Artists from Ukraine (2015, Voloshin Gallery, Ukrainian Institute of America, New York); 3rd Danube Biennale (2015, Danubiana-Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava); IV Odessa Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015, Museum of Western and Eastern Art, Odessa, Ukraine); Enfant Terrible. Odessa Conceptualism (2015, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Long Way to Freedom (2014, Ukrainian Institute of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA); Octants (2014, Triumph Gallery, Moscow); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Grand and Great (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Kyiv Sculpture Project (2012, Gryshko National Botanic Garden, Kyiv); PinchukArtCentre Prize Nominees (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Those Who Came in the 2000s (2010, CCA М17, Kyiv); Restart (2009, Sea Art Terminal, Odessa, Ukraine); Contemporary Odessa Art (2008, Museum of Contemporary Art, Odessa). ODESSA IS A SMALL EDEN ON THE WIDE EARTH 25 years is a generation. This period could bring new perspectives and new notions. For me it’s a part of my life. I changed. We saw the coming of the digital age, and humankind now exists in the ever-shrinking borderlands between the virtual and the real. This left a mar on culture. Changes brought new notions, and new ideas for their implementation; new instruments would allow to create things that did not exist before. Odessa is a small Eden on the wide Earth. The city is truly unique, and I love it. Odessa instills confidence that life is good, that people have to be happy, and that they have to share their joy. Speaking of Ukrainian art, Odessa’s history is unique too. She had all art movements, from classical art to the Avant-Garde. It’s worth noting that both Ukrainian Modernism and Conceptualism originated from Odessa; one is a metaphor of aesthetics, another one of thought: these are the two primary elements of art. I grew up in a creative environment. Both my father and grandpa were artists. My grandpa, Sergiy Vasyliovych Ryabchenko, was a graphic artist who worked primarily in urban and natural landscapes. He experimented with many techniques and materials. We have a big archive of his marvelous works. My father, Vasyl Ryabchenko, is an artist of many faces. His toolbox includes painting, graphic art, installations, photography, digital art and architecture. This sense of “art without borders” is of crucial importance to me; in a way, it is foundational. Art brooks no borders, flowing freely from object to object and creating an integral creative environment.

Lemon Chicken Will Be Saved…, Danubiana-Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava

As to the historical background and predecessors, we’ve been very lucky. We have a range of figures who made important contributions to world culture. I have little patience for generation conflicts. I respect the older generation, and they show interest in what I do.

PinchukArtCentre Prize Nominees Exhibition. Heroes project, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2011

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Opening, digital print on aluminum, neon, 203 x 151 cm, 2011–2013 Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015

I started out as an architect, developing conceptual projects. At the same time, I experimented in fine arts, applying my skills as an architect to creative ideas of a painter. At that stage, I have not yet had opportunities to realize my architectural projects, so I started to develop virtual environments, creating new landscapes, characters and weather, and defining their interactions. In a way, I was creating my own world. My method is based not on drawing but on designing a visual environment. This allows me to transport my characters from a 2D-plane to a 3D-space at any moment, to mediate between architecture and sculpture, between sculpture and painting, and vice versa. Art is an instrument of self-knowledge. For me, art is a search for answers that interest me either pragmatically or spiritually, to the questions that concern us all. Hence, art fosters dialogue, allowing artists to show their ideas and thoughts that affect society at a certain level. Granted, nobody can change the world: the fundamentals remain constant. Only the form changes to remain fitting and legible to its time. All countries, Ukraine included, have talented artists, meaning that they are a part of world art. Now we can realize our projects and create largescale works, there are new galleries, institutions, curators, art scholars, art dealers and collectors. Many projects, some of them abroad, showcased a cross-section of contemporary Ukrainian art. On opportunities for self-fulfillment in Ukraine. To ensure the quality and scope of my works, I need new technologies. But I should note that

I created all my works in Odessa, the city where I was born, live and work. I’m not tempted to leave. As they say, “I may do absolutely anything, but I probably shouldn’t.” [Smiles] Besides, when you have an invitation or inspiration, you can always travel and realize a project or work wherever it’s easiest, and then return home. On globalization and local cultural specificity. If we respected our neighbors and let people cultivate their uniqueness and individuality, we would have a singularly diverse life with its peculiarities and specificity. It’s all in our hands. On the community of young artists. I’m a part of this community, I respect my colleagues, I’m good friends with some of them. As to my creative trajectory, I stand apart: I have my own views, attitudes and methods. An artist is a world of feelings and ideas moulded into images through his or her unique visual language. Of course, everything I do concerns the things that interest me, what I would like to share with society. The key idea is to create my own world with imagery and ideas that I continuously develop and improve. My world has heroes and antiheroes, computer viruses and virtual flowers, roaming clouds, lemon chicken, electric winds, a honeybeast, an ark, an all-hearing ear and many other fun characters. [Smiles] At the moment I’m working on a “Virtual Eden.” I chose to begin by growing the plants that don’t exist in reality and planting them in my virtual spaces. Each flower has an image, a name and a biography. It’s the notion of creation, growth and new life. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Blessing Hand, neon, 500 x 500 cm, 2012–2013 Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015

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Stepan Ryabchenko’s Virtual Garden Stepan Ryabchenko consistently seeks to blur the boundaries between material and virtual reality, staying abreast of the global “digitizing” trend and enhanced reality. At the same time, the artist is drawn to traditional motifs and classical forms. His works are recognizable, the same theme may arise in different series, in prints, sculptures or neon installations aligning into a cohesive narrative. The trite metaphor of “the artist’s world” has a literal dimension in Ryabchenko’s case: the artist does create an alternative reality, a multidimensional virtual space with its own laws, life forms, mythologies and specific relations with the material world. The series Virtual Flowers marks a new stage in Ryabchenko’s search. It represents anthropomorphic flower characters that grow all over the artist’s endless virtual spaces. They are not just objects: they are protagonists with anthropomorphic descriptions, personalities, mythologies and striking forms that seem almost real. Each resident of this virtual garden world was nurtured with inspiration, trepidation and loving care of the gardener who loves his plants and creates the best possible conditions for them. This garden is not limited by climate or any physical parameters. Its sites, biological diversity, geography and temporality are defined exclusively by the artist’s imagination. Flowers symbolize nascent life, creation and hope. In creating his virtual flora, Ryabchenko puts his life in service of establishing harmony between people and the existent material nature, offering his perspective on these relations: each and every being is seen as a unique subject with a conscience and worthy of love. The theme of relations between people and nature is as old as the world itself, but it is particularly pressing when the world is perched on the verge of ecological catastrophe caused by our irrational consumerist approach to environment. Employing a product of humankind’s technological advancement as his instrument, Ryabchenko tries to bring a constructive element into humanity’s relations with its original natural environment. Natalia Matsenko

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Ark, digital print on aluminum, plexiglas, 150 x 300 cm, 2013


Raddar. From the Virtual Flowers series, digital print on aluminum, plexiglas, 240 x 125 cm, 2014–2016


Tree Greenfoot. From the Virtual Flowers series, digital print on aluminum, plexiglas, 240 x 125 cm, 2016 251


VASYL RYABCHENKO

Born in 1954 in Odessa, graduated from Grekov Odessa Art College and the Department of Painting and Graphic Art of South Ukrainian National Pedagogical University named after K. D. Ushynsky. A painter, graphic artist and photographer, he creates visual objects, installations and digital art. Selected exhibitions: Zeitgeist (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Enfant Terrible. Odessa Conceptualism (2015, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Іndependent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Restart (2009, Sea Art Terminal, Odessa, Ukraine); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Partial Eclipse (2000, French Cultural Centre, Belgrade); Photosynthesis (1997, Exhibitions Management of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Phantom of the Opera (1996, Theatre of Young Artists, Odessa, Ukraine); Blood Test (1995, Exhibitions Management of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Kandinsky Syndrome (1995, Local History Museum, Odessa, Ukraine); Free Zone (1994, Odessa Museum of Fine Arts, Odessa, Ukraine); Space of Cultural Revolution (1994, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Random Show (1993, CCA Tyrs, Odessa, Ukraine); Steppes of Europe (1993, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Ukrainian Painting of the 20th Century (1991, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv).

I’M A PROPONENT OF ART THAT APPEALS TO FEELINGS You are one of the brightest representatives of the New Wave, a movement that marked a significant shift in Perestroika-era Ukrainian art. You emerged as an artist earlier, in the late 1970s. What informed the early stages of your career? I have been surrounded by artists throughout my life. My father was a graphic artist. When I was 5, we moved into a building owned by the Union of Artists. Famous Odessa artists were our neighbors. It was a fun and interesting crowd. I liked painting since childhood, so I chose my career early: art school, followed by Grekov Art College. The college had a splendid library: it had reproductions not only of classical art but also of early modernists. We were taught Socialist Realist canons, but the library expanded our horizons and gave us to understand that art was a huge and diverse space. Inner freedom and confidence were important to me: I think they are indispensable for all artists. The search for harmony in forms, semantics and colors was of crucial importance, as was the theme of beauty in the world and interpersonal relations. After college, I started to participate in exhibitions and joined the Union of Artists. There were official commissions, but they left me time for creativity. I always compromised, I never wanted to be a revolutionary. I had opportunities to travel all over the country, to visit museums, to draw what I wanted… Which events in your life turned out to be formative? I have spent two years in Leningrad, auditing courses at the Vera MUHina Higher School of Art and Design; those were the good days. After that, in Odessa, I met Valentyn Khrushch and the nonconformist circle. It left a mark on my works; as my father put it, I became “a leftie.” Obviously, collaboration with Lykov, Nekrasova and Roitburd, as well as our group exhibitions of the late 1980s (After Modernism-1 and After Modernism-2), were very important. They were a real breakthrough for our city: we were young, we had no support, but we organized two large-scale exhibitions at the museum! All were stunned by our large-format paintings, by their unconventional, slightly absurdist themes. We were castigated and lauded, we got viewers… We finally could openly exhibit the works we painted in our studios without toeing the Union’s line… Thus the new life began. Did your approach to art change since then? Not my approach as such, no, but my understanding of art and of my place in it did. These days, I think not of what I want to say with my works, but rather about their potential “consequences” and effect on

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viewers. I’m against radicalism, I’m against raising the tension in art, either in its expressive tropes or in its themes. I believe that constant tension causes first dismay than indifference, petrified insensitivity, so to say… You work in painting, photo­ graphy, and installations. What is their appeal? For me, painting is about improvisation. When working on a painting, I constantly change my initial idea, and the final version usually differs strongly from it. Most of my paintings are layers upon layers of paint covering something I was not quite happy with. Obviously, this For Madame Récamier. Free Zone, Odessa Museum of Fine Arts, 1994 sort of practice leaves a trail of unfinished canvases in my studio. Be that as it may, painting, and everything that has to do with paint on canvas, remains my passion. I like painting and coming up with new twists for my “imaginary narratives” that develop, like the series Prince, across different formats, accumulating new motifs. Photography is a peculiar way of seeing things, instant fixation, openness to the new, primeval perception. Photography appeals to me because it allows to capture a moment as a fact of life, even if it’s just a still life of random objects… I also worked in staged photography quite a lot, which was appealing in its “spirit of improvisation:” a sudden shift of light or a recombination of details might change everything. You just have to photograph the changes… What about installations? You didn’t create too many of those, but they are all different, both in imagery and in media. My installations are usually inspired by a theme that concerns me deeply. I have to find a way to bring it into space, into reality. This was the case with my work A Swing for Stumps. It was inspired by our ongoing, yearslong discussion about the real, that is, non-commercial art. Sergiy Anufriev described it simply and concisely: real art is the art nobody needs. Hence an object nobody had any use for: a stump perched on a huge swing,


Prince, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 1991

against the canvas depicting this very same stump. As hard as I tried, the installation ended up quite pretty, and an Odessa banker wanted to buy it! Fortunately, the sale didn’t come through, and the work went to Warsaw, to the exhibition The Steppes of Europe, organized by Jerzy Onuch. You amassed a large photo archive about Odessa art life of the 1970s–2000s. Could you tell me more about it? There were years when I wouldn’t be parted from my camera. Wherever I went, it went with me. I photographed everything that interested me: my friends, our hangouts, exhibition openings. Unfortunately, my earliest photographs of the late 1960s didn’t survive. The mid-1970s, when I started to shoot, on Valentyn Khrushch’s advice, with old, pre-war German cameras, was particularly interesting. Arkadii Lvov gave me a Carl Zeiss Ideal. I still have it. It allowed for sophisticated work with the tiniest details and tones. I worked in still lives of various objects and figures… I engaged with empty spaces and pauses because I was fascinated with Eastern art at the time… Then I started to shoot with a Leica. This is how I shot most photographs from “art life” of Odessa nonconformists: Valentyn Khrushch, Victor Maryniuk, Ievhen Rakhmanin, Valeriy Basanets, Oleksandr Stovbur, Volodymyr Naumets. They were later joined by photographs of Oleksandr Roitburd, Oleksandr Hnylytskyj, Arsen Savadov, Vasyl Tsagolov, Iliya Chichkan, Ievhen Solonin, Oleksandr Soloviov, Sergiy Bratkov and other artists of our circle. By the way, many of these photos are often republished, but without stating authorship… I treasure my family’s photo archive. I also received Valentyn Khrushch’s archive that I would love to introduce to viewers. This archive consists of two parts: one artistic (drawings and still lives), one “documentary” (photos of Odessa nonconformists). The archive awaits its scholars, giving ample material for analyzing the works both of Khrushch himself and of his entire era. In the early 1990s, Odessa was among the most interesting art hubs of the country. Suffice to mention the Free Zone international festival (1994). How would you estimate the city’s current art life? Indeed, Odessa was interesting in the early 1990s. For example, there was the New Art association, which organized projects that drew public attention to Odessa. The organization was extremely high-quality, with appropriate financial resources and lively inspiring discussions. The municipal authorities of the time chipped in too and gave us two building in the downtown for our office and exhibitions, there was money for projects… Once the management of New Art changed, however, it all went downhill: they focused on their own personal projects and only supported the art-

Dream of Morpheus, oil on canvas, 160 x 180 cm, 1991

ists deemed “right” and “relevant” by the association’s leadership. Dead calm ensued… Lately art life had been revitalized. The Museum of Odessa Modern Art actively collects and promotes works of Odessa artists. Now Odessa, too, has a local biennale of contemporary art. Granted, its scope, level and content does not live up to the level of earlier years, but it might still evolve… What interests you most in art these days? What do you think about contemporary Ukrainian art? I cannot and wouldn’t judge because I must have missed many projects, even though I’m interested in what is going on. I follow the projects of my friends, my son, a renowned Ukrainian artist Stepan Ryabchenko, of his young friends and colleagues. In general, these shows are well done… I’m not a proponent of globalization. I have no affinity for Ukrainian artists’ desire to “entre the global context” at any price. In point of fact, most artists just dissolve in it. I’m no fan of straightforwardly social critical art: I think artistic relevance allows for a broader range of movements. I was formed by the community that valued “the art product,” the artwork that could stand on its own and “speak for itself,” as if inviting viewers into a dialogue, through feelings first and foremost. This understanding of art is still close and dear to me. I’m a proponent of art that appeals to feelings. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

The Death of Marat, oil on canvas, 200 x 250 cm 2010 253


Hunters, oil on canvas, 179 x 169 cm (left panel of a diptych), 1989–1994

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Hunters, oil on canvas, 179 x 169 cm (right panel of a diptych), 1989–1994

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ANDRIY SAGAYDAKOVSKY

Born in 1959 in Lviv. Creates paintings, objects and installations. Graduated from the Department of Architecture of the Lviv Polytechnic University in 1979. Started his career as an artist in 1979. Lives and works in Lviv. Selected exhibitions: Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystestkyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystestkyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Mini-Art (2009, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Quote (2008, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Reanimation (2007, Municipal Art Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); Donumenta (2003, Regensburg, Germany); Cultural Heroes (2002, Dzyga Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); Ukrainian Brand (2001, CCA, Kyiv); Identity and Diversity (1999, Passage de Retz, Paris); De novo (1998, First International Symposium, Lviv, Ukraine); Open Secret (1998, CCA, Kyiv); Free Zone (1995, Art Museum, Odessa, Ukraine); Steppes of Europe (1993, CCA, Warsaw), Solo Show (1991, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw).

ANDRIY SAGAYDAKOVSKY’S “HAPPY LIFE” …For me, it all began in 1990. Granted, I did start out as an artist in the early 1980s, but we just stayed at our studios: there was absolutely no prospect of exhibiting our works then. Besides, Perestroika reached Lviv later than Kyiv. In 1990s, Shuliev, Selvestrov, Zamkovskyi and myself mounted the show Defloration at the Lenin Museum (now the National Museum of Arts). I still think that this was one of the most interesting events in my life as an artist… It provoked wide-ranging discussions that transcended the boundaries of art and touched on the cultural situation. The USSR still existed. Some even thought that the administration allowed the show of “new art” at the Lenin Museum so that the museum would stay relevant: “the Communists would do anything to preserve their museums.” As you know, Lviv has its specificity. It has its own take on the problem of the new and the old… I don’t think Lviv is a city of arts, although it does have a good number of talented artists, and the city itself is beautiful and old: I never tire of wandering its streets. Why so? It’s hard to tell. It’s provincial, the administration is not investing in culture or arts, there are not enough interested people. There’s not much you can do without money… These problems have deep roots. Artists always left Lviv, not having found support and understanding… It might seem like we have it good these days: we have the Academy, the Palace of Arts… But we don’t have enough people, and you have to be truly passionate to abandon

the “beauty game” taught at the Academy and expected of its students. Art is not about beauty. It’s about humankind and everything it carries: sorrow, pain, fear, solitude, dismay, yearning for joy, dreams, and hopes. Art is about life with all its paradoxes, mistakes and miracles. Anton Chekhov is my favorite writer. He wrote about humankind ruthlessly, lovingly, ferociously and mercifully. His literature will never grow old, and neither will the art that looks into the abyss of human essence, human existence. Back then, in the early 1990s, we all expected radical changes that would foster a cultural renaissance and vibrant art life. We dreamed that we would be invited and exhibited everywhere… Some of our hopes came to pass, some didn’t. My meeting and cooperation with Jerzy Onuch was important. He was one of the first who “saw” and understood me. He invited me to the Steppes of Europe show in Warsaw in 1993. What I did there could be described as a “total installation:” they gave me an entire room to do as I please… Then there were shows in Kyiv, in the Soros Centre, the Ukrainian Brand project in 2002… I think I have more exhibitions in Kyiv than I do in Lviv. At least they “see” me better and more often. 2012 brought unexpected recognition with the 1st prize at the international forum at Mystetskyi Arsenal: ARSENALE Discovery. Meanwhile, they no longer invite me to Contemporary Art Weeks in Lviv… At home, I still exist in the margins: rarely invited, seldom remembered… But I cannot live outside Lviv. I feel at home

In Memory of the Artist, rug, oil, 189 x 142 cm, 2013

Walking Along Forest Paths, rug, oil, 227 x 152 cm, 2013

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From the Anatomy Studio series, mixed media on canvas, 118 x 162 cm, 1996

here. That’s where my studio is, my cafes, my near and dear … Here I can focus on what inspires me: the oddities of human life, the quotidian paradoxes… On a market, among vegetables and random bits and bobs, I saw a print that said “happy life,” with spelling mistakes and turned inside out… I liked it so much, it described our situation so perfectly, that I entitled several of my shows “Happy Life.” To live is to be happy, there’s nothing better than life… Despite all social cataclysms, I’m happy these days: I work. I’m not running anywhere. I’ve been collaborating with Pavlo Gudimov for a couple of years now. He hosts my shows at his galleries almost every year, in Kyiv and in Dnipro. He mounts them at large shows in Ukraine and abroad… I’m happy that Pavlo showed interest in this, which means that both artists and viewers are interested in this. Lately, I seldom visit shows, and rarely see anything unexpected. I think new blood for Ukrainian art might come from unexpected places, like Kryvyi Rih or Zaporizhzhia, where life is not as quiet and stable as in Lviv… That might bring new experiences, new tension, new perspectives… I love contemporary young artists: they speak foreign languages and know all sorts of programs and grants. They might be more pragmatic and rational than we were, but the times have changed, and they pose new demands. There’s too much “beauty,” too much has already been done… Be that as it may, I think an artist should carry his or her art inside, whereas exter-

At the End of the World, rug, oil, 134 x 102 cm, 2011

nal circumstances are just an impetus. Take international projects or exhibitions abroad, for example. My works were featured at shows in Warsaw, Moscow, Perm, Vilnius, Regensburg, Paris, Munich, Stuttgart and Łódź… In 2015, I collaborated on the international project Dispossession for the Venice Biennale with artists from Poland, Germany and Ukraine. Participating in such forums is cool, I’ll grant you that. Besides, Venice is gorgeous. But, to be honest, nothing at the Biennale had touched me. It’s too beautiful, I think. There are too many technologies, too much money and formal opportunities… and not nearly enough artistic self-expression. You have to say something, you’ve got to have something besides your craft. The world is not peaceful these days, we are on the precipice… I’m not just talking about Ukraine, where all problems have come to the fore: people all over the world feel this tension. What is an artist to do? We have to talk about our time without fear that “people won’t like it.” Obviously, art does not teach anybody anything, and it will never “reeducate” anybody, this is all an illusion. Only the TV and the Internet have mass influence. Art treats its time, this is what makes it contemporary. A viewer has to feel emotions, be surprised, be abashed, question that which appeared simple and apparent earlier… Such were the great works of the past: they were strange, there’s always something off about them. That which “is off” is art. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

Anatomy Studio, oil on canvas and paper, 171 x 137 cm, 1989 257


New Blood, rug, oil, 147 x 206 cm, 2009

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Watch Out! Don’t Get Lost, rug, oil, 142 x 185 cm, 2006

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OLEKSIY SAI

Born in 1975 in Kyiv. Graduated from Kyiv College of Arts and Design and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Longlisted for PinchukArtCentre Prize in 2009. Creates works in Microsoft Excel, objects, installations, photography, and painting. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); [De][Re]Construction (2016, Wrocław, Poland); Worse Than Reality (2015, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Excel-art. Kalkulierte Kunst (2015, Bunsen Goetz Galerie, Nuremberg, Germany); Our Kin (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Endangered Species (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Matrix/Collective Memory (2013, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); Excel-art (2012, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); Іndependent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); All Colors of Your Screen (2010, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Excel-art (2009, CCA ARTStrelka-projects, Moscow); Nominees of PinchukArtCentre Prize (2009, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Excel-art (2007, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Flat Friends (2005, Guelman Gallery, Kyiv); A Day in Prison (1995, Kyiv Fortress Museum, Kyiv).

LET ALL FLOWERS BLOOM I’m not a great specialist in chronology, but anybody who observed intense growth spurts of culture would tell you that the world can change from the ground up in 25 years. Take Paris of the 1920s –1930s, for example: in 25 years, it was a completely different landscape altogether. The tempo was slower during the Renaissance, and yet periods that changed the world did not exceed 70 years. That’s not our case though. I don’t think our art changed as much as the world did over this quarter century. We also had staggering transformations, but on a local level. They were not as significant as in the Renaissance, and yet our entire artistic language changed. The artists are still skilled, and they still want to do everything better than their colleagues, but art tackles other themes now, and its speech is markedly different. We’ve had three generations of artists who did not engage with the expressive tropes of the present laureate of the leading state art prize. Some continue to engage with them though. The basics are still here, but what was once pervasive became an archipelago. I don’t have an issue with that — let all flowers bloom — but still, I’m happy that it’s no longer mandatory. I remember feeling like a part of the generation conflict as a teen. Not on the quotidian level, when your parents chide you and you lash out, but more broadly. I had a global conflict with the previous generation, I did not share a single one of its values. I don’t feel it with the younger generation, which is good, I think, because had there been conflicts between all generations, the progress would have ground to a halt. Any revolution needs to be secured. Now we are securing a conflict between our “Soviet” generation and the previous one. There’s no conflict between our generation and the next, which means that some

From the Still Smiling series, 79 x 59 cm, 2014 260

Functional Structure, installation, carcass for drywall, electric wire, stretch tape, spotlight, 600 x 400 cm, 2012

accomplishments can be transmitted. That’s handy. Socialist era had productive heritage lines that eventually backed themselves into a corner. Now the skill of transmission is decaying, losing meaning. Generations changed, but it’s not so much a matter of generations as of priorities. Their parallel world is still here, occasionally trying to penetrate general processes, but not too often. We could just let it be, if not for the fact that reactionaries cause so much trouble. But we shouldn’t necessarily lash out and attack them. Let them be. The struggle has to be constructive, gradual and consistent. Take at look at glassed-in balconies, temporary structures from the 1990s originally used to store potatoes. They still remain. It’s bad. You should always check yourself and avoid temporary measures. It’s the same with bribery: “Yes, I need this small problem gone, but other than that, I’m an honest man.” If you want to change the situation as such, you’ve got to make some sacrifices. You’ve got to suffer and languish without glass around your balcony for fundamental values, and there’s no way out of it. The protagonist of my works changed: the passionate cog with fire in his eyes is dead, he’s no longer with us. I think the entire global “civilized society” became more realistic about itself, few are proud of their jobs as office administrators. I think this breed will self-destruct the


Time to Say Goodbye, installation, counter ceiling, spotlight, 3500 x 300 cm, 2011

moment an opportunity arises. On the one hand, I’m always tempted to drop this series and to stop observing this 9-to-5 world because it no longer has anything to offer me. On the other hand, I want to witness its dying breath and rebirth into something new. It will definitely evolve into something new, and the process will be neither flashy nor unambiguous: it will be prolonged and boring, but I do want to witness it. I left this one series ongoing, but I’m observing other processes in other series. I’m looking for a way to discuss complicated phenomena through art’s plastic dimension. Plastic, as opposed to purely conceptual or sophisticated utterances; I want to force my viewers to react to circumstances set up in my artworks. I want to touch something that would be more than an object. I’m speaking about my personal goals, but we’ll see how it goes. It might seem somewhat old-fashioned, but I still find this goal interesting. My instruments and materials are a part of our lives. Take our schooling, for example: we were taught to draw a still life with a decorative jug. I’ve only ever seen those jugs in still lives, nowhere else. And they call that realism? Yes, it is a real physical object, but it’s not a part of my life. Who are the viewers interacting with contemporary art? Urban residents who feel and understand that. I need to talk to people. I don’t want to create something pretty or observe in isolation. Kabakov’s installation Restroom worked because it consisted of a restroom everyone visited and an apartment everyone lived in. It wouldn’t have made sense if it did not have recognizable quotidian objects, or if the restroom differed from what everyone else used. I try to make sure that viewers react to my materials. I don’t like these materials as such. They are just around me. Art is an efficient instrument of transformations. I wouldn’t say

Copy. Spring, aluminum, digital print, 151 x 177 cm, 2010

that that makes the younger generation better educated, but, at the very least, it was forced to consider the nature of what it sees, and that’s a useful skill. These complicated phenomena often produce measured, conditioned decisions. For example, I live across the street from a bar that does not have fixed hours and collects stuff for charities. That would have been impossible in Soviet times, which had strict rules and regulations for public food facilities. If a Soviet citizen wound up there, he would have been lost. Now we can navigate a much larger set of spaces, and choose our own ideas for life. These ambiguous things we all do are important. They help us understand that ambiguity is possible, that sophisticated thinking is possible: it’s of crucial importance to humankind now, because otherwise you get ISIS and bombings. How do you measure your output? People come to your shows and say, “Good job.” Thank you, that’s it. Ukraine is still meticulously looking for an identity of its own, although I’m sure that we should just melt into the global identity. It’s high time we put an end to this discussion, and if we don’t know all the answers, we should at least try not to fall into a rut. We should escape the discourse of “what kin and kith we come of.” It’s the road to the abyss, much like “the Russian world” or any other 20 th-century political phenomenon. It’s all been done, our great-grandfathers experienced it. I truly believe that something good will come of what is going on right now. Ambivalence comes not from the art community but from society at large. Instead of putting its passion to good use, society directs it towards identity politics or political debates, whereas we should deal with more practical matters. Maybe we should create sophisticated philosophical models to help society along. But then, who’s right? Which art scenes or communities have the right to survive? We should avoid conformism in this too. We are dealing with obscure and largely useless matters, so we shouldn’t try to jump the bandwagon. To each their own, and the more complicated the general picture, the better. The one thing I fear is, that contemporary art should produce pop culture. Of course, pop culture is ubiquitous. And I’m not saying it in the negative sense (pop culture as a culture that feeds on primitive emotions). What I mean rather is a culture that would describe itself as popular. Disgusting. Everything else is useful and important. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Copy. Summer, aluminum, digital print, 141 x 173 cm, 2010 261


Pasture, aluminum, digital print, 102 x 180 cm, 2013

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New Landscape, aluminum, digital print, 134 x 126 cm, 2012

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ARSEN SAVADOV

Born in 1962 in Kyiv. Graduated from T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Member of the Paris Commune art squat. Savadov’s and Georgiy Senchenko’s painting The Woes of Cleopatra (1987) marks the beginning of the Ukrainian New Wave. In the 1990s, Arsen Savadov created a range of photo projects (Donbas-Chocolate, Fashion at the Graveyard, The Book of the Dead, Collective Red), which marked a momentous shift for Ukrainian art in the global context. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Blow-up (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Painting (2007, Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, New York); Love Story (2005, Orel Art Gallery, Paris); Donbas-Chocolate (2003, Orel Art Gallery, Paris); Cocteau (2002, Guelman Gallery, Kyiv); The First Ukrainian Project (2001, 49 th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); After the Wall (1999, Moderna Museen, Stockholm); Searching for a Site (1999, SITE, 3rd International Biennale, Santa Fe, USA); White Dresses (1998, Bard College, New York); Deepinsider, with Oleksandr Kharchenko (1998, Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts Gallery, Kyiv); Art-Moscow (1997, Central House of Artists, Moscow); Manifesta-1 (1996, European Biennale, Rotterdam, Netherlands); Savadov and Senchenko (1995, Chasie Post Gallery, Atlanta, USA); New Mediatopia (1994, Central House of Artists, Moscow); Christmas Action, with Georgiy Senchenko (1994, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Works of Savadov & Senchenko (1992, Robert Berman Gallery, New York); Works of Savadov & Senchenko (1991, Guelman Gallery, Moscow).

My father, Volodymyr Savadov, was a fairly successful graphic artist. My family was well-off, so you could say that I only saw the world from the window of my father’s car, a fancy Volga. My mother thought I had to learn something, so she took me to an art school, and a teacher swooned over the quality of my works. Turned out I had talent. The academy, which gave me classical artistic schooling, came later. In 1987, Georgiy Senchenko and myself created the giant painting Woes of Cleopatra, which won us a medal at the Soviet show of young artists. It was later sold at the French art market FIAC. The work became a sensation, offering new metaphysics formulated in the aesthetics close to trans-avantgarde. That’s when KGB developed an interest in me. The pressure did not ease up for several years, I had to report in and could never leave the country… Be that as it may, Woes of Cleopatra marked the beginning of a new era in contemporary art. Although it owes a lot to Dadaism, its global goal was to reflect on personal freedom. Our cultural legacy inspired countless artists who started to imitate us, and I mean that in a good way. They opened up as independent artists, which meant that the Paris Commune art group was bound to appear. The timing was perfect: art supplies were dirt cheap, the country was not yet capitalist, but socialism no longer applied either. In the 1990s, paintings were gradually transforming into objects. We developed unusual complementary feeling of space, and that gave us more freedom. The works of the time were recognizable first and foremost in their provocativeness, the absence of adoration for fine arts, and an understanding that art tropes were secondary to artists’ goals. Moscow Conceptualism introduced new philosophy that rejected the plastic dimension of art; meanwhile, complementary space helped us to make our works inimitable and richer in meanings. I abandoned painting in the 1990s. Viewers of the time no longer cared for Monet’s poetic language. Photography is a document, and you can only address uneducated public in the language of a document. This is how my monologue began. I treated certain topics just so that the fools won’t get to them first. Had I not shot Donbas-Chocolate, the key Soviet brand would have become a parody of itself. I missed painting when I realized that digital photography destroyed its raison d’etre. By the way, I made the point of not photographing either the EuroMaidan or the counterterrorist operation in eastern Ukraine because everybody was doing it.

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In 2014, I fought with the riot police instead of sketching beat-up faces. I like to work in poetics, creating new trend mythologies and visual poetry that transcends the quotidianwithout criticizing society and its processes. The Book of the Dead was my response to a photo in the Stern magazine. It depicted a provincial mortuary: the orderlies had “carefully” placed the last dead body on a pile of other corpses and drew eyes on it in ballpoint pen. I created this project so that that won’t happen again. Eros and Thanatos are the main themes of all works, even those that don’t exist yet. Death is a part of the spectacle we are forced to live in. If our grandfather clock has a skeleton, it plays the leading role in the spectacle. Only cheerful Americans can avoid discussing death. It doesn’t feature in their understanding. In the end, you are met by a smiley blonde on a pink Cadillac. I have only one protagonist: an artist in the contemporary society. He cannot not be social. How do I evaluate the 25 years of independence? Ukrainian art should stop craving acknowledgment, and get down to producing real works. I see fairly reasonable youths, but what do they do being compared to us? We manned a cultural revolution and formulated serious criticism that the majority of younger players cannot hope to ever reach. Ukrainian art dealers should come from aristocratic families, graduate from Yale University, be pals with sheikhs they’d meet at piano concerts. Then we’ll have an art market. PinchukArtCentre was a decent platform for training new curators, who resembled Komsomol activists more than anything, but it had since become a colonial museum. We hoped it would support avant-garde groups, but instead it rams Western clichees down our throats. Two hairs under glass and a broken cup. Turns out someone broke it because he was drinking, and he was drinking because he skipped work, and he skipped work because of the economic crisis… The broken cup is just one facet of art, not the entire panorama. Ukrainian galleries do not offer cultural products that I could show at Art Basel. Sadly, they prioritize sales over new poets. We need a museum that would support high-quality national product. It has to be spearheaded by a talented manager who would turn the museum into a social hub instead of a desolate relic for marginal sophisticated viewers. Ukrainian art needs truly interesting works that local oligarchs would buy, and Western galleries to drive up prices. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska


No Time to Waste, acrylic on canvas, 241 x 206 cm, 2002

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Arsen Savadov’s large-format painting Gulliver’s Dream was created as yet another attempt to visualize the artist’s vision. It might seem like a fairly straightforward quote from Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels, but appearances are deceiving. Using elements of an earlier artwork in a new visual work is one of the most interesting forms of communication with a viewer, but, strangely enough, Savadov’s work does not contain a literary narrative. The artist consciously chose a famous character, erased collective memory of him, and turned him into a loudspeaker for his own ideas. Anthropocentrism is a cornerstone of Savadov’s creative paradigm: humankind is the measure of all existent objects. In the centre of the canvas, the bound Gulliver sleeps. His body is tied with ropes pillared to the beach with dozens of colored pencils. In the background, the raging sea creases like violet silk. On the left are the wings: a nod towards the theatric tradition; the artist admits they were drawn from his studio curtains. This leaves the impression that a viewer was privy to something mysterious, spying on a folk character. A prominent figure in contemporary Ukrainian art, Savadov is an expert at playing with symbols. In the sky, the artist drew sailor’s knots that symbolize bondage. Not only the knots, but also actions associated with them carry symbolic meaning: tying up, untying, pulling stronger and loosening the knot, cutting or unpicking it. It can be read as captivity and release, attraction and alienation. The looser the knot, the closer is the illusory freedom. It is not coincidental that there’s a lamp standing next to Gulliver, in the foreground. In Buddhism, it symbolizes life and continuity as a person transcends from one state of being to the next. Freedom and dependence as the main states of existence became the central themes of the work. Erich Fromm maintained that freedom is the main goal of development, and emancipating oneself from the bondage of the past, idols or your clan brings one closer to freedom. Savadov is a proponent of a less optimistic belief that freedom is only ever real in our dreams. “No human being is independent. From what? Good question. Maybe from karmic illusions, or from the impossibility of positive thinking, or from all attachments: political, sexual, social, psychological. Buddhists say: avoid all attachments, even once you reach the stage where no attachments are possible. Be unattached, always unattached,” the artist commented. To be unattached means to abandon rational thought and seek to dive into lower strata of consciousness, into the bottomless abyss of feelings. Roksana Rublevska

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Gulliver’s Dream, oil on canvas, 255 x 400 cm, 2016


Donbas-Chocolate, color photograph, 1997

Donbas-Chocolate, color photograph, 1997

From the Angels series, color photograph, 2000

From the Angels series, color photograph, 2000

Underground 2000, color photograph, 1999

Karaite Cemetery, color photograph, 2001


Last Project, color photograph, 2002

Fashion at the Graveyard, color photograph, 1997

Cocteau, color photograph, 2001

Book of the Dead, color photograph, 2001

Collective Red (part 1), color photograph, 1999

Collective Red (part 2), color photograph, 1999

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Homage to Maria Prymachenko, oil on canvas, 265 x 612 cm, 2010

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NIKITA SHALENNY

Born in 1982 in Dnipropetrovsk. Graduated from the Department of Architecture of Prydniprovska State Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Taught architectural design, worked as an architect. Works in painting, video, photo and installations. Lives and works in Dnipro. Selected exhibitions: Art and Life (2016, Centre for Persecuted Arts, Kunstmuseum, Solingen, Germany); Medicine in Art (2016, MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, Poland); Lectorium (2015, Locations: public spaces in Dnipropetrovsk — a building facade, roof, water / Art Kyiv Contemporary X, DIALOGIA Special project, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Siberia (2015, 3rd Danube Biennale, Bratislava); 4 Projects (2015, ArtSvit Gallery, Dnipro, Ukraine); Long Way to Freedom (2014, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, USA); Fourth Entrance (2014, Taras Shevchenko National Museum, Kyiv); Catapult (2014, Open City, Lublin, Poland); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Where is Your Brother? (2013–2014, ArtSvit Gallery, Dnipro, Ukraine); Catapult (2013, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Poster (2012, Biruchiy International Symposium / Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); First Was the Street (2012, Kvartyra Art Centre, Dnipro, Ukraine); PinchukArtCentre Prize Nominees (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Solitude (2011, Kvartyra Art Centre, Dnipro, Ukraine).

I grew up in the late 1980s. The day-to-day life of ordinary Soviet citizens of the time was fairly simple and poor by the present standards, but nobody thought to complain, having no ground for comparison. Despite all hardships, my childhood was rich in treasures: books about Renaissance, modern and Impressionist art, publications on classical architecture, vinyl discs with recordings of fairytales, and filmstrips, which were absolutely magical. My maternal grandfather was an architect. He designed and supervised the construction of fortifications during the war. He was a formative influence in my life. We drew a lot together, and he once explained the basics of conveying movement, based on the example of a jumping horse. After grandpa died, I read the letters he wrote to his wife in 1941–1946. Aside from private details, they contain historical information, descriptions of wartime day-to-day life, psychological portraits and descriptions of those around him. I reread them recently and was stunned by the fact that you don’t see the time distance in them. My contemporary was speaking to me from these yellowed pages! By the way, I want to create a project based on these materials. “Childhood is hell,” Matt Groening said once. I would paraphrase and say that Soviet school was the real hell. Its ironclad system did not brook the slightest hint at individuality or free thought, which is why I had it tough. In university, I fanatically drew, painted, worked on composition and my projects, and consciously ignored everything else. I should say that this education strategy proved fairly successful. I had no interest in politics. What worried me most was the absence of choice and the pervasive enforced inertia. My career as an architect began in 2004, during the economic revival, which meant that I worked quite effectively and headed several design groups at various companies. At 28, I decided to become an artist. It was a conscious choice, and a fairly risky one at that. In essence, I abandoned a successful career as an architect in favor of dubious prospects, but I chose to try. I returned to Dnipro from Kyiv and locked myself up in a giant rented studio for 2 years. I created Solitude and Fourth Entrance. I had nei-

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ther a creative strategy nor friends in the art scene. I chose Dnipro for work. Many of my friends find the decision irrational to this day. It does not have enough institutions to support an artist. On the other hand, I like the feeling of starting from the blank slate, from the cold industrial zone, of being the first astronaut on Mars. I create my environment for myself, without getting distracted by the hum of someone else’s thoughts, enjoying my distance from the general stream. Artistically speaking, Dnipro is like an American cabriolet left by the empty Route 66 with a key in the ignition. Its only significant con is the dearth of like-minded people to discuss professional issues with in-depth. Everything I do is similar to scientific exploratory expeditions sent out from the centre in all directions. The only thing they have in common is the general approach. Some explore military conflicts, others violence, yet others design spatial locomotion apparatuses. Had I grown up in the artistic milieu, I might have joined an art movement, but at present I have more affinity for a Western-style independent artist type. I’m only ever free in the small space I created for myself. Our art scene is unhealthy, rife with insecurities and hostility. I’d rather everyone did their own thing despite prohibitions, taboos and dissenting opinions. Journalists should also be able to judge an artwork independently. We lack objective criticism, that’s a fact. Do I consider myself free? You can fly wherever you want if the need or desire strikes you, which is a primary sign of freedom. Ukraine still lacks accessible flights, high-quality highways and decent conditions for artists. For me, freedom is about freedom of movement, development and private property rights. Do we have it? I don’t think so. Art in Ukraine is evolving. The last 25 years brought many breakthroughs, but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. Ukrainians did not realize that we had a lot of catching up to do until recently, and no miracle could happen without our efforts. In general, social and political tensions often propel art forward: revolutions are always a trampoline for art, so our country has all chances to improve. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska


Siberia installation, Chinese black doily, 300 x 2000 cm, 2015 (Moscow Gostiny Dvor)

Catapult installation, wood, metal, 400 x 700 x 200 cm, 2013–2014 (Lublin, Poland)

Lectorium action, wood, 600 x 700 cm, 2015 (Dnipro, Ukraine)

Lectorium action, wood, 600 x 700 cm, 2015 (Dnipro, Ukraine)

Siberia installation, Chinese color doily, 300 x 2000 cm, 2015 (Art-Vilnius, Lithuania)

Where Is Your Brother?, panel, altar, Christmas tree decorations, 400 x 1300 cm, 2013 (Dnipro, Ukraine)

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Penetration series. Composition # 5, photo, 142 x 220 cm, 2016

Penetration series. Composition # 1, photo, 142 x 220 cm, 2016

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Where Is Your Brother? series. Composition # 2, photo, 150 x 200 cm, 2013

Where Is Your Brother? series. Composition # 5, photo, 150 x 200 cm, 2013

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MASHA SHUBINA

Born in 1979 in Kyiv. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture and the Moscow Institute of Architecture. Got Silver PinchukArtCentre Prize in 2009. Nominee of the PinchukArtCentre Prize in 2011. Lives and works in Kyiv and Berlin. Selected exhibitions: Event Horizon (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Lost and Found (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Lost and Found (2013, Pecher­sky Gallery, Moscow); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Show Off (2008, Espace Pierre Cardin, Paris); GENERATIONS.UsA (2007, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Self-Portrait (2006, La Bertesca-Mansnata Gallery, Genova, Italy); Hot Summer (2006, Fine Art Gallery, Moscow); Portrait of a Face (2005, Guelman Gallery, M’ARS Gallery, Moscow); To Go (2005, L-art Gallery, Kyiv); South Wing (2005, Bethanien Kunsthaus, Berlin).

After I was kicked out of a swimming team as a child, my parents decided that painting would be the safest “sport” for me. They sent me first to art classes, and then to art school. I grew up surrounded by antiquarian furniture, ancient books and artworks, dreaming of a normal desk and furniture all my friends had. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a marvelous environment my parents created. By the way, my father was a monumentalist. His mosaic graces the Institute of Chemistry. This is where my desire to work with public spaces comes from, I think. I always liked precise lines and the need to meticulously consider each detail, which is why a graduated from the Department of Architecture. Like all graduates, I found a job in the trade, but it all changed after my husband moved abroad. Iliya [the artist Iliya Chichkan] received a scholarship to create a new project in Germany, and I dared to follow him. We spent more than four years in Berlin, and I fell in love with painting. What started out as a hobby propelled by the desire to try something new and to take my mind off things became the work of my life. For me, painting is an interesting but painstaking work that requires constant technical improvement. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine happened while we were in Berlin. Of course, is struck me. I couldn’t believe that we began to define who we are as a nation and had finally realized that our strength lies in unity. Illia and I, of course, organized an action in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Germany to show support. I paint self-portraits, but my protagonist is a symbol of all women. I depict myself in different, sometimes unexpected roles. It’s not that I would like to show my viewers what it means to be a woman. No matter what people might say, my works are not an ode to feminism. I approach my gender with irony, highlighting artificial anxieties and

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putting uniquely female problems under magnifying glass. My husband and I realized that sadness is not the only framework for approaching serious topics during our year in India. I think you should explain what you mean at once. As a rule, artists are not that fond of explanations, but to be accessible is to be relevant. That’s not to say that everyone will see your message from your perspective, no matter how hard you try. I paint because I like the process. Indeed, the process, because you don’t see the result until later. I cannot imagine myself as a performer: I’m put off by its artificiality, flirting with the public, impossibility to document the work’s final form. I’m not one for using and abusing the topic of national independence, but you cannot stand back when radical changes occur around you. The very notion of “independence” is relative. I don’t think there’s a single truly independent country in the world. I’m sorry that regular people who’d rather know nothing about the war and ambitions of certain dictators fall victim of political intrigues. Sadly, patriotism, too, is being imposed as the result of political manipulations. I know nothing about politics, so I try to avoid discussing the topic. Imagine every plumber, pilot and artist advising in state matters. That’s patently absurd, and the results would be catastrophic. I feel inner freedom. My works were never censored, as is the custom in Russia, say. Russian artists, curators and gallery owners fear the regime and cannot speak freely. Russian institutions often say, “Sorry, that’s not our format.” Artists want to explore the color, texture and depth of images, and insofar these explorations can affect anything at all, I hope they will not harm either the society or the artist. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska


ARTeFUCK’S project, installation, 2010

ARTeFUCK’S project, installation, 2010

LOSTandFOUND project, installation, 2013

LOSTandFOUND project, installation, 2013

Artist Nature project, installation, 2012 (Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv)

Artist Nature project, installation, 2012 (Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv)

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From the Face of Surface project, 2010

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From the Face of Surface project, 2010

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ТYBERIY SILVASHI

Born in 1947 in Mukachevo, Transcarpathia Region. Graduated from T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Was among the founders of the New Wave in the 1980s, gathering the future masters of Ukrainian art at Sedniv plein-airs. Ideologue and head of Painting Preserve (the 1990s), a union of abstract artists who used color as their main instrument. Selected exhibitions: Monochromia. Alliance 22 (2016, Diehl Gallery, Berlin); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv): Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Simple Form (2010, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Tyberiy Silvashi and Vasyl Bazhai. Abstract Painting (2010, Museum of Modern Art of Ukraine, Kyiv); Wings (2008, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Night. Day. Garden (2008, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Painting (2006, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Skin of Painting (2004, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Rembrandt-Zoom (2003, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); “Ь” Works on Paper (2001, Centre of French Culture, Kyiv); Painting (2000, Centre of Contemporary Art, Kyiv); Color Painting (1999, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Painting (1995, Gаllеrу Wienеr Рlаtz, Munich, Germany); Painting (1993, Еsрасе Croix-Baragnon Gallery, Toulouse, France); Trio (Prokopov-Yakutovych-Silvashi) (1991, Kyiv, Ukraine / Leipzig, Germany).

TYBERIY SILVASHI: ON CULTURE, PAINTING AND TIME began in art school became an integral part of my life and work in painting. Strange as that may sound, my understanding of art and painting informs my understanding of society. I find it obvious that a free person needs independent art. This is also the basis of state sovereignty. These two “components” are directly interlinked: a free state needs freethinking citizens. “Crisis” has become the byword of present discussions of culture. Organizational and institutional challenges can be overcome fairly quickly, whereas the crisis’ deeper causes require comprehensive reflection. Culture is a sophisticated construct based on elaborate interrelations, values and presentations that cover everything, from the shape of coffee cups and one’s behavior at a bus stop; culture includes scientific discoveries, philosophical treatises and graffiti in residential neighborhoods. Not to mention art. Its place has changed, as did the world, our Weltanschauung, the very basics. The post-secular information age recoded many axioms, although not necessarily to the core. The crisis stems from the contradictions inherent in our understanding of the new circumstances, in the language we use to describe the world. For a while, I asked myself and the smart people I was fortunate to meet, “What is the present function of art?” Its function remains fairly clear as long as we live in a stable system. As long as we do, we don’t even question it. But in times of crisis this question becomes pressing. I would comPainting, oil on canvas, 200 x 180 cm, 2006–2007 pare the civilization shift we are living through with the transitional era beliefs were hard-won, based in life experience and knowledge of world between Antiquity and Christianity. The paradigm is changing, with one of its key elements, the alphabet culture, shifting to the culture of digital techculture, and they needed no corrections. I fully agreed with him. Speaking of myself, the changes in my worldview resulted primarily from self-reflec- nical images, as Vilém Flusser has put it. Media, and I mean alphabet and tion about art, its place in society and civilization, and from analyzing its digital images both, play the decisive role in forming the interface between basic elements and functions. Obviously, these changes did correlate with humankind and the world, in our perception of space and time. Thence stem certain social processes. Nevertheless, the analytical creative process that other relations: interpersonal relations as well as our attitude towards reliAt a meeting with viewers organized by Danylo Lider and myself in the late 1980s, we were asked, “We have Perestroika now. How did your opinions change in the context? What is your personal Perestroika?” Danylo calmly said that he did not plan to change anything: his preferences and

Painting, oil on canvas, 150 х 150 cm, 2003–2014 280

Monochrome, Kyiv Art-Contemporary, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2013


Wings (fragment of an installation), plywood, mixed media, 150 x 150 cm, 2008

gion, politics, ideology, privacy, institutions, and more; it all began after the era of Kant and Hegel. The latter, as we know, “drew the line” under art, stressing that the affirmation of individualism put an end to “spiritual history.” Having become fully autonomous, art kept expanding its sovereign zone. The collapse of conventional forms of “alphabet culture” (novels, symphonies, operas and paintings) began by the late 19 th century. The 20 th century witnessed the ongoing dissolution of the traditional system, which transformed into various subsystems. As the result, we are often forced to ask: “Are we still within the realm of art? What are its borders and functions?” Maybe we should let “the Other” speak? Should art become a market product? An element of propaganda? An expression of individual freedom? Or, as one political spin doctor told me, “art has to serve the Matrix.” That’s an allusion to that famous movie. Should art do all of that? This question haunts all those who try to figure out how this mechanism works. There comes a point when you have to make a stand and commit to an existential choice. Your very life is at stake. In the times of cultural crises, we’ve got to admit that not everything that is a fact of culture is also a fact of art. Art, I think, has its own territory, and, obviously, its own specific function. It has its specific way of problematizing relations between humankind and the world within the framework of time and space, creating new combinations of linguistic constructs and offering a new perspective on earlier experience, often transcending the boundaries of what we customarily describe as culture, the boundaries of cultural conventions. This, I think, is one of the most important, if not the most important trait of the period we are living in. It is characteristic of the staggering changes of humankind and society in the present digital era. Moreover, it is accompanied by the tension-laden process of globalization, which brought about the standoff of global and regional myths. We need new modes of representation, which are tied to art’s most important function: expanding the horizons of experience and perception. Art changes humankind through an elaborate “symbolic exchange,” shifting its perspective and jumpstarting social shifts. Art, I think, is an anthropological practice first and foremost: artworks create and structure new options of the possible. I’ve been painting throughout my entire life. I painted both when painting was hailed as “the king of art,” and I’m doing it now, when its role is under question. The Soviet-era isolation made us miss the issues raised by global modernism, and censorship ensured that we knew nothing about our homegrown modernism. Our reception of postmodernism was belated, we missed international discussions about “the death of the author” and were stunned to discover that painting was dead, then reborn; thank God, it lives on. At a certain stage in life, it was crucial for me to understand how these changes worked, and what were the basics of art and painting. When argu-

ing about the essence of art with my friend Jerzy Onuch, as was our wont, I angrily yelled, “You know, painting now, when everyone and their mom says that painting is dead, is an act of faith.” Obviously, this rhetorical figure harks back to Tertullian, but it also underscores the ontological principles that make people engage in painting, this ostensibly absurd craft. I eventually tried to formulate what I always knew intuitively: there’s a difference between those who use art to convey a message or a thought, and painters who live in the color chaos and seek to order it throughout their lives, be it on canvas, in space, in paint, stones, water, electric lamps… I wouldn’t equate the broad term “artists” with the more specific term “painter.” The difference lies not only in the very nature of the “gift” or talent of a painter, but also in the act of painting. It offers access to a “symbolic space,” and the position of a “medium.” So, on the one hand, it deals with the tropes of representation, and on the other, with the personal way of experiencing time and space through painting as a pre-linguistic experience. A viewer is offered not the final result as formulated by the artist (an idea framed in a given plastic form to be joyfully “unpacked”), but rather a singular perceptive and cognitive experience. Painting has no language. Semiotic models give way to “dual vision” as described by Didi-Huberman, when “what we see and what sees us” exist simultaneously. In the case, painting is Framework, tar and enamel on plywood, 2012 Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv not about observing color from the outside, but rather about sinking into color. This experience destroys the hierarchy between space and color objects, and allows to trace the logic of “painting.” It describes the new state of painting after the emergence of new media, after conceptualism, after post-screen painting. Last not least, even in heated discussions about the fate of art movements and new forms in the 1990s, whenever we discussed the fate of painting, I always stressed, “Everything created with paint is a painting.” Here’s another idea that I find important: “Painters of all times and nations are working on one giant meta-painting, creating the unified cloth of culture that unites the entirety of mankind through the medium of painting.” In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

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Painting, painting installation, 2000, CCA at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy�

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MARINA SKUGAREVA

Born in 1962 in Kyiv. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican School, Jemal Dagestan Art College (Makhachkala, Dagestan, Russia), and Lviv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts. A painter and graphic artist. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); I am a Drop in the Ocean: Art of the Ukrainian Revolution (2014, Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Our Kin (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Gender in Izolyatsia (2012, IZOLYATSIA Cultural Initiatives Foundation, Donetsk, Ukraine); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Іndependent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Michaelis’ Constellation, or Good Housewives (2007, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Madchen, Nymphen, Madchen (2002, Rebell Minds Gallery, Berlin); 20 Artists from Ukraine. End of Century (1999, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Marina Skugareva (1996, +/ – Gallery, Basel, Switzerland); I’m Fine (1996, CCA at NAUKMA, Kyiv); East-West (1994, Municipal Gallery, Odense, Denmark); Post-Love Time (1992, St. Alban Tal, Basel, Switzerland); Flash (1991, House of Architects, Kyiv).

NOW NOBODY STOPS YOU FROM MAKING ART About the first steps in art. It so happened that when I was 6 and there came the time to choose, my mom sent me to music school. They said I had absolute pitch, and so I started to study piano. My teacher, Alla Zakharivna, liked me. Whenever I came for a lesson, she would hug and kiss me, and that was the only thing stopping me from dropping out. I did best at public performances. I knew how to hold myself on the stage and make a production of sitting down the way the pianist Stanislav Neuhaus did: as a kid, I saw him perform at the Kyiv Philharmonic, and he took his time making himself comfortable before the concert. That’s what Alla Zakharivna taught me too. She told me you shouldn’t just plop down in front of your instrument: you should make yourself comfortable, and only once you feel comfortable, you should get down to performing. We lived on 7A Andriivskyi Descent. 7 Andriivskyi Descent was a shoemaker’s hovel a little down the slope. Its façade was twice taller than its back: Bulgakov left detailed descriptions of the Descent’s recognizable topography. In winter, my friends and I would sled to school. My father was an architect. By then (I’m talking about 1968) my parents were already divorced, and dad went to Dagestan. He would occasionally visit. He wanted me to paint, and dreamed that I would become an illustrator. He said that sculpture is an excellent craft too, but it’s physically tough for a woman because you develop strong shoulders. Dad insisted that I should take arts classes. I was in 3rd grade by then, already a pioneer. I started to frequent art classes at the Palace of Pioneers. I was no good at it, I drew poorly and always teetered on the verge of being expelled, but I was tolerated. I enrolled in sculpture classes later, and they did kick

Wednesday, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm, 2002 284

Letter, oil on canvas, digital print, 117 x 140 cm, 2009

me out of that one. I was 10. In 1974, I applied to the 6th grade of Republican Art School [now the T. H. Shevchenko State Comprehensive Art School. — N. M.]. Before that, I studied with an excellent teacher Davyd Myrestkyi for 6 months. He would tell me, “The most important thing is, your pencil should be sharp as a needle.” Eventually I did come to realize that, indeed, it might be the most important thing. He was the first teacher to have really taught me anything. After that, after I was accepted to the Republican Art School, everything went smoothly. I cannot say that I was particularly successful. I was no good at drawing there either. Everyone around me drew very well. I found myself when I went to dad in Dagestan and applied to a weaving program at the local art college. Weaving is about material and decorative ornaments. Coming up with new ornaments is tough, but I was good at it. We had an excellent 26-year old instructor, Galia Kugusheva, a recent graduate of Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry. A 15-year old me thought she was an adult. I think she was the single most important formative influence in my life. Once I felt the warmth of the carpets, the living material, the wool thread that carried you in the right direction even if you did something wrong, I could finally relax. I learned eastern weaving techniques and felt like a master at 16. Once I stopped being afraid, both composition and painting gradually got better too. As a student of the Lviv Institute, I felt like a star, because we studied what I had already mastered by 16. But in the USSR, you could not do without a diploma, so I had to graduate from the institute.


Still Life, oil on canvas, 140 x 260 cm, 1998

I met Oleg [Tistol. — N. M.] at the institute. men, now women… I think, although I might My story with painting started after he came be wrong, that the term “women’s work” is back from the army. The Forceful Aspect of only appropriate in places where women have to toil on the soil and at home, and art is assoNational Post-Eclecticism [Oleg Tistol and ciated with leisure, which just isn’t there. VilKostiantyn (Vinny) Reunov. — N. M.] already lagers taunted Kateryna Bilokur as an ill-temexisted. I met Kostia Reunov, who got me involved in their “creative process.” Everything pered shrew who “drew devils” instead of mardeveloped rally fast. We met Mitia Kantorov rying, raising children and tending her garden. at the first Soviet-American exhibition, and he Now nobody stops you from making art. I think invited us to Furmanny Lane Squat in Moscow. everyone rejoices when new artists emerge, I created my first large painting there. At first be they male or female, and nobody oppressI felt ill at ease around already formed artists. es anybody. On the other hand, you might get bogged down by circumstances to the point Both Oleg and Kostia were 100% Ukrainian where there’s no space left for art. You might rather than Soviet artists. Their art was intelget distracted by your garden, husband, wife, lectual, singular and steeped in their background. It was not easy to dare to do somechildren, sense of beauty, the need to earn thing of my own next to them. Eventually money elsewhere, the desire to enjoy someembroidery gave me creative freedom: it was body else’s art instead of creating your own, the finishing touch in a portrait I painted, makthe desire to read, travel, meditate, pray, hang out, listen to music, write letters, clean your ing the painting complete. For me, embroidery From Behind, oil on canvas, embroidery, 180 x 140 cm, 1990 house, clean your summer house… Femininis like asking for mom’s help: it is authentic, spicy, ancient. Embroidery helped me to stop fearing painting. It was a code ity does not necessarily have anything to do with it, it is largely a personal choice about what one does with one’s time. For me art is a vacation. It for additional meanings that I added to a work with my own hands. Maybe it’s unseemly to say that something comes from an artist’s heart so happens that I always choose something else, something useful or usewhen talking to an art scholar. But what can I do? That’s how it works for less, always out of love, although I, too, occasionally complain that womme. Maybe I should explain: the war is going on, and, of course, I would en have it hard. As to “female art” as such, to a recognizable female style, that is, I think it’s good if you can see it, but it’s also good if you cannot. not paint anything about it because it’s beyond my skills. On feminism. I cannot be described as a social artist; I did have that series What matters is the art object, good or bad, beautiful or not; everything about housewives, but it was purely emotional. I never described myself as else, including the artist’s gender, is just random noise. Although circuma feminist. Whom I paint depends on circumstances. I paint people, now stances, too, are important: if The Wild Hillshaker or The Green Elephant were painted by Michael Jackson rather than Maria Pryimachenko, we’d see them differently. Yes, the artist’s personality, biography, femininity or masculinity matter too, to an extent. Ukraine, as I see is, is a marvelous, unique and unrealized country. We have nothing to fear, we should be honest and open. Whatever happens, artists always react first. We should do our job without fear, and we’ll see what comes of it later. If we imitate the trends current in the west, they won’t be ours. Russia had Sots Art, but it’s not really appropriate to our circumstances. When our artists tried to play at it, they failed, because our lives were different. We have our own trends, and will always have them. I think our art will be unique. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko Still Life, oil on canvas, embroidery, 30 x 40 cm, 2000 285


Evening Kyiv, oil on canvas, embroidery, 180 x 140 cm, 1989

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Katia, digital print, acrylic and felt-tip pen on canvas, 190 x 140 cm, 2012

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YURIY SOLOMKO

Born in 1962 in Crimea. Graduated from the Krasnodar Art College and the Department of Monumental Art of Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Lives and works in Kyiv. Was a member of the Kyiv-based Paris Commune art group (1990–1994). Began his project Cartography in 1991. Selected exhibitions: ParСommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Our People (2016, Lavra Gallery, Kyiv); Contemporary Cossack (2015, Bunsen Goetz Galerie, Nuremberg, Germany); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Over the Wall (2009, Art Next Gallery, New York); G8 (2008, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainian Painting (2008, White Box Gallery, New York); Regeneration (2003, Guelman Gallery, Kyiv); Art Against Geography (2001, Museum of Russian Art, St. Petersburg, Russia); The First Ukrainian Project (2001, 49 th Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); Intervals (2000, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv / Henie–Onstad Kunstsentre, Hovikodden, Oslo); Cartographers (1998, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb / Umetnostna Gallery, Maribor, Slovenia / Mucsarnok, Budapest / Zamek Ujazdovski, Warsaw); Visual Art (1996, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Borders (1996, Spacelab Gallery, Cleveland, USA); Hot Cool Orientation (1994, Szuper Gallery, Munich, Germany); Group-90 (1993, Palais Palffy, Vienna); Beginning (1992, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv).

GEOGRAPHY, POLITICS, CULTURE. YURIY SOLOMKO’S “ART ON MAPS” There’s an interesting story about how you first turned to geographic maps as an art object… Yes, it happened in Crimea in 1991, right before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I walked into this almost empty bookshop that sold nothing but old political world maps. I decided to use them in art. This is how my experiment with maps began… and in two months’ time, the USSR was gone.

I think each country has its own mission in the world, and although the mission might change over time, its place in space does not change. We cannot move our country from one section of the map to the other. Its geographical position largely informs its historic fate. Ukraine lies in the European part of the Eurasia, but civilization-wise, it is a battleground of the East and the West. The borders of the battleground are blurred and undefined, and they are not limited to Ukraine alone. The battle rages not only in Ukraine but also in, say, Turkey, where the bridge across the Bosporus connects the European and Asian parts of Istanbul. The former Yugoslavian countries defined the border between the Ottoman Empire and the Austria-Hungary. Poland, which blinked in and out of European maps, the Baltic countries and Russia, which has the geographical border between Europe and Asia, are also territories of the ancient battle between the East and the West. I should note that the East had often influenced Ukrainian history (suffice to mention Asian nomads, the Russian Empire or the USSR), only to retreat from the Western forces. This territory was initially controlled by Vikings, and later belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Austria-Hungary. In the days of yore, Ukraine existed as an idea, as a dream about sovereignty and independence. My recent works (Labyrinth of 2001, The Last Barricade of 2003, The Roads of Ukraine of 2009) explored the fact that Ukrainian territory seems historically “ambiguous,” now shrinking, now expanding…

Walk, digital print, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, 2015

Well, the story demonstrates that artists and art have the power of premonition. Some say that all illusions, ideas and global projects already exist in art. You continued to work with maps throughout these 25 years. They became your calling card. Do they still have potential for you? Yes, absolutely. The world remains as tumultuous as it ever was, and humanity is stirred by ever new geopolitical projects. Maps force me to engage with space, culture and history as they closely intertwine. My “creative vector” has somewhat changed, however. In the 1990s, I was interested in world maps, whereas now I prefer maps of Ukraine, exploring its place on the Eurasian continent, its ties to the East and West… You once said in an interview that it is hard to find a generalized metaphor for Ukraine: it is too diverse and internally contradictory. Do you still think so?

Our Two-Headed Eagle, paper on fibreboard, lithography, acrylic, 67 x 97,5 cm, 2016 288


Yuriy Solomko’s studio, Kyiv, 2012

The works you’ve mentioned are worth more consideration. Your ongoing “experiment with maps” directly addresses the historic fate of Ukraine and its principal problem, which gained new relevance in recent years, namely, the choice of social and cultural orientation. Labyrinth explored Ukraine’s “spatial indeterminacy” through metaphors and imagery, whereas The Roads of Ukraine depicted our state as a “hidden,” obscure space full of potential but as yet unrevealed meanings. The Last Barricade predicted “the Crimean problem” that broke through the surface of social, historical and political life. Did your perception of Ukrainian borders change over the last years? Without a doubt. Everything changed in the recent years. The annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas made us all reconsider our country, its history and its role in the global processes. The moment Ukraine tries to break out of the stereotypical “transit zone” and to define its priorities, there is tension. This happened in 1918, and is happening again now. The moment Ukraine declared its European choice, its eastern neighbor said no. In essence, at present Europe’s main border runs through eastern Ukraine. The former “soft transition,” a peaceful dialogue between the East and the West that ostensibly existed until recently, disappeared, and the former geopolitical system disappeared with it. I documented and conveyed my understanding of the new situation in one work, Cossack Mamai (2014). Do you think this east-west axis will remain relevant for Ukraine, or may new vectors arise?

The Last Barricade (with Ismet Sheykh-Zade), oil on canvas, digital print, 195 x 280 cm, 2003

A new, North-South civilization axis, which had once played an important role in our history, might reappear. It once connected Scandinavia with Greece and united eastern European lands in a new “geographical framework.” This renowned “route from the Varangians to the Greeks” created the Kyivan Rus’, which was once an important centre of Eastern Europe. It was a centre that generated cultural meanings for West and East, not a transit zone. In 1999–2000, I created a series of works on Norse mythology, also engaging works of Classical Antiquity… Ukraine’s dialogue with the North is barely audible at present. But it existed: the Varangians, the Swedes, the Lithuanians… Curiously, the moment we developed a well-defined border with Russia in the east, the need to rekindle our connections with the north and south arose again. We can interpret that as a sturdy vertical axis that will not let the enemy shake the country from east to west. Strong connections with Poland and Turkey were suggested. We should eventually discuss an Inter-Sea geopolitical project, an alliance of the Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine that would connect the Baltic and the Black Sea. This alliance might shift the balance of power in Europe and open sweeping new horizons to Ukraine. Have you created new works on the topic? Not yet. It is a project for the future. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

Ukraine, oil on canvas, digital print, 127 x 180 cm, 2009 289


Ukraine. 20th Century, paper on canvas, acrylic, 195 x 275 cm, 2013

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Cossack Mamai, digital print, oil on canvas, 131 x 190 cm, 2014

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ANTON SOLOMOUKHA

Born in 1945 in Kyiv. Graduated from the Department of Icon Conservation of the Kyiv State Institute of Arts, where he studied at Tetiana Yablonska’s studio. Emigrated to France in 1978. Worked in narrative figurative painting since the 1980s. Famous for introducing a new genre of contemporary photography, “photopainting.” His most famous series include Little Red Riding Hood Visits Louvre (2008) and Little Red Riding Hood Visits Chernobyl (2010). They are striking examples of contemporary decadence, where macabre and obscene sensuality coexist with postmodern irony, multiple subtexts and intellectual plays. A renowned master of erotic photography, Solomoukha was a long-time participant of FEPN, the most prestigious European Festival of Photography Nu in Arles (France). Died in 2015. Selected exhibitions: 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Anton Solomoukha, Victor Sydorenko, Oleg Tistol (2011, Albert Benamou Gallery, Paris); Play as a Rule (2010, National Academy of Art of Ukraine, Kyiv); Hygiene and (National) Identity (2010, Gallery Pascal Polar, Brussels); Little Red Riding Hood Visits Louvre (2009, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Little Red Riding Hood Visits Louvre (2007, IFS, Paris); Venus’ Mirror (2007, AS Edit Prod, Paris) Genealogy of Fantasy (2006, AS, Paris); Anton Solomoukha (1991, Gallery J. F. Jobbi, Neuchâtel, Switzerland); Expressive Drawing (1991, Elga Wimmer PCC, New York).

Anton Solomoukha’s art is not easily accessible to an unprepared viewer, especially given that it is not commercial. His alternative projects seek synchronicity between generations past and theoretical perspectives on the present, and are dominated by provocative debunking of taboos; he also routinely reflected global cataclysms in the lens of hedonism. His works are often met with sharp resistance, and require serious unpacking. Solomoukha’s worldview was informed by the classic masters of Ukrainian painting, his professors Tetiana Yablonska and Mykola Storozhenko, the theater designer Mykhailo Frenkel, the director Sergei Paradzhanov, and the writer Victor Nekrasov. He graduated from the Department of Monumental Art of the Kyiv State Institute of Arts in 1979, and began his career as an artist in Paris, where he lived and worked for more than 30 years. His works were mounted in galleries in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other European countries, as well as in Canada and the USA. His original and progressive artistic self-expression won him the prestigious Golden European prize of the European Union of Arts (2013). His compositions offer personal interpretations of classical works of Caravaggio, Manet, Poussin and Rubens. He did tens of thousands of photographs of about 200 models. The artist also engaged with the works of 20 th century artists: Schnabel, Salle, Malevich, and others. By “quoting” fragments of these artists’ works, Anton Solomoukha connected the 20 th century with the 21st, expounding a different logic of contemporaneous world. To resort to the term coined by Bulgakov, his favorite expressive trope was “mental theater,” which combined subculture and classics, kitsch and aesthetic underground.

His post-Chernobyl images set up an absurdist theater with polished scenography of female bodies in fake ecstatic and almost tortured poses, with striking lighting and sadomasochist elements; this facet of contemporaneous art appeals to anatomy rather than pathos. Markedly “irreconcilable” planes underscore illogic combinations of humans and things in contrasting creative structures. Many of Solomoukha’s series, including Little Red Riding Hood Visits Chernobyl (2010), manifest sadistic and destructive elements in their ritualistic communion with the architectonics of female bodies. Anton Solomoukha’s gallery of mutilated and tied up female bodies harks back to Helnwein’s heritage. Helnwein’s works, however, force viewers to sympathize with war victims by “demonstrating” the bandaged flesh of innocent children (the Disasters of War series, 2007). Solomoukha, meanwhile, barges into the deepest, most mysterious depths of human physiology, like motherhood as the holy of holies of female roles, to offer up a new perspective on the ethics of humanism. Helnwein’s final goal is to reach the sacred mount Fuji. Solomoukha’s final goal is to raise the question of physical or even physiological synthesis of human quotidian existence and its reflection in art. Solomoukha’s cynical carnival rips the masks of history off Caravaggio’s or Rubens’ characters, and pushes the viewers from the rut of the present, with it vacuous quotidian, into the bold world of creative fantasy. His artistic antihumanism is uncompromising but fake; he plunges his viewers into the agonizing atmosphere of historical blunders of the 20 th century. Over the course of the last decade, Solomoukha created a world of aesthetic mutations (paintings of the Boom Boom Rococo series, 1998– 1999) and metaphorical aggressive and erotic imagery, where the artist

From the Botched Immaculate Conception project, mixed media, acrylic on canvas, 178 x 178 cm (each), 2009 292


Gallery Pascal Polar, Brussels, 2009

himself directed sadomasochist experiments (We Are Not Like That, We Love Each Other, 2010). His aesthetic alternates the sacred and the profane (pregnancy and mutilation, beauty and brutal nudity), revealing the anatomic procession of linguistic and artistic associations. Solomoukha’s art is based on associations. Much like Diane Arbus, Joel-Peter Witkin or Robert Mapplethorpe, he is interested in the covert, prohibited, and mysterious, tempting us to glance into the hidden depths of human instincts and taboos, to touch them with the blade of technologies of suffering and tragedies, to turn them into a provocative yet tightly regimented and projected burlesque of conscious artistic voyeurism. Anton Solomoukha does not describe the phenomena that a priori do not belong to humanism, and neither does he “rehabilitate” humankind for its complicity in history or create “the image of humankind.” The artist integrates humanist images of people from past centuries into the context of our century, unencumbered with humanism, and dares to make global cataclysms all about pleasure. We witness, that is, the dreary play with history as such. The specificity of the game’s goals forms its pragmatics: to revel in tragedy. For example, the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster is seen through the lens of Little Red Riding Hood’s pseudo-tragedy. Solomoukha maintained that contemporary art had to develop a unified theory, and produced his own ironic manifesto of contemporary art (Rules of the Game. Game as the Rule) in 2010. Postmodernists ironically or even hysterically expected that their works would be accepted by many, if not by all, adding generic and thematic elements of “historical horror” (Umberto Eco), murder mysteries, romance or grotesque to their game. Contemporary art, meanwhile, does not flirt with the public; Solomoukha stated

Rules of the Game. Chaos — Order I, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2011

ART KYIV Contemporary, Kyiv, 2010

that this art required not admiration or aesthetic pleasure but analytical criticism. At the same time, he made a truly interesting discovery by stating that art was not what you saw but what you understood and felt later; and it does not end at that. Therefore, he, too, expected understanding, but of a more active sort. The cornerstone of Solomoukha’s notion may be found in a response in the consciousness and soul of his viewers, first of dismay (initial vehement denial and criticism), and then of anxious but progressively more harmonious self-perception and self-cognition. What matters is what happens later, not at the moment when the works are perceived. A person pre-reception differs from the person at the moment of reception, and from the one afterward. The recipient as a critic is elevated to the status of an artist in his interactions with an artwork. Solomoukha’s artistic philosophy lies in presenting the 20 th century dehumanized social structure as an endlessly recurring presumption of guilt as “the original sin.” As the artist himself had put it, “my works reveal nothing, and confirm nothing. They seek to push viewers to a certain degree of spiritual tension, which makes them active elements of the work.” Boris Groys believed that, from its very beginning, art was the end of art, only ever interested in its own death, and each artwork ritualistically recreated and staged this death anew. Anton Solomoukha staged art’s transience, seeking “ever new impossibilities, ever new taboos.” Each new work revealed a synthesis of myth, metamorphoses, metaphors of coming closer to death for rebirth. His poetics of pessimism, however, allow us to touch present-day symbolism while staying in the mental space of classical masterpieces. Lesia Smyrna

Rules of the Game. Chaos — Order II, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2011 293


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Project KITSCH + ECLECTICISM = SYMPTOMS OF DECADENCE. № 1, mixed media, acrylic and oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2010

Project KITSCH + ECLECTICISM = SYMPTOMS OF DECADENCE. № 3, mixed media, acrylic and oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2010

Boom-Boom Rococo!, oil on canvas, 160 x 160 cm, 1999–2004

Salome Receives the Head of St. John the Baptist, oil on canvas, 130 x 130 cm, 1999–2002


Self-Portrait. To Caravaggio, photopainting, 120 x 86 cm, 2011

Self-Portrait. To Bacchus, photopainting, 120 x 86 cm, 2011

Self-Portrait. To Velázquez, photopainting, 120 x 86 cm, 2011

Self-Portrait. To Rubens, photopainting, 120 x 86 cm, 2011

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Chernobyl. Swimming Pool. The Massacre at Chios by Eugène Delacroix, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2009

Chernobyl. Swimming Pool. Mercury and the Three Graces by Tintoretto, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2009

Chernobyl. Gym. The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2009

Chernobyl. Gym. Olympia by Édouard Manet, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2009

Chernobyl. Gym. The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2009

Chernobyl. Basketball Hall. The Bacchanal by Titian, photopainting, 100 x 150 cm, 2009

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Chernobyl. Young Witches, photopainting, 150 x 100 cm, 2011–2012

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ANNA SOROKOVAYA

Born in 1980 in Simferopol, lives and works in Kyiv. Graduated from Samokish Crimean Art College and the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (Kyiv). Shortlisted for MUHi (Young Ukrainian Artists) Prize, Kyiv, 2012; UK/Raine, Saatchi Gallery, London (2015). Selected exhibitions: Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); HERE AND THERE (2016, State Scientific-Technical Library of Ukraine, Kyiv); Shared Border (2015, Kyiv Biennale, Soshenko 33, Kyiv); X Art Kyiv Contemporary (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Acknowledging Possibilities (2014, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Life Environment (2013, Shcherbenko Art Centre, Kyiv); Comfort Zone (2012, Gogolfest, Kyiv); Illusory Body (2012, Bottegа Gallery, Kyiv).

MARVELOUS EXPERIENCE OF INCONSTANCY We are so used to constant changes that they’ve become a constancy in our lives. There’s little we could lean on, because anything can change at any moment. Openness to changes and the need for ongoing transformations have their benefits. It is a marvelous experience of inconstancy. Everything that was ever created will one day be destroyed, but that does not excuse inaction: to the contrary, it should inspire a more mindful approach to what you are doing. There will always be changes, and everyone has to choose his or her own strategy for dealing with them. I don’t think there’s a single “most important” element of art for me: they emerge and change at will. Art reflects social processes, but sometimes it is oblique rather than straightforward. They are not necessarily reflected in the plot, but knowing historical context, you understand why the work emerged in this or that form, why it prioritized a given theme. This logic interests me. I do not discriminate between practical experience and theory. Art projects and things that ostensibly have no relation to art are equally important to me. I treasure diverse experiences that give one a more comprehensive understanding of what is going on around us. It’s important to value each moment without singling out more or less important ones depending on your priorities. In my projects, I treat deep personal feelings in the context of transformations. I address changes in consciousness, bodies, ideas, external factors and social processes, the cyclical movement from creation to dissolution, the aesthetics and beauty of any process. I examine how humans mediate between the opposite poles, making choices, grasping or, to the contrary, suppressing the key questions in their consciousness. In the project Illusory Body, I engaged with things that touched bodies. Our bodies undergo constant transformations, and we cannot halt these processes for longer than a brief while. Bodies always change, none of

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us could escape that, or the experience of losing our loved ones. These moments often cause subconscious fear and denial. This project tracks my relationship with my body, but also demonstrates tactile, emotional embodied experience. It highlights the crossroads between the personal and the general, when the world is treated as a network of personal stories without beginning or end. The project Distinction subverts the form and ascribes value to random things. It raises the question of the conditional nature of conventionally accepted values. Form becomes content, and content becomes attractive vacuum. I often use cloth in my projects: I’m attracted by its illusoriness and malleability. I like the aesthetics of celebrations and ceremonies: in essence, they are imaginary constructs, so it’s interesting to observe them and adopt their tropes. I value not only creative practice but also cultural activism, when you yourself become a factor of change. It allows you to see certain processes from the inside, in practice. Once you get down to organizing the process yourself, you understand that everything depends on everything else to produce a given result. It is never easy to change yourself, overcome your fears and become more open, for an individual as for society. But only constant movement can produce changes, and you sometimes wish this movement was faster. Inner transformations are key, and those are never fast. Cultivating your inner freedom before you can affect social processes takes time. This period is often tough, but it equals life: you see everything change, and take part in it. Once you stop treating it exclusively as a time that precedes something “authentic,” it becomes highly valuable. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


Comfort Zone project, Gogolfest, Kyiv, 2012

Comfort Zone project, Gogolfest, Kyiv, 2012

Illusory Body project, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015

Illusory Body project (fragment), Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015

Shelter project, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2015

Shelter project, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2015

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Illusory Body project, UK/Raine, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2015

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Project Distinction / Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine, 2016

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ANATOL STEPANENKO

Born in 1948 in Irpin’, Kyiv Region. Graduated from the Kyiv College of Industries and Arts, Lviv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts, and courses for continued education of directors and scriptwriters (Moscow). Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Event Horizon (2016, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); In our paradise (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Ukrainian Landscape (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Metabotany II (2013, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Space Odyssey (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); 20th Century: Selected Artworks from the Collection of National Art Museum of Ukraine (2005, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The First Collection (2003, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Milestones of Peace (2001, New York); Markers: Art & Poetry in Venice (2001, 49 Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice); Construction in Process VII: This Earth is a Flower (2000, The International Artists’ Museum, Bydgoszcz, Poland).

To be an artist is my mode of existence. I know no other way of life. I’m prone to escapism. Art is my shelter from the aggression of the outside world. I chose not to use the Internet, you won’t find me on any social network. I might be losing out on many opportunities, but I’m constitutionally inclined towards existing “beyond boundaries.” It became crystal clear that I will be an artist when I was little. My mother worked a lot and did not have anyone to leave me with, so she would sit me down in the far corner of her office, hand me colored pencils, and I sank into a reality of my own making. Once I miraculously graduated from middle school in the town of Irpin, the entire faculty breathed a collective sigh of relief at having got rid of me. I was passionate about action art even back then. My desire to express my artistic nature knew no bounds, and was tied to searching for the edges of my own freedom. I applied to the Kyiv College of Art and Design as a stepping stone to art school. Strange as that may sound, my provincialism encouraged my self-affirmation. I spared no efforts in surpassing my classmates and becoming a leader. Several factors must have contributed to my evolution, from the liberal spirit of the Thaw to the desorientation of our professors, who themselves wanted to depart from the Socialist Realist canon. Nobody limited our artistic self-expression. Driven by the desire to prove myself, I sought self-improvement.

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Information about western avant-garde movements was scarce, but the seed fell on fertile soil. I was hailed as a hero for drawing a human with a square head. I thought I was ready for solo works by then, but nobody explained to me what it takes to be an artist in the country. Then I had a dark period, which might have ended in tragedy, had I not wound up in the navy. I spent 4 years in the Mediterranean, isolated from the world. By the time I returned to Kyiv, Brezhnev’s stagnation had begun; in my own world, the Thaw had barely started. I wandered the streets in my navy uniform and could not find a place for myself in the new world. My parents were worried: they did not know what was happening, and what consequences that might have. When I was drinking the night away with yet another random group, we ran out of vodka. I was sent to the train station, where you could buy alcohol around the clock. I don’t remember what drove me, but instead of buying a bottle like I promised, I bought a ticket for a night train to Lviv, and thus my fate was sealed. This is how my Lviv life started. I modeled at sculpture workshops and soon became popular with art circles. Later I applied to the academy and jumped into the current of student life. Then came the Hippie period: long hair, worn jeans… Who’d have thought that a pair of jeans that I saved for whatever reason would later be bought by a French collector who photographed it at my Hotel California installation at RA Gallery?


There, On the Earth project, М17 Gallery, Kyiv, 2010

In the postmodern period, I turned to secession, strange as that may sound: its ephemeral cloying opium scent swaddled the city. Only my closest friends witnessed those performances and experiments. The external attributes were fitting: a hat, a long scarf, painting portraits in a café on Virmenska Street in the downtown, which was my Montmartre. It’s funny when you look back on it, but even these innocent expressions of independence were considered a daring challenge and a threat to the regime. I was forced to leave Lviv. Kyiv did not meet me with open arms. Socialist reality did not leave me a chance. Participation in official shows was out of the question. My drawings, sketches, collages and texts wound up in countless binders, without a chance to ever be seen. The Tarkovsky mythos, his films which failed to align with Soviet realities, hypnotized me and forced me to believe in the impossible. I heard that Andrei Tarkovsky had openings in his workshop at the courses for continued education of directors and scriptwriters, and I picked up the gauntlet. Fate was against me though: the night I arrived in Moscow, Tarkovsky left for Italy. Be that as it may, Emil Loteanu liked me, and accepted me to his workshop; nevertheless, I did not get a chance to realize my cinematographic ideas until the Perestroika. On April 26, 1986, right during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, my movie Full Moon was officially greenlighted by the Kyiv Dovzhenko Film Studio. It was a postmodern interpretation of Ukrainian poetic cinema. My next

2-episode film project, A Watchmaker and a Hen, based on the censored play by Ivan Kocherga, was shelved until after 1991. The short period of Perestroika gave me an opportunity to publish some of my poetry and stage some of my fiction. There were many creative initiatives, among which I would like to mention my projects Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and Kyiv Fortress, which developed within the fold of existing art trends. My life in Basel began with Christoph Merian Stiftung scholarship. I soon established contacts with the creative alternative underground. Collaboration with the international group FABS and International Artist’s Museum was interesting. They united artists from all around the world. The museum invited me to their project Makers, presented at the Venice biennale in 2001. Looking back on the quarter century experienced with my country, I can say that this is a very short stretch of history, a beginning of a difficult road that will offer us many challenges. On the other hand, I see changes and transformations, accompanied, to my chagrin, by pernicious phenomena. It pains me to admit that our present life affords few reasons for optimism, and I don’t hold high hopes for the nearest future. Be that as it may, I, a person who is no longer young, want to believe that our country, which offers high examples of true heroism and self-sacrifice, would turn out alright. The world, however, serves up crushing examples of greed, betrayal and corruption. I fear that the new 1917 is coming. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska

Transmutation project, photo on cloth, 120 x 120 cm (each), 1991

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Selena Versus project, ultraviolet, лю17 Gallery, Kyiv, 2010

Gates of Heaven plein air, ultraviolet, 2012

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Amnesia project, installation, photo, objects, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2011

There, On the Earth project, fragment, objects for the project, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2010

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OLEKSANDR SUKHOLIT

Born in 1960 in Chernigiv Region. Graduated from Uzhhorod College of Decorative and Applied Arts and the Department of Sculpture of the Kyiv State Institute of Arts. Co-organized Abetka Sculpture Seminar with Mykola Ridnyi in the early 1990s. His works engage with the legacy of ancient cultures, from the Stone Age and Egypt through Byzantine and Christian heritage, and address contemporary cultures and conceptualist sculptural phenomenology. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Passage to Egypt (2016, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Ukrainian Contemporary Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Sukholit’s Landscapes (2014, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Untitled (2012, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Painting and Sculpture (2011, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv); My Archaic (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Earth (2011, Regional Art Museum, Cherkasy, Ukraine); Drawing (2010, National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Folk Relevant. Landscape (2010, Ya Gallery Art Center / Rodovid Gallery / Ivan Honchar Museum, Kyiv); Miniart (2009, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Painting, Graphic Art (2007, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Bronze (2004, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Pasture (2004, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Archipenko and His Followers (2003, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Return to the Mother (2000, Art Centre in Kostel’na, Kyiv); Earth (1998, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Adam’s Tree (1995, National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Golden Calf (1994, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Hierarchy of Space (1992, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv). ART AS THE RETURN OF FIRST LOVE Oleksandr, 25 years is quite a term in a human life. What happened to you, to your art, to your understanding of art over the course of these years? You all know that I started to work actively while still a student of the institute, and I graduated in 1986. Therefore, I was a student in the Soviet years. I should note that, against all odds, we got really lucky in that we were taught to love art in its traditional forms: sculpture, painting, drawing… Did you carry this interest in the tradition through your life? I think so. Michelangelo, Rodin, Maillol, and Moore remain the most important artists for me, alongside with the great sculptors of antiquity, like Phidias. I admire them to this day. I divide my artistic career into three stages. The first covers the period from student years through the mid-1990s. I worked in sculpture, oil paintings on canvas, and graphic art, expanding my creative horizons. I wanted to grasp what art was made of, disassemble it and peer into its depths. In 1992, I hosted Abetka seminar with O. Ridnyi, R. Kukhar, A. Polonyk and S. Dziuba, and then again in 1995 with O. Ridnyi and A. Polonyk. They were entitled The Hierarchy of Space and Adam’s Tree. We reached for the origins: the stone first touched by the artist’s chisel, the play of light on the surface, a piece of unworked wood, clay whence sculpture originates. We divided the world into “Days,” which had to be reassembled and recast anew. How? Through Love, Inspiration and Eternity as the joy of transmogrified Being, the awareness of the eternal divine gift of life, through the great contained in the small. I found harmony with the world and with myself through Christianity. I visited Jerusalem three times to

Twins, paper, drypoint, 50 x 60 cm, 2001 306

live in monasteries. It was a marvelous time, I was born anew. I spent 6 years of my life on that. Did you work as an artist through those years? I started to create icons, and worked on them until 2000. God wouldn’t let you work on icons unless you undergo purification, abandon sinful thoughts, overcome temptations… I chiseled icons according to canons, “bringing life” to conventional compositions. Of course, I chose the plots I felt the most affinity for, but I wouldn’t describe that as creative work. I was not so much an artist as a creator and co-author of ancient divine projects contained in icons… By the way, my great-grandfather painted icons. Maybe the memories of him woke up in me and helped me along the way. Icons as such intrigue me: it is a world beckoning the viewer, stripped of materiality, a memory of physical form, conventions that shell all excesses… an album of these works of mine came out recently. Once I felt that it was time to leave monasteries and go back to the world at large, life reentreed my soul. I returned to Kyiv and started working from the blank slate. How did the experience affect you? Did it change your approach to art? First, it wasn’t easy. I had to learn to draw and sculpt from anew, I had to refresh all my skills, adding what I learned and what was revealed to me. What new traits did you see in you art? They mostly concern the inner spiritual plane. You are responsible for what you do. I reconsidered my views on art history and grew firmer in my belief that only harmony, unity and images that reflect the divine idea of the world have place in art. I developed immunity to the so-called ruination instinct, and all the concomitant “ills” in art.

Model, pastel on paper, 61 x 84 cm, 2004


Earth, exposition, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv, 2015

And yet, you continue to depict naked human figures both in sculptures and in drawings. I don’t see a contradiction. Humankind is a glorious divine creature, and women, a symbol of beauty, represent it best… I don’t draw them from nature though now. My drawings and sculptures avoid details that would “ground” these images: I prioritize spirituality over life experience. Anyway, this worried me too. I even asked my pastor whether I was allowed to draw naked bodies. What would the viewers think? He said, “That’s not your problem. That’s up to the viewers…” I think I became calmer and freer. Your shows often feature works that depict fragments of human bodies. What does this fragmentariness mean to you? These fragments include pieces of sculptures left over after a work is complete. I like them a lot, they are evocative of big museums, of fragments of antique statues mounted there. A fragment carries multitudes of meanings. As Henry Moore had put it, a fragment of a figure is more spatial, more spiritual. It is charmUntitled, bronze, h — 172 cm, 2006 ingly understated. It is like a poetic metaphor that directs and expands a thought. It is like a conversation with many worlds… And what about painting? What is your current approach to this branch of art? The main thing is, I’m no painter, and I’m no good at painting. Nevertheless, I love dabbing paint on canvas… Matisse, who could evoke space, emotions and inner harmony through colors, was a painter. I cannot do that. My paintings are conventional and simple landscapes that, like my sculpture, represent the meeting place of heaven and earth. You could say that they are really simple, not quite paintings, but they might

offer something else. I was recently asked to create 15–20 paintings for a show. I found the remaining old acrylic paint and painted the earth, sky, desolate wet fields… If you want to be a painter, you should paint continuously throughout your lifetime… What is your current priority? To know myself, first and foremost. My inner experience needs reflection, it needs to come out. So the situation around you does not affect you? In art, I am enough. Of what I see at shows, nothing impresses me. Truth be told, Ukrainian sculpture is mostly based on repetitions, halfbaked ideas and partial thoughts… It is hard to track down a tradition… Which Ukrainian artists would you like to have collective shows with? To be frank, at present I am most interested and most challenged by a dialogue with myself. Be that as it may, Stella Beniaminova, a long-time collector of my works, placed my sculptures and drawings next to works by Oleksandr Zhyvotkov. I like this combination a lot: we both gravitate towards archaic traditional principles… our formal tropes are also in a kind dialogue, echo, or consonance… How would you define the present period of your creative career? I return to myself and look for “global inspiration” that makes art worthwhile in my own works. Now I understand: an artist is that who creates imagery. I would like to go back to my youth, sift through my experience and extract that which still rings true. When I look back on artists of our generation, I see that some, like Oleg Golosiy, Oleksandr Hnylytskyj or Roman Kukhar, are no longer with us, whereas some had radically changed their course, and not necessarily for the better… In our younger years, we created a very strong movement that imbued our art with stunning energy. Do we still have that energy, or have we lost it with time? I repeat the Bible, “But I have against you that you have abandoned your first love.” There is no art without love. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko Expectation, bronze, h — 137 cm, 2014 307


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Oleksandr Sukholit’s studio in Kyiv, 2016 309


IVAN SVITLYCHNYI

Born in 1988 in Kharkiv. Graduated from the Department of Indoor and Monumental Sculpture of Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts. Studied under V. Kulikov, V. Kochmar, V. Shaposhnykov. Founder and curator of 01011101 Art Self-Organizing Foundation since 2010, curator of Kharkiv exposition centre TEC, a co-founder and co-curator of the first Ukrainian virtual art space Shukhliada. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Degrees of Dependence (2016, BWA Wrocław, Wrocław, Poland); Room № 7, with SVITER art group (2015, installation of the 24 Rooms series, Tiefgarage, Cologne, Germany); Udy — Cervo, with Vitaliy Kokhan (2014, Indemonstrable, In primo luogo, Turin, Italy); 0 dB/10^3 (2014, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Subimage (2014, under the aegis of PAC-UA Re-Consideration project, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); 14.06.13 (2013, special videoproject for the show Race Against Time: Art of the 1960s — Early 2000s, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Scratches, with Anton Lapov (2010, TEC creative exposition center, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Stool, or Stool (2009, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine).

It’s hard to discuss presence in the global sense. There are more dimensions than the conventional three, but we are limited in our perceptions. We can neither perceive nor reach a staggering part of the real world. Speaking of the artist’s presence, the only thing I can discuss objectively is my own presence, the questions I raise, and that I try to answer through art. For example, when working on the installation Subimage, created under the aegis of PAC-UA Re-consideration project, I realized that I exist within a multi-dimensional space of autobiographic memory consisting of my own creative practice, direct genetic influences, the influence of my teachers and the art scene from which I cannot divorce myself. Speaking of society, art is an instrument for developing human consciousness. Socially engaged art has lately become more active in Ukraine, but an artist’s intellectual gesture might have a stronger effect than news broadcasts in exhibition spaces. A hunger strike of a man who helped contain the Chernobyl disaster would always be more honest and striking than our meditation on the event.

14.06.13, video, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv, 2013 310

You might prompt evolution in viewers’ consciousness, but that will not happen unless you make a radically new step in the global art space. This space has earlier experience: even if you want to abandon it, you should know what is it that you are abandoning, and why. There’s no point to starting from the blank slate. Think of science: scientists don’t ignore preexisting knowledge, to the contrary, they try to make the next step. All too often, cutting-edge technologies in contemporary art illustrate the very fact of their existence rather than facilitate communication. The present level of technological development allows any artist to produce a spectacular product in no time, but the result often boils down to a range of random numbers dictated by the conditions and logic of his or her software. It’s all a matter of time though: in 5 to 10 years, the generation that accepts this software as the norm will entre the art scene, and the question they will pose will be “how” rather than “what for.” Speaking of science art, there’s no communication between art and science at present. In this so-called “symbiosis,” art often appears as a parasitic form on scientific accomplishments. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Triptych 2, audiosculpture, sculpture, IZOLYATSIA, Donetsk, Ukraine, 2013

Udy — Cervo, audiovisual generative, In primo luogo, 2014

Adaptation Period, multi-object space, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2015

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Text, audiosculpture, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2011

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Subimage, installation, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2014

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SERGEI SVIATCHENKO

Born in 1952 in Kharkiv, and lives and works in Viborg, Denmark since 1990. He graduated from the Kharkiv Academy of Art and Architecture in 1975 and studied PhD at the Kyiv School of Architecture. A provocateur in the world of contemporary art, Sviatchenko’s collages and paintings have been exhibited in Denmark, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, England, Canada, and the USA and featured in celebrated magazines such as Dazed & Confused, AnOther, Kilimanjaro, Varoom, Elephant, This is a magazine, Rojo, Viewpoint and Blueprint. 2007 D&AD Yellow Pencil, London, England Sergei Sviatchenko is a leading figure in the contemporary collage world. Selected exhibitions: Secretly (2016, Wall installation at the MQ Fore Court, Vienna); Collages (2015, Augustiana center for contemporary art, Denmark); For Light and Memory (2013, Gestalten Space, Berlin); Mirror by Mirror (2012, Homage to Andrei Tarkovsky, Riga); Mirror by Mirror (2009, West Cork Arts Centre, Cork, Ireland); Broken Images (2009, Liaison Controverse, Dusseldorf, Germany); Less (2009, Peter Lav Photo Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark); The Trip (2008, Homage to the Psychedelic era, ROJO artspace, Barcelona, Spain); Prints Tokyo (2007, International Print Exhibition, Sakima Art Museum, Okinawa, Japan); You are Not the Only One (2006, Filosofgangen, Odense, Denmark); Time (2006, Kunsthallen Braenderigaard, Viborg, Denmark); Katarsis (2000, Aarhus School of Architecture, Aarhus, Denmark); Mixed Landscape (2000, Nielsen & Holm-Møller Museet, Holstebro, Denmark); The Light (1996, Viborg Stiftsmuseum, Viborg, Denmark); Works (1995, Galerie Egelund, Copenhagen, Denmark); The Wind (1994, Gallery Nord, Denmark); FIAC (International Art Fair) (1994, Gallery Nord, Paris); Works (1992, Galerie Egelund, Copenhagen, Denmark); 1991 Gallery Thea Fisher-Reinhardt, West Berlin, Germany.

Kharkiv is unique in its own way. Its architecture, planning, streets, parks, a river in the downtown and student atmosphere have few parallels. I was born, grew up, matured and studied there. I first saw The Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky in a small cinema affiliated with the Kharkiv House of Construction Workers, and this film became a linchpin and inspiration throughout my life as an artist. But what influenced me as an artist, and my subsequent creative trajectory, most was my family. I grew up in the family of the architect and professor Ievhen Adrianovych Sviatchenko. My father was the chair of the Department of Architecture at the Academy of Urban Development, and was a wonderful artist. Our house was filled with the watercolors and oil paintings he would bring back from his residencies and internships. Whenever he came back, he would lay out all his works on the floor, and my mom and me would discuss them and choose our favorites. These discussions taught me much, and I remember them well. Father would take me to museums, direct and inspire me. He taught me to appreciate classical painting. We had a large library of books on art and architecture, avant-garde and constructivism. My teacher and Tarkovsky’s close friend, Victor Antonov, had played an important role in shaping my worldview as an artist. He taught me to notice the unbreakable bond with nature, the overwhelming force of open and closed spaces, the connection between architecture and fine arts. The idea of their interconnectivity is the crucial key to understanding all my works. On the exhibitions Kyiv–Tallinn (1987) and Kyiv–Kaunas (1988). Victor Kha­matov and myself were discussing how best to organize a large show

From the She series, C-print, 140 x 170 cm, 2015 314

of contemporary art with the most interesting young artists and an unusual exhibition design, but without having the show shut down the very next day. This is what we came up with: we got in touch with Ranok youth magazine and a similar journal Norus in Estonia, edited by the artist Lembit Remmelgas. Lembit and myself visited artists’ studios and soon chose the most interesting names. In Kyiv, these were Reunov, Skugareva, Hnylytskyj, Vyshe­ slavskyi, Stepanenko, Babak and many others: I’m sorFrom the Imperfect Cut series, ry, I don’t remember them collage, 42 x 29,6 cm, 2014 all any­more. The exhibition went great. It was hosted by the Polytechnic Institute, which turned out to be a gracious host, and was visited by a record number of viewers. We continued our collaboration with the Baltic republics, and got in touch with the Lithuanian magazine Nemunas in 1988. Our collaboration was made official thanks to the efforts of Ievhen Solonin, the then-director of the exhibition hall of the Union of Artists on Volodymyrska Street, and Tyberiy Silvashi, who chaired the youth section of the Union of Artists. The Forceful Aspect of National Post-Eclecticism manifesto by Tistol and Reunov was already completed by then, and they participated in the exhibition with their new works. The Kyiv-Kaunas exhibition discovered new names, including, though not limited to Trokhymchuk, Popov, Tetianych, and Golosiy. I exhibited my “collage paintings” and The Mysterious World collage series for the first time. They were exhibited alongside Lithuanian artists and the works of Mykola Trokhymchuk (Trokh), a novice experimental photographer who became one of the most prominent figures in contemporary Ukrainian photography. With Oleg Golosiy, we turned the window facing Volodymyrska Street into one giant painted installation, while Fedir Tetianych did a stunning sound performance on tin cans. He was an ingenious performer, and avant-garde artist, a talented painter, an interesting conversationist and, most importantly, absolutely international in his actions and performances.


From the Blue Country II series, mixed technique on paper, 75 x 55 cm, 1991

On Soviart. After the success of our Baltic exhi­bitions, Khamatov and my­self started to discuss the possi­bility of professionalizing our projects in order to better support young artists. We also wanted to create our own exhibition space and collection. I’m describing the origins of the first Ukrainian Center for Contemporary Art Soviart. I became its director and curator. Soviart was a highly flexible organization, with one well-tuned team in charge for all decisions. We were all new to it, and we faced colossal hardFrom the Less series, ships, from being pressured C-print, 140 x 105 cm, 2009 by the authorities to real prohibitions of our projects. We were young, free of rules or instructions. We worked with passion and abandon, never minding the time. Due to our efforts, our shows visited Denmark. We wanted to make the most of the new environment and help the artists to see their works in shows and catalogues. We helped them to travel abroad for the first time, we opened them new perspectives, we gave them reasons to create in their homeland and abroad. The Theory of Joy and Pleasure is a series of paintings first exhibited at the Ukrainian Art (the 1960s–1980s) exhibition. I sought to transform emotional childhood memories into sensuous non-figurative painting, where the light and colors gleaned from classical painting would gain new meanings, structure and mood. Joy Beyond the Mountains (1989) inaugurated the series. I continued to work on it in 1990, while already in Denmark, including texts, heraldic symbols and ornaments into my works. I keep working in this direction to this day. This is the “right” side of my oeuvre. The “left” side is constituted of collage series. The LESS series of the 2000s was conceived as the aesthetic wonder theory, and collected personal creative priorities steeped in subconscious, associative or impulsive thought processes stemming from the depths of memory. The series’ collages consist of a couple of elements against the bright background. This uncompromising minimalism in selecting elements emerged as a reaction

to the polyfragment classical and contemporary collages. The combination of the two theories produces lines, horizontal and vertical ties, the principle of layers and links whence stems most everything in my world. I moved to Denmark before Ukraine gained independence, which means that important processes in the emergence of the new Ukrainian art happened without me. I’m a collector: I collect books on art, The Beatles and The Doors vinyls, I love modernism, Tarkovsky’s movies, Constructivism, style and fashion of the 1950s –60s, surrealism, the New Wave in Ukrainian art, which is already quite old, and artists of that movement. They are still vibrant in my memory. I remember first seeing Hnylytskyj’s works at the Venice Biennale: they were unforgettable. He’s a genius. I don’t follow art processes in Ukraine in depth because I don’t have the time, but whenever I travel with my projects, I always discover interesting names. First and foremost, I think the state has to start investing in contemporary art, establish a museum of contemporary art and a state collection to exhibit there. At the same time, large cities should have specialized art foundations chaired by professional critics and curators. They should acquire works for state institutions and schools. This way contemporary art could stimulate education programs. I believe Ukraine will overcome financial hardships and create all the necessary conditions for comprehensive and harmonious development of the growing generations. Talented Ukrainian artists will be needed in various spheres of life, and they will help new talents to emerge. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Like in the Night River, oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm, 1990 315


Sergei Sviatchenko is an acknowledged master of collages. He created a singular new direction in the medium, known as “less-collages.” Minimalistic sets of elements, as opposed to the traditional multi-fragment style, are the main defining feature of his works. Sviatchenko’s laconic compositions are not overloaded visually. They work as high-precision, well-calibrated instruments through their planes, cuts, and fine juxtapositions. A couple of fragments against the bright backdrop create their own dramatic composition through dynamic lines, colors, scope, allusions and associations. Sophisticated aesthetic combinations of elements are often rooted in collisions of various realities and opposite contexts. In destroying initial images, the artist creates room for new meanings. Their Dadaist nonfinitude gives ample space for engaging with the viewers’ consciousness and the subconscious, allowing to solve these puzzles anew multiple times. By juxtaposing “the gentle elements,” namely, the smooth rounded shapes of bodies and clothes, with dense planes of localized vibrant colors and clear lines of interior design and architectural elements, Sviatchenko brings together the personal or the intimate with the universal and the depersonalized, the inner with the outer. Bodies and space become a basis for a discrete reality that exists between figurative and abstract works, governed by its own rules. The artist playfully engages not only with the relative sizes of elements within the space of his works, creatively juxtaposing them, but also with the size of works as such, employing the monumental format, which strongly affects viewers’ perception. Human-sized photo collages transcend intimate easel works and become a full-blown large-scale part of the public space, functioning as a mural or an installation, and gaining new connotations depending on their placement. Works of the Gentle Elements and Strict Deconstructions series functioned within urban spaces (in Barcelona), in galleries (Ringested Gallery, Denmark) and in educational institutions (Randers Business Academy, Denmark) Natalia Matsenko

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From the Gentle Elements and Strict Deconstructions series, C-print, 300 x 650 cm, 2007


The Green Matter III, acrylic on canvas, 195 x 195 cm, 1999


Slow Emotional Light ІІІ, acrylic on canvas, 195 x 195 cm, 2000

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ANDRIY SYDORENKO

Born in 1983 in Kharkiv. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. His works explore factors that affect social behaviors, including models of relationships offered by mass media and clip thinking, which presupposes that only striking visuals can draw attention. Selected exhibitions: Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); R-Evolution (2015, Beulas Foundation, Huesca, Spain); Images From Ukraine’s Maidan, 2013–2014 (2015, Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, USA); Long Path To Freedom (2014, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago, USA); Theory of Reliability (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Civil Mysticism (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); La Ferte Bernard International Art Festival (2013, France); Society of the Spectacle (2013, Shcherbenko Art Centre, Kyiv); Habitat (2013, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Social Euphoria (2012, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Gurzuff Open Air (2012, Project Space, Kyiv); Collective Dreams (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); MUHi (2010, Bottega Gallery / Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Illumination (2010, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Gogolfest (2009, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Self-Defence (2007, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv).

My fist encounter with art happened at the Kharkiv Art Bureau studios. As a child, I would often cajole artists into inviting me to visit. One gave me a Lenin figurine, others showed me Socialist Realist pictures and gave me candy wrapped up in Pravda newspaper. There was a printing press on the first floor of the Bureau, used mostly for posters and portraits of secretaries of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. These portraits were printed in huge print runs just in case: they were to be pasted to cardboard and submitted for storage, but sometimes artists would snatch some and use them as sketch paper. You could wander the Bureau like a museum, and best of all, it was free of charge. But, in essence, it was a real factory of ideologically “correct” art. It produced heroic images of varying degrees of sophistication, but the pathos imbuing these works no longer inspired: it became a part of the routine. The only thing it did do was to create a bathetic backdrop, which made children playing and workshop drudgery seem grotesque. There was also the alternative art scene that my father was a part of. It was a parallel world. There were experiments in painting, graphic art and design. The experiments were met with criticism by the majority, but Perestroika allowed artists to live in their cultural ghetto. Meanwhile, regular Soviet life coursed beyond the walls of the art bureau. It remained unchanged for a long while even after 1991, which did not mark a watershed in either the customs or the habits. The same queues in half-empty stores and perpetually grumpy people remained a part of life. Positive emotions would only ever kick in when social pressure increased: once you saw a camera filming, at public events, or in the presence of the authorities. This explains why in the early 1990s a part of the population was so deeply disenchanted with democratic changes: nobody was tasked with creating reasons for euphoria anymore. All of a sudden, the authorities stopped coercing people into being proud of their country and contributing to its development. You had to do it yourself based on your own beliefs, and you had to be responsible for your words and actions. It proved too harsh a challenge for the majority. I systematically explore the problems in comparative experience. First, I’m talking about a significant part of my paintings, namely, Industrial Eden, Political Hallucinations or Trade Secret; second, I’m talking about curato-

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rial projects and video installations: Recreation Zone, The Society of the Spectacle, Zero Rate Credit. My goal is to demonstrate to what extent human emotions are affected by interactions with society. This correlation comes with education, but sometimes it produces not responsibility but inferiority complex. People become weak and easily controlled. Their psychological state oscillates between disillusionment and euphoria, which often precludes them from concentrating on their own problems. I started thinking about it when I began to study pop art. I’m not sure if Andy Warhol would agree, but for me his Campbell Soup and Mao’s portrait are a response to advertising fetishism that had slipped rational reflection of many in the latter half of the 20th century. Even now, it seems, many fail to realize that advertising and propaganda are real weapons that define personal choices, and hence social choices too. They can tempt with sweet promises that mask terror, discrimination or just low-quality goods. Popularity documented by pop art is an efficient way of influencing social consciousness. It can be blown up artificially, through populism, financial investments or blackmail. The point is, advertising gives you no guarantees, making you lazy in the process. Reading long texts becomes ever harder, public is drawn to catchy titles and political slogans instead. I still marvel at how dependent moods and beliefs are on artificially created images of ideal life. What is advertising? It is pictures and words snatched out of their context. You can make flashy nonsense of all sorts out of it, and where’s the guarantee that people will notice the trick before they trust what they see? There’s no guarantee, as the events in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea amply demonstrate. Political PR technology prioritized nostalgia for imperial USSR ambitions, markedly absent in democratic Ukraine. These ambitions gave people faith that their life, although poor and hard, had higher meaning; for example, as the promised rematch with the West. Within the context, Ukrainian realities give no ground for utopias of the kind. Now we have ample ground for objectively estimating our potential not for baseless self-aggrandizement. In general, I believe that pathos-laden identity myths hinder social evolution. One has to learn to note one’s shortcomings and to take personal responsibility for overcoming them. In conversation with Roksana Rublevska


Organic Collaboration, acrylic on canvas, 170 x 170 cm, 2016

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Midfielder of Cultural Phobia, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 300 cm, 2016

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VICTOR SYDORENKO

Born in 1953 in the city of Taldykurgan (Kazakhstan, the USSR). Graduated from the Kharkiv Institute of Arts and Design. In 2001, he founded and headed the Modern Art Research Institute of the Academy of Arts of Ukraine with the goal of representing and studying current Ukrainian art. Selected exhibitions: Memory of Unconsciousness (2016, Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington, DC, USA); Ukraine. Transformation der Moderne (2015, Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art, Vienna); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, Kunstlerhaus, Vienna); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Levitation (2011, National Academy of Arts of Ukraine, Kyiv); Millstones of Time (2010, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); ArtHamptons (2010, Mironova Gallery, New York); Levitation (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Authentification (2008, Taiss, Paris); Travers Video (2007, 10th International Video Festival, Toulouse, France); Eastern Neighbors (2006, International Art Festival, Babel Cultural Centre, Utrecht, Netherlands); Now (2005, V International Art Festival, Magdeburg, Germany); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Millstones of Time (2003, 50th Venice Biennale, Italy); Ukrainian Art (2002, Beijing); Solo (1998, Salon of Central and Eastern Europe, Paris); Konsumerart-93 (1993, Nuremberg, Germany); Ukrainian Art (1992, Yale, USA); Soviet Exhibition of Watercolors (1991, Central House of Artists, Moscow). DIALOGUE WITH TIME Your works can be divided into two large periods that seem to be at odds with each other: the first goes back to the Soviet years, whereas the latter started in the mid-1990s. Would you agree? Quite. I started to work in the late 1970s, having graduated from the Department of Advertising and Exhibitions Design of the Kharkiv Institute of Arts and Design. I’ve already mentioned that I had the honor to study under Borys Kosarev. It was an excellent school that taught me to work with various objects and materials, as well as the basics of what would now be described as an “art project,” a theme organized in space. Then came the grad school at the studios of the USSR Academy of Arts. I started to participate in exhibitions, both republican and all-Soviet, early. My works attracted attention, I craved success and thought I had it… Perestroika changed everything. For several generations, our society had lived under this “impregnable regime,” which had turned out to be brittle and arbitrary. For me, Perestroika was the time of thorough reevaluation of my art and my subsequent life course. I destroyed many of my works, drew the line under that period in my life, and started anew. By the way, “finding my feet” again was no easy feat. Starting with the mid1980s, I had changed themes, tropes and styles multiple times, until the Amnesia series of the mid-1990s brought the character that became my protagonist. This “man in long johns,” the Everyman, a man in the crowd allowed me to express what interested me then, and what continues to interest me to this day.

From the Amnesia series. Joy From Work, acrylic on canvas, 168 x 200 cm, 1995 324

He has been a recurring character of your works for about 20 years now, following you through paintings, sculptures, photos, animation… What, in your opinion, makes him relevant to this day? I would like to stress that this image underwent a certain evolution. He was conceived as a metaphor for my personal polemics with the Soviet experience, so your first question at the beginning of the conversation is perUltra C series, oil on canvas, 150 x 125 cm, 2002 fectly fitting. Is this why you made him your lookalike? Could be. My works deal with myself, first and foremost; with things that interest me or nag at me, with questions that I myself am trying to answer… Eventually he “sprouted” more general and sophisticated meanings. Take the Millstones of Time project, for example: my own experience is enhanced with images from the early 20 th century as well as subsequent wars and catastrophes. It is no coincidence that the viewers saw different meanings in it, from the war to Chernobyl. But for me, it meant something different: the cruel and inexorable passage of time, and how curiously each individual human life is woven into it. This theme is relevant universally, but even more so for our country, which is undergoing yet another dramatic social and political crisis… I would like to divorce my character from purely Soviet connotations. For me these half-dressed figures in provisional spaces represent humankind as such, “people in space.” I change their appearance, basing them not only on myself but also on people of younger generations who still have to search for themselves in the present-day tense life, in the ineffable future. The events of the recent years demonstrate that, no matter what philosophers may have said, “history is not yet over.” Humanity is still facing many challenges… Indeed, an everyman, one of the key figures of the 20th century, is in no haste to leave the stage. To the contrary, he remains society’s driving force or an object of political manipulations… I was stunned by your project Regeneration in the Unknown exhibited at the Kharkiv Yermilov Cen-


Fragment of the exposition, CCA Yermilov Centre, 2012 (Kharkiv, Ukraine)

tre in 2013. It was cohesive despite consisting of What do you think should an artist do now, various elements (sculpture, paintings, drawings, during social cataclysms? First, I think artists should stick to their guns and videos), united by the theme of “the emergence of the new man.” In essence, it addressed and avoid the new party line that attempts to one of the oldest utopias: the construction of manipulate human consciousness. I think artists’ a human being according to an artificial template, social stance should be in their works. I underfrom the medieval Golem through the avant-garde stand artists, especially the young ones, who “new man” to the model of humanity proposed want to influence social processes directly. I had by totalitarian regimes. Do you plan on continua period of public enthusiasm during the Pering this study? estroika: I went to meetings and discussions, In a way. I am interested in differences spoke up at rallies, was an MP at the parliament, between “characters,” “heroes” and “objects” in was part of the leadership of the Union of Artart, the line between them, the social perspecists and tried to change it “from the top,” so to tive that defines their semantic content… How say, but, alas, it did not come to pass. The Union do you express that through art? The question was too steeped in ideology, or, to be more preММХII, toned fiberglass, 380 cm, 2012 is important and relevant for me. cise, too conservative. What I did manage to do The theme of “decommunization” is getting a new dimension in Ukraine. though was to found the Modern Art Research Institute in 2001. There are Granted, very few people, other than yourself, try to make sense of the no more such institutions in our country. I general we have lack of instiSoviet past. The current trend suggests that we should just “blot” this era tutions that offers comprehensive support to contemporary art in Ukraine. It’s become apparent that contemporary art, including criticism, represenout of our history, “recode” its meanings into its near opposite… Blotting out the past is a thankless task. It will resurface and come back tation, social communication and more, is a sign of the European society with a vengeance, one way or the other. The same thing happened in the we want to build in our country. Artists always had it tough in Ukraine. What, in your opinion, is the specSoviet times, when the regime tried to “erase” all signs of the pre-revolutionary past, and then everything that did not fit the ideology. We should not ificity of the current situation? You know, despite all problems, I feel myself in the right time. I develrepeat these mistakes. We should however note that the results of the Soviet past did not disappear: even during the independence years, the same oped my professional skills in the Soviet times, but I do not think I could nomenclature with its realize myself as an artist under that regime. Now an artist’s only responapproaches and prior- sibility is to him- or herself: they can do whatever interests them, they ities remained at the are free to choose their course in life and art. The absence of state suphelm, which left quite port creates new problems and hardships, but does not rob the artists of a mark on culture. the most important thing: the right to free choice. I think artists are by The young, too, are definition deeply steeped in their culture and their country. Even globaloften equally intoler- ly, we are interesting because of our unique experience, the past not forant of differing views gotten through the present. Contemporary art seems to speak an interon the world, life, and national language, but each story is unique and deals with the specificart. Changes are driv- ity of each country, with things no other country had or has… In the en by individual com- sense, Ukrainian culture is a complicated composite with a tough histomunities, private per- ry of gradual “combination” of diverse, historically discrete parts. This sons and initiatives, explains its mosaic nature and diversity. The main challenge for a connot by the authorities. temporary artist, I think, lies in the need tell about themselves and their Maybe they represent times. All other challenges can be dealt with. In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko our future. Inversion of Egocentrism, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm, 2015 325


An image that turned out to be seminal for Victor Sydorenko’s career first appeared in his works in the mid-1990s. A half-clothed male figure hovering in space serves as a metaphor of “authentication” that slashed through human fates in the transitional post-Soviet era, forcing them to reevaluate a recurrent motif of the 20 th century, “an everyman,” or, as the case might be, “every man,” who remains, one way or the other, the protagonist of all historic shifts and social cataclysms. The artist has been developing this motif consistently through various media (painting, sculpture, video, animation). The large-scale canvas Energy Stream marks a decisive summation of this stage. The problem of “reflection in the unknown” (the title of one of Sydorenko’s exhibitions) as a way to overcome the boundaries of historical eras, social circumstances and personal choices is interpreted as a personal progression from the Soviet past symbolized by the industrial symbol of the era — the Dniprohes Hydroelectrical Dam — towards the unknown future opening up in the darkness of space. The painting’s dramatic colors (black, red, white and gray), as well as dramatic multidirectional movement of the figure “hurtling forward without looking back,” define the ambiguity of imagery. Created in the spring of 2013, the painting gained new relevance after the dramatic events of Maidan of 2013–2014, where Sydorenko’s protagonist — “a man in the crowd” — became the moving force of Ukraine as it chose its course for the future. As the artist himself had put it, “I try to reflect the general situation people face in all places and times, under totalitarianism and democracy, now as a hundred years previously: a struggle with time. Nobody can escape its often ineffable effect. But everyone will have to answer for everything…” Galyna Sklyarenko

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Energy Stream, oil on canvas, 190 x 380 cm, 2013


From the Memory of Unconsciousness series, oil on canvas, 190 x 190 cm, 2014


Untitled, from the Levitation series, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm, 2014

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OLEG TISTOL

Born in the village of Vradiivka (Mykolaiv Region) in 1960. Graduated from the Republican Comprehensive Art School (Kyiv) and Lviv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts (now Lviv National Academy of Arts). A co-founder and member of The Forceful Aspect of National Post-Eclecticism (with Kostiantyn Reunov) and Local Industry [NatsProm] (with Mykola Matsenko) groups. A photographer, sculptor and painter, he also works in installations. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Ukraine. Transformation der Moderne (2015, Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art, Vienna); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Our Kin (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); I Am a Drop in the Ocean (2014, MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Arts, Kraków, Poland); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Myth: Ukrainian Baroque (2012, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Mythology of Joy (2011, Salon Vert Gallery, London); Interpretation of Memories (2011, Black Square Gallery, Miami, USA); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Art Fund (2009, Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Reflection (2007, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Art Arsenal, Kyiv); NatsProm with Mykola Matsenko (2002, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); First Ukrainian Project (2001, 49th Venice Biennale); Intervals (2000, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv / Henie Onstad Museum, Oslo); Preventive Measures (1999, Passage de Retz, Paris); 22nd São Paulo Art Biennial (1994, São Paulo, Brazil); Wanderlieder (1991, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). IT MAKES SENSE TO SAY NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE MUCH OF A FUTURE OTHERWISE In 2000, Valentyn Raievskyi created the Intervals curatorial project, alive. Grygoriev, an academy exhibited in Kyiv (National Art Museum of Ukraine) and in Oslo (Henie member who would describe Onstad Kunstsentre). It was a successful attempt to reflect on the struc- sitting in on Malevich’s lectural trends and developments in Ukrainian art of the 20th century. The tures, frequented the school th s early 20 century avant-garde followed by an interval, the 1960 Thaw, too. It also had an excellent then another interval, and then the 1980s–2000s, our art, that is. It was library. Partly unwittingly, we a very convincing concept supported by visual materials in the exhibi- adopted its singular cultural tion’s catalogue. Galyna Sklyarenko’s Myth: Ukrainian Baroque was anoth- model, and a cultural moder success. The baroque art from Ivan Mazepa’s times to the present is el it was, not an elite school. even more congenial to me. The same might be said of The Republican Comprehensive Art School (now the T. H. Shevchenko Kharkiv or Odessa, which State Comprehensive Art School) was a formative experience not only for had similar educational comme personally but also for contemporary Ukrainian art to this day. I am munities. It is no coincidence certain that many protagonists of this book are its alumni. It was a crucial that we had intuitively concreative and intellectual hub that, I believe, is an exemplary model for how gregated into OUR KIN projCaucasus № 32, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 см, 2003 our cultural life should develop. I also saw ballet schools and conservato- ect. That’s the definition of ries. Nevertheless, I think that the art model was the most successful, pro- “our kin”: not a closed model but a vibrant open community. Truth be told, I was born as an artist when I first saw Cézanne, then ducing not only artists but also the clergy, policemen, publishers, renowned theater and film directors. I think this universal model of art education and Matisse and Picasso, followed by listening to Rolling Stones and Led communication should be analyzed and used as a model for subsequent Zeppelin, as well as reading Hemingway. The issue of personal choice is developments. It served, and, indeed, serves to this day as a substitute crucial: you either side with civilization, with its tangled history spanning for Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and other universities. It is a self-constructing from Antiquity to pop art, or with the sham culture of totalitarianism, best described as “cargo cult.” community. This self-construction and a penchant for being self-contained Younger artists, some of them featured in the volume, live up to my is characteristic of cultural processes in Ukraine. The 25 Years of Presence project also address- wildest hopes. They are “my kin,” in that they have no intention of going es it. It is a positive back to the cargo cult aesthetic. sort of self-containI don’t see much of a difference between those times (the 1980s through ment, self-sufficiency. the early 1990s) and the present. I don’t see much of a difference in the This in no way implies very structure of the processes. In the late 1980s, we had to go to Mosclosed-off snobbe­ cow because it was seen as a transfer station with access to the entire ry. We would meet wide world; it was also seen as the capital of a certain territory. It no there (at the Republi­ longer carries that meaning for the younger generation, but the system can Comprehensive itself remains unchanged. On the one hand, we have a decaying slaver Art School) to share empire to the east, and it is still a reference point. That trip to Moscow at information received the very start of our careers was a useful and necessary step to underfrom the entire world. stand that part of the world, that culture. Others go to the West to explore We would discuss and world heritage, see themselves in a new context, and embrace that realireview rock, American ty, because it is a site of the civilization, that’s where it stems from, one pop art, Impressionists way or the other. There’s not much of a difference between our anti-Soviet or the role of Picas- “resistance” and the challenges faced by young artists in similar contexts. so, who was then still It’s a new page of the same story. Our geographic location and culturNepalese, acrylic on canvas, 165 x 155 cm, 2001 330


Roksolana, oil on canvas, 280 x 480 см, 1995

al orientation had not changed. One could, however, say that now, at long last, these “intervals” I’ve mentioned had finally ceased. I don’t like the heroic narrative about our Soviet underground, our fight with the system. Sure, some aspects of it played out in the legal framework or as a conflict between certain ideologies. But the present has no fewer challenges. Yes, the context might have changed a bit: you used to fear a KGB agent, and under YanuSelf-Portrait with an Ornament à la Russe, kovych you might fear a gangacrylic on canvas, 200 x 160 см, 2014 ster. The format remains more or less the same; it’s nice that we have since developed integrity, of a sort. Now, on the 25th anniversary of our independence, it’s finally dawning on me, a 55-year-old, what this integrity, this integral structure that might be described as Ukrainian culture, could be. Contemporary art, after all, is only the most innovative, the most interesting stratum of the present stage of the continuous Ukrainian culture. It differs from, say, Russian culture in that it really is authentic. Everything, from Mazepa-era baroque through 19 th century literature or early 20 th century avant-garde to the present, was a stage in the continuous process. It becomes instantly apparent once you look past muscles or monkey suits stretched over them to the very bones of the culture. The present moment is different in that we have radically renounced imitation. Nobody’s fooled anymore. It makes sense to say nothing but the truth, because we don’t have much of a future otherwise. The audience we, the contemporary Ukrainian artists, serve is very exacting, you cannot just trick it. This is where our culture definitely joins the Western civilization, in that it is about the truth, about inquiry, about cultivating your mind and soul, and not about make-believe. This is the reason why I don’t believe, say, in the staggering success of Chinese art. As to Ukrainian “identity,” it appears naturally. Our geographical location dictates that we constantly have to make a choice about our civilizational belonging, and it is all too easy to choose “barbarity.” This is what makes our art so ecstatically elated or neurotically undetermined. I describe this state as “the Ukrainian baroque.”

Over the last 25 years, the desperate plight of the contemporary post-totalitarian art of our generation had gradually become some sort of “mainstream,” the cultural normalcy. We no longer have to undermine the “political regime” or try to accommodate “the tastes of the elite.” We are “the elite.” What remains is the high competition in the cultural processes of our civilization. But this is not a problem, this is a joy. The prospects of the future Ukrainian art are really simple: there are just the two options. The first, the one we took in the early 20 th century with Archipenko, Boichuk, Malevich et al., is risky but fun, whereas the other, a gradual “quiet” integration into the global culture, is unprepossesing but fair. I see both options as positive. One way or the other, we are still facing the long road of filling in the gaps in culture resulting from our rather complicated and tragic history. Recorded by Natalia Matsenko

Yalta-2009, oil on canvas, 200 x 160 см, 2015 331


The creative duo NatsProm [Local Industry], uniting Oleg Tistol and Mykola Matsenko, emerged in the early 1990s. The artists ironically declared that they would explore the national stereotypes enshrined in the material environment, and “create a micromodel of Ukrainian culture in the European and global context.” The artists primarily engaged with the parardoxes of history and its interpretations, the relativity of ideologies, and the inescapable complexity of objective analysis. Since rational reflection on existing conditions often led to a dead end, the artists promoted art as a rare, precise and possibly unique reliable instrument of intellectual, emotional and aesthetic cognition geared towards analysis and the emergence of a critical approach. September 17 is a programmatic and one of the largest works of the NatsProm. The title refers to September 17, 1939, when the Soviet army entreed Poland (which at the time included Western Ukraine) in compliance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop, thus entreing World War II. The work raises a charged and contentious issue relevant not only to the Ukrainian context but also to relations between many countries. It addresses global issues: World War II, the redrawing of borders, the USSR’s and Ukraine’s role in the events, and, first and foremost, controversial histories. The composition emulates a draft for a currency note, but with the 17.09.39 date in place of the serial number. The two central figures are an allusion to a photograph illustrating the integration of Western Ukrainian territories into the USSR: a Soviet soldier embracing a local resident. The photograph was reproduced in multiple propaganda posters commemorating September 17, 1939. Preserving the iconography of the famous original, Tistol and Matsenko had replaced its protagonists with their self-portraits. The artists note that, aside from the global context, the work also has a personal dimension: Tistol and Matsenko would never have collaborated and, in all likelihood, would have never met if not for the events of September 17. This monumental collage of a painting offers a mosaic of sheets of paper that are weaved into a narrative, a visual chronicle. Its horizontal unfolding seems to illustrate historical process in a gradual accumulation of events, characters, facts and myths. In referring to an actual fact, the artists seem to catch their viewers in a singular trap of mystifications, embarking on the route of semantic allusions and substitutions evocative of the traditionally subjective interpretation of history in different sources, varying according to their provenance and ideological standing. Real historical events are supplemented by imaginary circumstances; the protagonists, themselves simulacra, are replaced finally and irrevocably. P.S. In an ironic twist, September 17 marks another momentous occasion in the history of Ukraine’s foreign relations, although at a much smaller scale. On September 17, 2003, the then-president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma met with Vladimir Putin on Byriuchyi Island to discuss the sea border in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait waters. Not 12 days later, the Russians initiated the construction of a dam connecting the Russian Taman’ Peninsula and the Ukrainian Tuzla Island. Natalia Matsenko

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September 17 (1939). NatsProm (M. Matsenko, O. Tistol), oil on paper, 320 x 1600 см, 1994


Vinny’s Way, acrylic on canvas, 300 x 300 см, 2013


Harvest, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 200 см, 2013

335


VALERIA TROUBINA

Born in 1966 in Lugansk. Her family moved to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Russia) the same year, and stayed there until Valeria turned 10. After her return to Ukraine, she graduated from an art school in Lugansk, Lugansk Art College and Kyiv State Arts Institute. In the late 1980s — the early 1990s, she was a member of the Paris Commune art squat, and a muse of the artist Oleg Golosiy. She was also described as “the muse of Ukrainian trans-avantgarde.” A painter, she also creates objects and installations. She lives and works in Ukraine and the USA. Selected exhibitions: ParCommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Classified (2016, Dymchuk Gallery, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Yin (2012, CCA М17, Kyiv); Flashback (2011, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Restart (2009, Sea Art Terminal, Odessa, Ukraine); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Farewell to Arms (2004, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); InVisible (2001, Bolinas Gallery, Bolinas, USA); New Ukrainian Art — After Apocalypse (1994, London); Angels Over Ukraine (1993, Apostolic Church, Edinburgh, UK); Beginning (1992, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Artists of the Paris Commune (1991, Kyiv).

EVEN AFTER EVERYTHING IS OVER, PAINTERS WOULD SURVIVE Valeria Trubina’s works exhibit visible traits of decadence typical of our postmodern era. Her works are steeped in an intense mystical worldview, the spirit of pre-Raphaelites and the Jugendstil. They have memorable texture that allows to interpret them as intent materialized in a space limited by the easel but unfolding into the picture’s depths. Low relief makes canvases seem flat, developing the space outside. The artist rejects the fake “perspective,” paradoxically falsifying imagery ever further. Striking “mystical” palette, now deeply twilit, now poignantly open, is another recognizable feature of Trubina’s paintings. Oleksandr Soloviov

Do I think I’m a part of Ukrainian art? You cannot step aside or abandon your roots, not that I ever tried. That’s where I grew up as an artist, that’s where I learned everything I know. School is school, there’s no escaping it, it gave me the knowledge and experience that I treasure deeply. My friends and cohorts are an important part of my life, both as an artist and as a person. Obviously, I think I belong to Ukrainian art. I don’t like political art, and I don’t belong to the scene described as “relevant art.” I have my own road, it might be lonely, but it’s taking me forward. For this reason, I think political escapades in art are fleeting: after instant reaction passes, you start reflecting on the situation. I wouldn’t call that high art: they are just topical sketches. They

Ice Cream, oil on canvas, 101 x 92 cm, 1990

336

Divination on Storm Clouds, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2011

are needed because an artist does not exist outside society. I’m an introvert, I’m interested in other things. Oleksandr Soloviov noticed that: he’s good at reading artists’ personalities, he always had that going for him, he feels artists deeply… Soloviov was always present at the Paris Commune, he watched all of us evolve. Obviously, he was an important part of our small family, we all loved and respected him. He gave our crazy projects gravity and kept track of everything we did, felt each work and made sure we wouldn’t spoil it. We were high-strung and with pretensions to grandeur, if something didn’t go as planned, we could… We were on edge, everyone was at the time. We still are. Well, that’s Ukraine for you. It’s a magic place, I think there’s a time machine stowed away in the bushes somewhere. The Paris Commune. We studied at the same university, got lunch at the same dining hall, frequented the same library, created similar paintings, painted the same models from life, read the same books. It was our circle. When you meet like-minded people, there’s no need for questions: you start talking and see that your interlocutor speaks the same language. At first, we just hanged out together, and then we started looking for a studio because we wanted to work. Our first squat goes back to our time at the Academy, to the summer after the school year was over. We made arrangements and painted throughout the summer in empty studios with students preparing their final projects. It was cool! Arsen Savadov and Vasyl Tsaholov were working on their final projects, everybody would come check it out. That was our impetus, I think. Time also contributed to it: it was in the wild 90 s, when everything was collapsing around us, and we were barely 20. We had neither the future nor prospects, none of us were from Kyiv, and we


didn’t care one whit. We were so free-spirited that the Academy as an institution has barely left a mark on us. We relied on the Academy for its premises, and thought for ourselves. Once graduation drew nearer, we realized that it was time to find a studio, and started to comb through Kyiv. We discovered abandoned spaces by word of mouth. Artists leave no stone unturned when looking for a studio space. And we did find it. We had so much to say, and we did not waste our chance. Why painting remains the main art in Ukraine? We don’t have new media, artists barely subsist, so paint and canvases are all they can afford. We were not taught differently. I recently visited the San Francisco Academy. It has labs, all the equipment, cutting-edge computers and software, and you can learn whatever you want. Visit the Kyiv Academy, take a look at what is being taught there, and how. Sorry, but we are still cavemen. Painting is the only thing they cannot take away from us. It is an ancient technology, and we are the ancients, dinosaurs still roam our land. It’s a unique situation: in the West, painting has long divorced from the tradition and transformed into something else. We, meanwhile, cling to the tradition. Tradition is strong, we have our own

Gate II, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 1992–1997

unique way. Even if electricity disappeared all around, Ukrainian artists would survive! Even after everything is over, painters would survive, and their craft would remain. What is reality? There’s the reality given to us through senses, and then there is inner reality. When we go to bed and close our eyes, where are we if not in the reality that is no longer flashing before our eyes? Art is about this inner reality. It is not a scribble on the wall, it is a portal that you can entre and exit at will. For me, painting is a serious process. Why did we change format and take to large works? Because we wanted to transcend the frames and expand. We needed to captivate viewers and pull them into our space. In the blink of an eye, we switched from normal formats to this giant scope. We created our first large-format works while still at the Academy: Hnylytskyj painted his Wing (3 x 6 m), I painted Tigers, Oleg Golosiy loved giant paintings too. It was a pity to cut up wonderful, 3 x 2 m canvases… We suddenly realized that we

had to transcend the format. Viewers wouldn’t get our message otherwise, for paintings work on many levels, it is a sophisticated object. We had a studio on Lenin Street at the time… Nobody remembers that now. We had other studios before the ParCommune: I had a studio on Chkalov Street, Maxim Mamsikov had one on Sofiivska Street, Hnylytskyj painted at Velyka Zhytomyrska Street. It went on for a while until the entire downtown Kyiv got snatched up, and realtors finished renovations and sold all these spaces. You cannot find a studio these days. Squats of the kind are an impossibility. Indeed, those were the days. This niche emerged all of a sudden, and we fit in. That was not possible before, and has not been possible since. Painting remains painting, no matter how strongly it resembles a photograph. For me, photos are sketches, memory files: sometimes you find yourself in spaces that you want to remember. I like to start from the blank slate: I take a clean canvas, lay the first coat of paint, and then paint on. How else would you know how the canvas would react to this material or that? I have my technology down pat. My paintings are sophisticated, they require a high-quality prime coat. I like trans-

Young Men by the Sea, oil on canvas, 197 x 160 cm, 1988

parent paints that smear and look fresh. The quality of the prime coat is important. The history of the Paris Commune art squat is tied to Ukraine’s fate. After the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine gained independence, there was this period of anarchy. The money was there, and yet it wasn’t. I remember Dmytro Kavsan bringing coupons, and we considered copying them. I’m dead serious. We thought we’d make a bunch of linotypes in no time. It was fun. At the time, a sale of a single painting meant that the entire squat could pay all the bills and still have money left over to buy canvases. That wouldn’t be possible now. Compared to the 1990 s, we grew much poorer. It might seem like the 1990 s were the time of scarcity. Now we have everything, except for the very basics, which we cannot afford. Anyway, you’ve gotta work, you cannot not work, we are human after all, and smart ones at that. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

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338


Beach, oil on canvas, 100 x 480 cm, 2009

339


VASYL TSAGOLOV

Born in 1957 in the town of Digora, the Republic of North Ossetia. Graduated from the Department of Painting of Kyiv State Art Institute. A leader of the Ukrainian New Wave, a former resident of the Paris Commune squat. Was among the first artists to introduce new media in Ukrainian art in the early 2000s, producing performances and provocative videos. Vasyl Tsagolov is often compared to the director Quentin Tarantino for his dark sense of humor, memorable characters and glamorization of violence. Selected exhibitions: ParСommune. Place. Community. Phenomenon (2016, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Fear Has Many Eyes (2011, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Ukrainian New Wave (2009, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Whom Is Hirst Afraid Of? (2009, Collection Gallery, Kyiv); Thaw (2008, Chelsea Art Museum, New York / State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia); SocArt: Political Art in Russia From 1972 to the Present (2007, CCA La Maison Rouge, Paris); Expensive and Posh (2007, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Orange Revolution Framework (2006, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Roaming Bullet (2004, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Ukrainian X-Files (2003, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Ukrainian X-Files (2002, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Museification (2000, Soviart Gallery, Kyiv); TV-Action TV Project (1995, ICTV Channel, Kyiv); I’m No Longer an Artist (1994, performance, Blank Art Gallery, Kyiv); World Without Ideas (1993, Guelman Gallery, Moscow); Gum of Feelings (1992, Kyiv Union of Artists, Kyiv).

I was born in the Republic on North Ossetia, and had spent my childhood dreaming of leaving. It’s as if something in there was rejecting me. I applied to art school, and then to the National Academy of Fine Arts, which expelled me four times, but I always came back. The reason was always the same: I could not accept the academic school of painting, although I mastered it fairly well. In protest I learned everything I needed. As a young man, I was all-or-nothing, edgy, and itching for a fight. It passed as I grew older. Soviet Ukraine resembled the present-day North Korea, but within the USSR. I felt the gaze of the “unblinking eye” of the regime, but its collapse was in the air. The art movements that existed in Russia had no chance to take root in Ukraine, with its provincial obsequiousness to the authorities. The local authorities received the order to let up their control on art somewhat during the Thaw, and it was conscientiously put into action, but truly free art did not emerge until much later. In the 1980s, art developed “against” rather than “due to,” and died-in-the-wool Socialist Realists found the situation horribly hypocritical. After I graduated in 1992, my works were formally perfect, but superficial and boring content-wise. My themes were literally contrived.

I don’t think you should broadcast to the masses until you gain experience and have something truly important to say. Even quotidian events require reflection. For me, art is not a cry of pain but a dialogue. Of course, you absolutely do not need to compartmentalize and explain every last detail, but you do need ideas that are universally relatable. My main goal is to be accessible while playing with metaphors, mythology and pop culture. There’s no such thing as a bad artist, there are only those who do not yet fully understand what they do. There’s the body of work, and then there’s art history. You do need solid background to understand art. You don’t need to be fully transparent to the broad public, but you have to intrigue it while being transparent to specialists. And, despite my propensity for protests and brutality, I want to be a cultured artist. By “culture,” I mean the culture of painting, education, schooling. I created my first works intuitively, whereas conscious creative choices started in 1992. I believe that Ukraine made a horrible mistake when it dropped its museum policies. A photograph is all well and good, but the effect of presence produced by direct contact between a viewer

Insect Base, oil on canvas, 280 x 600 cm, 2012 340


Fear Has Many Eyes project, exposition, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2011

and a painting cannot be replaced. A photo never recreates the true palette, volume and texture. Our mentality contains criminal negligence. We have no respect for our worthy contemporaries. Museums exist to document the main principles of artists’ works, they pay tribute to those who deserve it. Museums are a sign that the state needs art. Ukrainians love to say that we do not have art institutions because we don’t have the money, but the true reason is different: the powers that be treat artists like enemies. Any state apparatus is inimical to artists by its very nature, because artists are not simple folk. They react to changes and can affect social consciousness, which is why states try to isolate them. For me to be relevant is to engage with socially important themes, which is why I often work with stereotypes. I believe that art has to be steeped in the world at large, in political and public realities. Art for art’s sake does not have the intensity that can change lives. I’m not judging those who seek to escape the truth, but that’s not for me. A fairy tale can be boring, whereas reality is always bright and full of contradictions. I fell in love with criminal poetics before I saw Tarantino’s movies, although my plots are often compared with his. My first photos, the

Ammoniac Clan and The Plane Will Take Off Without Margot, which, sadly, do not survive, also treated the criminal milieu. I wanted to create aesthetic brutality that I did not see in real life. I never had much interest in the search for forms and colors, I wanted to reinvigorate Ukrainian art by creating new stories. My paintings are broken into hundreds of shards that I provisionally separate with stretches of white. My works are steeped in dramaturgical principles. I feel no shame admitting that a sophisticated, highbrow viewer is not my target audience. My projects developed like a spectacle, like cinema. I’m interested in terror, fear, criminal mentality, struggle with the regime, and national tensions. All my themes are socially topical. I describe my work Fountain as a monument to criminal circles: not because I keep going back to the 1990s, but because they are not over yet. I don’t think I’m free. I’m tied to the place, the country, the society, to my family. If your freedom means you have nothing then what’s the point? If your lack of freedom bears splendid and marvelous fruit, then why not choose that? In conversation with Roksana Rublevska

Bunny, oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm, 2002

Boat, oil on canvas, 240 x 190 cm, 2011 341


Vasyl Tsagolov’s painting Critical Degree treats the theme of protest and civic disobedience that can erupt into a bloody revolution at any point. Protests are not static: they are a chaotic element that can spin out of control in the blink of an eye. The artist explores a revolt, its course and results, and the viewers are confronted with something akin to a stunning movie still. Critical Degree, like many of Vasyl Tsagolov’s paintings, features Tsa­ go­lov’s characteristic blank spaces evocative of flashes or explosions. A viewer has to recombine hundreds of shards to see the complete picture and grasp its meaning. Recognizable characters are the most interesting aspect of the painting: Tsagolov demonstrates representatives of various social strata, including the most vulnerable. All these characters grew up under the same regime and serve a nonexistent ideal, each their own. The artist approaches them with irony and sympathy, which might be more horrifying than violence or indifference. Tsagolov combines a wide shot with a close-up, setting up two parallel subplots. As the police tries to regain control over the raging crowd, a beggar falls to the ground, covering his face. The scale is distorted, some objects are too big, drawing viewers’ attention to details. Canned meat and vodka are conventional symbols of a fairly recognizable Soviet past. The work turned out to be prophetic, which the artist explained by his heightened sense of reality and ability to foretell sharp reactions to the environment. He believes that art seeks to universalize images and make them stay relevant. Therefore, the plot concerns not only Ukrainians but rebels all around the world. Roksana Rublevska

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Critical Degree, oil on canvas, 240 x 570 cm, 2013


Yana, oil on canvas, 245 x 123 cm, 2016


Don’t Be Afraid, oil on canvas, 280 x 180 cm, 2014

345


MATVIY VAISBERG

Born in 1958 in Kyiv. Graduated from T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and the Department of Book Graphic of Ivan Fedorov Ukrainian Institute of Printing. A self-described non-religious artist and atheist, he often engages with Biblical themes. He illustrated Devils by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Babel, Karl Jung, Soeren Kierkegaard, and Jose Ortega-y-Gasset. Selected exhibitions: Ergo Sum (2016, Dukat Gallery, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Wall (2015, Sejm of the Republic of Poland, Warsaw); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Sparrows, Hippos, and Others (2011, Triptych ART Gallery, Kyiv); From Chaos to Order (2008, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Day Six (2005, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Retrospective (2002, Art Gallery of the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Gallery,” Kyiv); Who Art Thou? (2001, Geneva’s Exhibition Centre, Geneva, Switzerland); Seven Days (2000, RA Gallery, Kyiv); Art from Ukraine (2000, Galerie Doktorhaus, Oberdiessbach, Switzerland); Painting. Graphic Art (1999, 36 Gallery, Kyiv); Myths and Symbols (1998, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Comet Wine (1997, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); World Time (1995, Kyiv National Museum of Russian Art, Kyiv); Neu Kreis (1994, Klaus Weidlich kunstvermittlung, Munich, Germany); Nisayon (1993, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); From Yu. Livshyts’ collection (1992, Museum of History of Kyiv, Kyiv); Memorial of Victims of Babyn Yar (1991, Central House of Artists, Kyiv).

Presence for me is about the absence of absence. As long as a human being exists, it takes up space, it’s just not necessarily clear what kind of space. There are artists who don’t want to be seen. That’s quite common in our neck of the woods, by the way. Despite my art school and Institute of Printing background, I was a purely underground artist. Andriy Mokrousov, the director of Krytyka Publishing House, and myself used to joke: not everyone is cut out to be avant-garde, someone has got to be arriere-garde too. Arriere-garde was not a formal movement. In the military, arriere-garde is the last squadron or battalion that covers your back. Andriy wrote that the Kyiv arriere-garde was a consistently anthropocentric, humanistic, figurative movement in painting. It espoused a set of principles that arose in response to postmodern practices. I’m speaking about the 1980s, when painting as such, with its recognizable sensory element, needed defending. In the Soviet times we, the street artists, were nobodies. If we were invited to shows at all, it was to those in the most underground spaces, like Maya Potapova Art Library or the House of Composers on Pushkinska Street. We wouldn’t even dream about the Union of Artists or any other official exhibition space until private galleries opened. But we existed, an invisible presence. We were present in Odessa, Tallinn, Kyiv, Moscow, on the ruins of the empire. And our presence started to become visible. 25 years were very important, primarily in defining our own presence.

Self-Portrait With My Son Over Chess, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm, 2010

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We were not quite sure what kind of artists we would like to be. De facto, we belonged to the underground. But what about de jure? I liked the definition of a Kyiv artist. Now I know that I’m a Ukrainian artist, and I’m proud of the designation. I even represent Ukraine at international forums. But this presence got defined with the emergence of the independent country. The era of Perestroika was very important. We were taught to believe that the best an artist can hope for is posthumous acknowledgment. You live, you paint, you prop your canvases against the wall, you might show them to your relatives or friends now and again. Then, after you are dead, someone comes in, dusts them off and says, “Wow, he was a good man.” It was a good school, in that we were prepared for a dialogue with eternity. And then we found out that there were ways to speak up, like the Day of Kyiv on Andriivsky Descent, for example. The first Day of Kyiv was celebrated in 1984, when Perestroika was already in the air. The powers that be were trying to keep it all under control, each work had to be approved by a committee. With Perestroika, new perspectives became more prominent, and underground spilled over onto the streets from its basements and kitchens. Nonconformism is a natural state in art, once you describe yourself as an artist. Exhibitions have their fare share of conformism to this day. We should note however that conformism is not necessarily about politics. There are many conformist temptations. Many institutions and foundations require a degree of conformism and compromise. And I don’t want to compromise.

Mom, oil on canvas, 85 x 90 cm, 2006


Origins of the World exposition at Bottega Gallery, Gogolfest, Kyiv, 2008

You either are free, or you are not. You cannot equivocate about freedom. I think I am free, to the extent that any live human being can be. What happened 2,5 years ago marked the birth of the Ukrainian nation. Now the Ukrainian anthem sounds sweeter to me than La Marseillaise, much as I love the latter and French history in general. My Ukrainian identity trumps my European identity. It was not always so, and it might yet change, but it is true now. It means that something has changed in these 25 years. We crossed the line, and we’ll never be the same again. When painting my Wall 2, I literally struggled with the canvas. I don’t remember ever feeling that way about painting. There was the taste of soot on my lips. I meticulously documented everything that was happening around me. I coined the term “direct action art.” I hope time does not make the work any less relevant: an artist shucks his or her dinghy into the oceans of time, where it keeps sailing. A painting, much like everything else in the material world, is relative and changes with time. This explains the power of painting. I said once that a painting is the most durable direct message to the future. Once I approach a work by Rembrandt, I read it as a personal message. Ever since childhood, I’ve been intrigued by cosmogony: humans, animals, landscapes. I’m not a believer, but I often approach Biblical themes. As a young man, I wanted to create a Bible. What started out as youthful maximalism eventually led to stunning discoveries. Chagall, Gustave Doree and Rembrandt all painted their own Bibles. The book is universal, it is a mould that can be applied to many situations.

Of course, a significant portion of European art is based on Biblical casts. Goethe once said that art deals with the good and the hard. This aphorism suits me. An artist affects the world directly. Le Corbusier once said that his entire architecture grew out of Cubist still lives. Our present-day landscape owes its existence to a single painting. Picasso said he would reach us in cans, and did. Try to look at sunflowers without Van Gogh’s lens. Me, I cannot. Society produces artists, and they change its perspective. Ukrainian art has a historical delay, which, I think, served it well. It meant that people working with spatial materials, texts and paintings could meet in one place and time. It is one of the few places in the world where artists can dedicate themselves to their art as freelancers. Wittingly or unwittingly, we inherited the tradition of Malevich and Bogomazov, we have the legacy of an entire school of great painters. This tradition or school, as we would call it, is very important for understanding Ukrainian art as such. Culture is what makes humans human and singles them out among other creatures. Ukrainians know what culture is. There was no place more mannered than Maidan. The moment I came there, my heart stopped aching. Our transformation of this quarter century is complete. In conversation with Kateryna Ray

The Building of a Palace (after Piero di Cosimo), oil on canvas, 60 x 150 cm, 2003

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From the perspective of the straightforward plot or “chronology of events,” the 28 paintings depict only the extremes, the peak moments of the existential abyss of the three-month revolution. Vaisberg explores not only visual images but also the narrative tone, the dynamic of its moods expressed through the varying balance of warm and cold colors, and color black. The initial December scenes fully adhere to the traditional “romantic” paradigm of revolutions, although stripped of its pathos: they engage with the tropes that saw 1793 and 1830, the Springtime of the Peoples and the Paris Commune. This is the revolution of David and Beethoven, Delacroix and Paganini, a revolution defined by warm live flames that burn the darkness and push it out of our perceptual boundaries. This tale is dramatic in all senses of the word, including the generic, because it evolves according to the logic of a tragic rather than epic narrative. It is both similar and different from reality as we know it, and it sharply diverges from the triumphalist discourse that is becoming dominant (with good reason, in all likelihood) right under our very eyes. It could be that Wall 2 is a tale not of a glorious victory but of the inherent defeat, hopelessness, existential ambiguity and disappearance of everything human, but also about the inevitability of resistance, no matter the cost. The artist leads despairing human beings, your average anti-Jobs, up the wall of resistance like Lamarck’s ladder, from the highest actualization to the depths of nonexistence, in order to confront the question of meaning and cost of rebelling against fate. He offers no answers, since the entire wall and its “bricks” tell different tales, and these divergent messages set up space for continuous free search, free reflection and free action. Andriy Mokrousov

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Wall 28.01–08.03.2014, oil on canvas, 45 x 60 cm (each), 2014


Study for The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, oil on canvas, 110 x 190 cm, 2016


Study for Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2009

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ANNA VALIEVA

Anna Valieva was born in 1984 in Kyiv. In 2002, she graduated from T. H. Shevchenko State Art School and started studying at the Department of Painting of the Kyiv National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, where she joined the Workshop of Monumental Art, chaired by M. A. Storozhenko. A fellow of the National Academy and Natalia & Ernest Hulak Foundation since 2006. Selected exhibitions: Stage and Backstage (2016, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); SCOPE Miami Beach (2016, Miami, USA); Our People (2016, Unlimited Art Foundation, Kyiv); Heritage (2016, Voloshyn Gallery with Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Miracle (2015, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv); New Perspectives: 8 Contemporary Artist from Ukraine (2015, Ukrainian Institute of America, New York); Toy Story (2015, Voloshyn Gallery / Mystetska Zbirka Art Gallery, Kyiv) Evolution (2014, М17 with ARTMALL, Kyiv); The Freedom of the Unfree (2012, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Relevant Connections (2012, Mironova Gallery, Kyiv).

My life has always been closely tied to art, so it’s hard for me to imag- in many international projects, some in Germany. A trip to the country ine myself without it. Becoming an artist was the only option I ever saw. It helped me to grasp the essence of contemporary art. I remember it with was a compelling force pushing me forward, and I had to obey if I want- great gratitude. Over the last 25 years, Ukrainian art gained independence. We might ed to stay true to my calling. My father is a sculptor, so I was privy to the mysterious creative process ever since I was little. I remember this magical fail to notice it over the din of systematic accusations in plagiarism, critifeeling: the workshop, warm wax, its smell, the miracle of a masterpiece cism of the big names and low education levels, but it is dynamic, evolvemerging in front of your very eyes. My father told me things I didn’t yet ing and seeking globalization. Its reception and quality is on us. understand, but the feeling of love for art enveloped and inspired me. I have no interest in political intrigues and revolutionary slogans. I might My childhood was a mixed bag. Before I was 12, just as the foundations “shout” something through my canvas, but I bear full responsibility for what of my personality were being lain down, I received colossal experience I’m saying. Lately I’ve been exploring the theme of motherhood, time and visiting Europe. When I turned 6, my father sent me to Switzerland, where memory, deep family ties, freedom and seeing yourself as a part of the I could see a different society, different customs, a different level of life. Cosmos. Women remain my central protagonists. They seem to symbolAfter I came back, I became more mature fast, because my beliefs were ize beginnings, standing at the source of all global processes. supported by what I’ve seen. Here everything remained unchanged, and Masters always engage with stereotypes and transform social conpeople wandered in blinkers. Then there were breath-taking trips to Italy sciousness. Some magnify them, some make the point of ignoring them, and France. Broad comprehensive education allows one to see the world and some try to manipulate our trust. Groveling has become a trend in in a different light, to remain honest, to lay bare what others try to hide. art. We try to make art accessible to the broadest public while goading I think our early experiences define our attitude towards our environment. the audience with what interests it. It’s important to habituate your pubI applied to the Academy because I wanted to buttress my tie to art. It lic to the lofty and the beautiful instead of adapting art to popular tastes. was a conscious decision to supplant the vacuity of the real life with art. My task lies in showing the beauty of juxtapositions. And I do mean Before my entrance exams, I thought I could draw, but I had to edit my “showing,” because works have to have depth and natural energy. My art application piece three times. It was a heavy blow, but at least I saw that demands sensuous rather than rational perception. Documenting the inefI had to work even harder. fable is the main goal. You can stabilize color, explain imagery or underI instantly understood that academic schooling was about craft, and stand plots, but the energy of eternity can only be felt. Artists should seek I tried to never stop in my own creative experiments. My first exhibition to become mediators between the real world and the spiritual world, first was held in the French city of Strasbourg when I was 7. It was a show and foremost. Otherwise they cannot accomplish the impossible. of portraits done in gouache, some even sold. As a student, I took part In conversation with Roksana Rublevska

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From the Memories About the Future and the Past series, oil and enamel on pages of fashion magazines, 28 x 20 cm (each), 2016

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Memories, oil, enamel and gold leaf on canvas, 140 x 140 cm, 2016

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The Wave, padding polyester, enamel, 126 x 117 cm, 2015

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MYROSLAV VAYDA

Born in 1977 in Transcarpathia Region. Graduated from A. Erdeli Uzhhorod Art College and Lviv Academy of Arts. Pinchuk­ ArtCentre Prize nominee (2009). Works in installations, performances and painting. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Ukrainian Cross-Section (2016, Wrocław, Poland); Dialogia. Ukrainian Art in Untitled Times (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Shredding Maps. Internal Territories (2015, Giesinger Bahnhof, Munich, Germany); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); The Show Within the Show (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Spaces: Architecture of the Shared (2013, Kyiv); Taking Time (2012, Vilnius); Forest (2012, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); House (2012, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Days of Art performance (2009, 2010, 2011, 2015, Lviv, Ukraine); Independent (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Space Odyssey (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); EPAF 2010. European Festival of Performance Art (2010, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw); Week of Relevant Art (2009, 2010, 2011, Lviv, Ukraine); Ukrainian Cross-Section. Contemporary Ukrainian Art (2010, Lublin, Poland); Open City Festival of Art in Public Spaces (2010, Lublin, Poland); PinchukArtCentre Prize (2009, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Performance Arsenal (2009, Białystok, Poland); Cold. Conceptual project (2008, Lviv, Ukraine).

YOU ARE ON THE FIRST-NAME BASIS WITH THE WORLD, OR “VAYDA, LIFE WILL SHOW YOU…” My conscious engagement with art spans these same 20–25 years. were still alive, and we would cross paths. The scene was vibrant. I nevI was within the process, fought, and suffered my fair share of bumps er asked myself what sort of art was contemporary, and what wasn’t. and bruises. I’m still here, in this stream of daily ongoing transforma- There was an authentic robust unbroken continuity. When I moved to Lviv in 1997, I tried to seek out similar landmarks tions. I’m not holding myself apart, I’m not observing this from a distance. I experience all the positive and negative transformations we undergo with and join the process, but everything was different there. It didn’t have the the same joy and pain as the majority. Art not alienated from life prob- same sort of drive. Academy had its set hierarchy, the faculty didn’t minably gives you the most intense and authentic feeling that you are alive, gle with students, everybody was reserved. Transcarpathia is like sparkthat you feel, that you reflect. ly red wine, it has temperament and, last not least, the climate that fosI have never discriminated between contemporary and non-contempo- ters it all. Galicia, meanwhile, is all rains, melancholy, raincoats, umbrelrary art. The moment I was accepted to Uzhhorod Art College, I plunged las, bleak autumn light: I was charmed and attracted by that too. But the into the atmosphere of art as such. It was in the early 1990 s. Since unity of the days of yore was gone, everything was compartmentalized Uzhhorod borders on four European countries, art always flowed freely, now. I had to sink back into the boring step-by-step schooling. Having unlike in Lviv, where I moved in 6 years. Lviv only had a dialogue with participated in shows, some of them international, in my last years of Poland, and their communication was one-sided, so to say. My spring- college, I believed myself a mature artist, but… Granted, Lviv had figtime youthful days, when you discover everything and have fun, were ures that lived and breathed contemporary art, like Vlodko Kaufman and in Uzhhorod. First experiences are haptic, heady and touching. Art was Vasyl Bazhai. I’ve met them in my first years at the academy. They drew everywhere, in galleries (one — Uzhhorod — exists to this day), in the me like a magnet, I didn’t understand a thing but intuitively moved in Bokshai Transcarpathian Museum of Arts. Slovak, Hungarian and other that direction. In my first year in Lviv, I had my first solo show at the artists would visit all the time. We were open, the school had not a whiff Metropolitan Sheptytsky Foundation, it was this small gallery next to of academic retrograde air, everything was free, fun, driven, fresh. I cre- the main post office. Later, in my sophomore year, I had a solo show in ated my first projects in the last years in college. The renowned clas- Uzhhorod. In my 3rd or 4th year, so that must have been 2000 or 2001, sic artist of the 1960 s Ferenz Seman and many other legendary figures my friend Vlodko Tupiy and I came up with a performance. We decided,

Lamp Shade, object, 1st Kyiv Biennale of Contemporary Art Arsenale, Kyiv, 2012 356

Going Wild, performance, Days of Art, Lviv, Ukraine, 2011


Untitled, 2014

that is, to produce a scene without realizing that it was a performance. It was entitled 1/2 of Happy Motherhood. There was this Soviet-style monument Happy Motherhood that was to be installed in a residential neighborhood, but the municipality ran out of money, and the 2,5-tonn concrete structure languished unfinished. We checked this incomplete monument out of the factory and dragged it to Stryi Park. Our performance revolved around it. By the way, this half-monument is still there, and no wedding is complete without a picture with it. Therefore, our art project keeps working over time. Our performance caused a furor. Bazhai and Sagaidakovsky, not to mention a swarm of students from the dorms, came to watch, loved it, and shared feedback. It was cool because we lacked communication, there was an abyss between young people and renowned figures whose works intrigued us. And now they accepted us and invited us into their fold. Communication developed in the best possible way. In 2006, once the network was sufficiently developed, we created our group [COMA. — N. M.]. Now it seems that Lviv generates all these communicative processes, which it does, but it wasn’t always like that. Obviously, there were external factors: nobody had the funds to create or organize a thing. We initiated communication in 2006. The network that works and exists to this day, and does the right things, I think, started with a single project. Present-day young students have an easier time of joining projects thanks to our network. On education. — 10 years ago, I would have answered this question differently. Now I think that what should be, shall be. As a student, I raged against the academic schooling system. I rejected and resented it, and my academy answered me in kind. Our department chair would say, “Vayda, life will show you. You are too cocky and egotistic.” But, speaking of the academy, there were several figures that made my time there worthwhile. Yes, these were discrete figures, not the system as a whole. But, yet again, what is the system? The system provided scaffolding, and then we mingled, hung out at the dorms, chatted. Without the academy, this community probably wouldn’t exist either. There were certain processes and events that made me who I am. Uzhhorod is a dance among flowers, vibrant, wine-soaked, “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll,” all colors and joy, whereas Lviv was like army service, “a school of life.” Art is a very prominent and important part of life. There’s little doubt that artists can change a lot of things. We sometimes doubt whether that is so, but you can see how good art affects average viewers from outside the art milieu when they wander into galleries, sometimes by chance. A really good book, music score or visual work make us cast

Salt, performance, EPAF, 2010

aside the patina of formalities and false stereotypes. You exit the gallery reinvigorated, like after meditation. You are on the first-name basis with the world. Buddhists describe this as a return to yourself, to reality, to the present, or else as a disillusionment. In a way, a good artwork is always a kind of disillusionment. We idealize art. We go to all these shows, openings and presentations, we take selfies, cool, we are a part of the scene, we are so artsy. And then — bam — Rembrandt hits you like a train, and you realize what falsehoods you’ve wasted the last 2–3 years of your life on. This is authentic. We look away when we see a special needs person or an orphan. We feel uncomfortable, we say: “Well damn, this exists, but it’s best if we ignore it.” Meanwhile, true art is a step into an orphanage, a conscious step. It makes you acknowledge that this is life, that life is diverse. This is how I’d put it. I value this sort of art. I love to watch. I make time and compile my schedule to allow for unrushed contemplation. I used to not have enough time, I pushed myself into this artificial dynamic race, but I wanted that time. I’m lucky in that I have it now, and it’s wonderful to see pixels of life, to be able to observe them. Life is rich, wonderful, authentic. If you have opportunities to watch it as it is, you need no meditation. Art as such is about contemplation, mindfulness, the moment, the perspective without all the external garbage. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

Snowball, wood, plastic, metal, 98 x 98 cm, 2014 (Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv) 357


Plants. Taking Time International Project, Vilnius, 2012

Shining, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv, 2012

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Wall. Architecture of the Shared project, installation, Kyiv, 2013

Star. Irshansk Recreations project, object, Ukraine, 2015

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ARTEM VOLOKITIN

Born in 1981 in Eskhar, Kharkiv Region. Graduated from Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts. Represents the New Humanism trend in Ukrainian art. Lives and works in Kharkiv. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Tatariv, Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985– 2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Hope! (2015, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy); UK/raine (2015, Saatchi Gallery, London); New Perspectives (2015, Voloshin Gallery, Ukrainian Institute of America, New York); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); The Future Generation Art Prize@Venice 2013 (2013, 55th Venice Biennale, Italy); Collection Platform 3: Forever Now (2012– 2013, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Touch (2009, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Hero (2009, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Colorfest (2008, Minsk); Teenagers (2007, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Within Format (2006, Non-Stop Media Festival, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine).

CONTINUATION WITHOUT END, OF A KIND I always have a clear idea of the end result, I think that’s in my personality. I want to receive something close to my initial idea. Some go with the flow. I never wanted that, I always knew what I wanted, much like a director designing a shot. I like to know where I’ll wind up. I think Botany reflects my current interests. It also marks a moment of awakening and joy. In spring, you can effortlessly wake up before dawn, something which never happens either in winter or in summer. I think the entire world wakes up as I do, vibrant and alive. There’s startling beauty in that. And still, I love nature touched by human presence. It’s like an act of co-creation. It also marks control, no matter how minor. I also like the feeling that spring has arrived and everything is in motion without

Interference 1, 2, oil on canvas, 120 x 140 cm, 2007–2008

any effort on your part. It’s a staggering feeling. This is what inspired the project Botany. You could say it’s banal, but how could spring be banal? Could anyone ever say, “Wow, the sky is ugly today”? I never liked painting landscapes. I did a single sketch, and then didn’t paint a single landscape in what, 10 years? 20? I think I only recently found a form that could accommodate landscapes. I like the look of fields. I liked fields even better than woods or seas. When I stand on the sea shore, I think I’m backed into a corner, that’s it, I’ve come to the end of my road. Whereas when I see a field, I feel like

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I’m facing infinity. Woods too, I think woods are like walls, departing from the trodden path takes effort. Fields, meanwhile, open up to you. This is what inspired my new works, which some had already compared to “paintings of color fields.” Landscapes came to me. If you shun something, I think, it will eventually come to you, one way or the other. Speaking of Ukrainian art, I think it’s in motion. Meticulous scholarly analysis might prove that we have everything, and it is interesting, valuable, and, most importantly, in my opinion, authentic. Some might say that we are provincial and backward. But this is a plus. Granted, some had already learned to create absolutely bland art almost devoid of emotions. I like when things are in violent flux. Who cares if they are sometimes too explicit? An artist opens up to a degree you don’t necessarily open up even with closest friends. I see vulnerability and singular beauty in that. I’d love to preserve that, I love that. I always crave beauty. Obviously, beauty is a subjective notion. When confronted with beauty, you stopthinking, you blank out, as if there never were any reflections or explanations. Art has to mesmerize. This is why I have high respect for abstract artists, I think it’s really cool. I think I cannot pull off stuff like that, but when I see those works, I love them. Sure, you can see abstract art in the surface of a cracked wall. But when an artist does that, with tenderness and effort, and then brings it to you and shows his or her work, it’s incredible, the spontaneity of it. When I was very little, when I was 4 or 5, I suddenly saw a beautiful tree stump. I ran off to summon other people, so that they, too, would witness its beauty. I don’t remember what happened next. My uncle is an artist, he graduated from the Kharkiv Institute of Arts and Design, and then he was drafted into the army. One day in late autumn, when they were burning fallen leaves, I saw rays of sunlight pierce the smoke. I wondered: how could he miss that? I swept up a mound of leaves, took it to the garage and kept it for a long time… I tried to collect everything connected to beauty and art for the uncle, to show it to him, so that he wouldn’t miss a thing. But by the time he was back, I already forgot all about it. My dad must have thrown out that bag of leaves. In conversation with Inga Esterkina


Experiment-3, oil on canvas, 230 x 150 cm, 2010–201

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Storm Warning, oil on canvas, 140 x 120 cm, 2014–2015

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Irreversible Beauty 7, oil on canvas, 250 x 140 cm, 2014–2015

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STAS VOLYAZLOVSKY

Born in 1971 in Kherson, where he lives, works and improves. Graduated from art school and interior design classes. Works in graphic art, video and photography, defining his art as “chanson art.” Worked under the aegis of R.E.P. and Totem art groups. Selected exhibitions: Bud’mo! (2016, BWA Gallery, Zielona Gora, Poland); Red Line for Trust (2015, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Master Art Project Happening (2015, Vozdvizhenka Arts House, Kyiv); New Ukrainian Dream (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Places. Laureates of Kazimir Malevich Prize (2014, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv / Arsenal Gallery, Białystok, Poland); The Team I Cannot Do Without (2013, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Kiosk Between Two Towers (2011, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Chanson Art (2008, Regina Gallery, Moscow); Bulletin (2008, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Transit (2008, Ya Gallery Art Center, Kyiv); Stanislav Volyazlovsky and Totem Studio, SOSka (2007, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Kharkiv, Ukraine); GENERATIONS. UsA (2007, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Make Ploughs Out of Swords (2006, Gallery45, Mykolaiv, Ukraine); Textile (2006, Tsekh Gallery, Kyiv); Without Birch Bark (2005, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kherson, Ukraine); 5th International Triennale of Small Graphic Forms (2004, Vilnius); Waiting for Yeti (2003, Kherson, Ukraine); 14th International Exlibris Competition (2003, Sint-Niklaas, Belgium); 5th International Exlibris and Graphic Art Competition (2003, Gliwice, Poland); International Exlibris and Graphic Art Competition (2001, Мар Museum, France).

I LOVE PAINTING Let’s discuss the limits of what is considered acceptable. I would like to talk about this with you, because for you, these limits lie much farther than for the rest of us. Take an idea for an artwork, for example. What you do with it defines your limit of what is acceptable, the idea and how you realize it… I don’t necessarily have a clear idea. I sometimes start painting without knowing what I’m doing, that’s the thing. Sometimes I don’t have a clear idea, and it’s all about stream of consciousness. Like automatic writing? Indeed. That’s especially true of A4 format. I used to be apprehensive about it, but eventually made peace with it. I follow my hand. I often start drawing with an eye or a profile, followed by a naked woman, followed by all the rest. Then I pause, “Shit, what kind of text do I add to it?” Sometimes you doodle until an idea strikes you, and everything finds its rightful place. I cannot say that I ever had an idea that took time to percolate. This is especially true of small graphic works. Take the Karas catalogue [a catalogue published by Karas Gallery in conjunction with the 2016 show. — I. E.]. None of these A4 works have a point, the meaning emerges eventually, but they start with nothing. It also happens that I start drawing one work, and then move on to another on the same “rag.” This is what happened with my “bulletins.” A bulletin is a nice, all-encompassing format. It can treat sperm transfusion stations and a magic ring down on the bottom of the Black Sea that makes its owners MPs of the Ukrainian parliament… Lord of the Rings indeed! It’s a format about nothing… Here you have it: I start at the corner, like Filonov. Well, not quite: he knew what he was doing, he just started with corners. When I was still teaching at college, I stumbled across this book entitled Pavel Filonov’s Analytical Art. Us two stoners pored through the book and whispered, “Shit, the man’s crazy, look at the shit he made!” In Russian Museum, I spent quite a while staring at Filonov’s works. I don’t know how he did it: painting every square centimeter, thin­king it all through. It gives you the slightly paranoid feeling that there’s nothing decoraD. Hirst’s Birthday Party in 2666, textile, mixed media, 160 x 160 cm, 2010 364

Olympics ‘80, textile, mixed media, 136 x 82 cm, 2012

tive about his works, all these multi-colored dots don’t have a single accidental brushstroke to them. All the theories that contemporary art lives off were formulated at that time. Malevich, Kandinsky, Filonov created what didn’t exist previously, turning the page in art history. Filonov was one of my formative experiences. The man was fucking nuts. And, unlike the avant-gardists, he still mostly looks perfectly contemporary. Even Malevich aged: when you look at his works, you see Suprematism, and when you look at Filonov’s works, you see your contemporary. His works are highly elaborate, I don’t know how he got this result. As I understand it, he never did sketches, he started with a corner, from the background even. Let’s talk about what’s going on in contemporary art. I heard recently that painting went out of fashion. That’s been the talk of the town for quite a while now. Really? Art changed a bit? When we visited PinchukArtCentre, we wanted to see more paintings. Yes, because their exposition makes you hanker for paintings and dialogue with people who know what they want and how to make it. As I understand it, art now is a broad, all-encompassing notion. There are hordes of new artists, they are all busy in, say, new media. For them, it is not about painting but about analysis. At present, I don’t see the general panorama of contemporary Ukrainian art, its all discrete patches. The panorama is blurred. Okay, so Ukrainian art is a blurred panorama then. And what are your impressions of the USA? What kind of impressions can you get during a 7-day trip? New York. Armory Show, a show at an Arsenal, see. It made me depressed. I saw


Identity Diffusion, installation, textile, mixed media, 2006 GENERATIONS.UsA, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv, 2007

what art devolved to. I was stunned. Of course, we are talking about New York, and many of these works were created with New York in mind, but some works sold at this art market sent me into a stupor. What’s the point of a silver rocking horse fit for a shop front? I loved the US though, both the people and everything. They are authentic. New York is a state within a state though. My works made a splash, but most buyers are European, not American. Americans, I think, need what is broadly represented at these markets: market stall pop art without any meaning. Warhol had his own goals, whereas this… Take this down-toearth film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Some don’t believe Terry was real, but I do, there’s evidence. Terry demonstrates how you become an artist these days. As Banksy put it, he started to make pop art, stripping it of the last bits of sense. That’s the approach. I had a friend, he’s dead now, his name was Felix Kid. He went to visit his daughter in Toronto, and his wife didn’t want him to return. He was Jewish. He would say, “You know, Stas, I’m a Ukrainian artist, I love these poplar trees, this steppe, its colors. Canadians Damien Hirst, paper, collage, 85 x 88 cm, 2009 don’t hang up carpets on walls, so they need paintings to replace carpets. I don’t see myself there.” I don’t see myself on the American market either. Cindy Sherman bought a work of yours. I suspect Sherman has broader views than your average citizen or collector. Armory Show caused a scandal by letting dealers visit the show a day before the opening. These dealers buy up works for rentals. I often see Gormley’s works in cinema, just as an element of interior design. Some people buy apartments without full knowledge of what’s there: designers suggest, and they agree. Is it any different in Ukraine? Until recently, our art had Golosiy, Hnylytskyj, Chichkan, whom I love, Tsagolov. It had irony. It answered the challenges of survival with mockery and reflection. Take Chichkan, for example. It was not about some

lofty ideas, it was fun. Art that had fun… After Hirst’s show, I went to Chichkan’s exhibition, laughed out loud, and felt better. Or take Tsagolov with his aliens. Savadov. Ilya Isupov with his intelligent humor and mysticism. I once talked to a person who understood art, including Ukrainian art. I asked what was on at PinchukArtCentre. “Anything interesting?” “No, as boring as all European art.” I’m sometimes prone to concur. The Ukrainian poet Les Podervianskyi once said, “I don’t see the point of Conceptual art: anybody who can write and express his or her thoughts could do it. No more than a couple percent of Conceptual art is actually art.” I’m talking about things that are too simple to be art, I think. When I was at a residency in Poland, a married couple had spent a week planting weeds in a square by CCA Zamek Ujazdowski. I don’t know them, they are sweet enough, they brought their kid along, they must have had some idea. When I see works by Tsagolov, Chichkan or Tistol, I have feelings; when I see a fucking field of weed, I don’t fucking care what idea they might have had. Maybe you need a bird’s-eye view? Could be, but it fucking grew right by the front door, and they watered it every day. Sergey Bratkov said during a spring discussion at Biruchiy Residency: everyone forgot that art is visual information. Indeed, what this art lacks for me is often just simple visual information. Sometimes one wants to look at a thing and say, “Fuck, at least it’s pretty.” Stas, do you like painting? I like painting. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

A fragment of the Chanson Art solo show, Regina Gallery, 2008 (Moscow) 365


Jongleur, textile, mixed media, 170 x 175 cm, 2014

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Forest Experience 3, textile, mixed media, 235 x 134 cm, 2014

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ALINA YAKUBENKO

Born in 1983 in Kyiv. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Works in painting, video, photography, installations and interventions in public spaces. Curated several projects. A member of R.E.P. and Ubik groups since 2005. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Warnung FLUSS (2016, Wolkensdorf, Austria); Between Revolution and War (2016, Skovde Art Museum, Sweden); [De] [Re]Construction (2016, Wrocław, Poland); HERE AND THERE (2016, State Scientific and Technical Library of Ukraine, Kyiv); What Do I Have of a Woman (2016, Centre for Visual Culture, Kyiv); Revolution and War (2015, Supermarket-Stockholm Independent Art Fair, Sweden); Shared Border (2015, Kyiv School Biennale, Kyiv); How Was It? (2014–2015, Detenpyla Gallery, Lviv, Ukraine); By My Side (2014, under the aegis of the Occupation project of the IZOLYATSIA Cultural Initiatives Foundation, Kyiv); Wanderer (2013, Small Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Arsenale 2012. International Biennale of Contemporary Art (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Laws of Nature, with Ubik Group (2011, Stedley Art Foundation / 2012, Kyiv Sculpture Project, Kyiv); Tamagotchi (2011, Centre for Visual Culture at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv); N-dimension, with Ubik Group (2010, Ludmila Bereznitsky Gallery, Kyiv); Glow (2009, Berlin Media Festival, Berlin); Warm and Cold Impulses (as part of the R.E.P. group) (2006, L-Art Gallery, Kyiv); R.E.P. (Revolutionary Experimental Space) (2005, Centre for Visual Culture at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Kyiv).

ART SURE CAN DO SOMETHING, BUT WHAT? About her first encounter with art. When I was 12, our school got a new art teacher, Svitlana Dmytrivna (an architect by trade on maternity leave). She took teaching seriously, teaching us to draw still lives, bringing us catalogues. Kids being kids, nobody listened to her. Maybe she wasn’t strict enough; anyway, most everybody treats art classes like a long break anyway. That irked me, and I felt sorry for the teacher. I got interested in art, became fast friends with her, and since then had spent most of after-class hours at her place, learning to draw from life, going through art catalogues and trying to copy surrealists and impressionists, which looked funny. In a while, Svitlana Dmytrivna organized the first exhibition of my works in a school corridor. It came as a surprise: I came to school and saw my works hanging all around. I must have been unprepared and was very upset. I didn’t want to stick out or be better than anybody at anything. The teacher later approached my parents and persuaded them that I should apply to the Republican Art School. It wasn’t an easy decision: I didn’t want to part with my class, and I also had to take a commuter train to the new school, but I did apply and got admitted. On the role of medium. Sometimes the theme dictates the medium, sometimes vice versa. For example, I turn to paintings for painting-specific problems. In paintings, I mostly deal with aesthetic questions, although not exclusively. Digital media make videos and photography a more accessible international language. Painting comes with its challenges: it takes space, solitude and time, which is a declining resource for most viewers. I think videos and photography are a priority for me at the moment. I try to shoot narrative live action films with pre-written scripts. You often focus on existence in post-media information space, sometimes through your own Untitled, acrylic on paper, А4, 2015 368

News, acrylic on paper, А4, 2013

image, like in the Selfie photoproject. Could you tell us more about this aspect of your work? I would like to work with actors, preferably amateurs, more often. I prefer to stay behind the camera. I had neither the resources nor self-confidence previously. Making selfies is easier, you don’t have to bother anybody else. The Selfie series was conceived during the Biruchiy residency, where we explored the ecological issues under Iasia Prudenko’s curatorship. We were joined by an eco-activist who did ecotage (eco-terrorism). I shot this series while analyzing the existent problems and viable solutions. It would be naïve and arrogant of me to think that an art project could solve real problems, ecological in this case, when we had a real person who hid his face and did real and radical things. Compared to what he did, we were out on an art safari, so to say. I turned to selfies as a prominent mass culture genre of self-portrait. The phenomenon of selfie tourism reflects the assumption that the surrounding world is mere background for self-representation. The background is secondary, mostly blocked out by the selfer. Wilderness, industrial spaces or historic landmarks become a frame justified exclusively by its practical and aesthetic role. Our nature conservation efforts are underpinned by purely consumerist reasoning: we protect ecology and make sure


Ghost, video, 2016 (A. Yakubenko, K. Hnylytska)

that the radiation level stays minimal in order to have a pretty picture for aesthetic enjoyment. It’s not that I doubt art’s ability to change the world. Art sure can do something, but what? I don’t know of a single case when art saved anybody. Do you think gender issues are still relevant in society and art? Have you encountered these issues in your professional life or dealt with them? I had, and I do. I no longer even notice sexist jokes unless someone else points them out. I find it troubling, because your sensitivity drops over time. On the other hand, I understand that many people address these issues, there is robust criticism, so I can rest easy. [Smiles.] I created several works on women’s issues, one in collaboration with Ksenia Hnylytska, about unpaid women’s work. Does underground art still exist? Hasn’t this term lost all meaning? Sure, take Livejournal or VKontakte [Russian social network. — N. M.] communities, for example. They didn’t flee from the authorities, they were not marginalized: they are small interest groups, small private communities. This is the state of underground art today. I’m mostly talking about music, which I follow more closely. You worked on the periphery not only as an artist, but also as an organizer and curator. What can you say abut the cultural scene beyond large cities and the process of decentralization? I don’t think we can judge the level of culture as such. There are not criteria, no generally accepted definition of “culture.” Periphery has its own culture, capitals have their own culture. Some niches might be occupied or vacant, depending on demand. I’d rather we didn’t go out and impose our content, but you can offer “a different kind of leisure.” About DENEDE (Hear and There) and other initiatives. I am a constant member of DENEDE, #loveandtreasureyourhomeland expeditions, Peredvizh and other such initiatives. They are conceptually and ideologically interconnected, and have a host of shared participants. In a way, the self-organized DENEDE group is the parent organization. We united into the group after the decommunization laws, which posed certain threats to culture, were passed. DENEDE unites cultural scholars, historians, artists and other activists who work with art and are interested in representation of history in public spaces. Essentially, DENEDE’s exhibitions and creative collaborations are based on public gatherings that express public opinions, with artworks instead of slogans. Participants are self-organized. They offer independent and alternative views without a central curator figure.

Mosfilm, video, 2016 (A. Yakubenko, T. Kovach, A. Sorokovaya)

DENEDE focuses on preserving cultural heritage, actualizing subcultural legacy, and exploring the effect of decommunization on urban spaces. Soviet-era public spaces and cultural infrastructure often suffer from atavistic knee-jerk reactions, lose their original function or disappear altogether. A new perspective on these vestiges of the past may jumpstart local communities. DENEDE looks for potential cultural clusters in small towns all over the country for art residencies, exhibitions and public spaces. #loveandtreasureyourhomeland expeditions were driven by our indefatigable curator Ievheniia Moliar (maybe we just couldn’t bear to part ways). Each exhibition member has to create an essay entitled “Love and Treasure Your Homeland” in a medium of his or her choice. We travel, explore and fall in love with new things, document some, analyze others. Sometimes materials gathered during exhibitions inspire artists, thus forming the progressive urban public discourse. Unlike #loveandtreasure, Peredvizh sets practical goals. Inspired by the 19th century Peredvizhniki (the Itinerants) tradition, it creates peripatetic, participative and situational practices that emphasize direct communication with local communities, integrating them into creative production and communication. This is an ad hoc, unstable group that acts in the borderlands between art and whatever. Non-institutional nature, short-term interactions and inclusivity are our three guiding principles. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko

News, acrylic on paper, А4, 2013 369


Selfie Blog, photograph, 2014–2016 (http://selfit.tumblr.com)

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Flag, object, 2014 (Biruchiy, Ukraine)

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OLEKSANDR ZHYVOTKOV

Born in 1964 in Kyiv in the family of the renowned painter, graphic artist, illustrator and teacher Oleg Zhyvotkov. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Republican Art School and Kyiv State Institute of Arts. With his father and brother Sergiy, he constitutes a singular “family school” recognizable for its restrained palette and attention to formal and plastic tropes. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Motherboard (2016, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985–2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists and Panton Chair (2014, PinchukArtCentre, Kyiv); Ukraine. The Archetype of Liberty (2014, Novomatic Forum, Vienna); Ukrainian Landscape (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); After Words (2012, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv); Eleven Years. Fifteen Days (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Seven Works (2011, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv); 20 Years of Presence (2011, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Painting Preserve. 2008 Version (2008, Bottega Gallery, Kyiv); Painting (2007, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Borders of Borderlands (2007–2006, series of shows in Poland and Ukraine); Protasiv Yar (2004, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Variants with Black (2002, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Works of the Zhyvotkov Family (2001, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Exhibition of Ukrainian Artists (2001, Vienna); Six White Diptychs (2000, Atelier Karas Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainian Art (1992, Helsinki). THIS IS MY LAND. I WAS BORN HERE I first saw your works at the 1987 exhibition of yourself, Mykola Kryvenko and Oleksandr Chebotar on Andriivskyi Descent. Your paintings were pearly gray, very intimate, formally sophisticated… Your works have changed a lot since then: you worked in abstract art, text art, and now you create wooden reliefs. What were the landmarks of your trajectory? Truth be told, nothing changed. I think I remain the same artist I was as a child. I might have new experience, but the essence of my art remains unchanged. But you work with new materials, in different media. How did you move from paint on canvas to sculpture? It all happens organically. For example, I once mended a damaged canvas with gauze and painted over it, which produced additional textures, which brought volume… Or, say, I needed wood to do renovations at my studio, and was tempted to carve a relief. Life leads you in the right direction, you just have to learn to take its hints and act on them. I’m not in the business of new discoveries, material is a secondary matter, you can work in anything, be it paint, coal, shoeshine… that doesn’t matter. What matters is what you want to say, what inspires, troubles and bothers you. How would you define the main theme of your works?

Work № 1 from the City series, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, 2004 372

That’s tough. As an elevator pitch, I’d say I explore the interplay of times and the presence of history. My entire life is tied to Kyiv, I was born here, I studied here, I live here, and here shall I remain forever. This land preserves deep strata of condensed history. So many peoples went through it, some disappearing into the murk of time without a trace, some leaving architecture, manuscripts, historic landscapes. One way or the other, their “traces” are present in the space. I think an artist has to grasp the traces from the deep historical strata, “listen” to the space, track its internal movements… So one could say that your primary interest lies in the field of “cultural archeology,” and you translate its images into the language of contemporary art? Yes, you could say that. Although I think that the boundaries of what can be described as “contemporary art” are very blurry. For example, in Tibet and Nepal I saw fantastic nature, landscapes rich in history and traditional art that changed my world. This experience must have resonated with my general interest in symbols of history and culture, renewing intense passions… It inspired my series Towards the Question of Nepalese Tkhanks, and the large project After Words. They treat eternal phenomena that exist beyond time, and the images reflected in them transcend the boundaries of the present. Their artistic relevance, I think, is

Place Mogrytsia, wood, author’s technique, 86 x 120 cm, 2012


Work № 4 from the Lybid series, oil on canvas, 70 x 200 cm, 2004

defined by our readiness to transcend our fleeting present experience and peer into another world in order to solve its riddles. Your career as an artist started during Perestroika, and covers almost 30 years. What experiences were the most important? No matter what, for me the most important thing is an opportunity to work every day. I’ve been doing that for almost 30 years. No matter what might be happening outside, the main “events” occur in my studio. My studio is my world, it contains everything that interests me the most. Recently “my life in art” had been successful, primarily thanks to my meeting with Stella Beniaminova, the founder of Stedley Art Foundation, which grew into a real friendship. Truth be told, my previous relations with gallery owners were rife with tensions. I often had to rescue my works, track them down after each exhibition, defend and hide them. Now everything’s different. I have never felt as calm as in the last 5 years of our cooperation. We understand each other perfectly, and I feel supported and confident. This is a telling example. Obviously, everything depends on the person who organizes art spaces: if he or she loves art and respects artists, everything goes great. What role had the Painting Preserve group, and its members Tyberiy Silvashi, Mykola Kryvenko, Anatoliy Kryvolap and Marko Geiko, played in your life as an artist?

The Painting Preserve gave me friendship with all its members, first and foremost. We were like-minded artists and good friends. The experience was priceless. We all went our separate ways eventually, but what united us will stay with us forever. Our country is facing tough times. What, in your opinion, should an artist do? I would like to remind you of an anecdote I’ve told more than once: when the German army entreed Paris in 1940, the Academy was busy conjugating the word “love.” That was the artists’ way of preserving their humanity and not succumbing to anger and hate. I exist beyond politics, but the events do not leave me indifferent. My way of experiencing reality is contemplative, and this contemplation produces not peace but tolerance. Contemplation does not mean that you are indolent and carefree: it helps you to concentrate on your own job. I think I’m only of interest to the world and my viewers as an artist who produces artworks, so this is what I do under all circumstances. To quote Castaneda, “Once you laugh at your fear, it subsides. Once you overcome your fear, the thing becomes yours. When you have the powers of good in you, you can overcome any negativity.” In conversation with Galyna Sklyarenko

The City of Kyiv. November-December. 2013, author’s technique, 87,5 x 233,5 cm, 2013 373


In 2003, Oleksandr Zhyvotkov participated in land art symposiums in Sumy Region, in the villages of Mokrytsia, Grunivka and Myropillia. The beauty of these places, where the traces of ancient history coexist with magnificent nature, and landscapes preserve memories of vanished peoples and cultures, found reflection in his works, filling them with new meanings and symbolic signs. New imagery included a horse in the steppes, which, as the artist himself had poetically put it, “is a tribute to the memory of the nomads celebrating the sun setting behind an ancient Ruthenian fortresses on white chalky hills.” The large panel The Place of Mohrytsia. Grunivka. Myropillia brims with symbols, signs, texts and notes treating the place where it was created, and the artist’s impressions. Created as a collage of a kind, with scraps of cloth, paper, sand and paint pasted to a regular oilcloth, the work united images and texts, creating a palimpsest in which signs, colors and lines merged into one. The work’s main colors — black, white and red — are the basic tones of most traditional cultures. The combination of symbolic images and texts is evocative of ancient scrolls. The artist’s work, however, is steeped in his “cultural archeology” and belongs firmly to contemporary art, which destroys boundaries between traditions, cultures and styles, overcomes staid aesthetic norms and creates new and different imagery that produces novel metaphors of Time and Memory out of various eras and spaces. Galyna Sklyarenko

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Place Mogrytsia. Grunivka. Myropillia. (For Mykola Shudra’s birthday), author’s technique, 120 x 470 cm, 2010


Motherboard project, exposition, Stedley Art Foundation, Kyiv, 2016 377


EGOR ZIGURA

Born in 1984 in Dnipropetrovsk (now Dnipro). Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Kyiv State Art School and National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (Kyiv). Adjunct at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, he also teaches drawing and sculpture in Karpenko-Karyi University of Theater, Cinema and Television. A sculptor. Lives and works in Kyiv. Selected exhibitions: Recipes for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Artrooms 2016 (2016, Melia White House, London); VII Great Sculpture Exhibition (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); The Coefficient of Independence (2015, America House, Kyiv); Practice of Metamorphosis (2015, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Aftertoday (2012, Central House of Artists, Kyiv); Twodimensional, with Mykyta Zigura (2011, Hetman Museum, Kyiv); Is Painting Dead? (2011, CCA М17, Kyiv); Green Wave (2011, Mystets Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainian Sculpture Triennial (2011, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv); Lamp (2010, Part.com Gallery, Kyiv); Great Sculpture Salon (2010, Ukrainian House, Kyiv); Bespoke (2009, Mystets Gallery, Kyiv); Ukrainian Sculpture Triennial (2008, Kyiv); Gogolfest festival of contemporary art (2008, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Springwind Land Art Fest (2007, Kyiv); Gogolfest festival of contemporary art (2007, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv).

WHEN SOCIETY EVOLVES AND THE AUTHORITIES NO LONGER LOOM OVER ARTISTS, FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES MAY OCCUR My father works in miniature sculptures. Since childhood, my brother and I had tons of play dough, and what didn’t we do! Then parents sent us to the department of sculpture of art school, where our professional training was to begin. My teacher of sculpture and drawing, Oleksandr Chebotar, had strongly informed my understanding of art. He had a fascinating and very rare poetical and mystical approach to art. I wanted to become a sculptor since childhood. I should note that I usually hesitate a lot before coming to a decision, so I count myself lucky that I had only one road, narrow and full of hardship, but that was what I wanted to do. Then came the Academy of Art, first shows, the adjunct position. My brother [Mykyta. — N. M.] and I work side by side. We are very different artists, of course, but we always ask one another for advice and help. Twins usually try to appear similar, but we wanted to differ, especially in art, ever since childhood. It felt like climbing the same narrow stairs, but once we reached the open space above, we could spread our wings. I think that unchanging things inspire me most, all signs of eternity: inner and outward beauty. Its fleeting material expresUnity, metal, wood, h — 150 cm, 2015 sions change constantly. You might be inspired by the form, the outer shell, and create inward meanings yourself. Sometimes I’m inspired by my feelings, by events around me. Then the process is different: ideas produce form. Sculpture starts with volume, that has not changed since antiquity, running through all eras and remaining true for contemporary art. Ideas and forms are an integral whole. What came first, a hen or an egg? No matter how hard the theologians of contemporary art might try to persuade us that the concept, idea, text on paper are more important than objects made by hands, eyes cannot be tricked. For those who can see, an ornamental twist in a gothic cathedral might tell more than countless galleries. About art schooling. The Kyiv Academy of Arts still preserves its notion of a “school.” Take Storozhenko’s school of monumental painting for exam-

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ple. His disciples are instantly recognizable, and he contributed a lot to art history. You have to be a very strong personality and teacher to lead your disciples. Nevertheless, the present total globalization of art is destroying the notion of “schools.” That is neither good nor bad, art is just changing. As to art schooling, it contains two warring camps: the old academic school that rejects new trends, and the new that casts aside everything old as useless. There’s no synthesis, no transmission of experience, no dialogue. The first camp has experience and singular worldview, the second is well read and self-assured, the first is constrained, the second is too free, and so on. Besides, our formal art schooling does not have international exchange programs for students and faculty. This practice has long been in existence in Europe and elsewhere, significantly expanding students’ worldview. Meanwhile, we are stuck in our rut, and that’s largely the state’s fault. Different generations tend to not understand one another. That’s particularly true of art: different schools, different goals, different perspectives on art. But then, each artist is a personality, first and foremost. In all likelihood, there will be coevals that reject one another’s creative choices or exist at odds with dominant trends of their time. They night be looking forward or backwards in search of models. Rejection of art of your time produces new trends and movements. I wouldn’t divide artists into generations. A lot has changed in culture and society, and most of these changes are for the worse, I fear. Culture at large is dominated by provincialism and lack of professionalism. Artists have it easier: they are self-sufficient in their creative practices. But the moment you meet with institutions, organizations and donors, you see that the society’s cultural level is damnably low. Art’s influence on us is so strong that its full scope is hard to gauge. It also affects artists as a part of society. Under the influence of their own or somebody else’s art, artists change, affecting their communities along the way. One way or the other, art affects other people, spaces around it,


Shift, sandstone, h — 165 cm, ed. 1/7, 2015

flats, houses, cities. Artists have to produce artworks, and the opportunities are rife as never before. Contemporary art is very different, so there are many ways. The most important thing is, it has to be honest and professional rather than provocative and dirty. 25 years is quite a long period. National or even global art can undergo drastic transformations over that timespan. Before now, radical changes could take a century, but now the world develops and changes faster. Even in our neck of the woods, art has changed completely over these 25 years. When society evolves and the authorities no longer loom over artists, fundamental changes may occur. I’m looking forward to the changes of the next 25 years. Colossus which Awakens, bronze, h — 186 cm, ed. 1/15, 2016 These days, sculptors are more free: previously drudgery used to take up 80% of your working time, but shortcoming of our art school that limits you to the classical tradition. now the ratio dropped to 50/50. You Then I started to experiment with forms and materials. I still focused have more time for reflection and cre- on humans, I decided to stick to that, but my views on people in art ative experiments. More and more changed, became more flexible. Of all branches of fine arts in Ukraine, monumental art is in the sorcontemporary artists create largescale installations, objects and sculp- riest state. Contemporary realistic statues are often horrible and unprotures. Freethinking artists allow them- fessional, both artistically and architecturally. There’s no professionselves more, they can even allow mis- al control bureau that would monitor the quality of new monuments. takes. This creates robust competition “Contemporary” sculptures and objects fare even worse. They are being in contemporary sculpture, inspiring put up all over the place, with no regard for the architectural panoraartists to evolve. After the Academy, ma. Monumental sacred art is also in decline: clerical authorities know I had to choose whether I should exper- little about sacred art, and care less. Plein-air sculptures and murals iment with other media, or stay with- that dot Ukrainian cities are a rare exception. They have life and spark, in the fold of sculpture. The tempta- so, I think, they are a positive influence on the city’s face. I’m not saytion to sink into the whirl of contem- ing that there are no good monumental works: there are some, but the porary art was very strong, but hav- situation in general gives little reason for optimism. Ukrainian art is lagging behind because the state does not invest in ing reviewed the possibilities afforded museums, preservation of cultural treasures, and international promoby contemporary sculpture, I decided to stick to my guns. Another thing is, tion of Ukrainian art. It’s not contemporary art I’m feeling sorry for: artI found it hard to abandon anthropo- ists can work, evolve and promote themselves. But should the trend conmorphic works. It’s not that I could not tinue, we will squander our cultural heritage, and our history and counproduce non-figurative works, but all try with it. Even the destruction of Soviet-era statues that are important cultural sites is a bad sign. But I still believe that Ukraine has huge my ideas had human faces. I think all artists graduating from the Academy potential, and can become competitive globally. In conversation with Natalia Matsenko faced the same problem. It is a great

Colossus that Rebelled, Colossus Insurgent, bronze, h — 80 cm, ed. 14/25, 2016 379


380 First Drop, bituminous coal, epoxy resin, h — 250 cm, 2015 (Kharkiv, Ukraine)


381 New Prometheus (with Mykyta Zigura), stainless steel, metal, solar panels, h — 800 cm, 2013 (Kyiv)


GAMLET ZINKIVSKIY

Born in 1986. Graduated from Kharkiv Art College and the Department of Monumental Painting of the Academy of Design and Arts. Member of the Youth Section of the National Union of Artists, a member of the Youth Branch of Kharkiv Municipal Gallery. Shortlisted for PinchukArtCentre Prize in 2009. Works in street art, creates art books, installations and objects. Lives in Kharkiv. Selected exhibitions: Project About Nothing (2016, VovaTanYa Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Museum Collection. Contemporary Ukrainian Art 1985– 2015. From Private Collections (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Art-Kyiv Contemporary (2015, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Cossack Contemporary (2015, Nuremberg, Germany); White Heroes (2015, Isolation Foundation, Kyiv); Collective Show in Saint-Merri (2015, L’eglise Saint-Merri, Paris); Dismorphobia (2015, Municipal Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Closed for the Winter (2015, VovaTanYa Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Draft (2014, Contemporary Art Space Batumi, Batumi, Georgia); Waiting for the War (2014, Saatchi Gallery, London); Show in the Show (2014, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Waiting for the War (2014, Territorien Galerie, Graz, Austria); Industrial Eden (2014, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Terrain Orientation (2013, National Art Museum of Ukraine, Kyiv); Smuggled Goods (2013, Galeria Zahe(n)ta, Warsaw); Monument to a Monument (2013, Ukrainian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, Italy); Big and Great (2013, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Construction. From Constructivism to Contemporary. Kharkiv 20–21 (2012, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Book of People (2011, PinchukArtCentre Prize Nominees Exhibition, Kyiv).

WHAT YOUR HANDS AND EYES ABSORBED I see the place of Ukrainian art on the global art market with absolute clarity. You should ask Igor Abramovych about that though, whether he’d agree with me or not. Imagine a giant supermarket, like a good dozen of Ikeas, like football fields piled atop football fields, with hundreds of acres of parking spaces, where you need shuttles to take customers from their cars to the store looming on the horizon. And well beyond the parking space, there’s a subway station, and by the subway station, there sits this old lady selling eggs. This is the position of Ukrainian art on the global art market. Some artists might make it, but the situation in general is like that. I have little interest in the art market, it is all about money, and I’m not. I created an entreprise at 15 and realized that money is not the point in life, made the choice to leave business behind and enrolled in art college. If I wanted money, I would have stuck to business. Young people sometimes ask me: “What do you do to sell your paintings?” And I say, “Boys, you need money?” “Yes we do.” “Go into business. Business is all around you.” All in all, the country has no shortage of opportunities to make money, you just have to work and think. Preferably, you shouldn’t work for somebody else, and you should come up with something new. But art is not a way to make money, that I can say for sure. I’m lucky in that some people need my art and sometimes even buy it, which allows me to survive and even rent this apartment. Buying the apartment is out of the realm of possibility though. Sometimes I travel abroad. I went to Portugal just because I wanted to: I went with a friend for a month just because that was what we wanted. I think I have a mar-

Chairs, acrylic, 315 x 490 cm, 2016 (Ternopil, Ukraine) 382

velous life. Yes, I don’t have a Ferrari and a loft, but given the local circumstances, I’m doing well. We started out in street art with Roman Minin in 2007. The city greenlighted our festival, but did not give us money. We suggested the project to Caparol company. Strangely enough, it agreed and gave us a fortune worth of paint. After the street art festival was over, Minin and me did a postmortem on it, and came to the conclusion, no matter how cynical or even grandstanding that might sound, that our works were the best. We had conflicts with a whole bunch of artists, but organized a follow-up festival in 2008. I stepped down as an organizer, though I saw that it wasn’t for me. In 2014, a chair of a local utilities administration ordered that all street art on Pushkinska Street should be painted over. I knew that I wouldn’t organize the festival, and Minin was otherwise engaged. I saw I had two options, either hold a grudge against the city or flip it a bird. I chose to create new works on top of the ones painted over, and that I did. I’d like to note that the city has changed: nobody is vandalizing the works at the rate they did in 2007. Maybe graffiti artists grew up. Previously some thought that there was nothing cooler than painting over somebody else’s work. That was always the case, and so it will remain. I’m my only sponsor. I sell a work, and then spend most of the money on paint. Then I go out and create another work. Downtown Kharkiv is riddled with my works, and I’m not stopping yet. I don’t know what will happen with the new police: maybe I will be fined. The old-time police was easy, you bribe them with 200 hryvnias, which is less than $10, and

I’m Just Words, acrylic, 205 x 370 cm, 2016 (Ternopil, Ukraine)


Important, acrylic, 360 x 585 cm, 2016 (Mariupol, Ukraine)

they move on. Now bribery might be the more dangerous option, it’s no longer encouraged. I decided that I won’t pay fines. I’d rather spend 10 days in prison. That would be quite a promo action. My friends said to me, “Call Vasia when you are in Lisbon.” Vasia said, “I work at a club, here’s the address, come down here, we should talk.” We drive down there, and turns out Vasia owns a club. He and three other men from Kharkiv greet us and say, “Gamlet, we’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time!” They live in Lisbon, these Kharkiv men, they never saw me, they just knew my street art. It works. Are people changing? In point of fact, yes. People come up to me and say, “Our mayor, Gennadiy Kernes, is great, he pays artists and improves the city!” I say, “I do it on my own dime, you know.” “But they don’t stop you, right?” I’m not asking for permission, I don’t care what the city thinks. To get a rejection, you need to submit a request with a sketch and wait for 2–3 months. Why would I do that? You buy a can of paint and do your thing. If I’m lucky and the stars are on my side, I’m not approached by the police. I work during daytime, this protects me from the police. They assume that, since you work during daytime, you must have permission, and if you work after dark, you don’t. Nobody calls the police during the day. People in Kharkiv recognize me. “What are you doing?” “I’m Gamlet.” “Oh, so those are yours? Great, I love your works!” I’m the only Kharkiv street artist since, say, 2014. Everything that appears in the city is mine. There are also a couple of works by city-sponsored artists, but the less said about them, the better. Art books. You know, Pavlo Makov suggested I should try my hand at it. I started out on my own, but then thought, I wonder what kind of art books would my friends make. I suggested the idea to them. I decided I’d buy the books if we agreed on the price. For several years, I bought up my friends’ art books. Then I had a financial dry spell and stopped buying, but I had about 40 books by various artists by then. I’m still at it now. Art books appear because artists know that they can draw a book, print it, bring it to Gamlet, and he’ll pay for it. It’s a serious collection, a document of our times and history. I mounted a show once, and decided I won’t do it again: two of my books, my private books, were stolen, and nobody took responsibility for the act. It’s all because the security personnel were volunteers who took a lunch break. One of those books, The Mirror of 2008, was very important to me. Victor Gontorov, my father’s friend, was my mentor. He taught me simple yet incredibly important things. I copied everything I could from Italian Renaissance: first figures and compositions, then I copied Chinese and Japanese art. Nobody forced me: Gontorov just showed me who could teach me the basics of forms or composition, so that was what I did. Nobody knew that I had spent 3 hours a day at copying for a couple of years.

Being Yourself, acrylic, 480 x 990 cm, 2016 (Mariupol, Ukraine)

I learned to do it. What your hands and eyes absorbed… I have a toolbox that I can use. There was this anecdote. As I was painting, I thought, hmm, this reminds me of something. And then I suddenly realized that, composition-wise and structure-wise, it was a Persian book miniature. I copied Persian book miniature too. It all comes back to you eventually once you have it. My destitute student years at the art college were marvelous. Me and two other guys would pool our resources to buy a pack of instant ramen for dinner. I did my painting and composition homework two weeks before it was due, and then spent those 2 weeks on commissions. “Gamlet, I need to do a self-portrait.” “Sure, hand me the tablet, we’ll be done within the hour.” My advisor was on the grading committee from year 1 through year 5. He would say, “Gamlet, no matter what class I walk into, I see your works everywhere.” Those 2 weeks passed in a frenzy: I would sketch three gypsum figures, a couple of self-portraits and do 2–3 paintings a day. People paid the way they could. We were all destitute, some would pay in food: 2 kilos of potatoes, a pack of pasta. Some could give me 30 hryvnias [$6 at the time], that’s the toffs. That was in 2005. For each exam session, I worked for 7 people. This, of course, taught me the basics of time-management and efficiency. I never wander around thinking how to make myself sit down to work. You just know that the more you do now, the more food you’ll have over the break. In conversation with Inga Esterkina

Waiting, acrylic, 55 x 65 cm, 2016 (Ternopil, Ukraine) 383


Histrionic Fit, enamel on fiberboard, 120 x 80 cm, 2016

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Beuys on a Walk, acrylic, collage on fiberboard, 64 x 60 cm, 2009

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OLEKSII ZOLOTARIOV

Born in 1985 in Kyiv. Graduated from the T. H. Shevchenko Kyiv State Art School and National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. After the Academy, he started participating in many exhibitions and actively engaged with urban space, taking part in symposiums of sculpture. Created three sculptures for Kyiv urban space: the fountain complex Pear (2012), the sculptural complex The Movement of Suprematism (2011) and Wind Rose which won him the nomination for the Best Young Sculptor Award. Selected exhibitions: Transformation. Evidence (2016, Kunst- und Filmbiennale Worpswede, Germany); Recipe for Utopia (2016, Modern Art Research Institute, Kyiv); Kylym. Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016, Zenko Foundation, Palace of Arts, Lviv, Ukraine); Shifted emphasis with Iryna Fedder (2016, Triptych Gallery, Kyiv); Wankende Grenze (2015, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin); Our Kin (2014, CCA Yermilov Centre, Kharkiv, Ukraine); Maßstäbe (2013, WerkKunstGalerie, Berlin); Kulturfestival Wedding Moabit (2013, Berlin); Scale (2013, WerkKunstGalerie, Berlin); Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2013, Saatchi Gallery, London); Tralfamadore, with Iryna Fedder (2013, Ukrainian Embassy in Germany, Berlin); Great Sculpture Salon (2012, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Kyiv Sculpture Project (2012, Kyiv); Group Exhibition of National Union of Artists of Kyiv (2012, Kyiv); Great Sculpture Salon (2011, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kyiv); Ukrainian Sculpture Triennial (2011, Kyiv); Ukrainian Sculpture Triennial (2011, National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Kyiv).

Presence is primarily about analyzing your environment. The presence of independent Ukraine is good for Ukraine. One way or the other, we are discarding the burden of the past, which might have been someone’s “bright future,” but became “the horrifying history.” I think Ukraine has the potential to become one of the strongest countries, if not in Europe in general than definitely in its eastern part. The main accomplishment of these 25 years of independence is the fact that now we have an independent unblinkered generation. I grew up during Perestroika. It’s hard to describe it critically. I must have lived in a comfortable vacuum, thanks to the efforts of my parents and my environment. But, speaking globally, the era produced entire strata of stereotypes and myths. I’m happy that the accursed Communist period is retreating ever farther into the past. The notion of freedom is important. Granted, I have seldom experienced its opposite: even when someone tried to limit my freedoms, I gradually restored justice. Maybe it’s my personality, maybe I was lucky. Unity is about uniting efforts for realizing shared ideas and plans while all participants remain independent actors. In free society, art does not focus on one topic, it may do whatever strikes its fancy. Art does not owe anybody anything, it is not socially engaged. Artist’s personal responsibility depends on his own “software.” There’s no contemporary art without its social context. One way or the other, artists broadcast somebody else’s ideas. What any given artist might choose or manage to broadcast depends on his or her personal settings and on codes written by others. It’s hard to generalize. I do care deeply about communicating with everything that is going on, but I don’t necessarily reflect it in my works or programs directly. What values do I want to broadcast to the world? After my school and academy, I had a lengthy period of confusion. What should I do next? Does anybody even need this? Why did I spend so many years hitting the same spot, for the days of my studies all blurred into one? Crucially, I also had to overcome the influence of my teacher and mentor Oleksandr Diachenko, who, I think, made me an artist, or encouraged me to become an artist once he noticed I had talent. Once that period was over, I had the good fortune to apply to a competition for a work

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in a public space, which encouraged me to consciously and conscientiously explore the themes raised in the early 20 th century: I’m talking about Suprematism, Cubism, Ukrainian and global avant-garde. It allowed me not only to complete the work for the urban sculpture project, but also to come up with an entire range of works and projects. I think these free art movements, so to speak, were put on pause and transformed into ideologically-laden art that served the Soviet system. Ties to a number of artists and movements were severed. This is why I find it so important to make that right, at least now, at least for myself. Honestly speaking, academic schooling is all well and good, but it is not enough under the present circumstances. “Dry” academic schooling has its limits. Again, I think this happened because intergenerational ties were severed. The practices introduced in the early 20 th century were more productive, and had they been allowed to develop, we would have had a completely different system of art schooling, which, I think, would have differed from contemporary global models. The problem was, we fell under the sway of an unnatural system that known and smart people knew would lead to the abyss even a century ago. I hope Ukrainians would never allow anyone to treat them like that in the future. I think we should relax and start to produce something authentic and unique. I think we have all the preconditions for that. There’s a multitude of cultural processes, different social strata stress different things. Speaking of priorities in our society, they differ little from the European countries I’ve been to. Ukrainians are a very cultured nation. I was lucky to have been born in the country that gave the world many cultural figures in all branches of art. Many of them transformed the world or suggested interesting additional meanings. If you work and live here, you don’t have a choice but to also navigate the global context. The issue of whether you should actually join global art trends remains. My landmark projects? I think it’s too early to tell, but I’d like to mention two works. One is a portrait of my friend, and the other is Geometric Archaic. I think both works inspired me for further reflection. In conversation with Kateryna Ray


Mechanical Orange, rusty metal, painted metal, h — 160 cm, ed. 7, 2014

Pear, stainless steel, h — 400 cm, 2012

The Angle of View, rusty metal, 75 x 150 cm, ed. 7, 2013

Geometric Archaic, travertine, granite, h — 110 cm, 2012

The Movement of Suprematism, rusty metal, h — 450 cm, 2011

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Fixation, rusty metal, stainless steel, aluminum, sand, paint, 150 x 200 x 150 cm, 2014 389


National Academy of Arts of Ukraine Modern Art Research Institute

Catalogue

25 YEARS OF PRESENCE CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ARTISTS

Volume 2

English-language edition

Editor and curator of the project Igor Abramovych Art scholars Inga Esterkina, Natalia Matsenko, Kateryna Ray, Roksana Rublevska, Galyna Sklyarenko, Oleksandr Soloviov Texts Victoria Burlaka, Eugenia Kikodze, Andriy Mokrousov, Lesia Smyrna, Roman Yusypei Layout, design, cover Andrey Shalygin Translator Iaroslava Strikha Editors Maksym Dobrovolskyi, Douglas Knox Graham Photo Anna Bekerska, Maria Bykova, Sergiy Illin, Olena Ilienko, Yevgen Nikiforov, Timofei Radya, Michael Ritzman, Maks Robotov, Juan Sandoval, Alena Saponova, Kostiantyn Strilets, Sergey Tritinichenko Logistics Oleksandr Pretskailo, Valeriy Zariashko We would like to extend our gratitude to Eugene Bereznitsky, Ihor Ciszkewycz, Illya Chuchuiev, Pavlo Gudimov, Evgen Karas, Mykhailo Kulivnyk, Marina Shcherbenko, Sergei Sviatchenko, Vlad Vakulenko, Tetiana Voloshyna

Published in conjunction with ArtHuss Publishing Format 60х90/4. Printed on offset paper Print run: 500. Order № 221

Publishing licence № 3165, issued on 14.04.2008

ISBN 978–966–187123–5

Published by Huss Family Printers Ukraine, 04074, Kyiv, Shakhtarska Street, 5 Phone: (044) 430–1549 e-mail: info@huss.com.ua www.huss.com.ua


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25 years of presence - Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016)  

English-language edition

25 years of presence - Contemporary Ukrainian Artists (2016)  

English-language edition

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