Exhibiting work by international artists without an overarching narrative can sometimes be a problem for international art competitions. But the emerging artists from the UK and Ukraine selected as finalists in the Saatchi Gallery and Firtash Foundations’s UK/raine competition speak for themselves.
We have selected some of the most exciting artists from the exhibition. While some address home, migration and national identity, others imagine alternate worlds where cultures can coexist without distinction. Challenging the media they work within, these young artists demonstrate the many ways that art can transcend borders.
Ukrainian born, London-based artist Masha Batsea is inspired by graphics from random corners of the internet. For her series Yala Yolo, she digitally transforms objects you might find in London to look like Middle Eastern artefacts, and vice versa. The project originated out of Batsea's encounters with Middle Eastern culture in her daily life in London, as well as her interest in DJs like duo Acid Arab, who fuse western and eastern music. The object-hybrids appear truly genuine, especially as video works. But look closer, and Batsea leaves clues such as the Arabic engraving of “Rihanna” on a takeaway box — a reminder of how culture is appropriated inconspicuously.
Kyung Hwa Shon
Kyung Hwa Shon has lived and studied in Seoul, Chicago, Paris and London, where she is currently based. The experience of moving across the world has had significant influence on her installations with which she explores her relationship with each city and “how one adapts to unfamiliar, urban circumstances”. The works are all abstract, and while the spectacular surfaces reveal the artist's interest in architecture, each vibrant composition is actually a result of various stages of research, from documenting personal reactions to specific spaces to recording city sounds. In recent works, she observes London through the eyes of a fictional city phantom named Stillman, to uncover that which is “buried, hidden and remaining to be discovered” in the urban fabric.
While many Ukrainian artists are confronting the country's recent conflicts, the Kiev-based duo have embraced cataclysm for its potential for freedom and transformation. Luba Malikova and Max Poberezhsky make sci-fi influenced multimedia installations using video or 3D printing. In particular they explore the idea of genetic mutation as a way of debunking the myth of singular national identity. Their most recent work Eternal Memory (2015) caused a controversy for engraving friends' Facebook profiles onto stone, at a time when tombstones were reserved for victims of Maidan. The work sets up the idea of digital immortality but as Poberezhsky explains, it “questions who has the right to be a hero, and whose portrait can be engraved on a tombstone.”
Adeline de Monseignat
Works by Adeline de Monseignat seem to possess lives and multiply on their own. Since 2012, the artist has experimented with making sculptures appear living, by using contrasting materials such as glass and fur. Since Mother in Child (2012) she has developed her creaptures (creature/sculptures) into recognisable yet strange and dream-like worlds, as seen in (Re)Construction of the Self (2014), an installation modelled on her childhood bedroom. The delicacy with which she transforms her materials comes into fruition in In the Flesh (2015), an outdoor sculpture existing in two versions — one of marble, the other of Portland stone — which is made to look fleshy by the inclusion of a crease. “With the simple act of creating a cut within that sphere it enabled me to suddenly bring the cold marble and stone to life. Thanks to a single crease you can read all sorts of ambiguous bodily shapes.”
Known for performance and figurative sculpture, Ukrainian artist Maria Kulikovksa is drawn, like Adeline de Monseignat, to organic materials that mimic human textures. For her 2012 series Homo Bulla, Kulikovska made casts of female bodies out of soap which tends to crack like skin under certain conditions. The sculptures were installed outside of IZOLYATSIA, a cultural platform in Donetsk and left to weather until 2014 when the centre was seized by separatists. The sculptures were used as targets for shooting, calling attention to their vulnerability not to the natural process of aging but to unnecessary human violence. Kulikovska responded to this by making a new work, casting parts of her body (such as hands locked in embrace) out of soap from a factory in Sweden that also produces equipment for military training. This year, the artist founded the collective Flowers of Democracy to stand against sexism and violence against women.
If Maria's soap sculpture evoke both care and damage, Jonny Briggs’ work is where desire and disgust meet. “So often the things we assume as polarities are far more entwined than we like to believe”, says the British photographer. His still life When your words came, I ate them (2015), produced as part of the Soil Culture residency at White Moose, features a feast made entirely from excrement. “At public buffets and feasts, filth is taboo. I see bright white table cloths, pristine polished foods without mould, plates wiped clean of fingerprints and shining cutlery. If there’s a fly, people jump to wave it away from the food. Yet all this food has stemmed from filth and dirt; and this is where it shall return.” Digging up and playing in dirt is synonymous with childhood, a period Briggs has revisited throughout his practice in staged photographs of his parents or family home.
The Donetsk region in Ukraine where Roman Minin was born, and from where many residents have recently been displaced, has been the subject of the artist's paintings starting with A Plan of Escape from the Donetsk Region (2011) about the mining industry in which Minin's family were employed. Here, the Kharkiv-based artist suggest that this social system allows no way out while the painting does not allow the viewer in. Roman's paintings are a modern take on stained glass, a camouflage of intricate iconography that recalls the confusion of the media's coverage eastern Ukraine. In his recent work about Donetsk, Reward for Silence (2015) he has not made the narrative any easier to read: a light box behind the work illuminates some parts while concealing others.
Areas of former industry which developed into luxury flats are a concern in Restore to Factory Setting (2014) by British artist Felicity Hammond, something she experienced first hand, living in east London. Hammond photographed the landscape in sections using an analogue camera and later assembled the parts into a complex blue composite that creates an overwhelming sense of ruin. In You Will Enter an Oasis she turns her lens inside the urban developments. Using architectural renderings and “the language of advertising and design for luxury living”, she criticises our preference for digital reality over the physcial. “As the weeds are uprooted from the cracks in the shifting post-industrial plane, our vantage point is obstructed by a corrugated skin. We can no longer see or touch the ruins of industry, but instead are presented with generated architectural propositions and images of simulated vegetation.”
As a graffiti artist since the 2000s, Kiev-based artist Sasha Kurmaz has long understood the power visual art has to interrupt people’s daily lives. Since moving away from graffiti, Kurmaz has continued working among people in the city, only using photography — handing out photographs to commuters outside the metro, or hiding them in books in shops. “I am interested in how the audience reacts to a photograph when they are confronted with it unexpectedly.” For his Intervention series, Kurmaz replaced advertising with images that have a deeper meaning by drawing attention to our behaviour, whether that’s how much time we spend looking at our phones, and how little time is spent caring for the homeless.
British photographer Christopher Nunn began visiting Ukraine in 2013, starting in Kalush where his grandmother was born. He was working in Ukraine when conflict broke out after Euromaidan. “One of the first things I was drawn to was the hospitality and humour of Ukrainians,” Nunn reflects. “Over the next few years I began to understand the politics of the country and its post-Soviet mindset.” Yet the conflicts did not curb his first impressions. Nunn developed a nuanced appreciation for Ukrainian people for their great sense of hope, which comes across gracefully in his photos of everyday life.