Ukraine is well-known for its artistic talent — so who holds the country’s creative future in their hands? From VR visualisations of colonies of microorganisms and imagined revolutions to football hooligans turned political activists, exiled grandfathers and twerking as a reaction to current events, explore our overview of the winners and nominees for the country’s prestigious Pinchuk Art Centre Prize 2018, a biannual prize for young Ukrainian artists under the age of 35.
Mykhailo Alekseienko’s project Startup Troeschyna is based on relational aesthetics — where the viewers’ direct participation is an integral part of an artwork — and is also a fundraiser. Alekseienko is crowdfunding to refurbish and continue developing the art space that he created in the two-bedroom apartment in a tower block in Kiev’s ill-reputed suburb of Troeschyna that he has inherited from his grandmother several years ago. The art space, called Apartment 14, has been open since 2016 and has been sustained by the enthusiasm and financial support of other artists. The project’s exhibit in the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kiev consists of a copy of his grandmother’s room, complete with sofa, chairs, a coffee table and lots of shelves. On the shelves are big glass jars made into piggy banks for the crowdfunding project, which are regularly emptied of the money that visitors contribute. Visitors who choose to support the project receive small gifts and mementos, with the money being used to help the local community, fostering neighbourly ties between the area’s residents and combatting existing stereotypes about the district of Troeschyna.
Yulia Krivich has been working on her photography project Daring Youth Click here since 2015, when she started documenting the life of a football hooligan gang that got involved in the Euromaidan protests in Kiev in 2013-2014. The people in her photographs, despite being just 20 years old and looking like Instagram influencers in their trendy sneakers, streetwear and tattoos, are also war veterans and political activists of the Ukrainian right wing. Her approach to them is documentarian, refusing to offer any evaluation of their activism. Another part of the project is an art book in which Krivich united an old Soviet library pamphlet recounting youth propaganda work with her pictures of the young hooligans, creating a reflection on propaganda through the ages.
Materials are the subjects of Vitaliy Kokhan’s work. The artist’s display for the Pinchuk Art Centre Prize features large scale compositions that demonstrate the influence of light, fire and water, a “painting” of cobwebs sandwiched between two pieces of clear glass and a installation of a microscope over a dish where crystals are growing, with the projection from the microscope displayed on a nearby wall. The work is almost reminiscent of a lab experiment in science class, emphasising fluidity, progress and the impossibility of cohesive perception.
Yevgen Samborsky’s work often involves collaboration with people from outside the art world. This practice again draws upon relational aesthetics: the artist sets up a context and serves as a moderator who invites other people to participate. His most recent work includes paintings and sculptures that are the result of a creative collaboration with various vulnerable groups: children from a centre for social and psychological rehabilitation, psychiatric ward inmates, children from Roma settlements. As a part of his work Samborsky tutors his new colleagues, but their interaction is more collaboration than traditional art class. Another collaboration that forms part of the project is between the artist and his father — an alienated man with few social ties — who together create a sculpture of the father as a young man. These collaborative practices become an opportunity for Samborsky to explore both himself and other people, highlighting human fragility and sharing an experience of participatory practice that can be used as therapy for others as well as himself.
Mykola Karabinovich’s work The Voice of the Delicate Silence addresses the artist’s family history while serving as a tribute to his great-grandfather, an ethnic Greek who was arrested and deported to Kazakhstan in 1949, where he died five years later. For the main part of the project the artist travelled to the town of Shelek (formerly Chilik) in Kazakhstan, where his grandfather lived and died, and installed a symbolic monument to him: a loudspeaker that plays a Greek song over the silent and deserted Kazakh steppe. This work, which received the first special prize of the Pinchuk Art Centre Prize, was represented in exhibition by a picture of the loudspeaker and audio of the song, transforming the performative gesture into a simple and intimate narrative.
Serhiy Radkevych explores sanctity, power and the iconography of the contemporary world. His project Monument to the Victims is built out of metal that mimics the sewing patterns on military uniforms, creating a sculpture stripped of its initial function and attributes of aggression. The themes of violence and police brutality arise often among younger Ukrainian artists — perhaps partly due to the multiple protests and revolutions that have shaken the country in the 21st century. By elevating military uniforms to the level of an abstract symbol for the human body, Radkevych aims to demonstrate the absurdity of violence.
Taras Kamennoi’s project Ethical Spot explores borders and connects to Ukraine’s recent history of separatism and insurgency in its discussion of the concept of territorial integrity. The artist first got the idea for the exhibition when he was working at a construction site and was tasked with clearing waste from the territory temporarily provided by the site’s neighbours free of charge. As the artist cleared the plot he decided to dig up the soil, making manifest the real and previously invisible borders of the adjacent territories, the outlines of the freshly dug up earth a metaphor for the newly established no man’s land. In his work for the Pinchuk Art Centre, Kamennoi created an installation of walls recreating the initial territory he had to clean, as well as his drawings, photos and blueprints of the space.
Katerina Yermolaeva’s work Me, Myself, and I explores identities and avatars. She adopts different characters she describes as her “subpersonalities” and documents them in photographs and installations. The characters combine typical human personalities and stereotypes with the artist’s personal fears and experiences: there is a video game- obsessed teenager with a floor covered in crisp and chocolate bar wrappers, a “femme fatale”, a typical alpha male bachelor, an art student and many others. The project began as a search for the artist’s alter ego, but the resulting installation creates a community of sorts, where all the characters coexist and form a world comprised exclusively of the artist’s multiple selves.
Pavlo Khailo is interested in participative performance art and gamification, which both come into play in Revision of Rules, a roleplay game he set up for the Pinchuk Art Centre Prize exhibition. The game takes place in an office-like room furnished with a table, some chairs and a water cooler and is led by a performer who dictates the rules of economic games to the viewers, inviting them to take part in the game by performing simple tasks. The viewers are allowed to discuss the rules of the game but not change them. The focus is on the slim divide between a game modelled on real life, and a form of real life where game-like interactions become the key algorithms of engagement and motivation in an economic and political reality. The performer’s relationship with viewers also touches on power relationships both personally and in a wider political sense.
Roman Mikhaylov’s project No Game — No Hero consists of two conceptual parts. The first is a video game in which the viewers can play the role of either a human or “fear”, embodied onscreen by a giant frowning bumblebee. There is no way to win the game, which always ends with a “game over” screen — a reflection of the artist’s view on both the eternal chase of modern life and on fear as an inherent component of human lives. The second part of the project continues the topic of fleeing in a series of paintings depicting faceless men in streetwear, the “running men” of the contemporary world.
Iuliana Holub’s Algorithmic Family is a real-time video simulation of a post-Soviet family, resembling characters from The Sims. The family are placed in a small Soviet kitchen (a real size model of which is a part of the installation), a symbolic space associated with private, uncensored conversations since Soviet days. The digital family behaves according to an algorithm written by the artist that lets them react to real-time news events being broadcast on a screen next to the one in which the family “lives”. Their reactions are expressed through movements (like twerking, dancing, punching the air or pacing around the kitchen) and sounds which convey eight basic emotions (anger, fear, joy, sadness, annoyance, agitation, inspiration and indifference). The digital family’s entire existence is confined to this 24-hour newsfeed and their own algorithm, compelling them to consume and react to a never-ending stream of information.
Larion Lozovyi’s Beetroot Revolution provides commentary both subtle and blatant on the relationship between history, politics, art and big money. He engages with the materials connected to the revolutionary processes of 1917 to construct an archive of an imaginary event, the titular Beetroot Revolution. He describes a class of sugar barons (hence the beetroot, a reference to the most popular way of producing sugar) who dominate a cultural and economic situation in which the artistic avant-garde is dependent on the goodwill of politicians and big capital, with all criticism defused by the context that produced it. It’s hard not to see an obvious allusion to the current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who, before being elected in 2014, was one of the country’s most prominent oligarchs.
Dmitro Starusiev’s work consists of abstract, large-scale analogue photographs, developed to look like paintings and placed in museum-style frames to emphasise the position and character of photography in museums. Starusiev says that he uses photography as earlier artists used painting — to depict personal feelings, ideas and dreams rather than documenting reality. The Three Sisters’ Story is a series that first emerged as an idea when the artist stood on the border of three states, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, and its abstract images allude to mutilated bodies, abutting borders and a religious sense of wonder.
Yarema Malashchuk and Roman Himey’s project To Whom Have Thou Abandoned Us, Our Father? is a documentary in which the artists follow choristers of the Chernihiv District Philharmonic as they go to work. The choristers’ work life is documented in detail and they become the protagonists as the camera singles out quotidian scenes evocative of monotonous factory work. The viewers might well not realise that the people they are watching are choristers, such that it is almost a plot twist when they begin their rehearsal,singing the choral part of the opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky. Malashchuk and Himey won the second special prize at the Pinchuk Art Centre Prize awards.
The Chronicle of Current Events by Sasha Kurmaz presents both factual depictions and commentary on the current state of cultural, political and social affairs in Ukraine, as seen by the artist. The project is placed inside a destroyed room filled with rubble, with wires and pipes hanging out of the stripped and bashed-in walls. Upon entering, viewers are faced with a photo of one of the artist’s recent performances: placing a banner that reads “Your sacrifice was in vain” in an abandoned cemetery in Kiev, addressing the people who died in the recent Ukrainian revolution and protests. Inside the room the viewers walk over rubble to view several conceptual works: a photographic series called 12 Months whose 12 photographs reflect the monthly chronology of losses in the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine over the course of 2017. Also featured are a photograph of the destroyed display entitled “Communism Is Our Goal” on the wall of a school in the village of Volodkova Divytsia (formerly Chervoni Partyzany) in the Chernihiv Region, and a four-channel video collage called State of Emergency, where scenes of protests and military clashes in the country are presented side-by-side with fitness videos by Ukrainian first lady Marina Poroshenko. Also part of the exhibition is a print run of the book Heaven, which documents Kiev’s nightlife: against the backdrop of political and economic crisis, techno and house parties might be the only spaces that have the potential to unite the young regardless of their ethnicity or political orientation.
Daniil Revkovskiy and Andrii Rachinskiy’s project is a blend of art and investigative journalism that explores a tram accident that occurred in 1996 in the city of Dniprodzerzhynsk (now Kamianske). The incident happened when a tram suffered a brake failure while driving down a steep slope and resulted in 34 deaths and more than 100 injuries. The driver, Valentina, had previously alerted her bosses to issues with the brakes and stopped before the slope, refusing to continue on the route. She was forced to continue after her manager and the passengers, annoyed at the delay, told her to drive on. The project explores human habits and conformism and contains footage of the crash, materials from the investigation and the artists’ own performative reconstruction of some parts of the driver’s life outside of the accident.
Anna Zvyagintseva was the winner of the 2018 Pinchuk Art Centre Prize, with a project that focuses on automatic writing. Examples include the traces left by hands touching handrails, cigarettes snuffed out on a wall, scratches made by a door on the floor and so on. The artist interprets these elusive, barely perceptible moments from day to day life as a collective artwork, which is represented in the exhibition by photos, found objects and a large-scale, 3D graphite drawing on the white floor that gets muddied, erased and moved as viewers walk through the room (the artist regularly comes in to “fix” the drawing back to its original state).
When you walk into the hall where Ivan Svitlychnyi’s Script is exhibited, you might think you have accidentally stumbled into a high-tech lab. The project is the first part of a trilogy and follows in real time the formation of an algorithmic scenario for a future performance, processing data obtained through an analysis of low level internet protocols by servers located in various places around the globe. The data received is framed as a stylised mould of social connections between humans, and is visualised in VR. It also studies colonies of microorganisms cultivated in Petri dishes in the same room, with changes in the colonies visualised on screens and processed as sounds. The artist raises the question of what will come to define the status of an artwork in the future, how we will perceive our surroundings, what our priorities might become and what will define the new visuality to come, with viewers invited to cast a confused glance at our hypervisualised future.
In her work Ask A Mom, 26-year-old Alina Kleitman from Kharkiv addresses the simple and universal childhood fears connected to parental figures and their authority. The artwork is an installation in the form of a dark maze that leads to several rooms with video projections of stereotypical “post-Soviet mum” behaviours, like feet in fluffy slippers and audio tracks telling the audience off for some unknown act of naughtiness. The resulting effect is almost nightmarish as you stumble from room to room in the dark, being watched by the video projections and chastised by the audio ones. The experience proved to be so universal and relatable that Kleitman was awarded the public’s choice award as a part of the Pinchuk Art Centre Prize.
In his work Synchronising the Present, Oleg Perkowsky addresses the issue of time, and the possibility of documenting the moment. The idea is realised through a room replicating a construction site, with a slide projection of dolgostroys — construction sites left unfinished and often abandoned, often for financial reasons. The exhibition, however, treats these half-built houses as finished projects and rightful members of the streets’ architecture. The artist strips the images of all social and political context, foregrounding reflections on the position of the individual in the Universe in a period of constant acceleration, inviting us to slow down and observe.