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Between Fire and Fire. Ukrainian Art Now

18 September 2019

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Ukraine is a huge country in the middle of European continent. Yet its art for many years has been almost invisible for the outside world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union a stereotype prevailed that Ukraine was just another post-soviet country, sharing more or less similar challenges with the former metropolis – Russia. Indeed, there was much in common in painful transformations which took place in Russia, Ukraine and neighboring countries like Belarus or Moldova on the ruins of communist utopia.

 

Everything changed dramatically in 2014. Revolution of Dignity was the most important event in the newest Ukrainian history. The fight for European future started as a peaceful protest on the central square of Kiev – Maidan and ended up in tragic mass massacre of 100 people. Ukraine paid an enormous price for the victory of revolution. In the last 5 years it went through disastrous invasion and war in the East of the country, annexation of Crimea and a huge wave of propaganda which aimed to destabilize the country from inside and discredit it in the eyes of international community. Revolution and the following tragic events put an abrupt end to the post-soviet era and started a new page in the history of the whole region. Those events drew broad international attention to Ukraine and its future. It suddenly became clear that Ukraine is a country with unique urge for freedom, rich heritage and vibrant contemporary culture.

 

Five years after the revolution on Maidan were hardly the easiest times. Ukraine keeps facing continuous political turbulence. The war trauma, frustration of losing a part of the country, millions of displaced people, lost trust with Russia which for centuries had big cultural influence on Ukraine... So-called decommunization started after the revolution as an attempt to erase all traces of communist past. It triggered a wide discussion in the society regarding the mechanisms of memory and the ways of coping with historic traumas. This process is still not finished. It is not clear yet if the new Ukraine will manage to rethink productively the controversies of the XX century, and what is even more important - to cope with the recent ones.

 

As it usually happens, the worst of times are also the best of times.  The challenges of the last five years inspired a huge wave of cultural activity in Ukraine and brought a new ambitious generation on the art scene.  For the last several decades Ukraine has had a vibrant artistic community and witnessed rapid growth of interest in contemporary visual practices. New Ukrainian art formed as the opposition to degraded social realistic canon in late 1980s. By now it encompasses three generations: the artists who came during Perestroika, the first post-soviet generation of activists that emerged after the Orange revolution in 2004 and, finally, “the third wave” - those who came during and after the last Maidan. The exhibition shows how Ukrainian revolution and the following events reflect in the works of young artists. For some of them the last five years were the start of the career. For others – the time of sudden maturity.

 

“Between Fire and Fire” is the first large-scale presentation of post-Maidan art in Austria. The title of the show refers to the German translation of William Blake’s collected works. It also derives inspiration from Blake’s famous Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The Songs were written in the times of French revolution which also brought lots of hopes and disillusions. The symbolism of fire in Blake’s poetry is influenced by Jacob Böhme’s mystical ideas where fire is one of the powerful yet ambiguous elements of creation.  Contemporary Ukraine seen through the works of young artists is literally trapped between fires. Fire is one of the recognizable symbols of mass clashes during the Maidan. In the wider sense it is the metaphor of all the multiple catastrophes faced by Ukraine in the last 100 years. “Ukraine on Fire” was the name of the famous movie script about World Wat II by prominent early Soviet Ukrainian film director Olexander Dovzhenko. 

 

The rage of revolution and war, political and economic instability within the country mix with the anxieties and uncertainties of contemporary world in general. In the narrow space between all the turbulences and challenges the territory of new freedom is blossoming. In the last five years Ukraine’s capital, Kiev has become one of the world capitals of rave movement. Dance culture becomes an antidote to deep trauma and political absurd. Escape to phantasmal psycodelic experience becomes the new form of activism. The paradox of young Ukrainian art is that it combines the spirit of rave with highly political senses and projects. The artists experiment in all kinds of media – photo, video, installation and also revise the legacy of socialist realist painting tradition. Their works are highly critical and reflect a powerful impulse of existing in the context of constant turbulence and change. Recent Ukrainian experience becomes the lesson for the rest of Europe.

 

Artists participating at the exhibition: Gera Artemova, Yuriy Bolsa, Vova Vorotniov, Zina Isupova, Maria Kulikovska, Sasha Kurmaz, Yarema Malashchuk and Roman Himey, Anton Malynovskyi, Sergiy Melnitchenko, Roman Mikhaylov, Yevgen Nikiforov, Igor Petrof, Yuri Pikul, Alexander Sovtysik, Yaroslav Solop, Elena Subach, Vyacheslav Teshner, Oleksandr Chekmenev, David Chichkan, Nikita Shalenny, Kinder Album.

 

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CURATORIAL TEAM

 

Alisa Lozhkina and Konstantin Akinsha’s curatorial duo has been focusing on international presentation of contemporary Ukrainian art since 2014. Right after the revolution on Maidan they arranged the exhibition “I am a Drop in the Ocean.  Art of the Ukrainian Revolution” in Kunstlerhaus (Vienna, Austria) and MOCAK (Krakow, Poland). In 2018 they curated the first large-scale European museum presentation of three generations of Ukrainian contemporary artists at Ludwig Museum (Budapest, Hungary). The show titled “Permanent Revolution” was nominated for Global Fine Art Awards (New York, USA) as one of the best museum exhibitions of post-war and contemporary art in the world. «Between Fire and Fire» is the third project and the symbolic conclusion of the post-revolutionary exhibitions series.

 

Alisa Lozhkina – independent curator and writer, based in Kyiv, Ukraine. In 2010-2016 was the editor in chief of the major Ukrainian art publication – ART UKRAINE magazine. In 2013-2016 served as a deputy director general National Art and Museum Complex “Mystetskyi Arsenal” (Kyiv, Ukraine). Curated a bunch of large-scale exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad. Contributed to various Ukrainian and international art media.

 

Konstantin Akinsha – international curator and art historian, based in Budapest, Hungary. In late 1980s – early 1990s was one of the major figures in contemporary Ukrainian art. In the last two decades has been working and living in USA and Europe. For many years served as the contributing editor of Art News magazine, curated exhibitions of international modernism and Russian avant-guard in major international museums – Belvedere (Vienna, Austria), Neue Galerie (New York, USA) etc. 

 

The project was organized by the Ukrainian Institute in cooperation with Zenko Gallery. The event is part of the Bilateral Ukrainian-Austrian Culture Year 2019.

 

Producer of the exhibition:

Karina Kachurovskaya

 

Art Manager:

Svitlana Levchenko

 

Exhibition production manager:

Artur Antonenko

 

Exhibition venue:

Semperdepot Atelierhaus der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien;

Lehargasse 8, Vienna, Austria,

20.09 – 08.10 2019

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