"Amazing perplexities"

Markus Hoffmann, Germany; Vikenti Komitski, Bulgaria; Karol Radziszewski, Poland; Eric Sidner, USA; Open Group (Yuriy Biley, Anton Varga, Pavlo Kovach, Stanislav Turina), Ukraine. Curated by Nathalie Hoyos, Rainald Schumacher and…
05 May 2017 - 14 May 2017

Markus Hoffmann, Germany; Vikenti Komitski, Bulgaria; Karol Radziszewski, Poland; Eric Sidner, USA; Open Group (Yuriy Biley, Anton Varga, Pavlo Kovach, Stanislav Turina), Ukraine.

Curated by Nathalie Hoyos, Rainald Schumacher and Alevtina Kakhidze
Lavra City Gallery, Kyiv, Ukraine


Modernism may have been misread as the first universal language of art in history that could be understood by all people, regardless of their diverse cultural backgrounds and heritage. Contemporary Art in a similar way has been read as employing a universal vocabulary and grammar. But in the past two decades, with the space for Contemporary Art opening up to a global perspective, the audience has started to become amazed, confused and baffled by the perplexities of the countless micro-stories told by artists from all over the world in different languages, using a vocabulary that refers specifically to different cultural fields, histories and narratives. The universal language of Contemporary Art was thus transformed into a Babylonian linguistic diversity.

A new reading of artistic practice as a highly individual dialogue with and reflection about the outer and inner reality is also required for the artworks produced during the first ‘Face – Artist Residence’ in Kyiv for the exhibition ‘Amazing Perplexities’.

Tamar Chaduneli during her stay in Kyiv researched Chekanka (embossing) - a traditional metalworking technique that was often used in Soviet times on buildings, most commonly on aluminium. Coming from Tbilisi, she was interested in this heritage of Soviet times, looking for a transformation of this technique into a contemporary alphabet. She collaborated with a craftsman and employed the old tools to bring her own little drawings, figures and sketches to life by applying the Chekanka technique to the aluminium pillar in the exhibition. Her installation expands into an additional photograph showing the garden of a house near where the artists lived together in Kyiv for a period of up to five weeks for their residence. A narrow blind adds the impression of a window and fine traces of a coloured drawing pen or watercolour add to a balance between intentional notes and coincidental colour marks.

A casual feeling of easiness and effortlessness can also be found in the installation by Maja Čule. The four bluish monochrome works behind glass, which show only little marks and irregularities of different intensities, offer insight into a vast and endless aura of space. It might be the area of the Queen of the Night, a soundless and limitless grey-blue of the inner vision during a sleepless night. There are additional moments when the dream machine starts to produce the phantasies of the night, the schemes and silhouettes as they are sketched, drawn and printed by the artist in three additional drawings that complement the installation. The title ‘Falling Into an Interrupted Sleep’ offers a line to follow for a possible translation of the installation into words and language. Maja Čule, an artist from Croatia living in New York, during the residency spent a couple days at a village house getting material that after editing in the coming weeks will result in an additional new video work.

The feeling of a rather cool and playful conceptual approach to the working process is also embodied in the sculptures of Scottish artist Carla Scott Fullerton, who came from Glasgow to join the artist residence. The concrete casts look accidental and carry the lightless weight of chance or contingency. Heavy, as some of the pieces are, they are fragile and temporary with their clamps, holding in place such elements as etched copperplates or linoleum cuts with rolled on dark greyish paint. The fine etchings on the copperplates require a closer look, the shadows and reflections on the floor creating a second sensual appearance. The works give the impression of an alphabet or language in transition, a vocabulary that is in the process of becoming developed into a new language for contemporary sculpture. By walking around them, they are offering with each new perspective a physical strong presence and seem to be ephemeral at the same time. The titles of the beauties, like ‘Dancing Line (Solid and Clear)’ or ‘Forms Fold’, ‘Golden Stance’ and ‘I turn and I glance’ add to this new visual alphabet for sculptural understanding.

An explosion on April 26, 1986 destroyed reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl’s Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Station in the former Soviet Union. Just about 100 km from Kyiv, the ruins and the forbidden zone are in the process of being transformed into a tourist destination with growing numbers of visitors, claiming that the radiation exposure during a few hours of stay is less than on some transatlantic flights.

The disaster at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant caused by insufficient cooling, which led to three nuclear meltdowns, happened after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011.

In mid-1946 the United States conducted a number of nuclear weapon tests at Bikini Atoll, which were later claimed as the ‘world’s first nuclear disaster’. During the 1950s more than 20 nuclear bombs were detonated on the atoll. The islands are no longer a restricted area, but the tropical paradise remains mainly uninhabited until today.

Markus Hoffmann, who came from Berlin to join the artist residence, follows in some of his works the traces of the tragic and presumptuous, if not hybrid, relation of humankind with radioactivity. He sought permission to film in the scarred area of Chernobyl, in the countryside, near the reactor itself and at a lake in the forbidden zone.

The slowly developing narrative in the film plays with the experience of time and light. Time can be experienced, on the background of nuclear disaster, as a category between individual lifetime and the rather irrational half-life time of radioactive decay. Light, as the basis of everything, as a physical wave for what is visible and as emission, as an invisible wave and radiation.

It is helpful to know the title of the fascinating film ‘Bikini Atoll Containment III. Man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity’. It is also important to understand the nature of the materials used for the installation. The light in the entrance area is filtered by Japanese Nori paper, which is made using algae from the coast off Fukushima, and the coconut comes from the Bikini Atoll. The artist’s approach was to interconnect these three contaminated areas by bringing a coconut from the Bikini Atoll and planting a seed in Chernobyl.

Let’s be aware of our self-incurred immaturity, work on it to change something for good. But let’s not forget to enjoy life. The whole world, the whole planet is being transformed into a dance club, and Kyiv is the centre, marked by a disco ball flying like a new moon over the square in front of the city Planetarium. Bulgarian artist Vikenti Komitski created this event in the early evening on one day during the artist residence and edited the documentary film into a short loop.

Well known Kyiv musician DJ Ptakh supported the project by adding the sound for this clear statement for contemporaneity: ‘I don’t wanna be the 90s to your Disco’ - a call not to stick to the frozen problems of the post-soviet period of the 1990s. The artist in residence did not want to become part of a backward looking position. The exhibition by the Face residents, as a comment on the situation in the country is rather a statement to move on, to press the fast forward button.

The vision of an open-minded society without discrimination is part of the project QAI/UA, the Queer Archives Institute, Ukraine, put together by Polish artist Karol Radziszewski.

The importance of the “Queen Archives Institute” is upheld by tendencies for dumb populism, the homophobic irrationalism in the Russian-influenced sphere by the Orthodox Church, the growing discrimination of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender.

The vitrines, centrally placed in the exhibition, display photographs of a number of the artist’s male friends posing nude among photographs showing them in their daily life. We also find photos of two legendary historic personalities of the country whose sexual orientation was and remains an unrevealed rumour: the poet Taras Shevchenko and poetess Lesia Ukrainka, whose head is on the 200 hryvnia bill.

The Queer Archives Institute by Karol Radziszewski is a rather playful and highly personal approach to creating a documentary about the history and presence of people whose sexual orientation might be outside of the normative heterosexual behaviour, but it is far away from a scientific-based gender study of Queerness in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The archive opens up the door for studies such as the interview with Ukrainian ‘enfant terrible’ Mikhail Koptev recorded during the residence.

The work by American artist Eric Sidner, who now lives in Berlin, crosses the borderline between a natural organic structure and artificial construction. The object in the exhibition is reminiscent of a chandelier with its glittery sparkling presence. Shaped as an onion or bulb and hanging from the roof, it evokes also the impression of the traditional handmade braided wicker used for round fish traps. What looks from far away like high gloss prints of shimmering fish scale turns out at closer look to be real fish. The dried fish sold in nearly every Ukrainian shop or market is vacuum-sealed. The work could be an experiment. We don’t know how long the vacuum packs will seal the fish and prevent them from decaying. We don’t know if some measures could be taken by conservators to prolong the lifespan of such a work, which contains organic materials. But important is the tendency to try to develop a new alphabet, to leave the beaten paths of the earlier generations of artists and to try something new.

This is the main comment the exhibition ‘Amazing Perplexities’ transmits to the Ukrainian audience. During the residence the wish matured in the group to realize an exhibition - the best and most appropriate solution to balance and put into question the many unsettled conflicts that are deeply inscribed into the tissue of social life, the public discourse, the spiritual and emotional state of each individual, not only in Ukraine.

Try something new, look at the world in a new way, and leave behind your prejudices and expectations about what art is or should be. Amazing Perplexities is a kind of laboratory. Here, in the exhibition you can experience reality with all your senses anew, as if we have never before seen, heard, smelled, felt reality.

There are no clues to reach a conclusion. It is a never-ending process of evaluating your impressions and perceptions, again and again. It is a dialogue with an exemplary artistic reality, with many realities. Break on through to the other side – that is the message, the side where our minds are open for new experiences, for new thoughts and new feelings.

Open Group, a collective of Ukrainian artists who took part in the artist residence, realized a similar kind of laboratory with their project ‘Open Gallery’ made in 2012-2014. Following the institutions/residencies invitation or by their own initiative, open-air or in the context of art/non-art venues, the artists create what they call the “outlined spaces” - temporary territories for exhibiting artworks or spaces as objects in their own right. Such “gallery spaces” are defined by clearly visible yet symbolical borders, or subtle interventions, or simply by their (or the audience’s) presence. After being completed, each Open Gallery remains as it is and “functions” in its initial environment without our further control. The practice of defining the Open Galleries questions the possibility of the existence of a space for representation without an artist and vice versa.

It also reflects the situation of “institutional wasteland” in the Ukrainian contemporary art field and may be seen as an attempt to give a form to the system of professional and fellow relations inside the artistic community.

Amazing Perplexities is in such understanding an Alphabet School. It offers an introduction to the first letters of the new alphabet of the present, future and contemporary art.

Rainald Schumacher