Published by Index Foundation Stockholm
Mats Stjernstedt, Helena Holmberg
With contributions by Markus Degerman, Lada Nakonechna,
Alevtina Kakhidze, Martin Karlsson, CCCK
Excerpts from CCCK discussions,
commissioned texts and interviews
Artist, painter, former curator of
SCCA Odesa and Guelman Gallery Kyiv
The official art of the Soviet Union was social realism. Only a few non-conformist artists created alternatives. This alternative school, which meant an infrastructure consisting of illegal galleries and home made exhibitions, concentrated in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Odesa. Odesa's non-conformist tradition developed in the sixties as soft modernism, which of course was forbidden in the Soviet era. In the early eighties the first Ukrainian contemporary art developed from amongst a network of artists such as Anufriev, Leiderman, Larissa Zvezdochetova, Martynchiki, Vojtsehov and Chatzkin. Though most of them moved to Moscow at the beginning of Perestroika and got known as Russian artists, their careers started in Odesa.
As a student I went to see the exhibitions in Odesa: Romantic conceptualism, new wave, new wild and trans-avantgarde. These were the children of the non-conformist modernist movement, differing from their predecessors as they worked with their own context and reflected social realities. Even before Paris Communa was formed in 1997 there was an important event in Ukraine, the first uncensored exhibition of the Union of Artists, where I met a lot of the young interesting artists of that time as Arsen Savadov, Pasha Markova, Kiristy and later Gnihilitsky, Sasha Soloviov and Alektitsov. Three month later the Union of Artists in Moscow showed young Ukrainian artists. At that exhibition a huge painting by Arsen Savadov was shown: A green background, a tiger and a huge woman: A picture about nothing, really - but it was received as a bomb! This picture became a catalyzer of Ukrainian contemporary art. At the same time a small circle of artists started to gather around Alexander Soloviov, who then worked at the official Artists Union. Though we were not a movement or an organization - it was rather a very personal context - his office became a sort of headquarters.
Cultural journalist, Kyiv
Former curator at SCCA Odesa
In 1993 George Soros opened the SCCA Kyiv. Olexander Roitburd developed the concept for SCCA Odesa. Preceding SCCA there was an art association consisting of about twenty people who gathered to discuss possibilities of fundraising. Those twenty friends started to develop structures and this informal, friendship-based situation became more professional. We organized first exhibitions and published catalogues. Those projects we did were not necessarily strong in the curatorial sense. Our priority was to activate a contemporary art scene in Odesa and to add dynamics to Ukrainian art. There were three important exhibitions organized by SCCA Odesa, mainly involving Odesa-based artists. There was not a lot of money, the grants were small. Certainly we made many mistakes. Probably we should not have given money to some of those people we funded. Those artists we worked with did not necessarily turn out to be honest, active or open minded when the funding-crisis came. They had gotten used to having a budget to realize their plans and we could not provide them with money any more. In the beginning 50 dollars for a two days festival was really enough: We borrowed a club, invited the audience, provided the drinks and that was all.
Artist, Odesa, member of Art Raider
Odesa's SCCA had had the money to pay its employees and had given out grants to realize projects. The policy of the Soros group though was to encourage Odesa artists to work with new media, which was not natural in this context. While in the West it was regular to work with a camera and a computer, in the East only very few could get hold of one. The situation gradually became ridiculous. It became obvious that it were the curators playing the big part, not the artists, by writing quiet fashionable texts for that time.
When a new director was appointed after Mihailo Rachkovetsky it was already about sunset, the situation had lost all dynamics, we had already lost our position. The formal closing of SCCA Odesa was obvious for everybody, the artists were depressed and decided to start to work for advertisement, or to leave for Kyiv or Moscow. We wanted to work in contemporary art and then all slowly started to die: A sad situation. Maybe contemporary art was simply not needed, the situation had been artificially created, there had not been an elite here at that time. The SCCA Kyiv survived longer than SCCA Odesa. Of course we tried to find new sponsors who could support contemporary art. But we did not get a response. We got a couple of hundred dollars each time, not enough to build an institutional fundament. Today there are commercial galleries here but their main goal is to sell everything, its not about a concept. There are different interests - that is why curatorial projects still seem impossible here. Maybe it will be possible in Pinchuk Art Center.
Artist, painter, member of group R.E.P.
Lives and works in Kyiv
That system was determined by the opposition between official art and nonconformist underground art. After the fall of the USSR official and nonconformist positions were both devaluated. The place of art in the whole system of social communication was lost. Contemporary art of the Ukrainian nineties presented different models to integrate nonconformist experience with external forms by 'looking like' Western art. After the loss of the familiar social conditions and functions Ukrainian artists found themselves in the middle of nowhere. The nonconformist artist thought of himself as an 'agent of the West', but an abandoned agent. Superficial imitation of Western art (always with some delay) was treated as a kind of heroism. The role of the traitor of socialism, which nonconformists played free of charge paradoxically made them outsiders when the socialist country was betrayed by the majority of its citizens. But if treason is committed by a majority - is it still treason? Ukrainian contemporary artists of the nineties were treated as parasites in their country. The loss of the usual relations with society determined the Ukrainian art scene of the nineties: a shortage of any personal positions prevented it from building a new strong system of relations.
Former staff member and former director of SCCA Odesa
Chief editor of Playboy magazine Ukraine
The traditional conservative art education here has always been questioned by self-educative undercurrents. All soviet and post-soviet art has always been created outside the academy. But those tendencies did not affect the academic traditions.
I personally prefer to approach someone for an interview as an editor of a commercial magazine, instead of as a poor Ukrainian curator.
Former director SCCA Odesa
Director Jewish Museum Odesa
Once in the beginning of 2003 Mr. Pinchuk and Mr. Guelman gathered in Kyiv about three dozens of artists, art critics, curators and gallery people in order to consult them on how to create "The museum of contemporary art for Ukraine". I was invited as well but I was sitting there as quiet as a mouse, because at that time for two years I had no longer been working with contemporary art but I was concerned with the organization of the Jewish Museum of Odesa. I did not say anything concerning the title, although I would have preferred "Ukrainian museum of contemporary art", but let it be "for Ukraine". I stood up only once, when Nicholas Bourriaud advocated with the conviction of an "advisor" to pay special attention to the role Ukrainian artists would play in the future Museum's collection. Bourriaud, provoked, started to scare everyone with the danger of creating some kind of "cultural ghetto" in Ukraine. Then I asked the famous French curator how many contemporary art museums
there were in France. "About 200, but what does it have to do with France?" Yes, probably Bourriaud knows more about contemporary art than I do, but what does he know about the ghetto? And what in turn does rev. Sydor-Gibelinda know about it, who interpreted the ghetto as a place "where its inhabitants live freely".?
Certainly ghetto is a terrible space, but under certain circumstances it gives the chance to survive. Ukraine did not have any museum of contemporary art.
And one should not bother oneself with the problem of the excessive hermiticism of Ukrainian contemporary art, as it simply can't avoid being intercontextual.
To support the process of contemporary art in Ukraine requires the existence and development of institutional networks including museums, galleries, centers, journals, etc. Contemporary art did not work in the new conditions when locality became be associated with beggary - everyday and mental. Supermarket standards and the space of the network pushed towards cutting off the roots, towards nomadic and rhisomatic thinking, towards attempts to adapt oneself: To get dissolved in the international context, perceived in the warm Odesa as the cold academy.
Since the rise of 'contemporary art' (in post-Soviet context these words are often used in English to separate 'modern' from 'contemporary' since they are the same word in Slavic languages) artists in Ukraine avoided to make any analysis of their place in a system of social relations. They took their social autism and status of 'parasite' as the proper thing. The language of contemporary art did not execute its communicative function. 'Contemporary art' just existed.
"Nowadays the naïve revolutionary pathos of contemporary art is gone; its creative resources are almost out ...contemporary art without prophets - without illusions, contemporary art - without art. It mechanically attacks its proper borders. No aim, no mainstream and everything is allowed. It is allowed everything but according to the rules given from above. During its short history contemporary art took a heavy burden of the newly sacred traditions, accumulated history, created idols, connected itself to the duties of the routine innovation, creative austerity reaching as far as mortification of the flesh, and nowadays it keeps on processing all this methodological second- hand to the simulacrums of the creative gestures..."
These lines had been written by O. Roytburd shortly before his departure from Odesa."
Artist, based in Odesa
Then there were no institutions and now there are practically no institutions either. Not here, not in Moscow. And it is good there are no institutions, it makes me glad. They have done their part. Art was ephemeral and absolutely "papery" then. It seems to have become more formatted now. It is completely different now. Those completely different phenomena have nothing to do with each other.
All the reasons I told you for leaving contemporary art are subjective and personal. But in general the revolutionary moments in art have stopped. Maybe not only in art, in society. The end of nineties is the end of the revolutionary situation. The new revolution of 2004 is not really a revolution in my point of view. The real revolution took place after perestroika in the end of the eighties and the middle of the nineties. In the cultural sphere I believe that culture lost the battle.
The main intention of what I'd call new Ukrainian art of our generation of artists that is very different from the previous Ukrainian art, is the return to the real and to the creating of some new communication mechanisms so this reality can speak through us. We are the artists of this reality.
Director of the Polish Institute,
former director of the SCCA/CCA Kyiv
The problem is continually drawn down to the simple question: is an activity systematic or unsystematic? All unsystematic actions are doomed to failure. This is how reality is built, how the world is built. When we come to the conclusion that art will defend itself, the artist will defend himself too: he doesn't need the system, he doesn't need institutions. The truth is that on ones' shoulders the others build their position. On one generation the next one builds up, that is why we must always think about two things: About systematics and about institutionalization. Without the institution nothing can be done. My life was associated with the building of the institution. When there's a certain system, an institutional base - then there can be critique. When such a base doesn not exist, then everything remains coincidental.
When you say that the Ukrainian representation at the Venice Biennial was such a refined, costly Public Relatins project - costing millions of dollars, as you say, then my next question will be: What is next? What can be done with a Ukrainian presentation at the Biennial in Venice? Ukraine can't be compared with Great Britain. Ukraine's problem lies in the fact that such a comparison is impossible. Great Britain - whatever it does - speaking in the context of Venice, it has its pavillion, has its place and has queues to the pavilion. But the problem is that when Ukraine, that is Pinchuk Art Center chose for the strategy of Public Relations, it calls for more PR in the future to hold its position until it becomes a brand. Great Britain worked for its brand for at least three hundred years.
The state gave to a private person something that is called in the world a "public space" (the representation of a nation at the Venice Biennial). This is a public sphere, that means it is for us and not for somebody. And this is a very dangerous situation. The state, the ministry of culture proved that they are absolutely not needed. The state gives away that what it could have influenced. It appears that in the art world the Venice Biennial is an institution or festival of such scale, that the state can't have an influence upon. I can not imagine that in very liberal America, where there are much wealthier people than Pinchuk who are engaged in art, anyone could come up to the government and say "Give me the job, I'll do it".
Differentiating between 'I' and 'we' has ideological grounds. We must constantly realize that the discourse which is taking place in Ukraine, be it political or cultural is non-ideological. This is a huge problem: When I am saying 'we' - then through the method itself I present a certain ideological position. When I am saying 'I' - I present a very liberal stance: 'I, mine, for me for you'. When I say 'we' - we can say that this is the stance of solidarity, as I identify with community, with society and this is an important difference.
The case is that when Soros created a network of art centers, not only in Ukraine, - he launched a machine, he launched the process - but he didn't get this process integrated. Still there is a big difference between the Soros Centers and what the private initative Viktor Pinchuk's Museum is standing for.
Artist, based in Kyiv
Board member of CCA Kyiv
When publicity is involved - I believe, that in such a situation criticism is necessary, and I think that Ukraine doesn't have an institute of critique. The problem that we are facing - the projects I did here, I'm sure they haven't been interpreted right and precise.
Curator, former staff member of CCA Kyiv,
works in an advertisement agency
I wouldn't say right and precise, but there is simply no interpretation as such. In other words everything that we can find are journalist's texts. That is not negative in itself, it is just simply not enough for art as such, for the existence of art institutions. For us this is a painful moment which speaks of the necessity for something to emerge.
I hope that something comes out of this situation in which only private initiatives can create at least the context for critical texts. For me this is a luxurious space, which we are opening with the art-club KRAM where I myself will explain those projects that no one interpreted so as I'd like them to be interpreted. The only normal reaction of the artists is to indeed engage themselves in creating that critical discourse. Otherwise what I am doing is simply impossible. In my opinion critique is simply a necessity.
Now that we are speaking about the problems of art education in the sphere of contemporary art: How could contemporary art and its problems be possibly understood, how it is possible to write about it, if the art environment itself can't clearly articulate it? Our media has not that many opportunities and formats that contemporary art can at all appear in. Between the gossip news, we can place a nice picture, causing a shock moment: Wow, that's something special. That's it. In contemporary art and business we see that some kind of art market emerges, new galleries are opening, there are macanese's, sponsors that are getting interested, artists who have exhibitions and sell their works in Ukraine and abroad. In this aspect contemporary art can appear in the press. But there are internal problems that in fact no one is interested in, except the artists themselves. Not because those problems are not interesting, but they simply can't be comprehended by those, who are not yet part of this environment. There is a need for criticism written in distinct language.
Who are those we, who could have had any notion about representing Ukraine and its art? Perhaps the journalists, critics that get together here today? I've read in fact all the press that has been published in Ukraine reviewing the Ukrainian presentation in Venice. I haven't found any critical publication which attempted to raise a question on what happened in Venice, or which would have addressed the fact that the Ministry of Culture has handed the rights for the presentation to Pinchuk Art Center. Here is the field where any discussion should take place, where the people that in this or other way take part in the formation of contemporary Ukrainian culture, that have a notion, that can pose questions should refine their positions. Colleagues, journalists that went to Venice wrote absolutely exciting articles about how cool it was there, how many people came to the VIP party. Cool, I'm also very happy that Ukraine got queues to its pavilion. But where are those questions that should have been raised in view of the Biennial: In what financial context does Ukrainian contemporary culture exist, how could it possibly exist? For a situation to develop, in which we distinguish between macanese's and sponsors and people that spend money to build their own image or those companies that invest into the future of culture - requires to debate these questions. Today the means of mass media work for a client that buys information, not for a reader. And the same is about to happen to cultural practices. If there isn't a critical discoursive context, they, not having a choice, will work for the source that pays them: It is just easier for them.
Nikita Kadan is quoted from his text "An Abandoned Agent" published in Faculty of Invisibility Communiqué. Mihailo Rachkovetsky is quoted from his text "On Space/Locality" published by CCCK at www.ccc-k.net and from interviews conducted in CCCK. The last seven quotes are taken from the translated transcript of the CCCK round table discussion "Try to find another cow" which took place on July 11th 2007 in Center for Contemporary Art, Kyiv. All other quotations stem from interviews conducted during the CCCK research. Though we have done our best to quote, translate and represent correctly and carefully, we would like to apologize if any information is not adequate.
During the 1990's the Soros Foundation opened 22 Soros Art Centers (SCCA) in East Europe and Central Asia. Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCAs Since the final cease of Soros funding for the Art Centers during the 2000s the SCCAs had to re-position themselves structurally, financially and conceptually. (http://www.scca.hr/eng/history.html) With the emergence of Soros Art Centers in the 1990s local art-scenes experienced a sudden increase of resources, enabling the freshly founded Centers to give out grants, realize productions, to foster local art-scenes and to organize large-scale exhibitions. Whereas Soros Centers proved added values in relatively stable and developed cultural scenes of countries as Slovenia or Poland, especially in countries at the outskirts of the Soros program such as Ukraine, Belarus, Kazachstan or Russia the final cease of funding forced those centers to close down or to persist without substantial funding.
The publication Portfolio which documents the Odessa art scene of the nineties, published in 1993 by SCCA Odesa is out of print and not available any more. SCCA Odesa's activities documentation is hardly available today, only the last exhibition, thus the institution's last year can be visited online at www.scca.odessa.ua
CCA Kyiv is run by director Yuliya Vaganova. Since the cease of Soros funding CCA operates on project-bases without substantial structural funding. www.cca.kiev.ua
The Pinchuk Art Center was founded in 2006 by oligarch and former politician Viktor Pinchuk. The building in the city center houses a growing art collection.
Alevtina Kakhidze, Olesya Ostrovska, Yuliya Vaganova and others have initiated the art-club KRAM which publishes critical texts on actual art online at www.kram.in.ua
The Center for Communication and Context (CCCK) has been developed during a residency period at the Center for Contemporary Art Kyiv (CCA) in August 2006 as a collaboration between Ingela Johansson, Volodymyr Kuznetsov and Inga Zimprich. Within the exhibition Private With Public CCCK started to investigate its host-center's history, ideological background and future perspectives. As an adjacent brainstorm structure to the CCA, CCCK investigates the institutional landscape in Ukraine, in which governmental initiatives, private investors and marginalized positions negotiate a cultural product.
The exhibition A Short Institutional Affair compiled research done in Lviv, Kyiv and Odesa during September and October 2007. Specifically we focused on the Soros Center for Contemporary Art Odesa (SCCA), which existed from 1996 to 2000. In the frame of the exhibition we attempted to re-narrate the development of the SCCA Odesa and therefore part of Ukraine's recent art-history through own video-documentaries and commentaries, invited contributions and archive materials. A Short Institutional Affair was produced and shown within the framework of the project Exteriors in CCA Kyiv and shown at the Union of Artists of Ukraine, Odesa in November and December 2007.
TRY TO FIND ANOTHER COW
AND PRIVATE INVESTORS APPEAR
A SHORT INSTITUTIONAL AFFAIR
SPEAKING OF A GAP CAN CAUSE DOUBLES
ZOMBIE #1 DOUBLES