Dnipropetrovsk. Ya Gallery Art Center
36 shots in the form of bright blue balloons that open up in the skies into splendid green-violet peonies
13.03.2015 – 28.03.2015
Contemporary art practices of Lviv and Uzhgorod
Curated by Maria Lanko and Lizaveta Herman
Yurij Bilej / Gabriel Buletsa / Anton Varga / Open group / Pavlo Kovach / Pavlo Kovach Jr. / Ne_Dva / Marsel Onysko / Petro Ryaska / Lyubomyr Sikach / Yurij Sokolov / Andrij Stegura / Lyubomyr Tymkiv / Stanislav Turina / Yaroslav Futymsky / Vadym Harabaruk / Natasha Shevchenko
"Among bodies, studios, talks, acts and memories" - thus, with a considerable degree of uncertainty, we tried to outline art practices of contemporary Lviv and Uzgorod during our research at the beginning of 2014. It was an insufficiently outspoken feeling that our close contact with both cities' art stages brought. Extended in time and space continuous observations, organization of private things, images and texts, and various, almost routine occupations run through everyday life of local artists and communities, avoiding steadiness, precision and completeness.
"36 shots in the form of bright blue balloons that open up in the skies into splendid green-violet peonies" - it is a passage from Stanislav Turina's last poetry collection that the author took from an instruction on a box of fireworks. This phrase, which shimmers with shades of meaning as a context of use changes, unexpectedly seizes that special type of an artistic thinking which is hard to describe since such thinking is determined not by a process of "creating" a finished project or a piece of art, but by chaotic and simultaneously conscious art practices, dissolved in a lifestyle and its perception, where borders between private and public, professional and amateurish, domestic and working, individual and common, created and found - are overpassed easily and in both directions.
"Open archive" became for us a form to study art practices of Lviv and Uzhgorod. It is built from single authors' profiles in a family-tree style. However, on-line platform openarchive.com.ua provides for another way of reading - by tags, separated in a process of research according to the way of creation, representation or thematic content of individual projects. These tags create numerous connections, and their intersections share knowledge about local arts.
The exhibition "36 shots" follows principles of an archive in exposition and builds a network narration with enlisting miscellaneous items - independent pieces of art, fragments of long-lasting projects, documenting of acts and activities, craft supplies, artifacts of an exhibition process (originals and copies), samvydav (self-publishing) and many texts of different quality.
The only work created specially for Ya Gallery in Dnipropetrovsk - "One m3" by Open Group. According to the artists' proposition and art center managers' agreement, Open Group will receive an appointed cubical meter of gallery space in the Gusenko Str. 17 for their own exhibition activity - as long as the gallery exists in that certain space. Such sanctioned "partizaning" is the artists' very first attempt to export their own way of creative thinking into another context, even more - into another institution's territory with their own program, tasks and strategy. Mutual responsibility and trust between the artist and the institution, which are necessary conditions to release this project, are an important precedent in professional relations in an artistic sphere.
"There were such friends, there were such opportunities: this apartment itself, this basement, this attic - they are a part of life and all the passions. Even exhibitions weren't so important - it was important to hang out and booze up. Not to booze up in a sense of "drinking on a bench", but to talk, socialize, entertain... And the room was big enough: a man lives and has enough space to host a company of friends. One needs more than desire - in other words, a certain kindness - but an ability to hang out eminently. A "gang" as a lifestyle and a type of activity" - thus an artist Yurij Sokolov comments on his own art practice and activity of "Chervoni rury" gallery.
In the second part of the 1990s he hosted many exhibition projects, discussion meetings and festival performances at his private territory - in the basement, attic and backyard of a Lviv apartment building in 24 Yefremova Str., where he lives nowadays. Since those times the basement, attic and yard have been real components of Sokolov's artistic thinking that he described as "life art". Life art is opposite to at first sight concordant term "life style", which is formed by a glamour industry because of its special types of consumption, - and in fact is an anti-consumer's. He doesn't try to escape from obsessive everyday life, but transforms it into materials for creativity and interactions.
Without reference to Sokolov's ideas, similar attitude to everyday life may be found in works of many Lviv and Uzhgorod artists: in Gabriel Buletsa's work "Collections" that develops around the idea of collecting, classification and visual backup of various phenomena - from consonants of the Cyrillic alphabet to car accidents that happen in the street where the artist lives in; in Stanislav Turina's object "Dedicated to mothers" which enlarges as the artist accumulates old clothing and uses it as a material for weaving a flowery rug; in Yaroslav Futymsky's numerous "practices" that are born by endless meditations on his own existence, movements and aesthetic surroundings; finally, in Yurij Sokolov's photo albums in which he has been meticulously making "visual noise" for the last 10 years: press-cuttings, postcards, old and new photographs, and other useless items.
This type of art practice gained a conceptual concentration in a project "89 days of winter". In winter 2012-2013 in the circle of close friends and colleagues Anton Varga created an information-art flow made of everyday things. Opening every evening a new exhibition in his kitchen, the artist resorted to a conscious participation in his own every day life that produces creative energy and critical thinking as effectively as traditional professional art practices do. As Anton Varga states in a project's concluding text, "Everything was obviously happening not for the art's sake, but for a meditation upon our place here-and-now every day, our existence in that town, winter, inside my apartment in Dzherelna Str. And out of it, together with others and separately". This sentence exactly describes fundamentals of "life art" - "not for art's sake", "meditation upon our place here-and-now", "together with others and separately".
Artist-run galleries and informal spaces started to emerge around Ukraine in the late 1980s*, mapping the previously non-existent sphere of contemporary art. Unlike Kyiv where these self-organized initiatives were gradually replaced by a more or less divaricate infrastructure with commercial galleries, educational projects, rich private art centres and public museum complexes, in cities like Lviv and Uzhhorod artistic communities have until today maintained the functions of the art system, being producers, distributors, mediators, spectators and commentators for their own art practices.
Informal gallery spaces in Western Ukraine may be roughly classified in two major categories: 1. those being founded by artists on available territories and 2. the various premises (in particular residential) temporarily mapped as exhibition spaces. First examples of such practices belong to the late 1980s - early 1990s in Lviv where artist Yuriy Sokolov curated collective artistic happenings and exhibitions - initially in one of the stone buildings on Rynok Square and later in the cellar of the apartment house he lived in.
Almost 20 years later Yuriy Sokolov walked into the gallery "Efremova26" situated by coincidence wall-to-wall with his house on 24 Efremova Str. The gallery space in the abandoned villa was unexpectedly given to the artists of "Open Group" in early 2013 by unknown owners of the place, and in a similar manner taken away after 10 months of productive work. This was one the most established galleries in Lviv - with white walls, high ceilings and even a reception desk. While another space run by "Open Group" until today, "Detenpyla", is quite the opposite. A semi-basement room in an old apartment building which was previously a forge and a laundry is now used as a kitchen by Yuriy Biley who resides in the room next door. Since 2011 this kitchen has also functioned as a gallery space exhibiting well-known and emerging artists ranging from renowned masters of Polish conceptualism to students of Lviv Art Academy.
Anton Varga, another artist of "Open Group", practiced a similar effortless combination of life and project activity the winter of 2012/2013. During the 89 calendar days of winter he opened a new show every! single night in his modest kitchen, documented it and published online in a blog that registered this continuous flow of events.
The "seasonal" nature of programming is also inherent to the "Temporary Exhibition" project that takes place every three months on the first floor of the Artists' Union studios building in Uzhhorod. Unlike spaces in Lviv, "Korydor" is not mentioned in any city guide and when asking citizens about the address, local artists might in jest object that it's not a gallery, but a corridor that leads to the studio of Palvo Pavlovych Kovach.
Another example of combination of private and exhibition spaces is "Tymutopiyapres" that occasionally welcomes visitors to the garage in the courtyard of Lubomyr Tymkiv's private house. It is in the heart of old Lviv cottage area where Tymkiv exhibits projects of his fellow artists, mail art, graphic art and zines by international artists, as well as makes videos for his own virtual projects.
These and other similar artist-run galleries exist beyond conventional art system regulations and obviously outside of art market interest. Each makes its own way, often unpredictable, while their future greatly depends on both external circumstances and personal whims. However, when researching in-deep, it is those galleries' collections of documents and artifacts - organized, chaotic, digitalized, ephemeral - that constitute the most interesting and unprejudiced sources of knowledge on the Western Ukrainian art scene. Moreover, this tradition of here-and-nowhere underground spaces produces a specific type of artistic thinking in the region. These practices are not about "making" complete projects or pieces - but are stretched in time and space, manifesting themselves in continuous observations, storing personal items, images and texts, or simply in a variety of routine everyday work which acquires a sense of an artistic programme.
* Odessa with its tradition of apartment exhibitions of the 1960-70s may be considered an exception to that. Yet the famous "kvartyrnyky" in Odessa were sporadic events and did not function as stable galleries which are a subject of discussion in this text.
There will be no exaggeration to assert that a fundamental "adhesive substance" of contemporary Western Ukrainian artistic community is a continuous active communication between its participants while a close circle of interactions with colleagues-associates-friends often is an only organic ground to present art ideas and works. As Lyudmyla Voropaj says in a project glossary "The Impossible Community": "In everyday use communication usually means a process of free exchange of verbal, visual and another information between two and more subjects. [...] "To communicate" in a meaning of "to make common" has its origin in a Latin verb communicare and assumes certain, conditionally speaking, substance that is being made common in the act of communication [...]". So the language becomes not only an instrument of expression, but a mutual space of creation as well as a democratic art medium that gives an opportunity to work on a quality art product without technical, financial and institutional support - first of all because of eloquence, literacy and polygraphic capabilities. Experimental poetry, published in large editions and unique samvydav (self-publishing), textual compositions and situational live performances - similar projects that "thematize" a language and imitate other genres of cultural production can be found in portfolios of many Lviv and Uzhgorod authors.
Maybe the most significant person in this context is Lviv resident Lyubomyr Tymkiv - "a Renaissance man", as Stas Turina humorously calls him. Besides his art works, practices as a restorer and curating a garage gallery tymutopiyapres, Tymkiv writes poetry, is engaged in asemic (wordless) writing, periodically comes out as an independent publisher and self-publishes small books of his own poetry and his friends' works, also he is published in similar collections of foreign artists who he has been corresponding with and exchanging mail-art for ages. Tymkiv's last book - a small, but eccentrically printed compilation of Stanislav Turina's experimental poetry "Cover". Its quote ("36 shots in the form of bright blue balloons that open up in the skies into splendid green-violet peonies") became a next exhibition title within "Open archive".
Longing for a "printed word" reveals itself in a production of hand-made art books that exist in one or two copies and are carefully kept by authors in their home archives. Sometimes they "come out" to a wider audience and are self-published as a limited edition, mostly to be distributed among friends. Vadym Harabaruk and Andrij Stegura are pioneers of contemporary Zakarpattia samvydav (self-publishing). In 1989 they created first 10 copies of hand-written art magazine "Ya1". In 1996 and 1998 next two issues were published in a limited edition, and new authors from "Poptrans" also made their contributions. For the last ones the language in general and Zakarpattia dialect as a cultural phenomenon in particular, became one of many projects' main motives including pictorial ones. Marsel Onysko and Robert Saller's mutual art series "Carpathian album" demonstrates covers of non-existent records of local non-existent music bands with pompous (and obscure) names whose style neatly corresponds with unwritten laws of pop industry. Interpretation of all exotic words on covers can be found in a glossary which is added to the project with stereotypical reviews of a typical music critic what intensifies plausibility of paintings-covers and their authors' ironic mood.
Another noticeable line is Russian-language textual practice (Yurij Sokolov, Ne_Dva) whose roots are concerned with a Russian literary tradition and a certain connection with a Moscow conceptual stage of 1980-1990s as in Yurij Sokolov's case. Perhaps, naming the 7th Lviv Academy of Arts and Literature, which was "established" by Yurij Sokolov and Dmytro Kuzovkin in 1995, after Mike Johansen is a bright evidence of special relations to the history of literature. As it might be expected, such ephemeral institution had its own periodical - "The Academy Journal". However, the only copies of its various issues were rather usual variations of Sokolov and Kuzovkin's joint creative work. In this case "An interview with myself" written by Yurij Sokolov in 1990s according to all rules of art-journalism with its questions-about-nothing ("What place does eclecticism take in your works?") and diffuse answers can be boldly considered as the summit of playing with a publicistic genre.
Are all previously mentioned examples independent pieces of art? Maybe there are some exceptions. But no doubt, all these texts, dialogues, poetry, papers and numerous documentation of vivid life of two cities (see #creating_communities) in the best way record acts of communication between their cultural heroes and through them this perpetual communication arises as a phenomenon with absolute artistic value. Thinking upon communicative practices in a world context, Lyudmyla Voropaj notices that a core of any art event becomes less important than created situation of communication between an artist and spectators and then among spectators, therefore it is not so important to create a special art object anymore. Instead, it is enough for the artist to "present publicly his own Dasein as it is, consciously or not playing his role as a communicator (or "commutator") that builds a communicative field". 
1. Glossary. Viktor Miziano's project catalogue "The Impossible Society", p.51:http://www.ic.mmoma.ru/catalogue/
2. Mike Johansen - a famous Ukrainian poet of a period of so called "Executed Renaissance", lived in Kharkiv and wrote in 1920-1930s exeptionally in Ukrainian.
3. Glossary, p.52
From the beginning of the 1990s art practices intended to work with and in the society whose product was social relations, noticeably spread in Western Europe and North America. As the researcher of this kind of art Claire Bishop writes: "This expanded field of relational practices currently goes by a variety of names: socially engaged art, community-based art, experimental communities, dialogic art, littoral art, participatory, interventionist, research-based, or collaborative art. These practices are less interested in a relational aesthetic than in the creative rewards of collaborative activity - whether in the form of working with preexisting communities or establishing one's own interdisciplinary network".
Western theory positions this art as a project of artists' political response to atomic nature of social relations that inevitably accompanies societies of late capitalism. At the end of the 1950s a French painter, theorist and activist Guy Debord offered a very neat definition of a social modus that existed in capitalistic countries: "The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by image". During the 1960s a group of artists from "The Situationist International" was developing and partly implementing a project of overcoming an estrangement mediated by the spectacle via consecutive interventions into over-regulated areas of a city and its life, however gradually it completely occupied the territory of actionism and real politics. Contemporary artists mostly don't have illusions about fundamental reformation of social relations in the world, so they are prone to the integrative type of work with specific local communities (like Paweł Althamer or Kateřina Šedá), or they reveal social antagonisms through involving different social groups into creative processes (like Artur Żmijewski or Jeremy Deller).
Ukrainian artists' practices, which include participation of other people, can scarcely be put into such a logic, since they are born by inner necessity of completely different nature. They are rather heirs of unofficial Soviet art that had chances to exist only in case of unconditional support of the associates' close circle (moreover, that was dangerous for their lives). But again, as Claire Bishop writes about the practice of "The Collective Actions Group": "In an atmosphere of near constant surveillance and insecurity, participation was an artistic and social strategy to be deployed only amongst the most trusted groups of friends". And even if it is more than 25 years as the ideological pressure disappeared, contemporary art isn't considered as legitimized and acceptable practice for the Ukrainian society yet. Absence of a healthy institutional system makes an artist face his "personal madness" on his own. Therefore working with communities - both existing and potential - is a necessity if a contemporary art project wants to hold its place in Ukraine, especially in regions. And if a participation of "The Collective Actions" was principally closed and self-aimed (in order to save that seeming freedom to continue), practices in young Ukrainian art are declaratory and naturally open - very often they are undirected, uncontrolled and unguided.
"The Open Group", which is "a root" of this research and a bonding component of Western Ukrainian art stage, declares its potentiality in its own structure since this group of painters are active creators in communities both on the microlevel (in a group that may have an unlimited amount of members and exist independently) and macrolevel (through self-organized practices in cities where they live and places that they visit). Their project of re-denotion the space (in particular, "The Open Gallery") creates an alternative type of relations within artistic work where subject-object relations between a spectator and work, also supervisional and controlling functions of art institution cede to performative co-presense and participation of "artists" and "audience".
Artist Lyubomyr Tymkiv, who only in case of the utmost necessity leaves the Medova cave and almost never - Lviv, is an active member and creator of a large international community of mail-art practitioners. Stanislav Turina corresponds with painters, friends and random acquaintances mostly from Ukraine, however his ability to spread his ideas created a special type of mail-artists who regularly address their letters to the painter only. The Uzhgorod group Poptrans is not an art group literally, it is rather a union, community of fellow-thinkers that individually creates an art product while sharing certain values and interests.
Numerous Lviv and Uzhgorod off-spaces create their own communities of spectators: one of the regular visitors of Yefremova26 gallery gave their curators a real lightbox sign, hand-made from remains of advertising production. Yurij Sokolov turned out to be another such visitor whose apartment and legendary gallery of the 1990s "Chervoni rury" are situated in a house next door; a circle of Detenpula's regular visitors is easy to analyze because of its organizers' tradition to take a group photo at the beginning of every opening - in particular, this is what one of its founders Yurij Bilej did in his own project "Honour Board". And even if "flies only" are the projects' only real spectators - they are able to generate communities out of exhibition spaces. A self-organizing way of these galleries' functioning and attendant art production has a performative nature when not only a thematic content of works and exhibition matter, but mostly their realization methods that establish relations.
1. Stanislav Turina "Dedicated to mothers", 2013 - continues, object
2. Natasha Shevchenko. "Klobuk", 2013, object, photograph
3. Tymutopiyapres, gallery's documentation, a curator - Lyubomyr Tymkiv
4. Ne_Dva, from the series "non_visual agitation + asemic_write & post_literature", 2008 - continues, photograph
5. Petro Ryaska "Pavlo Kovach Jr." from the series "Dedicated to friends". 2014, paper, pastel
6. Panic Button magazine cover, authors and editors - Marsel Onysko, Aramisova
"Open Archive" is an instrument of an ongoing research of artistic practices that follows the ideas of the so-called post-representational curating* that "implies a revision of the role of history and research, of organizing, creating a public and education." One of the principle criteria for post-representational curating is the idea of performing the archive. Traditionally run by museums and hierarchic by birth the archiving process has been critically reconsidered by artists and curators aiming at counter-historicization. Here the archive is understood as a discourse that intervenes in the hegemonic canon of knowledge. The performative approach is based on collaborative research and knowledge exchange and the curatorial job is understood as enabling processes of collaborative knowledge production with an unexpected outcome.
* Nora Sternfeld, Luisa Ziaja, What comes after the show? On postrepresentational curating, in on-curating.org, №14, 2012