Train "Dnipro Holovnyi–Київ Tsentralnyi,” the clock shows 22:15. Diana Berg, Mutaforia Lily, Maksym Nonexistent, and I rush to the station by taxi. Of course, we’re merry and tipsy — this is the last day of the Construction festival — only the persistent ones remain. An hour ago, I finished my live set, closing the festival. The sound was good; the most resistant ones liked it. We smoke a cigarette, agree to meet in Kyiv, and I run to find my car.
I share my sleeping compartment with three men. The youngest one is traveling to work. Brutal, clean-shaven, and bearded, he works as a bodyguard for some politicians or business people living in a Kyiv penthouse. Intoxication prompts me to offer him to be a bouncer at the next “Heavy Culture” party. On Telegram, his account name is in Arabic; he sends me an air-kiss gif. Together with a second, unremarkable middle-aged man, they discuss construction works and different types of roof tiles for 15 minutes. I talk about the Construction, the Dnipro Center for Contemporary Culture and the exhibition. I liked the work of fantastic little splash the most. We talk about OSINT journalism, war, and art. Both promise to come to the following festivals. Suppose there is time after a long day at the construction site or in expensive cars.
I don't know anything about the third passenger: he has been sleeping on the top shelf for a while now. I only notice his pixelated jacket on the clothes hook. "I should thank him later," I think, falling asleep. I offer him water in the morning. "No, no, I have my own," he says, "thanks for reminding me." "Why me? Thank you," I think again. But I don't say, I don't know why. Even if I did, it still wouldn't be enough. "But next time, for sure."
* * *
"As long as the war is on, everything we do is not enough," say the curators of the Nevertheless exhibition, Clemens Poole and Kateryna Rusetska, "...But we remember the classic paradox of Achilles and the tortoise: "What moves must go halfway before it reaches its goal." Meaning our progress is constantly diminishing, and it will never end. All our work is only a half-measure, and it is never enough. However, time urges us to act; even if these actions have no end, we answer the call. Step by step, particle by particle — each movement further exposes this paradox as just a game of logic. One of these pieces will be enough one day, and victory will come."
The exhibition that was part of the VIII Construction festival at the DCCC focuses on the changes that war brings to the practice and lives of artists. Some go deeper into themselves with the help of art, some balance artistic and volunteer practice, and some devote themselves entirely to charity or service. The difference between these choices is enormous, but they are all about a shared future. Sometimes, it requires a discerning eye, courage, and resilience, and sometimes, a hopeless reconciliation with an uncontrollable reality that still opens up the possibility of hope.
One of the critical ideas of the exhibition is that a person does not cease to be an artist when they interrupt artistic practice. Moreover, it is the resistance to evil and injustice that fuels the creative spirit. A true artist cannot pass by injustice. Of course, this is not always true, but it certainly worked in the case of Timur Dzhafarov, known as the avant-garde electronic musician and producer John Object, who enlisted after the full-scale war broke out.
"To stand in the way of the Russians is the work of the pure-eyed and passionate," Dzhafarov writes in his text commissioned for the exhibition, "No, we are not victims. We are a military tribunal for the fascists." “We” are all of us — more or less brave, more or less effective for the front, more or less capable of holding a weapon. And also more or less capable of making art during the war.
* * *
Karina Sinitsa's Scorched Earth depicts the remains of a bombed-out house or a distorted Soviet playground framed with emoji stickers. In the past, a gesture like this would have annoyed me. Why frame a bare ruin with these colorful dots? Are these graveyard jokes? Perhaps a joke, but a specific one. It is the kind of joke that you can hear from IDPs, people under occupation, and the military — a joke that keeps a distance from horror and doesn't let it consume your consciousness. Sinitsa, an artist from Severodonetsk, knows how people talk about their destroyed homes. And it is not always despair and longing (but always pain).
The same "emotional turbulence," according to the curators, is revealed by Yevhen Korshunov in the video “Xo Xo.” In it, the author wanders around the outskirts of Shostka and looks at a dilapidated house. The place is the closest city to Russia that Korshunov has visited since the beginning of the full-scale invasion (Sumy region, about 50 km from the border). You can imagine the tension its residents are experiencing. Korshunov voiced it by reading the signs on the brick facade: "H O H O H O." This is how the stickers from Synitsa's paintings would sound — a mashup between laughter and gasping for breath. "No matter how broken this world is, we react to it based on our imperfect human capacities. The coexistence of these emotional extremes is part of the contradictory human nature," the curators say about Korshunov's work.
The coexistence of emotional extremes is one of the themes of the digital installation "see also" by fantastic little splash. An "interactive novel" or a collection of "a set of compressed images and feelings," as the authors say, takes a critical look at the nature of information consumption on the Internet, using screenshots of explosions from the Ukrainian news and reflections on war, all collected here under the leitmotif of a poem by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca “Confusion (Suite de los Espejos).” The four scenes in the video touch on different aspects of the reaction to the horrific photos from the frontline — from shelling with phosphorus munitions to landscapes pixelated for security. fantastic little splash puts the intimate process of viewing the daily horror of war under a microscope. For group member Valeria Malchenko, it's her job. After the full-scale invasion, the artist started doing OSINT journalism for the Molfar group. Pixels burned by explosions are her research material. In "see also," it becomes a subject of analysis and introspection with a pinch of inevitable aestheticization. Has it ever occurred to you that phosphorus shelling is beautiful? This thought arises involuntarily when it is shown as a set of pixels falling from the sky. But the work has enough reflexive distance to this aestheticization. There is a balance of theory, beauty, and the practical importance of osseous research. "Why do you see so many stars in the sky?" Garcia Lorca asks, "Who reflects my thoughts? Who lends me this passion without roots?" Media researcher Daniela Agostinho has a response: "...intimate is another term for the sensory of global warfare that connects us in space and time, the connective tissue through which we touch each other."
Diana Deriy's video “Our Common Body is a Ruin” uses a similar method of passing the war experience through modern technology. In it, artificial intelligence generates abstract structures that are endlessly destroyed and rebuilt. AI is too dehumanized a technology, so the result looks like a faceless animation, which EDM musician Ksztalt makes look like a music video rather than a meaningful work. Nevertheless, the critical idea of erasure and renewal is relevant. It is a paradox, similar to the aporia about Achilles and the turtle. The destruction will stop just as Achilles eventually catches up with the turtle. In the meantime, we are in a tension of constant destruction, reconstruction, and daily work for victory.
“Two Windows with Stained Glass Elements” by Tereza Yakovyna returns to the human, material dimension of reconstruction—an installation of broken windows that the artist glued together by hand. The technique is reminiscent of the traditional Japanese method of ceramic repair, kintsugi, which reveals the breaks instead of hiding them. In reconstructing destroyed buildings, this approach could become an expression of the politics of memory, as opposed to the politics of complete renovation that erases the traces of damage.
The theme of commemoration in the space of everyday life continues in the work of Tamara Turliun and Andriy Lyashchuk, “In Search of Light.” A set of nightlights serves as a childishly naive and literal metaphor for overcoming the primary fear of darkness. Various drawings and inscriptions can be seen through these pieces of light: “Love is Love,” a heart in the palms of your hands, “A stone in the stomach,” Jesus with a cross, “Hope,” and “Thank you.”
In the light of nightlights, as if in a room of a ruined house, an audio installation by Ørjan Amundsen, “Maria Ivanovna Reads ‘Kameniari’” (‘The Bricklayers,’ a poem by Ivan Franko written in 1878), plays. Amundsen is the only foreign artist featured in the show. His presence here was noted by curator Clemens Poole, who shares the experience of a foreigner deliberately discovering Ukraine for himself. This work (sound speakers mounted on bricks) tells the story of generations connected by the red thread of resistance. The critical work of the Ukrainian struggle against foreign domination in the nineteenth century is voiced by a Ukrainian woman, Maria Ivanovna, born in 1933, who witnessed another era of oppression, the Soviet era. And we, the contemporary audience, witness the post-Soviet struggle, independence, revolution, and war.
"The need for active humanitarian and military activities postponed or transformed artistic practices. More than a year and a half after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, artistic activity is opening up in a new light," the curators say. It is in this volunteer light that several other works from the exhibition appear.
"Wall Catcher," the interactive installation by Beauty Studio, is a closed mini-maze made of found materials, which you can ride around in a remote-controlled car. A camera attached to the toy helps to explore what's inside, as its movements can be observed through FPV drone goggles. The structure reflects the volunteer experience of the art group formed in Mykolaiv in 2022 to provide humanitarian aid to the people in the frontline territories. The playfulness of this work only enhances the dissonance of combining modern technology and found objects, in fact, evidence of wartime.
Another volunteer artistic collective, Freefilmers, continues the theme of humanitarian aid critically engaging with our attitude toward victims. Their installation, "Talking about People and Humanitarian Aid," consists of a kravchuchka bag (roller bag), on which they have pulled a T-shirt with a kitschy image of the group members (not a print, but a projection) and a phone with an audio recording lying next to it. Volunteers discuss the problems they face when collecting things for IDPs.
Petro Ryaska presented four works at the exhibition, but this is not evidence of escapism in artistic practice, but rather the opposite. Ryaska is the founder of the residency "Sorry, No Rooms Available" at the Intourist-Zakarpattia hotel in Uzhhorod, and since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, he has focused on helping artists who were forced to leave their homes because of the war. His three videos and text document the work of other artists in the residency space.
Ihor Okuniev, an audiovisual artist and co-founder of the Left Bank charity foundation, expressed his volunteer practice more artistically. Since 2022, the foundation has been repairing damaged buildings and delivering equipment to the military. For Okuniev, contemplation and staying in the war-torn landscapes resulted in the audio work “Earth.” “Every scrap of our land, every centimeter of our territory,” we hear on the news. Usually, they say this about the scraps and centimeters closest to the front line. Okuniev has seen some of them. In the work, which sounds like an abstract, ghostly ambient drone with harsh atonal sounds, the artist conveys the impression of burnt forests, shell craters, ruins of kindergartens and schools, destroyed armored vehicles, and other traces of hostilities that the soil will sooner or later absorb.
* * *
Construction creates a pleasant impression of a living, integral organism. The doors to the events remain unlocked, so you can wander between the floors, catching fragments of lectures, music, and art. Nevertheless is only a part of the broader narrative the festival has been developing this year. The central theme’s name — “Ukrainian Hardcore” — suggests the festival’s focus on the experience of grassroots initiatives — volunteer, music, art, and activist.
According to the organizers, the concept of “hardcore” comes from the construction industry. Hardcore is “...a base assembled from various parts and materials; the foundation on which everything rests,” they explain. Obviously, this foundation is formed by independent formations that develop their goals without significant support from the state or big capital. Construction presented several of them to the Dnipro community:
— art formations Pavilion of Ukraine at the Biennale of Architecture 2023, Platform TU, Fantazery festival, Museum Open for Renovation, and DE NE DE;
— volunteer initiatives such as Left Bank, BUR Zaporizhzhia, Co-Haty, KHARPP, and Repair Together;
— niche labels Liky Pid Nohamy (Odesa), Pincet (Ternopil), Pep Gaffe (Kyiv), and Dnipropop (Dnipro).
Among the public events, Vlad Yakovlev's lecture on the musical underground of the 1990s stood out: “Tsukor Bila Smert’,” Sheik Hi-Fi, Ivanov Down, Merta Zara, Foa Hoka, and other bands lived and wrote just like we do now. They were inspired by Western artists, Ukrainian folk music and experimented to the fullest. Why didn't they become famous, like their contemporary Iryna Bilyk? Why were they discovered and preserved on the Polish label Koka Records and not here? Perhaps it was because of their more complex music, which, at that time, there was no one in Ukraine to listen to. And not because it was not understood but because the independent cultural sphere was just emerging.
* * *
After the lecture, I go out for a smoke. Surrounded by new high-rises, the DCCC building looks like a good illustration of the underground culture situation in Ukraine. Is culture a superstructure? From a Ukrainian perspective, it seems like an annex. It's good that at least this house was not demolished. I wonder what kind of housing estate it is. "I don't know who the developer is. But the DCCC building belongs to the Jewish community," my friend tells me. More precisely, to the charitable foundation Center for Jewish Culture, founded by the infamous "shadow mayor of Dnipro," Hennadii Korban, and the city's chief rabbi, Shmuel Kaminetskyi.
The founders of the DCCC openly talk about their relationship with the foundation. "We try to keep a distance from the owners, and as long as we succeed, we have the opportunity to do such independent projects. If they start interfering with the program, we will leave this building," Andriy Palash, the organizer of Construction, assures me. I agree. The Center for Jewish Culture is responsible for renovating the DCCC building, which operates independently and is financed by the NGO Kultura Medialna. It was launched much earlier than this space opened its doors. It is funded primarily by grants and donors, the list of which is transparent and posted on the DCCC website. The NGO has no right to engage in commercial activities, and the money it earns must be donated, which is what happened in the case of this year's Construction. According to Palash, neither Korban nor other Center for Jewish Culture Foundation members have any relation to the DCCC program.
But I'm still ashamed and offended, primarily because of the story with Kyiv activist Roman Ratushny. A few years ago, Hennadiy Korban threatened Ratushnyi for organizing protests against the development of Protasiv Yar, a historical landscape park in Kyiv. In 2023, the Kyiv resident won an appeal against Korban's development company, Daytona Group. But Ratushnyi would never know about it. In June 2022, Roman was killed in a battle near Izyum.
It's a shame that a festival dedicated to the underground culture is held in the shadow of a scandalous businessman. It's a shame that Roman is dead, but Korban is still here, as always. Because who, if not the military, is our foundation, our hardcore now? It's a shame that this hardcore is still being exploited by the same characters who have remained unchallenged since the 90s and whom Ratushnyi fought against. Sooner or later, we must find a way out of this "shame" and "regret." Achilles has to catch up with the tortoise.
Nevertheless continues at the Dnipro Center for Contemporary Culture (21 Krutohirnyi uzviz, Dnipro) through February 10, 2024. Curated by Clemens Poole & Kateryna Rusetska.
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