Fantasies at the Mountain Peak: About Fantasery Festival

23 november, 2023

by Olga Papash

On October 20-22, the sixth Fantasery festival took place in the Transcarpathian village of Yasinia and the high-mountain resort of Drahobrat for the first time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It was traditionally preceded by a residency that brought together several dozen artists and electronic musicians from Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania. For 10 days, they communicated, created art, jammed, climbed mountains, held master classes, workshops, and film screenings, and, most importantly, proved that dreaming during the war was not only possible but vital.

The festival organizers in reflective raincoats (merchandise from DIS/ORDER Dress) resembled a generative installation. Photo by Zee Upitis

Fantasery Festival (Ukrainian for ‘Dreamers’) has never fit into the proclaimed format. The idea of a residency in the Carpathian highlands came from cultural manager Oksana Usachova and artist Zhanna Kadyrova, who often visited Drahobrat and dreamed of bringing together friends, artists, and musicians there. Zhanna and Oksana chose the festival's name quite by accident when they spotted a kiosk with a sign that read "Fantasizers" in Ukrainian at a bus stop in Yasinia village. However, the name turned out to be super precise. While dancing high in the mountains, where there is no curfew at the climax concert by first-class Module-Dnipropop electronic musicians, I realized that this is indeed a festival of those who are not afraid to dream and think utopian.

‘Fantasery’ has always been focused on bringing contemporary art beyond the walls of Kyiv's studios and galleries and interacting with the local context. The curatorial team of the first festival (2017), the artistic association Naviiane (‘Inspired’; Alina Yakubenko, Zhanna Kadyrova, Dana Brezhneva, Daniil Galkin), explored the mystical aspects of contemporary folk culture in a rather extravagant way. For example, they surveyed Yasinia locals about supernatural entities that they had encountered.
Photo by Mishka Bochkariov
Over time, the festival's curatorial team took shape: Oksana Usachova remains its permanent director, while Zhanna Kadyrova, the flagship of contemporary Ukrainian art, curates the art program (this year in collaboration with Dana Briezhnieva). The themes that emerged were preserving the Carpathian ecosystem and supporting the Free Svydovets movement, conscious consumption, decentralization, and the role of contemporary experimental culture in these processes. Over the years, they have been voiced both in the participants' artworks, including land art installations and performances and at the level of environmentally conscious festival practices. For example, in 2021, a ticket to the festival could be obtained in exchange for garbage collected on the banks of the Chorna Tysa River, which the festival organizers and local enthusiasts sent for recycling.

Another tradition of ‘Fantasery’ is to present art from a particular city/region at each festival. In different years, it was Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, and Odesa, while this year, it has been the frontline city of Dnipro. Accordingly, the music program of the festival and the residency was curated by Eugene Kasian, a coryphaeus of the Dnipro scene and co-founder of the Module art platform, best known as part of the Kurs Valut band. He turned the traditional rave on Drahobrat on the second day of the festival into a showcase for Module-Dnipropop label (Kurs Valut, Warniakannia, Ship Her Son, Maxandruh, Monotonne, Walakos, Ihor Yalivets and Roman Slavka). Artists of the Dnipro scene impressed with their professionalism as stars like Kurs Valut and Warniakannia shared the dense sound and drive with less-kow musicians. An undeniable indicator of this event’s success was random tourists who appreciated the minimalist post-industrial sound of the Ukrainian East and danced side by side with the festival participants and guests almost until the morning, which is quite a rare case for experimental electronics.
Performance of Kurs Valut band (Eugene Kasyan, Eugene Hordeyev) on Dragobrat. October 21, 2023. Photo by Natalka Diachenko
The tragedy of the full-scale war influenced not only the choice of a frontline city as a partner but also significantly affected the agenda of the Fantasery Festival. Just as life seeps into every crevice of contemporary art, undermining the idea of its autonomy, so too did the war seep into Yasinia, and the memorials to fallen soldiers on the streets of the village turned out to be only the most obvious, but not the deepest trace of it. The war changed the audience of the public program of the residency activities, such as workshops and film screenings, which now included not only the local people but also the IDPs, about 1000 of whom were hosted by the Yasinia community. The war also influenced the lineup of the residency participants, many of whom were themselves internally displaced from the eastern regions of Ukraine. It was their voices that sounded the loudest at the final exhibition at the end of the residency.

Diana Berg, who had been displaced twice, first from Donetsk to Mariupol in 2014 and then to Kyiv in 2022), presented a triptych about the search for a lost home and identity. "Excuse me, could you tell me where my home is?" is a palimpsest of maps of the cities where the artist lived. The work has an interactive component: the author invited the audience to find and mark their address on the map and think collectively about the fundamental and, at the same time, vulnerable nature of the very concept of home, which was exposed by the war. The installation “History of the Mariupol City,” made up of small things that Diana managed to evacuate through Russian checkpoints in the spring of 2022, and “Self-Portrait” on the shore of the Azov Sea with an IDP certificate received in 2014 speak not so much about the lost Mariupol as about the role of place in shaping our personal identity and the emptiness that remains after its loss.
Works by Diana Berg (Donetsk, Mariupol, Kyiv). Photo by Mishka Bochkariov
Lees Lee spreads tarot inside the work “Shanty” (Khalabuda) by Daria Molokoiedova. October 20, 2023. Photo by Natalka Diachenko

Another native of Mariupol, the artist Illia Todurkin, compared this loss to numbness, presenting himself as a talking foam doll: "This is my opportunity to speak with my mouth closed." For Vitaliy Matukhno from Lysychansk, a way to talk about the double (or even triple?) loss of his hometown was the film “Soul's Magic Impulses,” which he edited from archival videotapes of the eponymous television program that had been broadcast on Lysychansk television in the early 2000s.

Daria Molokoiedova (Kramatorsk-Kharkiv) reflects on her forced nomadism in a somewhat more positive way. Her “Khalabuda (Shanty), built from the remains of humanitarian aid clothing in the local Palace of Culture, which turned into a volunteer center after the full-scale invasion, is probably that lost safe place, a magical childhood hideout where everyone can take refuge, find a home, and "have a little bit of living."  In her installation, “Edelweiss,” Daryna Podoltseva (Kyiv) also suggests using magical thinking, which seems natural in a mountain setting. The curtain she made from paper napkins functions as a multilevel metaphor, particularly as a talisman both against "all evil spirits" and rocket attacks. The audio-light installation “Voices in Safety” (Anna Kravets, Roma Banan) also applies to the experience of living through air raid alerts in Kyiv. The piece attempts to bridge the gap between the foreign perception of the war through the media and the direct experience of it in Ukraine, no matter in which region.
Festival participants from Slovakia Erik Drab, Bianka Banikova, and Hirohito Takumoto painted a secondary school in Yasinia. Photo by Mishka Bochkariov
A procession of festival participants with a banner made and donated by Yana Chabanenko, an IDP from Chernihiv. October 22, 2023. Photo by Mishka Bochkariov
At the exhibition's opening, co-curator Zhanna Kadyrova emphasized that the main focus of this year's wartime residency was not the production of artworks but the process of interaction with the local community and IDPs, whom the festival crew "sought to unite through art." In fact, interaction with the community has always been one of the festival's core values, but this year, it gained particular depth and tenderness. It seems that it was the joint living of war as a dominant part of the existential experience of Ukrainians that made locals and IDPs reject the last prejudices about "metropolitan artists" and their "weird contemporary art," and artists abandon the remnants of snobbery. The best evidence of this new level of trust and interaction was a gift from Yana Chabanenko, a participant in the documentary theater laboratory and an IDP from Chernihiv. On her own initiative, she sewed a fancy flag with the letter "F" and presented it to the organizers, comparing the festival to a rainbow that lit up their "gray displaced life." Her sincere words of gratitude became one of the most touching moments of the festival.

Fantasery Festival 2023 has been supported by International Visegrad Fund and Goethe-Institut.

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