The Space of Transformation: Artsvit Gallery 10th Anniversary

5 june, 2023

The Disciplined Vision. School. Exhibition by Lada Nakonechna, 2021. Photo courtesy of Artsvit

The longest quay in Europe, the shortest subway in the world, Olafur Eliasson's sun above the scaled backbone of industrial zones, and, of course, the Artsvit gallery are the first associations that come to mind when many of us think of the city of Dnipro. The city is a paradox, a city of transit. The city is home to one of the most successful galleries in Ukraine. On the tenth anniversary of Artsvit, we recall the landmark exhibitions and the most exciting projects that changed the artistic landscape in Dnipro and the whole country. 

July 2013. The newly created Artsvit gallery opens in a historic building on Sichovykh Striltsiv Street. It has ambitious plans, collections, and a strong desire to integrate contemporary Ukrainian art into the city's context. And although the initial concept was to create a high-quality gallery in the classical sense of the word, almost immediately after the opening, it became clear that the local public needed a comprehensive educational, cultural, and social product. Therefore, the gallery's activities underwent their first transformations: it started working with the citizens through lecture programs, public discussions, and involving the audience of visitors in the educational process. This became the key concept of Artsvit, known to the entire professional community in Ukraine as one of the most open institutions with a continuous flow of events and work on local context research.

Exhibition Collection. The First Step, 2015. Photo courtesy of Artsvit
December 14, 2013. The first weeks of Euromaidan. The gallery opens the Where is Your Brother? project by Dnipro artist Mykyta Shalenny. The Old Testament story takes on new, relevant meanings, the study of the nature of human conflict turns into a political analysis of his city, and Berkut fighters become semi-abstract material for the artist's work. This exhibition unofficially starts the countdown of Artsvit's integration into the city map as a space for contemporary critical and conceptual art. Later, the gallery will continue to work with Shalenyi as a curator, and this collaboration will result in several major research projects that are important for understanding the exhibition practice of Artsvit today.
Mykyta Shalenny. Composition number 1. From the project Where Is Your Brother?, 2013. Courtesy of Artsvit
2015. The gallery has begun regularly collaborating with guest curators Lyolia Goldstein and Maria Khrushchak. This collaboration gives birth to a significant research project, the Dnipro School of Photography. The curators address this little-known phenomenon, which was based on the Dnipro Photo Club and, in particular, the Youth Section, where photographers sought their own alternative to the official Soviet artistic language. Over 150 works by members of the Youth Section were selected for the project, including Oleksandr Feldman, Yurii Brodsky, Mark Miloov, Stanislav Polonskyi, and others. The project resulted in the publication of a book about Dnipro photography from the early 70s onwards, which gives an idea of the peculiarities of this local phenomenon, which is inscribed in the all-Ukrainian history of art. Curators Lyolia Goldstein and Maria Khrushchak could use their contacts to promote Artsvit far beyond Dnipro, and the gallery began to be widely known throughout the country. Collaborations with art centers from other cities began, and due to the decentralization policy, Dnipro became an attractive place for researchers of industrial heritage. The gallery's activities focus on working with local space, history, and studying the industrial city phenomenon. This logically led to a significant research project on the gallery's collection, which opened in late November 2015. Collection. The First Step is an important procedural project created by the Artsvit team to better understand their collection and methods of working with it and realize that the collection is not something permanent. The understanding of its dynamism as a phenomenon was achieved through the daily updates of the exposition, which included more than two hundred graphic works by Ukrainian artists of the 1950s-1980s.
Dnipro School of Photography: photographs by Semen Prosiak and Oleksandr Feldman, 1970s/1980s. Photos courtesy of Artsvit
2016. The exhibition of the artist David Chichkan During the War opens with great success and an equally large audience.This project addresses the revolutionary period in the territory of the modern Dnipro region through the lens of anarchism. To understand the growth of Artsvit on the map of Ukraine, this project is essential because, in addition to its artistic quality, it was actively highlighted in the press and became a center of artistic pilgrimage. After this exhibition, the Artsvit gallery became a desirable exhibition space for artists from different cities.
David Chichkan, from the project During the War, 2016. Photo courtesy of Artsvit
In 2018, Artsvit, together with the guest curator Ksenia Malykh, opened the project Soot by artists Danylo Revkovskyi and Andrii Rachynskyi. A long-term study of the industrial city and its social environment was embodied in a participatory interaction with the urban space. The exhibition was a great success in Dnipro and was later shown at the Efti Gallery Madrid, in the framework of the Hybrid Festival. At the same time, the Artsvit team had been developing related projects resulting in the launch of a series of residencies for artists, curators, and researchers from all over Ukraine, engaging the local young art community in non-formal education programs and running children's programs. Cultural figures worldwide come to Dnipro to discover and rediscover the city and its socio-cultural environment. The Room project, initiated by the gallery's co-curator at the time, Vita Popova, started the same year. The project aimed to create a space of freedom within that time already successful and well-known institution to discover new names in art. Young artists starting their exhibition practice collaborated to provide them with opportunities to exhibit and realize their projects.
The residency programme of Artsvit Gallery. Visual Art, 2019, and photo of the exhibition This is Not a Museum – It's a Factory, 2020. Photos courtesy of Artsvit
The pandemic has changed the gallery's activities. The team and the curators are trying to find a new language to communicate with the audience under the lockdown. The exhibition curated by Natasha Chichasova, This Is not a Museum – It's a Factory, was the first attempt to work with a show without an audience. Video tours have expanded the geography of visitors. At the same time, the team has been actively working on moving to a new location and transforming its activities to meet a new challenge: the creation of the Center for Contemporary Culture in Dnipro. Several cultural initiatives will now exist under the same roof as the former Zemstvo administration building. In constant dialogue and collaboration, the NGO Kultura Medialna, the Artsvit gallery, the Ksi Prostir art studio, and Alliance Française are working to create common meanings and develop the culture of Dnipro. "When we were developing the DCCC concept with Kultura Medialna (based on the idea of partnerships and communities), we planned that different organizations would work under one roof as residents, working autonomously but cooperating. And these organizations will also focus on their projects. The art world has concentrated more on visual art: exhibitions, education, residencies, and collections. This allowed us to focus on more specific things and thus to approach our work more effectively," says Iryna Polikarchuk, director of Artsvit.

September 2021. As part of the curatorial residencies that had already taken place twice at Artsvit by that time, under the mentorship of Tetiana Kochubynska, a group of curators realized the exhibition I Was Approaching a City I Didn't Know. It was the second project to open at the new location after Artsvit moved to the DCCC building. The exhibition and the residency logically continued the theme of rethinking the city's public space. The curators created this project as a reboot of the relationship between the city and its residents through the practice of caring. As part of the exhibition, workshops and open public programs took place inside and outside the gallery, focused on overcoming the automaticity of perception of the city and the surrounding space.

Exhibition I Was Approaching a City I Didn't Know Yet, 2021. Photo courtesy of Artsvit Gallery
The question "What about now?" is best answered by the gallery's director Iryna Polikarchuk, who, together with her team, continues to work on creating new projects and developing Artsvit despite the regular shelling of the city. "After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the gallery suspended its work for a month, after which, together with the NGO Kultura Medialna, we created a temporary social hub at the Center for Contemporary Culture in Dnipro. The Artsvit for Children art education program was the first to resume its activities. Since March, we have been holding daily classes for children who moved to Dnipro from occupied cities or cities where hostilities are ongoing and for young Dnipro residents who stayed here. Together with the DCCC, we also launched a charity sale of graphics from the collection of the Artsvit Gallery. The funds raised were used to buy an ambulance, which was transferred to the needs of military medics," says Ira.
Photo of the exhibition I Dreamed of Beasts, Galeria Labyrint, Lublin, 2022. The project was organized by Artsvit and Labyrint.
According to her, despite the war, Artsvit's projects are planned for a year and a half in advance, and since June 2022, the gallery's activities have returned to the offline format. Since then, five exhibitions and two programs for children and teenagers have been implemented. At Manifesta14 in Kosovo, in partnership  with the Secondary Archive (a programme dedicated to the practices of Central and Eastern European artists, established by the Polish Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation), the voices of Ukrainian artists were presented. Ukrainian voices were also heard on 24 February 2023 (one year after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine) at the public space of Warsaw at the initiative of the Warsaw Cultural Observatory. Together with the Labyrinth Gallery in Lublin and curators Kateryna Yakovlenko and Halyna Hleba, the exhibition I Dreamed of Beasts was presented with the support of the Goethe Institut.
Interactive project The Exhibition I Want to See, 2023. Photo courtesy of Artsvit Gallery
Since the beginning of the full-scale war in Dnipro the audience has changed a lot, as many displaced people from Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk regions need to integrate into new conditions. Artsvit took on the role of a mediator for their integration into the local context and cultural communities. Irina summarizes, "I am very grateful to the Artsvit team because all this is possible only thanks to them. Otherwise, our institution could have stopped its work. And, of course, to the artists and curators ready to continue cooperation; some have just started after February 24. People are the most important in our work."

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