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A National Monument: Ukraine’s Young Artists take to the International Stage
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A National Monument: Ukraine’s Young Artists take to the International Stage

Picture of Sophie Finney
Updated: 26 January 2016
Returning for its sixth year at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, the Ukrainian National Pavilion brings together some of the biggest names of Ukraine’s contemporary art scene, showcasing the very best that the country has to offer with works from Gamlet Zinkovskyi, Zhanna Kadyrova and Mykola Ridnyi.

Aptly named The Monument to a Monument, the installation was officially opened on 29th May 2013 by the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, and has proven to be a highly politicised, nostalgic and rich multi-media installation. To bring this project together, inspiration has been drawn from both the experiences and expertise of the curators and the vitality of the young artists chosen to represent Ukraine.

The 2013 exhibition commissioner, Victor Sydorenko, has long been considered one of the forefathers of modern art in Ukraine. No stranger to the Venice Biennale, this is Sydorenko’s third visit, having already exhibited a personal project entitled Millstones of time at the 50th Biennale in 2003, as well as co-curating Ukraine’s debut exhibition The poem about an internal sea at the 52nd Biennale in 2007 with one of the curators for this year, Oleksandr Soloviov.

This news alone drew attention to the fact that the Ukrainian national pavilion’s exhibition was going to be extraordinary, to say the least. Soloviov is widely accepted as one of the finest curators in Ukraine. He has an intrinsic understanding of the current trends of activism, protest, and critical art within the art world, and how to exhibit them in a Biennale. Joining Soloviov is Victoria Burlaka, renowned curator of Kyiv’s Small Gallery and champion of young artists in Ukraine. Working alongside Sydorenko, Soloviov and Barlaka are three of Ukraine’s leading contemporary artists.

College in his hometown, enrolled in theAcademy of Design and Arts under the Monumental Painting Department. A prominent street artist, his works has been described as having a certain melancholy about them, with a nostalgia for the past. It is clearly no coincidence that Zinkovskyi has been chosen to represent Ukraine at the Biennale; his artistic style and former studies lend themselves wholly to The Monument to a Monument in both name and ideology. His contribution to the installation looks at the notion of a monument as an ‘anonym’. His installation, Book of People, made of hundreds of microscopic portraits in the framework of a matchbox, catalogues a singular human mass into distinctive psychological profiles.

Working alongside Zinkovskyi will be Zhanna Kadyrova, a multimedia artist who graduated from Taras Shevchenko State Art School, Kyiv. Known for her sculptural works in public spaces, and her distinctive style that makes use of fractured tiles, Kadyrova became the first Special Prize Winner of the PinchukArtCentre in 2011 with her Asphalt works. The choice of the title itself was suggested by the work of Zhanna Kadyrova, who had the idea to create a ‘veiled’ monument that was to anyone or anything. The Monument to a Monument additionally analyses the etymology of the word ‘monument’, thus exploring the idea that it is a physical embodiment of historical and cultural memory.

The final artist to complete the trio will be Mykola Ridnyi. Also born in Kharkiv in 1985, he graduated from Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts, Sculpture department in 2008. Working predominantly with installation, video, sculpture and found objects, Ridnyi’s work often has deeper political messages about to Ukraine’s Soviet history as well as its more recent troubles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Ridnyi has brought to the Ukraine Pavilion, a variation of his 2011 installation piece entitled Monument / Platforms.

Combining sculptural elements with video recordings, the installation consisted of two elements: Platforms, made up of sculpture objects and a video called The Monument, which documented the dismantling of a monument in Ridnyi’s hometown of Kharkiv. It portrays that it is waged workers dismantling a very Soviet monument to the ‘worker heroes’. Meanwhile the empty sculptural plinths in Platforms echo how in today’s society, there is no longer anyone to raise a monument to.

A comment on youth culture within Ukraine today, the representation of artists selected for this year’s Biennale are from a younger generation. This is something that Ridnyi himself believes to be an important aspect of Ukraine’s National Pavilion this year. He stated that this project will have more to do with what is happening socially and politically, right now in Ukraine. Therefore their national history will be looked at specifically with regards to how it has influenced modern day Ukraine. Ridnyi believes that a young body of artists can best represents this; mentioning that for him specifically, this year’s exhibition is about how Ukraine represents itself, and is in term perceived internationally within the contemporary art world.

This certainly ties in with the theme of the Biennale, this year entitled Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, based on the dream of Marino Auriti’s dream to encapsulate ‘…all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow…’ in a vast museum entitled Il Palazzo Enciclopedico del Mundo (The Encyclopedic Palace of the World). The title The Monument to a Monument implies the documentation of documentation itself, something which Auriti hoped to achieve in 1955.

All in all, the Ukrainian pavilion holds a wonderful amalgamation of work that reflects different approaches to the memorial function of public art. By reinterpreting the notion of a monument, the artists have explored various perceptions and methods for the way in which cultural and social memory is recorded, as well as how it affects the society of the day. The monument represents an ideal that is constantly trying to be reached within society whilst simultaneously skewing their vision of the past. Somewhat ironically, it is safe to say that The Monument to a Monument has in itself provided a monument to the burgeoning talent evident in Ukraine’s young artists of today.

The Ukraine Team:
Artists: Mykola Ridnyi, Hamlet Zinkovsky, Zhanna Kadyrova.
Commissioner: Victor Sydorenko
Curators: Oleksandr Soloviov, Victoria Burlaka.

Venue: Palazzo Loredan, Venice (Palazzo Loredan – Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti of Venice)

About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project:

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale — 10 of them for the first time — and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale. Watch this space for our daily Venice Biennale updates or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!