In the autumn of 2022, the 5th triennial of contemporary Ukrainian art Ukrainian Cross-Section took place in the European Capital of Culture 2022 — the city of Kaunas in Lithuania! Under the slogan UKRAINE! UNMUTED project became the mouthpiece of the Ukrainian voice in the very heart of today’s culture. Let’s talk more about the Ukrainian Cross-Section in the year of the war.
The Ukrainian Cross-Section, a triennial of contemporary Ukrainian art, was created at one time as an attempt to find out and tell what Ukrainian art is. The idea of Cross-Section is to present the art of Ukraine primarily outside its borders, to be a translator of Ukrainian art for a foreign audience. In previous years, the triennial took place in Polish Lublin and Wroclaw, as well as in Lviv (in the frame of 1st Congress of Culture). The 5th Cross-Section with the slogan UKRAINE! UNMUTED opened on November 4, 2022 in Kaunas.
The artistic part was curated by Vlodko Kaufman and Serhiy Petlyuk, and the discussion part was led by Oksana Forostyna. Project manager Lida Savchenko-Duda (Cultural Strategy Institute). In contrast to previous years, in 2022 the Ukrainian Cross-Section, in addition to the main exhibition format, contained several more components — a series of public discussions and a thematic essay publication. During the war, the project team decided to pay special attention to the diplomatic component of the international project — all in order to make the topic of Ukraine reach the widest possible audience, and therefore in various ways. Find out about each component of the project below.
“Ukrainian voices became better heard when people noticed the explosions and turned on the sound. The war is the price Ukraine paid to be in the spotlight not only of reporters from around the world but also of cultural institutions and educated classes, of people who shape the artistic canon, create and destroy hierarchies, and declare cultural phenomena interesting and valuable or doomed to oblivion. Ukrainian artists have their scale of dividing times into good and bad: the periods of prosperity were usually the pauses between wars and repressions. And they fruitfully used that time, especially during the last 30 years. Though organically woven into the overall canvas of European culture despite all the obstacles, this art remained in the so-called blind zone, always present yet invisible. Ukrainian Cross-Section is an overview of what could not be heard behind transparent walls and seen behind optical illusions, a survey of what brings understanding closer,” says the curators’ text for UKRAINE! UNMUTED.
Exhibition and performance
The main location of the project was the building of the former Main Post Office of Kaunas. Since the official opening of the ECoC-2022 Program (in January 2022), the post office has been actively used for art events and exhibitions, besides, part of the premises currently houses the cultural and creative center “CulturEUkraine”, opened at the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
The exhibition of the Ukrainian Cross-Section took two floors of the building and included 17 art projects: video, installations, objects, painting, graphics, performance and photography. The exhibition contained the artworks of Yana Bachenska, Lia Dostlieva and Andrii Dostliev, Kostiantyn Zorkin, Zhanna Kadyrova, Alevtina Kakhidze, Nikolay Karabinovych, Myro Klochko and Anatoliy Tatarenko, Sasha Kurmaz, Katya Libkind, Kateryna Lysovenko, Pavlo Makov, Sergiy Petlyuk, Viacheslav Poliakov, Andriy Rachinskiy and Daniil Revkovskiy, FANTASTIC LITTLE SPLASH (Lera Malchenko and Oleksandr Hants), Stanislav Turina, Volodymyr Kaufman (project in cooperation with Maksym Mazur, Serhiy Savchenko, Yana Krykun, Sergiy Radkevych, Natalka Shymin, Natalia Lisova. Some artists, like Pavlo Makov, participated in the Ukrainian Cross-Section before, but this year there are also debutants, like the artistic duo from Kharkiv Andriy Rachinskiy and Daniil Revkovskiy. Interesting fact that one of the art projects will include the film work of Oleksandr Dovzhenko, a famous Ukrainian writer and film director (years active 1926-1956), a classic of world cinematography.
On November 4th, Cross-Section was opened by the performance “short novels about the path” by Yuriy Shtaida, Natalia Lisova, Volodymyr Kaufman, Yaryna Shumska and Volodymyr Topiy. Yaryna Shumska, a performance participant, told more about the concept of the performance.
At the official Opening ceremony, the teams of the Cultural Strategy Institute and the office of the European Capital of Culture Kaunas 2022 were present, greetings were heard from the Ministers of Culture of Lithuania and Ukraine Simonas Kairis and Oleksandr Tkachenko, ambassadors and members of the Lithuanian government, representatives from partner cities joined as well. Read more about opening day here.
During the triennial, which is a month (from November 4th to December 4th), 6 excursions were held for all interested citizens, in particular, two curatorial ones were held on November 5th. One of the excursions was held in Ukrainian with a thought about our compatriots who found refuge in Lithuania. The project was also visited by a presidential delegation — as part of the Idea of Europe international symposium, the President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda, the President of Poland Andrzej Duda and the President of Latvia Egils Levits attended the exhibition. First ladies Diana Nauseda and Andra Levite also joined.
For disclosuring of the topic UKRAINE! UNMUTED a series of discussions with speakers from Ukraine and abroad were held in Kaunas.
The speakers discussed about the relation between the empire and the colony and how the colonized can regain their voice, how perceptions of Ukraine and Ukrainian culture are transformed, what the underground is in the Ukrainian context in the past and present, how to present one’s culture in the modern world. The curator of the discussion part, and therefore the moderator of the events, is Oksana Forostyna. In total, there were 4 discussions with the participation of:
— November, 10th — DISCOVERING UKRAINE (FROM OUTSIDE AND FROM INSIDE)
Vakhtang Kebuladze and Carl Henrik Fredriksson
— November, 11th — DANCING WITH EMPIRE, FALLING FOR EMPIRE
Iaroslava Strika and Jacek Denhel
— November, 24th — VOICES FROM UNDERGROUND: ARTISTS BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN
Dr. Katherine Younger and Prof. Habil. Dr. Gintautas Mažeikis.
— November, 26th — HOW TO SHOW THE INVISIBLE
Volodymyr Sheiko, Pawel Potorozhyn and Gintare Masteikaite
Read more about the discussion part here, watch here.
A book of essays on Ukrainian culture
As part of the triennial, a collection with the same theme of the project called UKRAINE! UNMUTED was published. The authors, whose texts were included in the collection, were extraordinary people of Ukrainian culture — art critics, writers, researchers, philosophers. The book is designed to open Ukrainian culture to a foreign audience, and especially addresses its identity and anti-colonial discourse. The editor and compiler of the collection is Oksana Forostyna.
Therefore, at the invitation of the project, the collection included the essays of Mykola Riabchuk, Vitaliy Portnykov, Iaroslava Strikha, Kateryna Botanova, Diana Klochko, Taras Lyuty, Ivan Kozlenko, Yuriy Prokhask, Zoya Zvyniatskivska, and Yurko Vovkohon.
The essays were created specifically for the Ukrainian Cross-Section, reveal various aspects of Ukrainian culture formation, interpret the history of art, fashion, cinema with an emphasis on issues of colonialism and reinterpretation; update some specifically Ukrainian cultural phenomena of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is important that among the essays there is also a place for thoughts from the frontline — this is the essay “The Art of War” by Yurko Vovkohon, a cultural figure and military man who was wounded on the battlefield and is currently undergoing rehabilitation. The paper version of the book was published in English and Lithuanian, and for the Ukrainian audience in their native language the essays will be presented online. Publications are being posted twice a week on the web resources of the Institute (CSI blog, Facebook), as well as on the page of partners — the journal about modern culture KORYDOR. Individual texts are distributed by PEN-Ukraine. The Institute also plans to publish a paper book in Ukrainian, translate it into Polish and other more languages.
The Triennial of contemporary Ukrainian Art “Ukrainian Cross-Section” UKRAINE! UNMUTED is implemented by Cultural Strategy Institute, NGOs Institute of Contemporary Art and Virmenska-35 with the support of Lviv City Council, ZMIN FOUNDATION, International Renaissance Fund and Lithuanian partners Kaunas 2022.
The informational support for the project was granted by the Ukrainian Institute, Lb.ua, Ukrainian Week, Korydor, UkraineWorld. Also, as part of the triennial, CSI together with Radio Skovoroda launched a podcast about the role and perception of Ukrainian art in the world called Ukraine Unmuted.
The idea of Ukrainian Cross-Section appeared in Lviv in the environment of the artistic formation “Dzyga”, one of the iconic cultural centers of the city and the country, in cooperation with partners from Lublin, the Trans Kultura foundation. The idea arose from the desire to capture and outline “Ukrainianness” in modern art, to gather on one platform authors for whom Ukraine is not just a “territory” but “their own, important territory” with which you interact, experience, and change. The Cross-Section is a curatorial project. Currently, the NGOs “Institute of Contemporary Art” and the Cultural Strategy Institute continue the work of Cross-Section.