“TENTHS” IN UKRAINIAN ART: 2010–2020, their history, heroes and predecessors (Part I)
Photo: Lesha Lich / vogue.ua
Conversation with Aleksandr Soloviov is a curator of contemporary art projects at the Mystetskyi Arsenal, an organizer of several Ukrainian pavilions at the Venice Biennale, a participant in the Parkomune art squat, a person who stands at the origins of modern Ukrainian art and knows everything about it.
SHORT MEMORY OF HISTORY
Formally, the decade begins in 2011 and lasts until 2020. It is the last year of the “tenths”, probably. Although the borderline years, 10th and 20th, are very conditional. It so happened that in Soviet art history periods were measured in decades.
For example, Western art history or world art history of the modern period usually covers several decades, some kind of long period, less often a decade. But, in principle, it is believed that a generational change is about 15–20 years.
Contemporary art is a research agreement of the last 25 years. You can split it into different segments, sometimes not much happens for a whole decade. It’s just that art evolves itself calmly, develops, or the “Golden Age” of Pericles comes and lasts for several decades.
In ancient Egypt, periods stretched for millennia, until Akhenaten appeared, who changed the established rules and introduced new canons. Elongated faces, realism of images, worship of the God of art – these changes were revolutionary, which accelerated the chain of events.
If you look at where our story came from, what I called near memory (events that we do not always analyze, being their participants – interviewer’s note) has spanned the past three, and possibly four decades.
It can be a matter of debate about where to start our story. It is precisely the newest, namely the contemporary, which was already in the mainstream of the global, official history, and did not manifest itself as separate, dissident foci.
CONTEMPORARY ART IN UKRAINE. ITS BIRTH
Initially, our history also appeared as an underground system, for example, in Odessa. And in the 60s, and in the 70s, and in the 80s. There were several different waves of conformism – conceptualism, then trans-avant-garde. These terms should always be understood flexibly, not as labels or specific terms. There is an opinion that it is necessary to start from the 80s, talking about contemporary art, which in Odessa functioned as an underground system and from which there are quite a few artifacts left.
There is also a point of view that the story began in the late Soviet period, during reconstruction, when the floodgates opened and this very underground has already become quite legitimate. Although all the same it was still in the system of old, in organizational form, exhibitions. And here, if we talk about Ukraine, several names appeared, which later united a new wave.
There were leaders, and there were their followers, as, for example, you see the Rembrandt Hall in the museum, and there, in the following halls, his students and epigones, and so on throughout world history. Probably, since the second half of the 80s, art has already begun to develop in a global context. From this point on, we start looking for chronology, periods and differentiation of everything. The 90s practically developed already in the format of the independent art of the new country, albeit on the basis of the squats of the late USSR.
This generation defined the art of the 90s. It is important to understand that within this community there were transformations and reflections on social vicissitudes that reflected life, but art does not always feed on this life, it has its own laws of development – internal.
A “happy life” is not always the guarantor of highly developed art. And vice versa, it happens that the worse in society, the better in art. Even wars or upheavals sometimes have a very resourceful effect on creative sublimation, as a substitution. These 90s can also be singled out as a whole decade, as a precursor.
LATE 90s – 2000s
When the 90s ended, the mood was such as if not only the end of the century was approaching, but also the end of the world. All eschatological, apocalyptic sentiments have intensified, as is usually the case when a century comes to an end. Each end of the century gives birth to some form of decadence – decadent art. The mood changes, the major turns into the minor, instead of optimism comes pessimism.
In our case, the end of the millennium was approaching, and the term referred not only to a decade, but to a century and a millennium, which were few in our history, perhaps only in the Middle Ages. Everyone was expecting a massive computer crash. Everything passed calmly, but this sign was still with us for several years before the onset of a new period of the active digital age and new geopolitical events.
During this period, in the critical environment, among art critics, and those who were engaged in art, there was already a certain murmur about when the new generation would appear. It didn’t come for a long time. Maybe it would not have come for some time, but social upheavals soon provoked its onset. With regard to Ukraine, it was the first Maidan. It brought names that, in fact, were the mouthpiece of their time.
The “fathers” were replaced by another generation. And it came with a different worldview: different language, different media. At some point in the 2000s all of it existed, let’s say, painlessly at the same time. That is, simultaneously.
Some people continued to paint or take photographs. Others were looking not so much for a new language, but for other areas of art. It is exactly what a certain section does, why “tenths”.
Somewhere between the milestones of the new Ukrainian history, an understanding came that the new generation speaks a different language, mature artists left the conventional stage, continuing to create in their studio, but they were no longer on this actual stage. A generation came to it, which came – these are some kind of communities – it was not by chance that the groups R.E.P, SOSka, Group 5, Totoro, Carpathian Theatre appeared.
To be continued…