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VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Anatol Stepanenko – rebellion of romance

VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Anatol Stepanenko - rebellion of romance
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Source: artukraine.com.ua


“A person has the ability to create myths. Therefore, people, greedily absorbing stunning or mysterious stories about the life of those who have stood out from among their own kind, create a legend and themselves are imbued with fanatical faith in it. It is a rebellion of romance against the ordinariness of life” [1].

This quote from Somerset Maugham’s book The Moon and Sixpence can briefly but succinctly characterize the work of many cult postmodern artists, among whom was the Ukrainian author Anatol Stepanenko, who almost by touch, in spite of the world around him, intuitively found that mysterious path in art, the keys to which we seem to have picked up just now.

Anatol Stepanenko was born in 1948 and found different periods in the development of our country, first as part of the USSR, later – already independent. However, the practice of this artist is so isolated that it seems that no external twists and turns are able to influence the inner intention of the author.

Now, having adjusted the pince-nez, we can talk about trends in performance, and until today we have not decided on the official translation of the site-specific installation. And in the very middle of the Soviet Union (both geographically and chronologically), behind the Iron Curtain, Anatol Stepanenko could not know any such terms, and most importantly – concepts and phenomena, but he felt, sensed that notorious intuition of the artist.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Anatol Stepanenko - rebellion of romance
Installation There on Earth, 2007


For example, in the 1980s, Stepanenko, having collected money for a transistor, climbed onto the roof with it, turned it on, waited for the anthem of the Soviet Union to play, and at that moment dropped the receiver down [2].

Socially engaged art, politically motivated statement, nonconformist gesture – all these definitions are true in relation to the performance of Anatol Stepanenko, but at the time of its execution it was perceived at best as a prank, mischief, or just another eccentric trick of an outrageous artist.

At the same time, the creative activity of Anatol Stepanenko really could not do without that “rebellion of romance against the ordinariness of life”. He could stand on one leg with a flower in his teeth, outline the shadow of the tree with chalk and come to the same place the next day, when the shadow coincided with the drawing, already with the witnesses, and thus mark the “birth of the concept”.

They say that many of Stepanenko’s works are characterized by a performative, actionist approach, however, the documentation of these events has not survived or never existed at all, and now the very attempt to compose the artist’s creative dossier becomes a kind of myth-making, because one has to rely on very fragile sources – memories and retellings that however, to some extent corresponds to the somewhat mysterious, mystical image of the artist himself.


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Anatol Stepanenko - rebellion of romance
From the Deep Blue series. 1980s


Perhaps the only time when the external circumstances of the development of a local society coincided with the creative experiments of Anatol Stepanenko was in the mid-1980s, and that was exclusively in the technological plane, but not in the ideological one.

At this time, Stepanenko experimented with photography and what he was doing back then, later, in the nineties, was called lomography, and this genre became really fashionable only in the 2000s, thanks to the flourishing of social networks and the popularity of the hipster subculture.

And, although lomography was initially associated with a certain type of camera, released just in 1983 at the Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Association (hence the abbreviation LOMO), over time the genre degenerated into a full-fledged movement with its own conceptual and visual components.

It was an attempt to capture life in all its manifestations, such as it is, lomography raised the concept of “marriage”, and deliberately low-quality film shots taken from unusual angles became a symbol of a certain era. It is curious that Anatol Stepanenko was so ahead of his time, anticipating, guessing the trend of thirty years before.

In fact, Anatol Stepanenko was one of the first interdisciplinary artists, and was not influenced by fashionable institutions or generous donors, but sincerely, at the call of his heart.

He made films, painted pictures, created total installations, was a curator and reinterpreted spaces, seemingly not intended for this, through art. His creative method was in constant dynamics, in an eternal search and experiment.

Art critic Galina Sklyarenko defined this approach of Stepanenko as “a combination of naturalness and the author’s will, the programmed process and the unpredictability of the result” [3].


VIRTUAL MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ART: Anatol Stepanenko - rebellion of romance
From the series Akkadian Dogs, 2004-2005


A striking example and, perhaps, the most famous Stepanenko’s work today, is the series Akkadian Dogs. According to the artist Alevtina Kakhidze, Anatol Stepanenko drew attention to how in the exclusion zone wild bees began to settle in household items left after their owners.

This sight impressed the artist and based on these feelings he created a rather creepy project. The series consists of zoomorphic sculptures made of honeycombs and speaks to the viewer about the monstrous consequences of a man-made catastrophe, and, at the same time, about how nature is able to adapt even to such unfavorable circumstances, and the thirst for life takes its toll.

Anatol Stepanenko always behaved independently, was a loner, because his art is really difficult to attribute to any trends and directions. He himself does not hide the fact that, for example, in the famous community of The Paris Commune he did not take root, even though at first he had a workshop in that squat.

The artist never fit into any canons and trends and did not strive for this, but such tactics, unfortunately, today can lead to oblivion. Thanks to the recent Artists Prize, people started talking about Anatol Stepanenko again and found a white spot around his name.

His art is poorly described, but the fact of his influence on contemporary art in Ukraine is generally recognized, and therefore it is hoped that a revaluation of this contribution is not far off.



[1] Quote from Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and the Penny, 1919

[2] Researcher Tatiana Zhmurko about the artist Anatol Stepanenko

[3] Sklyarenko G. The Art of Anatoly Stepanenko. Between a butterfly and a doggie / Fine Art. – 2008. – No. 2

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