The conversation with Ihor Diurych (Prague) and Andrii Taranenko (Kyiv) about Lviv at the end of 1980s.
Mitec: Let’s talk about Lviv in the 1980s.
Ihor Diurych: You’d better ask Andrii about it, he spent his youth in Lviv.
Andrii Taranenko: The second half of the 80s is probably the most «delicious» period of my early youth. I moved to Lviv in 1986, when I was fifteen years old, so I would link a certain exaltation of that period with youthful romanticism. But precisely those years became defining in my ontogenesis, as it is common to say now. The education of feelings, as it could be called before. Imagine that everything you’ve read about Hemingway’s bohemian Paris of the 1920s in «Fiesta» and «A Moveable Feast» suddenly came to life and you find yourself inside of these novels. A small cafe on Armenian street represented «Rotunda», «Select» and «La Coupole» at the same time, while the street itself and the nearest blocks with Market Square — boulevards Montparnasse and Saint-Germain taken together. Artists, poets, musicians gathered in this café on Armenian street, where coffee is still brewed in cezves on the sand. These people were not only from Lviv; the place was a must for all travelling bohemian figures from St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Riga. The coffee shop itself was small, so people were seating right on the paving stones, occupying the street from the current «Gasova lampa» to «The House of the Seasons» with zodiacal signs. There were spontaneous sessions when someone played a couple of chords on the guitar. Then others joined him, and the blues had no end. The residents of local houses were not happy to have such neighbours. Sometimes, they covered the curbs with a thick layer of grease, but it did not bother anyone. They just used newspapers and cardboards. People were drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and discussing the just read Cortazar, Beckett, Vian, Nabokov, or just listened «King Crimson», «Pink Floyd», «Aquarium», or just seen «The Ballad of Narayama» and «Last Tango in Paris». There were disputes about Sartre’s existentialism and Nietzsche’s nihilism, although these disputes’ heat was higher when the subject’s knowledge was lower. There was an exchange of «samizdat» (self-publishing), made on a copying machine «Era». I remember Castaneda’s «samizdat» books, translations of the songs of «The Doors» and Czeslaw Niemen, copied pre-revolutionary «Encyclopedia of Occultism». You were sucked into a whirlpool. Kuzya from «The Gadyukiny Brothers» talked about Frank Zappa and Nina Hagen; Dima «Methodius» Tishchenko, who was an excellent blues guitarist, played something from Neil Young and talked about Christian mysticism; artist Valery «Dem» Demyanishin showed his new etchings, which provoked abstract discussions like «Why Delvaux is better than Dali»; someone read aloud the poems of Parshchikov and other «metarealists»; someone read aloud obscene passages from the «samizdat» «The Godfather» by Mario Puzo; someone offered to drink port wine or try the «Parkopan»; and a luxurious hippie girl from Moscow with a volume of «The Glass Bead Game» in a canvas bag agreed to spend the night with you. It is so wonderful to drown in such a whirlpool! A violinist with the nickname «Paganini» came. He played «The Four Seasons» (Vivaldi) near «The House of the Seasons». Although everyone said that he was a KGB informer, no one kicked him out, because his performance looked extremely conceptual. Some of the characters of that period have remained a mystery for me. For example, one guy wore only white clothes in any weather, even the slushiest; even his shoes were white. Some said that he was a martial artist, and he only dressed in white because of some esoteric stuff. «Armyanka» was a kind of social network of the pre-computer age, where all information flows met. You always knew who of your friends is now hanging out in «Saigon» (St. Petersburg) with the group «The Automatic Satisfiers»; or got stuck near Gauja river, which is close to Riga, because he fell in love with a girl from Kharkiv with a nickname «Bambi-One-Time»; or substituted «vint» with «shirka» (drugs); or whom the cops took to a mental hospital for public masturbation in the Kyiv zoo.
М.: How did you find out about «Armyanka»?
А.Т.: I don’t remember who brought me there for the first time. Most likely, someone from the School of Applied Arts, where I studied. But I remember that during the first week of «hanging out» in one of the porches near the cafe I had a tooth knocked out in a fight because of a beautiful girl, looking like young Betty Grable. I don’t remember her name, but for sure she smoked «Java 100». Alik Olisevich was one of the most colourful characters of «Armyanka». He was the godfather of all Lviv hippies, a wonderful man with brilliant erudition. For us, underages or how we were also called «The third wave of the System», Alik was a patriarch, an «old dude,» an indisputable authority.
He talked about American beatniks, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Moreover, he even corresponded with Ginsberg, and Allen sent him a book of his poems. Alik told us about dissident movements, about «Solidarity» in Poland, about Lithuanian student Romas Kalanta; he was sure that aesthetic protest without a connection with the socio-political protest was doomed. Alik organised a political demonstration on The City Day in 1987. Around thirty people, including myself, went out to the central streets with placards demanding freedom of speech and respect for human rights. The passers-by joined us on the way. As a result, it became a real «mass demonstration». For me personally, it was mainly an exciting adventure, I did not realise the political significance of this action. But two days later, when «enemy radio voices» told in details about this event, calling it «the first political demonstration in the USSR,» I felt the reaction of the Soviet authorities.
I don’t know how, but all the demonstration participants were identified; people were fired and expelled from universities. Police brought my friend and me to the police station right from the School. Some people in civilian clothes explained that my parents and I were in big trouble because I participated in the anti-Soviet (although it was not anti-Soviet at all) protest. They also told that a man named Vyacheslav Chornovol was fascinated by our demonstration. At that time, I have never heard about him and was not impressed at all. As usual, I was traditionally offered to «find a common language». And as usual, I ignored this idea, saying that I have no idea of what they were talking about. The conversation ended at that point. But when I got back to the School, I suddenly found my name on the expelled students’ list, although I was fine with my grades. They decided to put paid to my studies, because by that time I had already been arrested by the police for an escape from the Riga orphanage, and I also disgraced the School with my appearance.
М.: What do you mean under the word «disgraced»?
А.Т.: Long hair, ripped jeans, earring in the ear… There was a café in Tallinn, known as «Vorobeynik», something like «Armyanka» in Lviv, and right in that café, a punk from St. Petersburg at my request pierced my ear. He just pulled a pin out of the jeans, burned it on a lighter and — bam! I walked for a month with a pin in my ear until my ear festered. Then I had to wear an earring. It was my first hitchhiking experience in the Baltics. Before coming to Tallinn, my friends and I were arrested in Riga by the local police under the article «vagrancy». Because I was still a juvenile, they took me to the juvenile intake. But before that, like all «vagrants», we were taken for a check-up to the Skin and Venereal Diseases Clinic, or as it was called — «gonorrhoea country house». When «servants of the justice» who accompanied me were busy with their stuff, I used the opportunity and ran away. But they had my student ticket. Therefore, when I returned to Lviv, there was a «comrades trial» in the School with Komsomol leaders’ angry speeches. Why am I telling this? The School administration was just looking for a reason to say goodbye to me. And then I gave rise to it. Both my friend and me were given time to think about our behaviour. To be sure that nothing distracted us from «thinking», the police officers regularly came to our dormitory. They were checking our mattresses and nightstands. A couple more times I was taken right from the lessons to talk with the guys in civilian clothes. They took me through the whole School to their police car. And everyone saw it. I think in their opinion, this fact should sadden me somehow. But they did not consider that at the age of 16 such attention of the authorities only flatters. I was a hero among my classmates. And when the documents for my expulsion were ready, and my parents had to come for them, suddenly the Republican Olympiad in Russian language and literature was scheduled. Such events were taken seriously. The republican jury was incredibly attentive to the works from Bandera’s Lviv. And I wrote essays quite well and was generally considered a well-read person. Obviously, our School had problems with writing essays, that’s why the administration decided to send an unreliable representative like me to the Olympiad. It took place in Zhytomyr, and just at that time «The picnic» rock band from St. Petersburg came there with a concert. This band was one of my favourites. And when all normal people were preparing for the Olympiad, I was partying at the concert, and then half of the night was drinking wine with a gang of Shklyarsky. I was sure that I would still be expelled from the School, and in such circumstances, it was stupid to defend the honour of the Alma mater. The next day, suffering from a hangover, I wrote kind of a strange text on a free topic, abundantly using quotes from Grebenshchikov and Baudelaire. During the poetry contest, I could not remember anything except Mike Naumenko’s song «My sweet N», the words of which I recited from the stage, saying that this is «a poem by a young Leningrad poet». It looked like a complete fiasco. But that was a strange time, and even the jury of the Republican Olympiad totally mixed up the criteria of «go»d» an» «bad». In the end, I took the first place, demonstrating a «non-standard approach to the competition». History is written by the victor, and I returned to Lviv not only with a stupid vase, on which was depicted Maxim Gorky, but also I received the remission of all sins. But my friend did not have a chance to get an indulgence, and he was expelled. The second political demonstration, organised by Alik, was immediately brutally dispersed by police. I also took part in it, and then for the first time, I felt the blow of a police baton. Dima «Methodius» Tishchenko and I managed to escape from the cordon and get lost in the alleys. But there we met with «gopniks» (street robbers). We had to fight with them, even empty glass containers were used. Luckily, Methodius’ guitar was not damaged. As a result, w» «not in the best shape, but undefeated», went to the Bald Mountain, where we decided to wait for the darkness, and only then return to the city. While we were waiting, Methodius told me about Gregoriy Skovoroda and even sang a couple of songs based on the poems of this wandering philosopher.
М.: Did you often fight with the «gopniks»?
А.Т.: That was a part of our life. Initially, the School did not have enough dormitories for all students from other cities. That’s why other newcomers and I temporarily got settled in the dormitory in Lewandowka. It was a legendary gangster district of Lviv, quite similar to Moldavanka in Odesa. That was the place where I heard the word «shindig» for the first time. However, it had a different meaning than today. A «shindig» was a separate group of «urla» from a particular neighbourhood, and actually a neighbourhood consisted of such «shindigs». Inside of the districts, there were fights between different «shindigs», but when there was neighbourhood vs neighbourhood brawl, all «shindigs» united under a standard banner. By the way, the word «urla» was more popular than «gopniks». This subculture, obviously, was hostile to all «informals» — hippies, punks or breakers. The Lviv «urla» wore a specific uniform — something similar to coppola caps, soldier’s vatnik (jacket) and jeans tucked into kirza boots. And the uppers of the boots had to be turned up. I often heard about the mythical women’s «shindig», which was extremely cruel during fights. It has various names, from «New Caledonia» to «Black Abwehr», but no one has ever met these Amazons in reality.
М.: And what uniform did the regulars of «Armyanka» wear?
А.Т.: There was no uniform, because you were constantly influenced by one or another style. When I moved to Lviv, I had a «sail» haircut like «Duran Duran». Because of the absence of hair gel on sale, I used a toothpaste «Fluodent» to make my hair look stylish. Six months later, I already had a hairstyle a la Billy Idol. Then I had a long hair, although never defined myself as a hippie. In general, my aesthetic protest was something like perverted dandyism. I was wearing a faded 50s trench coat, bright blue hiking boots, a silk scarf that was once given to my grandfather in one of the Buryat datsans. Also, I had an old umbrella cane with broken spokes. And, of course, at this age you want to seem disappointed with life, worship the Dark Muse and talk about suicide. It was fashionable. In the Opera, I saw only the ballet «Giselle», falling in love with different Wilis. Sometimes I went alone to an abandoned part of the Lychakiv cemetery and read poems by Edgar Allan Poe or the gothic novellas by Gustavo Becquer on the grassy steps under the half-ruined arch of the Eagle Memorial, imagining myself inside Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings. To be honest, it was very boring to spend time there. But after saying in «Armyanka» a couple of careless words about such a pastime, I felt admiration from the romantic young ladies. By that time a fantastic decadent movie «Mister Designer» with music by Kuryokhin was released. Thanks to this film, I discovered Jean Delville paintings, passion to which led me later to the symbolist painting of Jacek Malczewski. Years later, during my studies at the Kyiv Academy of Arts, I will dedicate several course papers to Malczewski. And then, in the late ‚80s, I started to regularly visit the Lviv National Gallery because of him. What a time that was!
I.D.: That was a great time.
М.: Ihor, I guess «Armyanka» was also a part of your life, wasn’t it?
I.D.: At that time, I was already a family man, my son was born in 1980, but sometimes I visited it to drink a coffee cup. I met acquaintances, discussed news, but I was not involved in the «Armyanka» events.
А.Т.: Do you remember the photographer Willy?
I.D.: Willy Furgalo. He disappeared somewhere a long time ago.
А.Т.: He was a great photographer, kind of the Lviv Brassaï. The whole life of «Armyanka» was documented by him in a very stylish way. I wish we could digitise his archive now!
I.D.: In the very early 80s, I worked as a photo lab assistant at the University. And once at lunchtime, my friend and I decided to go to the nearest store to get a bottle of vodka. On the way, I stopped by a bookstore, where I saw Nietzsche’s book «Beyond Good and Evil». That was a pre-revolutionary edition (it is probably worth recalling that Nietzsche was not published in the USSR, so it was huge luck, or even a miracle, to see this book). I bought it immediately, and it made me incredibly happy. Bread, vodka, Nietzsche in a case — what else do you need? The friend took a three-litre jar of salted red tomatoes. Our photo lab was on the third floor, and we had to go up the central staircase and pass by the administration on the second floor. We walked very fast to slip through unnoticed, but my friend stumbled — and the jar shattered. We ran away so that no one would suspect us of antisocial behaviour on the educational institution’s premises. After some time, Willy Furgalo came in with his «chekushka» (small bottle of vodka), carrying several salted tomatoes in his palm. The chief asked: «Where did you get the tomatoes?». And Wily answered: «They were lying on the stairs».
А.Т.: Bread, vodka, Nietzsche… How familiar it is! I remember once I was returning in the morning from my friend, where I stayed overnight. I was carrying in my bag a brand new book «Steppenwolf» by Hesse, «Vsesvit» (Universe) magazine with a long article about Leonor Fini, a cassette with two Tom Waits albums, a pot and a corked flask with pure alcohol, which my friend kept to wipe the tape heads, but gave me as a gift, knowing that I had no money to buy a bottle of vodka. When I was walking across the whole city with this bag, I understood: This is how the happiness looks like!
М.: Did you often have no money?
А.Т.: The scholarship was meagre, and most of it was spent on paints, brushes, canvases, solvents, vinyl records, cassettes. Someone regale you cigarettes and coffee, but you were hungry all the time. Like it or not, you will learn to steal canned food in stores, running past the checkout. Once in the «Bulka», I received an order …
М.: What is it «Bulka»?
А.Т.: In winter, when it got really cold, everyone moved from the «Armyanka» to the «Bulka», which is a bakery on the corner of the Market, directly opposite the Cathedral. It was an exciting place. The first floor was occupied by women with net bags, standing in line for bread, but if you go to the very end of the store and go down the stairs to the basement floor, you will find yourself in a completely different world. It was the same «Armyanka», the same cafe, only under medieval Gothic vaults. This was the second hangout place, the winter one. And everyone liked that the concept of «underground» in «Bulka» acquired its original «catacomb» meaning. Once in the «Bulka», I offered the saleswoman to exchange my watercolour sketch for two boiled eggs. The compassionate woman refused to take the sketch (it was very mediocre), but gave me bread and eggs for free and made an offer I could not refuse. She needed a sign «You can buy ice cream here». In addition to the text, the ice cream itself also should be drawn. In return, I could eat ice cream for free for a month. I drew a sign, and although I didn’t like ice cream, it was a great excuse to treat the girls.
М.: How did, in general, the artistic life in Lviv look like at that time?
А.Т.: For me personally, one of the most important exhibitions in those years was the posthumous exhibition of Olexander Aksinin. My classmate Lena Masko, whose grandmother knew Aksinin quite well, invited me to the opening. And I am immensely grateful to her. I remember how much enthusiasm there was in 1987 regarding Maria Snezhnaya «avant-garde» exhibition in the Church (at that time it was the Museum of Photography). It was the first large-scale exhibition of contemporary Lviv artists. Despite the perestroika-style name «The Invitation to Dialogue» and suspicious labelling «informal», it was a very cool event. Among other works, there were cages with live chickens, graphic works and drawings were hung on clotheslines, and that was the first time when performances were presented in the museum. The quality of works and performances compared to today’s was very dubious, but nevertheless, it was a mega-event for that time. Among our mutual acquaintances with Ihor, only Pasha Grankin participated in this exhibition, but I hardly remember his works.
I.D.: This exhibition was important for Lviv because it was the first time the artistic «underground» crawled out of the basements.
А.Т.: And in 1988, the sensational Sotheby’s auction was held in Moscow, where the works of Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Ivan Chuykov and Grisha Bruskin were presented. There was an overarching illusion, that «young art from the USSR» is really in demand in the world. The work of Ihor Kopystyanskiy «Restored Pictures» was widely discussed in Lviv.
А.Т.: Because Kopystyanskiy was from Lviv and because his work was bought for 40 thousand dollars, which was a crazy amount of money at that time. And the name of the purchaser was Elton John. Everyone immediately began to study the «Kopystyanskiy method»: copying other people’s paintings, subsequent damage, and then restoration. Only among my acquaintances, there were two or three imitators of Kopystyanskiy. In fact, Lviv was not yet ready to dive into postmodernism. Regulars of the Armyanka looked with suspicion and distrust at the ironic games with the World Museum’s wreckages, as they usually look at the tricks of a circus illusionist.
М.: And did the performances evolve in Lviv?
А.Т.: How to say … There was a «Plastic Hoax Group» that specialised in musical performances. In fact, they were moving in approximately the same direction as Kuryokhin’s band «Pop-Mechanics», but they were 10 years behind. But even with this lag, it was interesting to follow their searches. For example, their work with various electronic experimental music noises was auspicious. And the actors, they invited for their projects, were incredibly colourful. They often shared the stage with rock bands, and such context was not beneficial for them. The audience, who had gathered for the sake of «Repeated Quarantine» or «Dog’s Joy», to put it politely, did not appreciate the incomprehensible sounds and movements on the stage.
М.: Had the Lviv rock club already appeared at that time?
А.Т.: Yes, the rock club already existed. In addition to the concerts organised by it, I happily attended its thematic lectures in Striysky Park. For example, there was an evening dedicated to the album «The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway» by Genesis. They talked about the band’s history and why Peter Gabriel had left it immediately after this album. Each song was discussed and translated with various comments, and slides were shown. It was cool! I remember a great lecture about Janis Joplin. And one more about «The Monkees». In the rock club, it was always possible to agree on the free entrance to the concerts of St. Petersburg bands that often visited Lviv — «The Patriarchal Exhibition», «The Object of Ridicule», «DDT», «AVIA» and others, which I can’t remember now.
But by that time the group «Braty Gadyukiny» had already appeared on the local stage. They would become a hallmark of Lviv and a serious competitor to St. Petersburg bands as well as Kyiv ones — «Vopli Vidoplyasova» and «Kolezhskiy Assessor». I went to the army in 1989. And when I returned to Lviv, it was completely different. And I was already different.
М.: How did you get in the army? Usually, regulars of the «Armyanka» tried to avoid military service, didn’t they?
А.Т.: Yes, usually people tried to avoid military service, and I knew all the combinations of luck and acting skills, that led to a medical mark «7B». But there was a problem. By the time when the conscription office became interested in me, I had already had all the symptoms of a youthful existential crisis. It seemed to me that I had already seen, heard and tried everything. I was bored. I had to fundamentally change my life. In order to do this, it was necessary to find something diametrically opposite to the cafe on Armenian Street. And I found — the barracks. Many of my friends did not understand my decision to voluntarily merge with the «crowd dressed in khaki». What the hell is going on with you? They had a feeling that I would come back different, that nothing would be the same. And so it happened. I returned to another country, to the ruins of the Empire. The romantic era was over. After the army, I stayed for two years in Khmelnytskiy, where my parents live. At that time, on the basis of the regional art museum, it was decided to create the Khmelnytskiy Museum of Contemporary Art under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture. I was hired on the position of a junior researcher. In parallel with my work in the museum, I stencilled advertisements of the first banks on trolleybuses and buses in the nights. There was no Oracal yet, so everything was done the old fashioned way — you glue whatman paper, cut out stencils of texts and logos with the help of a scalpel, and at night in the bus park you bring all this «beauty» to life with a foam rubber sponge dipped in paint. I immediately began to take the initiative in the museum, using the «experience from my previous life». The first project, which was supervised by me, obviously was the exhibition of Olexander Aksinin works. My responsibilities included the creation of hand-made posters, presentation and hanging of works, guided tours, and even the musical accompaniment to the hall (I decided that music by Andreas Vollenweider would create a good background for the perception of Aksinin’s etchings). So I returned to Lviv again. The city seemed empty. Many of my acquaintances left for Poland or Germany, someone died, someone had children, someone joined a convent. And only the coffee in the «Armyanka» was the same, although it was served in cups with broken handles (so that they would not be stolen). I managed to collect Aksinin’s etchings from my fellow collectors, and at the same time to buy 2 works by wonderful Galina Zhegulska for the museum. After the exhibition of Aksinin’s works, I became the curator of «The Modern Lviv Etching» project. For this event, I decided to combine the works of Valeriy Demyanishin and Oleh Denisenko that I unexpectedly found in the storerooms of the museum, the etchings of Aksinin that were not included in his solo exhibition and the works of Mikhail Krasnyk specially purchased for the project. But 3 etchings by Ihor Podolchak, which I found in the storerooms, were the biggest surprise for me. It was something special! I started to look for information about the artist, but it was scarce. It looked like that he was kind of an unsociable aesthete-snob, focused on gloomy fantasies. I decided to meet him in person and called him to arrange an appointment. A woman answered the phone and said that I should contact Ihor Diurych, a manager of Podolchak. I was wondering — what was that? Are you serious? Manager of an artist? In our country? It seemed a bit too cool. I called Diurych, we agreed on the time and place of the meeting. While waiting for him near the Church of St. Elizabeth, I was a bit worried that I would not immediately recognise such a serious person and would have to approach everyone on the street, asking if he was Diurych. But when I saw a man in a long raincoat with a white scarf, I immediately understood who he was, and prepared for a serious test of «show-offs». To my surprise, Diurych turned out to be the most pleasant interlocutor, and when the surname «Aksinin» was mentioned, the conversation continued in an amicable way.
I.D.: This how you won me over. «Aksinin» is a significant password for me, and therefore the relationship immediately moved on to another level.
А.Т.: However, at that time, I did not know the second password — «Bruno Schulz». Ihor told me about his and Podolchak’s research of «the marginal zones of culture and society», which elegantly linked Podolchak, Bruno Schulz, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Roman Viktyuk. The personal acquaintance with Podolchak was postponed until the opening of the International Biennial of Graphic Arts «Interdruk». Podolchak was the curator of this huge project, so we didn’t manage to talk at the very opening. I was invited to his house, where I met with a very interesting company, including Diurych, Oleh Tistol, Misha Moskal, Japanese artist Koji Ikuta and many others, who I don’t remember now. There were bohemian conversations about the use of stencils in painting and monotyping, travels to exotic countries, the wedding in a Carpathian village with gunfire, the proper temperature of sake… After the third glass, I got really sick, because I hadn’t eaten anything since morning. I went vomit to the toilet, and in between the vomiting spasms, I had the horrible thought that the noble gentlemen would never take me seriously after that. But nevertheless, the very next day, they already discussed with me potential cooperation.
М.: So were you ready to leave the Khmelnytskiy Museum of Contemporary Art?
А.Т.: Unfortunately, the Khmelnytskiy Museum, having a chance to become a unique phenomenon, did everything to make this chance go down the toilet. And as a result, it took place in the niche of standard regional museums, where the concept of «contemporary art» does not go beyond the works of Ivan Marchuk, Roman Selskiy, Viktor Marinyuk or Tiberiy Silvashi. It’s not bad, but not interesting to me. The two stunning paintings by Vasya Tsagolov became the final bone of contention.
М.: How did it happen?
А.Т.: By that time, I entered the Kyiv Academy of Arts. At some party, I met Sasha Solovyov, and he brought me to the «Paris Commune». I met there Sasha Gnilitskiy, Natasha Filonenko, Olexander Roitburd, who came to Kyiv from Odesa, and Vasya Tsagolov. By that time, two of Vasya’s pictures were ready — «The Governess» and «The Hermaphrodite». In those days, there were texts, imitating the style of tabloid novels, on his works.
The price of the works of Gnilitskiy and Roitburd was too high for the budget of my museum, but at the same time Vasiliy was ready to sell his works much cheaper than he did it for Vladimir Ovcharenko from «Regina». Vasya simply had a desire to support the emerging collection of a promising young museum of contemporary art. However, my enthusiasm (and the enthusiasm of Tsagolov) caused just resentment in the museum — the paintings were immoral (pornography, and nothing more!), the prices were high (you can buy three works by Maria Priymachenko for that amount of money!), the artist is unknown and has no prospects. That was the last straw, and I left this institution.
М.: And then you joined «The Masoch Fund» didn’t you?
А.Т.: Joined — it is not the right word. I just participated in some of the «outrages» of Podolchak and Diurych. And the first such project was the «Mausoleum for the President».
М.: Ihor, tell us about this project.
I.D.: The idea arose after the discussion about the infantilism of the Ukrainian people and because of the desire to spare them from the Oedipus complex. It was necessary to kill the «Father of the Nation», at least symbolically, since there was posthistory with postmodernism at those times. And who is the Father in this case? The President, of course. The creation of the Mausoleum was a symbolic gesture of the Father’s mortification. The Mausoleum should be national both in form and content, which means that the Father should be mummified in lard as a traditional Ukrainian preservative. And the sarcophagus should look like an enlarged copy of a traditional three-litre jar, placed on a heating device. And then, on major national holidays, it will be possible to turn on the heating and show the First President’s body floundering in transparent lard to future generations of Ukrainian pioneers… It was not difficult to make the model of Mausoleum: the old electric stove from Podolchak’s workshop was repainted into white colour, salo was bought in the market and melted into lard, photo of Leonid Kravchuk was taken from the newspaper. Only the public presentation remained. We decided to hold it on the eve of the presidential elections.
А.Т.: Everything supposed to happen in a separate hall of the National Art Museum.
I.D.: You were organising everything.
А.Т.: So, the whole our company settled in an apartment somewhere near the Taras Shevchenko metro station.
I.D.: We distributed the invitations.
А.Т.: Due to the proper PR-campaign, all the mass media, including local journalists as well ass the correspondents of large media holdings such as the BBC, were already looking forward to this event. A few hours before the project’s presentation, «a benevolent guy» from the newly established SBU (The Security Service of Ukraine) called us and asked Podolchak what we were going to do at the National Museum. Ihor answered: «An art event». I don’t remember whether he said that we were going to spare the nation from the Oedipus complex or not, but anyway «a benevolent guy» and his team had already made a decision. I mean, in the sense that «no museum — no event» and «just to be safe». Therefore, when we arrived at the museum, it turned out that it was closed and the exhibition was cancelled. And it happened although the exhibition agreement had been signed a long time ago. But the instructions received from the Presidential Administration (that’s what we were told) were clear — to close the museum, to throw away the contract. I started to look for another site. «The Blank Art» gallery was supposed to open on Andriyivskyy Descent. During the conversation with the owner, there was only one question: «Do you want to open the gallery with such a project that everyone will write and talk about?» The answer was yes. But Podolchak said: «Wait! We will discuss the project at «The Blank Art», but we will hold the presentation of it where we originally intended. After all, the steps in front of the museum’s doors are still the territory of the museum». Eventually, we agreed on that. As we expected, the presentation was bright, existing and with a scandal. Podolchak read aloud the concept, Diurych handed out press releases, the museum administration resented from behind the closed doors, «men in plain clothes» tried to merge with the crowd of journalists and casual onlookers attracted by the noise.
I.D.: In the audience, there were Marta Kuzma, Sasha Solovyov, Oleh Sidor-Gibelinda. Chichkan filmed the video. When the crowd arrived at «The Blank Art», we again explained the idea for journalists. And accelerated the discussion.
А.Т.: «The Climax» was the next project of «The Masoch Fund», in which I was involved. George Soros came to Kyiv, and his solemn meeting with Ukrainian creative intellectuals was organised at the Kyiv Conservatory. By that time, every artist realised that the Soros Foundation is «a bag of money».
Everyone prepared speeches to explain Mr Soros why they need $500 and how their projects will contribute to the integration of Ukrainian art into the global context. And «The Masoch Fund» suddenly announced that the money is needed to finish building Everest. And Soros must sponsor this idea.
I.D.: People perceived it as blasphemy. A good guy came from really far away, and someone cracks jokes. Are they making fun?
А.Т.: It was the first «critical remark» that called into question the usefulness of the comprehensive institutional relations. Now it seems that «The Masoch Fund» already at that time assumed that the Soros Foundation, with its bureaucratic system and in the absence of serious competitors in the field of philanthropy, would at some point have an enormous impact on the Ukrainian art community.
Yes, there was the first criticism of trends, when an artist connects to a giant monster through financial pipes and slowly begins to fill the orders. Every six months he must apply for a project, because every six months the Soros council meets. Besides, at that time «The International Renaissance Foundation» was established. It became responsible for reviewing and giving money against a receipt. In general, the art gradually turned into a factory with officials and clerks, where artists themselves gradually became clerks and did not always do what they wanted. In any case, they always took into account the vision of the investor.
М.: But what is «The Climax» about?
I.D.: If a person is involved in charity work, he certainly has some significant convictions, but the intention of a rich and smart person is based on the ambition and desire to leave a mark on history. Therefore, we decided to suggest to George Soros not to waste time and finish building Chomolungma. Its elevation is 8848, but if you add 40 meters, there will be four eights. These are vertically standing signs of infinity, symbolising the humanity’s aspiration to eternity both in space and time. Naturally, this must be done in an environmentally-friendly way, so it was suggested to use ice as a material for the «superstructure». As you understand, it is always cold on Chomolungma. Moreover, the «superstructure» itself should be in the shape of a pyramid. This shape is eco-friendly and represents the most ancient symbol of human civilisation. And the result is the creation of a man-made highest point on the Earth. If Soros decided to do it, sponsored the work, he could be immediately perpetuated by publishing geography textbooks, which included maps with «Soros Peak — 8888m», in all languages of the world, and then distributing these manuals to all schools on all continents.
So we offered this large-scale project not to a random guy, but to the great person, who has substantial social and humanist ambitions…
А.Т.: Podolchak and Diurych indeed attracted the Great Philanthropist’s attention and ensured that the Soros Foundation has never financed their projects anymore.
I.D.: Soros listened to us and said that he really liked the project, especially keeping in mind that it was virtual and did not require money. Podolchak began to actively object to him, telling that on the contrary, this is a completely real project that requires his funding. And poor Marta Kuzma, who could no longer hear all this «absurd», began to loudly announce the next speaker …
А.Т.: And then «The Masoch Fund» held a project called «The Food for Worms» in Odesa …
I.D.: No-no, the project was called «The inspection of food, that is enjoying the image of food, that is outraged at the eating process».
Sasha Roitburd invited us to participate in the exhibition «The Free Zone», held at the Odesa Art Museum. In his characteristic relaxed manner, he told us that we had been given a whole hall, but there is one nuance: there is a painting 3*6 meters in the hall, and it cannot be removed. And then he added: «You are «masochists», so enjoy the suffering».
М.: And what was the picture??
А.Т.: «Moving the sailor Vakulenchuk’s body out of the Battleship Potemkin».
I.D.: It was a classic socialist realism. A huge painting that occupies an entire wall. And it cannot be removed, because it is fixed with iron dowels embedded in the wall itself. And we began to think what we can do with it. The picture’s plot was clear: the Battleship Potemkin sailors revolted because of the rotten meat with the worms, given them as food. The sailor Vakulenchuk, who had been the organiser of the uprising, shot the officer. Then he was also gunned down. So you could even say, that it happened because of the meat with worms. Because he did not like what maggots were eating, he himself became food for maggots. And we had the idea to look at this plot of Soviet mythology from the point of view of a worm.
For the maggot, as a representative of the highly evolved civilisation existing alongside us, this plot is a life-affirming parable. From the maggots’ point of view, all living beings are potential food, a kind of domestic animals. And this is a divine and natural order for them. Rebellion against this order is doomed, while the rebels turn into food ahead of schedule.
Thus, the sacred place of human worship with a giant image of the myth about the Battleship Potemkin — the Odesa Art Museum — becomes a very attractive tourist destination for maggots, of course, if we assume that worms have tourism. In front of this picture, the maggot looks with surprise and irony at the spectators — humans, and trying to enter their thoughts and feelings.
Here he is confronted with a question, that the best minds of many generations of maggots tried to answer: Can people, indeed intelligent beings, comprehend the deep meaning of the work and the real picture of the universe? Can people, enjoying the painting, imagine themselves as just a potential food for maggots?
Having these thoughts in our minds, we came up with the idea of the exposition and the project’s name — «The inspection of food, that is enjoying the image of food, that is outraged at the eating process». We put a high pedestal in front of the picture. There was an aquarium with a piece of rotten meat on it. This meat had been devouring by real maggots, looking at people through the glass. Just before the exhibition’s opening, the museum director realised that he had an outstanding work of a real master in the hall, and it would be desecrated by contemporary art. And he decided to save the painting from abuse, that’s why it was immediately wrapped in a dark cloth. Sasha Roitburd and the rest of the exhibition organisers faced a problem — the concept of our project became incomprehensible. Sasha and Kostya Akinsha, who was at that time in Odesa, went to the chief of the department of culture to force the director to unpack the work. Moreover, they were convincing him with such words: «Are you kidding? This is «The Masoch Fund»! They recently removed the President, and they will remove you as well».
А.Т.: Kravchuk left his post right after the scandal with the «Mausoleum».
I.D.: They managed to convince the chief of the department of culture, and Vakalenchuk’s body was unpacked. But 40 minutes after the opening of the exhibition, our exposition was closed. Someone of the employees of the museum tossed the meat with maggots in the dumpster…
А.Т.: «The Masoch Fund» realised that some of its projects may exist only an hour or sometimes even five minutes. But if an event is marked as happened, it does not matter how long it will extend in time. There are witnesses, so there is an event.
I.D.: We worked within a heroic paradigm, and not a museum one.
А.Т.: The next project, called «The conceptual monument of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch», was designed within this paradigm. By that time, Diurych had already moved to Moscow, so Podolchak and I were involved in the creation of the «Monument».
М.: What does «The conceptual monument» mean?
А.Т.: At that time, the public already knew that «the same Masoch» was from Halychyna. And that was the time to erect a monument to him …
I.D.: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was not one of the best writers in the world. And if the term «masochism» did not emerge from psychiatry and become widely used among the general public, only a small number of literary historians would know Masoch as a writer. And in this case, Krafft-Ebing with the help of only one term erected a monument to Masoch. And the following question arose: what could be the new approaches of memorialisation of an outstanding person? After all, the standard ways — to name the street, or erect a monument — are too primitive in the case of Masoch…
А.Т.: How to immortalise what is already a myth? It was an exciting challenge. Electronic mail was in its infancy at that time, so you needed a budget for traditional mailing in order to organise an international project. If you send a hundred letters per day, you can expect that five of them will be answered, and two out of these five will be really interesting. At that time, we had enough money only for the living. Podolchak decided to sell his library, and while I was bringing his books to Lviv booksellers, he spent the money to make colour photocopies of postage stamps. It was necessary to send out at least a thousand letters to invite artists to participate in the project, considering that at most 10 of them will send really worthy concepts. A thousand postage stamps at that time cost a significant amount of money. Podolchak copied the marks, and his wife Tamara made perforations with the help of a sewing machine. We put these stamps on envelopes and sent out invitations. This is how we made an international exhibition. Europe was not represented by the best artists, although there were some exciting projects from Poland, France and Great Britain. At the same time, Dmitriy Alexandrovich Prigov came from Russia and Seryozha Anufriev arrived from Odesa. As a result, the exposition in The Dominican church in Lviv was very diverse. There were a series of photos, collages, graphic works, texts, objects. This is how I became a full-fledged member of «The Masoch Fund». But after this project, I realised that I had to move somewhere to earn money, since Podolchak’s books had ended and there was nothing to sell, and it was impossible to find work. Diurych, who had been working in Moscow for some time and drank from time to time Southwest Scotch whiskey, invited me to join him. In Moscow, the artistic life was bursting forth, regularly something new and bright appeared. But I could not find 15 dollars for a ticket to Moscow, so Podolchak allowed me to earn them honestly through his friends. At that time, people who bought old Lviv villas, were spending money on the restoration of carved wooden doors. I got inside this business. The doors were brought to me, I burned them with a blowtorch in Podolchak’s courtyard. The paint bubbled and I had to remove it with the help of the sandpaper. After that, the door was given to the restorers for the next, already more delicate and technological, processes. So this is how I came to Moscow, but that’s a completely different story.
М.: And what will it include?
А.Т.: There will be «The Last Jewish Pogrom» at Gelman’s gallery; «Happy Birthday, Mr Muller!»; home parties with Andrey Bartenev and Natalya Medvedeva at Slava Mogutin’s place; an ecstasy with Mamyshev-Monroe in «Ptyuch»; the visit to the opening night of «From Dusk Till Dawn» with AES Group; Kulik and Sorokin; and the evenings with Vasya Kondratyev, talking about Paul Bowles. There were a lot of things in Moscow.
Recorded by Nata Katerinenko