Nataliia Matsenko (Cherkasy) and Serhii Kantsedal (Kharkiv) about artistic life of Kharkiv.


M. Natasha and Serhii, you represent the youth in Ukrainian art criticism. How do you estimate the state of our contemporary art nowadays?

N.M. The moment of some kind of reload came. The space itself dictates the other forms of artistic environment manifestation. Some new ideas, new formats are on demand.

S.K. As for the market of contemporary art, it hardly exists. For example, this year Art Kyiv Contemporary was reoriented and rejected from the sale of the works and it’s rather demonstrative. That’s why there were just few interesting projects. And that’s right, because if there’s no market, there’s no sense to pretend that everything is good.

M. We’d like, of course, to hear your estimation of artistic life of Kharkiv.

S.K. Although in Kharkiv there are loads of difficulties associated on the first place with functioning of the system of contemporary art, here has always been rather lively artistic environment and good painters.

N.M. Concerning the infrastructure, it’s just the right key word which mismatches the current situation in Kharkiv. Especially, if it’s about the youth. It’s the fluid, vivid, unstructured community with separate individuals. Mainly, they are the artists with concrete self-awareness, positioning. In Kharkiv, there are only three exhibition spaces which present contemporary art: the Municipal Gallery, the VOVATANYA Gallery, YermilovCentre. Until recently, perhaps, the only center of the modern culture life of the city had been the Municipal Gallery. It’s the institution which mainly formed us as art critics. Concerning the associations of the young artists, there are very few of them. Even the SOSka association which played influential role in formation of the Kharkiv artistic environment, doesn’t exist anymore. Back then the members of it were Mykola Ridnyi, Ania Kryventsova, Serhii Popov. Ania doesn’t make art now and Mykola and Serhii continue their careers separately. 


The SOSka gallery, Kharkiv

We often discuss the artistic situation in Kharkiv and everyone tend to conclude that Kharkiv is a good ‚nursery garden’, the place where numerous ideas are born but hardly can root here. Even if we recall Borys Mykhailov, he was born as a happening in this city but prospered only when he left it for a more spacious stage. The problem is that a lot of projects can be started here, but not to be realized. Perhaps, it’s typical for the whole Ukraine. A year ago the theme of the center and province was a massive talking point. It was raised by the guys from the left youth wing and, in fact, it was reasonable.


Kharkiv is the city which hasn’t overgrown the idea of ‚the first capital’. It’s said to be Ukrainian Petersburg and, by some means, it has ambitions of such kind. It doesn’t consider itself as the secondary city. Many Kharkiv residents don’t like Kyiv much and don’t strive to integrate there. But, eventually, those who want public recognition and commercial demand have to interact with the notion of integration.


Borys Mykhailov. From the Twilight series.


S.K. However, not all the artists tend to stay in Kharkiv. Some of them are more in demand in other places and only the most successful of them can afford to live and work here.

N.M.For example, Pavel Makov.

S.K. Yes. Pavlo Makov, for example, lives and successfully works in Kharkiv due to his being well-known and his works are in high demand in other cities and countries. And in case of the artists of the younger generation — those who haven’t proven themselves yet — it’s obviously hard. We, as the curators, watch it and feel it.

On the other hand, such a situation is at some point good for the Kharkiv artists. Lots of them don’t take into account the market and make their works genuinely.

N.M. It’s an advantage at the beginning when the motivation of an artist is pure. But it gets a real problem on the next stage when the artist overgrows the title of a young hopeful who is trying to find himself. Instead, such artist wants to be a mature person who can support himself and make a living by means of the profession.

S.К. It seems to me that the most of Ukrainian artists have one common negative feature, they don’t think global unlike the European ones. By ‚global’ I mean at least the level of the works. It’s likely to have and other reasons but partially it happens because of banal impossibility to realize the idea in desired material and the scale. It isn’t about creating a big painting though even this can be quite a challenge. Looking at the works of Anselm Kiefer we can see the fifteen-meter canvases and realize that the size matters.


Stepan Riabchenko. The Blessing Hand.


In the Ukrainian context, not everyone can put the idea into life, but Stepan Riabchenko, the artist from Odesa, belongs to those who manage to do it. He actually does large-scale and complicated from the technical point of view projects which are always very expressive.

N.M. Stepan is a person who is able to command respect an artist. He’s young but position himself as: «I’m young but I’m an artist that means you should respect me».

S.K. Hamlet Zinkovskyi is good at it as well.

N.M. But in Kharkiv, he’s rather exception of the rule. He keeps the line and claims that art is classy and should cost money.

S.K. From one side, Hamlet is rather a limited phenomenon in Kharkiv. He’s very natural for the atmosphere of the city, its aesthetics but when it comes to actually positioning in contemporary art for Kharkiv it isn’t typical.


Hamlet Zinkovskyi. The Idea Will Come.


M. We touched upon the issue of the size of canvases. Speaking with a young artist I asked about the price of his works and he responded that it depends on the size. Doesn’t it seem absurd? There likely to be the artists of a small format and to make them change to measure the work in meters is wrong. 

S.K. Let’s take, for example, the artist Roman Minin. He has the work «The Escape Plan from the Donetsk Region». In this case, its presentation doesn’t matter much. It’s appropriate as a sticker, stencil or just an image which you can post on the Internet. Because through a preceding few years the art of Minin boils down to graphic black and white compositions. You can print them on anything and it will work. Though the formal aspect has considerable meaning for Minin, in case of his works, «the way» from the artist to the viewer is quite straight. Well, and if you realize «The Escape Plan from the Donetsk Region» as a large light box it’ll look really effective and appropriate at an exhibition at MoMa or the Tate.

N.M. I think, it’s quite realistic perspective considering the situation with the career of Roman and the way it develops. If he wishes it will happen. Roman is the monumental artist not only because he studied at the monumental art department, he’s the person of the monumental mentality.



S.K. The same situation with the Scale 1:2 exhibition of Oleg Tystol. It has been held recently in Kyiv and was curated by Natasha. Tystol presented the works which, in fact, could be a few times larger. But due to the cultural specificity of Ukraine it’s impossible to realize even though the artist is eager, for example, to make the monumental compositions. The same is regarding Minin. Many of his works actually are the draftsof his works which can be realized in public space. His favorite quotation is «The beautiful should be stately». So far he hasn’t managed to realize a lot. For instance, in the Kharkiv metro, the Universytet station, there is a relief made by him in cooperation with another sculptor. It’s an unprecedented event.

Back then Minin had to go through a lot to realize one not large composition in the metro, but it was, as I see it, very important since it was the matter of rather artistic gesture.

His project including children in PinchukArtCentre was, in my opinion, just the same gesture. It really had the social nature. In the project with children, he sacrificed some part of his artistic advantages on behalf of the social aspects. In particularly for the children who participated in the project it was very interesting and useful experience. In general, Minin is the artist who by means of the artistic images demonstrates his ethical and social position. Concerning his art, it’s oriented on the wider public then usually.

N.M. Moreover, this project is designed for future since it can define the destiny of some of the kids who were among the participants.

In case of Roman quite often occurs the situation of misunderstanding with his ideological opponents. Minin is accused of the conformism, conjuncture and agreements with the authorities and now kids… Why we are discussing it so much now. Our conversations often end with Roman Minin, because of his rather bright personality and, by some means, controversial. But all he does is completely sincere. He neither ever manipulates nor speculates. He converses with authorities not for some individual perks. To converse with authorities at times seems much harder then to criticize it standing aside when you aren’t seen, aren’t heard. Just go and try to speak with a state official, to receive the allowance for having your work accepted and left in the public space.

S.K. To come to terms with authorities sometimes is much harder then to come at night and draw something on the wall.

M. Can’t be that in Kharkiv all the interest is concentrated on Minin and Kolia Ridnyi, what about the celebrated «Kharkiv school»?

S.K. In Kharkiv, there are plenty of good artists and their appearance is facilitated by the Academy. The Academy is often reprimanded and we aren’t an exception but, nevertheless, in Kharkiv many things happen thanks to its existence. When we curated the Biriuchii project last year we invited lots of Kharkiv artists there and all of them are graduates of the Academy.

N.M. Yes, everybody noticed that.

S.K. Partially, because of our cooperation with many of them. On the other hand, because in Kharkiv there are many really good artists. For example, there is Ivan Svitlychnyi. He works with sound installation.

Н.М.N.M. He studied to be a sculptor.

S.K. He has an interesting project — series of audio sculptures. One of them exists in the form of recording only and rest of them are the physical objects, each of them has a separate sound track. 

N.M. Ivan is a sculptor experimentalist who has a number of traditional works as well, but he’s interested in the issues of space, sound, interaction with experience of a person. His art is rather complicated to explain because he does unusual art. But Svitlychnyi is out of question the interesting phenomenon. We don’t have that many sculptors who have mastered the high level of plasticity. Ivan is good at it. But he doesn’t stop at the point of the issues of form, material, he goes further, experiments, reads a lot, strives to interfere into spaces which occur on the edge of visual art, music and scientific investigations. The cross-subject approach is another important tendency in art which is often discussed in art criticism as well. Ivan Svitlychnyi is one of few Ukrainian artists who tries to work this way which is really valuable.


Ivan Svitlychnyi. From A Carnage About Minimal project.


S.K. Now, in contemporary art the works created on the cross-subject basis are expected to appear. What Ivan makes can be named smart sculpture, in which additional senses are found. In art, the sense and content are important but modern artists often lack either of them. In his project, Svitlychnyi managed to gain balance of an attractive aesthetic form and a meaningful message and achieve it in such a conservative kind of art as sculpture. Ivan is an artist who really works a lot.

N.M. However, it concerns any good artist.

S.K. It’s a person who is constantly in process and creates large-scale projects which not always can be exposed the right way. But he keeps the level of quality, regardless of the situation and does what he wants not looking around.


Vitalii Kokhan at work.


N.M. In attempt to define the basic artistic tendencies we can highlight the socially engaged art and the art of the artistic problematique and metaphorical search. But they can’t be determined as interexeptional since they often interweave. Among Kharkiv artists there are the mentioned Roman Minin, Ivan Svetlychnyi, Vitalik Kokhan. These are the people who search in their own autonomous space but don’t limit themselves to it. It’s worth to state that the socially engaged art in Kharkiv is developed by the extent of the high level. It’s impersonated in Mykola Ridnyi who managed to prove himself abroad and other young artists.

S.K. Ridnyi managed to unite plenty of the like-minded artists. The apartment exhibitions have already been held in Kharkiv for a few years mainly thanks to him.

N.M. Mykola is a good organizer. He knows how to lead people, and the consolidation is highly in need nowadays. Mykola has an important ability to found a community united by definite idea. Besides, occur some autonomous happenings based on other backgrounds. There is even some confrontation between them. Now, it’s not much conspicuous, but there was a period when the situation of some ideological conflict between the main artistic platforms took place. It was said that it’s great to have the alive discussion, the central problem of which was the art as it is. For us, being the art critics it was even more interesting to watch from the inside as well as the outside.


Kyiv—Kharkiv, December 2013.


Recorded by MITEC


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