Galeria Catinca Tabacaru: Ukrainian curator Lesia Kulchynska on the exhibition ‘State of Emergence’
State of Emergence
With Galeria Catinca Tabacaru in Bucharest, Romania, Ukrainian curator Lesia Kulchynska organised an exhibition with 13 Ukrainian artists, eight of whom are currently living and working in Ukraine.
We spoke with Lesia about the exhibition ‘State of Emergence’.
What are some considerations and challenges in organising an exhibition during wartime, particularly since eight of the artists are currently in Ukraine?
For me, the biggest challenge was my feeling of helplessness at the beginning of the war. Especially during the first month, there was a very strong feeling that direct actions were needed, like volunteering, which I did.
For me, art has always been about questioning, exploring the unclear or looking for different perspectives on what seems familiar. During the war, this approach seemed redundant. When everything is collapsing and all around you is already unclear and unfamiliar, what you really need is clarity and faith that motivates you to live and fight, not doubts and questions. So my first reaction was that I need to abandon curating. And that was quite a depressing feeling. During this first month, I felt difficulties in communication. All the words seemed wrong and unreliable. Similarly, at the level of everyday practice, most of my routine and habitual actions, reactions, or gestures seemed inappropriate as the reality where they were relevant or needed was lost. But at some point, this very obstacle became interesting to me. I realised that the painful collapse of accustomed meanings and practices calls for the invention of new ones.
At that point, I remembered the proximity between the words emergency and emergence; emergence might be the flip side of collapse.
This idea gave me hope, as it let me believe that my country is not just a site of destruction and devastation but also the site of persistent creation. From the cracks of the smashed reality, the sprouts of something new are relentlessly growing. So the “State of Emergence” was a therapeutic practice for me of shifting from fear, and thoughts about death and destruction, to the attention to every tiny manifestation of life.
There was also a desire to support the creative process in Ukraine by giving the artists the possibility to continue their practice. At the same time, during the work on this project, I rediscovered the value of art as a tool for navigating uncertainty. In the situation of a collapse, where the ability to pave the way through the unknown is vital, art is a perfect guide.
Can you give us a timeline of the exhibition?
The exhibition opened to the public on April 15 in Bucharest at “Catinca Tabacaru Gallery”. I am extremely grateful to Catinca Tabacaru, a gallerist and curator, who hosted my family and me in her place when we fled from war and arrived in Romania in February without any idea of where we were going to stay. She immediately supported the idea of the show and suggested thinking of “State of Emergence” as an ongoing project, which would be an exploration of the unfolding process of emergence during the war.
So after the first show, I curated the second chapter at ‘Sandwich’, another Bucharest gallery: “State of Emergence. Fog”. By the law of chance, somehow induced by war, four of the five artists who came together in that show happened to share ties to the territory named Russia today.
All of them share the experience of oblivion, of the lost languages, vanished histories, and erased identities as a result of the violent imperialist politics of Russia. This exhibition became an exploration of all those forgotten and ignored histories of oppression that started to call for our attention in front of the violent repetition of historical injustice today.
Now we are working together with Catinca, on the performance program as a third chapter of “State of Emergence”.
What are some central threads that course through the selected works? What prompted the selection of these 13 artists?
When I look at this show now, it seems very sad: most of the works speak about some painful loss. The work by Dasha Chechushova White flag-ghost of home tells about loss of community, loss of place and loss of understanding who you are without all those things that constitute your world and define you as a personality. The work by Vitaliy Yankovy Glass house is also about the lost home; home as not only a place where you live but as a place that you can link with your future. He uses the image of a vase as a symbol of this feeling of rootedness. As he told me, you buy the vase for your home if you are going to stay there. In his work, this vase is transformed into something like a ghost of this lost feeling of rootedness.
Katia Buchatska speaks about similar feelings in her work Alarm tablecloth. The people who hosted her when she left Kyiv presented her with an old tablecloth. She put it on the table that didn’t belong to her, then put all the things that she had in her “emergency backpack” on the tablecloth and outlined them. Most of the things she had in her backpack, she says, turned out to be some unnecessary objects, presents from friends or some souvenirs. The tablecloth that now keeps its contours are something like a memory map of all those lost ties.
The work by Borys Kashapov A Way is about the loss of voice and vision. This work was created as a result of ongoing attempts to express the experience of what is going on and the failure of these attempts. As the artist says, since the war began, he cannot stop checking the news and feels so overwhelmed by the powerful flow of media images that when he tries to draw, he cannot discriminate his own voice from the media imprints on his thoughts. The images he produces don’t seem his own to him anymore, so he washes them away, then tries again, fails again, and so on. So the work is a result of this chain of failures.
But at the same time, this work is a manifestation of a certain stubbornness of the creative drive. Despite the collapse of the vision and inability to express, the need and desire to express and leave a trace still prevails. The title of the work A Way declares that even when the direction is absent and the map is lost, the way is still somehow possible.
When I was thinking about the persistence manifested by this work, I realised that this is actually something all of the works share. They were all created during the war, against the background of the ongoing collapse of habitual symbolic and material structures. Yet, all of them were the manifestation of the desire to transform painful loss into something tangible, something that is present, something that exists. “I pray to matter and reality”, says artist Katia Libkind in her work I snap awake every few hours in the middle of whatever I am doing. There was an artwork that was almost invisible in the show: the Birds by Tamara Turliun. She said she started producing the birds with her partner to handle the feeling of despair and helplessness. They started selling those birds and donating money to the army. With those birds, they transformed despair into hundreds of tiny shields to protect life. The work Garden of Sorrow by Katia Lysovenko depicts a naked female figure with a child against the background of a destroyed city, conveying the feeling of extreme vulnerability. Yet, similar to Tamara’s birds, the vulnerable female figure also embodies protection. She is a shelter that protects her child while she is exposed herself. When I look at the works and ask myself what is emerging from the state of emergency, I think about the community of stubborn survivors; a community of those who discovered the fragility and the great value of life, who are now united with the tremendous desire to live and protect each other. The work Thank you by Stas Turina became another crucial symbol of the wartime experience for me– a sign of the persistent feeling of gratitude for all those efforts of mutual help and support.