QUESTIONS WE NEED TO ASK OURSELVES BEFORE OPENING A NEW SHOW IN THE NEW INSTITUTION
What makes an artist to be an artist? An art school diploma? An exhibited artwork? Or a sold one? An own studio? Professional recognition? Or just a statement, “I’m an artist”? This question, equally urgent for art world newcomers and established critics, both in Ukraine and internationally, can be answered in a simple and straightforward way: the status of an artist is qualified by the art system, a sophisticated network of institutions, expertise, fellows and colleagues. Corrupt as it may seem, it is the complexity of relationships within this system that allows for truly marginal and unconventional artistic voices to be seen and recognised too. Paradoxically enough, the more developed the system is, the least possible it is for an artist to escape from its recognition. Such a statement comes out especially relevant — and complicated — for Ukraine. Here, the institutional framework for arts is only about to emerge since there’s been not that many institutions capable of creating a system around their activities (and Jam Factory with its preliminary activities promised to be of that kind).
Giving all the necessary credit to the system’s support and care for artists, it’s hard to forget that recognition necessarily results in employment. Exhibitions, artworks commissions, publications, events, talks, workshops soon become a daily job, swallowing up the unstructured and precarious artistic endeavour. Yet, art system is not ubiquitous—”developing” countries, immigrant and queer communities, folk, craft and applied arts domains are just some of the places for living a bare artistic life. Ukraine in this sense is a dreamland for such an endeavour. Weak institutions, poor infrastructure, recurring historical amnesia, repeated demolition of artworks, artistic authorities and human lives create an amazing field of gaps, blind spots and blanks. These scarcities are normally understood as failures, yet they also accommodate a possibility of a borderline practice that has no chance to become a career. Without this urge, one can be an artist while putting together another artist’s archive or while doing hackwork for a corrupt state to cover up for one’s queer relationship or while doing very little at all, but writing down ideas of the most astounding and daring projects. Being ultimately impractical, artwork-less and non-spectacular, such artistic positions perform a truly unalienated living. As Yuriy Leiderman put it about his fellow artist Leonid Voitsekhov, “…none of his projects was ever realised… However, this paradoxically has allowed for the projects to break away from the scant convention of “contemporary art” to become literature, poetry, lines of departure, pilgrimage, rage, prophecy that absorb and transform art, history with geography and life itself.”
With this introduction we bring the questions we believe have to be addressed and dared to be discussed before making a new statement (which is the reason behind any curated art show, especially in the newly opened institution)
Can the life of an artist be an artwork? Another type of FAQ we’d like to reformulate within this exhibition into “How can we touch an artistic experience outside of allocated oeuvres, objects and even the presence of an artist? How do we keep memory of the ones who escaped from being revealed, recognised and documented as an artist? And finally, how do we do it without betraying such practices’ elusive nature?”
This speculation starts with a look into lives and work of Ukrainian artist Alina Lamakh and Slovak artist Anna Daučíková, whose irregular, queer and professionally unambitios practices open up an alternative space where other unobvious positions can be seen, in crafts, life-art and art-in-disguise.
THE TWO ARTISTS’ LIVES AND PRACTICES IN THE CORE OF THE EXHIBITION CONCEPT
In 2015 the first edition of the legendary Book of Schemes, a multi-volume theoretical project developed between late 1960 and early 1980’s by Kyiv-based artist Valeriy Lamakh, was first published as a PDF and consecutively released as a paper book 4 years later. The publication of this opus magnum was a result of more that 20 years of compiling, deciphering, re-typing and editing by Alina Lamakh — the artist and a wife of Valeriy, his closest peer, the only person capable of dealing with piles of hand-written and drawn papers left after Valeriy’s untimely death in 1981.
Her own life story cannot be defined as a dramatic one, but rather quite typical, if not didactically illustrative on how an artist’s (especially, female artists’) destiny was meant to be shaped by the state system of arts promotion. And here we talk not about limitations and threats the soviet system was infamous for. But, rather, merits and comforts it proposed. And through them, allocated a particular place in the whole art industry instead of fostering to seek an independent way of self-expression. Alina Lamakh was willing to be a painter. Immediately after WWII (during which she’d gone through lots of just like hundred thousands young girls of the “war” generation) she failed to enter Kyiv Art Institute because of bureaucracy and nepotism to end up in Lviv Institute for Applied and Decorative Arts, where she studied tapestry. This path naturally brought her to a career as a designer of mass-produced fabrics. She moved to Kyiv and started to work at Darnytsia Textile Factory until her retirement in 1981. After work she had a few private hours in her studio for individual practice. After retirement, she completely devoted herself to saving an unprecedented piece of art, theory and philosophy, The Book of Schemes by Valeriy Lamakh, from vanishing. This scrupulous work, perhaps only approachable to someone whose eyes, fingers and state of mind are sharp enough to envision a bigger picture out of thousand details, swallowed all her time and attention.
While the figure of Valeriy Lamakh has become more and more acclaimed in the recent years (partly thanks to the increasing interest to Sixties generation, partly due to the selection of The Book of Schemes parts to be exhibited at Documenta 14), Alina Lamakh herself remained invisible and unknown. What is left in her studio are modest amount of exquisite tapestry sketches she was planning to produce aside of her factory work, and albums with landscape drawings and painting studies she made during occasional artistic trips to remote parts of USSR like Issyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan — probably, the only moments when she took a role of a “free artist” outside of regular professional duties and institutional commission able to create whatever desired.
After Alina Lamakh’s recent quiet and unnoticed passing in March 2020, age 91 we were constantly questioning ourselves:
How important (or, simply, how) it is to keep a memory of an artist who gave up one’s own practice and devoted an entire life to serving the memory of another artist, supposedly more important?
Can we speak about the practice of keeping a memory as of an artistic project on its own?
Can we treat a committed fulfilling of the other artist’s legacy as an alternative for creating something new — a principle in the very heart of the whole contemporary art international industry with its embedded hunger for “new commissions and new productions”? In this light, the life and professional path of Alina Lamakh turns out to be not less grandiose and meaningful than The Book of Scheme itself.
In the late 1970’s, a few years before Alina Lamakh took over the work on The Book of Schemes, artist Anna Daučíková moved from Bratislava to Moscow, following the woman she loved. She was a trained glass artist. In the USSR she managed to become a member of The Artist Union and used this status as a public cover for her private life and genuine artistic practice: video art, performance and abstract painting around topics such as gender identity and bodily experience. Such practice was of course by no means public, released only to selected friends, including some members of the Kyiv underground artistic and intellectual scene. Yet, she constantly used her “official” medium — glass, a material associated with applied and decorative purposes was conceptually incorporated in most of what she’s done. Glass sheets had become a metaphor for invisible limitations she experienced in a society where even the most intimate side of human life were in danger of becoming a subject of state-control.
In 2017 Anna Daučíková, now an internationally acclaimed artist, created a film On Allomorphing, an autobiographical intimate story of her exploration of the “mental body” concept, a result of her preoccupation with what she coined as “inbetweenness,” a term used to express her transgender identity. In this 3-channel video we see Alina Lamakh, explaining selected schemes from The Book of Schemes and flipping through Piet Mondrian book that belonged to her husband. We constantly face her palms and fingers, thin and sharp. We hear her soft voice, telling not her private story but one of her husbands’ legacy— or has it indeed become one of her own?
We are taking these personal and artistic life stories with several intersections in space and time as a metaphorical starting point and the two artists’ figures as our guides. By doing this, we envision the inaugural exhibition at the Jam Factory missioned to contextualize and internationalize Ukrainian art for both local and international public to be built around several chapters, each addressing and cross-addressing various aspects of production, circulation, reception of art in Ukraine and beyond it in the past half-a-century. We also closely look at ways of art’s archiving and mythologizing locally and internationally, yet without comparing or explaining the former through the latter. Rather, the history of arts stands out as a myriad of connections, symbolic similarities and non/intended overlaps and coincidences.
This approach liberates us from a necessity to prove a “uniqueness” of “national art” of Ukraine, but instead to look further, outside of still commonly used colonial approaches based on seeking similarities or celebrating juxtapositions. With the proposed exhibition we seek for something beyond that. Not only the history of Ukrainian art has to be finally rediscovered — but after (and in the process of) being rediscovered it can also disclose new, possibly unexpected meanings and insights about what we know as established contexts and art systems internationally.
We propose the following themes coming out of the above-described preface as pillars for the future exhibition, with each one referring both to an international and a local contexts and practices of particular artists.
- DECORATIVE, APPLIED, POLITICAL — CHALLENGING HIERARCHY OF “HIGH” AND “LOW” ARTISTIC MEDIUMS
- HOW WE KEEP THE MEMORY—HOW WE PRODUCE THE MEMORY
- GENDER DISCOURSE — OWNERSHIP OF A BODY
- UNREALISED / UNFINISHED PROJECTS — A SPACE FOR POSSIBILITIES
- ARTIST’S STUDIO — A PLACE OF ONE’S OWN
- GLASS AS MEDIUM AND TRANSPARENCY AS A POLITICAL AND AESTHETIC NOTION
- Geta Bratescu
- Anna Daučíková
- Saodat Ismailova
- Małgorzata Mirga-Tas
- Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Dzhumaliev
- Alina Lamakh
- Pavlo Makov
- Alevtina Kakhidze
- ARVM (Ada Rybachuk and Volodymyr Melnychenko)
- Stas Turina
- Ksenia Bilyk
- Teresa Barabash
- Mykhailo Barabash
- Anastasia Stefaniuk
- Volodymyr Kuznetsov
- Bozhena Chagarova
- Mark Chehodaev