Considering the current conflict ravaging Ukraine, it’s no surprise that the country’s national pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale is highly policised. Within a confined glass cube on the waterfront, on the approach to the Arsenale, a host of young Ukrainian artists present works in response to the crisis. By combining them under the title of Hope!, curator Björn Geldhof announces the intention that the exhibition be viewed as aspiration for a positive and united future, with the transparent housing equally suggesting hopes for a new open and honest Ukraine following years of political intrigue and corruption.
The most eye-catching work within the cube is the performance piece Synonym for “Wait” by four-man art collective Open Group. During opening hours throughout the five and a half months of the festival, a member of the group will be sat at a desk in the centre of the room. He stares at a wall of nine monitors relaying footage from a series of security cameras installed outside the homes of young Ukrainian men who have been drafted into the army. In sympathy with the soldiers’ families, each Open Group member will be on hunger strike throughout the period of his observation, as they await the men’s return.
A number of other pieces are made up of photographs and collages constructed from newspaper contents, suggesting frustration with the media coverage of the conflict. Perhaps the most haunting of these works is Blind Spot. It comprises a series of photographs by Mykola Ridnyi, tantalisingly concealing and revealing details of urban destruction, alongside poignant verses by the celebrated countercultural poet Serhiy Zhadan, which relate injustices committed against individual Ukrainians caught up in the present turmoil.
In front of the pavilion is a smaller glass box containing the smashed and scorched concrete and metal remains of a bombed apartment block. The installation by Nikita Kadan provides a shocking reminder of the brutality of the conflict that continues to rage in these artists’ homeland, and reveals the challenges to their hope for peace in Ukraine.
Image: Top – Open Group, Synonym for “Wait”, live streaming video and performance, 2015; Bottom – Nikita Kadan, Difficulties of Profanation, 2015. Marble, steel, glass, earth, bean plant, glass and wood, 160 x 160 x 370 cm. Courtesy PinchukArtCentre.