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On The Periphery Of War

The fifth edition of the Kyiv Biennial will take place across Europe at locations in Kyiv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Uzhhorod, Berlin, Warsaw, Lublin, Antwerp and Vienna as the main exhibition venue. In view of the brutal Russian attack on Ukraine, a comprehensive biennial project in Kyiv long seemed deeply uncertain, if not impossible. But, with a cascade of openings—starting in Kyiv in October 2023, finishing in Berlin in 2024—the fifth Kyiv Biennial will be taking place.

 

This Biennial edition is conceived as a European event, with dispersed exhibitions and public programs in a number of Ukrainian and EU cities, and realized in partnership with leading European institutions in the field of contemporary art.

 

The project aims to reintegrate the Ukrainian artistic community, divided by war and scattered across Europe, and to enable its actors to work together with international colleagues and partners on the cultural, social and environmental challenges Ukraine is currently facing and to place them in a global context. Artistic images, investigative documentations and institutional practices will be explored with regard to possible exit strategies from the current impasse of war, authoritarianism and colonialism, where the scenarios for a new Ukraine beyond war could even be imagined.

 

The decentralized European Kyiv Biennial will be an important and at the same time “introductory gesture” that creates bridges and pillars for a long-time relationship with Ukraine on a personal as well as institutional level, which will remain beyond the projects carried out in Autumn 2023.

The part of Kyiv Biennial 2023 in Ivano-Frankivsk was curated by Alona Karavai, Roman Khimei, Yarema Malashchuk, Anton Usanov.

Participants:

Andriy Rachinskiy

Anna Khvyl

Anna Potiomkina

Bohdan Bunchak

Daniil Revkovskyi

Daryna Mamaisur

Henrike Naumann

Ivan Bazak

Kreizik (Roman Shablevskyi)

Maria Rusinkevych

Musical Collective

Myroslav Yaremak

Olesia Saienko

Orest Zaborskyi

Pawel Althamer

Roksolana Kit

Šejla Kamerić

SI Process

Valentyna Petrova

Volodymyr Kuznetsov

Waldemar Tatarczuk

Yarema Malashchuk and Roman Khimei

Zoryana Kozak

Production coordinator: Marta Savitska.

Production team: Maria Ferniuk, Vadym Mykulets, Yulia Nepyk, Olha Dyatel, Yulia Bondar, Anna Klymovets, Andriy Katrych.

Communication: Anastasia Kuzmenko, Anastasia Kalyta, Victoria Vydyborets.

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The logic of war is unstable and subject to change. We can both live according to the laws of war by making sacrifices and providing help, as well as contrary to them by allowing ourselves pleasure and joy. The coexistence of different orders gives rise to a number of ethical dilemmas and is especially evident in the rear, often due to guilt. On the periphery of war, we either pretend to approach a zero point of the frontline through volunteering, self-restraint, and search for an internal enemy, or we move away from the existential experience through pleasure and sarcasm.

 

With the onset of the full-scale invasion, the experience of atomization of society and the curtailment of spaces for communication repeated. Yet another closure and reopening of food establishments and cultural spaces after the pandemic has given them a sacred role. A visit to a coffee house can be a key to stabilizing the chaotic outside world and an action opposing the logic of war. On the home front, people went to cafes with remorse, but hoped to see and support each other. In frontline settlements, a few establishments serve as a meeting point for soldiers, volunteers, reporters, etc. For example, the infamous RIA cafe in Kramatorsk where 13 people were killed by a Russian missile, including writer Victoria Amelina.

 

The country is turning into a mosaic of personal experiences of war that are closed in itself and difficult to transmit to others. In different places, people are faced with the same questions, generated by the war, that they need to answer individually here and now. The rear, the periphery of war, is the place where new ethical dilemmas emerge. Yet, it is also here that “untimely” questions and answers are blocked by feelings of guilt and shame. Anything that deviates from military expediency is put on hold or suppressed. Total pragmatization and militarization address each and every one of us with the question: “What did you do during the war?” A parity is emerging between the question posed to oneself and the carefully postponed answer. We assume there is no place for such questions at the front, where everything has to be unambiguous and unquestionable.

 

Complex questions are not solved by answers, but by accelerating life around us. The proximity of death makes us feel the wholeness of life like never before. The war has become an accelerator of events and feelings. In popular language we can express it as “not putting life on hold” or “breaking bad during the war.” It applies to all manifestations of life: volunteering hundred per cent, organizing corruption with the same capacity, creating, laughing, “resting,” etc. From the periphery of the war, we peek through online or live broadcasts in different directions – sometimes towards point zero, sometimes towards exile – but they do not provide all the answers either.

 

On the one hand, pleasure in times of war is one of the first things to be self-censored. On the other hand, it is a preservation strategy. The outbreak of a full-scale invasion instantly overruled many cultural strategies and called into question the very possibility of artistic activity. Subsequently, other approaches emerged to aestheticize the new reality. Volunteer work can be framed as artistic engagement practices, preparing meals for the army as a post-ironic commentary on the agency of technology in the work for victory, documenting gatherings in cafes as confession and self-critique. Even when we abandon artistic practice in favor of war, we do this in a form that closely resembles an artistic gesture. The periphery of war forces us to juxtapose the contradictory, and this dance does not lead to exaltation, but rather to exhaustion. Yet, we have to keep dancing.

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