Artistic practices aimed at working with and within society with social relations as a final product have been spreading in Western Europe and North America since early 1990s. As the researcher of this kind of art Claire Bishop writes, “This expanded field of relational practices currently goes by a variety of names: socially engaged art, community-based art, experimental communities, dialogic art, littoral art, participatory, interventionist, research-based, or collaborative art. These practices are less interested in a relational aesthetic than in the creative rewards of collaborative activity – whether in the form of working with preexisting communities or establishing one's own interdisciplinary network”.
Western theory positions this art as a project of artists' political response to atomic nature of social relations that inevitably accompanies societies of late capitalism. At the end of the 1950s a French painter, theorist and activist Guy Debord offered a very neat definition of a social modus that existed in capitalistic countries: “The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by image”. During the 1960s a group of artists from “The Situationist International” was developing and partly implementing a project of overcoming an estrangement mediated by the spectacle via consecutive interventions into over-regulated areas of a city and its life, however, they gradually completely occupied the territory of actionism and real politics. Contemporary artists mostly don't have illusions about fundamental reformation of social relations in the world, so they are prone to the integrative type of work with specific local communities (like Paweł Althamer or Kateřina Šedá), or they reveal social antagonisms through involving different social groups into creative processes (like Artur Żmijewski or Jeremy Deller).
Ukrainian artists' practices, which include participation of other people, can scarcely be put into such a logic, since they are born by inner necessity of a completely different nature. They are rather heirs of unofficial Soviet art that had chances to exist only in case of unconditional support of the associates' close circle (moreover, that was dangerous for their lives). But again, as Claire Bishop writes about the practice of Collective Actions, “In an atmosphere of near constant surveillance and insecurity, participation was an artistic and social strategy to be deployed only amongst the most trusted groups of friends”. And even if it is more than 25 years as the ideological pressure disappeared, contemporary art isn't considered as legitimized and acceptable practice for the Ukrainian society yet. Absence of a healthy institutional system makes an artist face his “personal madness” on his own. Therefore working with communities – both existing and potential – is a necessity if a contemporary art project wants to hold its place in Ukraine, especially in the regions. And if a participation of Collective Actions was principally closed and self-aimed (in order to save that seeming freedom to continue), practices in young Ukrainian art are declaratory and naturally open – very often they are undirected, uncontrolled and unguided.
Open Group which is “the root” of this research and a bonding component of Western Ukrainian art stage, declares its potentiality in its own structure since this group of painters are active creators in communities both on the microlevel (in a group that may have an unlimited amount of members and exist independently) and macrolevel (through self-organized practices in cities where they live and places that they visit). Their project of re-denotion the space (in particular, Open Gallery) creates an alternative type of relations within artistic work where subject-object relations between a spectator and work, also supervisional and controlling functions of art institution cede to performative co-presense and participation of “artists” and “audience”.
Artist Lyubomyr Tymkiv, who only in case of the utmost necessity leaves the Medova Pechera disctric and almost never – Lviv, is an active member and creator of a large international community of mail-art practitioners. Stanislav Turina corresponds with painters, friends and random acquaintances mostly from Ukraine, however his ability to spread his ideas created a special type of mail-artists who regularly address their letters to the painter only. The Uzhgorod group Poptrans is not an art group literally, it is rather a union, community of fellow-thinkers who individually creat art product while sharing certain values and interests.
Numerous Lviv and Uzhgorod off-spaces create their own communities of spectators: one of the regular visitors of Yefremova26 gallery gave their curators a real lightbox sign, hand-made from remains of advertising production. Yuriy Sokolov turned out to be another such visitor whose apartment and legendary gallery of the 1990s Chervoni Rury are situated in a house next door; a circle of Detenpyla's regular visitors is easy to analyze because of its organizers' tradition to take a group photo at the beginning of every opening – in particular, this is what one of its founders Yuriy Biley did in his own project Board of Fame. And even if “flies only” are the projects' only real spectators – they are able to generate communities out of exhibition spaces. A self-organizing way of these galleries' functioning and attendant art production has a performative nature when not only a thematic content of works and exhibition matter, but mostly their realization methods that establish relations.
For his project the artist invited everyone who'd ever been to Detenpyla gallery before. In the exhibition space he'd constructed a setting that consisted of a sofa for visitors, a camera on a tripod, a table with a desktop and a printer on it. Biley took picture of every guest, printed it immediatedy and placed it on a predominantly outlined wall, the so-called "Board of Fame". 89 people took part in the 14-day project.
A group show, the so-called «Solyanka», and at the same time an interactive object that gives the viewer a choice.
The artist offers a cast of sensations. The image is static as it is in front of our eyes.
We squint, move away a bit, trying to squeeze into the universe suggested by the author.
And then another artwork and another and so on until you find something you like. And here it is - an image, and if you really like it, please hang it on the wall, thus manifesting your choice. And it will be suffiecient.
The project is based on the idea of our long-term ongoing work "Open Gallery". Previously within this project for demarcation or definition of a space we used certain tools to materialize this space or its boarders.
The first step in the 'Ars longa, vita brevis' was our renouncement of a narrative physical demarcation. This time the space was being defined only by the 'vision' of the four participants.
Each camera gave a possibility to fix the simultaneity of existence inside one space from 4 points of view.
Dimension system was time. No matter how many kilometers we passed, the whole project was measured in 9 hour-long recordings on each camera. '9 hours' corresponds to the opening hours of the art institution that exhibited the project.
The second step was searching online. Our life was also defined by the camera. Simultaneity of our existence. Correspondingly, the existence of the group was also being questioned.
Fixation of the gallery by our cameras that by default defines the space was a gesture. A gesture of isolation. So we always needed to think about clearness, 'silence' and contrasts of this isolation.
During the project the whole 9-hour stream was broadcast online in the exhibition space of the art centre.
The third and final step was documentation. Existence of every gallery after the process of its definition ended became abstract. The gallery thus continues to exist as a set of recorded information on a flash drive.
Everything else in the frames represents its 'readable' description.
1. Date and title.
2. Simultaneous screenshots of the fixed space from each camera (a, b, c, d).
3. Flash drive containing 4-channel video of the defined space.
4. Explanatory text, space duration (in minutes) and place.
5. Artifacts (optional).
In the course of 59 days as the project lasted, the following people were joining the group:
object, Muzychi Christmas Art Fair, Ya Gallery Art Centre, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
"The Keys from the Gallery" as an extension of the "Tysa Gallery" project was created for the Muzychi Christmas Art Fair in Dnipropetrovsk 2012.
Tysa Gallery was created in an abondonded house that the artists discovered in the Carpathian Mountains in August 2012 and managed to open with the key from their apartment. Inside they created a group show exhibiting one artwork each and locked the door when they were leaving. For the Art Fair they made 6 copies of the key, packed each in a box adding a route map to the site and a photograph of the object from the show that could be taken away by the person who bought it.
Artists' text on the Gallery Tysa
The gallery was created in one of the abandoned buildings of the concrete factory as a part of modern arts festival «Kredens 2012». It was decided to make the gallery functional by using its space as a classical exhibition. The first joint exhibition of the group members took place there.
The exhibition consists of six previously made works and those that were created on the festival.
89 Days of Winter is an exhibition that lasted all winter of 2012-2013 in the kitchen of Anton Varha's apartment on 27/10 Dzherelna Str. in Lviv. The display was changed daily, immediately documented and published on the project's blog.
Exhibition activities sometimes contain a big danger, because they tear apart the time and space put together in creation, representing an extracted object. It can be this way or a different way. The different variant is basically doomed to a kind of counter-cultural consumption and the correcponding existence.
So it is with hyperreflective art. Stories, myths, trends are composed in the context of the project that can be comprehended by only 5-10 people. The great part of it cannot be felt by a detached onlooker (out-of-the-context).
What was happening was conceived to practise the constant reflection, which would leave behind the artifacts of every day. That project was conceived primarily for those 5 -7 artists existing in the area as a challenge to their skill of contemplation, as a contradistinction to their exhibition practice of severance and inscribing. The space of the kitchen on Dzherelna str. (almost not special) was not a goal in itself. This was the place near in hand (the closest one). One must not forget about the ordinary function of the dialogue between the projects themselves, which in this object gained its sound due to the continuity of days.
It was everyday pseudo conceptualism. One day was chosen only to level the time of reflection, the time between the "act of creation" and going to the market. As the three universals (contemplation, reflection, communication) had to be not simply inconsistently lined by breaking a membrane between them, but in the space where they would cover each other by their contemporaneity and permanency of one day.
The space of the information object was in the first place a rectangle of a kitchen. A sofa which was hardly moved since technically nobody expected large-scale artifacts, there was no place even for a fridge. There was just the wall which proved the implementation of experience. It was just receiving. At the beginning there was a blog created on the initiative of Denys Beketov and Marx that became the analogue of the virtual space on Dzherelna str.. The blog currently broadcasts all the 90 days simultaneously.
The Time Line.
One day. 24 hours. 89 days of winter. The last one was not shown. Basically the opening hours were 22-23 pm. There were some opening hours also after midnight. There were some in the morning. The end of winter was actually symbolic (calendarian).
And the last thing.
It all was obviously not for the sake of art but for the reflection of our place here and now every day, of our existence in that place, that winter, within those walls on Dzherelna str. and outside it, together with others and separately
71-ий день, УПЦ, Без назви, "Мирка почула дзвін, підійшла до дверей, каже - священник. Відкрили. Там священник. Освятив квартиру. Всі поцілували Христа. Подарував нам картинку з хрещенням. Повісили."
In their ongoing project Open Gallery the artists deal with the natural, given or non-existent places and territories that are transformed by their delicate (at times heavy) interventions into outlined spaces. Some of the galleries also funtion as temporary exhibition halls, others are complete in their own right.
Artists' text on the project:
We've established a travelling gallery designed to escort an artist or a group of artists (as it is in our case). By changing the space around us, we outline it and work in it. The project aim is the implementation and transformation of 'unreality' into reality; it's an attempt to create a new space and to outline a certain life span. An important component is the creation of the spaces 'prior' and 'subsequent'.
In this particular case we use nominal walls of a gallery providing them with a nominal indication of the action (countdown), 'its presence'. In the future that space will evolve, create derivative precedents or it'll decline, absorbing itself like a black hole.
The creation of a space is a result of a point-to-point living which can be compared to a whole life (a sort of similar situation was demonstrated in the Detenpula gallery).
Dva ("two") Gallery
Located at the Chorna Mountain on the banks of the Tysa River, Zakarpatska oblast, Ukraine. The gallery cosists of two rooms in the ground each of a man's height. The "rooms" were used for slaking of lime. Their definite natural and timely metamorphoses. Thus one room is full of stale water and the other is empty. The steps built by the group and inviting to the gallery are the only man-made adjustment.
Located on the bakns of the Tysa River (not far from the town of Vynogradiv), Zakarpatska oblast, Ukraine. The gallery was created in one of the abandoned buildings of the concrete factory as a part of modern arts festival "Kredens 2012". It was decided to make the gallery functional by using its space as a classical exhibition hall. The first collective exhibition of the group members took place there.
Gallery on Arsenalna Square
The gallery was created as a part of Lviv Actual Art Week in the autumn of 2012. The construction is made of three and four meter wood planks. There is a social component of the project besides the reflection of city's public space: the group members were bringing other people to the project raising money to get the timber. Each person could pay the price of only one plank.
Gallery with a Forest View
The gallery was realized during the group's visit of Granny Hall residence in the forest near the village of Samiylychy, Volynska oblast, Ukraine. The relative walls of the gallery were sketched by chalk. The plan was dictated by the location of the trees and looks like a sign of visual experience indication.
550 Square Meters Gallery
The gallery was realized during the group's visit of Granny Hall residence. The common technique of pre-building operation was the inspiration of the gallery's visual form, which was traced by a stretched thread. The gallery in the field invited people to enter through a long 30 meter corridor that began with a path. The area of the gallery is 550 square meters.
Sometimes human height is enough. Sometimes just human is enough. Sometimes it's enough to remove a layer of ground, open the surface - and things you felt externally and proper would be felt variable and inside.
1.7 m, 8 m of ground. Found and excavated.
1.7 m, 8 m of transformed system (not necessarily for the good)
Reterritorization (from the ground to the territory).
The gallery is open.
Gallery on the Stretch of the Road
The gallery was created on a strech of a road with two road signs designating its space. The signs mimick those traditionally marking the beginning and the end of a city/town/village. The gallery thus was around 200 meters long and could be grasped at glance.
The gallery was creted within the framework of "Kredents" Festival in the outskirts of "Skalka" recreation camp in Zakarpattya region.
The gallery was created with similar road sign, while one of them was installed on the bank of the Stryi river in Carpathian mountains, Lviv region and the other — on the Biruchiy peninsula in Azov sea, Zaporizzhya region. The space of the gallery is thus defined by the curve of the river (or the water to be precise) which through another, bigger, river falls into the sea. The route which one would have to follow in order to see the space of the gallery is correspondingly about 1000 km long. Open Group gave an account to a space that for obvious reasons has remained unattended by the artists themselves.
The gallery was creted within the framework of "Biruchiy 14" Festival, Zaporizzya region.
Gallery with a Forest View550 Square Meters Gallery
Located in the middle of a cottage area in Medova Pechera (Honey Cave) district, Tymkiv’s private garage opens its doors for art only when it’s warm. Each season the gallery hosts around 3-4 events, presenting projects of Tymkiv’s fellow artists as well as his own collection of international zines and mail art.
As a logical successor of Decima Gallery this artist-run space occupied the cellar, the attic and the green backyard of the building Yuriy Sokolov has lived in. The gallery exhibited pioneering site-specific installations, performances and conceptual pieces of various Lviv-based artists as well as hosted occasional parties of informal artistic circles. Today the backyard decorated with the remains of Sokolov’s sculpture symposiums and Japanese stone garden has become an artifact in its own right. The attic serves as a storage for his rich but unstructured archive. While the bunker-like cellar fulfills its original purpose in keeping pickles.
Yuriy Sokolov: "We had such friends and such opportunities: this apartment itself, this cellar, this attic were an big part of my interests and life at large. It was not exhibition-making that was so important as getting together to have a drink, but not in the sense of boozing it up, but rather talk to each other, communicate, treat the guests... And the square meters allow you to receive people and need to be willing and kind enough to do it, but also you ought to have rave in some sublime sense. It's tusovka as a lifestyle and as a kind of practice."
The entrance hall of the Museum of Etnography and Applied Art on Rynok Square in Lviv was offered to Yuriy Sokolov as a space to do contemporary art shows, which then was a relatively new practice in the city. According to the official press-release Decima gallery was founded in December 1993 as a public non-for-profit institution by a narrow circle of Lviv intelligentsia — culturologists, artists, architects, writers. The first exhibition was a group show "Searching for Whimsical Seduction" with 13 female artists form Lviv, Kyiv and Bern. According to Hlib Vysheslavsky's testimony, Decima programming had a highly conceptual character: "Mythoforms" by Stas Gorsky appealed to the problem of national identity through his work with remainings of iron mold of a Shevchenko monument; "Transit" by Yuriy Solomko evoked the felling of nostalgia through recreation of a 1950s living room in the gallery space; "Millions of Flowers" by Yuriy Sokolov aimed at establishing a direct relationship with the achivements of Western and Russian conceptualisms.
Despite its active programme and local popularity, the gallery was closed shortly after the opening due to disagreements with the premises’ owners. However, Yuriy Sokolov continued Decima's programming on his private territory later known as Chervony Rury gallery.