Text by Yuriy Kruchak
Yuri Kruchak artist, curator, founder of the Open Place platform. Studied Scenography at the Kharkiv State School of Art, and Environmental design at the Kharkiv state academy of design. Graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (major in painting).
Three main things about Ukraine’s cultural context led us to organize the platform Open Place, namely: constriction of the field of artistic activity, self-removal of the artistic community from public engagement and loss of continuity. The paradox of the situation in post-Soviet society is that during the recent reconstruction a mass culture developed that destroyed the connection with the previous cultural stratum. Features that were considered at the beginning as a manifestation of freedom, have twenty years later become a source of income for a small group of people, leaving to society only the role of consumer.
For Ukrainian curators now, there are three unpopular questions, responses to which we are searching in our work. 1.What is the purpose of artist and curator, in a society where the basic model of relations is built on the vertical axis of the state fused with big business, and the horizontal axis of the Christian Orthodox church, that is seeking to replace Soviet ideology and become the judiciary? 2.What is role of the art institution in a society where all political ideologies are devalued? 3.Is it possible to develop the institution with that society, existing as it does at different socio-cultural poles, producing art and together answering the questions of what art should be, and how it should look?
Initially, when we asked ourselves these questions, they seemed impossible to satisfy. The basic contradiction was that the forms of contemporary art institution existing at that moment didn’t satisfy the main drives of the program we wanted to implement, namely to create a cultural context where the public, on an equal footing with the artist, would be an active participant in the cultural field, a co-creator of common values, artistic events and cultural context. Our strategy to deal with this was to include curatorial practice in our artistic methods: to rethink the notion of the institution, its basis, models of relationships and interactions between curator, artist and society, approaches to programming and physical outputs.
The first drafts of our institutional model demonstrated the efficacy of a mobile structure with a flexible, invisible frame linking to both artistic and social centers. This could be placed directly into a real social context, to make changes and to establish communication between different communities. The development of this model of the institution and the construction of its three-dimensional concept became the significant moment in the development of Open Place. This migratory structure strives to blend with its everyday urban environment – to be present in a certain place, and simultaneously change it temporarily, accept artistic, social, and economic conditions and use them as starting points for the formation of new artistic values, public strategies and sociocultural methods. The institution in this situation serves both as a platform for artistic and social activities, and as mapping of the hidden potential of the space.
The project Dotted Lines of Speech aimed to acquire practical and artistic experience outside of galleries and studios spaces. This project consisted of a series of art interventions, researched in the field of public communication, developing concepts and applying event-based scenarios in public environments. Artists, musicians and writers from Ukraine and Lithuania were invited to participate. Some models and principles were tested in 2006 in Kiev, Ukraine at Zhitny Market and in 2007 in Vilnius, Lithuania at the cafe in the writers’ house. The nature of actions was improvised, and although outlines had been agreed upon in advance, the substance was formed during the action. Those invited could play the part of their personal story, and spectators could become protagonists. What emerged during the course of events was close to a public happening in form, with a paradoxical way of thinking about communication that allowed an understanding of everyday reality through new experiences, in a new way.
After the first exercises it became obvious that the space of creation and study plays a more important role, for such event-oriented structures as ours, than the place of representation; and likewise that the interventional nature of the mobile institution gives more extensive results than the facility located in one site with clearly defined boundaries.
To continue the development of Open Place it was necessary to work out a model of behavior, one which would make the figure of artist and curator ’invisible‘ and would allow a focus on the potential of artistic practices in the border zone between the visible and invisible social realms – active and excluded communities. Actions in real social context demand tactics and strategies capable of making evident invisible processes, hidden deep in the thickness of the existing cultural environment, that help to transform the extant relations and create new links between society and the artistic process.
In the course of our work we have developed several kinds of action, moving from one to the next on achieving certain goals. These actions were based on the principles of camouflage and were modeled on different professions’ methods – the journalist, the anthropologist, the psychologist and the sociologist. This tactic is manifested most clearly in the project Invisible Way, launched as a journalistic investigation of the socio-cultural space of the Ukrainian Association of Blind people. Eventually the project grew into a revision of the cultural space of relationships, between us – artists, whose nature is open to the world – and blind people, a largely isolated, socially sharpened group with clearly defined requirements of society, with a certain system of values and perceptions of the world. A series of interrelated artistic and social events resulted, which allowed the sighted people to experience the world of the blind people; for the blind people it was an opportunity to be seen, as well as to participate in making art.
An important stage in the development of the platform was the search for an appropriate institutional language, which would allow participants to make conscious decisions and interact with different socio-cultural groups on the creation of collaborative works. We had to rethink the concept of ’artwork‘ – to realize it as an accumulative structure, open to development, consisting of independent but interrelated levels with both artistic and social components. This approach assumes collaborative work with the spectators, and gives a certain equality, as well as freedom, both for artist and for spectator. The mantle of the creator, in this situation, can be taken on by curator, artist or spectator. Regardless of biases, ideological and political disagreements provide primary conditions in which different communities can collaborate to develop the art work, specify its content and how it should be manifested.
Referring to the narrative of a Post-soviet park, its eclectic structure, we initiated the project Start Time, the leitmotif of which was an idea developing the park. The challenge was to find a balance – a system of human interaction with the exterior of the park, with its past, present and future culture, in the self-organization of leisure activities by different social groups. Building upon the previous projects, we invited people with visual impairments and young Ukrainian artists to cooperate, as well as residents and visitors to Kiev who we reached through the mass media. Those who wished to take part built on the territory of the “Hydropark ” an artistic platform with both physical and intellectual manifestations. About fifty people – representatives of different social strata – cooperated on a program of artistic and social activity. We presented a number of artifacts, and identified several places that epitomized past and present culture of the park. Participants were invited on the basis of these objects and places, having created or transformed them as necessary, to reveal other, hidden meanings, or to determine new meanings. The result of this experiment was a series of interrelated, interpenetrating time-based events – consisting of objects, performances, happenings and sporting competitions, the course of development, and evaluation of which were determined by participants themselves. Work became the medium, uncovering the hidden meanings of the park.
We consider our institution as a social agent in public space, which questions the boundaries of knowledge and ignorance of social and creative processes in the society. To conclude, it is necessary to note that despite the problems existing in the Ukrainian cultural context, in society there are the groups with colossal creative potential – open to dialogue and interaction. A gap, existing between ‘executive authority’ and ‘the church’, allows one to create situations and spaces where people can work together to find a form appropriate to their needs, their perception of past, present and future.