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Fragment of the book of the National Pavilion of Ukraine at the 59th International Art Exhibition

The book of the National Pavilion of Ukraine at the 59th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia relates the history, the different contexts, and the varying interpretations of Makov’s work Fountain of Exhaustion over the years.

The 2022 Arsenale di Venezia exhibition is the first time Fountain of Exhaustion has ever been displayed as a fully-functional art object with a steady water supply, even though its original conception dates back to 1995 and was initially occasioned in a local context of Kharkiv, a large city in the east of Ukraine. The book features a comprehensive chronological account of the Fountain’s development in the years 1995—2022 as well as a careful selection of archive materials, illustrating the work’s evolution over the last 25 years.

It also provides additional textual commentary by various authors, exploring Makov’s artistic practices and the spatio-temporal connotations of Fountain of Exhaustion as an art object all the while reflecting on water, rivers, and channels, overflow and desolation, personally landscapes, and the pressing global issues of the day.

Your Art published text by Vlada Ralko from the book with the permission of ist publishing.

Vlada Ralko. The Time Thief

Although an artist is usually noted for their recognition value, the prevalence of a certain symbol, which dominates their entire work, could be suggestive of both creative stagnation and a particular taste for precision. The fine line between the two conditions makes it hard to tell them apart — just as Musil once rightly noted, “one can hardly tell the difference between a starved idea and an idea that is starving for something.” Over the years, various versions of The Fountain of Exhaustion have frequently reappeared in Makov’s subsequent work. A brief look at the transformations of this emblematic structure reveals how the inevitable changes in artistic articulation have left its core meaning intact. By the looks of it, Makov is incessantly striving to arrange the funnels of the Fountain as if they were cards in a house of cards in an attempt to arrive at a point of balance, so that one would go breathless in fear of disturbing the resulting perfect structure. And yet, the title itself calls this initial impression into question: the said “exhaustion” by no means indicates a fixed state, but rather a process. Its persistence then inevitably raises the question of its purpose. 

If you ask me, the figure of The Fountain of Exhaustion refers to time rather than space and is a tightrope between the past and the present. This system of magic triangles probably serves Makov as a kind of precise measuring tool, a fixed point of reference for the irregular course of life. These days, we are used to praising flexibility and sliding effortlessly past the fixed points of our lives, which nonetheless remain with us forever in the shape of reference points, not unlike the anatomical limitations of our bodies. It is as if over time our enthusiasm for new opportunities obscured the locus of stasis — the entrance, the door to the place, where time goes right through us instead of taking a turn. 

An overview of the Fountain’s transformations, the “when” and “how” of its resurrections over the years leading to its taking centre stage in the artist’s oeuvre, puts it into perspective by creating a physical distance. A very peculiar optics must be at play here. Indeed, one of the first technical drawings from 1995 scales up the fountain to such a degree that we get a glimpse of both the inner surface of the bottom funnels and the spouts of those on top. However, as time goes by and new versions of the Fountain appear, the fisheye lens is gradually substituted for a telephoto one, so that the whole construction seems to branch out by the growing distance from the initial pictures and models. The overall outline straightens up and expands into the infinite, showcasing its seemingly inexhaustible potential. 

Thus, the constantly shifting structure of the Fountain is always running into extremes, striving for augmentation and exhaustion at once. This confusion must be no less exhausting for the beholder since something always interrupts the flow of thought and stands in the way of clear conclusions. Indeed, there is no discernible external current to guide you in the right direction. It would seem no answers could be inferred from the Fountain itself and even its timeline resembles an ever-increasing focal distance. And yet, this linear expansion only lasts through the inhale, while the exhale immediately relieves the pressure of contemporaneity and throws us back to the origins — to the very first drawing, hidden deep in our memory like an old manuscript illustration. That original sketch provides a surprisingly solid basis for the upcoming project (which promises to finally equip the Fountain with all the necessary funnels and put it into service) by being not only its founding stone but the very reason it came to be in the first place. Besides, the final construction will actually rest on that original ancient yellowed piece of paper as its foundation! It is as if someone released an invisible spring, which would suddenly bring us all back to that initial motion. After all, the word fountain, as well as the Italian fontana, are both derived from the Latin fons, which stands for origin, spring, or cause. In other words, Makov is dealing here with something that originates deep under the ground and comes to the surface only to exhaust itself over time and be gradually absorbed back into where it came from.

The reciprocal nature of the Fountain’s construction is reminiscent of one of the most basic functions of the human body — respiration. It seems like Makov’s work reflects the paradox of our inner world, where each breath is an inevitable step towards both knowledge and death. The funnel constructions operate as tiny river mouths breathing in and out. The water gushing out of a classical fountain supposedly embodies the flow of magniloquence. However, The Fountain of Exhaustion has not yet had a chance to fulfill its practical purpose to the extent that its primary function would turn into a symbol of magniloquence in the sense of linguistic extravagance. On top of that, the Fountain’s funnels are meant to swallow up the stream rather than gush it out of it. 
Although the 2022 Venice Biennale will be the first time the Fountain is ever filled with water, it will hardly turn it into The Fountain of Augmentation overnight. It will more likely showcase the Fountain’s faithfulness to time by turning it into a clepsydra or a water thief: a kind of water clock, meant solely to illustrate the flow of time rather than measure it. As a temporal structure, the Fountain will serve as a stopping point amidst the incessant flow of actuality. If we try to think of it in terms of the colour-contradictions, the first thing that comes to mind is Wittgenstein’s obscure invitation to imagine a reddish-green colour. Thus, the Fountain will bring about a microcosmic breach in the heart of mundanity, creating blank space, an invariably infinite gap that absorbs the routine.

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