What you need to know about the Ukrainian project for the Venice Biennale

On January 17, The Naked Room Gallery in Kyiv hosted a presentation of “The Fountain of Exhaustion. High Water” project for the Ukrainian pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art, which will take place from April 23 to November 27, 2022. The artist of the project “The Fountain of Exhaustion. High Water” is Pavlo Makov. The curatorial group included Lizaveta Herman, Maria Lanko and Borys Filonenko. The architectural bureau “FORMA” deals with the architectural decisions of the Ukrainian pavilion.

The project is a realization of Pavel Makov’s idea, which appeared in 1995 during the study of Kharkiv. The work is a steel funnel built into the walls, which will function as a fountain.

The editorial office Your Art prepared a synopsis of the presentation, which was attended by: Borys Filonenko – curator of the Ukrainian pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia, art critic, curator, teacher; Maria Lanko and Lizaveta Herman – curators of the Ukrainian pavilion, co-founders of The Naked room gallery; Pavlo Makov – the artist of the project “The Fountain of Exhaustion. High Water”; Iryna Miroshnikova – co-founder of the Kyiv architectural bureau “FORMA” and Kateryna Chueva – commissioner of the Ukrainian pavilion, Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Policy.

Fountain of Exhaustion, 1995
Fountain of Exhaustion, 1995

Maria Lanko: Fresh and relevant ideas are usually presented at the Venice Biennale, so it is a logical question – why do we turn to the work of Pavel Makov, created in the 1990s. The project was conceived in 1995 and had several implementations, but the fountain never worked. This is symptomatic of Ukrainian art in general, the history of which is not only what has already happened, but also what has not received proper representation. In our opinion, “Fountain of Exhaustion” is an excellent work of art with a rather marginal idea. The Venice Biennale is a chance to make this work visible and, in fact, to realise it – for the first time, it will work like a real fountain.

Pavlo Makov: I work in two-dimensional space, draw and print, and sometimes I do completely uncharacteristic things. An example is the “Fountain of Exhaustion”. In 1995, this work came to my mind in response to the situation in Kharkiv and the country. At that time, none of the fountains in the city worked. And this led me to believe that this exhaustion proves even power because most of the world’s great fountains are built by empires and kingdoms. This emphasizes that power is a great force.

I exhibited the fountain project several times. After the tin model, I created a bronze one. It was first presented in 2003 at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, and this project was later acquired by the Pinchuk Art Centre. But I emphasize that the project has never worked as a fountain because it is complicated to organize the water supply in the museum.

Fountain of Exhaustion at The Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv, 2017

Over the past 27 years, the world has changed significantly. Now, we have a completely different quality of relations in society. In my opinion, the “Fountain of Exhaustion” has become a response to the situation related to Kharkiv and Ukraine and the existence of the modern world in general. We are talking about the exhaustion of all levels.

Borys Filonenko: It is worth noting that the project “Fountain of Exhaustion” arose from a picture that appeared out of nowhere. However, a lot of work needs to be done for “something” to appear out of nowhere. In the 1990s, Pavlo Makov was engaged in such anthropological conceptual work on the study of Kharkiv, a city located on the waters.

In 1995, there was a local environmental disaster – an accident at Dykaniv sewage treatment plants, and as a result, there was a lack of water for six weeks. The “Fountain of Exhaustion” appears as a reaction to the socio-political context, as well as a reflection on the city on the water.

During the preparation of the catalogue at the Biennale, we counted 16 different images of the fountain in the practice of Pavel Makov: it has different materiality and conversion in Kharkiv. And we would also like to show this story together with the project, which will actually work as a fountain.

This year’s theme of the Biennale “The Milk of Dreams ” is a resuscitation of surrealism as a direction in art. However, it is also a story about the coexistence of man with landscape and technology. The new environmental agenda is what we are living with now. It greatly influenced the formation of the Ukrainian pavilion. Our topic is the talk of depletion, which has become a global issue.

Venice is a city that experiences canal flooding and drainage with varying degrees of intensity each year, so the issue of water and depletion has become synonymous with the Venice issue. This is our attempt to show the Venetian context in the works of Ukrainian artist Pavlo Makov.

Fountain of Exhaustion in the park at the confluence of the rivers Lopan and Kharkiv, 1995
Fountain of Exhaustion in the park at the confluence of the rivers Lopan and Kharkiv, 1995

Iryna Miroshnikova: We were dealing with a rather complicated room because it is in the form of a crossroads. The pavilion of Ukraine can be either the starting point or the endpoint of visiting the biennial. However, we used this shortcoming as a complete privilege, drawing parallels with the urban space. After all, the fountain invites people to pause and immerse themselves in meditation. So it is with us – the object stands at a crossroads, which gives it context. We have an ideal situation when the room complements the art object.

Kateryna Chuyeva: According to the rules of the Biennale, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine is the official coordinator of the Ukrainian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, so we are trying to join all the processes. I can say for myself that everything is going according to plan. Back in that year, we paid the rent for the pavilion, which amounted to 3.5 million hryvnias. I hope that we will cover part of the costs, including the facility’s transportation, within the framework of the previous agreements and within the limits allowed by the budget. This year we expect up to UAH 4 million for the project.

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