Fragment of the book of the Young Ukrainian Artists Competition – “MUHi 2009-2021”.
The book covers the 12-year history of the MUHi Competition, capturing the changes and trends in the young art of this period. Having collected an archive of the cooperation of young Ukrainian artists with the MUHi Competition, it reflects the changes in young art over the last decade. At the same time, the book seeks to find answers to the most pressing questions: how did the pace of socio-economic and technological development affect the formation of creative practices of young artists? how did political changes and upheavals in Ukraine affect young people? how can art create the ground for change and provoke qualitative changes in public life? The book consists of four main sections: an introductory part with articles by the MUHi project team, an analytical part with articles by invited experts, an archive of exhibitions of the finalists of 2009-2021 and an archive of exhibitions of the winners and finalists of the MUHi.
“The book ‘MUHi 2009-2021’ is a significant step in our daily work. It is also a choice in favor of all those involved in art in Ukraine today, who not only believe in change, but also make it. These are materials for further discussions, actions, analysis, conclusions, ideas. I hope that we will all get additional motivation to support each other in order to further guide Ukrainian art to involvement in all spheres of society and improve its quality”—Maryna Shcherbenko, author of the idea and curator of the project.
About compilers: Yevheniia Butsykina — culturologist, art critic, and manager of the 2015-2019 MUHi Сompetition. Milena Khomchenko — art critic, cultural manager, and manager of MUHi 2021 Сompetition.
With the permission of the Shcherbenko Art Centere, we publish an article by Tiberiy Szilvashi, prepared especially for the “MUHi 2009-2021” book.
The experience of throwing stones into the water
A few days ago, Facebook, which remembers everything — showed me part of an archive with my answers to Forbes’ questions about successful young artists in Ukraine. Little has changed over time, both in the art and in my thoughts about it. Therefore, I will quote from the text, which, by the way, was never actually published by the magazine. Subsequently, I just posted it on my Facebook page. I agree with all my thoughts at that time. I believe they accurately characterize and describe the mechanisms that control the life of a young artist. So, let us start with the first quote. “According to Brassaï (this is from a book of his memoirs), a boy genius was once brought to Picasso. The boy painted almost like Uccello. He depicted battles with horses and knights in armor, as well as the complex angles of the human body with incredible accuracy. In a word, it was a miracle! Picasso praised him and said, ‘Bring him back in ten or fifteen years.’ So, if, according to Picasso, the genius of childhood speaks in the case of this boy, then it is my opinion that we should be interested in the ideological and material MODELS that young artists choose to follow. It is really interesting what they will do after they are forty or fifty. In general, the artist is fascinating because of his destiny- biography. Ukrainian art, in my opinion, lacks intelligence. It is still enthralled by sentimentality and naive sensitivity.” This is an excerpt from a Forbes text. Trauma and victimhood, as well as identification, have been added to the list above. The model chosen becomes a part of the generation’s identity, clearly defining its borders, and therefore, I believe it is critical to identify unifying features beyond generational boundaries. Picasso’s words are the words of a man who knows what talent is, with the experience behind him of an already institutional artistic environment that has become the territory of the ‘cultural industry.’ These are the words of a person who understands well where and when ‘ideas’ come from.
I am not aware of the global situation regarding contests and awards, but in Ukraine, I am confident that prizes and competitions for young artists predominate. Later, I will explain why this is important and beneficial. One time… The most important aspect of competitions is, of course, the financial opportunity to implement and demonstrate ideas with colleagues. This is how like-minded people find each other, associations come about and friendships are formed. As a result, a circle of ideas is shaped that then forms the generation. However, thanks to the promise of future generations, there is a hidden hope here for the establishment of ‘new ideas’.
All of this points to a scarcity of ‘ideas’. Perhaps because of their short period of relevance or the fact that they are produced elsewhere. This is most likely a sign that ideas do not live and work but rather they are the product of consumption — which always necessitates ‘newness’ and ‘freshness’. And this indicates the narrow worldview from which they, the ideas, have emerged. We are perplexed as to why there is such a demand. What causes it, and how does it begin to influence the artist’s thinking mechanism and the adjustment of his perspectives? Waiting for ‘new ideas’ is always a sign that a worldview is in crisis or that there is a shift in the horizon of our understanding of reality. During a crisis old tools continue to work, taking on new forms and becoming part of the functions in new mediums, creating the illusion of ephemeral, fleeting changes.
Art has repeatedly gone through such ‘difficult times’, but it always finds a way out. A new worldview is required for a new Giotto to appear. And, even if there are issues with this all over the world, Ukraine has its own peculiarities. Of course, this has an impact on the process of becoming a ‘young artist’. In Ukraine, the educational system and the importance of artistic ideas are at opposite ends of the spectrum. And this is characterized by an era of transition in art’s function, which is in fact what transpired globally in art in the twentieth century. In a broad sense, an art school is an institution that represents the world as a set of rules, traditions, and techniques. These rules were established by the first European academies on certain ideological grounds. They remained unchanged as components of the educational worldview until doubts about the ‘boundaries of art’, as well as its very function, began to appear. The young artist’s selection of a particular ‘model’ is, in fact, a question of the nature of art and the delineation of its boundaries, as well as, to some extent, a question of freedom. And it makes no difference whether the young artist makes his decision consciously or unconsciously. A certain number of current ideas influence a young artist’s ‘free’ choice as much as institutional programming does.
To go back to the crisis period, it is at this point that the rules cease to work. There are no general evaluation criteria and this role is taken over by institutions, juries, and experts. If we consider our own era, it is characterized by the increasing role of institutions. And, with the advent of virtual space, the positions of traditional mediums are gradually losing ground, as is the dematerialization of work. It is necessary to keep an eye out for changes in the relationship between the work of art and the person who is in its impact zone. Along with the historical appearance of the so-called spectator, the intermediary figures of the expert and the critic appear in this field between him and the artist. As well as the museum and the gallery, as institutions. And all sorts of art centers. And the figure of the gallery owner and so on. Culture from the area where meanings are produced becomes a manufacturing industry, where these meanings are transformed into models and standards for consumption for a specific season. Museums set the standard of quality and teach us to see the difference. This is how the modern space of the ‘cultural industry’ and the ‘industry of culture’ are formed. And, of course, the viewer wants to see new ideas each season, not the same ones he saw the previous one. Another part of this process is the desire to see what is already familiar. And this familiarity will be tinged with ‘newness, divergence’. When an idea enters the space of the ‘industry of culture’, it becomes a ‘brand’. The institution is then interested in preserving the ‘brand’ and continues to look for another figure with a ‘new idea’. This is the path walked by all competition participants. The path to success begins with an ‘idea’ and ends with a ‘brand’.
One of the outcomes of the dematerialization of artwork in the postconceptual period has become the process of instrumentalizing the medium. An idea’s priority is set at the level of its ‘design’. In the old classical strategies, the medium (painting, sculpture regardless of material, engraving, etc.) illustrated the idea at the level of ‘story’, and it was ‘read’ as a conception. This ‘story’ in interdisciplinary works can be told in any medium, or in several at once, or it can be documented. The foundation of the text, however, remained. At the level of ‘language’, it was ‘descriptive’.
The rejection of the ‘rules’ that existed in the ‘classical’ period gave a sense of relative freedom and release from the ‘dictate’ of the material, and even more from the established historical genres of art and the boundaries of style, translating art into a kind of game. Perhaps ‘game theory’ is the dominant method in contemporary art. “The most important thing is an idea, and I will take care of the material part later,” says the young artist. I think the main emphasis here is on the word ‘choice’ as a synonym for the word freedom.
This was one of the points on which the still invisible division into ‘generations’ was built. The division is conditional because it shared external features (material and the ability to manipulate it: ‘history’ was not illustrated but became part of the intellectual construction) leaving the features of the ‘language’ unchanged. At the level of ‘language’, this strategy combines the works of socialist realists, the works of the new wave, and the works of many young artists. It is fascinating to track the evolution of language constructions, as semantic constructions are replaced by semiotic ones, and in material ‘language’ the accuracy of the realistic image that was in the old art (that which is taught in the academy) transforms into a sign and its expressive ‘image’. This highlights the subjective statement in the plane of ‘general knowledge’, where the sign functions as a guide for the development of ‘history’. Here I’d like to emphasize the word ‘expression’ because it is central to this method of relating art to reality, regardless of the material we used to approach reality. Where there is a ‘statement’, we have a certain method of dealing with reality, which is the result of a procedure of correlation. This is critical to remember. I would single out the period of ‘painting’ as a period when the temporal-spatial Kantian operates a priori and art employs a mimetic approach to work with reality. That is, we have a painting as a ‘picture of the world’. With the advent of virtual reality in place of the painting comes the ‘image’. Instead of reality, information about reality is presented. Don’t you remember that a ‘pixel’ is a data carrier?
Dematerialization may be coming to an end, and the virtual world is becoming a ‘reality’. It is possible to express it verbally, but in the end, this is nothing more than a verbal expression. As a result, the fate of the ‘old mediums’ is in question. They must become vessels of a completely different relationship with reality. The question arises, “Can there be an ‘old medium’ in the form that it existed in the classical era?” I believe that painting should be ‘reinvented’! And, most likely, ‘art’ itself should be reinvented, because what we call art no longer corresponds to how it works in the new realities. And in terms of ‘a strategy of expression’, can it be ‘experienced, lived through’ rather than just read? Supposedly, but for this, the effect of the personal story must be ‘imposed’ on ‘reality’. Thus, the uniqueness of a ‘personal’ story is required. Or perhaps a local story. Furthermore, there is a need for expression.
Expression is the only human trait left during the construction of the virtuality matrix. The emphasis is on expressive personal gestures. The emphasis of expressive personal gestures ‘humanizes’ the method of research if it is recorded by old mediums. I am not convinced that this technique withdraws such art from the ‘culture of meanings’ (Gumbrecht’s term). But the record of research in the form of a document provides the artist with the new role: he becomes a young bureaucrat. Art is like a role-playing game. Another way to construct an image is a photorealistic imitation of the object. If photography once imitated painting, now painting imitates photography.
‘Imitation’ is another important method in the latest visual culture. And ‘deconstruction’ is added as a critical attitude toward all of these methods. There is indeed a certain distinction between the generations; the one that initiated ‘modern art’ and the one that came about with the virtual world. Although, of course, both Derrida and deconstruction were mandatory in the 1990s-2000s. I reiterate: it is not written as an evaluation on a scale of good or bad. This is self- evident.
In fact, the model of ‘expression’ existed as a sprout in the old, classical model. It was present as a ‘language’ issue. ‘Plasticity’ of the language. As part of a ‘descriptive’ approach that was based on a text-centric model. It is so, even when it involves working with sensorics; it is possible to combine visuality and sound, as well as text and ready- made. This is what I call a horizontal model.
In the old space-time system, direct contemplation played an important role as a relationship with the reality that is in front of the artist and its reproduction in identical forms. This spatiotemporal reality was reproduced when the artist worked with myth, or with fictional reality, or with the reality of the subconscious, remaining in the format of the picture. This immediacy vanishes during the construction of cultural archives. The screen’s image is always flat. The ‘picture’ is transformed into a screen. This is also self-evident.
This process is obvious to me as a person who worked as an expert on the first MUHi when we analyze the years that have passed since the first competitions and continue up to today’s projects. This is not a good-bad rating system, but rather a statement of the changes that have occurred during this time period. For a Western ‘young artist’ who lives in a certain social order, this is the choice of pasture where he will graze, feed. First the choice of the artist, and then the choice of the institution. This also awaits Ukraine. This is already a fact. Because, regardless of what slogans cover their activities, the ‘industry of culture’ is first and foremost a part of the liberal (neoliberal) economy. The ‘young artist’ enters the world of art at a time when there are no fixed norms and criteria.
Old art forms become part of the archive, an element of constructing a ‘new dialect’. However, there are specific economic relationships and their ordering. And there are two strategies: the ‘expression’ strategy and the ‘experience’ strategy. In many of its practices, expression, paradoxically, adheres to the traditional, text-centric model, the ideal form of which is the image. We see ‘pictorial’ thinking in installations, the latest sculptures, and photography projects.
The ‘experience’ strategy has entirely different grounds and does not include elements of descriptiveness or history in its method. You come out as another person based on your experience. And in this case, entirely different tools and sensorics are at work. Hermeneutics is unlikely to be required in this case. I will say something heretical. There is probably a need for a new canon. ‘New visuality’ entails working outside of the text. Meanwhile, these two strategies coexist and are frequently in mixed forms. Of course, this is a very broad statement. However, such a broad generalization is required to distinguish the fundamental models upon which visual culture is built today. And not only in Ukraine.
Both strategies are not novel and have a long track record. For some time, one of them is out of sight but does not cease to function. Then it becomes significant and visible. Is this a matter of choice? For a young artist? Perhaps! And perhaps Stanislavski’s famous statement can be applied here: “He loved himself more in art than art in himself”. And because this mechanism works without resistance, the artist selects a visible strategy model. Probably the secret to why there is so much vulgarity today. Because, in addition to the need for expression, there is also a desire to self- express oneself. This brings us back to the issue of the worldwide ‘horizon’. That is, there is some ‘invisible absolute’ through which the artist views and defines his horizon of expression. And this is a critical point in everything he does. This brings us back to the issue of the incorrect use of terms like ‘intuition’, ‘freedom’, ‘authenticity’ etc. This is about the fact that our art is still in an infantile state in many ways. Or when cynicism triumphs over infantilism. Or they collaborate.
I felt it was important to write this text as part of my experience both as a member of the MUHi jury and as a participant of the artistic process who is observing the generational changes and alterations taking place in Ukrainian and global art.
I had little prior experience with competitions and awards myself. The owner of a gallery where I had an exhibition received the Munich Prize on my behalf. I got a great workshop, even though I only worked half the term because I missed the first half. It was 1995. In Kyiv, I had a major exhibition at the House of Artists, which was organized by the Soros Center for Contemporary Art and curator Marta Kuzma. I got to Munich after the vernissage.
For the second time I was in the beautiful Austrian town of Poppendorf staying in a seventeenth-century castle with several Ukrainian and Austrian colleagues at the invitation of a cultural foundation from the city of Graz. I participated in two plein airs in Gurzuf, Ukraine, organized by Lesia Avramenko. I also received some invitations to Toulouse where I lived and worked several times. I must say that all of the trips were crucially significant to me. I would be different if it weren’t for these trips.
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