Direct from Kyiv, with Nikita Kadan (et al.), artist. P1

I had contacted Nikita Kadan before the war. I had proposed an article and an interview, asking him to choose some artworks on which he would like me to focus, as he already has many works to his credit. The first question about the second work proposed to my attention is taken from a document that belonged to Oleksandr Rodchenko. The story, as told by Nikita Kadan, on his website: 

“In 1934 Oleksandr Rodchenko created the album 10 Years of Uzbekistan. Some top government officials of the Soviet Uzbekistan, whose photographs were published in the album, were repressed during 1937-1938. Rodchenko brushed the faces of the political prisoners with ink in his author’s copy of the album. Storing the portraits of “public enemies » may have resulted in arrest. I affirm that black stains on the commissioners’ faces are faces themselves, faces of spirits of history, spirits-spectators. History (i.e. augmentation of ruins) is producing itself under their sight.”

Nikita Kadan, “The Spectators”, 2016, charcoal on paper, five drawings, 75 X 55 cm, each one, Collection of M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp
Of course Rodchenko did not redraw on the whitewash, it is Kadan who adds this extra soul, and, by doing so, he gives back a kind of presence to that which had no more (it is indeed the effect sought by the artist).
Léon Mychkine : In order to inform the reader, I’d like to test my view about your work, globally, with the assumption that most of your art is political. “Political art” is often boring, or redundant, and it is very hard to find, I guess, the right balance between artistic expressiveness and “message”, as it were, and that is what you manage to do. Do you consider yourself as a political artist? 
Nikita Kadan: Yes, but it is very general. Artist in relations with historical materialism — this will be more direct.
LM: ‘The Spectators’ has been motivated by some photographs made by Rodchenko. Why did Rodchenko brush these ones?  Was he afraid for him, or for them? 
NK: Aleksandr Rodchenko made these photographs for the book “10 years of Uzbekistan” he designed in 1935. Portrayed people are commissars who fought for Soviet power in Central Asia. Later, in 1937, most of them were repressed as “enemies of the people”. Rodchenko brushed their faces because keeping at home the portraits of the repressed was dangerous. On other hand he didn’t want to cut the pages from his author’s copy of the book.”
The first work (proposed to my attention) was this one:
Nikita Kadan, Victory (White Shelf), 2017, Plywood, plaster and white paint Modified reconstruction of the model of Monument to Three Revolutions: 1825, 1905 and 1917, by Vasiliy Ermilov (Vasyl Ermilov) and melted cups found in the ruins of a house destroyed by artillery strikes in the city of Lysychansk, Donbass.

Here Kadan mocks the sovietic monuments, always grandiloquent and gigantic, celebrating this or that victory, often at the price of an incalculable number of sufferings, wounded, and dead, symbolized here, in glory at the top, by this assortment of melted cups, through the heat of an explosion.

And the war, in Ukraine, here we are. Of course, we are reminded that the war in the region dates back to 2014, in the Donbas, a conflict which, like so many others, I did not understand. But the Ukrainians knew well that they were in a latent war with Putin’s Russia for 8 years. And it is all the same more than 13,000 deaths that we are talking about. But, it must be admitted, the West has never felt concerned by what was happening in Donbas. Yet, already, war it was…

And it is after the beginning of the total war in Ukraine that I speak again with Nikita, and that he waits for my new questions. I hesitate for a few days, not knowing how and what to say. And then I go ahead:

LM: Your work is mostly inspired by Russian history with all the conflicts and repressive ideology through the redacting of facts and truth. One of your recent works is about events in Donbas, but now, things are tragically telescoping; war is at your door and streets, in your sky.

NK: My works are inspired mostly with Ukrainian history. Certainly, in it’s connections with Russian, Polish, Western European — but also Japanese or Cambodian, as in this exhibition I curated (here). Several works of mine are about war in Donbass: “Gazelka”, “’Shelter”, “Difficulties of Profanation”, “Protection of Plants”. For me the war in Donbass and war in Kyiv is the same. Yes, I have less distance, but then I have to change my artistic optics settings for seeing closer. And to act in a situation which demands different reactions. No distance, no safety, no pauses. 

LM: What effect does this cataclysm has on your ability to work?

NK: I am absolutely able to work — if to speak about psychological aspect. But I miss materials (except ot paper, charcoal and iPhone camera). I dealt with reality of this war for eight years, I travelled to the war zone in East for several times, working with local historical museums there. So I just go on with what I started in 2014. The cataclysm is normalised in our part of the world. Global centers push catastrophe out, to the periphery. It seems to be a reason to question the very notions of ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’.

LM: Do you feel, more than ever, an urgency to create?

NK: Yes, and this urgency is mixed with a need to survive. But in my case making art is an instrument of survival even in terms of mental health. And when I feel that time shrinks, I have to do the things which no one else will do for me.
Current photos of artworks at theVoloshyn gallery, Kyiv, send by Nikita Kadan via emails. (This is an underground place, a former bomb shelter which dates back to sovietic times).
Exhibition title : “Tryvoga” [Anxiety]
‘Tryvoga’, artworks by Konstantin-Vadim Ignatov, Lesya Khomenko, Nikita Kadan, photo by Anna Kopylova, courtesy Voloshyn gallery, Kyiv
“Tryvoga”, artworks by Vlada Ralko, Oleksiy Sai, Mykola Ridny photo by Anna Kopylova, courtesy Voloshyn gallery, Kyiv
“Tryvoga”, artworks by Nikita Kadan (+my sleeping place), photo by Anna Kopylova, courtesy Voloshyn gallery, Kyiv
“Tryvoga”, artworks by Vlada Ralko, photo by Anna Kopylova, courtesy Voloshyn gallery, Kyiv

Léon Mychkine



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