02 Jul Mykola Ridnyi: “Events in Ukraine have been and will be the subject of my artistic reflection”

His artworks are well-known abroad, as well as longed-for and highly-regarded in Ukraine. We were lucky enough to catch Mykola Ridnyi in Kyiv and talk to him.

When people say that I don’t put on exhibitions in Ukraine in principle, they are wrong. The thing is I take my participation in any initiatives very seriously. Last year I presented my curatorial project “After the Victory” in YermilovCentre in Kharkiv. It was dedicated to World War II, its current interpretations that have become the object of political manipulation. It was an international project that comprised not only exhibition, but also film screenings and discussions. And my works might often be found in projects of Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv.

I have been working as an artist for about ten years. Naturally, over those years I accumulated a lot of material – enough to make a retrospective statement. But at the moment I don’t think it’s possible in Ukraine. There are not enough art-spaces and institutions that support experimental art and long-term projects in Ukraine – they are very rare. And speaking of local art-market, by its standards my works are “non-commercial”. Though in Kyiv and other European capitals words “commercial” and “non-commercial” have completely different meanings. I don’t find interior design interesting. My work and the work of a designer are mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s not only about me – it’s about segregation of kinds of activities in contemporary art. Some works and artists simply cannot participate in one exhibition. Each to his own.

I keep an eye on to what collections my works belong. Recently I have been working with video, installations or series of objects. Of course, I don’t want to divide my series – when a public collection is interested in a series, usually it wants all of it. If works are in a museum or at a foundation, it makes it technically easier for them to get to exhibitions. E.g. to participate in a recent exhibition in Sweden, one of my works was taken from the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Institutions get in touch with each other and an artist must not puzzle over logistics, transportation, insurance etc. There are professionals to do it.

Events in Ukraine have been and will be the subject of my artistic reflection. I don’t only keep track of social processes – they are a part of me, they affect my attitude. Although Ukrainian context is not easy, especially from the professional point of view, I don’t want to leave the country.

I think it’s important to make curatorial projects in Ukraine, as there’s a lack of experiments in this field. For Ukrainian curatorial practice it’s typical to mix tasks of a curator with those of a manager and of a gallery owner. And it results in a conflict of interests. While an artist who is at the same time a curator – it’s a widespread practice in the world. In this case there is no contradiction, because a professional curator in many ways acts as an artist. Still there were situations when we wanted to make a project in a particular specific place, but its managers refused to understand us. For example, in 2009 our SOSka group curated the exhibition “The New History” in Kharkiv Art Museum. The exhibition was closed by the director of the museum. Sometimes experiments end with a conflict.

Not only lack of institutions, but also censorship and self-censorship pose serious problems in Ukraine. I know other examples, e.g. the case of Volodmyr Kuznetsov at Mystetskyi Arsenal. I was very surprised to find out that not a single participant of that exhibition had withdrawn his works as a sign of professional solidarity. It’s a shameful situation.

I keep an eye on work of my generation of artists in the first place. I mean participants of R.E.P. group, of Hudrada group etc. There’s a feeling of community, solidarity, but it doesn’t preclude different opinions towards particular things. Collaboration with Serhiy Zhadan is a real story. He had written a text to support us in connection with the closed exhibition, later we met during protests in Kharkiv. As for me, his recent texts are an important and precise reflection on war and its victims. As a result, I suggested collaboration, and this is how our project “Blind spot” began.

It’s interesting to watch and, at the same time, be a part of emergence of Ukrainian socio-critical art and its becoming a cultural phenomenon. Emergence of speculative political projects is the secondary process. And these projects are often created by people who used to be pronouncedly apolitical. It seems that many artists perceived Maidan protests in 2013-2014 as an outgoing train that they just couldn’t miss to become successful. This is the origin of many poster artworks that don’t add anything to what can be read in news or heard in populist speeches of politicians. To me, an artist should maintain a critical distance to current events, especially when it comes to his position towards authorities, no matter how difficult is the situation in the country.

Currently I am working on a project within art-residency in Krakow. It will end with a festival in one of the city’s public areas. The work will represent a series of banners dedicated to the problem of a modern city that consumes countryside in order to build elite houses. I also plan to put a lot of exhibitions by the end of this year. Besides Krakow, there will be the Kyiv Biennale, as well as projects in Bialystok, Vilnius, Budapest, Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig and Berlin.

The Venice Biennale has not completely overturned my creative life. I can feel a little bit more attention, but not much more than before. I’m pleased that my works were noticed at such a large exhibition, that now they are often mentioned in international reviews. And speaking of relationship with the audience, such exhibitions are important as they let an artist show his work to many people.

After disappearance of the gallery-laboratory “SOSka” in Kharkiv, I have been thinking over creation of a new art-space, but I realize that it’s very difficult. On the basis of my experience, I can say that you get the result only when you keep systematically working in the selected direction for a long time and don’t shift from one thing to another. It’s hard to be an artist and a curator at the same time. For the time being I consider only occasional engagement into curatorial and organizational work. I want to create small events like apartment exhibitions that have already been put on in Kharkiv in 2011-2013. There’s an idea of a big institutional project with the participation of artists from Ukraine and Sweden.

Take a look