The drama of the Ukraine Pavilion team at the Biennale, working under the bombs

On their social accounts, the team working on the Ukraine Pavilion recounts their drama day by day. And the team continues to work despite the bombs, between those who remain and those who try to bring the ready parts of the exhibition to Venice.

Ukraine is under fire from Russia, but that is not why the team for the Ukrainian Pavilion at the upcoming Venice Biennale, opening in April, has stopped working. On the contrary: the hope is that they will be able to finish the work, despite all the difficulties and uncertainties. The team, led by curators Lizaveta German, Maria Lanko and Borys Filonenko and artist Pavlo Makov continues to work toward the success of the exhibition The Fountain of Exhaustion. High Water scheduled at the National Pavilion at the Arsenal, despite the fact that some members of the team are currently in the cities most affected by the Russian bombs.

It is a few hours ago the latest update: the team, on social media, tells what is happening. Makov, the only artist who will be exhibiting in the pavilion, is currently in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, with his family and spends most of his days at the Yermilov Centre, a contemporary art center that currently functions as an air-raid shelter for some 30 people. Just today, the British newspaper Evening Standard published an intense interview with Makov in which the artist explains what it is like to live under the bombs, what his thoughts are on this war (“It is not a war between Russians and Ukrainians,” he said, “it is a war between two opposite mentalities: Ukraine has always been a European-oriented country, even though it was born on the ashes of the Soviet Union. If Ukraine was occupied and I stayed alive, I would not want to be under Russia, because it would no longer be Ukraine”: Makov moreover, like many Ukrainians, also has Russian origins), and how the Pavilion is being worked on.

The Fountain of Exhaustion (“Fountain of Exhaustion”) is a sculpture with water gushing out of bronze funnels hanging on a wall, already conceived in 1995, when it was intended to represent the artist’s perceived depletion of vitality in the world, and now the project will be updated because things seem to have gotten worse. The ready-made parts of the sculpture are currently on their way to Italy (curator Maria Lanko put them in her car two days before the outbreak of the conflict and, Makov says, managed to arrive in Poland). The exhibition catalog was ready to be printed last February 23, one day before the invasion, so it was necessary to go to another supplier (the PDF file of the publication, the artist explained, was already ready). Makov is not giving up: if at least the curators can be in Venice, the project, he still explained to Evening Standard, “can be organized so that at least the core of the project can be shown and the catalog is there. In the current situation, I think our participation will be a positive thing for Ukraine.” Finally, a rather challenged thought on art: “I think art is a very important part of our life; we cannot live without culture, neither politics nor economy works without culture, this is the key to open those locks. But at the same time, right now, art will not help much. Now my duty is to work on the information front.”

The catalog, explain the organizers of the Ukrainian Pavilion, is now in the hands of Borys Filonenko, who is in Lviv working on the final details so it can be printed. Also located in Kharkiv is designer Tania Borzunova, who has been working on the layout and graphics of the catalog: the organizers let it be known that she is in contact with Filonenko (despite the fact that Russian forces in these hours are concentrating precisely on Kharkiv) to finalize the publication.

The situation is also complicated for curators Lizaveta German and Maria Lanko. German, the Pavilion team explains, is “giving ten interviews a day while ’redecorating’ her house to reinforce it against air strikes.” The curator cannot leave the capital Kiev because she is pregnant-she is due to give birth in a week. Finally, Lanko, at the time the organizers were writing was still traveling with parts of Makov’s sculpture in western Ukraine-the goal is to bring everything to Venice. She herself, the day before yesterday, gave an update via Instagram: “For the last three days I have only been driving and sleeping, as I had promised my team to take pieces of Pavlo Makov’s work out of Kiev for the Pavilion of Ukraine at the Venice Biennale organized for this April. It did not seem to make much sense, however, as my closest friends and family continually spent their days and nights in basements in Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Kyiv under nonstop air attacks. When all this was just beginning, it seemed that our lives and our beautiful country were ruined forever as it was the strongest army in the world that was brutally attacking us. But today I know that the opposite is true: we are the strongest army in the world.”

The Ukrainians also took a stand on the withdrawal of the artists and the curator of the Russia Pavilion from the Biennale. The move was welcomed: the team let it be known that in any case it already had a note ready declaring its opposition to Russia’s participation in the Venice Biennale partly because the Russian pavilion, they explain “was built with money from Bohdan Khanenko, a distinguished Ukrainian collector and philanthropist whose collection became the basis for Ukraine’s most important museum of Western and Eastern art, founded by his wife Varvara in Kiev. The pavilion is just another strong evidence of Russian cultural appropriation.”

Pictured: Lizaveta German, Borys Filonenko, Pavlo Makov and Maria Lanko

The drama of the Ukraine Pavilion team at the Biennale, working under the bombs
The drama of the Ukraine Pavilion team at the Biennale, working under the bombs

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