CEDAR LEWISOHN: Monday I’m at the airport on my way to Kyiv. It’s exciting, I’ve never been and have wanted to go for a while. I’m going as part of a press trip to an art fair. I’m the official Art & Music Magazine representative, lol. (Sorry, I promise no more text speak). Anyway, I’m in the departure lounge at Gatwick and thought I’d start my diary here. I’m curious to see which other UK arts press bods are on the junket. I saw a couple of people at check in that could fit the bill, but no one I know as yet. I’m fairly certain I’ll know at least one person, as it’s a pretty small world. I'll have to wait and see.
Ok, (one minute later exactly), so, I just saw Tom Morton walk into departures. I knew I’d see someone I knew. I wonder who’ll be next?
We landed last night and pretty much went straight off to a huge dinner hosted by Nataliia Zabolotna, the director of the Mystetskyi Arsenal. I’m always keen to try weird and wonderful new food, and the Ukrainian feast provided did not fail me. Dishes included a strange 'meat (chicken), in jelly' concoction called Studenetz. On paper it shouldn’t have worked, but actually it was pretty good. Other favourites of mine included a vast array of various varieties of wild mushrooms (again - doesn’t sound exciting - kind of was), even the cranberry juice tasted good - I guess I’m used to Ocean Spray. Anyway last night's the dinner provided a very warm welcome to the city.
This morning, while the rest of the press group went off to visit some local museums and tourist sites, I slipped away to meet a friend of mine, Vova Vorotniov. Vova is a young artist from Kyiv with a background in graffiti writing and philosophy. An unusual mix. We met up and he gave me a brief tour of the city via some of its graffiti hotspots. The main stars of Kyiv street art and graffiti are a duo who go by the name Interesni Kazki (Interesting Tales). I’d seen their work before, but never in the flesh, so it was nice to find that they had a fair amount of work dotted around the city. Vova told me that Interesni Kazki were out of town painting murals at Art Miami. Never let anyone tell you street art and the market don’t mix. Vova also showed me some amazing large scale murals he’s been involved in commissioning by a selection of international artists. What’s nice about this project is that they are not going for the usual suspects, but picking slightly more obscure, but no less talented artists and giving them a shot to make a mark on the city. One work by the French graffiti writer 2Shy was particularly stunning in its simplicity. It was also good to see works around the city from the likes of Zibiok from Poland, Mainstreamers from Russia and the CAP crew from Prague. For lunch Vova took me to his old college and we ate in the student canteen (higher education is free in the Ukraine). In the Soviet era the college was used as a military training school. Above the entrance there was a left over mosaic which depicted a nuclear submarine and quoted Lenin. I’m still not sure what to think about it. Next we went to a gallery space near the centre of town where these was a load more graffiti- which was cool, but what was totally crazy was that at the space I bumped into the artist Zhanna Kadyrova. The crazy thing about that was that I had last seen Zhanna about 10 years previously in an exhibition in Moscow which we had both been in. I was clearly more amazed by this chance meeting than she was however. After this Vova had to go to a meeting, so I was left on my own with a couple of hours to spare. I decided to go and check out the historic monastery which was nearby. Inside one of the many cavernous rooms I saw some incredibly stunning little paintings which formed part of the larger alter pieces. What struck me was how perverse, twisted, sadistic and weird the paintings where. Tied up woman, men on fire and flying snakes. Rock and roll! After I’d had my fill of Russian orthodox aesthetics, it was time to go to the press launch for the Art Kyiv art fair. I was enjoying a nice cup of tea when for some reason I was asked to do an interview for Ukrainian TV. I happily spouted off about how much I loved Ukrainian graffiti and the presenter, (who didn’t speak English) seemed happy enough. Overall the Kyiv Art fair was fun. There were about thirty commercial galleries and various projects. The the main highlight was a large exhibition that focussed on new art from Japan where the curator had limited the selection to artists born in 1965. This kind of obviously random curatorial parameter is actually quite refreshing, in comparison to some of the drivel curators insist on theming their shows under. The other winner of the art fair was the actual building the project is housed in. An absolutely gargantuan converted arsenal, with long corridors and huge wide spaces. Quite similar architecturally to the Arsenal in Venice. The other big news from the press launch was that next year the UK’s own David Elliot will curate the first Kyiv Biennale in the Mysteskyi space. I’ll be interested to see what he does and how he deals with the amazing setting - the possibilities are endless. Later that night there was an after party in a bar called OK. I met the British Ambassador and for some reason felt compelled to ask him if he’s up to date with the UK television drama sensation Downton Abbey. He informed me that “he’s more of an Inspector Morse man, but he’s aware of the phenomenon”.
Breakfast in the hotel this morning was easily worthy of scene in a David Lynch movie. I had a fairly good hangover and ate yogurt with fruit and honey, then some kind of cod fritters. All the while a live piano player knocked out what sounded like a lounge core version of My Way. For a moment it was very much like sitting in someone else’s very strange life. After breakfast it was off to the airport and back to London. Poka.
The first Kyiv biennale will take place between 17/05/12 and 30/07/12
photograph by Cedar Lewisohn
Art & Music Magazine would like to thank Samyra Rashid