Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Art parallels between Kharkiv and Liverpool

Participants of the “SWAP: UK/UKRAINE” exhibition sum up the Ukrainian-British art residence project
18 April, 2018 - 15:59

Just half an hour after the opening of the YermilovCentre, the venue was packed. Visitors were mostly young people who did not use the opportunity to make a selfie or simply take a picture near the art photos and installations of the “SWAP: UK/UKRAINE” exhibition. This was the final event within the framework of the Ukrainian-British art residence project. It enabled us to see Kharkiv and Kyiv through the eyes of British artists, and Liverpool as seen by their Ukrainian counterparts.

Kharkiv photographer Polina Karpova was among those fortunate enough to attend an art residence in Liverpool. She made a series of photos of the Liverpool Scouse girls [Scouse is the name of the local dialect spoken in Liverpool and a meat meal similar to the navy-style pasta. – Author] and completely dispelled the myth that only Ukrainian girls are immediately visible in Europe by their colorful makeup and sometimes inappropriate manner of dressing.

“It was this myth that attracted my attention to this topic. From the first days of my stay in Liverpool, I noticed that main streets were full of walking girls who knew no moderation both in makeup and in clothes. For them, it is normal to spend 30 pounds on everyday makeup in a parlor. They are very fond of pink color and sequins, their distinctive feature is very wide ‘Scouse eyebrows.’ In the fall and even in the winter, the Scouse do not wear a jacket or a coat going to the club, but exit a taxi already wearing a mini-dress. Since I like to be an inventor, I decided to reveal precisely the Liverpool Scouse girls to Kharkiv, for most of us still see Liverpool solely as the birthplace of the Beatles and a port city. After all, I have not seen such girls on the street anywhere else in England,” said art photographer Karpova.


She presented five photos at the “SWAP: UK/UKRAINE” exhibition. The artist admitted that she had had to look for subjects of her photos with the help of the Liverpool Biennale, because street encounters were going nowhere. According to her, the Scouse girls are usually very distant from the art world, they did not understand what these photos were for. By the way, the stories of the photos’ subjects can be listened to at the exhibition in first person, since the artist recorded them as audio files.

“I have created my own ‘Liverpool quartet’ – a photo of two Zoes, Laura, and Summer. Laura came to be photographed with a large hair pile on her head and wearing a brightly-colored fur coat. She did not do it on purpose, it is her everyday attire. I have also decided to supplement the series with my self-portrait, because I felt rejected and misunderstood in conversations with these Scouse girls because I do not do makeup or wear brightly-colored clothes, that is, I appear different from them. The self-portrait became an experiment for me, as it shows me wearing makeup, which a Scouse girl had made for me. Looking like that, I went for a walk in Liverpool one evening. Scouse girls smiled at me in response and even winked. I had a feeling like I put on a mask and became accepted by an alien tribe,” Karpova told us about her creative experiment.

The Kharkiv artist believes that Liverpool and Kharkiv are similar. She said that the British city, just like the Ukrainian one, consisted of contrasts, irony, and even romance. By the way, the British artist Kyung Hwa Shon, who attended an art residence in Kharkiv, called it a big romantic city. She was not impressed by Kharkiv constructivism, which is a distinctive feature of the city, but rather by its mood.л

Director of the YermilovCentre Natalia Ivanova called the effort to hold the “SWAP: UK/UKRAINE” exhibition part of cultural decentralization. She is glad that the Kharkivites, like the Kyivites last year, were able to evaluate the results of the British-Ukrainian art residences’ work. “Residences, like exhibitions, come to an end, but communication remains. And we already have our own small group of British artists who present Kharkiv and Ukraine in the UK,” Ivanova said gleefully. By the way, according to Karpova, her British counterparts came to like Kyiv and Kharkiv so much that they planned to visit Ukraine again.

Let us recall that the “SWAP: UK/ UKRAINE” is an annual program of residence for artists and curators, which is funded by the British Council in Ukraine and implemented by the Liverpool Biennale.

By Lina VOLYNSKA, Kharkiv