In early May, when terrorist attacks in the Donbas turned into a real war, and armed men in balaclavas became a horrible part of everyday life in the region’s cities and towns, several Ukrainian and foreign artists held an art event near Alchevsk, trying to use the power of art to combat violence.
Members of the Artpole agency conceived a creative event to be held in the century-old Mscichowski Manor in the town of Seleznivka near Alchevsk back in the summer of 2013. The invited persons included poet Serhii Zhadan from Kharkiv and artists from Kyiv, Donetsk, Lviv, Sumy, and Mykolaiv, as well as participants from Belarus and Poland, and Austrian dancer Andrea Handler. Local activists Oleh and Serhii assisted with the project’s implementation, including by negotiating with local “supporters of federalization.”
The project initially aimed to fill with new meanings the unique old mansion which was used as a female corrective labor colony and a drug treatment clinic in the Soviet time, to “clean” its space with creative energy. “It was important for us that this region, that is, Luhansk oblast, is where Zhadan was born. We planned this event as a kind of a bridge between Ukraine’s east and west,” a co-organizer of the event Myroslava Haniushkina explained.
Stormy and terrible events had made neither organizers nor participants to abandon the idea. “We are happy that everything happened without incident and resulted in a success, exactly as we had hoped. The show was a success, the installation worked, and our land art object turned out great,” Haniushkina told us.
The only tangible result of the violent events was a significant reduction in the number of spectators, with about a hundred and fifty of them attending the first part of the art event at the Seleznivka manor, and just a few dozen people appearing for its second part. The unusual art event was documented and will soon be shown as a movie. Its creators promise to show it live in Kyiv and tour Ukraine and Europe with it. “We would like to continue to regularly organize similar events on the manor,” the creators hope. “It depends on what will happen with this territory.”
The creative workshop’s participants had to discuss organizational issues with local pro-Russians. They even established a “constructive dialog” at first. Later on, though, a few “well-armed men” took an interest in it, who, according to the participants, were obviously not local. They did not like the art object which the artists made out of a slagheap, planting it with lavender and converting it to a land art object. “We built a stone circle on the slagheap to delineate the object. It annoyed these ‘armed men.’ The militants told our local representative Oleh that we were building a helipad or marking a target for enemy missiles, and forced us to destroy it all,” Haniushkina told us.
Despite the difficult external environment, the organizers are confident that the project was constructive for the people in the region. Both the young and the elderly attended the shows. Although perceiving these works of art, according to the authors, requires a certain level of artistic training, some people expressed sincere admiration.
“Everyone has to do their job under any circumstances. Art may not have such immediate consequences as a gun, but it works over time,” Haniushkina reflected. “When talking about the local situation, it is clear that guns win here. But in the long run, it is art that is victorious.”