On a recent weekend an extraordinary event took place in Vyshhorod, a city in Kyiv oblast. This was an open-air sculpture exhibit dedicated to the 1,020th anniversary of the christening of Rus’-Ukraine. Among the events was the burial of a time capsule on the site of the future monument to Saints Borys and Hlib.
“The idea to organize an open-air sculpture show was kicked around for a long time,” said Yurii Komelkov, the chief editor of the art magazine Aura and the head of the project. “The last time a similar event was held in Kyiv oblast was 20 years ago. We were searching for a theme but couldn’t decide on one. But when the celebrations of the christening of Rus’ were initiated at the state level, the theme crystallized all by itself. We were thinking that a bank of the Dnipro River would be a good venue, but then we realized that people go there only on weekends.
“Then it occurred to me that the historical city of Vyshhorod would be a good candidate. Yaroslav Moskalenko, the head of the Vyshhorod Raion Council, supported my plan. The city has already achieved a lot, but now it’s all about a totally different development quality. The city is striving to become more comfortable and beautiful. A nice city makes you want to live there,” Komelkov explained.
Vyshhorod, today a suburb of Kyiv, is one of the oldest cities in Ukraine; the first written record dates back to 946 A.D. The city was the closest residence of the Kyiv princes to the capital, and during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise it became a spiritual center. In 1020 the relics of the Ukrainian saints Borys and Hlib were moved here, where they have remained to the present day.
In 1072 a wooden church dedicated to these saints was built in Vyshhorod. In 1115 Yaroslav’s grandsons Sviatopolk, Volodymyr Monomakh, and Prince Oleh Sviatoslavovych of Chernihiv built a grand stone cathedral with a mausoleum and adorned the princes’ sepulchers with gold and precious gems.
The time capsule was buried on the site of the future monument to Borys and Hlib in the middle of a large, recently renovated square that resembles the squares where Ukrainians once gathered to take part in the viche (general assembly). Mayor Viktor Reshetniak says that the authorities plan to build a historical memorial with monuments dedicated to the statesmen who in various historical eras contributed to Vyshhorod’s development, in particular Princess Olha, and princes Sviatoslav, Volodymyr, Yaroslav the Wise, and others.
Ten modern sculptures are now grouped around the square, creating a kind of open-air museum of contemporary art. Visitors to the exhibit can admire Vasyl Yarych’s sculpture Raiske derevo (Tree of Paradise), which refers to the creation of the world, and a succession of works dedicated to key Biblical heroes and plots as well as a mini-history of Christian Rus’-Ukraine.
The names of the sculptural compositions speak for themselves: Maty i dytia (Mother and Child) by Oleksandr Diachenko, Povernennia (The Return) by Ivan Salevych, Kniahynia Olha (Princess Olha) by Leonid Kozlov, Kyrylo i Mefodii (Cyril and Methodius) by Andrii Datsko, Antonii i Feodosii Pecherski (Saints Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves) by Petro Hlemaz, Molytva (Prayer) by Mykola Bilyk, Doroha do svitla (Path to the Light) by Hryhorii Kudlaienko, and several others.
The sculptures are made of Crimean stone, which darkens with time. A century or two ago this type of stone was used to build castles in Ukraine and Europe. At dusk, lights are turned on to illuminate each sculpture, creating a warm atmosphere. “In the evening the sculptures look somehow mystical,” said Lidia Kordon, an advisor to the head of the Vyshhorod Raion Council. “They beckon to you and make you want to stay there. They are like powerful bundles of energy, symbols, or guides pointing the way.”
Salevych’s The Return immediately evokes the story of the prodigal son. “This is my sculptural version of the Biblical parable,” the artist explained. “Art is thought. It is how an artist thinks in terms of space and volume and how well he or she can use the expressive means of sculpture to create a convincing image – in other words, to express a theme. My sculpture is not easy to understand, just like the other sculptures here, because none of them are stereotypical. They urge the viewer to become co-creators. These sculptures are like an appeal to our irrational self, our subconscious. The richer a person is on the inside, the more he or she will obtain food for thought from a sculpture.”
The sculptor explained that the theme of the return is an eternal one, containing the essence of Christian morality – forgiveness. “However, I believe that for us, Ukrainians, it projects another important idea-a return to spiritual values. We need to stop fooling ourselves and others, as many statesmen do vis-a-vis the people, and, finally, start living in an honest and responsible way,” Salevych said at the open-air sculpture show in Vyshhorod.