And once again…. a Ukrainian-themed post. But this one is a bit different, because it is about modern art. And the nihilism of the contemporary experience.
So, I shall just tell this story quickly, in chronological order:
In January 1916 Russian Revolutionary leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin published his seminal work, The Socialist Revolution and the Rights of Nations to Self-Determination. In which, contrary to certain other socialists who denied that the Ukraine was even a real nation separate from Russia, Lenin penned the following, in his usual acerbic style:
Russian Socialists who fail to demand freedom of secession for Finland, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., etc.—are behaving like chauvinists, like lackeys of the blood-and-mud-stained imperialist monarchies and the imperialist bourgeoisie.
On 30 December 1922, under the leadership of Lenin and the victorious Bolsheviks, Ukraine became one of the founding republics of the Soviet Union. As has been documented by numerous historians, the Bolsheviks endowed Ukraine with extra lands and resources, including the entire Novorossiya territories, this to make sure that the Ukrainian Republic thrived and became an industrial and agricultural powerhouse.
And Then Shit Happened
Jumping forward in time to 8 December 2013 when a ferociously anti-Communist Maidan mob in Kiev tore down a statue of Lenin. This statue, like the many other Lenin statues, had been erected in Soviet times to honor the man who essentially had founded and curated the Ukrainian independent state. The anti-Lenin action was not popular: Even wiki admits that 69% of Kiev residents had a “negative” attitude about the removal of the statue (13% had a positive attitude, while 15% remained indifferent). Nonetheless, there was very little this 69% could do to avert the act of vandalism, since a very determined and very violent minority had taken control of the streets of the capital.
After the leader of the world proletariat was torn down, leaving just an empty plinth, the new Ukrainian authorities decided to hold an international competition for a work of art deemed worthy to perch upon the now-vacant pedestal.
The winner of the competition was a prominent visual artist hailing from Guadalajara Mexico, her name is Cynthia Gutierrez. Gutierrez was perhaps a very good choice, because her portfolio shows works that deal with loss, destruction, abandonment, dead birds, and broken pedestals.
On 12 May 2016 Cynthia’s victory was announced, along with, apparently, a sketch of her masterpiece, which consists of the empty plinth itself, flanked by a wooden staircase. The work is entitled “Casting Shadows”. Gutierrez said that her goal was to imbue the observer with a sense of the dynamic of historical symbols: From rise to fall, and then forgotten in the mists of time. “I intend to make people question the existing schemes which surround us.” She went on to say that she hopes that her work will inspire a discussion and reflections about the persistence of memory, and about systemic mistakes that are made; and about empiness; issues of identity; and negative space.
Full disclosure: I don’t know much about modern art, but I know what I like. And it isn’t this particular work. Although I admit it does have that “negative space” aura about it.
Now This Is More My Style
Apparently some Kievans didn’t appreciate Cynthia’s work either. Because last night some unknown person or persons decided to enhance the piece by placing a statue on top of the empty plinth. A statue of Mary Mother Of God. And then, within minutes, this statue itself tumbled to the ground, presenting a powerful artistic message to onlookers. I think what this artist was trying to say is that nihilism is not a workable philosophy. People have to believe in something. If not Lenin, well then maybe another historical figure; or even a religious personage. But the tumbling of this symbol, in its turn, forces the viewer to the realization, that nothing is permanent. No symbol, no personage. No Idol can withstand the forces of Time. Not even the Mother of God.
The idol of Mary lying on the street serves to fill at least a portion of the empty space left by the blank wooden stairs of Cynthia Gutierrez. The piece employes a unique color scheme: Mary’s cloak is bright blue, perhaps symbolizing the “positive space” of the sky itself, which blazes brightly over Kiev. Mary is flanked on each side by two dwarves or wizards. Each wizard is dressed in a yellow robe with a bright red pointy cap. This symbolizes, I believe, that nihilism needs to be replaced by “wisdom”. The combination of the yellow robes and Mary’s blue robe constitute the national flag of the Ukraine. Whereas the red of the caps could be a subversive condoning of communism. Equating “red” communism with wizardry. Or perhaps the message is that communism and religion can co-exist in a post-modern society. But only if both are humbled and tumbled to the ground. Or perhaps not.