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More about the artist
Curator of contemporary art projects Maryna Shcherbenko interviewed Maria Kulikovska within the Shcherbenko Art Center video platform
21 April 2020
Maria Kulikovska is one of the most consistent and holistic young Ukrainian artists. She responds to all traumatic societal changes that affect the development and essence of the person. Her main material is her own body. It is a body of an artist, a young and sensual woman. It also makes it possible to broaden the gender questions in her art. Maria exposes her emotional and bodily essence, again and again, shaking the stuck in the moment world.
In her performances and actions, Maria addresses socially critical and political issues while remaining merciless and impatient to herself and her viewers. She makes sculptures by removing molds from her body, casting them from soap, resin, metal or other materials, filling them with faded flowers, metal chains or bones of fish. Such work with form and material is a powerful tool for expressing her ideological messages.
Maria, you do not leave painful and uncomfortable questions for our society unanswered. In your focus is the unstable political situation in Ukraine and Russian aggression, principles of morality, the position of women in Ukrainian society, stereotypes towards body perception. It seems that you are not limited to the range of definite topics, but you do have clear issues that concern you. Tell us about the selection process. Is it a complex search or an internal restraint?
I have been in art since the age of 7 and I have been doing professional exhibitions for more than 10 years. All this time I do not change topics radically. I am gradually moving in my study of life, man, woman in the context of borders. A lot of people perceive my work as a sexual one, but I am not an expert in these questions, so I do not comment on the issue of sexuality. On the contrary, I am deepening more and more into the analysis of body position and political, social, internal boundaries.
I do not suffer while searching for a subject of expression. There are so many negative moments and injustices affecting my life. I do not live inside a bubble and I am not a daughter of aristocrats. So, I have a lot say and to analyze.
However, there are limits to the freedom of expression imposed by power and war. So, I need to think carefully about my statements in order not to hurt loved ones.
I have been hanging the Sword of Damocles for many years now and I feel its pressure with my whole body every day. It really makes me react more and more. To react more rigidly, painfully, clearly and to delve deeper into the original forms of visual communication while creating my own language and surrounding myself with only those with whom I want to be. This way I can revolutionize the system.
There is one more important point. I am an architect. I had 5 years of rest from architecture that were required to study my own body in relation to the body of society. Anyway, this experience gives me the opportunity to further analyze and create my own alternative space. I continue to work as an architect in art. I carefully cut away all the extras to maximize the visual image and influence the viewer.
I know clearly the spheres I am an expert in and the spheres to listen to opinions of others. That is why I am not close to artists who are constantly changing their topics without achieving uniqueness in any of them.
You said you never comment on sexuality… Why? After all, you are often naked in your performances. Regardless of the invested meanings, nudity forms additional connotations to any gesture.
I’m not talking about it because I don’t see anything sexual in what I do. I do not want the vagina cast to be taken literally as a sex toy. It should not vulgarize a sufficiently stigmatized and objectified female body. I am working with one of the best methods of psychoanalysis and therapy that is fire with fire. Plus, I try to accept and love my injured body but I do not objectify it in any way…
I also use my body as a material and treat it as a shell behind which there is a lot of pain and traumas. It is an experience and knowledge you want to get rid of because you can’t live with them. Expressing this within letters is simply impossible. Text cannot always help. Then the most radical methods come to rescue me.
Yes, Carolee Schneemann used her body as the main artistic material in the 1960s. She had used it as a sculpture even before performance appeared. Your performative works are also related to the usage of the body. These are casts taken from the body and its parts. I find the same context in some of your works. What senses do you put into these works?
The process of creation involves many aspects from architectural analysis of space to a very intimate conversation with the viewer. It is reflected in my casts and their repetition with the addition of various materials, careful study of the place to install them, the context of a work. This is the story of many hidden and encrypted moments. These are thrillers and open-ended drama.
Casts are always motionless. They have no emotions, no signs, no gestures. They are neutral like icons, ghosts of a real body. They have no hands, they cannot open their eyes, cannot talk, but they shout about the horrors that surround us. Silent caryatids carrying the burden of human existence on their shoulders…
Masha, you said you only surround yourself with people who you want to be with. You have done a lot of works and projects in collaboration with other artists. In recent years you have been working together with your husband and partner Uleg Vinnichenko. How important are people in your work? How do they influence you?
You need to understand the ones you want to be with in order to start surrounding yourself with such people. I have very painful and traumatic associations with top artists and curators of the Ukrainian artistic environment. The sphere is not professional enough, but very corrupted. Political and economic relations within the country are imposed on it. Plus, I was a nomadic subject at first and for the last 6 years, I became a constant traveller. The feeling of loneliness and needlessness within your country and your people for whom you create became unbearable. Then, I got understanding that I am considered to be a stranger because I am inactive in parties and do not try to be a part of the rich and famous world. I’m on my way. In the end, I realized that I am the autonomous republic of Maria Kulikovska and everything became easier. I freed from toxic relationships and understood who I want to be with. As a result of my exhibitions around the world, I suddenly realized that so many really erudite professionals, artists, and critics were taking over and sharing my work.
I get invitations for collaboration. We inspire each other. It is a mutual exchange. It is through work and absolutely honest approach to art we become true friends forever.
Did you meet your husband the same way?
Yes, I met my husband, ally, muse, and co-author now.
He dedicated more than 6 months of his professional work to my project. That were seven full-length sculptures in the park near Lviv. No one knew if we could come up with the idea and whether we would receive our fees. But Uleg suspended all his architectural projects for the sake of my experiments. He has brought in a lot of new solutions including visual ones. We have never been apart since that moment. I met him at a critical moment in my life when I could commit suicide because of the loneliness and pain of betrayal and war…
We rescued each other and I can freely share all my ideas and experiences. I know that I am not alone anymore and it is much more interesting to create together.
I meet more and more wonderful people with talented ideas and I really want to team up with everyone and use our privileges to win and exceed those who do nothing while having access to resources.
Recently, on the video platform of Shcherbenko Art Center we presented your performance Blood and Pressure that was also made in collaboration. In this case, you worked with Russian artist Mila Dolman. How did you decide to work together?
I met Mila Dolman through the social network. She shared my civic and political position and that is why invited me to cooperate. At first, there were many disputes but friendship won. After all, she emigrated from her home country, not because of great living conditions. We sincerely wanted to remain individuals, but at the same time create something that could inspire people to think critically and show compassion unleashing the horrors of propaganda.
Blood and Pressure is rather metaphorical work where you hit each other with parts of animals. The video has a reference to Marina Abramovich’s works, hasn’t it?
I didn’t realize that blood and pressure had appealed to Abramovich’s works, but why not? She is not the first, and we are not the last to use flesh and blood. But it is obvious that all these performances continue one statement of previous actions. This is a series that has peaked.
Half a year before I was making performance with another Swedish artist. She was approaching me in white clothing and I was standing in a basin with the blood and the innards of animals throwing it all at her. The performance was called Identity. We also created a collaboration called Patience? with Mila Dolman. Then Mila embroidered the word patience and I made ? sign on a white towel. During the embroidery leeches on our backs sucked our blood and after getting drunk they spread away…
How did this work turn out to be the result we are now witnessing? Tell us about the creative process. How do artists make their works from idea to finished performance and video documentation?
It is difficult for me to break down the whole process into sub-paragraphs. Ideas come from hard work and focus on one point. But the process itself is also very important as more answers come during the discussion, preparation, and creation.
Great ideas are those that dawned on you and you are confident in their correctness. You just do everything for realization.
It’s like math. When you struggle for a long time to solve a puzzle everything is finally done by itself. A similar process occurs in teamwork. Suddenly you know without a doubt that you cannot live without this idea. You understand the importance of realizing it for the transformation of this world. You are worried that many people begin to believe in what you are doing.
By the way, the video was shot and edited by director Pasha Serdyuk whom I met in London at an exhibition in Saatchi Gallery. Then I asked him to shoot our performance. Now they are best friends.
And this is wonderful because art unite people!
 Carolee Schneemann is a contemporary American artist. Known for her feminist performances of the 1960s-1970s.
 Uleg Vinnichenko is an architect and engineer. He has been involved in the creation of Maria Kulikovska’s sculptural projects for the last three years, and since 2020 they have jointly established Garage 33 Gallery-Shelter.
 Memento Mori – Remember that we are mortal is a series of seven green sculptures that are mutating in a public park, Spring 2017, Lviv.
 Mila Dolman is a Moscow artist, performer, and sculptor. Studied ceramics at Stroganov Moscow State Academy of Arts and Industry then moved to London, studied culture at College of Arts.
 Marina Abramovich is a Serbian artist and performer, working with research on the possibilities of mind and body, subjects of personality and identity. She shared a long period of her art with German artist Ulay.
 Identity is a performance in collaboration with Swedish artist Benedikte Esperi on National Day of Sweden on June 6, 2017.
 Pavel Serdyuk is a director. He studied philosophy at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and then direction at the MetFilm School in London.