Interview with the founder of the contest MUHi Maryna Shcherbenko

Interview with the founder of the contest MUHi Maryna Shcherbenko

27 January 2015

The founder of Bottega Gallery and Scherbenko Art Centre, curator and art consultant Maryna Shcherbenko talks about working with young artists, preparing MUHi competition and trends of Ukrainian art environment

– As far as I know, your profile education is not associated with the art. How did you decide to become a curator?

My journey in art began in childhood – with the love to drawing. I graduated from art school and wanted to be an artist or an architect, but when I was young I realized thta I had the skills and desire to create as a clothing designer profession. My first education is the fashion designer. I came to the Kiev Institute of Light Industry. But I didn’t work in this profession, life took a different direction, and my first and second degree were related to the management and finances.

– Is there some kind of artist, curator and gallery owner, who inspired you on your gallery activities?

After some time, trying my hand at various business, I did not leave the desire to go back to the drawing and creativity, and I again began to paint in the artist’s studio. I started to pay more attention to the exhibitions and plunged into Ukrainian artistic environment, in Kiev particularly. I noticed that the gallery business is a not occupied niche, as it is today, by the way, and I really wanted to become active in this area. Then, especially after the MBA, I had the desire to create my own business. At first I did not think about the curatorship, I opened the gallery, but the work of art in the environment expands horizons, and these processes have no limit. Gallery business is an opportunity to make them in the organization and coordination of projects and exhibition processes, the creation of brands, both projects of the gallery, as well as individual artists, plus the work of art consultant and art dealer. Supervision is an individual creative activity that inspires, develops and provides an opportunity for self-realization of my intellectual capacities. Every project is a unique and valuable experience for me.

– Today, a curator, rather than an artist, becomes a key figure in the artistic process, and the exhibition is the result of curator’s work, first of all. Do you feel this change of roles?

– I am aware of the responsibility and assess the effectiveness and efficiency of my work. I’m easy to undertake new projects, especially if the artist is interesting to me and I see the potential in his work and ideas. As a curator I am open to dialogue with the artists, and it helps me to create a one-piece design, without destroying or changing concepts and visual presentations of individual art-works. At the same time my projects are recognizable, it is inherent in a unique visual style and aesthetic, problems and criticism which I find important. We held MUHі project (Approx. Ed. “The young Ukrainian artists”) in a natural way. This is primarily a competition for talented young ambitious people, who have the opportunity, hitting a short-list of nominees to be seen in the professional and artistic environment, using this chance to build on their career. In the context of Ukrainian reality such projects is very difficult to make: usually there is no money for the project, there is a special exhibition area for such a large and multifaceted project, there is no institutional state support, etc. But the reward for the work is the result that is particularly evident 6 years since MUHі competition has been created, and many Ukrainian young artists have been discovered and have developed thanks to the efforts of our institution. Of course, artist is a self-sufficient and strong personality, and it is often difficult for him or her to recognize the help and influence of a curator. But at the same time they have to obey the laws of the art system, which simply can not avoid the need to fill your portfolio alongside exhibitions made on someone’s platforms and with the help of facilitators. Especially at the beginning of their career, not all young artists can master the creation of a personal project, but it is easier to offer an art-work to a group curatorial project, because it is easier to experiment and to find funds for production either.

– Does manager diploma help you cope with the artists? Is it difficult to organize them? Does it simplify your task as curator and whether communication contributes to the artist? Do you have any professional tricks to help you in the organization of the exhibition? After all, it is a fundamental amount of work.

– Yes, it is obvious that the curator can not engage in the creative process, while avoiding organizational activity. And, of course, art education, experience, gallery, plus MBA help me to make not just an exhibition, if necessary, but also art events. MUHі contest is one of them. One of the important stages of the competition is to prepare the nominees exhibition, as artists express themselves here in all their personal and professional qualities. Coordinating that process and colliding here with different, often the smallest problems, the most unexpected situations to work with-nominated artists, we can predict how they will be able to realize their potential for young and bright future. Some of them will become one of the leaders in their niche, someone can really get away from the sphere. Anyway, there are some risks in working with young people.

– You work mostly with ready art-works in your curatorial projects? Or first you have an idea of ​​the exhibition and then you are looking for artists or order any work? Do artists prepare there works specially for your project that would complement the overall concept of the exhibition?

– I had a different experience of cooperation, but I prefer to work with projects made of material that the artists already have. One such project is “Ukrainian abstraction. Black-and-white works”, implemented for the first time in 2011, which presented works of 10 Ukrainian artists working in abstract style. I saw that many abstract artists have monochrome paintings in the workshops. This was an extremely aesthetic design, I wanted to draw attention of art lovers on strong abstract paintings, devoid of “prettiness”, which we can find in the color painting. Now I am preparing th “Resentment” project which is about the consequences of the aggression, in our case – of war. At first, I felt the need to speak out about this through the prism of art to address the problem and, as one of the results – to cause a painful reaction of the visitors. During the preparation of the project revealed that there is not enough material that I needed. I wanted it to be a work that causes strong emotion, it was supposed to be a painful, a human experience overwhelmed with emotion, which is experienced by a person caught in a centrifuge of war. Experiencing orphanhood, deprivation, loss of a loved one, housing, inability to have a normal everyday life. We are now working with this theme and gather material. Not an easy task I set for itself and the artists. Besides, I wanted to add video-art and photography to the project. But photographers that I have already seen are very similar to the news bulletin. But my purpose was not to show the usual pictures to make viewers panic. That concerns, in fact, the idea of ​​this project. Man is a creature that quickly gets used to new conditions of existence. We are accustomed to what is happening, to fear, to losses. A prolonged conflict, and the consequences of it are becoming stronger. Hero of an undeclared war is not actually a hero, when he returns home crippled. He becomes disabled. This is one of the problems that we want to address in this project. We provoke artists by working within this project.

– Who will participate in this project?

– It will take place in several stages, not only on our space. We hope to show this project outside of Ukraine. I have already selected works by Daniil Galkin, Yekaterina Yermolaeva, Anatoly Tverdyi, Ruslan Tremba.

– Ukraine now attracted the attention of the whole world, which is the reason of great interest to the Ukrainian art. Many institutions do exhibitions and projects in the West. Do you have such plans?

– The ”Resentment” project generates information context, which should be of interest to the Western audience, too, because it raises topical issues and for him (be it terrorism or war). But, as I said, while we prepare for the opening of only SCHATS, waiting for the reaction of the professional environment and a Ukrainian visitor. By the end of the year we plan to accumulate material on the project to adapt the presentation in a large exhibition in the western institutions with the directory in which the archive will collect the entire project.

If we talk about the interest in the Ukrainian art in the world, this interest is very weak and rather far-fetched. After all, where is this interest? At Sotheby’s and Phillips, where the sales of works by Ukrainian artists happen from time to time? It is important to understand that auction is one of the commercial tools. When interest in the Ukrainian artists shown exclusively at auctions and are not supported by the demand of other institutions, we run the risk of being accused of speculation from the use of this tool. In other words, the names of the artists appearing in the lists of successful auction sales, must be named by local curators and gallery owners in the lists of participants in various commercial and non-commercial exhibitions. But none of our artists is invited. Part of this conflict situation permits a series of events organized by Ukrainian private institution – Firtash Foundation, including the project “Premonition: Ukrainian Art Now”, held last year in Saatchi Gallery (London), that united the works by 38 artists in one general concept. I happened to be one of the four Ukrainian curators of this project. This experience has only confirmed me in the view that, while our art is not supported by the most of Ukrainian collectors and patrons of the arts, as well as by the state cultural policy aimed at the development environment, integration of Ukrainian contemporary art in the world space doesn’t move from the stage of discussion.

– Do you plan to organize an educational program within the MUHi 2015 contest? In Ukraine, there is a huge flaw in the education in the field of contemporary art is.

– Education program on the subject of performance will be realized within the MUHі 2015 project. There will be lectures, workshops and video screenings of historically significant performances. Working in this way, we want to attract interest to the medium, which in our local art environment, unfortunately, in the best case is a show before the show, and, of course, begin to change the prevailing attitude towards this direction. Institutional education platform in the field of contemporary art in Ukraine is a huge field for work, opportunities for implementation and achievements, as we do not have schools, institutes, academies and universities offering education for future artists, art critics, curators, critics and gallerists. These niches can and should be, but what to say about this situation of crisis in Ukraine? After all, not only a matter of state policy aimed at the development of the cultural environment, but also investments in the country.

– Your project MirArt that you’ve placed in the airport “Borispol”, in the public space. What role does a public space plays in public education? How this can be dangerous when the public is not ready to perceive art?

– Choosing the work to be placed in the public space, adjacent to the terminal D “Boryspil” airport, I took into account both social and spatial characteristics of the place. I understand the full measure of responsibility in the first instance before a wide audience airport – people who are staying in their worries before departure or upon arrival to Ukraine, get into the space of our exhibition. The works do not cause the public any visual or ideological issues, though, and have the author’s concept. It is necessary to note that MirArt project – this is a temporary exhibition of previously created sculptures and objects intended for display in the public place. The works do not have the necessary scale and aesthetics to stay here for more than the allotted time on the exhibition period. The project’s objective – to promote the Ukrainian contemporary art through the presentation of temporary art space. It is very important how the perception of the exhibited works will have a wider audience. For example, “the Picture of the World” by Daniil Galkin, first shown in the project by Alexander Soloviev in Mystetskyi Arsenal, started a new life in the MirArt project. After all, the visitors in Arsenal were relatively prepared, with certain expectations from the exhibition, and the visitors of the airport “Borispol” were imposed to the contact with art, often the time not the most appropriate. But as a result the positive reaction of the audience is enough.

– Such works provoke reflection of a very large audience, despite the fact that many of the spectators may not be prepared, they will still react on the art-work.

– Yes, and I am particularly interested in the nature of the perception of the local audience of the exhibited works. Visitors find the “Depersonalization” project by Viktor Sydorenko interesting. It is an installation, which represents 12 sculptural objects – colored humanoid clones. The artist explores the problem of identification of the person in the urban and social environment. But I suspect that most people who are suitable for clones sculptures, take pictures with them, hugging, squeezing their bodies into “stiff” sculpture hugs, making faces, achieving a more pronounced effect for the Instagram, do not even think about the idea of ​​the art-work. We offer public art in the MirArt project, which corresponds to the present time, meets the visual, aesthetic and ideological requirements of the era – this is a way to provoce the formation of taste and cultural perceptions, not aggressive and not intrusive.

– Returning to the issue of education and the unhealthy system of contemporary art in Ukraine, what is the selection criteria for the nominees of MUHi competition? You consider already realized works or they may be newcomers who do not have the declared exhibition, but there is a concept or an idea of a project? Many, especially young, artists often do not have the opportunity to realize their projects in exhibitions.

– 2015 competition will differ from the previous ones, since in 2013 it has been decided to change the status of competition on biennale, as part of the expert jury to attract foreign art critics and curators. Artists can not be selected in the short list of nominees for the second time. From the submitted applications experts draw up a list of 10 contestants, who then prepare their projects for participation in the exhibition, after which experts select the winner and two candidates for special awards. The selection criteria correspond to the fundamentals of formation of high-quality level of contemporary art. Of course, based on their experience, these criteria will be guided by experts. Works submitted for consideration by the expert committee should be completed in the chosen direction of the artist and meet the relevance of nowadays.

– What role in the development and integration of a larger audience in contemporary art in your playing interdisciplinary interaction?

– SCHATS was created as an experimental platform for interdisciplinary interaction between different trends in contemporary art, as well as collaborations with other areas. In this space we create projects that demonstrate the symbiosis of contemporary visual art and fashion, interior design, product design, music, literature and many other. For two years, we have implemented interdisciplinary projects such as the personal exhibition of the Spanish graphic designer and illustrator Isidro Ferrera “Wonder Collection” (April 2013), a group project “Art. Design. Photo” (June-August 2013),  Ukrainian architect Sergey Makhno project “Life of Ideas” (October 2013), an art exhibition of Harper’s Bazaar “History in dresses. Our fashion from the 1990s till the 2010-s”, showing the dresses of seven outstanding Ukrainian designers: Fedor Vozianov, Lilia Pustovit, Irina Karavay, Svetlana Bevza, Lilia Litkovskaya, Natalia Kamenskaya and Olesya Kononova (May 2014), the “Yellow Sound” project which united young Ukrainian artists and musicians such as Daria Kuzmich, Artem Andreychuk, Grytsya Erde, Tenpoint, Eugene Bahl and performances of Black Maloka, 5 Vymir, Blooms Corda, BADIAN Sauna System, Tanya Tanya (July 2014), and others. Through these projects we orient our audience on a holistic perception of art, affecting many areas of our lives, which also reflect the demand of the time.

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