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Nazar Bilyk: “The time has come when we should not serve ideology, but offer our own solutions”
26 September 2017
His most famous sculpture “Rain”, a male figure with a glass drop on his head, which you can find on Peizazhna avenue in Kyiv, Nazar Bilyk created in the beginning of his career, in 2010. At the same time, his first solo exhibition was held, as the result of the artist’s successful participation in the MUHi 2009 contest. Now, there is not a single major exhibition in Ukraine without his works. Nazar Bilyk told Mind about the importance of the viewers reaction to his sculptures, how he takes part in curatorial projects and residencies, and why the country needs a contemporary sculpture park.
Photo: Alexander Zadnipryany for Mind.ua
– It is usual practice to evaluate the development of art in generations. Those who started in the 2000s, now have formed into the mature generation of Ukrainian artists. Do you feel that you belong to a certain artistic generation?
– I guess it’s too early to sum up. Those who came in the 2000s make up the pool of artists who had time to adapt, to form their statement more specifically, to take shape in the consciousness of the Ukrainian art scene. But it’s difficult for me to attribute myself, in general, to a certain generation. Because the generation of artists that lit up in the 2000s, is associated with political activity. This was a period of changes, revolutions, wars and painful topics for the state. And we can talk about a holistic direction of critical art.That’s how we can talk about a certain generation. I stand aside, I have always been working with the inner world, reflections, discovering myself. And it seems to me that the tone in which I began to communicate was slightly polished, there were some corrections, but, in fact, the main course is the same. Therefore, I can not say that 10 years ago it was one, and now another. Everything happens organically and consistently, a certain understanding has been formed, and jobsgrind is the same.
– You said that you associate this generation of artists with political events: the revolution of 2004, then Revolution of Dignity in 2014. But in fact, this is the period of the Ukrainian art scene emergence. Art centres, galleries, Mystetskyi Arsenal appeared, young curators with a new type of thinking, art dealers. This emerging system is far from perfect, but nevertheless it exists and develops. This coincided with the beginning of your career. Do you feel yourself as a part of this artistic field?
– I had no experience other than how to exhibit my works, to act creatively and independently. Perhaps these rules of the game were formed in parallel, but I’m not acquainted with the period before and after this. Therefore, I do not see the changes. Mystetskyi Arsenal, private galleries – they exist as before. Their number neither increased, nor decreased. I understand the rules of the system, its role. I understand that it is being gradually formed in small steps, and can not acquire characteristics of a full-fledged art market. But I do not go into it, I watch more.
– Nevertheless you are from a family of sculptors. Your father and grandfather worked in another system. And comparing the artists of the generation of the Ukrainian new wave, their formation took place within the movement in spite of the system. And now we need to build a new system.
– Well, if you compare the Soviet scheme of interaction between artists and the main institutions, these are: the Union of Artists, the Art Fund of Ukraine, as well as the circle associated with the Academy of Arts. They all are the heads of one body. And the main supplier of the work (for sculptors for sure) was an artistic training center, from where orders were distributed. In the Union of Artists – communication and exhibition space, where the future cooperation with the artistic training center was formed. It was the atmosphere of the service system, and an artist was one to choose what to take from the shelves with vegetables and fruits, what delicacies to take. If he liked the order – he could take it. And when this system broke, although it actually exists so far, then the union kept aloof – in the sense that it stopped feeding the artists. The only thing, it provides workshop space. Today, all the Union of Artists members have workshops, even those who stand against its very existence. This is the only good that the union can present nowadays. I would rather not reproach the past work schemes of institutions and artists. This was another time. But to create new principles, new communication is more constructive. And the example of the New wave artists, which you have mentioned, was that testimony. I do not think that it was a movement against – it was a movement for itself, creation of an alternative world, which is a personal rule for me.
– You say that now it’s all in artist’s hands. Previously, the artist was either built into a working machine, or was an outsider. But, on the other hand, now the artist is one on one with himself. There is not that powerful platform that is able to bring up an artist. First of all, let us talk about the academy. Today, an artist enters the academy, and then, after graduation, he or she is at a crossroads. And further every man for himself.
– It has always been like that. During the period of independence, nothing has changed in this sense. Nevertheless, the competition for admission to the academy does not decrease. Although the criticism of the institution sounds stronger. Art education should always enter into a dialogue with itself and change constantly, so that alumni are not as lost as they are. It seems to me that neither the school nor the academy creates an artist – only personal experience can do this.
– And what was your experience like? What did you do after graduating from The National Academy of Visual Arts and Architecture, how did you find your way?
– I really enjoyed studying at the academy, I sculpted a lot, drew, I lived it through. We used to start working at 9 a.m. and went home at 9 p.m. This was the era of lack of Internet, there were no distractions, like social networks. We were drawing from life for free a lot, we had an opportunity to work. But it was still financially difficult. Life did not let us be in a vacuum. And it was necessary to simply get money, therefore in parallel with study there was a lot of hack-work. I was engaged in design of a chain of restaurants. There was a period of construction boom, the second half of the 2000s. This allowed me to rent an apartment. But I always knew that this kind of work is not my way of life, it’s temporary. That I gain a certain freedom by this in order then to do what I really want, unloading my head and hands. When I did my first solo exhibition in Bottega gallery, I did not get distracted by anything. I had been working on that project for several years, I molding and casting. I already had money for this, because it required serious materials. My first exhibition is my investment in myself in the sum of thousands of dollars. Plus there were some works not included in the exhibition. Not every artist can afford to make sculpture, because everything depends on the material. This is a very expensive medium.
– You are saying that the first solo exhibition was the starting point in your career?
– Yes, it was very important for me. It was held after the MUHi contest in 2009, in which I was shortlisted and won the second prize. The award was a solo exhibition in the gallery. This was an important support. I remember how I prepared, everything is very lively now.
After that, I began to get used to criticism. I stopped taking my exhibitions seriously, I began to perceive it as living a certain time with myself, fixation of a certain period. I live through a period of time, choose a certain topic, conceptualize, think about it, open it up with certain materials, share it with the world. At first, I had a rather painful perception of myself at exhibitions, during academic screenings. I took this very seriously. This does not mean that now the exhibition for me is something frivolous. Exhibition opens the possibility of dialogue between a viewer and me, which is much more important than evaluating in terms of “good or bad.” I got used to it.
– Besides exhibitions, there are other formats. For example, residences. You often participate in residences, symposia. For example, Biruchiy, Irshansk, a year ago you visited a residence in Poland. Is it crucial for you to participate in such projects? And what is their specificity?
– When I first went to Biruchiy, I did not know how to behave there. You have two weeks to spend in a picturesque area. I’m not quite sure how I fit into this format with my practice. But then I realized that you don’t have to know this in advance. Dialogue, which takes place within the framework of the residence, opens a lot within your resources and forms a different view. When I went there for the first time I worked fruitfully, it was a definite reboot for me because of the possibility of sketchy realization of my ideas in space. As a sculptor I always try to work with space, but not always space wants my cooperation in the sense of lack of opportunities. For this, someone has to create certain conditions for it. And here they were on Biruchiy: everything for artists, an unlimited number of materials, an unlimited number of subjects – do whatever you want. And it was a breakthrough. I like Biruchiy very much, I go there every year, because this is an opportunity for me to work with installation, to make short conceptual statements on certain subject. All my works at the residences were connected, in fact, unlike my activity in the studio, unlike my own feelings, but with the context of the place where I was. This is an opportunity to go beyond personal issues and get acquainted with what is happening on the ground.
– Apparently, this is affected by the fact of communication with other artists?
– It is quite difficult to analyze the nature of this communication, because it is not systematic, does not fit into any principles. Artists have tentacles that read moods, nuances, fragile things, of which everything consists. Therefore, this dialogue enriches, and in some cases debunks the previous impression of this or that artist. But as a result, some sort of domesticity is formed. Sometimes I, being in the team, still remain alone. Sometimes dialogue, especially with the curator, is very valuable.
– Speaking of which, curatorial project is an important point in the artist’s work. Do you participate in the projects created by curator?
– The process of curating is the reinforcement and opening of images, stitching them in the communication line. I really want to trust curator, listen to him, especially if it’s a big project. I have my thoughts on each project about its success, but I always want to listen to the opinion of another. I want less formality and more initiative from emerging curators. It’s one thing to just take part in an exhibition as an artist, and another is communication, after which you come out with another experience. Usually this communication is formal. Perhaps, it is not superficial for the curator, because it corresponds to his design. But for me the experience of cooperation with the curator at the residence, when you develop the form of a statement together, is the best one. Such a dialogue is more human, friendly, real. You feel support, understanding. Or you don’t feel it, and in such case conflict is also valuable, it allows you to see your position.
– Would you prefer to work more in public space or in the format of interior exhibitions in future?
– I recently finished a large five-meter sculpture “Space around”. I worked on it for a year, and when it was finished, we built it, installed it in our workshop, not in the space where it should stand originally – and then the sculptor was born in me again. It’s a work about the experience and interaction of a person with space, environment, influence and reflection of one in the other. About time. Therefore, the scale in which it is performed makes my reflections monumental. And its influence and dynamics is interesting to experience again and again. The principle of reverse volume, which I used in the work, is a game with the viewer’s optics, with illusions of reality perception. This is my first experience of making creative work on such a scale. When I saw this large-scale work, a realized idea, which had passed a very long way from conception to embodiment, with a lot of problems and thoughts, I saw how it works in space, how the perception of a small idea changed on a scale. I’m impressed with this. And I want to concentrate now on working with public space.
I want more sculpture in space, which means that I want more communication with the audience, which I really need. Therefore, I plan to do several large-scale works. With hope that all the same dream, which we and our fellow architects have been bred together for several years, will come true. Namely – the creation of a contemporary sculpture park. It would be a laboratory of public objects that would change, there would be both a stationary exposition and objects that could be moved to other cities of Ukraine. And the practice of sculptural intervention would become normal for the country. Because now we see a vacuum. But it has to be a park, neutral from politics (opposite to the squares with historical monuments), and to be a zone where it is possible to develop new formal approaches inherent to Ukraine. This is a neutral zone of the experiment, very important. I rely on it, and therefore I myself invest my efforts, money, drawing from earnings, into projects that are yet to be born as a phenomenon. This inspires me, because everything that I do at exhibitions, and than share in gallery expositions or curatorial projects, are sketches, which are very urged to go out. In the last exhibitions I showed the project of the future monument, reflection on our historical memory in connection with the conflict in the east, the comprehension of this memory, working with it, these are those reflections that can be taken out of the gallery and recreated as a symbol of such a monument. As a sculptor, I tried to fix a monument as an experiment, which could stand on the square.
– Are you talking about the “Memory Constructor”?
– Yes, it’s a small exhibition object, but at the same time it’s a big project. Generally speaking, all my exhibition practice in gallery spaces is a small sketch of future public works. I take it this way and I want it to be so. Therefore, I am aiming at international sculptural projects, because for me it is an opportunity for the dialogue, communication, about which I spoke.
– In Kyiv, projects like the one you are talking about have been implemented: Peizazhna Alley, Kyiv Sculpture Project. For such projects, serious funding is required. Do you think this should be state support or a private initiative?
– I think that one does not exclude the other. I realize the complexity, but I see the value of such projects. Because the sculptural accents located in the park, in public space in general, define it, influence it, colour it. Living in Kyiv, we do not have a very positive experience of such a practice, for example same old Peizazhna Alley. But it is worth remembering that this was a quick reaction to the threat of real estate development of this place. It was not even rocky start, it was a distress call. Therefore, the issues were resolved not too competently, spontaneously and incorrectly. But there was also a proper cooperation: Kyiv Sculpture Project is a very competent work with space and, as a consequence, – a very high-quality product.
– What would you advise the artists who are now starting their way, dreaming about the first personal exhibition, are going to participate in contests, maybe even your students at the academy? What should they do, what are the first steps? Is it the same nowadays as it was when you started, or the situation has changed?
– I can not be in adviser’s shoes, for me it’s too complicated. Simply now, there is much more access the knowledge, than it was even during my studies. I am very interested in communicating with my students, they are very educated people, without fatigue in the eyes. Rather, they can advise me something, and not vice versa.