Nikita Kadan is an artist and activist in Kiev. Here he talks about “Court Experiment,” an exhibition of fifteen Ukrainian artists’ work organized by the curatorial community Hudrada in collaboration with tranzit.at, an Eastern European network of art initiatives. Opening this week at the Visual Culture Research Center at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, the show is on view until November 12.
THIS EXHIBITION is based on events that are very close to us. Several members of Hudrada are currently involved in court cases, for protesting against the privatization of public space in new development projects, or against the Ukrainian Commission to Defend Public Morality, which has become a more and more powerful censorship structure. Three people may go to prison for up to three years and one may have to pay a large fine; one person already has a one-year suspended sentence.
Of course, the best way to protect and support such people is to mount a public campaign, to involve the press, and so on. We are also doing that, but “Court Experiment” is not so much activism as an art and research project about the postsocialist situation in Ukraine. We asked social theoreticians and researchers to participate in events, and we invited artists whose work touches on issues of repression or so-called soft repression in Ukraine’s supposedly liberal democratic society.
The artist Anna Zvyagintseva is presenting a cage made of fabric—a knitted cage. In Ukrainian courtrooms there is always a cage, in which a person is forced to sit if he or she is considered dangerous. The process of knitting, here, is a metaphor for the time that is taken away from activists by the court system, even if they are not imprisoned. So the work is about time, and about soft repression, too.
Lada Nakonechna’s video piece The Conclusion involves making abstract, senseless statistics from filming the street. She comments, for example, on how many people are wearing T-shirts, or how many people are turning left or going right. It serves no purpose but surveillance and control. Another artist, Mykola Ridnyi, is showing geometric paintings that are enlarged parts of official administrative court documents. The signs might appear formal or decorative, but they also come from the world of bureaucracy.
I am presenting a series called “Procedure Room,” for which illustrations of the Ukrainian police’s torture methods, drawn in the style of Soviet medical textbooks, are printed on souvenir plates. The figures in these drawings have a silent smile, as if they were acknowledging that torture is like a medical procedure that the state does to its citizens. The instructive style of the drawings projects the responsibility to the viewer, to everyone who sees them.
It is important for us that this exhibition space is also a living space, a space where people can get involved. The show will open gradually: On the first day there will be only documentary materials about the court hearings, and speeches about the current events—followed by a party. The exhibits will include drawings we have made during visits to the court, where photographs are not allowed. Then a week later we will open the next section, with three new pieces, so the exhibition will grow during its run.
The other events include screenings by Artur Żmijewski; a talk by a Russian activist about the situation in today’s Russia; and a roundtable on torture organized by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. The focus overall is on the new conditions for social activism in today’s Ukraine. Art, literature, and activism will all be discussed. We will talk about uncomfortable and problematic issues, but the space will be quite comfortable and pleasant somehow.