As a Russian speaking Ukrainian with deep familial roots to both sides of the conflict I felt uniquely positioned to focus my critical lens on the protests of January 2014.
The perennial question: “Do events as depicted in the mainstream and social media even resemble what's taking place on the ground?” weighed heavily on my mind towards the end of 2013 when the global zeitgeist of civil disobedience and revolt fell upon Ukraine. In January 2014, I decided to bypass the obfuscating web of media and travel directly to Maidan in Kyiv to explore the human side of the political. As a Russian speaking Ukrainian with deep familial roots to both sides of the conflict I felt uniquely positioned, straddling several of the colliding worlds, to focus my critical lens on the protests. I wondered what invisible forces drove people to stand in the streets for more than 8 weeks in sub-zero temperatures, continuing to demand change while the popularity of their cause waxed and waned? While in Kyiv, I interviewed and photographed the protestors of EuroMaidan while partaking in various rituals culminating on the square.
Upon returning to London I began to transcribe my experience onto canvas, focusing on civil sentiments rather than political. My conceptual framework formed around reversing colors of the background to reveal the mechanisms of power and taking absurdities to their limits. Through this visual language I aim to pose certain questions: How can we see what’s become hidden in plain sight? How do we reveal the unseen beneath power, old and new, political or personal? Working primarily in painting, but also in social practice, installation, performance, and video, I spent my career attempting to reveal the constructs that shape how we see and the implicit humanity of those caught up in these grand political narratives.
As I stepped back behind the veil of mass media from abroad, events unfolded rapidly and the revolution took a turn for a grim and grid-locked land war with Russia. Just as terrifying as the ground war being fought in Eastern Ukraine is the information war being fought over satellite, radio waves and fiber optic cables for influence of our opinions. As political events are unfolding so is my studio investigation. I have begun to source visual information from various grassroots social media activism, newly born NGOs and on the ground reportage. At this point, when starting a new painting I choose images from my, now extensive and ever growing, library of photographs and videos that represent facets of broader questions on my mind.
Can we ever trust any answers we derive from the tangled web of conflicting information available to us? Could we even trust our firsthand experience if we were on the ground? All media suffers from an inescapable selection bias, who you choose to talk to about what and when. The sheer amount of information bombarding us from all directions makes it possible for competing political entities and interest groups to influence world opinion in their favor. The self-referential nature of the corporate news industry means misinformation duplicates and spreads like wildfire across the globe once fed through the correct channels. Voltaire's words “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” ring truer today than ever before.
My work does not attempt to find any objective truth about this geopolitical struggle but rather add a new data point to the constellation of perspectives on the Ukrainian identity crisis and media spectacle from the perspective of my personal lived experience.