The Kyiv Biennial 2023: re-piecing the fragmented


In a defiance against the odds of warfare, the Kyiv Biennial is returning for its fifth edition in an alternative fashion that sees it inhabit a new spatial experience. Founded in 2015, the Kyiv Biennial has promoted art as a platform for discussing, networking and engaging in socio-political activism, becoming a defining hub of Eastern European contemporary art.

Titled Against The Logic of War, this year’s exhibition differs to previous years and pushes creator and curatorship past boundaries never faced in this context before. Instead of being situated on a singular site, the exhibition is dispersed across galleries in eight European cities, displaying the works of over 50 different artists. The throughline of the project addresses the aftershock and displacement of the ongoing war, aiming to reintegrate the Ukrainian artistic community across borders following their dislocation.

A culture and a belonging are being puzzled back together by art, piece by piece

Amongst one of the artists involved in the project is Ukrainian born Kateryna Aliinyk. Her work focuses on the intimacy of landscape, earth and the processes that occur within the soil. Alliinyk artistically fashions the ominous dynamic between the potential growth of life from the soil and the current destruction of this potential now that farming land is being used as a battlefield. She stresses the importance of symbolism in her work on a more personal level, having experienced the consequence of Russian occupation for over nine years in her home town of Luhansk, a city within one of Ukraine’s main agricultural regions.

In her online blog she emphasises how “the metaphors of growth, transformation and mutation are key to me, because the longer I stay far from home, the less I know what is really going on there.”

Through her art, Aliinyk sheds light on the painful duality faced by so many Ukrainian artists. While mutation, growth and transformation are processes that have occurred not by choice, there is hope of a new life and way of being glinting in the future. Her paralleling of separation and spatial fragmentation in both her art and from home speak to the artists involved in the project but also the wider public alike. It is this that plays into the projects wider replication and embodiment of displacement as a universal experience currently faced by the people of Ukraine.

Dispersed across galleries in eight European cities, displaying the works of over 50 different artists

Yet, there seems to be a sense of hope stirred by the ability for people to come together to both create and appreciate art even in a time of crisis. Funding sponsorships have poured in from all over the globe through the Kyiv Biennial’s Emergency Support Initiative (ESI) online, fashioning a cross boarder solidarity of art, culture and community.

The spatial and emotive magnitude of this project seeks to question if art can respond to and oppose contemporary conflicts and politics.

This notion has been a long-standing idea, expressed through Diego Riviera’s quote; “great protests are great art works”. Here, both the art installations themselves and the space the installations inhabit stand as a political discourse, straddling the divide between dislocation and unification. This in turn is answered by the support offered to fund the campaign which stands as a testament to a larger sense of community and calls to question if fragmentation can, by contrast, become a unification.

It seems only time will tell the full political effects of the fifth edition but, at present, the collaboration of people and the rejection of boundaries of space and territory subtly speaks mountains about the current political climate so fixated on boundaries and territory.

From the words of the curators themselves, ‘this is an exhibition about war and solidarity, and in its course, it will become clear whether this is just an exhibition, or more than that.’ In Ukraine’s physical fragmentation the emotive pieces of a community, a culture and a belonging are being puzzled back together by art, piece by piece.

Image: Alek S. via Flickr

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