The power of art: what you need to know about the ART ON THE BATTLEFRONT exhibition in Vienna

From April 15 to 17, inclusive, an exhibition of modern Ukrainian art will be held in Vienna. The ART ON THE BATTLEFRONT project was initiated by the team Ukrainian Vogue: it brings together the works of 19 Ukrainian artists in the space of the Künstlerhaus. Project curator Svitlana Starostenko talks about the meaning of the exhibition.

The struggle for national identification in Ukrainian art has been going on for a long time. For almost a century, our artists' works were destroyed, banned, or presented in world museums and international auctions as Russian art – this is how the enemy stole our identity. And although we managed to separate during the thirty years of Independence, the fundamental changes have only begun now. Nowadays, during the war, thanks to cultural diplomacy, we have the opportunity to be heard. And our voice sounds especially powerful when we speak the language of art.

The Ukrainian Vogue team publishes a special issue dedicated to art every year. And although this special issue did not take place in 2022, the editors, taking into account the realities, worked on new ideas – this is how the group art project ART ON THE BATTLFRONT was born, where artists present their works in their manner, capturing the feeling of current events.

Some artists worked while being in the epicenter of war events, some – abroad, presenting Ukraine in art residencies. One of the project's main tasks is to remind the world that the war continues and Ukrainians are fighting on all fronts through the artists' reflections on the present through emotional works. Hence the name – ART ON THE BATTLFRONT.

For Ukrainian art to be adequately appreciated, for us to become recognized and remain attractive, today's works of our authors should not only reflect terrible events that should not have happened in the civilized world. When presenting our artists abroad in a new professional field, it is vital to show the usual artistic practice in which Ukrainian artists work, the uniqueness of their art techniques, and the expressiveness of the language. Only then will the impression of art acquire objectivity. But, of course, the defining mission of our project remains the reflection of the entire spectrum of states and aspirations felt by a person who experiences war – in fact, the greatest sorrow on earth.

Nineteen authors representing paintings, graphics, video, digital art, sculpture, and installation are invited to participate in the exhibition. Most artists do not try to reflect events literally. There are mass media for this because our war is the first that is happening online, literally in front of the eyes of the whole world. Thus, the painter Bohdan Burenko chooses to record sensations frozen in space and time. With the help of images of the animal world, he creates a freeze-frame of a fierce battle. It is a moment of bated breath, and the disturbing colors and jagged lines convey the tension of anticipation. A lot is already behind. What will be the final?

Freezing is one of the three main reactions to severe stress. Despair is not the first emotion that war brings us. Like most artists who met the beginning of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Lviv artist Yuriy Koval could not work for a long time. There may be no reflections in such a state – a person seems to freeze. But when the artist began to work again, he started with what one begins to learn drawing from – still life. Returning to the roots, working with a simple composition became a meditation where all attention is directed to balance. A still life is supposed to be a cozy subject, but the disappeared objects on the master's canvas are the disappeared everyday life and those ordinary simple things that cannot be returned.

Having lived a year in the conditions of a great war, impossible not to compare life before and now. "The Kyiv landscapes" of Sergei Zapadnia and Denys Metelin also reflect the past and the present. The Zhitny Rinok is a place many love, a recognizable symbol of a peaceful, confident life in the capital. And" "Defenders of Kyiv" is today's landscape of the city, where Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv, and their sister Lybid, the founders of Kyiv, are represented as its defenders against the enemy against the background of the city in a red haze of anxiety.

The graphics "Dawn" by Stepan Ryabchenko from Odessa is life-affirming and powerful. At the exhibition, it is complemented by the already famous sculpture of the author – "Walking Cloud." These two works are related. The three-meter painting depicts dawn – the time when the darkness will disappear, the time we long for. Dawn is like a new norm of life, where such a concept as war does not exist at all. And the sculpture creates a conditional visual transition of this image from a plane to a three-dimensional space.

All the works of this large-scale project are highly relevant. However, the artists did not have the task of creating pieces specifically for the topic. In particular, Petro Gronsky's sculpture "Confrontation," made of metal and concrete, was built in 2018. Today, these strict forms have acquired new connotations. With every breath, a vortex, a strong wedge plunges into the cubic depth. The artist shows the opposition of strength and form of seemingly incomparable subjects in dynamics: the wedge presses from above and has every chance of winning in this confrontation. The unbreakable wedge in the unshakable cube symbolizes the courage that today gives the Ukrainian people the will to live and win the war.

The project brings together Mykhailo Alekseenko, Julia Beliaeva, Petro Bevza, Andriy Bludov, Bogdan Burenko, Petro Gronsky, Vasyl Grubliak, Yuriy Koval. Vitalii Kravets, Nikita Kravtsov, Maria Kulikovska, Volodymyr Manzhos (WaOne), Denys Metelin, Vitalii Protosenya, Stepan Ryabchenko, Yuriy Sivirin. Vasylyna Vrublevska, Yelena Yemchuk, Sergei Zapadnia. The opening of the exhibition will begin with a performance by the outstanding Ukrainian artist Maria Kulikovska

The art project will culminate in an exhibition in Vienna’s historic center at the Künstlerhaus in collaboration with Künstlerhaus Vereinigung (Austrian Artists' Association) from April 14 to 17, 2023. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to the public organization "Women's Veteran Movement".

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