Ukrainian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale
The chaos that has riven Ukraine since 2013 is grounded in a struggle between ideas: like Euromaidan protesters in the streets of Kiev or separatist militias in the Donbass, rival visions of Ukraine’s future battle in the social consciousness. By highlighting the work of young artists in the Ukrainian Pavilion for the 56th Venice Biennale—audaciously titled “Hope!”—Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture makes a bold, optimistic statement about the future of this unsteady country in the throes of an internal political struggle. This optimism, however, and the dramatic transparency of the glass pavilion structure, are problematized by the moral nuance present in the works displayed within.
The artists gathered in the glass pavilion address the challenges gripping their nation along a spectrum from narrative to abstract. Anna Zvyagintseva, whose work has generally addressed labor and domestic obligation, presents Cage (2010), a cloth and metal structure that symbolically deforms both authority and security. In his series “Blind Spot” (2014), Mykola Ridnyi extracts details of urban destruction from news photographs, then isolates them on immense black canvases, offering a blunt critique of the ideological blinders that constrain the observer’s experience of a complex trouble spot such as Ukraine. Pavilion curator Björn Geldhof believes that these young Ukrainians, “reveal a critical and non-partisan attitude to the conflict while being marked by a deep personal commitment and solidarity with Ukraine.” Rather than letting ideology drive the narrative, the Ukrainian pavilion mobilizes art as a critical force, introducing a radical thoughtfulness to a nation consumed by reaction.