It’s been an incredible month at IZOLYATSIA, and I can’t believe how far we’ve come! March 29th was the opening reception for Emergent Tributaries at IZONE, showcasing collaborative works from the community groups as well as myself. The name of the exhibition is in reference to the Dnipro River, which has historically played a central role in shaping the landscape and cities alongside it in Ukraine: as an ancient trade route for goods and supplies, a place for cultural exchange and gatherings, and a provider of energy through hydroelectricity.
I chose the Dnipro River as an entry point into this exhibition — as a meeting place of cultural exchange for a visiting artist and curator from America working at IZOLYATSIA, which is right on the riverbank. I also chose it metaphorically for its ecological network, which connects Ukraine through its many tributaries, as this exhibition has done the same for artists gathering from different parts of the country.
Now linked with digital technologies in a similarly networked fashion, Emergent Tributaries reimagines the present and future of Ukraine through the eyes of these artists and their collaborative new media works. Along the Dnipro riverbanks as well as in other physical and digital spaces, they have refigured cultural identity, personal identity, and our relationship to ecological systems, technologies, our bodies, and the spaces our bodies inhabit through speculative design and design fiction.
There were four main collaborative projects in the exhibition:
The Waters Come Into My Soul examines water pollution in Ukraine, particularly along the Dnipro River. The industrial run-off and overabundance of phosphorus, nitrogen, and phosphates causes active reproduction of cyanobacteria that spurs the "Dnipro blossoming" phenomenon, which negatively affects the flora and fauna of the river as well as the physical and psychological state of the people living nearby. The group investigated this phenomenon through digital textile prints, algorithmic video, projection, 3D prints, microscopy video, and sound.
The Waters group: Julia Beliaeva, Elena Klochko, Bogdan Moroz, Anna Prokopets (Umka Estebanovna), Iryna Proskurina, Alla Sorochan, Olga Tereshchenko, Oksana Chepelyk
Island Ї is a speculative floating artificial island on the Dnipro River. It is an open university and a scientific laboratory — a platform for artistic and scientific projects. Island Ї is a rhizome of diverse ideas, styles, and decisions that represent the diversity of Ukrainian identity. It combines harmoniously what seems like an insoluble contradiction: an academy of sciences, an erotic education center, self-regulating sails, and architecture with biomimetic forms achieved through futuristic technology of adaptive and regenerative growth.
Island Ї moves freely along all the rivers of Ukraine, to all the cities and remote towns and villages, influencing people and changing society through forms of nonlinear and horizontal interaction.
Mincult group: Yurii Efranov, Elena Klochko, Yaroslav Kostenko, Anastasiia Loyko, Mykhailo Rozanov Kateryna Shyman, Krolikowski Art
Session Room involves ASMR and Ukrainian identity, focusing on the lack of boundaries between public and private space. This project features a zoned, partially enclosed space in which the viewer can feel solitude and simultaneously experiment with various tactile and auditory elements including 3D video portraits of the artists and their voices.
MEDITATOR group: Alina Borysova, Anna Kakhiani, Anna Korniets, Irina Kostyshyna, Alyona Mamay, Oleksandr Manukyans, Hanna Shumskam, Oleksiy Yaloveha
Spidertopia explores a theoretical renaissance of Ukrainian identity free from territorial invasions. Using the language of traditional “pavuk" or "spiders,” module-like elements of Ukrainian home decor which pre-dates Christianity, the project applies it to a utopian world. But within that high-tech world, we notice something strange… Spidertopia highlights a peculiar Ukrainian attitude on the verge of comedy, tragedy, and irony that has seemed to persist. It is an exercise in self-observation: times are changing, but do we change with them?
SPIDERTOPIA group: Ivanka Borodina, Olha Vashchevska, Serhii Nizhynskyi, Maria Proshkowska, Bogdan Seredyak, Olga Synyakevych
For my personal project, I focused on the “Dnipro Blossoming” phenomenon. I wanted to explore material transformation through the lens of the Dnipro, and created intimate portraits of the river in acrylic, transferring its boundaries to become a central focus to address this topic, layering and juxtaposing man-made tributaries with ancient and natural flows.
Using a water battery with polluted water from the Dnipro and speculative algal bioreactors, I consider converting cyanobacteria and polluted water in the Dnipro into energy; in this case, for illumination. A reframing of the river helps us to reconsider our impact on it and future methods of harmonious collaboration with it, other ecologies, and non-human species.
Another project I did in collaboration with participants and my partner Donald Hanson was ARUA.xyz, an augmented map containing digital sculptural works by multiple Ukrainian artists featured in this exhibition. It is an online browser-based project, and also an intervention of space, a rewriting of present geographies, a disruption of physical and digital borders, and an intentional positioning of new cultural digital monuments throughout Ukraine.
For this exhibition, these virtual sculptures can be seen in the gallery, but they can also been seen at different mapped locations via smart devices. My hope is that ARUA.xyz will live beyond this exhibition to include additional works by other artists from Ukraine.
Over 200 people attended the opening exhibition and the showcase lasted two weeks. Following the opening, we had a panel review where all the groups presented their work and their future plans to evolve their projects over time. Arts and culture professionals from Kyiv gave critical feedback on all of the works and helped teams formulate actionable plans for their development and expansion into other communities.
It's been an intense and transformative month — I had no idea what we would make together when I arrived in Kyiv, but I couldn't have imagined a more tremendous outcome. I am so proud of all of the beautifully crafted and meaningful works made by everyone in this program, and feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people during this time, and to have made so many new friends.
I am immensely greatful for the experience I had in Ukraine with IZOLYATSIA and with all of the talented artists I got to work alongside. I learned so much, and feel my perspectives on artmaking, teaching, and collaboration have really shifted during this time. I truly hope for more international opportunities to teach and work with communities as it really fosters true cultural exchange and dialogue.
I plan to continue my work with the Dnipro River, which has now grown into a collaboration with three of the AAI participants, and my plan is to return to Ukraine in July to develop this project further. I am sure all of these projects and connections incubated through AAI will continue to grow in the months to come, and three of the projects already have potential future showcases and exhibitions on the horizon later this year.
I can’t believe how quickly time has flown so far this month! IZOLYATSIA and the IZONE Creative Community have been incredible spaces to conduct workshops in and to connect with the arts community here in Kyiv. Before the workshops began, we received an overwhelming amount of applicants to the program. After choosing 34 artists, it has still been a very large group to work with, but full of wonderful and talented humans! The artists in the workshop make up a very diverse group of Ukrainian artists, coming from different places within the country and with varying levels of experience and background in the arts.
It’s been an incredible delight to work with all of the artists, and to have them so engaged in learning new digital skills and envisioning new projects of their own. I’ve been so impressed by their original ideas and concepts — taking the skills I presented in my speculative design workshops and applying them to cultural and ecological issues in Kyiv and Ukraine. I was told that speculative design is not a common practice or taught very often here, and people are having a lot of fun thinking outside of practical design boundaries to reimagine future cultural spaces and technologies along the Dnipro River and elsewhere in Ukraine.
It’s been enlightening to hear about what is important to participants from their cultural context — there are some universal issues, as well as some topics that would not be considered as much by Americans due to our different backgrounds, geographies, and histories.
Each artist in my workshop has had a different vision and speculative design for how they would like to see the future of Ukraine and shared their vision during a critique on the penultimate day of our workshop series. Some artists were really drawn to each others' visions and decided to work together in groups, applying their skills to different parts of a bigger collaborative project. Others were drawn to common themes and have created a new project from these themes. There were some artists that had a lot of difficulty working in large collaborative groups, as this is not a common practice in Ukraine. Most participants are artists who are used to working alone.
Fortunately, after overcoming some obstacles, all the groups were in place and starting to create some incredible works. We had a group excursion to visit Fabricator, one of the biggest fabrication labs in Kyiv, and artists are using this facility to do laser cutting, CNC milling, and 3D printing in addition to IZOLab, the smaller fab lab connected to IZONE.
I’ve been so full of warmth and inspiration working with all of the participants during this time, and am so excited to see all of the works these artists will produce over the next week.
A large part of my arts practice is informed and shaped by the environments, spaces, and communities I’ve lived in and travelled through, including my native island of Oah’u in Hawai’i. I’ve always been inspired to create meaningful spaces for cultural dialogue, and work collaboratively with communities to create impactful projects, which I have strived to do as the Artistic Director of B4BEL4B Gallery in Oakland for the past four years.
In my personal arts practice I have used 3D modeling, augmented reality, websites, and textile design to tell stories that speculate on how we can reimagine the past, present and future. I’m interested in our relationships to our technologies and how they both come from and shape the environment, and focus on these stories in my work.
I’m excited for my arts practice to evolve next month as I travel to Kyiv, Ukraine, and lead workshops and community projects in partnership with IZOLYATSIA, a dynamic arts organization focused on cultural and social change. I have been inspired by the youth-driven “Made in Ukraine” movement where Kyivians have revitalized and cultivated a strong and unique identity. Through conversations I’ve had, Ukrainian culture and identity is a multi-layered and complex topic that shifts between generations and is interwoven with the political and geographical landscape and the ecology of the land.
Focusing on cultural identity and environment, I will be giving workshops where participants will consider how to use speculative thinking and designing towards prototyping cultural spaces and objects for the present and future. We’ll consider material ecology, design fiction and storytelling through exercises where we think about redefining boundaries, radically refiguring space, transforming damaged landscapes, collaborating with the environment, and how culture and ecology are inextricably intertwined. We’ll also use digital tools to express individual cultural and personal identities.
As this will be my first time teaching workshops in another country, I am looking forward to being both a student and teacher while I am there! I hope to provoke conversations and inspire people to create work that is meaningful to them that they will continue to build upon after my exchange.