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Director of the PinchukArtCentre Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

PinchukArtCentre art director Bjorn Geldhof answered Focus questions about the war on cultural front.

At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Russian War Crimes House is located in the former Russian House in Davos. Its goal is to draw the attention of the world community to the horrifying reality of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The exhibition is organized by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and the PinchukArtCentre in partnership with the Office of the President of Ukraine, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers.

The exhibition includes a video full of tragic footage by Ukrainian artist Oleksiy Say and the work of Ukrainian photographers, which capture the traces of the destruction of Ukrainian cities and war crimes of Russians, as well as a map of confirmed Russian war crimes in Ukraine and audio recordings of Russian soldiers who call home on the phone and talk about atrocities. who have done. The video screen is positioned so that it can be clearly seen from the outside, on the street through large panoramic windows.

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

Focus talked to PinchukArtCentre art director Bjorn Geldhof about the strategy of work during the war, about art as a weapon and about the abolition of Russian culture.

This is a war for values, not a war for territories

Over the past month and a half, the Victor Pinchuk Foundation has already made two major exhibition projects in Europe (at the Venice Biennale and in Belgium), and now opened a third one at the World Forum in Davos. What is the reason for such incredible intensity?

– I am Belgian, therefore, although I have been living and working in Ukraine for many years, immediately after February 24 I took my children to Belgium. Of course, once in Europe, I immediately started talking to everyone about Ukraine and realized how little they know about it here and how unfairly they value Ukrainian culture. In Western Europe, Ukrainian art is present in a very small number of collections, and besides, it is not actually explored. And this is a mistake that needs to be corrected. In addition, I want the Europeans to understand what Ukraine is and what it is fighting for. That this is a war for values, not a war for territories. For the values ​​that Ukrainians have chosen again and again, for the values ​​on which Europe stands. This is a very important understanding, and it is significant that Ukrainian art has always been about this.

So, you joined the war on the cultural front?

– Exactly. And I hope we successfully started this war, because, it seems to me, in the past, Russia has invested a lot of money in culture, especially in making this culture present in Europe, and in imposing its own, that is, Russian colonial narratives. Not only about their own culture, but also about all the cultures that they consider their sphere of influence, that is, in fact, all the countries of the former USSR.

Your first “military” project – at the Venice Biennale – was it about that?

– Of course. I don't think that Ukraine has to prove anything in this sense, it is very self-confident and has a very powerful culture. But it seems to me that it was absolutely necessary to show this confidence in Venice. Actually, we have been doing our project at the Biennale for many years, but it is obvious that this year its importance was much greater than before, so it was a very special exhibition, where not only contemporary artists were presented, but also such classics as Maria Pryimachenko and Tatyana Yablonskaya, and a Ukrainian icon of the 17th century.

It was absolutely necessary to show the world that Ukraine has its own culture, its own history, the roots of which can be traced back a very long time, in times much older than, say, Soviet Union. We must talk about it, we must show Ukrainian identity.

This cultural front is extremely important because Putin started the war by saying that Ukraine is not a country and that it does not have its own culture. I think that even though Ukrainians know that this is not so, we should talk more about this to the European, Western public.

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof about art as a weapon and about the abolition of Russian culture

Director of the PinchukArtCentre Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

In Venice, we not only showed the classics of Ukrainian art history, we also formed the necessary context: discussions were organized, at which, in particular, the world-famous Yale University professor and specialist in the history of Eastern Europe of the 20th century Timothy Snyder spoke about what Ukraine is, where is she from. We invited him because when a person like Snyder speaks, people listen to him. This is part of our struggle.

Defend Ukraine in the best possible way

Don’t you think that such tasks are at the level of the Ministry of Culture and the state in general, you are a private institution, although very noticeable. What do you think of this?

“This is the task of every Ukrainian, and therefore our task too. But we understand that this cannot be achieved alone. Therefore, when we urgently planned a “military” project in Venice, Victor Pinchuk insisted that he would do this only with the support of the state. It was not about financial support, of course, but about the auspices. As you know, our project in Venice is supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Office of the President of Ukraine. It was important for us that they said that they support our work. Only then did we start preparing. This is the first.

Second, to be objective, it is clear that our voice is heard very well, because the Victor Pinchuk Foundation has a very wide network of contacts, a very long history and competence. And not to use all this would be a direct neglect of their duties.

We, like all other Ukrainians, have an obligation to defend Ukraine in the best way that is available to us. And the best way that my team and I can do this is not with weapons, but with exhibitions, art projects, round tables, publications and the like. For example, one of our employees Olga Shishlova started an educational project “Ukrainians for Ukrainians” – for Ukrainian children who managed to leave the country, but they are not integrated, they do not know the language, they are completely lost. We are going to provide them with programs so that they can cope with trauma along with Ukrainian psychologists who teach volunteers how to work with children.

Right now, three of your new projects dedicated to Ukraine are taking place in Belgium, tell us about them.

—Yes, we opened three expositions at the same time: at the Museum of Modern Art (M HKA Museum) in Antwerp, in BOZAR and in the building of the European Parliament in Brussels. These are related projects.

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

PinchukArtCentre director Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

Director of the PinchukArtCentre Bjorn Geldhof on art as a weapon and the abolition of Russian culture

When I arrived in Belgium, the Pinchuk Foundation and the whole team immediately decided that we needed to talk about Ukraine. We realized that the general level of knowledge about it is very low and it is critical to raise it and make it the agenda. We are very lucky that the M HKA – Museum of Modern Art in Antwerp, which collects works from Eastern Europe, offered us cooperation. When the escalation began, they immediately severed all their ties with Russia, which was very radical, and, moreover, they provided us with part of their collection, because we did not know where we could get the works of Ukrainian artists during the war.

< p>The conversation with BOZAR, the grand lady of the art world, began even before our Venetian project. When we returned from Venice, our projects received the patronage of the European Parliament and financial support from BOZAR. The amounts were not the largest, but the very fact of support showed the degree of their interest, and this is very important. Again, we were doing projects very quickly in order to be in time for Europe Day, when 10,000 people came to our event.

Moments like these are very important, because this is how Europeans, especially the younger generation, come and learn something about Europe. And it is important to be at the center of this conversation.

We opened this exhibition with a photograph of Alexander Burlaka, which he took on the Maidan in 2014, when a rainbow appeared in the sky – it appeared over the protesters because of the water that the police poured on them with water cannons. And it seems to me that this is a very symbolic work, in which there is faith and hope that Ukraine will win.

For each work, we prepared texts that our researchers made – not only a description of the work, but also an explanation that it means. It was practically an educational project.

I met the Ambassador of Ukraine to the European Union at the exhibition, and there were a lot of people around: they listened, read the captions, spent time next to the exhibits, getting to know Ukraine in a way that it cannot be recognized from any newspaper. Such an integrated approach is what we should do.

The heart of the Ukrainian exhibition at M HKA was a video program made by our head of the research department Ksenia Malykh. This 60-minute video consists entirely of masterpieces. As a result, it is at M HKA, although not the largest exhibition, that people spend the most time. This is the place where they go from one story to another. I think that this type of project has a very wide coverage, especially in such a good location in Europe – and we hope to expand it.

Not to “cancel” Russian culture, but to make people talk about Ukrainian

< p>I want to ask you about the hashtag #cancelrussianculture – the cancellation of Russian culture. Is it necessary, is it possible – and what do you think about it.

— It seems to me that we should not talk about Russia now. Now the conversation is about Ukraine. Talking about Russia is a red herring. I don't want to talk about Russian culture and that's it, period. Perhaps after the victory we can talk about it.

But now Russian films are at the Cannes Film Festival.

– I understand, I agree that this is a problem – but I gave you my answer. Indeed, many elements of Russian culture are still present in various programs, and this is a problem. But this problem is not solved by a boycott or a call for a boycott. The problem is solved with the words: guys, we should not focus on this now, we should focus on Ukraine. The Ukrainian narrative should lead the discussion.

That's exactly what I started with: the mission of the Pinchuk Foundation today is to make sure that everyone constantly talks about Ukraine. Not once, because everyone is ready to speak out once, but all the time.

This conversation will not always be easy, Europe was not ready for this war. This is something that takes a lot of time and effort, for which preparation is needed. Our entire team, our researchers, our curators, our educational managers are all incredibly involved in shaping a language that European institutions can understand so they can change their minds about the importance of including Ukrainian culture in everyday conversations.

Not “we will pay attention to Ukraine only when something happens there”, no. Ukraine is a fundamental part of European culture, and we will be able to get to such a level of constant talk about it only by constant active work.

Yes, now we have a pretty big fire here, but our goal is to have a constant fire , the goal is to have constant attention and understanding from Europe. To do this, we must think correctly, recognize, collect, show Ukrainian art as a sustainable (sustainable, stable – Ed.) program throughout Europe – both in the academic and in the exhibition field. Because this is the only way to counter Russian narratives, and this is the only way to make Ukraine count.

Teilor Stone
Teilor Stonehttps://thesaxon.org
Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Bobr Times, Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my [email protected] 1-800-268-7116

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