«MAKE ART, NOT WAR!» The Ukrainian artists of the Florence Biennale speak
Florence Biennale, the International Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Design in Florence, has been an important moment of intercultural and interdisciplinary encounter since its foundation in 1997. Dialogue between peoples through culture - and art in particular - is in fact one of the inspiring principles of the Florence Biennale, which promotes the value of respecting diversity, considering it a great richness from both a human and artistic point of view. As a place of encounter and dialogue between artists from all five continents, Florence Biennale cannot but condemn those who violently prevent this relationship.
For this reason, the General Direction of the Florence Biennale decided to give the Ukrainian artists present at the last edition of the international exhibition (last October 2021) - who were willing and able to do so - the opportunity to express themselves in first person, answering two short questions and entrusting us, if they considered it useful, with a message of their own to be shared with the media, on social networks and on the Florence Biennale website, with the intention of showing our solidarity with all the Ukrainian people and spreading a message of peace.
These are the questions we asked the Ukrainian artists of Florence Biennale.
1) First of all, we would like to ask you how are you and what is your state of mind? 2) Have you felt the community of artists and the art world close to you? 3) We believe that art is one of the most important forms of language and dialogue between people. Can artists, their role in the world, be of any help in such a difficult situation? Would you like to share a message?
Three artists responded to the appeal: Aleksandr Vishnevetskiy, Kseniya Oudenot and Natalia March.
We pray and hope for the best together with Ukraine. My name is Aleksandr Vishnevetskiy and I was born in Kyiv in Ukraine. For 30 years I live with my family in the US. I was lucky to be born in a historical city like Kyiv, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I came to this world in 1950, 5 years after WW2 was over. At school we learned the history of the war and saw the pictures of our lovely city in the ruins. We lost a lot of relatives in WW2 and the families of our neighbors had the same losses. It took a lot of time to rebuild Kyiv and make it much better. In this rebuilding process the people of different nationalities were involved including Russians and Ukrainians who were working together shoulder to shoulder. Today we can’t imagine that Russian troops came with a war mission and are ruining the city which their fathers and grandfathers rebuilt after WW2. My family left Ukraine after the tragedy of Chernobyl. Russian and Ukrainian people stood together to save our families from this terrible event. Russian and Ukrainian soldiers were first to Chernobyl to prevent the city from terrible tragedy and lost their lives. Today thousands of Ukrainian people, mothers with kids crossed the border to neighboring countries to save their lives. My family went through the immigration process and we all know the difficulties of this process, how much time and strength it takes to get through this difficult path. Today our hearts are trampling and a lot of my friends are crying. We can’t believe that it’s happening today and Russian troops have the terrible mission to put Ukrainian cities in ruins. I’m sure that the majority of Russian people don’t want this and stand against the political mission of their government. We pray and hope for the best together with Ukraine.
The world of my family quite literally turned upside down.
1) It’s difficult to describe. I am under a state of shock, anger at the situation and extreme sadness for all the pain my nation is going through. My heart is torn and the mind is racing on what to do and how to help. But it’s impossible to help everyone, seeing how innocent civilians and children are being killed and stripped off everything they loved, robbed off their future is beyond heartbreaking. I am now traveling to the borner of Ukraine, trying to help my mother and grandmother cross it and arrive in a safe place. My grandmother is turning 98 in a few days. So their trip was very challenging, but people and humanitarian organizations helped them make it through. While it is a joy to finally see them. We cry of sadness and fear for all our loved ones who stayed and are now in danger. The future has never been so unclear..
2) Yes, the support is unbelievable, it’s truly humbling to see so much kindness and genuine care.
3) I guess in these desperate times, the actual work on the ground is what counts the most. But art is of course imperative as well, as it has the power to heal, reflect and record these events for future generations to see and learn from our experience.
1) It comes rather difficult to express my current feelings and state of mind with words. This situation has turned my world upside down. I am quite overwhelmed, disappointed, sleep-deprived, tired but strong and mainly really fucking angry.
2) The first day the war started, I had a panic attack in the middle of the night. It was the first time in my life I had a panic attack, the whole night seemed surreal. My friends in Kyiv were messaging me saying that they were woken up to bombs. It was few hours before sunrise. But my artist friends were perhaps the first ones to react, and to message me that night, check up on me and ultimately helped calm me down. A lot of them were the same people that were protesting with me in New York 20 days prior to that. It was the artist rally I organised called “Make Art, Not War” for the creatives in the city to raise attention to the issue and prevent the war. That night we all felt like we failed.
3) I’ve always considered art to be a very powerful tool. And the culture is the soul of the country. There’s a reason why the Russian military are now targeting our monuments, bombing memorials and destroying art (between all the other things). There’s a reason why in the past, when they took away our independence, they were assassinating artists and writers and were trying to dictate what artists are “allowed” to make. There’s an overused saying “One image is worth a million words”. With one art piece you can raise so much discussion and provoke critical thinking - whether you are activist artist or just trying to document the current events. In this context, art becomes a strong educational tool. Believe me or not, there are still raging lunatics out there that believe that Putin is “helping us” not killing our kids, and there’s even still plenty of people in Russia who think that there is no war. The aggressors know about art, and they are afraid of it, they always have been. I am calling you to not be afraid to project yourself, your feelings and your thoughts right now onto your art pieces, in whatever technique or medium you use. Promote it on your platforms, speak up and help Ukraine in whichever way you can. We are the voice of our generation. This is our job here.
These terrible events in Ukraine... at first I was in terrible stress, I just could not believe it. A friend called me from Bucha on the 24th at 7 am and said that Kyiv had begun to be bombed and she and her son were urgently going and asked if they could come to us in Poland. I waited for her for a day, no one had crossed the border for so long. Then I asked my sister's family to leave Kyiv. And many friends, people did not believe that this was a war and thought that a day or two would end. From the 25th, people, my acquaintances, relatives, friends, all wrote and asked to find housing in Poland. I was very busy for two weeks, I needed help finding rooms. I can't believe this happened...