Kiev has now officially joined the global marathon of art biennials which over the last few years has only shown signs of gaining momentum, particularly in the so-called new markets. The First Kiev International Biennale of Contemporary Art is curated by the British-born David Elliott and its motto has been borrowed from Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, a novel set in the times of the French Revolution: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Rebirth and Apocalypse in Contemporary Art. In Ukraine, as in other countries of the former Socialist bloc, Charles Dickens was very popular - as well as accepted by the regime - during the Soviet era; thus the quotation incorporated into the title symbolically suggests the direction the Kiev Biennale has chosen to take: while not aiming to emphasise the political background and its reflections in art, the new art forum certainly also does not attempt to disassociate from them, both in the historical and contemporary respect. The initiators of the Biennale were the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, as well as the municipality of Kiev; in the press release, the country's Minister of Culture is citing transforming Kiev into one of the world's capitals of culture as the main ambition behind the Biennale.
The Kiev Biennale is hosted by the Mystetskyi Arsenal, a former military base that has now been converted into a contemporary art space. The complex of buildings, dating from the 18th century, is a listed historical monument. The Mystetskyi Arsenal covers the total area of 50 000 square metres and is scheduled to open its doors as a museum in 2014, enforcing Ukraine's ambitions in the area of cultural projects.
The list of participants, comprising 100 artists from an impressive number of countries (including China, Korea, Turkey, etc.) and only 22 representatives of Ukraine among them, aims to emphasise the former status of Kiev as a Silk Road city and the crossroads of Eastern and Western trade routes. Some of the loudest names in the list of participants include Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, represented at the Biennale with their Monument to a Lost Civilisation (1999), dedicated to the Communist utopia; Paul McCarthy with his installation The King (2006-2011), the central element of which is a silicone nude of himself; the Ukrainian-born Boris Mikhailov whose Untitled photographic story (2011) records the industrial monster objects of the former Soviet Ukraine, now abandoned and doomed to nothingness.
40 of the exhibited works were created specifically for the Kiev Biennale, including the Korean artist Choi Jeong-Hwa's giant gilded lotus flower which was installed in the Kiev Independence Square in early April and has been moved to the Arsenal now. The artist previously created similar lotus flowers for the 2008 Beijing Olympic games and the 51 Venice Biennale where it was featured at the Korean pavilion. A special piece, the Footprints of Eternity installation, was created for the Biennale by the legendary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama; consisting of tunnel, filled with pink-dotted 'bubbles', it is reminiscent of her famous perceptually stimulating Dot Obsession (1998) and Infinity Mirrored Room (2011) installations in that it embodies one of the challenges of Kusama's art - staging the sensations of a new environment. On the one hand, Kusama's vivid dots exude intoxicating, exalted joy of life; on the other hand, they represent total detachment from everything normally viewed as reality - a mirage of reflections and colours in which you lose any concept of time and spaces, as well as the world you live in. 'My life is a dot lost amongst thousands of other dots,' Kusama says, frequently admitting that she would have long since committed suicide were it not for art.
10-12 St. Lavrska
Keywords: Kiev, biennale