During this weekend, from November 10 to 13, a light installation by a Spanish artist is taking place in Kyiv Pablo Valbuena. In his work, he experiments with the sense of space and time, the perception of contexts through visualization. This is the second part of the project previously created for the temporary cultural space MOT (Module of Temporality).
In March 2022 people began to defend Ukrainian historical and cultural heritage from the Russian invasion: strengthen monuments, wrap sculptures with protective nets, cover stained-glass windows with boards and sandbags. Since that time, the oldest monuments remained protected and at the same time hidden from the eyes of the spectators.
Three of them became part of a contextual installation – monuments to Volodymyr the Great, Hryhoriy Skovoroda and Bohdan Khmelnytskyi. With the help of sound accompaniment by 11 Ukrainian artists and light effects, the sights spoke and again became visible in the center of the big city.
About 40 poems were sung by the voices of modern Ukrainian poets. The following participated in the project: Ostap Slyvinsky, Lyuba Yakymchuk, Iryna Tsylyk, Olena Huseynova, Artur Dron, Pavlo Korobchuk, Halyna Kruk, Sofia Lenartovych, Yuliana Lesniak, Kateryna Mihailitsyna, and Marina Ponomarenko.
Correspondent UP Culture of Anastasia Bolshakov visited each of the installations immediately after the opening and talked with the author and the audience of the performance.
I walk up the cobblestones to the scene of the event, through the Arch of Freedom of the Ukrainian People. I decided to come a little before the start, to see the preparation. The sky in the city is already starting to turn gray, the street lights are being turned on.
Even from the glass bridge, “Ghost Poetry” can already be heard and seen. The monument to Volodymyr the Great pulsates with light – it attracts viewers like a lighthouse. Without a doubt, someone turns their head and listens, because everyone is interested in what the Prince of Kyiv is “talking” about now.
|Volodymyr the Great on the Volodymyr Hill. Photo: Dmytro Larin, UP|
I see a photographer on the glass bridge Dmytro Larina. He tries to capture the installation in the frame from afar. Let’s get closer together to see the details.
The monument greets me with the poet’s words Peter Korobchuk:
“one must live in such a way that people care about each other,
everything else will take care of itself, that’s what my mother told me“.
I go around the installation in a circle: the workers at the monument check the lighting and sound, pull the wires, install the last protective plywood blocks. When they descend from the finished structure, the creator of the project gives them new instructions – Pablo Valbuena. It’s already 5:00 p.m., but the team is there to the last, everyone is trying to do their job perfectly.
|Volodymyr the Great on the Volodymyr Hill. Photo: Dmytro Larin UP|
The sky is dark blue, lanterns are burning in the park. The smoke generator turns on and Volodymyr the Great, as if surrounded by fog, recites poems. The monument in the protective dome has a truly mystical appearance. People look around, the voices of poetesses are heard Sofia Lenartovych and Elena Huseynova.
A sign with information about the project is being installed near the place where I am standing. Some stop to read, scan the QR code, look at the phone screen. Most immediately take out their smartphones and start shooting videos – monuments do not always address the public with familiar voices. They listen to the poems in silence, almost no one comments on the spectacle. Only those who do not hold back succinctly summarize: “interestingly invented“.
|Bohdan Khmelnytskyi on Sofiyivska Square|
The artist is no longer around. Pablo travels between the monuments of Volodymyr the Great on the Volodymyr Hill and Bohdan Khmelnytskyi on Sofiyivska Ploscha, overseeing all processes. While he’s busy, the text message advises him to take a walk and see how the second installation works. So, the photographer and I are going to Sofiyivska Square.
Along the way, we climb to the observation deck, the view from above is mesmerizing. The prince is clearly visible through the illumination, he holds a cross and contemplates the evening Kyiv. Also good to hear I love Yakymchukwhich tells about a post-war trip to the supermarket:
“I remove the tape from the window glass –
Bailiff, you can’t bite it off with your teeth
I run to the nearest supermarket
behind sponges and gloves
a kitchen scraper just in case
I throw it in the basket
on a stand with combs
I pick up a hair brush
“made in Kharkiv” – they write
so it will serve for a long time, I think
as Kharkiv is sustainable
I almost want to say – eternal“
It is not far to go to Bohdan Khmelnytskyi – we bypass the St. Michael’s Cathedral and move to Sophia of Kyiv. It is just as easy to find the installation even among the heavy traffic of cars, the monument is louder than them and, flashing, calls to itself.
We meet other photographers, standing across the road near the square. I ask if they also came to look at the art. One of them says that, in fact, modern art is not understood at all, and this time is no exception, but it does not come closer to the monument, because then the camera will not record anything at all. Together we go further: I go to listen to Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, and Dmytro and his colleagues figure out how to best photograph him.
|Spectators who came to Sofiyivska Square. Photo: Dmytro Larin UP|
On Sofiyivska Square, people stop along the entire perimeter. A man alone listens to hypnotic voices in the distance, two women, with upturned gazes, look closely at glimpses of light. Someone is standing close to the installation, barely squeezing into it, to see the hidden hetman. Again, no one speaks – the attention is busy listening.
More people are gathering near the sign that has already been installed here. The girls reading what was written circle the names of the poets they know with their fingers. They share stories with each other, where they saw them and who they read. But they leave quickly – there is a frosty wind outside and one of the friends convinces the other that it is time to move on.
A couple of people stop nearby. A man and a woman quietly stand arm in arm for some time, and then begin to quietly discuss something. I carefully intervene in the conversation, I am interested in how they see the spectacle.
“It’s interesting to stand and listen to what is being read here. The voices seem familiar, but I don’t know who is speaking. But they did it very well. I like the texts and the meanings in them.” – says Olena. The man is not verbose, he says that they came up with an interesting idea with the backlight.
I leave them and approach the sign again. Children and their mothers run up there. Most of them do not yet know how to read, so they ask adults to explain what is written there. One of the women first looks at the text, and then says:
“Poems about war are read here. The monuments were closed specifically in order to protect them from danger, and they are illuminated so that we can look at them for sure“.
|Bohdan Khmelnytskyi on Sofiyivska Square. Photo: Dmytro Larin UP|
After standing for a while, I decide that it’s time to go back. The artist is just about to complete all the preparations and talk about the installation in more detail. Together with Dmytro, we pass the Wall of Memory of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian War, return to the park. It was already completely dark.
I walk near Volodymyr the Great again, I notice two figures near me. One of them – Pablo Valbuenathe author of the installation, next to him is an assistant from the organizing team Julia Sosnovska. The artist greets, shakes hands, and goes somewhere forward. Julia explains that Pablo has to talk to other correspondents now, but will be back soon.
|Pablo Velbuena. Photo: Dmytro Larin UP|
I tell Julia what we managed to see during the time we walked between the installations. I describe people’s reactions and mention the coldness through which the audience quickly leaves.
“The wind is cold today, so it’s not just our installation that gives people goosebumps. double effect”, – Yulia jokes. “We managed to take pictures of the monuments from the drone before it started to blow away. There is a lot of work now, so I didn’t have time to watch everything, so I will watch the video from above. In general, we planned to carry out this installation in the summer, but it didn’t work out – in order for Pablo to come and work here, he needed a whole week of his life, and it’s only a two-day trip to Ukraine. But I managed to make the project now and it is already dark enough for it to look good“, says the assistant while Valbuena gives an interview.
After some time, Pablo comes back to us, apologizes for the delay and assures me that now he has time to answer all my questions. Julia jokes that today the artist is very popular, everyone laughs together, because it is true – in 15 minutes this is the third record of comments.
First of all, I congratulate him on the opening of the second part of the exhibition, I tell him that I visited the first and the emotions are somewhat different from them – last time the feelings were disturbing, but this time the spectacle is fascinating. Pablo Valbuena is wondering if everything is working well in Sofia Square while we were walking there. I assure him that everything is fine.
“The idea of the project is to work with the past in public space. These monuments are located in the center of Kyiv and tell a lot about the history of the city, I tried to combine them with modern art and modern poets. I did it through their voices, through their perspective on what’s happening now.” says the artist. “These monuments are interesting because they are protected, hidden behind panels and sandbags. They are hidden because of the potential danger and damage they could receive“.
A voice recites a poem behind us Halyna Kruk.
“On the one hand, the monuments are safe, but on the other hand, they are disappearing from public view. Suddenly, memory, history, all the cultural aspects associated with them, disappear into space. Therefore, this project aims to show these sights to the audience again, but already in the context of today. Of course, this is also my vision, but here I am rather a medium, a catalyst for the voices of Ukrainian artists. It is very interesting how they can tell the story in a slightly different way“, says Pablo.
|The monuments are interesting because they are protected, but also hidden behind panels and sandbags. Photo: Dmytro Larin UP|
During the walk, we had time to listen to almost all the poets, learn from the poems about the war that everyone is going through now. I ask Valbuena why he chose these authors and I am interested in how he selected the poems.
“The selection was made with help Ostap Slyvinskyi. I know a few poets, but not many. And it was very important to find a person who is connected with other artists and could give advice – who could be interesting for the project and at the same time would be interested in participating in it. Not sure if the installation could have happened without this support.
Then, together with him and other poets – Dear Yakymchuk and Iryna Cilyk – with whom I began to cooperate for the first part of the installation, we expanded the selection. And it was wonderful that everyone we contacted gave their positive answer and agreed to join the project“.
Thanks to Pablo Valbuena for the conversation. Dmytro takes a portrait photo of the artist and then we head to the last installation – the monument to Grigoriy Skovoroda on Kontraktova Square. With this, we close the “triangle” and actually go in chronological order between the historical figures who influenced Ukraine.
|Hryhoriy Skovoroda on Kontraktova Square. Photo: Dmytro Larin UP|
Kontraktova is crowded as always. Young people with cameras take pictures of the installation from all sides, older people read the text from the sign. Even in the cold, the audience stops and listens to Skovoroda.
A military man sits down on the foundation of the monument, takes off his oil cap, and lights a cigarette. And behind him is speaking Artur Dron:
“Saint John Paul the Second
in the old free days
said in Lviv:
“Rain falls – children grow.”
St. John Paul,
I grew up in this rain.
But now it’s winter
and everything demands such a price,
only snow and soldiers.
Soldiers fall – children grow.
Soldiers fall – children grow“.
Read also: The government allowed the dismantling of the Kyiv monuments to Pushkin and Shchors