What remains of our hometown. Yuriy Bolsa’s exhibition about Chervonograd in the capital’s M17

What remains of our hometown.  Yuriy Bolsa’s exhibition about Chervonograd in the capital’s M17

Albums with stickers that we painstakingly collected in childhood, photos with relatives, preserved toys, favorite television shows – what remains from childhood?

For the modern artist Yuriy Bolsy, who was born already in independent Ukraine, but in a city with the communist name of Chervonograd, these are images from the Soviet era – large pedestals of Lenin, red matchboxes, factories of the mining industry of the Lviv-Volyn coal basin, the smoke of which is absorbed into the sky.

UP Culture tells why we can recognize in the exhibition not only Chervonograd, but also other cities of Ukraine. And how you can make sense of your personal history with the help of art.

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Yuriy Bolsa’s temporary exhibition is located on the second floor of the Kyiv Center for Contemporary Art M17. This is how “Chervonograd” manages to separate itself from the group exhibition on the first floor and become a separate space in which Bolsa records his growing up through the perception of his hometown.

The exhibition really resembles a model of the city, but only those things that the artist grabbed for himself remain in it – you enter Chervonograd Yuriy Bolsa. You can go further with his images, objects, words, people, or you can simply record their presence in the space of the city where you grew up, not necessarily reflecting them.

Miniature installation. All photos: Olga Dudenko

Why is there a need to remember all this? Because in some form the past remains with us and shapes our identity, activity, and connections with others. “Maintaining a sense of Chervonograd’s presence in the info field is very important, because it is one of hundreds of small industrial cities that are not talked about, and perhaps not even known. The artist’s goal is, in fact, the very philosophy of what is said, voiced.”– it is noted in the description of the exhibition.

“History around this person is created not necessarily by his will, but simply happens.”

The first to catch the eye are large canvases where industrial landscapes merge with the environment. We see how the smoke frames the blue sky in a circle, and next to the granite monument, a Ukrainian embroidered suit stands. Amidst all this, in the lower right corner, sits a frightened, lost person, hugging his knees pressed to his stomach with his hands. Her role is reduced to that of an observer: the story around this person is not necessarily created by her will, but simply happens.

Hanging caricatures-memories.

Among the visitors of the exhibition, comments are repeatedly heard about the similarity of such industrial landscapes with other Ukrainian cities in which they grew up. Let’s say, with Zaporizhzhia or Kharkiv. They note the contrast between the same tall factory buildings and their smoke next to green parks, high-rise residential buildings or schools.

Read also: My Kherson. How war cures superiority to a small homeland

The work of the “Toy Monuments” series.

In addition to the monuments depicted on the canvases, Yuriy creates them himself. His series “Toy Monuments” (2022), made of wood, is a reinterpretation of urban space through Soviet symbols, as well as an attempt to show how elements of war returned to us from the past, became modern and ceased to be just history. On the wooden beams we can see a rope wound around the neck of the Lenin monument, next to it there are bones laid out in the form of a spine, on which people are sitting. They seem to be happy about the dismantling, but do they realize the reasons for its necessity?

On the walls there are small paintings – collages and canvases, where a picture is created on a surface with text. They are a reminder that history can never be just a backdrop. Even if the stories from your growing up environment are not close to you, they still affect your relationships with others, the stereotypes you carry with you when you become an adult. Man is supposedly adapted to the space of the city and looks inorganic in it, but he cannot reject history – instead, he can only reveal it.

A wall of small paintings by Yuriy Bolsa. Photo: M17 Contemporary Art Center

Inside the space of the second floor there is a separate small room. Bolsa’s work in it is like a heart located in the general body of Chervonograd, and you have to get to it after understanding everything that was behind. This space provides more privacy, and if the first place was given to history in a large room, then a small one is a tribute to subjective experiences and understanding everything that happens around you.

The pictures hanging on the ceiling resemble children’s illustrations with phantasmagorical images, but all of them are about reality. They hang above another wooden installation, with the help of which Bolsa examines the effect of social stereotypes and their impact on the townspeople. The artist projects a society in which there are defined gender roles: here men should be fond of football, play computer games and train their own strength. On the platform where the installation stands, a childhood photo of Yuri was placed, and it resembles a dossier – all the objects around are aggregate information about you.

A miniature installation representing Chervonograd.

I both love and hate Chervonograd, because this environment made me the way I am, and these plots in the paintings. Working through these situations is a tribute to this city for everything you have experienced. I live in it, it would be unfair to draw New York or Donbas“, says Yuriy.

When we think about our hometown, we can probably imagine it as a certain room. What will it be – a space of precious memories and moments fixed in time, or a collection of things that meant nothing to us, but were always there?

Read also: Decolonization exhibition. The works of Lviv modernist women are now in the collection of the NHMU

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