Voloshyn Gallery presents a project by Mykola Ridnyi and Oleksiy Sai at EXPO CHICAGO.
Refuges. Bomb shelters. We overlook them in usual, peaceful times, just as we overlook the notion of war until danger becomes clearly perceptible. Every Ukrainian town and city has bomb shelters. During the Cold War, the USSR and U.S. propaganda brought about nuclear anxiety and the cult of “homeland protection.” After Ukraine gained its independence, many Soviet-built shelters were abandoned and closed off; others were repurposed as storage spaces, gyms, second-hand stores, and whatnot. The Shelter series by Mykola Rindyi, created in 2012-2013 and presenting bomb shelters as both a relic and a phenomenon, has acquired a new meaning in 2014, after the Russian invasion of the east of Ukraine, and especially in 2022, with Russia’s full-scale aggression. Ridnyi’s project originated during the artist’s high school years, when he had civil defense classes held in an actual bomb shelter in the school basement. Concrete sculptures making up the series are made after models of bomb shelters. According to the author, this work was a response to feelings that were floating in the air shortly before the war broke out.
This investigation of environments, territories and their destinies through amalgamation of personal experience and societal reality finds its continuation in the Bombed series by Oleksiy Sai. It comprises bird’s-eye-view images of landscapes of the east of Ukraine pockmarked by explosion craters left by the war. Using a disc grinder, drill, and abrasives, the artist almost completely ruins the surfaces of some of his previous works from different series, of different years and sizes, transforming them into textured maps of destruction. Gradually losing their initial sharpness, they become nearly abstract while still remaining clearly meaningful. This series was started back in 2014 as the author’s reaction to then current events unfolding in the country. Sai viewed working on it as a kind of therapy that would help keep himself busy and convey at least a part of harsh emotions triggered by the circumstances to the material through the exhausting monotony of the activity. Not intending to literally imprint his pain or anxiety, the artist was rather trying to “tune in to the surrounding reality” through the meditative and masochistic process of simultaneous creation and destruction. By 2018, the works accumulated into a series. Holes in them gradually assemble, producing a massive pattern that conceals the initial images.
“I was supposed to open an exhibition at the Voloshyn Gallery on February 24th. It was a series of works started in the winter of 2014, in which I destroyed my paintings, turning them into kind of landscapes scarred by traces of bombings. We were ready to open, but then the gallery had to become our bomb shelter. We had been staying there with other artists and families during the first few days of the invasion.”
Oleksiy Sai for Zaborona Media
“In his documentary Images of the World and the Inscription of War, filmmaker Harun Farocki examined the “blind spots” in the interpretation of aerial photos taken during an American bombing of a German plant in 1944. It was not until the 1970s that those were recognized by CIA analytics as one of the first photographic proofs of existence of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Here, landscape and its relief appear as witnesses and participants in a historical proceeding, with every pothole, pit or bump being an evidence and a component of memory. In Sai’s project, landscape plays a similar role. However, he does more than just capture the tangible destruction and intangible anxiety and pain (both private and collective) in the materiality of perforated metal. The artist symbolically links his oeuvre to a specific territory and its fate; the surface of his works, to mutilated ground. This gesture unites the personal and the common, blurring the limits, and landscape underlies this unity. The sight of it as if stretched down below, scaled, creates the distance one lacks so badly when it comes to the current events, which are impossible to disengage from.”
The Bombed series is combined with an earlier large-scale series called Excel-Art, in which Oleksiy Sai tries to find an adequate visual language to describe contemporary processes and creates a series of works in the program that performs calculations - Microsoft Excel. Millions of office workers perform their jobs without facing reality, and the data he uses as elements of visual language can be easily understood by a person of corporate culture - perhaps the youngest of the clearly defined cultures of humanity. Both series, being side by side, create an extraordinary chemistry. These are two parallel worlds that, however, are connected to each other by a certain fatality, ruthlessness, and the principle of optical mixing.
This heavy and unsettling dialogue concludes Oleksiy Sai's News series of 2022. The artist's goal is not to convey information about events, but to convey a physical sensation, something that the body and mind remember, to convey the physical and emotional impact of a massive, inhuman war that is truly terrifying. In his works, the emotional aftermath of consuming news is depicted as a column of black smoke that rapidly tries to fill every millimeter of clean space. Oleksiy delves into the study of the change in the non-material environment after the influence of a stimulus such as information, and how it is transformed under the pressure of certain stressors.
About EXPO CHICAGO
EXPO CHICAGO, The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, features leading international galleries alongside the highest quality platform for contemporary art and culture. In 2023, EXPO CHICAGO will host 170 leading international exhibitors at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. Since its inception, EXPO CHICAGO has remained dedicated to supporting local, regional, and international arts communities, with strong regional support throughout the Greater Midwest, both US coasts, and maintained a growing international commitment from Europe, Asia, and Latin America.