Zhanna Kadyrova was born in 1981 in Brovary, in the Kyiv region, Ukraine. She currently lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine. Member of "R.E.P." group (Revolution Experimental Space). After graduating from the Taras Shevchenko State Art School in 1999, she received the Kazimir Malevich Artist Award and the Grand Prix of the Kyiv Sculpture Project (both 2012). She was awarded the Special Prize (2011), Main Prize (2013) and Special Prize – Future Generation Art Prize (2014), all by PinchukArtCentre; Miami Pulse Prize (2018).
Zhanna KadyrovaOrbit, 2009 and from Behind the Fence series, 2014
Entering the first room of Zhanna Kadyrova exhibition, we step into a world that opens up with two horizons. The first one is represented by the 2009 work entitled Orbit; the second one is created in the 2014 piece Behind the Fence. Both of them show Ukraine in two different times and two different realities.
The first horizon is that of a post-Soviet country which has seen an opportunity for a fresh start. The work depicting it is made out of broken tiles, thus incorporating Soviet heritage but at the same time promising a chance for something different.
The work depicting the second horizon was created in 2014 on Biruchiy Island sand spit, located in the Azov Sea near the Crimean coastline and presently occupied by Russian forces. This piece was Kadyrova's response to the Russian annexation of Crimea. The artist created a fence and installed it on a beach looking towards the peninsula, thus restricting the view, blocking the horizon and rendering the land beyond it unreachable. Here, this work gets a second iteration, with shells and plastic souvenirs imitating its original location on a sandy coast, now unreachable just like the horizon behind it have been eight years ago.
The exhibition opens with a look at Ukraine's past and a reflection on its present. Unfolding further, it will also come to a perspective of what Ukraine may become in the future.
In the second room of the exhibition, we encounter a copy of the work entitled Monument to a New Monument, which Kadyrova has created in 2007-2009 for the town of Sharhorod in the Vinnytsia region. It was an opportunity for the artist to rethink the concept of a monument and reflect upon Soviet monuments' impact on public spaces they occupied. She came up with a sculpture that is vague, ambiguous, that looks different for everyone who sees it. This piece expresses critical attitude to authorities' commissioning of public monuments but also outsteps this narrative, showing Kadyrova's continuous dialogue with public spaces. Her sculpture is a token, an expression of feelings and yet it also is a promise of a new hero, which is especially relevant in today's reality.
The artist created a monument of an unknown person trying to depoliticise the notion of a public monument. The statue's shape can be read in many ways at once: it can depict Virgin Mary, the founder of the town, a fallen soldier, etc. The monument itself becomes a space for the audience to fill with meaning. When the original sculpture was being unveiled, the audience readily seized the opportunity to discuss its subject. In creating this work, Kadyrova intended to explore how people think they have to act around a public monument. A copy of the original statue, its gallery counterpart displayed here at PinchukArtCentre, offers a chance to experience it.
Entering the third room, in which the 2012 work Crowd is displayed, we are confronted with yet another sort of horizon, namely that of people and of time. At the time of creation of this piece, people shown in it were two years away from playing their parts in what would prove to be one of the most dramatic events in Ukraine's history and the beginning of the ongoing war.
This work reflects on the urgency of social and political change in the country. The arrangement of photos indeed reminds of the eponymous crowd, namely that of protesters. With this piece, Kadyrova places Ukraine and Ukrainians on a global stage.
The installation Crowd presents a portrait of one year and its events as told by newspaper cutouts. The artist made it of photos of members of political and cultural establishment cut from the press she has been collecting through 2012. She assembles them into collages, makes them interact with each other, uses linear perspective to create depth and does not add any contextual information, letting the images do the talking.
Fast forward two years from the previous room. It is 2014, and Ukraine is defending itself against Russia's initial invasion. Kadyrova directly responded to this with the work Untitled, showing a broken and burnt outline of Ukraine. It was created for the exhibition Fear and Hope at PinchukArtCentre, which attempted to look at the changed reality of Ukraine from the artistic perspective.
The sculpture is displayed together with several works made of broken and fractured tiles. Cracks in them are very natural but they also resemble borders, making the tiles look, as Kadyrova puts it, like maps.
Porcelain stoneware, cement, plywood
At the time, this choice of medium was a new step in her artistic practice. The artist further developed it in her work entitled Shots, in which she was testing her chosen medium and experimenting with its resistance. In the resulting piece, the medium is a symbol, a metaphor for the place it comes from and for its inherent meaning.
Shots (2022-2023) and Harmless War, 2022
In this room, we are confronted with the reality of physical violence. After the war broke out, this theme has become central in Kadyrova's works.
For Harmless War, a piece displayed here, the artist turned found bullet-ridden metal sheets into sculptures. They take shapes that are pleasing to the tastes of Western audience, thus offering it a chance to look at evidence of war morphed into an art object in order to be less disturbing. This work is Kadyrova's critique of the attitude the West has towards Ukraine, claiming to stand with it while trying to ignore the reality the country has to deal with on a daily basis. Harmless War was created in Austria, a country that for its own reasons has a very problematic stance towards the ongoing war and relations between Ukraine and Russia.
Russian Rocket, another work displayed in this room, has much more action in it. While in Harmless War we see evidence of war, the metal sheets destroyed by bullets, in this piece the artist makes a playful gesture, putting a flying missile in pictures of the landscapes of countries she visits. This way, Kadyrova brought the feeling of danger and imagination of danger with her to every country that hosted her.
On the one hand, the artist shows the reality of war disguised as minimalist art. On the other hand, she brings a fake of war into places that feel very real to foreign audience.
Through this interplay, both pieces transcend the obvious local narrative by examining acts of physical violence on a more fundamental level, namely in connection with the escapist gaze of the West.
What we see entering this room are rectangular cutouts of asphalt road surface showing traces of explosions. These are displayed as large-scale abstract paintings and constitute the 2023 work titled Data Extraction.
Kadyrova started it back in 2011, by cutting a fragment out of road surface and turning it into a portrait of the state of Ukraine. It showed the country as a space of corruption and a place in which political reality could be seen by looking on its roads. This new iteration of Data Extraction features the same approach, but this time asphalt cutouts serve as portraits of the war.
This is a very important work. The artist takes her medium from the original environment, flips it on its side and makes it look like an abstraction, thus changing its context while keeping its meaning. This allows the work to outstep the local narrative and move beyond. It explores war as a phenomenon rather than telling about this particular war.
This contextual morphing of media without losing their meaning is an approach that Kadyrova uses very often. It can be seen in Harmless War, in Behind the Fence, in the works made of tile and the list goes on.
House of Culture, 2023
Artifact, chandelier, stones, soil
The final chapter of the exhibition could as well open it. The works included in this part reflect upon the situation Kadyrova has found herself in when, after the full-scale invasion broke out, art suddenly felt useless to her. At the time, she found refuge in the Carpathian village of Berezovo. There, she transformed a little mountain house into her studio and proceeded to turn it into a small Palace of Culture where she hosted three exhibitions that brought together works created both by her and by local dwellers.
Later, this experience informed the idea of a new monument the artist has made out of a found object. The object is a bullet-pierced structure from the Kherson region, holding inside an exquisite chandelier taken from the Palace of Culture in Beryslav, a southern Ukrainian town, which was occupied by Russians until late 2022. It is a reminder of the fact that Russia is intentionally destroying Ukrainian culture and heritage right now.
However, this work also expresses hope and resilience. It opens a series born from the artist's life and work in the Carpathian Mountains.
Zhanna KadyrovaFrom Anxiety series, 2022Hand embroidery by unknown Ukrainian authors, embroidered text
Found river stones, table, tablecloth
In this series, the ongoing project Palianytsia started in 2022 plays a central role. Within it, the artist creates unique objects looking like bread loaves and made out of river stones found near the village. Kadyrova sells these to collectors from all over the world, intending to not only speak about Ukraine but, more importantly, raise money to help the country by supporting a wide range of causes, especially to boost Ukraine's army.
The Palianytsia project and time spent in a village in the Carpathians helped Kadyrova to find her place in the context of the war. Now she uses her art to tell the world about Ukraine while contributing to its victory.
The exhibition of Zhanna Kadyrova Flying Trajectories is made in collaboration with the Kunstverein Hannover, Germany, where Daily Bread, Kadyrova's first retrospective, was shown earlier this year.
The exhibition is curated by Björn Geldhof, Artistic Director of the PinchukArtCentre.
The exhibition will be open from June 30, 2023 to January 7, 2024.Admission is free.
Photos are open for usage by mass media.When using photos, please, note copyright information:Photographs provided by the PinchukArtCentre © 2023. Photographed by Sergey Illin