Documentation of a Happening is Nikita Kravtsov's first solo exhibition in Kyiv in a long time. Nikita has been living in Paris since 2015, but his practice remains connected with the Ukrainian political agenda and artistic environment. The last year has been marked by the artist's cultural diplomacy: Kravtsov created dozens of iconic images that became symbols of mass actions in support of Ukraine around the world. And his murals communicate with citizens daily in the public space of Vienna, Paris and Nairobi. Among this necessary promotional work in favour of Ukraine, the artist's mural Testimony of the Genocide, which was held in May 2022 at the Bordeaux Museum of Contemporary Art, stands out. Despite its overt political engagement and provocativeness, a year later, this particular work claims to be an absolute timeless statement.
Happening was originally conceived as a response to President Macron's comments on the events in Bucha: "If this is genocide, then the countries that consider it as such should intervene in accordance with international conventions. Is that what people want? I'm not sure."
Nikita then invited people to recreate with their own bodies the scenes they had seen on the streets of the cities and towns of the Kyiv region after the de-occupation. The action, which resembles spontaneous folk performances in the main squares of the world, acquires a completely different status thanks to the method of documentation chosen by Kravtsov — painting. It is this slow medium that ultimately creates the necessary distance and appropriate imagery to talk about such extremely traumatic and sensitive events as crimes against humanity.
The full-scale war in Ukraine, whose voice Kravtsov defends, continues in a time of dominant digital documentation. This eliminates the distance between real events and people who are not involved in them. It also devalues the importance of the image, which is vulnerable to manipulation. Kravtsov, on the contrary, increases this distance through a triple transformation of the image: the media image migrates into performance, and performance migrates into the painting. Mediation, exaltation (it is no coincidence that Kravtsov's image is a rare format of monumental canvas today) and an intense mixture of impressions from admiration of beauty to confusion, longing, even disgust from inevitable associations verify the image, encourage us to believe in it. For Kravtsov himself, this work is a metaphorical collection of evidence and facts about the criminal crimes of the enemy army in his country. No more and no less. Can contemporary art be used as evidence? The practice of such authors as Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Forensic Architecture proves: artistic projects involving sound and visual evidence of real crimes can work equally convincingly in museums and courtrooms.
Before the invention of photography in the nineteenth century and the rapid development of its documentary use, artists testified to the horrors and triumphs of war. For a long time, the depiction of war (and death in it) in painting was heroic and solemn. Francisco Goya's famous etchings The Disasters of War open the nineteenth century and the possibility of depicting the terrible more truthfully, shortly before the emergence of the photographic medium. Goya's war painting, The Third of May 1808 in Madrid, symbolically documents the execution of Spanish rebels by the French occupation army. Goya used the innovative technique of bringing figures and action as close as possible to the edge of the canvas. The viewers are confronted with the mutilated bodies of the executed, and no photograph can bring us closer to the hermetic sense of horror that permeates Goya's art. Since then, this technique has been used in the history of painting up to the academically trained Ukrainian artist Kravtsov. And he masterfully manages the classical staging, creating a monumental multi-figure composition. But he also leaves the background unprocessed, literally empty, breaking the pictorial illusion and bringing the viewer back to the reality of what happened.