After a year of the work “on export” in European countries, The Naked Room returns to Reitarska with its own programme. By no chance it starts with a solo show by Kateryna Lysovenko. It was her practice that has become a visual evidence of despair, destruction and war crimes, as well as of resistance, strength and endurance — of everything that describes the struggle of Ukrainians against the russian invasion.
An exhibition entitled “A Naked Room” was bound to appear in our programme sooner or later. However, this particular name (despite its formal similarity to the name of the gallery) has completely opposite connotations. The Naked Room was conceived back in 2018 as a space with untreated (literally “naked”) walls that challenge the format of a classic gallery white cube format and provoke an experiment. Lysovenko’s “A Naked Room” instead refers to the naked life that all Ukrainians, without exception, have been living for over a year.
Before the full scale invasion, Kateryna’s artistic practice is known to explore a potential dual role of (monumental) painting and drawing as an element of resistance and comparable to a casket designed to hold shards of memory. Remembrance and the utopian act of resurrection seem fundamental and symbolic to the artist’s creative philosophy. Memory becomes a safe space, establishing survival for people, places, and ideas seeking shelter from evil, destruction, and oblivion. Trained as a monumental painter Kateryna often turns to “propaganda” tools in her practice: her work of the 2020–21 went under the motto (as well as title of the series) “Propaganda of the World of My Dream”. There she mixed mythological and religious iconography with an idea of a post-queer lifestyle. She inhabited her works with people of various genders, non-humans and nature as a subject sharing a co-living together. With the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine, it is exactly these subjects that were put under attack leaving behind an unlivable world.
Since February 2022, “propaganda” in Lysovenko’s work has taken on a more practical dimension, recording and commenting on violence against bodies, buildings and land. The artist took on the role of a reporter, updating the (art) world almost daily with news from Ukrainian fields, cities, and souls. In this role the artist has been confident, fierce, and unwavering. But for her first exhibition at The Naked Room and in post-war Kyiv, Kateryna radically changes her position and turns to her personal experiences. Forced to leave Ukraine with her two children, without the possibility of returning, she confesses her own despair and vulnerability. Here the key national question “What were you doing during the war?” is transformed from a claim into a confession and a proposal to share the common pain, rather than to build walls between those Ukrainians who are there (at the front), here (in the rear) and there (in evacuation).
Lysovenko’s work also continues an important line that has become common—and iconic—for many artists in the past war year. It is the search for a new quality of landscape as a genre that has an established and somewhat stiff place in Ukrainian art. In the history of visual, poetic, and folklore culture the “Ukrainian landscape” is perceived as a dead cliché that has little to do with the sensitivity of contemporary art. The turn from frivolous artistic admiration of landscapes to a more sincere, painful understanding of the landscape as something alive and fragile, rather than imaginary beautiful by default, has only just occurred when the landscape itself became a victim of military aggression. This new quality of the landscape is convincingly embodied in Lysovenko’s installation. The symbolic image of the land and the natural environment is constrained by household items and at first can be perceived as a decoration of someone’s living space. But in fact the landscape appears here as a subject, almost the only actor in a possibly forever deserted naked room.
Kateryna Lysovenko was born in 1989 in Kyiv. In 2014 she graduated from The Odessa Grekov Art College and in 2018 from The National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in Kyiv. In 2017–2016 she took a course in contemporary art at Kyiv Academy of Media Arts and in 2019 a course at Method Fund.
Lives and works in Vienna.
The Naked Room will be happy to welcome you in Kyiv this April with more exhibitions and solo presentations to follow in 2023 by Krystyna Melnyk, Nikita Kravtsov, Sasha Maslov, Dariia Kuzmych, Ksenia Bilyk, and Yehor Anstyhin.
Join us for Kateryna’s opening and stay tuned for more news!