History of media art in Ukraine. Archiving experience

Ianina Prudenko

For Ukrainian media art, the history of systematical archiving started in 2008. The newly established Department of Cultural Studies at the National Pedagogical Dragomanov University in Kyiv invited me to teach there. It was an opportunity to design several courses on culture, unprecedented for Ukrainian institutions of higher education – in particular, a course on the Arts and New Technologies that covers the history and theory of media art. I followed a well-established tradition of starting courses with a presentation on media art as a global phenomenon, but when it came to Ukrainian context, I realized that there’s no such thing as history of Ukrainian media art and, moreover, it’s almost impossible to study because the majority of media art pieces back then, in 2008, where stored on outdated data carriers: mostly, VHS.


My research brought me to Oleksandr Solovyov’s private archive; he is, perhaps, the only Ukrainian curator who not merely observed the birth of Ukrainian contemporary art in the late 1980s, but actually participated (and still participates) directly in its development as a researcher, critic, and archivist.


Later I learned that the evolution of Ukrainian digital art of the late 1990s and early 2000s was facilitated by George Soros’ Centre for Contemporary Art (CSM) – by its independently functioning branches in Kyiv and Odesa, in particular, so I took on to studying their archives as well. The newly created archive, in collaboration with the CSM, got its own name – the Open Archive of Ukrainian Media Art – and its own education program, “Distorting mirrors: the history of Ukrainian media art in words and moving pictures,” that engaged Ukrainian curators and artists who worked with new technologies of the time. There were lectures and screenings on the beginning of video art in Kyiv in the early 1990s, Oleksandr Roytburd’s video works, the evolution of new media art (3D animation, interactive installation, generative art, net.art) at InfoMediaBank residence. Then I started to compile texts on the history of Ukrainian media art (see ref.).


My research in its early stages revealed the main Ukrainian centers of new media art – in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv and Kherson. The first three have shown their interest in alternative media technology since the beginning of the 1990s. Each of the cities has its own specialties, which tells us that each region has developed its own media art context autonomously. There was one thing, though, that was common for all Ukrainian artists experimenting with the new media: they all were trying to reach beyond the limits of traditional artistic means, forms, and plots that were products of social realism imposed on artists in Soviet times.


For Kyiv it was characteristic to create video artworks similar to those created by squatters of Parkomuna (a squat on Mykhailivska Street, back then – Paris Commune Street) and related artists, such as Oleksander Hnylytskyj, Iliya Chichkan, Arsen Savadov, Georgiy Senchenko, Kirill Protsenko, etc. Thus, Oleksandr Solovyov believes that the emergence of video art at Parkomuna is related to the lack of exhibition activities in Ukraine shortly after independence. Interestingly enough, almost all those artists returned to traditional forms of art by the end of the 1990s (except for Hnylytskyj who would experiment with alternative media up to his last days), so their early experiments passed unnoticed: the video art of Parkomuna almost never got exhibited in the 1990s, and Parkomuna experience had never been passed on to the next generation of artists.


For Lviv in 1990s, it was characteristic to make video recordings of performances. The genre was represented by Fond Masocha (Masoch’s Foundation), Vasyl Bazhay, Petro Starukh, Vlodko Kaufman, Hanna Kuts, Viktor Dovhalyuk (together with Alfred Maksymenko), etc.


In Odesa, video art and video installation became popular due to the efforts of Anatoly Gankevich, Oleksandr Roytburd, Andriy Kazandzhiy, Gleb Katchuk, Miroslav Kulchitsky, Vadim Chekorsky, and others. By the end of the 1990s, media artists from Odesa were the most locally exhibited among their Ukrainian colleagues. For instance, one of such exhibitions was visited by an American media art curator Barbara London; she saw Roytburd’s “Psychedelic Invasion Of The Battleship Potyomkin Into Sergey Eisenstein's Tautological Hallucinations and recommended it to be acquired by MoMA (New York) – an unprecedented event in the history of Ukrainian media art that still draws little attention of Ukrainian and foreign museums and private collectors.


Practically all artists from Lviv, as well as from Odesa, who worked with video in the 1990s, stopped their experiments in the early 2000s if not earlier.


About a year ago, the Open Archive of Ukrainian Media Art was substantially replenished by digitalized copies of works made in Lviv and Odesa in the 1990s. Media-art pieces from Lviv were handed over by Bohdan Shumylovych, a media art curator and researcher from Lviv, and the works from Odesa – by the Museum of Contemporary Art, namely by its curator Miroslav Kulchitsky.


Opening Soros’ CSMs in Kyiv and Odesa in the middle 1990s marked the new era for Ukrainian media arts and brought about a new generation of media artists. InfoMediaBank in Kyiv was the first Ukrainian media-art residence in the history of Ukrainian art. The residence worked as a hub and educational facility for artists who learned there about such media art genres as morphing, generative art, interactive art, 3D modelling, net.art, and using software like Macromedia Director. Each workshop resulted in new works, and it soon became clear that a new exhibition platform was needed to represent the genre. Thus, InfoMediaBank’s curators Natalia Manzhali and Kateryna Stukalova organized KIMAF (Kiev International Media Art Festival) in 2000–2003 to give artists an opportunity to exhibit their works in the same space with their already famous foreign colleagues.


InfoMediaBank united young artists from all over the country and facilitated their work with the new media. Among the most active were Gleb Katchuk and Olga Kashimbeckova, Alexander Vereshchak and Margarita Zinets, Ivan Tsupka, Ganna Kuts, Viktor Dovhalyuk, and others. The CSM were closed down in 2004 together with their art-residences. The second wave of media arts’ popularity subsided and many of its representatives returned to more traditional forms of art; some of them used their training at InfoMediaBank to make their careers as designers and media producers. There were only two exceptions, Ganna Kuts and Viktor Dovhalyuk from Lviv; they decided to continue with their media art studies in Berlin at the Institute for New Media and later became widely known as the akuvido group of net artists.

Nowadays, we have a new generation of media artists who’ve grown up in front of their laptops and educated themselves with the help of open online resources. Over the previous decade, young artists from Kherson and Kharkiv were becoming more and more prominent. Nevertheless, each region in Ukraine has its peculiar art flavor; therefore it is impossible to talk about Ukrainian media art as something homogenous. The most advanced in terms of technology are works by artist from Kyiv and Lviv who work with generative art, interactive installation, net.art, robotic sculpture, etc. To my mind, geographical, mental, and linguistic proximity to Poland (where the history of new media in arts is longer) might explain the advancements of Lviv artists. Almost all acknowledged media artists from Lviv, such as Andrii Linik, Sergiy Petlyuk, Tamara Hridyayeva, Oleksiy Khoroshko, have visited art-residences in Poland and had multiple exhibitions there.


The question of succession among the three generations of Ukrainian media artists remains open. The only exception is TOTEM group from Kherson organized in 1996 where young and experienced artists of different generations have produced video art together for two decades and counting.


Similarly, In Kharkiv in the late 1990s video art was produced by Grupa Shvydkoho Reaguvannia (the Fast Reaction Group, Sergey Bratkov, Boris Mikhailov, and Sergey Solonsky); however, their experience hadn’t in any way influenced the experiments by younger artists who made their stand in the early 2000s in Kharkiv.


First and foremost, the generation gap among Ukrainian artists might be related to the lack of institutions nurturing media art and serving as a platform for communication, exchange, interaction, exhibition, support and education. Another strong factor is that government institutions of higher education in arts ignore the issue. Numerous academies, schools and colleges simply don’t offer courses on the art of new media (and contemporary art in general). Independent non-government initiatives, such as The New Art School can partially solve the problem; they give young artists an opportunity to get basic education in the field of new technologies and to establish ties with the previous generation of media artists.


Another way to support communication, activity and educative initiatives in the field of new media are festivals partially or entirely dedicated to media art. A successful example of such approach is the international biennale NonStopMedia; one of the most respectable and old festivals, it’s been held in Kharkiv since 2003. The MediaDepo festival in Lviv curated by Bohdan Shumylovych and Andrii Linik evolved from a special program of the Week of Contemporary Art into an independent event. A media artist and new media researcher, Andrii Linik initiated a number of events dedicated to media art, among them Transformator (2009), Futurkongress (2010), Cyber Pills for Mental Health (2015) that featured media art expositions, discussion platforms and lectures on hi-tech art. Over the past few years appeared a whole range of national and regional festivals offering media art exhibitions and events, such as Construction in Dnipropetrovsk (2014, 2015), MZ in Lviv (2015), “Hamselyt media art: generative, geometry, glitch” in Ternopil (2015), Linoleum in Kyiv (2013 - 2015). Besides that, there’re lots of developments in Ukrainian electronic music that require a separate study.


As of today, the Open Archive of Ukrainian Media Art works on the content at www.mediaartarchive.org.ua created with support of i3 program. The website features curators’ articles on main centers of media art in Ukraine; it also contains a data base on all artists, curators, and researchers who work with media art, a calendar of events, festivals and conferences on media art held in Ukraine; there’s also a digital archive of Ukrainian media art, catalogues, articles, posters, invitations, sketches from 1990 up to present day. The website represents all kinds of media art that exists in Ukraine today: video art, video installation, video performance, interactive installation, kinetic sculpture, media activism, generative art, net.art, excel art, ascii art, pixel art, sound art, science art, glitch art, etc.


The Archive, as its name suggests, is open, though the work on its contents isn’t done yet; it still needs more input and research on the history of Ukrainian media art. Particular attention should be drawn to the media arts in the regions. The open status implies that the archive should be replenished with the works of Ukrainian artists who work with new technologies.


At present, the Open Archive of Ukrainian Media Art starts new lines of research – the use of new media in Ukrainian theater (e.g. video in set design), experiments with sound and technology (electronic music), and Ukrainian media archaeology (for instance, cinematic projections in Les Kurbas’ productions in the 1920s and sound experiments with visuals by Dziga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman).





Ianina Prudenko. Playing with a camera. First Ukrainian video art (in Ukrainian)


Ianina Prudenko. Rabelais of Ukrainian video art: Oleksandr Roytburd (in Ukrainian)