Oleksa Konopelko, Mutafory Lili, 2023 / Video still
Kyiv Perennial
Feb 23 – Jun 9, 2024
Various Locations
Berlin, Germany

Curating an international Kyiv Biennial with cultural workers in times of war poses a challenge both for the institutions and for the individuals involved. Curatorship under emergency circumstances imposes completely different conditions on the production and perception of artworks and discourses, and reimagines the biennial as a collective endeavor on an existential ground of political, social, and cultural survival. Under life-threatening conditions, the curatorial process goes far beyond its contemporary meaning of an artistic and organizational practice and becomes resignified with its original sense of restoration, rehabilitation, and relief, thus suggesting not a biennial, but a perennial long-term strategy spreading over Eastern Europe’s devastated lands.

The Kyiv Perennial project, conceived by the Visual Culture Research Center (VCRC), the institutional organizer of the Kyiv Biennial, together with nGbK, Between Bridges, and Prater Galerie in Berlin in 2024, is a follow-up to the pan-European edition of the 2023 Kyiv Biennial with dispersed exhibitions and public programs in a number of Ukrainian and EU cities. Kyiv Perennial’s strategy is based on approaches that merge artistic production, critical knowledge, and social engagement in a state of emergency, and is defined by the struggles that Ukrainian society is engaged in while fighting against Russia’s fascist invasion and a neo-colonial war of extermination and extraction.

The experience of artists and cultural workers in Ukraine today is profoundly marked by war trauma, displacement, the lack of access to basic resources, and, in many cases, life under military occupation, or direct involvement in armed resistance. This poses existential challenges to the future of art and cultural production in the country, since its institutional infrastructure has been undergoing physical erasure. Kyiv Perennial tackles the multifaceted realities of war and its impact on the Eastern European region by addressing the destruction of nature due to military hostilities, ecologies of survival, the fate of historical and modern architectural heritage, and the psycho-political devastation endured on a mass scale. The visual and discursive programs also cover decolonial trends in contemporary culture and politics in Eastern Europe, merging artistic positions and research into war trauma, refuge, and new forms of cooperation in the region.

Russia’s ongoing invasion has given rise to a new wave of investigative, research-based, and documentary approaches deployed by artists, activists, and journalists in order to gather evidence of war crimes, trace the impact of neo-fascist propaganda, and attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice. Kyiv Perennial showcases and fosters these documentary artistic practices and reorients them away from merely reckoning with the past toward imagining a dignified future. Documentary-based approaches, understood not as a documentation of artistic activities but as a (re)presentation of the evidence of the emergencies of war, contain an underestimated potential of the political power of truth. The idea and form of the document in both forensic and philosophical senses can serve as one of the guiding principles for the conception and production of artworks and discourses today and brought together the artists and participants of Kyiv Perennial.

Aside from reaching out to the original meaning of curatorship, the documentary-oriented biennial project stresses one fundamental potential of art – to make visible and to show in order to perceive and to understand. In line with prefigurative politics, Kyiv Perennial collectively explores and devises institutional practices, investigative documentations, and artistic imagery towards possible exit strategies from the current deadlock of war, authoritarianism, and colonial domination by forging forms of political imagination and inventing post-imperial futures.

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