Ghosts of Modernism: Modernism for the Future 360/365 projects in Lviv

The Modernism for the Future 360/365 (or MoFu) project brings together partners from four cities – Kaunas, Kortrijk, Brno and Lviv – and is supported by the EU’s «Creative Europe»  program. The leading organization of the project is Kaunas 2022, in Lviv its partner is the Cultural Strategy Institute. Between April and June 2021, the city hosted two art residencies, culminating in presentations of art projects, and the final exhibition of all works of art within MoFu will take place in 2022 at the former main post office in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas.

Each of Lviv’s residences was in some way connected to a specific place: both the Gallet’s Building on Kniazha Street, where artist Olha Kuziura worked, and the House of Trade Unions on Shevchenko Avenue, which became the basis for NUEPIKO’s dance experiments, are examples of modern architecture. Indispensable in both projects was a participatory component – exploratory creative work with the involvement of Lviv residents and local communities. In this way, there is a close connection between the work of art and the place and the meanings given to it by the city’s citizens. This approach actualizes numerous layers of meanings, working with the history and «ghosts» of the place, and they in turn enrich the work with possibilities of interpretation.

In Lviv, Olha Kuziura’s installation and NUEPIKO production are present as site-specific projects that work with local objects in a way that not only allows a viewer to see these places in a new way but also creates an inseparable unity of their creation and exhibition. Moving to a different context (such as the final MoFu exhibition in Kaunas in 2022), the projects will become part of a wider artistic discourse on modernism in Eastern Europe.

Site specificity is an experimental approach to artistic practice that emerged from the search for minimalism in the 1970’s in the North American context. It emphasizes the process of exchange between the work of art and the place where it is exhibited and created, and the place itself (in geographical, historical, discursive senses) determines and activates its potential meanings.

Each of the art projects in its own way actualized the theme of fragility (materials, trust, human life), unreliability (memory) and ephemerality. Material and illusory, presence and absence shimmered in the works, intriguing the audience and inviting them to the winding corridors to search for meanings, memories and interpretations.


The Gallet’s Building: ephemeral materiality

The result of the work of artist Olha Kuziura was an installation entitled «Shared memory. Act of Remembrance», placed directly in a private apartment on Kniazha Street, with the consent of the owners. On one of the walls in the room, the author placed prints made of paper in the technique of blind embossing. Among the items whose phantom silhouettes remained on the delicate texture of the paper – decorative grilles, castings, lighting elements, switches, locks, buttons – the original items of the interwar period, which could complement the apartment of the Gallets. The wall was also chosen on purpose: the prototype of the artist’s installation was the mizrah – a kind of Jewish ornamental wall plaque, which was placed on the wall facing the lost house – Israel. Olha placed her installation in front of the part of the apartment that was lost, because in the postwar period the apartment was replanned several times.

The exhibition lasted only a day, on June 3. Only one room was available for visiting. To personally attend such an event is a privilege and a special opportunity. After the exhibition there were many digital traces – quality photo and video documentation, articles in the press and personal feedback on social networks, but the short duration of the exhibition to some extent duplicated and emphasized the fluidity and ephemerality, which seemed to become the material of the whole artistic act.

While working on the project, Olha Kuziura talked to researchers of modernism, specialists in Judaism, collectors, and residents of Lviv. In addition, she worked carefully with archival materials from various collections. The information that the artist managed to accumulate became the basis for a creative rethinking of the material and the creation of its individual interpretation of the interwar modernism of Lviv in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

According to the artist, the involvement of local residents was the beginning of an open discussion. Olha found the inhabitants of mostly modernist buildings, conducted interviews and involved them in the selection of material artifacts. She communicated with them individually, sometimes with time intervals, because a significant part of the participants was of respectable age, sometimes online, due to lockdown restrictions. The result of the dialogue was always an object obtained for imprinting. Based on the assumptions of the residents, the artist recreated the lost motifs, details of the apartment and the rest of the house and combined them with prints from objects on the apartment at Kniazha St. 16, which are of special importance to the owners. The associative series, formed due to the participatory component of the project, reflects the changes over time in the forms of human worldview and the development of the culture of memory.

The technique of blind embossing, in which Olha Kuziura works, resembles the principle of woodcut or linocut. Without using dyes, the artist takes prints of surfaces using special tools. In this way, layers of dust, soot or even fingerprints of owners who could use these items are converted into color.

For Olha, according to her, it is valuable and interesting to find a special autograph of the author of the thing – his signature or date of creation. This allows us to add another dimension for understanding, because the objects had not only owners and users, but also manufacturers, creators. As the artist emphasizes, this is an important layer of our history, which remains silent, anonymous, torn. Material culture has its value though, and its study and appropriation allows to symbolically «organize» the feelings and understanding of local history. From such fragments we must form our identity («we»), realizing that this material heritage is also part of individual stories.


The House of Trade Unions: an ephemeral presence

Site specific projects became characteristic of the work of postmodern choreographers in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Trisha Brown from the United States and Pina Bausch from Germany were among the first to work with ideas to take the work beyond the theatrical stage and to activate the potential of the natural landscape, urban space or architecture.

The project of the NUEPIKO dance group from Kaunas – Marius Pinigis, Andrius Stakele and Adrian Carlo Bibiano – focused on the creative understanding of the space of the House of Trade Unions in Lviv through the practices of modern dance.

Principles of NUEPIKO work are teamwork, partnership, openness, diversity. The dancers emphasize the horizontals within the group, the rejection of the position of the main choreographer with unlimited power and the emphasis on virtuosity, the value of everyone’s contribution. The artists involved local dancers Yulia Skyba, Vita Vaskiv and Khrystyna Skorubska to work with the object. «we»

«It is important to give local artists the opportunity to hear and think about their own history, which they may not have known before or had no time to inquire about. Our joint work creates an opportunity to express it, to highlight it,» – says Marius Pinigis, co-founder of NUEPIKO, dancer, movement researcher.

This is NUEPIKO’s first work since quarantine with dancers they have never seen before.

«When you’re in a new space, with people you don’t know at all, it’s a good way to reconnect with the architecture of your own body, with the outside world, through space and interaction, to feel your own axis more clearly,» says Marius. «As a choreographer, I am interested in conceptual work with architecture: how the body becomes a part of it, how it affects the body and its perception.»

According to the Lithuanian dancer, art projects also make it possible to draw the attention of citizens to the local cultural heritage, such as the interiors of modernist architecture, which is often perceived only as an external form, while many details can be contained inside. According to NUEPIKO participants, it is also surprising that in Eastern European countries modernism seemed to be ahead of its time, contemporaries did not accept it, because it was very different from what it was «before», it was too futuristic. Lviv and Kaunas are similar in that they preserved this architectural heritage during the Second World War – and now residents have the opportunity to «catch up» with modernism because now one can understand what was not clear a hundred years ago.

The three final performances of the dance performance from NUEPIKO took place on June 12 and gathered about 100 spectators.

At the beginning of the performance, the dancers experiment with different dynamics and directions of walking in the area in front of the House. Individually, in duets and in a wider group, they walk and run, fall and stand up, intertwining with the everyday movment reality of the afternoon city, created by the walks of couples and mothers with strollers, couriers riding bicycles, running children and the fuss of frightened pigeons. The presence of a «deliberate movement» seems to condense, reveal the interactions and relationships between all participants in this reality. Inside the building, the group becomes a guide for spectators, offering them a route from the first to the seventh – and again to the first floor. Dancers follow the structure of the building and the rhythms of architecture (stairways and flights of stairs, floors, bars, windows), imitate it through minimalist cycles and repetitions. In order to see the action, the spectators need to hold on to the handrails and stretch their necks up or look down to see  where it takes place, thus mobilizing their own bodies.

The production is accompanied by an original soundtrack (by Andrius Stakele), consisting of various sounds recorded in the building during the work on the residence: the sound of a new elevator, the cracking of railings and stairs, boiler room, voice echoes from outside of workers and visitors.

According to the dancers, they were interested in the space in the center of the House, which remained empty when the old elevator was replaced with a more modern one, and the idea of the House’s architect Ferdinand Kassler: the first floor of its buildings is the darkest and the last is flooded with light. Therefore, the idea of moving up and down became central in the work on the project.

«That’s the beauty of dance,» says Marius Pinigis. «Through it, one can «summon ghosts» – talk about heritage and history, embody what no longer exists.»

Historically, Kaunas is the capital of modern Lithuanian dance, so the city’s cultural environment was open to the idea of re-actualizing modernism not only through the visual arts, but also through the art of movement. At the same time as drawing attention to the architectural heritage, dance projects have created an opportunity for artists to become closer to their potential audiences, who usually choose theater or cinema. The NUEPIKO residence within MoFu has become a good opportunity to make the art of modern dance more visible and understandable for Lviv citizens.

The development of modernism as an artistic trend in Eastern Europe was stopped by the Second World War. The dramatic post-war construction of history and the narrative of art history, in particular, pushed it to the margins. But any system of presence that is subjected to cruel annihilation is doomed to cyclical phantom manifestations in the future – like a ghost. Such manifestations are characterized by the creation of a special atmosphere, which is completely different from that which is usually present. MoFu projects in Lviv have taken on the role of leaders in this process of communicating with «what does not exist any more»  and stitching the colorful fabric of the explicit and the implicit. To do this, very relevant media was used – prints on paper, the vulnerability of which is painfully reminiscent of the fragility of memory, safety and life in general, and the art of bodily movement, which in its ephemerality relies only on presence, memory and empathy.

Photos: Nazar Parhomyk