Vitalii Shupliak: “I Value Experimentation, Playing with Form, Observing”

Photo by Anna Kyshynska

Vitalii Shupliak is an arstist, born in Berezhany (Ukraine), and currently based in Germany. He works with video, installation and performance, and is a founder of Pi Gallery, as well as a former member of the art group Carrousel.

Vitalii works primarily with the themes of understanding of one’s identity, consequences and impact of migration, correlation between real and virtual. Korydor talked to Vitalii about the importance of environment, his artworks and the exhibition, made with IZOLYATSIA Foundation. 


Oksana Semenik: In the interviews you’re often asked about your education abroad.  The way it has changed you, your views and practices.  If you’d stayed in Lviv or moved to Kyiv, how different would the themes and media you work with have been?

Vitalii Shupliak: I think, they would have been different, but not fundamentally.  The first year abroad brings a lot of impressions and reflexions, you are beginning to analyse them and compare educational systems.  Now I’m less concerned with these musings, and I don’t want to return to them now that I finally finished my 9-year long education. As it is, I studied in five different educational institutions: in Lviv, Gdansk (on a student exchange programme), Poznan, and then in Germany. Naturally, if I wanted to become a teacher right after graduation, I would be putting time into it,  comparing universities and methodologies.

The best results I got while studying were in collaboration with other people, both practitioners and theoreticians that had returned to the university and started to teach with real practical experience outside the university behind their backs. That is, they’ve developed by themselves, and only afterwards the university “called” them to share their experience with students.

О. S. More and more of the young artists nowadays are going abroad to live and study. You can notice it even by looking at the awards and projects – half or third of the artists are in emigration.  What do you think it is connected to?

V. S.: Yes, I often notice this and think about these questions, talk to Ukrainian artists living and working abroad. I think that there is a number of reasons for that, take economic factor, quality of art education, cultural institutions’ support or opportunities for growth… But it is a complicated and controversial question that requires a conversation of its own.

О. S.:Is it very important for you to stay in the context of contemporary Ukrainian art?

V. S.: Of course! Though it’s a bit difficult to do from the distance, I’m trying to be active and hope that I’ll be able to make more quality projects in Ukraine. Therefore I’m grateful to IZOLYATSIA Foundation for the residency programme, an opportunity to work in Kyiv and make an exhibition in IZONE, as well as an integration with local environment.

О. S.: How big is the impact of surroundings on the artists, to your mind? How important is it to consider context and place in order to understand an artist’s body of work? How critical is it for you that you were born in Berezhany, studied in Lviv and lived in Poznan?

V. S.: This experience is very important to me, but I think that everything depends on the kind of personality you have. Sometimes it seems that artist’s environment doesn’t matter whatsoever. But, of course, environment influences your art when it becomes the object of your study.

I think that surroundings is especially important for young artists. Learning process is normally associated with lectures and workshop, but only now that I left school walls for good, I realized the importance of the surroundings and of contact with the like-minded.  Therefore my advice to the students – don’t put all your hopes in academia or university, especially in Ukraine, where programme doesn’t fully reflect contemporary processes.  It’s good to take more initiative and learn to work individually outside your academic establishment from the get go.

О. S.: What was your surroundings like in Poznan?

V. S.: Poznan is a city that’s a smaller than Lviv, but has more cultural institutions at the same time. For your understanding, it’s important to remember that Poznan is placed between Warsaw and Berlin. Though Poznan has quite an interesting atmosphere, after graduation active people don’t normally stay there, but move to the capitals.

О. S.: Which media have you had a chance to work with?

V. S.: My start was very classic: drawing, oil and icon painting. I grew up in a family of an artist, therefore I was close to art since childhood, and my studies started with the Department of Sacred Art in Lviv Academy. The programme was quite conservative, but it gave me a good academic basis, so I don’t regret it. Even back in Lviv I worked outside of the academic programme a lot: made exhibitions in my studio in the basement, took part in group exhibitions and events outside of Lviv.  Together with Danylo Kovach, Ivan Oleksiak and Vasyl Savchenko we created an art group “Carrousel”. In those times the most valued events for artistic life in Lviv took place in Dzyga and Detenpyla galleries, which had a huge impact on me.

The most experimental and breakthrough was for me the time in Gdansk.  It was there that I first started to work with performance, installation and video.  I finally got an opportunity to freely do what was interesting to me, to experiment more, to try and master various techniques and expressive means.

О. S.: You have a video work, the documentation of a blue background with the words “no signal” projected over a white flag. I’ve read various texts on this work, and what’s interesting is that everyone saw something for themselves in it: a European flag without stars, a Ukrainian flag with no yellow, or something else…

V. S.: Yes, I even heard people say that it was a flag of internet piracy. I was inspired by a technical situation, when during a presentation the signal suddenly gets lost. The case with “Flag (no signal)” is an unforeseen situation: we don’t know what kind of image can come up when the signal reappears.  There is just no signal whatsoever.  I got interested in this rather explicit unpredictability.  My commentary to the work is, naturally, only my personal interpretation, whereas viewers can decide for themselves, which viewing position they’d like to take.  My story is only one option, a way of reading or a guiding hint.  I’m trying to avoid fixed interpretations of my works. 

О. S.: I’ve noticed that in your art you value questions of virtuality: the way virtual world influences us, the way it develops.  Do you remember the moment when you started to study virtuality?

V. S.:I haven’t even noticed when the questions of virtuality first appeared in my works (laughs). But thank you for an interesting question. All in all, I’m trying to archive my body of works to have a certain order in the documentation, and, consequently, a possibility to trace the course of my work to later build a certain reflexion. Perhaps it happened two years ago when I moved to Germany and started to work in a film workshop, experiment, play with technology.  I above all value experimentation, playing with the form, observing, and only after comes analysis.  Although it often goes vice versa, first you get a certain idea and then choose a medium to bring it into life.

О. S.: Your exhibition in IZONE was entitled “Wearing Out Trousers” (Protyrajuchi Shtani, lit. “wasting time”).  Why that title? I, for once, got an association that it was about how people see a creative work, an artistic process.  As they say, sitting and wearing out your trousers.

V. S.: Because it is exactly that (laughs). You can interpret the title in multiple ways. My association with this phrase is mostly studies: wearing out trousers means to go to classes and learn nothing. For the exhibition in IZONE I tried not to rephrase the title, but use it word-for-word.  I guess, it all started with observations and a question I had – how many messages would I have to receive on my phone, vibrating in the pocket, in order to make a hole in my pants? This question is absurd, yet it influenced the title of the exhibition.  Sometimes, if you watch closely you can notice silhouettes of a phone or a wallet worn through the pants.  It’s a very interesting sculptural form.  Something similar thing can be seen on an old worn-out porch, a living evidence of continuous movement of a body in space.  Likewise, the border between performance and video can wear out, they can cross from one to another.  A record of a performance can become a piece of video-art in itself, whereas a video recording can be used during a live performance.  A drawing, for instance, is a movement of a hand holding a drawing device alongside a surface, where the trace is left.  In essence, art is a record of action on canvass, and it is also a performance by nature.  Therefore I don’t particularly limit myself to these or other artistic media, but rather walk through the borders between them.   

Wearing out trousers (IZONE, Kyiv), UA Photo. Vitalii Shupliak 2019

О. S.:  Tell me a bit more about the exhibition and the works you made during your residency?

V. S.: The exhibition was inspired by absurd questions. For example, can you make a hole in a screen by rubbing your finger, turning pages on a smartphone, can you rub out your fingerprints? Of course, these questions shouldn’t be taken literally, but while working on a 50-pieces installation “Flags/sandpaper” I used a roll of sandpaper to make flags. Having made around ten flags I noticed that the finger-print recognition on my smartphone did not work any more because the fingerprints on my fingers were being literally wiped out.

Another work, a three-channel installation “Scrolling / RGB” displayed the gesture of turning, scrolling, zooming, but from such a perspective as if we were looking from the inside of the screen through the glass, touched by fingers.  Sort of a series of familiar gestures that are difficult to read.  I could call this video a micro-performance.  Installation also included white camouflage nets, normally used for the purposes of hiding military machines in winter times.  While looking for it on a seller’s website I noticed the polarity of its applications.  It was written that the net could be also used for gazebos or children playgrounds to make a filter against the sun.  Absolutely different situations and radically opposite functions.  I was also interested in the form that was falling on the screen, as if covering it with a spider web. Thus the video image is delicately camouflaged, it can be understood, but the filter of the net partially obscures it.  When it comes to colour, blue, red and green – RGB – it’s  an additive colour model. I was working on the unity of the exposition so that the works would function in concert with one another, but wouldn’t lose their own unique value.  In another work “No avatar / CMYK” I used a different colour model, which is mostly applied in printing.  How easy or difficult is it to guess the silhouettes here?

Wearing out trousers “No avatar / CMYK” painting, canvas, acrylic paint, 210 х 150 cm, 2019 Photo. Vitalii Shupliak 2019

О. S.: It reminds me of a person standing with their back to us, and also of a target… or a Ukrainian rag doll.

V. S.: These are associations I haven’t heard for sure (laughs). But it’s much simpler than it seems. For a basis I took the images that the three largest social networks offer you to use when you don’t have an avatar. Association with an icon is also important to me, because a circle behind the silhouette creates something resembling a halo.  A question I’ve been interested in for a long time is how much digitalization and ever stronger presence in virtual reality influences or modifies spiritual needs.  When is something like “in better virtual life I trust” being formed? Situations when virtuality dominates real life.  I also study material side of virtuality, relations between them and the way it influences formation of identity.

For the two drawings “5 kopiyok” I decided to use the form associated with vertically cascading flags that are usually displayed on facades of governmental buildings.  Total length of each of the drawings is 30 meters, but the viewer could only see a small fraction of it, because most of the paper has remained lying rolled on the floor.  This form is also, for example, connected with the feed we scroll through in our smartphone – it’s basically a parchment.

Wearing out trousers (IZONE, Kyiv), UA Photo. Vitalii Shupliak 2019

ID, please Object, different dimensions (University of the Arts in Pozna?), PL Photo. Vitalii Shupliak 2018

Atlas of the World Performance 13’00” (University of the Arts in Pozna?), PL Photo. Marta Bosowska

ID, please Video installation, different dimensions (University of the Arts in Pozna?), PL Photo. Vitalii Shupliak 2018

О. C.: By the way, I’ve read that at an average a person scrolls through a feed longer than mount Everest every year.

V. S.: You mean 30 meters is not even that much? (laughs) I associate scrolling with a treadmill. When you’ve been running for several kilometers and yet remain at the same spot.

Why “5 kopiyok”? For the drawings I used a side of 5 kopyika coin with an image of the trident.  Such sketches are a kid’s fun.  When you’re small and put a coin under a piece of paper, and rub a pencil over, you don’t put much thought in the symbols depicted there.  But I was curious to what extent do these symbols rub into our consciousness and form our identity? Depending on the intensity, when we speak about working with material, rubbing can polish, grind, sharpen, but it can also wipe out sharp characteristic features, make the form more general.

Flags made of sandpaper also touch the problematics of sharpening or wiping of the identity.  For me personally a flag lying on the ground has a strong association with conflict, surrender, but, on the other hand, this flag can be picked up at any moment and start to function as a demonstrative signal again.  The colour of sandpaper has practically no semantic meaning, thus it’s not entirely clear, what kind of signal it would give exactly.

The last work is “Carpet on the Wall”, made of a carpet and a video projection. Having put a soviet carpet on a wall, I covered it with lime, and the process was documented to be then shown in the form of a video projected over that very carpet.

О. S.: It seems as if it’s not a carpet, but just a screen.

V. S.: I was primarily interested in the formal process of transformation from a carpet, which is nice to touch and colourful, into material that is not encouraging to be touched, one that looks like a piece of sandpaper. The main goal was to transform the carpet into a screen and illuminate one-to-one recording of the performance. It reminds of a virtual illusion.

Painting over and wiping out are two similar phenomena, because they can bring similar results – reduction of the image.  I also thought about parallels between painting over church paintings during the Soviet time and painting over soviet art examples in our times.  In this statement I remain in the position of an observer, leaving it for the viewers to make their own conclusions.

О. S. : Which themes and media would you like to work with next?

V. S. : Probably the kind I haven’t tried yet (laughs). I don’t limit myself in my searches, so it is difficult to predict, what will catch my interest. I think that the most important is for the process to be natural and effortless, therefore I am working and intend to work with the media that are close to me and hold my interest. 

Find more projects and info about Vitalii Shupliak on his site:

Translated by Viktoriia Grivina.