The exhibition, which collects paintings, photos, installations, and videos that treat the themes of global and local migration, and especially of migration both into and out of Ukraine, opened on 19 January at the Centre for Contemporary Art. It looks to be one of most eye-catching art events of the new year. Bazak was born in the picturesque Western Ukrainian town of Kolomyya and studied at the Kyiv Academy of Arts before moving to Cologne, Germany to study and live. These days he splits his time between Cologne and Kyiv. He would seem to have an affinity for the theme of migration, and says that he's an example of a "borderless" human being. It's perhaps that attitude that informs his attitude that migration, despite the hardships of it, is not a tragedy, but a natural process that started when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Ukraine has a deep history of migration, sending various diaspora waves to the West over the years. One part of the exhibit tells the story of Ivan's friend Vitalik, whose mother moved to Italy, leaving her family behind in Kolomyya. Vitalik missed his mother and decided to go and see her there. He took Ivan with him. The two snuck into Italy illegally, lacking any documents. Vitalik found his mother and took up life in Milan as well. The result was the abandonment of the family's house back home, and part of the exhibit is a three-dimensional model of the empty dwelling. While in Milan, Bazak found an interesting place: a market where Ukrainians offer themselves for daily labour. Photos and a video installation treating this human market are included in the show.
While in Milan, Bazak found an interesting place: a market where Ukrainians offer themselves for daily labour
Another story the exhibition tells concerns Bazak's German friend Bernie, who travelled to Ukraine. He asked Ivan where he could stay, and Ivan proposed that he live in his grandmother's house in Kolomyya, as she had moved with her children to Kyiv. An installation shows what the Ukrainian house looked like before Bernie lived there, and what it looked like afterwards. The simply village house has significantly changed - there's a new electrical system and a bunch of new European products. To Ivan, the house is a metaphor for one aspect of the migration process: migration changes nations from both the inside and the outside.
Learning to Imagine Migration
The project is being supported by the Goethe Institute, which is appropriate given that last spring Bazak presented all this work as an exhibit entitled "Where Are You at Home?" in a German museum. Being an emigrant himself, and from Western Ukraine, which is one of the great sources of migration, Ivan is trying to promote the idea that migration is not a problem but a social reality and natural process. There is nothing special about it for him. Ivan says he made the Kyiv project broader than the one that he showed back in Germany, adding, among other things, a section about a wedding in Ukrainian village. Artist Ivan Bazak The Ukrainian contemporary art scene has one problem. Projects tend to be funny, eye-catching, and fashionable, but they don't really delve into serious contemporary questions. There's no emotional grounding to them, and they lack a humane background. There seems to exist a closed circle of native artists who have totally different problems than most people in Ukraine have. They don't read the newspapers and don't talk to regular people, but instead play intellectual games and try to be original, even while copying their Western colleagues. There are some exceptions: artists who fix our attention on homeless children, or on people who live in the streets and eat trash, or on the problems of pensioners, but too often art in Ukraine is a facile business oriented around selling. It's no secret that massive work-related migrations are a big problem in Ukraine, especially in the west of the country. People from small cities and villages can't support themselves, and so cross the border and move to Italy, Spain, Portugal, and other Western European cities to work as builders, cleaners, babysitters, and housekeepers. Some of them do it legally, while some don't even have a passport. Like anyone else, Ukrainians want to improve their lives and make money to buy real estate or cars or other stuff. Others want to earn money to pay for their kids' educations. And yet others want to generate money with which to start business. The result is that if you travel to Lviv or Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, in some villages you might find that half of the population is somewhere abroad. This is a well-known fact here, but not many people take the time to try to imagine for themselves the experience of migration. Ivan thinks that as more people move to Europe and see what life is like there, it will be harder for the Ukrainian government to misbehave so much. It will be harder to lie. And so migration will have positive social aspects, too. Ivan, who's not a sociologist but an artist, is exploring this profound issue in a way that transcends the statistics.