Marilyn Monroe Entertains Ukrainian Troops in The Latest Arsen Savadov Exhibition

Feb 10, 2020

By Olena Lysenko; photos courtesy of Arsen Savadov

A retrospective of the work of Ukrainian conceptual photographer and painter Arsen Savadov has opened at M17 Art Gallery, bringing together selected photographs and his new video art project. “Voices of Love” is curated by Victoria Burlaka, a Ukrainian art historian and critic.
The exhibition includes selected photos from projects such as: Donbass-Chocolate, Collective Red, Book of the Dead, Fashion at the Cemetery, Commedia dell’Arte in Crimea, Cocteau, Underground 2000, Angels.

Fashion At The Graveyard, 1997
Fashion models are striking poses at the tombstones, they are being filmed in front of a real funeral. The artist doesn’t romanticise death and shows it as it is. “Such nihilism in the Nietzschean version is presented in the subtext of almost all Savadov’s projects of late 1990s-early 2000s”, says the curator of the exhibition Victoria Burlaka. The artist explores the contrast between death and consumption. According to Savadov, art cannot distance itself from social problems.

see kyiv arsen savadov
see kyiv arsen savadov

Donbass-Chocolate (From Deepinsider Project), 1997
The 1990s in Ukraine was the era of mass strikes of coal miners from Donbas region, in the east of Ukraine. “The miners are a great tragedy. However, it is the only social group that is equal in size to artists”, – this is how Savadov justified the choice of the subject of the project.
To experience the complexity of underground mining first-hand, Savadov joined the group of coal miners and rode the elevator down deep mine shafts. “It’s so difficult that it seems unrealistic. Plus 45 degrees, in double cotton, with life-saving equipment, in a respirator”, said Savadov. Miners, which is a “closed men’s club” and classic ballet represent two conservative cultures, which were associated with the Soviet Union, and then, the post-Soviet states.

Cocteau, 2001
The project captures the consciousness at the border of the millenium, the expectation of another apocalypse. Asadov ironically uses the nuclear mushroom as the main symbol of the project. It is a reminder of a real threat to humankind, which doesn’t take it seriously and being busy with the self-destruction. Compared to other Savadov’s works, this series is not so threatening, but rather strange and surreal. Hence, the project is named after Jean Cocteau, who stood at the very origins of surrealism.

Commedia dell’Arte in Crimea, 2012
Two years before the annexation of Crimea by Russian Federation, Savadov made a project there, dedicated to Shakespeare’s use of theatrical metaphors. It was important for Savadov to use real decorations, that were created at the workshop and then brought to the photoshoot site. “When they tell me about using Photoshop, I laugh. Everything you see is not a collage, but a real shot”, said Savadov.

Voices of Love, 2019
The story of “Voices of Love” began last year, when Savadov was eager to present it as Ukraine’s entry to 2019’s Venice Biennale exhibition. But the country representatives have chosen the other project by young Ukrainian artistic collective “Open Group”, which aroused much discussion among Ukrainian culture community.
Voices of Love is a loose reconstruction of the 1954 Marilyn Monroe concert in Korea. It is believed that after those concerts in 1954, the situation at the frontline has changed, US troops made the North Korean troops to step back, and since then, a line of demarcation has stayed the way it is today. In this project Marilyn “arrives” to Ukrainian soldiers at Popasna and Debaltseve, in the east of Ukraine. The shootings were conducted directly at the frontline and involved thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. Two people at once have portrayed Monroe – opera singer Maria Maksakova and pop-legend of the 90s El Kravchuk.
According to the curator of the exhibition Victoria Burlaka, the theatrical Monroe emphasizes the authenticity of the cathartic emotions of the soldiers, their collective, almost Dionysian ecstasy. The arrival of the “star” is just an excuse to show this sacred amusement, intoxication with life on the verge of death.

The presentation of the Voices of Love at M17 Art Gallery. Photos by Ruslan Synhaievskyi

Voices of Love is on show from 7 February to 31 March 2020 at M17 Art Gallery (102-104, Antonovycha St). Tuesday-Sunday, from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.