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Solidarity and Self-Reflection in the midst of Perpetual ‘Remont’

Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Remont (2019): Maksym Bilousov, courtesy IZOLYATSIA

Sweden had miljonprogrammet; the Soviet Union had the mass 1960s construction of khrushchyovka—repetitive, urgently-built concrete apartment blocks. The latter, nicknamed for the Communist Party First Secretary who commissioned their construction, were meant as a short-term housing solution for a then mature, ambitious, and growing empire. As time went by, fortunes changed and that which was meant to be temporary became permanent.

The persistent khrushchyovka with courtyard ping pong tables and rug-drying racks, aging pipes, half navy blue and half white hallways, and rusting postboxes is a familiar site in post-Soviet cities. They aren’t skyscrapers, but they also aren’t small. They don’t draw too much attention to themselves, but they are everywhere—more alike than unalike from Tashkent to Ternopil.

To keep the khrushchyovka (and all manner of overused urban infrastructure) alive requires constant attention. In Ukraine, this obligation has given rise to the proliferate practice of ‘remont.’ Translated to English, ‘remont’ is akin to ‘repair.’ In reality, ‘remont’ is much more than a patching of holes and a periodic fresh coat of paint; ‘remont’ is equal parts physical and philosophical—aspirational and a manifestation of personal priorities.

‘Remont’ is ingrained in the Ukrainian subconscious and applicable to initiatives tiny and titanic. In the last decade, it has become a recurring subject of attention for the country’s contemporary artists. The two most recent examples come courtesy of Evgeny Koroletov in association with the Severodonetsk Centre for Contemporary Art and Nadia Kaabi-Linke.

Still from video documentation of Evgeny Koroletov and Severodonetsk Centre for Contemporary Art’s Remont (2018): Courtesy Evgeny Koroletov

Koroletov’s Remont (2018) uses cooperative action to heal the splintered and the fallen. The work takes the form of a silent, hourlong performance memorialized in a film of the same name in which a collective of ten artists and friends enter the woodlands outside the Eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk and ‘repair’ as many trees as they can by replanting them. In stereotypical ‘remont’ fashion, their approach is imperfect. Trunks that are too big to handle are sawed into parts, then planted separately. The ground is near frozen, so a lot of time is spent chipping away at the soil. Progress is made. Perhaps not a lot, but more than a little. And when no progress was made before, even a little can be a lot.

Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Remont (2019): Maksym Bilousov, courtesy IZOLYATSIA

Kaabe-Linke’s installation is also titled Remont (2019), and is currently on view at IZONE Creative Community in Kyiv. Raised by a Ukrainian mother and a Tunisian father in Tunis and Dubai, educated in Paris, and now based in Berlin, Kaabi-Linke is simultaneously one of the highest profile artists affiliated with Ukraine and rather anonymous to the domestic cultural scene. She has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and Martin Gropius Bau, amongst many other museums and biennales. Hitherto she has never shown her work institutionally in Ukraine, the country she says she “always longed to” and linked with “spiritually.” And so Remont represents a homecoming for the artist, leveraging her part-insider, part-outsider’s gaze to approach the root (in)securities of ‘remont.’

Kaabe-Linke’s installation has three constituent parts. The first is a layer of unpolished, heterogeneous grey, black, and occasionally brown stones placed side by side on the gallery floor. The second is the mortar that should fill the space between the stones and bind them together. Said mortar appears in grids on the wall instead of underfoot, becoming the gates of a prison cell instead of fulfilling its intended function as a bringer of stability. The third is the empty space between the stones—a short span with a big effect.

Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Remont (2019): Maksym Bilousov, courtesy IZOLYATSIA

With Remont, Kaabi-Linke incarcerates her audience in a state of imbalance. Seen in pictures, the installation appears an austere manifestation of a mentality often esteemed for its scrappiness, irregularity, and amorphousness. Heard in person, a far richer impression forms. Indeed, the strongest aspect of Remont is its auditory effect—stones scraping on concrete with each step left, right, forward, or back. When you are alone, you are forced to rectify with the fact that you are responsible for the exhibition’s friction-induced accompaniment. When you are with a crowd, you stop being a crowd and become a symphony. Shifts happen in crescendo; whatever move is made in Remont, there is always sonic response.

Still from video documentation of Evgeny Koroletov and Severodonetsk Centre for Contemporary Art’s Remont (2018): Courtesy Evgeny Koroletov

No doubt, Nadia Kaabe-Linke’s Remont and Evgeny Koroletov’s Remont treat the same subject with separate priorities and sympathies, particularly with regards to labor and authorship.

Kaabi-Linke is the author recognized for Remont, but she says she gives her “emotions away to the work” once it is completed when asked how she expects or hopes viewers will react. And the work itself is defined by its abundant materiality; it is heavy and its making surely demanded great exertion by the hired hands tasked with assembling it. Since the constructors remain nameless and Kaabi-Linke cedes control to a finished Remont, we are left to project our reactions onto the stones, mortar, and space in between or search within our memories for instances in which we’ve been prompted to react that way before. Comfort is hard to come by when accountability is absent.

Evgeny Koroletov is one author, but his Remont has ten authors and the anti-hierarchical Severodonetsk Centre for Contemporary Art the performance was realized in association with has many more. In such a scenario, there is no ‘I.’ Only ‘us.’ A lot of the trees the authors are replanting are small enough so as not to require everyone’s engagement. Accordingly, some of the authors watch their compatriots. And then we, the audience watching the video documentation, watch those watching as well as those chopping, digging, dragging, and lifting. In so doing, Koroletov shows us how to observe the exertion of those at work, prodding us to get up, go forth, and repair something too.

Both Remonts tell us that ‘remont’ is not a monolith, and that you have the power to decide what you want it to be. So, is your ‘remont’ a self-reflection? A show of solidarity? An act done begrudgingly? Decisively? Proudly?

And if you want to do more than one ‘remont,’ that’s fine too. Because there will always be another one.

Evgeny Koroletov is actively engaged in a variety of artistic initiatives across Donbas, working as an independent artist and as a member of Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora and the Severodonetsk Centre for Contemporary Art.

Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Remont runs through January 12, 2020 at IZONE Creative Community in Kyiv, Ukraine. The exhibition is curated by IZOLYATSIA’s Kateryna Filyuk with project management by Natasha Andrieieva.

Wilson Alex Fisher

Wilson Alex Fisher is an art historian and writer from Buffalo, New York living in Kyiv, where he is researching Ukrainian contemporary art as a Fulbright scholar.

Stills from video documentation of Evgeny Koroletov and Severodonetsk Centre for Contemporary Art’s Remont (2018): Courtesy Evgeny Koroletov

Photos of Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s Remont (2019): Maksym Bilousov, courtesy IZOLYATSIA


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