Untitled (Political Natural History Department) is a kind of historical diorama, a 3D mock-up (produced with various techniques), popular in the 19th century museums, which usually serves the educational purpose of presenting historic events and natural phenomena. Kadan uses this forgotten format to show the recent events in Ukraine. Addressing the Soviet tradition of building local museums and cultural infrastructure, the artist focuses on the Museum of Natural History in Donetsk, destroyed during the recent fighting with the separatists, as well as the evacuation of the National Art Museum in Kiev in the immediate vicinity of the Maidan, a case that stirred media attention. Stuffed animals standing behind a barricade of wooden planks and tyres are a reminder of the destroyed museums and works of art – venues and objects that cannot contradict the reality of war.
The foundation for Nikita Kadan's body of works Limits of Responsibility is a series of color slides by the Ukrainian artist. They document the protests against the scheduled removal of the protesters' camp on Independence Square in Kiev in the spring of 2014. In the series, the focus is on the 'Maidan gardens' that activists planted around their tents and barricades during their months of occupation, cultivating vegetables, grains and herbs in the contested Kiev ground.
The artists' play on and with the image takes on a sculptural form in a 1.7 x 3 meter object of lacquered white plywood and a square flowerbed of lettuce and herbs, built according to an illustration from a 1979 Soviet Agitprop publication, in which constructions of that kind are promoted as an ideal way to display agricultural achievement. While the sculpture's construction and materials have their roots in instructional purposes, its illustrative function is missing. The display boards are painted opaque white, their lack of text and image conveying nothing but a reference to propaganda presentation strategy. The artist connects this relic of totalitarianism, robbed of its function, with a space for plants – a bed of garden growth which, in being brought up-to-date, has been liberated from its ideological underpinnings and today serves the autarchy of protesters and survivors. Excluded from the commercial exchange of goods, their responsibility is limited to their immediate surroundings.
Nikita Kadan's collage series consists of photographs taken by the artist in Eastern Ukraine. The images show visibly damaged buildings by the recent conflicts in the area and are overlayed by illustrations of plants and vegetables cut out of old Sowjet books. The photographic style has the feel of a snapshot; it is very much about the present condition. The vegetables, carefully extracted from their constructed context, float evenly over the image and randomly obscure parts of the picture. There is no attempt to blend or make it appear that the two layers go together visually or conceptually. The idealized plant and brutalized present exist separately but together, revisiting the idea of the gardens on the Maidan Square in Kiev.
In his research on the territory of Crimea, which became internationally known because of recent violent events, Nikita Kadan goes deep into the past to when this land was the subject of dispute. Hidden memories of the peoples, nations and states struggling for the possession of the peninsula as well as the artist's personal memories are transformed in a semi-documentary display of imagery and distinctive architectural forms that tells the story of the land, its past and, consequently, its future.
Historically Crimea was home to different ethnic and religious groups. One of them, the Crimean Tatars, was deported in 1944 from the peninsula by Stalin's orders as a form of collective punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazi occupation regime. The deportation remained the shameful underside of one of the most famous Soviet resorts, a paradise situated between the Black and Azov Seas. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars returned to their ancestral homeland and started to re-occupy the territory with self-built settlements. These fragile architectural shelters are often left unfinished or are ruined by local authorities driven by a new wave of xenophobia towards Crimean Tatars who are again becoming an object of exclusion in the new Russian Crimea. Kadan interposes drawings of the geometrical shapes of modernist architecture, which call to mind the Soviet paradise of Crimea built on the Crimean Tatars' territory after its ethnic cleaning, between documentary photographs of the Tatar settlements. The settlement becomes a skeleton upon which a new society is currently emerging, driven by a new national idealism which suspiciously resembles the Soviet one. A thin neon profile defines Crimea as an autonomous island which in reality is becoming an object of manipulation by different geopolitical interests. Written in 1979, the fiction novel The Island of Crimea by Vassily Aksyonov imagined an alternative history wherein the Russian civil war ended with the tsarist forces able to hold on to this southern scrap of the old empire. The novel ends with Russia annexing Crimea after its citizens are tricked into requesting the invasion themselves, almost predicting the current Russian occupation of Crimea.
The utopia of Socialist Crimea is reconstructed by a documentary display with a collection of images from the 1960s to 1980s and booklets representing the modernist infrastructure for leisure and healthcare – sanatoriums, hotels, restaurants, beaches and swimming pools – as well as the happy life of tourists coming from different Soviet republics. The photographs were done by Tass (Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union) and used to advertise Crimea as one of the best tourist destinations of the Soviet Union.
"A significant example of the use of storytelling to connect facts and events that the dominant system tends to hide is the work Everybody Wants to Live by the Sea (2014). Nikita Kadan goes deep into the past of Crimea when this land was the subject of dispute between the Tartars living there and the Soviet state wishing to build there a resort infrastructure. Hidden memories of the peoples, nations and states struggling for the possession of the peninsula as well as the artist's personal memories are transformed in a semi-documentary display of imagery and distinctive architectural forms that tells the story of the land, its past and, consequently, its future. Tartars vernacular architecture represents something which was not absorbed by the soviet project and which return is evident in the post-soviet reality. These pieces of striking reality, ruins of a disintegrated everyday-life, made difficult by a new order of things, are in a sharp contrast with the abstract figure of the soviet past, identified with the facades of the neo-modernist soviet architecture. The tatars are nowadays a shameful and degraded image on the background of society. The ready-made parts of the work represent here an intersection of reality with a strong sense of degrading materiality which intentionally tries to cynically disturb the viewer revealing invisible parts of our present."
- Sylvia Francescini, 2014
Hold the Thought – Where the Story Was Interrupted refers to post Soviet museums of natural history and to the educational and cultural infrastructure of eastern Ukraine, an infrastructure which is crumbling in the present war situation. One element of the installation presents a kind of sterile space and refers to Soviet neo-modernistic war memorials, an enlarged maquette with the viewers inside. Kadan deliberately deprives this element of any ideological figurative or narrative attribute and turns it into a claustrophobic cave. The other part refers to a well known picture of the Donetsk local history and nature museum destroyed by missile strikes and to the pictures of the museum rooms with the stuffed animals, standing among the remnants of the museum walls.
This project is about police torture, a widespread practice in contemporary Ukraine. One could also say that this project is about the body, as something personal (unalienated), something private (an object of exchange), and as something that exists for the public good (entrusted to uniformed professionals). The project consists of a set of souvenir plates printed with drawings of police tortures and the text of the email dialogue between Yekaterina Mishchenko and Nikita Kadan. The project includes posters with the same drawings and correspondence fragments, which were put up in public space. The choice of forms and visual means is connected with the absence of any clear visual documentation of torture procedures, with their specific 'invisibility'. The didactic character of these drawings addresses the collective responsibility of all those who know and remain silent, bearing the guilt for what goes on 'in the shadows'. These instructions have been executed in the style of the "Popular Medical Dictionary" of the Soviet era, where one could often find illustrations of patient-characters with serene facial expressions, even though they are undergoing extremely painful procedures. "The doctor knows what he is doing. It's all for our own good."
Small House of Giants is a combined object, a kind of architectural collage, which consists of a living container for builders from the 1970s and a model of a facade of geometric form referring to Soviet neo-modernist architecture of the same period. Small House of Giants is a reflection on the shifting social role of the worker within the new capitalist environment in Ukraine. On the other hand, this object opens up a critical discourse on the fictive heroic position that workers held in the Soviet past.
In most of his works Nikita Kadan uses formal elements of early Russian avant-garde art. The references to the avant-garde idiom and aesthetics are the most appealing in his series Surfaces. Floating in space and on the walls they become independent shapes that occupy the room, similar to early Soviet avant-garde and Suprematist art.
If looking at the drawings in detail, one notices the thin pencil marks of buildings on the paper. What appeared to be mere abstract geometrical shapes are actually the gaps in the cityscape that are occupied by billboards and posters. Kadan abstracted them from their current position in the contemporary landscape into the aesthetic tradition of the Soviet era.
The Catalogue of Opportunities consists of six light boxes with photographs of cityscapes from old Soviet architecture magazines. The artist transformed the original images by cutting out the parts of the buildings that nowadays are covered with commercial advertisement. The motivation behind the work comes from the artists' awareness of the prevailing spirit of change in the post-Soviet society. As the artist states, "In a way the Soviet public sphere is helpless, it cannot protect itself from aggressive privatization such as the invasion of advertisements in the streets."
This work is dedicated to the Soviet epoch people, the creators of the most powerful non-capitalistic modernization of the past century, the last mediums of historical consciousness. Senior citizens, dependants, odd people who are barely tolerated on the celebration of parting with the history. Intimidated and dependent, they cast a vote in exchange for food packages and electoral allowances for retiring pension. Those who stockpile for a 'rainy day' and who mind the 'firm hand' of the authorities. They are despised by youth for selling future for dry crumbs, future which in fact thee do not entirely own. Those who are always nearby, applying for a part of present. This work is also about the famine and violence in the base of socialist modernization and about the minimum provision behind its facade. Currently, the image of this modernization is strangely being transformed into utopia of social protection and ascetic life (which is environmentally conscious, non-consumer). This utopia is possible to discern in these older people. They appear to become its burial, a living mausoleum.
The structure refers to the Soviet architecture of the 60-70s, expresses the spirit of socialist modernization and has impoverished and vulnerable carnal underside.
Five light boxes with images combining drawings from medical encyclopaedias from the 50s with Suprematist forms of architectural planning. The city plan turns into an instrument which violently arrests the citizen's body.
The work was created in collaboration with an architect, Olexandr Burlaka, and carried out after consultations with Ural University student Olga Ryba, who helped to gather information, not all of which was openly accessible.
The circular forms of these works and their blueprint genre draw on the Russian avant-garde, specifically El Lissitzky's Prouns – visionary maps of battle-plans. But where the 'red wedge beat the whites' a different war with different victors now rages – the war between the interests of the 'elite' and those of the public. The Neoplasm project explores the changes in the urban environment that resulted from the triumphant arrival of a new form of unfettered capitalism. Maps depict areas of Kiev (where the artists live) and Ekaterinburg where public space is disappearing under the onslaught of private interests. Public gardens are being demolished to make way for 'elite housing complexes', squares are turning into shopping malls, and music schools become parking lots. The artists write: "Our circles are both Petri dishes on which biological neoplasms have 'blossomed' and side-windows through which we look at today as at the future."
(Text by Ekaterina Degot for the catalogue of Ural industrial biennial.)