No, not finished off! Awake!

See, it’s brightening above us,

Cheer up brother! Let us,

Tear the purple into puttees,

Light our pipes from the censers,

Stoke our stove with the holy images

And we’ll use the blessing brush, my brother,

To sweep our new home clean!

(T.H. Shevchenko)

From the tragic and dramatic events unfolding in Ukraine, a question has arisen which is as vital as it is painful: ‘where is artistic expression?’ It is as if artistic expression has no place in today’s reality which is bursting with manifestations of cruelty. But if any form of language were able to extend its own limits and take on the absurdity, unpredictability and even cruelty of our current reality, then it would certainly be the poetic language. Moreover, it is the ever-changing poetic image that impersonates reality (for example, scenery or a person), not the other way round.

All attempts to lock Shevchenko inside museums and books, to choke him with pompous presentations, to neuter living texts by ‘tearing them apart’ into lifeless quotes, totally hollowed out of meaning, have failed. Shevchenko has liberated himself and has come to his own jubilee celebration, ‘laughing through his tears’.

The landscape and the person are presented in the project as if in a state of struggle, a transitional state, moving in a continuous dramatic cycle. The inevitable cycle of births, fierce struggles, deaths and new births rejects the possibility of any constant state or of any determinability. This cycle also confirms the genuineness of the world around us.

So these places which captivated Shevchenko’s gaze, which he loved, and loved to paint, became a reliable refuge for his language. Hallmark landscapes like the ones described in all Shevchenko’s poems can be found everywhere. Any bowing willow is Shevchenko’s willow. In fact, this ordinary and familiar landscape (or rather, its thinnest visible shell), wedged between hell and paradise, is a dangerous refuge when it is packed with poems which have explosive qualities.

Chernecha Hill in Kaniv is a special symbol.

Shevchenko chose this hill for his home that never was and for his tomb, but most importantly, he chose it as a gateway to free space, to the landscape that opens from the top of the hill. Thus, a place for free living and a ‘new home’ has been awarded the opposite purpose. A place for life has become a place of death, and so it has attained a life of its own, a reality which is very far from the reality of a museum, a mausoleum or ritual site where you place sacrificial flowers.

Following Shevchenko’s logic, a person (an ordinary person, limited by her own ordinariness) who might take the poet inside herself and ascend the Hill, feels that she is growing taller, greater and, finally, she realizes that she has moved beyond her own limits and surpassed herself and can plung down the Hill into the scenery that opens up from there.

The project features ‘great’ people who have, as it were, become actions, materialized via poetry, and for an undefined time, they are real.

(Vlada Ralko, Volodymyr Budnikov, Kaniv, September 2014)

*The project was supported by ChervoneChorne Art Group