Brushing and marking actions

2009 - 2012

The period of the 1920's, when Kharkiv was the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, has had a profound impact on the perception and usage of public space. The image of the city has retained this aesthetic past, expressed in the strident lines of constructivist architecture and imposing shapes of industrialisation. In the context of local urbanism, the color grey is a direct reference to that period. Today the integrity of the city is systematically crushed by the expansion of neoliberal “modernisation.” Thus the city is loosing its own cultural traditions as its unique face dissolves into the demands of the market. In 2008 SOSka Group organised a series of discussions with other artists on the topic of street art in Kharkiv. One of the proposals that was nearly realized after the event featured a series of actions called "Grey on Grey". During these actions artists visited industrial districts and swept the fences of factories with brushes, mimicking the workers from municipal services employed to maintain the built environment. In this context, the action presents the color grey as if it were a lost subject stricken from the official Ukrainian registry of endangered species, known as The Red Book. This action itself does not contain any practical sense—since brushing already grey fences with new grey paint is a very absurdist gesture— but instead serves as a marker for places that are already, or will soon be lost.

"Grey on the grey", Mykola Ridnyi, Serhiy Popov , Ivan Svitlychnyi. 2009

Another action, "Whitening", took place on the territory of the local street-art festival; it was organised by the Kharkiv City Art Gallery, and given a permit by the culture department of the City Council. All of the murals created during the festival included the logo of the sponsor—a brand that produces paint— as well as the name of the gallery. The logo was often painted into the middle of the mural, or otherwise woven into its narrative. In collaboration with other artists, the group painted over an older mural located in the city center. One of the artists who had created this earlier mural joined the group in order to erase the advertising from his collaboration. This act became a critical gesture toward the methods and frameworks of institutional work that had organised the festival, and also, a metaphor for a blank page that invites possibility and new expressions.

"Whitening", Mykola Ridnyi, Alexander Kurmaz, Taras Kamennoy, Serhiy Popov. 2012

In Territorial Pissings artists also spilled a red line on the ground around the Kharkiv SBU office building (Security Services of Ukraine), then traced a path to the City Zoo, and then another from the City Administration Building to the Circus. The lines are a critical retort aimed at organs of state power and their principles. Using a line to make a statement is an experiment in visual syntax, and an expressive action through the language of graffiti and street art. These acts were not political protests, but rather a meditation on socially engaged art in the urban environment. Since graffiti and street art are often a way for their creators to publicize themselves in the urban realm, or just exist as decorative forms, the ephemeral nature of the red line asks a question about how far such actions and expressions could be thought of as responsible to a public, and what their value to that public might be. Except where they were close to official institutions, the red lines enjoyed a lifespan of about a week before disappearing with the melting snow.

"Territorial pissings", Uliana Bychenkova, Alina Kleytman, Mykola Ridnyi. 2012

corresponded materials (read in Russian):