Today I went to work, ate some soup and a bun in a still-Soviet-style café (Pirizhkova opposite the post office), went to an art exhibition, wandered the city for a bit, then taught another class, did a bit of shopping and came home. An ordinary day, pretty much, like this one two weeks ago. And so everyday life goes on in post-revolutionary Ivano-Frankivsk, although the traces of the events of the past four months and the fear of war are evident in the city.
The most striking thing that appeared in the city today was this ‘Memorial to Russian Aggressors’. Standing on piles of tyres reminiscent of those that burned on Maidan in Kyiv, a wooden cage is home to three mannequins’ torsos with rather crude print-outs of the faces of Putin, Stalin and Dmitri Kiselov, the rather eccentric but powerful Russian journalist. The presence of Kiselov indicates a feeling, perhaps, among the creators of this installation that the “information war” or “propaganda war” that is ongoing is being used as a significant weapon against Ukraine.
According to the organisers of the installation, created by the ‘Student Svoboda’ organisation, ‘Kiselyov’s aggression is different from Putin’s and Stalin’s only in its methods, which are no less dangerous than military actions.’ Quite a hyperbolic claim, that.
The memorial’s appearance has received a fair amount of coverage in the local press. It is unclear how long it will be standing there in the centre of Vichevyj Maidan, or Rally Square, where the first Euromaidan protests and gatherings took place in the city.
Clearly, the students who created this are not art students – or if they are, then we should be very worried about the quality of works that are being produced by the university’s fine arts department – even if there is some vague resemblance to one of Francis Bacon’s works.
With a bit of time on my hands before teaching, I headed to the recently-opened Centre for Contemporary Art at the bottom of Shevchenko Street near Sichovych Striltsiv by Hotel Dnister. I’m giving the exact location, since despite the Centre existing for several months now, it is rarely open when it says it should be open and so I doubt many people in the city have noticed its existence. Today, though, it was possible to a see a new exhibition titled ‘Spring/War’ (Vesna/Viyna, crossed over on the poster).
The local artists featured referenced recent events in Ukraine, with Yuriy Bakay making an installation of a piece of metal found on Maidan in Kyiv and then roughly packaged for him to bring back to Frankivsk. It was the most interesting commentary on the fragmented, violent and ambiguous experience of Euromaidan and revolution. A slightly older by another artist work was revived as something of a prescient piece titled ‘Sniper’, reflecting perhaps a sense of foreboding. One work among the others referencing present sentiments was one that revived the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism. It’s not clear why the organisers of the exhibition thought it a good idea to include that. We’ll make further investigations.
So, the exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art was pretty poor, although nowhere near as awful as one we chanced upon last week. My wife and I were heading through the pleasant Bastion complex and saw that there were a lot of people in the gallery there. It turns out it was the opening of this exhibition, which was a load of new age commentaries on celebrity culture. The paintings had the aesthetic of works which are supposed to be parodies of naïve art, except there was no parodic element to this, purely kitsch couched in new age pseudo philosophy.
This post was supposed to be about everyday life but seems to have become a review of recent art exhibitions in Ivano-Frankivsk. That could be a new strand to the blog. Anyway, back to the everyday.
Life goes on as normal to a large extent. People continue to park like selfish idiots, as shown above, or here, where I made my debut as a published photographer thanks to sitting in the awful Royal Burger. It is also interesting that a new bank has opened in the current conditions in the city, not because of the weakened economy, but because it is the Savings Bank of Russia (Sberbank Rossii).
However, there is now a campaign to challenge selfish drivers, whether by getting the traffic police more involved in such offences as happened last week, or by spontaneous civil actions of placing stickers and notices on drivers’ cars.
Questionable building projects continue apace, including this one right outside the Administration Office, covering up an attractive old school in the historical heart of the city.
Traces of Euromaidan in its popular public manifestations remain evident, although this flag – which has become tattered – is perhaps symbolic of the way in which those aspirations did not turn out as hoped for in the early days of civil protest.
Europe also appears in the guise of a idealised location of style and aspiration, as this ‘Euro Fashion’ shop shows. It offers, according to the signs in the window, ‘elite fashion at reasonable prices’, while you can also ‘deposit clothes on commission’, meaning that the shop will sell your goods on your behalf.
Outside the Regional Administration office no more rallies take place, while a few men in military fatigues, unarmed, mill about, although it is not clear why. They might have attended some council meetings, now that Right Sector and Self-Defence have forced themselves into being accepted as part of the local political apparatus. Or they just came out from the tent city, well, tent village now, that remains on the square to use the facilities and have a chat. Two policemen stand nearby, showing that their presence is returning to the city after a rather worrying period where control was not evident.
And so it is that life goes on in this post-Maidan and post-revolutionary city where now a the fear of war and the collapsing currency are perhaps the most immediate legacies of the events of the past four months. The Hrynia lost another 1% or so in value against the dollar since Friday. There have been no right-wing, armed marches for a while now. Mourning is taking a more civic and civil form.
Yanukovych and his regime are gone, that’s another clear consequence of the revolution. Election campaigns are starting – for the presidency with 23 candidates – and for the local parliamentary seat freed by Oleskandr Sych becoming deputy PM.
That may bring immediate personnel changes, but whether things will change significantly in everyday life in terms of the civil revolution – to end bribery, corruption and selfishness in public spaces – that’s something that will take long-term effort. And could depend strongly on whether the economy remains sound.