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On Zhanna Kadyrova.

  • Review
  • Mar 10 2023
  • Ben Livne Weitzman
    BEN LIVNE WEITZMAN is a curator and writer invested in augmented interventions, sonic compositions, blurred poetic clearings and bonfire communal gatherings. Born in Jerusalem and currently living in Frankfurt am Main. He is Editor-in-Chief of PASSE-AVANT, an online magazine for contemporary art, and the founder of WAVA, an augmented exhibition platform.

The white-cube exhibition space in the Kunstverein Hanover is, as such spaces are designed to be, quiet. An unmanned market stand; clothes hanging on racks; bread loaves lay sliced on a table; a shattered wall-ruin hangs heavily in the balance. Daily Bread, the first retrospective show by Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova, feels like a set for a performance that is yet to occur or has already happened. Our daily bread, the basic necessities one needs to live — food, clothing, shelter — are transferred into another sphere of consumption; Not directly through the body — by eating, covering, or dwelling — but symbolically, theoretically, through the appropriation operated by the art market where these objects become artistic effigies of necessity. In Daily Bread, as the title already suggests, art is more about necessity than about contemplative reflection.

In our conversation, Kadyrova stressed that the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is nothing short of devastating, as countless individuals are deprived of bare necessities such as heat, electricity, internet connection, gas, and water, and have to resort to cooking with firewood in the doorways of their homes. In this regard, her artistic operation is multifold, as the consumption of her art objects generates funds to support the defensive efforts in Ukraine. Her Midas touch is not an unwanted curse ––it’s a strategy.


fig. 1

Filled with fruits, vegetables, flowers, and sausages, all made from different forms of cement covered by broken tiles, reminiscent of the Soviet aesthetic used for large-scale propaganda mosaics and other decorative monumental art. The staged market stands titled Market (2017) seem to almost cave under the weight of the stock they bare. Originally conceived for art fairs, the work was activated by the artist who would sell the works by weight. Deprived of the performative activity, the stand becomes stiff and numb under the wights of the concrete. The colorful, aestheticized “food” becomes somewhat gloomy and lifeless, or perhaps it is the absent-omnipresence of the war which subtract these very basic meanings of survival and tightens the tension in every moment of silence across the exhibition.

Continuing her work with tiles for her ongoing series Second Hand (2014––), Kadyrova produces clothes from tiles she collected at deserted industrial and public buildings in post-socialist Ukraine. The project itself took shape in Kyiv as Kadyrova delved into the history of the Darnitsa silk factory –– once a hub of industry, the building had transformed into a shopping center, complete with restaurants and entertainment facilities. Thinking of the idea of change and exchange intrinsic to the notion of second-hand clothing, she tells the tale of buildings that have changed in both ownership and function. Hanging on a self-standing scaffold in the middle of the space, these pieces are now detached from the building they were part of. They can be moved, taken away, or brought back. They can also flee.

Her recent work Palianytsia (2022) takes a direct form of action, utilizing the art world and market to generate funds to support her country. Showed in more than 20 exhibitions in Thailand, India, Israel, Ukraine, and Germany, the project, in which riverbed stones are carved and sliced to appear as bread, raised over € 200,000. A collection of these stone-cold loaves are laid on the table in the Hanover exhibition. The unmistakable associations run between the body of Christ, to the many revolutions along history that were fuelled by (the lack of) this most elementary of necessities. In Hebrew, a language that has known several conflicts, the words for bread and war share the same root (Lechem/Milchama).



The last room of the show is filled with potted plants. Upon a closer look, one can see some yellowing leaves, dried-out branches, or even an odd shred of glass peeking from the soil. While distributing the equipment purchased through the "Palianytsia" project, Kadyrova traveled to restricted areas across Ukraine, such as Kharkiv. On one visit, amidst the destruction of a bombed medical center, she stumbled upon some plants that were still lying around. Undeterred, the artist brought the plants back with her and tended to them, keeping a record of their journey. She then went on to gather more plants from other war-torn civilian infrastructure buildings, such as the Kherson library and a village school in the Kyiv region. Through the exhibition, these plants, both evidence and witnesses to the destructive impact of war while symbolizing resilience and hope, are now officially adopted by Kunstverein, where they will be safeguarded until the war ends and they could be taken back to their homes. 


fig. 3

Kadyrova regards each exhibition as an opportunity to connect with a local audience and share her perspective as a spectator and bearer of the collective experience of Ukrainians today. For the opening night in Hanover, Kadyrova invited friends and collaborators from Otel, an underground club in Kyiv, to take over a neighboring club for the night. For some of the DJs and performers, this was the first time they stepped out of Ukraine since February 24th, 2022. By inviting these artists Kadyrova points to the close relationship between the art and music scenes in Kyiv, and to the active participation of such cultural actors in caring for the needs of both the homefront and frontline. Otel, for example, transformed into a center for volunteer work and a place where anti-tank barriers and Molotov cocktails were made. As Kyiv slowly emerges into a new kind of wartime routine, the club started organizing raves again. They are attended by a much larger crowd than ever before. 


fig. 4

Kadyrova's perception of the correlation between art and war has transformed over time. Initially, she believed that art was impotent against the brutality of war. yet she grew to recognize its mediative power, especially when it seeks to transcend symbolism and perform tactically, as demonstrated through projects such as Palianytsia. Her works are often direct and unambiguous, leaving little room for interpretation. Their function is as transparent as bread and bullet holes. Kadyrova, who decided to keep her base in Kyiv, chooses, again and again, to directly engage with the ongoing war. And indeed her works are fuelled by it, not only in content but in their definitive aesthetic as well.

There is a common saying that when the cannons roar, the muses fall silent. While it's uncertain whether this holds true, it's clear that the immediate threat of falling rockets demands explicit responses, particularly when the primary aspiration is to find any possible means to mediate this flagrant experience.


    Cover: Zhanna Kadyrova, Market, 2017-2019, Daily Bread. Eine erste Retrospektive, Kunstverein Hannover, 2023, Foto: Mathias Völzke.
    fig. 1: Zhanna Kadyrova, Second Hand, 2015, Daily Bread. Eine erste Retrospektive, Kunstverein Hannover, 2023, Foto: Mathias Völzke.
    fig. 2: Zhanna Kadyrova, Refugees, 2022, Daily Bread. Eine erste Retrospektive, Kunstverein Hannover, 2023, Foto: Mathias Völzke.
    fig. 3: Zhanna Kadyrova, Market, 2017–2019, Ausstellungsansicht, 58. Biennale Venedig, 2019, mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Künstlerin und Galleria Continua.
    fig. 4: Zhanna Kadyrova, Russian Rocket, 2022, Daily Bread. Eine erste Retrospektive, Kunstverein Hannover, 2023, Foto: Mathias Völzke.
    fig. 5: Zhanna Kadyrova, Data Extraction Irpin, 2023, Daily Bread. Eine erste Retrospektive, Kunstverein Hannover, 2023, Foto: Andre Germar.



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