What does Mykola remember about the war? Some images that require very specific socio-affective conditions to be described, a strange sensation of perpetual present, the roar of bombs and then the scattered sounds in the disconcerting silence of a city in the dark, without electricity. Tires skidding, dogs barking, a gunshot. In those intervals between chaos and boredom, music and poetry were all that we, teenagers and early twentysomethings, could count on. The synthesizers of cumbia chicha were like rays of light in which we could glimpse the future, the possibility of "an after", which was nothing more than a clandestine now: the parties that started with the beginning of the curfew at 10pm and that no one could leave until dawn. Forbidden words, meanwhile, were running through the streets like groundwater in the fanzines that were printed, distributed and lent out with no return date.
Words and sound are instruments of intervention in the decreed silence, as threads project in the space beyond the body, weaving what is dispersed in it. Survival Kit's 13th edition was titled The Little Bird Must Be Caught by its curator iLiana Fokianaki, taking the unsubmissive potency of sound and language and activating it through an extensive catalog distributed throughout the three floors of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA). These are works that attend to sound, voice and language as tools of protest, self-determination and resistance, making reference to the poem by Ojārs Vācietis that gives the title to the present edition.
NO! NO! NO! is exhibited in a screening room on the third floor. It is a 20-minute short documentary filmed in Kharkiv, which records the oral testimonies of a queer poet, graffiti artists, a model and a video game creator as they become increasingly immersed in the outbreak of war, which was already lurking in the Donbas region.
Rather than focusing on the political intrications of the war, Ridnyi concentrates on emotions, coping mechanisms and resistance tactics of this group of twenty-something-year-old Ukrainians united by both uncertainty and creative impulse. In this portrait, the soundscape is central. The short film opens with the sound of a drone, before we can see any images. This dynamic between what is seen and what the sound makes us anticipate is a constant from beginning to end. While in the domestic spaces the bodies move in complicity, from the window we can glimpse the façade of a building that stands out against the blue of the clear sky. Everything looks quiet, but suddenly a series of detonations can be heard. At first glance it is impossible to gather any evidence for whether this attack actually took place, and therefore to know where the projectiles landed. This sensory dissonance is precisely what constitutes both the formal axis of the short film and the new organization of the reality that this group of young artists tries to apprehend through their insistence on talking and listening to each other.
It is due to the efforts of those who insist on not letting the bridges of communication fall down that reducing the soundscape of war to detonations and gunfire is equal to erasing the life made up of everything small, human and non-human. The constant barking of the dogs in Ridnyi's film is not a random nor minor matter. In war contexts, animals also suffer, they are agitated, they are afraid. The city walls, intervened by a duo of urban artists, also speak and howl, denounce and demand what people are not allowed to say. This selective amplification of any dog, of any wall, becomes a gesture of protection made together by the director and his protagonists, a gesture capable of embracing those supposed invisibles accessed only by a sound, from a distance. Here, to pay attention to something is to pay attention to everything.
NO! NO! NO! explores the city as an enormous instrument that its protagonists make oscillate through daily conspiracies. Twenty intense minutes in a state of constant vibration which capture a handful of bodies that keep touching and naming the world while it seems to be falling apart.
Mykola Ridnyi (b. 1985, Kharkiv, Ukraine) is an artist, filmmaker, and essayist living and working in Kyiv. He graduated in 2008 from the National Academy of Design and Arts in Kharkiv. Since 2005, he has been a founding member of the SOSka group, an art collective which has curated and organized a large number of art projects in Kharkiv. Since 2017, he has been the co-editor of the online magazine Prostory. Ridnyi works across media ranging from site-specific installations and sculpture to photography and experimental films. His works have been shown in exhibitions and film festivals including the transmediale at HKW in Berlin (2019), the 35th Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival (2018), The Image of War at Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm (2017), All the World’s Futures at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), The School of Kyiv - Kyiv Biennale (2015), and other venues.
Survival Kit 13: The Little Bird Must Be Caught // The 13th edition of the international contemporary art festival Survival Kit curated by iLiana Fokianaki explores freedom of speech and sound, as well as various forms of resistance, placing the Singing Revolution and Latvian local history in the context of global processes and our shared present.
Survival Kit takes place at the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA), located in a stunning old bank building in the heart of Dome Square, until October 16.
NO! NO! NO! HD video, 22 min, 2017 (video still).