Kyiv, Hrebinky, Khmelnytskyi, Yaremche, Mukachevo, Pavshyno, Budapest, Vienna, Milan — this is the list of cities that Pavlo Makov’s installation The Fountain of Exhaustion had to go through (in fragments) on its journey to Venice to stand as Ukraine’s sole representant for the 59th edition of the International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia.

On March 8th, the international art community finally learned that the team behind the Ukrainian pavilion for the 2022 Venice Biennale was resuming their work on the project. An official press release was published through the team’s Instagram page explaining how, against all odds, team member and curator Maria Lanko was able to get a hold of the most important pieces of the sculpture and evacuate them outside the country in her car.

"In times like this, the representation of Ukraine at the exhibition is more important than ever. When the sheer right to existence for our culture is being challenged by Russia, it is crucial to demonstrate our achievements to the world", commented the curators Maria Lanko, Lizaveta German and Borys Filonenko.

After Russia’s first attack against Ukraine on February 24th, the project of the Ukrainian Pavilion in Venice had to be put on hold for safety concerns. The team working on the pavilion made clear in an first official statement, posted to their Instagram on the same day, that they had to prioritize rejoining their families and ensuring safe shelter.

“Presently, we are not able to continue working on the project of the pavilion due to the danger to our lives,” they wrote.

From left to right: Liza German, Boris Filonenko, Pavlo Makov and Maria Lanko when they first learned they won the national competition to represent Ukraine at the 59th International Exhibition. Image courtesy of Yevgen Nikiforov.

The team addressed numerous inquiries from the press and the art community: they explained that with the team dispersed across different Ukrainian cities besieged by Russian troops, and with all international flights in and out of Ukraine canceled, traveling outside the country or getting the team to meet would be perilous.

Despite the precariousness of the situation, Maria Lanko secured most of the parts constituing The Fountain of Exhaustion just two days after the first bombs hit Kyiv. She drove for over a week in hopes of finding a permanent and safe place to stay. Thanks to the support from the Ministry of Culture and Informational Policy of Ukraine, she and a few members of the team managed to leave Ukraine to finally reach Venice.

During Lanko’s evacuation, for the sake of transparency and to bring awareness, the team remained very open about other members’ current situations:

Lizaveta German is barricading her house to protect it from airstrikes. She is expecting a baby any day now. She has to give about ten interviews everyday. Pavlo Makov is in Kharkiv. The area around his studio is under assault. He is currently sheltering with his wife in the Yermilov Arts Center bunker (official bomb shelter of the Kharkiv National University) with 30 other people. “To be continued”, the Instagram post read on March 1st.

“We will do everything possible to save unique artwork produced by Pavlo Makov (...) and to represent Ukraine in the international contemporary art scene the way it deserves to be represented," reads the team’s Instagram.

Although the situation in Ukraine is critical, Pavlo Makov tells Artnet News that he has no intention of running from “his home”. As his team is working hard to ensure representation for Ukraine at the 59th International Art Exhibition, it is unlikely that Makov made the trip that was supposed to fly him to Venice on March 15th.

Pavlo Makov. Image courtesy of Artnet news

Pavlo Makov is a 63-year-old renowned and decorated multidisciplinary artist. Most of his past works explore the topography of cities, real and imagined, through drawing and print. Makov is of Russian origins but of Ukrainian citizenship. He was born In St. Petersburg, moved to Ukraine at age 3, studied fine art and graphic art in Crimea (former Ukrainian territory annexed to Russia in 2014), and remains in Kharkiv today.

Evidently, negotiating his two identities is all the more confusing now, in the light of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. He says himself: "This is not a war between Ukrainians and Russians — this is a war between two civilizations and two mentalities." However, he admits feeling a much greater sense of belonging to his citizenship. Makov tells the Evening Standard that he rapidly terminated all connections with Russia right after the annexation of Crimea. When asked to name a reason that would motivate him to leave Ukraine, Makov responded: “I wouldn’t stay under Russia”.

“I am a citizen of Ukraine, and for me citizenship is much more important than my ethnic identity,” he explains to Artnet news.
A miniature of The Fountain of Exhaustion in Pavlo Makov’s studio in Kharkiv. Image courtesy of @ukrainianpavilioninvenice on Instagram.

The project to represent Ukraine at the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale is now one of resistance; a chance for Ukraine to take the stand and denounce Russian aggression. At the world’s most influential art forum, the platform given to The Fountain of Exhaustion is substantial. It will without a doubt raise valuable discussions across the global cultural community and shed light on Ukraine’s terrible reality.

The Fountain of Exhaustion for the 2022 Venice Biennale is actually an updated version of Pavlo Makov’s original 1995 piece. The latter was meant to represent the feeling of exhaustion in Kharkiv around the 1990s and the loss of vitality after the Soviet Union. Today, the exhaustion is all the more relevant, and expands to the precarious state of democracy, the climate crisis, the constant re-evaluation of cultural practices and negotiation of the role of artists in a state of global instability.

"Because of the war, we have to make the second fountain," said architects Ira Miroshnikova and Oleksiy Petrov of @forma_ua, who are working on the original project of “Fountain of Exhaustion. Acqua Alta." Image and description courtesy of @ukrainianpavilioninvenice on Instagram.

The sculpture is composed of 72 copper funnels mounted on a wall, in an approximate three-meter square scale, with water spilling from the top down, passing through each funnel until gradually exhausting itself. The symbol of the fountain is explained on the team’s Instagram page: “As an architectural form, fountains represent power. Robust streams of water spurting up usually symbolize the strength and force of the empire. Instead, the ‘Fountain of Exhaustion’ drips down. Undermining the idea of power, order, and authority, it points to the exhaustion of the imperial model.”

Pavlo Makov reflects on what is possible for him to do as an artist in times like these. He recognizes the power of art to expose realities, to raise awareness, feed culture and bring people together, but he also admits that art’s ideological power has its physical limits. Makov commits to work on the “information front”, to help the world hear from his people, as his military training days are far away now. He also uses his art to help support Ukrainian defense as some sales from his works are used to fund weaponry for the front lines.

The cry for change behind The Fountain of Exhaustion, the artist’s own initiatives, and the resilience demonstrated by the Ukrainian Pavilion team all stand together in calling upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Pavlo Makov stays hopeful, though far from naive, concerning the future of the conflict: “Let’s see what will come next. Russia won’t stop just like that. They will continue to fight. But so will we.”

Discover Pavlo Makov’s work on his website

Follow updates about the Ukrainian Pavilion on their Instagram page @ukrainianpavilioninvenice

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