Alevtina Kakhidze, a collage contrasting Kiefer’s work (left) with an image of destruction from Ukraine (right), 2022
BEYOND THE WAR/
BEYOND THE WAR/
Alevtina Kakhidze on the Art of Surviving
Since the outbreak of the war, visual artist Alevtina Kakhidze (*1973, Zhdanovka, former USSR) reflects the horrors happening in Ukraine in her daily diary entries. Growing up in Donetsk, the coal mining region of Ukraine, Kakhidze has always been a critic of the post-Soviet reality of her home country. Despite several offers from her friends to leave the country when the war started, she stayed in Ukraine to observe what is happening to her homeland—an experience she already described in March in one of our first newsletters. In mid-April, she left her country for the first time to travel to Venice, a journey that allowed her to briefly taste life in peacetime. Looking at Anselm Kiefer’s installation at the Doge’s Palace, a thought hit her, and she made this collage, contrasting Kiefer’s work with the images of destruction from Ukraine.
Three months have passed since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale ongoing invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. It was mid-April, when I left my country for the very first time since the outbreak of war to travel to Venice. It took me fifteen hours by train to reach Poland, then a couple of hours by plane—more than twenty-four hours in total. In peacetime, the journey would have been a simple three-hour direct flight. Traveling anywhere to leave Ukraine is no longer simple. In the train going through Ukraine, people were silent. They all knew we would pass Lviv, where the day before a Russian rocket killed six people. At the border with Poland, I saw a camp for Ukrainian refugees—a big hall at the train station with many blankets on the floor. Kids were sleeping, mothers were sitting by their side. In Venice, there were no signs of war at all, just peaceful life: cafés serving Bellini, smiles, conversations about art, the spring wind. . . I was envious of the peace, and I couldn’t enjoy any of it.
I went to see art. Looking at Anselm Kiefer’s installation at the Doge’s Palace a thought hit me: his art is based on war in Europe but pretends to be about the past. The installation was constructed out of things made to look like they were affected by war—burned and dirty. I left Ukraine where plenty of cities and villages were under Russian occupation and things are in the same condition as in the work by Kiefer—burned and dirty. My friend, the artist Anatol Stepanenko, lives in Irpin. I called him every day beginning on March 3, and I could not reach him till April, when he sent me images of his street. . . He said, “Three times I was close to dying. I did not take a bath for two months. There was no electricity so I couldn’t read the news, only books.” A curator whom I know, said to me in Venice, “You are art, the art of surviving.” But the war is not over yet, and Ukraine asks for arms to defend itself, to survive, to return to the peaceful life of the art in Venice. My friends in Ukraine all share this request, and I join it, too, full of pain and sadness, hoping for the perpetual peace imagined by Immanuel Kant. We don’t have peace yet for the whole world, but let’s not forget to dream about it.