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Autonomous Republic
of Maria Kulikovska

I am an artist; but I was trained as an architect and still, throughout my practice and difficult path as an artist, I return to architecture, invariably using skills of designing and 3D spatial thinking obtained through my years of studying architecture, in order to present my own idea of a body – a human~female body, in public space. My way as an architect, artist and performer began a long time ago, in the distant 90s, on the coast of two seas – the Black and Azov, in the Crimea steppe. I was born at the junction of epochs, when the state in which I came into being decided to start Perestroika and enter the era of capitalism and market relations, although with a still global goal – to build communism finally; but it didn't work. I have never seen that country in which I saw the light first time, it disappeared without having had time to get acquainted with me...

There was chaos and devastation around, social depression and lack of understanding where and why and what to do next. I ran away from the difficult reality of the adult world that surrounded me into my own fictional world of drawing, painting and experimenting with the body. I studied old masters' techniques, ballet, experimental dance, music, as well as lessons in ceramics and academic drawing. At the same time I began to get involved in the study of reproductions and books about modernism and ancient art, hoping to build my own new world. Sometimes my parents were forced to travel around the peninsula in search of work, and my grandmother stayed with me; and sometimes I told her not to worry and I had to take on the role of an adult housewife on my own. It was then that I, in complete freedom and liberty, became addicted to carefully studying texts about artists, about the art of antiquity and about modernist art, redrawing reproductions of old masters' paintings and renaissance architecture from books I could find in my mother's huge library. Even my secret "friends" were the ruins of ancient settlements, scattered throughout the territory of my hometown of Kerch. It was not difficult for me several times a day to climb the legendary Mt Mithridate, at the foot of which our house is located, and watch for hours from the top of the mountain to the endless sea, and then wander through the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Panticapaeum, examine and think out the designs of the dwellings of the ancient Greeks, and then carefully study my passion for sculpture.
I think it could not all pass without a trace. All this aroused my interest in the body, the female body in public space; and my search for fragile materials for sculptural objects originates precisely from the cultural heritage that surrounded me, all my childhood and adolescence.

Calling them Caryatids, the ancient Greeks used statues in the form of female bodies to maintain the structure of buildings, giving to the position of woman in society a rather cruel and patriarchal connotation. Her body had to hold all the weight and power of the building, with a constant pressure on her shoulders and head. All this was a reminder of the place in society of every real woman and her punishment for being a woman. It was from childhood that the understanding of historical injustice and the inequality in the position of a woman and a man arose in me. Observing the hard work of a woman and her burden, which did not receive a worthy recognition, the double standards of pseudo-freedom traced through the entire culture caused in me an increasing rebellion and a desire to change it through my own works. I watched how my grandmother and mother always played a leading role in my family, working two or three times more, but they never received decent recognition and payment for their work. This pattern of inequality was aggravated even more noticeably, as capitalist practices came into our society. As well as my observations about living conditions, I had an overwhelming passion tormenting me to understand my body. I did this through various chaotic performances on the street where my grandmother's house was located, or I climbed onto the roof of her house so that I could see and hear the maximum number of people. This cry was a desire to be heard, a search for a certain scene on which I could speak freely, to manifest and shout out all that had so far drowned out inside myself in real life.

Reflecting now, I can say that it was an absolutely architectural device for placing a sculpture of a human body on the facade of a building, asserting the relationship of the human body with the body of public space. Only, in the absence of sculpture, I used my own body, thereby creating a performance. Since then, through all my experiments from architecture to sculpture, drawing and performance, I see the continuity from my unselfconscious childhood actions and desire to acknowledge my spiritual pain and loneliness, to my recent artistic and political statements, in relationship with architecture, through my own body in public space. For example: the performance Raft CrimeA, when I lived 3 days and 3 nights on an inflatable life raft on the water of the Dnipro River, in the centre of the Kyiv. Also, a series of performances, Flowers of Democracy in Ukraine, London and Sweden; the unauthorized performance 254 (my registered number as a displaced Ukraine citizen from Crimea, after the seizure of the peninsular in 2014); White performance with Crimean flag in the Moscaw-river on a Crimean Hill;
and the performance War and Pea€e on a mined beach by the Azov Sea that bordered a zone of conflict, shelling and liberated territory. In all these performances the location of the body, the choice of location, its context were never accidental. Thinking and building an idea for a performance always involves maps, analysis of the location of buildings, their
history, threading fine semantic lines and interrelations between the body of a human, a woman, and the environment.

Events in the early 2000s in my country led to the 2004 revolution, little more than 10 years after Ukraine gained independence. As I entered my teenage years, the changes in the country came. My parents were involved in them to the maximum, risking their lives. This period came just as I started to study architecture at a college in Kyiv. My parents were activists in Crimea, starting revolutionary movements in the cause of humanization of society, democratic changes and liberation from corruption. But the hopes of that revolution were not fulfilled, and entailed disastrous consequences for my family. In order to somehow escape the complexities of the adult world, to cope with the burden on my shoulders and unbearable gravity of chaos and injustice, and realizing that society without my desire turns me into a 'Living Caryatid', I clung with more zeal to the world of beauty and to art. I dreamed, designed, painted and sculpted a completely new world, one that does not exist, but one that I longed for - a world where exquisite architecture, subtle and clean, strict and open, resembling the laconic and majestic ruins of ancient settlements, repeats the landscape of the Crimea steppe, preserving secrets and treasures inside its depths...

In 2011, this resulted in my design and realisation of Shcherbenko Art Centere, as well my BA diploma project for a The Museum of Kyiv History (2010–11) and my MA diploma project Passenger Seaport in Kerch (2012–13.) As well as these important projects for me, I spent my nights in the Academy workshop experimenting with materials that are not typical for architectural modelling, like clay, moss, glass, gypsum, concrete, plastics, metals, wood and paper. This work I later transformed into sculptures from soap: Homo Bulla, a human body as a soap bubble (2012–14,) and into a huge sculpture installation SOMA: Bodies Without Gender 2013–14,) consisting of 27 columns 3 meters high and half a ton each, from baked salt in blocks, made by myself. This was nominated for the Pinchuk Art Center Award in 2013. During my study of architecture, I painted nudes with unrestrained passion, wanting to understand and enjoy the beauty and sometimes the abomination of the human body, while constantly being ashamed and afraid of my own body and wanting to free it from frames, moral dogmas and social objectification. My study of the anatomy of the human body while studying architecture led me in spring 2014 to begin a series of watercolour drawings of women, then men - flying, dancing, free, mutated, gory, hunched, crumpled, beating, eager for freedom: My Beautiful. Wife? (2014) and Body and Borders (2014); Swimming in Freedom (2018.) Although immersed in the world of strict architectural structures, building construction, technologies and materials, I dreamed more and more about performance and sculpture. I invented my own world, where woman was freed and descended from under the entablature of the weights of history.

Coming out of the framework of architecture – the body of public space, I more and more analyzed myself, my corporeality, the framework of what is permitted and forbidden within the confines and bounds of patriarchal society, and exactly how architecture controls all this. I decided to rebel. These reflections led me to create my first sculptural project, Army of Clones: 20 fullsize sculptures from my own body cast in plaster (2010). They were not exhibited in a white cube gallery, but on a street, in the public park of the Dovzhenko film studio, among crowds of people. Several sculptures were smashed by passing people. Some recognized me from the crowd and perceived my challenge in completely different ways: some were surprised at how similar were my sculptures and me in reality; some condemned me reproaching: 'Isn't it embarrassing?'. But more often I observed among some men how they grabbed a sculpture by the chest, making greasy jokes, sexist remarks, and next to them women with more hatred who condemned me as an author, wanting not only to remove these sculptures that ''offend feelings", but also to break them, and wipe them out utterly. Children, solely for the sake of knowing the world, asked 'what is it?', pointing to the labia in the sculptures. I understood that the body of a woman was so taboo that it was shameful to speak about a body of 'her', even in an anatomic aspect. This taboo provoked me more and more. I went further I decided not to stop working with classical materials in sculpture, but to start experimenting and looking for materials that would concentrate the subtleties and meanings as much as possible.

The revolution of 2004 was not completed; within a few years a period of the almost complete dictatorship of power came, the institution of law almost entirely absent in the country. LGBTQ rights, feminism, criticism of government, open statements, and peaceful demonstrations were absolutely marginalized. Thus, dissatisfaction among the public, progressive youth and students increased, the old working class struggled to survive, precarious communities and small business migrated en masse in search of a better life and opportunity; freedom of speech was in the grip of media moguls and big powers. All these sentiments led to the next revolution. In winter 2014, from the beginning to the end of which I was as involved as much as possible. It was a very demanding moral responsibility.

On the eve of these events, which had a fateful influence on my life, I defended my master's degree (June 2013). I received international scholarships and nominations, worked as an architect in China and Switzerland, and supervised the construction of the Shcherbenko Art Centre in Kyiv; but because of my experiments and artistic searches throughout my studies at the Academy, I started building a career in art. These were rejected by Academy professors who believed only in Soviet realism in art and architecture, denying modern art, and even more, performance and bodily practices. My rebellion gained utmost concentration when, straight after finishing my Master's Diploma in architecture, and after receiving a number of international scholarships, I was invited to a Ukrainian-Swedish exchange of artists.

During our collaboration with Swedish artists, the feeling that something needs to be changed in society did not leave me. I suggested to a Swedish artist, a girl, to do a joint performance: to enter into a same-sex international marriage, thereby raising questions about the relationship between the body of a woman, or of any person and borders, both personal and state. The relationship between the subject, as a distinct human body and the body of the institution of power was also questioned. With this artistic act as a performance, we wanted to build a platform for expression, analyzing the concept of boundaries at various levels. But by fate or accident 1 month after our entry into official same–sex marriage, legal in the west but illegitimate in my own country, and even more forbidden in Russia, the annexation of Crimea took place; and eastern Ukraine was subjected to war. Crimea is my home and where I was registered, but due to those events, I have never since been able to return there. Further, because of my artistic statements, and a number of performances, I ended up on a list of banned artists in Russia. I still fall under the article of terrorists or people dangerous to society on the peninsula because of my anti-war beliefs.

The event of how my cast-sculptures were shot and destroyed in territory controlled by terrorists dramatically affected the direction of my art and my feeling for my irrevocably lost beloved home, the Crimean peninsula. It was in the summer of 2014 at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Donetsk (now the unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic).
The work – a triptych of 3 figures moulded from my body, cast in transparent soap, [the same, I learned later, as used in targets at ballistic testing ranges] was installed outdoors in the Izolyatsia Centre for Contemporary Art (adapted in 2010 from an old Soviet-era factory). During the military invasion in summer 2014, Izolyatsia was seized by the Ministry of Military Affairs of the self-proclaimed republic, turned into a prison, and the entire art collection was destroyed. Some works were wiped out by exploding. But my
cast/clones of the body of a naked woman, an artist on the eve of joining a same-sex union – became terrorist's training targets for their shooting by which they ruled. The man who led the seizure and shooting of my soap sculptures, had a reputation as a most diligent and regular visitor to the art centre. He also visited my public lectures and speeches that I gave during visits and during the installation of the sculptural triptych Homo Bulla. However, for all 3 years of my visits and active work in Donetsk, he never commented on any of my speeches and did not express an opinion on my sculptural works. Then, on June 9, 2014, he gave the order to shoot each of the sculptures of'Homo Bulla' (2012-14), as well as the Army of Clones (2012-14), as about 17 gypsum sculptures of this project were also installed on the territory of the art centre as part of the collection. This man announced to Russian journalists that his actions were his own performance. In addition, his "performance-shooting" was supposed to show the place of "a woman, who disobeys moral values and rules of the self-proclaimed republic".
Then I, like a number of other artists, was placed on the list of "degenerate and forbidden artists".

My idea for casts from my body in soap or plaster, in public space, unprotected from wind, rain, snow, heat, I revived from old images of 'Vanitas' – "People are like a soap bubble: Remember that you are mortal". My aim was to remind myself and others that the human body is a fragile and exposed shell that can perish at any moment. As well, I continued my research into audience perceptions of the naked female body in the environment, as a metaphor of the body is constantly deformed, suffering, ageing, breaking and dying from nature's influence. BUT, almost unforeseen, a war came that put everything in its place: the "woman" was enslaved and destroyed, art was outcast, artists were declared enemies of society and society itself fell into even greater uncertainty in a grey border area between east and west...

The period of the last 5 years of my work has been devoted to finding and trying to realize my place in a global society, searching for identity, solving a national and even language issue, constantly searching for a home, a place where I can be who I am – constantly changing and different. All this instability and constant search and transformation, of course, is directly reflected in my artistic practice.

Now I can say with confidence that I am a child of the revolution. In my 30 years of life I have already experienced 3 revolutions, which means that I am a woman of searching and constant learning, seeking and risking in the name of moral values and great goals. My risk is in accepting new challenges and tireless struggle, even if the world does not understand and accept. The complexity of our historical context – media manipulation, hybrid war, clichés, invisible boundaries and sometimes bias of nationalities and societies, as well as the non-acceptance within one's own society: all this drives me to explore deeper and deeper my own limits and possibilities in my hybrid, mutant, nontrivial way in sculpture~performance~architecture. Now I feel my way towards a synthesis of sculpture and performance, across a thin line between non-standard, non-sculptural materials and observing their destruction, building complex symbols and metaphors through immersion of sculptural objects and one's own body into space (performance Lustration №88.) Relations of context, location, historical stratification, questioned identity amid awareness and understanding of gender roles: working with all these aspects is my unique way, which I want to develop and explore as much as possible. I sincerely believe in work and profound analysis of the history of feminist~mutant art, immersion in study of sculpture and female performance~action, analysis of interactions of public space and the body placed in it. Performative Sculpture~Object is the direction I find most promising now and which I want to develop my own artistic path. For such a difficult, interesting way, I need a platform, a house in which my work is protected; I need an environment, a society of people, friends, who will be just as I – going patiently and step by step to grow in this forest of ideas and experiments, treading my own path, rather than strolling along a convenient boulevard.

Part of the impressions of her body after the start of the war on the Donbass remained in the Donetsk gallery "Isolation". The militants seized the gallery and used casts as targets for shooting. This has become a major shock for Kulikovska, which she reflected in the project for the Saatchi Gallery in London, where in 2015, being completely naked, a hammer hit her body. This helped the artist to live the pain caused by the annexation of her native Crimea and the subsequent war.

The ancient Greeks used the statues of female bodies, calling them caryatids to support the construction of the building, thus giving a fairly cruel and patriarchal connotation to a woman holding all of the weight and power of the building, holding on to their permanent cargo. All this was a reminder of the place in society of every real woman and her punishment. Observing the hard work of a woman, her indistinctness, lack of worthy recognition, caused the artist to grow up rebellion and the desire to change it through their own works.

At the exhibition are several tens of clicks of the body of Mary, which are made in co-authorship with Uleg Vinnichenko with paraffin, epoxy resin, soap and gypsum. All of them fix the transformations of the body of the artist. Self-esteem as women in modern Ukraine, the vulnerability of the female body and the inequality of the articles are the dominant motives of her works.
Written in October 2018
Ebenbockhouse Culture House Artist Residency
Passinger Fabrik Art Center
Munich / DEU