NGO “Kultura Medialna”
Implementation period: April – November 2016
Coordinator: Julia Ovcharenko
Context: Issues Addressed by the Project
The cultural landscape of Dnipro (former Dnipropetrovsk) is greatly varied. It contains strata of historic epochs and traces of various nations of the world, which have contributed to the city development. The architectural and cultural sights include monuments of different conservation levels: palaces, nobility manor houses, commercial apartment buildings, intellectuals’ clubs, city gardens and small factories of Jewish, German, British or Belgian entrepreneurs dating back to the Yekaterinoslav times. It is also about the large-scale heavy industries, concrete constructivism, rocket and missile engineering, residential neighbourhoods, theatres, movie halls and culture palaces of the Soviet era. And some modern touches, which have appeared in independent Ukraine and enriched the city image with an aura of a commercial and business hub. Each epoch has also entrenched itself in the cultural background with its stories, legends, habits, memories and myths. Dnipro’s inherent feature is that its ancient strata are rapidly declining, stories are forgotten and huge buildings lie dormant and are destroyed, and, along with them, the intangible cultural heritage is forgotten.
The key problem standing in the way to any systemic changes is the situation is the professional cultural sector. Obsolete infrastructure and outdated methods of its management no longer meet the needs of a contemporary citizen. They perpetuate the old Soviet-era behaviourist patterns in the society and leave no space for the development of new meanings. We were perfectly well aware of it at the very start and, therefore, included the problem among the project priorities.
Thus, our project targets the physical and mental images of Dnipro City and is intended to open up a new view on its peculiarities and stepping up the attention level to the generic things: space, responsibility and the future. The main idea is to resuscitate an old form by filling it with a new content and testing its tolerance of innovation. The major target audience is the young generation, because it is instrumental in what the urban landscapes are going to become like in the future.
1) In the first project part, entitled Urban Landscapes, we have dealt with the ‘iconic locations,’ i.e. historic and cultural sites, by “settling” there for the time being some experimental arts. In order to attract attention of a wide audience, presentation of the work was carried out within the framework of the Construction Audio-Visual and New Media Festival in the urban space between the 30th of May and the 5th of June 2016. The festival was held in the city for the third time with its audience growing with every passing year. Each time it provides an opportunity to introduce their city to the citizens in a new way, to explore the forgotten beauty of habitual places, as well as to demonstrate modern art products by foreign and Ukrainian artists.
Four spots have been engaged, each one of them playing a vital role in the city’s sociocultural life:
– 2 scarcely used halls of the regional L. Kogan Philharmonic Society: the great hall with its unique acoustics, which is now undergoing a refurbishment process, and the “banquet” hall, which is occasionally rented to stage commercial expositions or private events. In this way we sought to introduce to the public the opportunities provided by its entire space, as well the new arts. The philharmonic has a semi-forgotten by the city century-long history, although founded initially as an ambitious and unique communication space for artistic activists;
– The “banquet” hall was used every day during the festival week by Japanese artist Kenta Nakagawa to demonstrate his audio-visual performance Inner Mind Architecture. The large-scale installation included multi-layer semi-transparent screens, which were brought to life thanks to sound, multimedia beaming, movement of air, smoke and light. The hall acquired an inimitable magic atmosphere, it was filled with digital forms and resonated either with the natural sounds or with electronic music rhythms and engaged the viewers in an interactive performance. The installation was specially adopted to the hall and played with its architecture. A creative team of 15 active youngsters assisted in setting up and operating the installation. Involvement of creative young people in preparation of concerts and installations is our traditional way to develop civic activity. The project was seen within a week by more than 1300 persons, some of whom attending several times and bringing along their friends;
– The 3rd of June saw a presentation at the great hall of the Philharmonic Society of an electroacoustic music concert by Tom Terrien’s musician group (France), TYTO ALBA Duo (Czech Republic), DZ’OB (Ukraine) and VJ Igor Inqit / Blck_Box. The unique acoustics hall began sounding in a modern way and it was discovered by 250 young spectators, who had never been here at concerts before;
– An atrium of the Scientific Library of the National O. Honchar University, which interconnects all its five floors, accommodates a winter garden with palms and lianas. On the 1st of June it received an experimental music concert by Swedish artists David Sabel and Isak Eldh and Danish performer Mads Emil Nielsen. Six students from various universities were involved in preparation for the concert. The musicians positioned themselves downstairs right among the plants and the entire atrium space up to its glass roof was filled with electronic music sounds, while the guests listened to them from the balconies of all the five floors. The concert went on until it got dark and the natural lighting with unusual sounds transformed the library space by providing an outlandish aesthetic experience to some 150 spectators. The children present could also take part in music creation; and
– A major exhibition project With No Seat Reservation was held at the South Railway Station between the 29th of May and the 11th of June 2016. It was dedicated to the topic of internally displaced people and the perception of the city as a “home.” The exhibition was created by the composite authors of the Kultura Medialna Civil Society Organisation and covered three halls: Arrival with its Cube spatial installation, Transit Area containing 6 video interviews with the displaced people on their experience of living in a new city and Waiting Room with its video performance on the life of children in the Dnipro modular settlement; and
2) The project’s second part was dedicated to “Memory Landscape” and targeted updating approaches to cultural patrimony presentation and rethinking of the Soviet heritage. This part has been prepared in collaboration with the Literary Dnieper Region Museum, whose space was used to stage a discussion programme of the Construction Festival made up of 4 podium discussions in June, as well as a multimedia exhibition CP for Culture Palace in autumn 2016; and
– The Culturological CP research has begun with visiting Dnipro Region’s culture palaces or houses and community centres to get an idea of the present condition of this post-Soviet heritage. As a result, we have recorded a series of documentary videos, which demonstrate the entire diversity of the CP activity forms and programmes, and made an analysis into their statistical data. The videos along with some artistic installations were exhibited at the museum between the 29th of October and the 6th of November 2016.
Within the process of research and observation we have seen an enormous need for transformation and modernisation of the culture palaces. However, the vector of the transformations and the needs of the cultural institutions themselves were not obvious to us. This is why we continued the research by holding a mini-conference on the 19th and 20th of November, where we worked with a focus group made up of 14 Dnipro and Dnipro Region CP employees and clarified their professional and personal motivations along with their wishes and development prospects. The conference was supplemented with motivation presentations by our Georgian and Czech colleagues on transformation experience of similar cultural heritage. The focus group work results have indicated that the circumstances pertinent to a Culture Palace’s operations in the regional centre and in its provincial communities differ very much. Yet, they are unified in ignorance of the modern forms of handling the local residents and their generic positive evaluation of their activities against the background of a striking poverty and narrowness of their agendas, as well as in their dependence on obsolete funding forms.
Summing-up and Way Forward
Having performed an extensive work with various cultural institutions, we have also had to note that the strongest resistance to any reforms is staged by the Culture Palace employees themselves, who are driven by fear of changes, experiments or sanctions imposed by higher management. Quite frequently the fear is underpinned by lack of the relevant managerial skills and, again and again, is reduced to dependence on the government financing. The objective behind our project was to demonstrate new experiences and their advantages. We have succeeded in attracting new audiences, establishing international cooperation and providing platforms for creative work of the young Ukrainian artists, while proving that the new working methods are promising and efficient. However, for the sake of long-term changes to come about, a strategic approach to each and every one of the facilities will be a must, along with systematic work on their agendas. The team of the “Kultura Medialna” Civil Society Organisation has developed a short-term plan related to transforming the city’s philharmonic society into a modern European cultural centre. The process will be expedited by the partnerships, which have appeared or have been reinforced during the work on the Dnipro Cultural Landscapes project. Artistic interventions in the city’s cultural and industrial heritage sites will be supported in 2017 by the Cultural Capital programme; whereas the CP project development will be featured among our team’s long-term initiatives for the next three years. With this goal in mind, we have established contacts with three towns of Kharkiv Region and Novoolexandrivsk United Territorial Unit of Dnipro Region.