"There are no tyrannies that would not try to limit art, because they can see the power of art. Art can tell the world things that cannot be shared otherwise. It is art that conveys feelings."

 - Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine 

Уяви Україну – Мистецтво як критичне ставлення / Imagine Ukraine – Art as a Critical Attitude

© Nikita Kadan
Palace of Pioneers / Палац Піонерів , 2021
Painting , 190 x 150 cm
oil on canvas

Kadan's painting, Palace of Pioneers, could be construed as a contemporary version of a vanitas still life, with the face of death appearing behind every human vanity as a sign that nothing makes sense anymore, were it not for the fact that the painted objects such as the houseplant/palm, the silhouette of a reading Lenin, the woman holding an aeroplane in the air, and the person on his knees reading a book no longer symbolise intellectual, creative and technological progress, or popular education, as they did under the communists. Instead, the painting has become a backdrop devoid of any protagonists. The Palace of Pioneers is a lonely place, even though it is claimed by several people. The palm seems to represent post-communist capitalism, a bit of greenery designed to make an entrance hall, office or heritage building more attractive to visitors. Kadan employs a cold, Gothic touch to create an empty, ominous canvas, sucking the viewer into a stalemate where both the past and the present are definitively behind us. Parts of the walls are mirrored in what looks like the palace hall's floor, with dripping paint, like on the rim of the pot that holds the palm. The palace in the title is bottomless, conjuring a sinking feeling. Then again, the palace may just be a very damp place. Water even seems to be mirrored on the ceiling. In any event, the Palace of Pioneers exudes the atmosphere of a bunker in which the only combat is against the elements. This is the end of the utopia of popular education. All that remains is the brutal reality of cold stone with nothing to glorify. Everything depends on your perspective and time frame and how this colours an image, or as Kadan says:

"The Russian annexation of Crimea and Ukrainian state anti-communism threw their reflections on archival images, making the latter something completely different from what they were before 2014. Each image lives in time and changes with it. These changes are dictated by political history – one and the same picture in a short time can be in the area of ​​encouraged, denied and ignored. However, there is also a story of our sensitivity, an emotional story. The huge semi-dark halls of the Soviet palaces of children’s creativity were for me as a child in the 1980s an image of boredom, empty time. For me as a teenager in the 1990s, it was an anxious and inviting space of abandonment and uncontrollability, freedom as a uselessness to anyone. In the 2000s, these halls were built up with plastic kiosks and covered with advertising banners, becoming the embodiment of the “eternal today” of victorious peripheral capitalism, devoid of historical dimension (this is how I found them when I became an artist). In the 2010-20s, these gradually crumbling, decrepit, Soviet palaces suddenly became symbols of resistance to the new anti-historicalism and conservative political isolationism. Nationalists demand their demolition, cosmopolitan youth throw their parties under their arches. The new Ukrainian techno scene feeds on the same spirit as the new cult of neo-modern architecture.”  (Nikita Kadan)