24 February 2022 marks a year since the morning on which the first Russian missiles landed on sleeping Ukrainian towns and the eight-year war entered its hot phase. To mark the anniversary of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, G.ART Gallery is organizing the large-scale exhibition “Hardened. The Ukrainian Phenomenon”. It will present the artworks of eleven contemporary Ukrainian female artists. Katya Lisova will present digital collages.
The artist was born in Kyiv and studied fashion design and embroidery, later becoming an art historian in a gallery. She teaches at an art institute, studies Ukrainian art from the 1950s-1990s, and participates in the creation of the “Ukrainian Unofficial” archive.
February: the world turned upside down
On February 24, Katya woke up in her Kyiv flat from the loud sounds of explosions. It was clear – a war had broken out. Katya and her husband were drowning in the flood of news, chatting with family and friends, asking the only thing: “How are you?” In the afternoon my husband, just like tens of thousands of Ukrainians, went to the military enlistment office to join the territorial defense of Kyiv.
Emotions from the barrage of information, especially visual information, tore at the inside. The world turned upside down. A keen awareness of the value of life came. Consciousness was generating images related to the past and at the same time to the present picture of the terrible war.
“The work became a way of speaking out.”
After a few days, a strong fear for her daughter’s life emerged. Katya’s cousin insisted more and more intensely that she and her child and aunt should evacuate as soon as possible. On 1 March the female part of the family left Kyiv, three days later was in Warsaw, and a few weeks later in London.
“As someone who can’t live in inactivity and has a tool like a laptop, I started making digital collages,” says Katya. – It was an emotional reaction to the shocking war pictures in the center of Europe. I know that many artists stopped working during those times. Everyone feels he or she can deal with the themes of death, heroic struggle, and propaganda. For me, these events were the driving impulse, and the works were a way for me to express myself. In the end, it was this practice that allowed Katya to raise a lot of money to help the Ukrainian armed forces and get involved in helping those affected by the war.
The Power of Memory
Katya’s first wartime project was the digital collage series “The Power of Memory ”, two works from which are presented at the exhibition “Hardened. Ukrainian Phenomenon”. The series tells about the tragedies of the cities and towns which suffered during the war: Mariupol, Irpin, Borodyanka, Skovorodinivka, Kharkiv, Odesa, Kyiv, Chernihiv… All the works were created from fragments of photographs that accompanied the invasion of Russian troops in Ukraine and old photographs of Ukrainians who lived in the regions where the fighting took place or is still going on. Parts of the collages seem to be “stitched” together by ornamental fragments of traditional Ukrainian towels (rushnyks).
Some of the collages contain these rushnyks – attributes of everyday life that accompany a person from birth to death. In popular culture, each ethnographic region had its system of signs, and its stylistics of rushnyks, the formation of which was certainly influenced by history. Often embroidery and other ways of decorating rushnyks turned into a kind of coded message, the meaning of which depended on the events that took place at the time of their creation. One way or another, the object has always had a connection with both personal history and the history of the people.
Another work by Katya Lisova belongs to her next collage series “Dark times”, about which the artist says: “Path Through the Black. And after darkness time sunshine will be bright as never before”. Here you can also find old photographs and folk embroidery, but the overall stylistics has become more sophisticated, introducing “drawn” graphic elements, fragments of Ukrainian fields and rivers shot by military drones, and anti-tank guns… The picture of hands refers to the iconic gestures of saints and connects a lofty sacred tradition with the vulnerability of the real human body.
In her digital collages, Katya has undoubtedly found an individual and distinctive artistic language and a unique intonation. She depicts a space-time continuum where the events of Ukraine’s past and present are mixed up, where ancestors in beautiful embroidered garments look on as war destroys the lives of their descendants (who, we might add, now wear traditional folk clothes in their ordinary lives with great affection, as if stitching together layers of time). Katya’s work has been presented in many exhibitions, has become evocative posters, and takes part in charity auctions to benefit the army.