“I had never seen anything like this before, neither in Tokyo nor in New York…” These words were pronounced with a visible emotion by Tetsugo Hyakutake, a photographer and video artist from Japan, at the end of the ‘CatenArt Residency’ in Lviv, from June 20th to June 30th. He was speaking to a group of 20 young artists from Ukraine, the United-States, France and Turkey. It was the last night of the residency. We were savoring grilled meat and cognac in the garden of Sasha and Olena Smaha’s home studio in the suburb of Lviv. The guitar of Serhyi Savchenko was accompanying the fiddle of American poet Nick Maione. Children’s laughs sometimes covered the quiet flow of conversations. What is it that Tetsugo, an accomplished artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, saw during those days in Lviv and that he had never seen before ? In his own words: a true community of artists. Artists bound by a genuine friendship, where both art and life find a constant source of energy and direction.
The Catena Artistorum — litteraly the “chain of artists” — is an organization that was created in 2016 by a group of curators and collectors, spearheaded by the colorful and multifarious Xavier Gonzalez-Florenzano, from Barcelona. All of them, living in places as diverse as New York, Lviv, Berlin and Geneva, made a similar observation: what artists lack the most — more than diplomas and grants — is a community, a place where they can belong, where they feel inspired and renewed in their vocation. The great majority of artists balance their unstable financial situation with temporary jobs, which makes for long working days and little time to cultivate such relationships. Furthermore, artists are often at odds with “ordinary people”, somewhat alienated by the mysterious nature of art and the excruciating demands it can make on an individual. In response to this need, the Catena Artistorum wove together, like a large patchwork, the networks that its founding members had already grown in a variety of cultural hubs. This “weaving” is what the CatenArt Residencies are all about, bringing artists together for two weeks of fellowship, work, studio visits and reflection.
Since 2014, such residencies have been held on the French riviera, in Barcelona, and last year in Berlin. A growing number of Ukrainian artists became part of the movement, so much so that it was decided that the 2018 residency would happen on the Ukrainian soil. The residency unfolded in two times: five days in the countryside, focused on fellowship and work, and five days in the city, focused on studio and other cultural visits. As soon as they gathered in Lviv, on the morning of June 20th, the 21 participants hopped in a bus and headed to the Creative Residence located above Slavski. Surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Carpathian mountains, the bulk of their time was dedicated to studio work, each artist developing freely his or her own practice: performance, installation, painting, photography, poetry, sculpture… One theme ran through the residency: Transfiguration, that brief and mysterious moment when everyday reality becomes transparent to divine beauty. Long periods of work were punctuated by times of relaxation and celebration, from the best of Ukrainian foods and drinks to the rythms of traditionnal Hutsul music. By the time we had to pack up and head back to the city, the large and light-filled studio was filled with drawings, sculptures and prints, and it seemed we had known each other for months !
The residency, however, was far from being over. The second part of the residency, in Lviv, would culminate on Thursday, June the 29th, with the opening, at the Scenography Gallery, of the exhibition of some of the works created the week before in the mountains. Contemporary icons by Olena Smaha and Natalia Satsyk (Ukraine), a stairway to heaven by Nezihe Karakaya (Turkey), meditative installations by Mihaël and Teresa Barabash (Ukraine), a short video by Graham Livingstone (US) transporting the viewer into a fog of light on top of a high mountain, a massive, upside-down, limestone head by Volodya Semkiv (Ukraine)… The works testified to the wealth of talents and artistic languages present at the residency, but also to the climate of friendship and contemplation that presided to their creation.
The second part of the residency was also rich in memorable studio visits and cultural events. Natalia Satsyk and Olena Smaha proved us that the ancient tradition of iconography is still very much alive in Ukraine and that it has the ability to integrate the language of contemporary art and the longings of contemporary man. Serhyi Savchenko introduced them to his explosive creativity in his studio, where his legendary appetite for life meets his deep sense of conflict and tragedy. Natalia Polovinka, the celebrated vocalist, actress, and founder of the “Word and Voice” theater, honored us with an intimate peformance, where byzantine liturgy and traditionnal folk songs point towards the same, transcendental beauty. Moved to the core by the beauty we saw and heard, we were reminded that, in spite of our cultural and social differences, we have the same heart and the same, deeper longings.
These friendships often result in impromptu collaborations. Last September, Olena Smaha exhibited her contemporary icons, whose visual language finds such a meaningful echo in Romanesque frescoes and in the works of Antoni Tapiès, at the Pigment gallery in Barcelona. Peforming artist Yaryna Shumska (also from Ukraine) was invited by John-David Mooney (American artist who took part in the Barcelona residency) to stay and perform at his foundation in Chicago this year in November…
Our 2018 residency in Lviv proved once again that the Catena Artistorum meets a real need, the human need of the artists to be part of something greater, something inspiring and life-giving. It also manifested what an important gift Ukraine has to offer to the art world. This is a soil where contemporary art is still irrigated, as it used to be in the West, by the rich Eastern liturgical tradition. We look forward to disseminating this gift further, as the Catena Artistorum continues to weave its web of enduring friendships between artists of all countries and traditions. We are looking forward, in particular, to our 2019 residencies. In February 2019, the Catena Artistorum will meet in Berlin during the annual film festival, for a two-week long encounter on the theme of “Cinema and Identity”, offering a multimedia workshop as well as encounters with profesionnals of the “7th art”. Another CatenArt Residency will take place that year, in June, in New York City. Stay tuned to our website or shoot us an email for more information.