Re-Reading: Alienation Effects - Drawings by the Ukrainian Artist Lada Nakonechna

In our series “Re-Reading,” we present texts from the ArtMag archive that are worth reading again from today’s perspective 

Lada Nakonechna is one of the most important contemporary Ukrainian artists. In 2014, shortly after the mass protests on the Maidan, a number of her drawings were purchased for the Deutsche Bank Collection. In her works, the Kiev-based artistthematizes the political situation in her homeland, where her main interest is the power and manipulation of images: conspiracy theories, ideology, the difference between information and propaganda, The devastating war in Ukraine is also an information war. “Studium des Menschen,” Lada Nakonechna’s current exhibition, on view at Eigen + Art until the end of April 2022, is thus absolutely topical. A good reason to review our contribution from 2015 on Nakonechna’s works in which violence and idyll overlap.

In her video work Constructing the new landscape, Lada Nakonechna has reportage photography collide with Romantic landscape painting. Again and again, a painting of a dramatic cloud-filled sky moves over a shot of a demonstrator who is overpowered by men in uniform. It’s the kind of photo that is continually shown in the media. The horizontal line where the two motifs meet on the monitor trembles, stands still, before moving up or down a little. But the line never moves so far that one of the two pictures is completely visible. The viewer’s continual “disappointment” imbues Constructing a new landscape with an astonishing tension. It seems that the “new landscape,” or new conditions, constructed here can only be enforced with violence. The powers that be, on behalf of which the two uniformed men act, remain anonymous, as does the demonstrator they take away. The faces of everyone involved are concealed behind the clouds of the painting. Everything is opaque – like the current situation in Ukraine, the artist’s home country.

Nakonechna also uses the title Constructing the new landscape for a series of pencil drawings she executed in 2012. A selection was recently bought for the Deutsche Bank Collection. In these works, the artist also combines landscape impressions with pictures of demonstrators and street fights, modeled on images she found on the Internet. “The two different types of images are not in as much opposition as it might initially seem,” explains Nakonechna. “Nowadays, the critical potential of Romantic landscape paintings is not clearly discernible to the contemporary viewer. Their beautiful appearance distracts and comforts us, while nature pacifies us by shielding reality. For this reason, in constructing this artwork, I’ve tried to create a feeling of anxiety to disrupt an uncritical perception.”

Nakonechna wants to activate passive viewers, to expand their “conceptual apparatus,” as she puts it, and sensitize them to the hidden messages of pictures or the social conditions manifested in them. So it comes as no surprise that the work of the artist, who was born in 1981, frequently alludes to Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theater, which works with the so-called alienation effect. The plot is interrupted by comments or songs to prevent the viewers from identifying with the characters in the play. The critical distance to the action on the stage aims at encouraging the spectators to draw their own conclusions—also with regard to the social situation. “Conditions can be imagined other than they are,” Brecht once said.

Nakonechna’s 13-part series Popular view. Gaze through the lilac in Kiev Botanical Garden, directed towards the river Dnepr acquired for the Deutsche Bank Collection, which is likewise based on Internet pictures, also deals with visual clichés. Like Monet’s “Haystacks,” painted at different times of the day and the year, this series repeatedly shows similar views of the same motif. Nakonechna’s drawings are devoted to the lilacs at Kiev’s Botanical Garden, a tourist attraction whose spectacular blossoms are admired and photographed by hundreds of visitors every May. But unlike Monet, she is not interested in showing different light moods. “I deal with the nature of given images that constitute our reality. In the series Popular view, I claim that these ‘documented views’ aren’t really any different from one another,” says the artist. “The creation of images mainly happens unconsciously – everyone has a photographic device and presses the button frequently without giving it much thought.” "

Despite the flood of images we are bombarded with day in, day out, “we’re strangely incapable of understanding and sizing up the visual information we take in,” she says. But this ability would be particularly important given the current situation in Ukraine. Nakonechna lives in Kiev, the capital of a country that has been in a state of emergency for years. Strikes, protests, and violent conflicts between the political camps that culminated in mass protests on the Maidan in 2013-14, have devastated the country. With a work that was shown in the exhibition “Through Maida and Beyond” at the Architekturzentrum in Vienna, the artist reacts directly to this situation: “It consists of two small elements—an eyehole mounted in the wall of the gallery and a small object with a photo of the injured eye of the journalist who witnessed the events on Maidan Square. Seeing can pose a real danger, it’s not a passive act. Journalists and people who were at the Maidan made live streams—they became the eyes of the people who followed the events at home and were ready at a moment’s notice to switch to the other side of the monitor if needed.”

Ukraine remains in a state of unrest. The Crimean crisis was followed by war in the eastern part of the country. Mistrust, conspiracy theories, and mutual recrimination characterize the social climate. The difference between information and propaganda has dissolved. Naturally, this phenomenon is not limited to this country. So it’s no wonder that Nakonechna says “we can no longer trust visual information. The reality of every image, every act is called into doubt.”

Achim Drucks

Support with us the commitment of Be an Angel e.V. In the current situation, the association organizes transports from the border regions of Ukraine or accommodation for refugees, among other things.

At the beginning of March, Berlin art institutions called for a joint fundraising campaign for people fleeing Ukraine under the name "Our Space to Help". As part of the campaign in the New National Gallery, the alliance collected 250,000 euros for the Be an Angel e.V. initiative.

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