Artists: Lionel Favre
Since it broke out, the conflict in Ukraine has become ubiquitous in the agenda of Western media. Every single day we are taken aback by new loads of dreadful news. Flashbacks of the explosions and smoke at Donetsk Airport are always reeling in my mind, even though the pictures were taken from a distance. Reflecting on all this, I have often asked myself how such a conflict can possibly be reduced to a single image.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to work in Donetsk as part of an exhibition project. I spent three weeks in that impressive city to participate afterwards, together with 12 artists from all over the world, in the exhibition.
The stay gave me the opportunity for an extended research. It paid off: I was able to take home various working materials, for example old and newer city maps, thousands of photographs and one painting. But the most striking experience for me was to meet the people there – it left me deeply impressed. These memories were feeding my desire to make a project about Donetsk someday.
At that time, Donetsk was a green and flourishing industrial city. An infrastructure was forming to entertain the resident workers. Quiet throughout the week, the city sprang to life at weekends. The long boulevards with their boutiques were on a par with other metropolitan cities, such as Berlin, Vienna or Paris. It was a young and surging metropolitan city with a competitive industry, priding itself on its sustainable development, which hosted later the European Cup in a brand new football stadium.
The pictures that I see today testify to the terrors of war. The remnants of a city that I was lucky to experience in its peak are now dust and death.
So, I am asking myself: how much art and culture is needed to avoid war?
During World War II the French abandoned Paris without a fight. Both sides essentially wanted to keep the cultural diversity of the city without destroying its architecture or artistic treasures. So, arguably, culture saved the city, although culture itself lost without a fight.
Far away from their motherland the emigrated artists and intellectuals, defiant to Nazi propaganda, found new anti-figurative directions of art. They gathered in New York and asked themselves what they could oppose to fascism and socialist realism. This discussion gave birth to abstract art.
Art is seldom a mere matter of aesthetics; often enough it is grounded on some ideology, too.
Later on, during the Cold War, Western secret services developed a programme which turned the most influential representatives of the Western intellectual and artistic elite (who were aware and unaware of it alike) into obedient tools for promoting liberal ideas and values.
What is the role of art in war?
Is art possible at all among the terrors of war? Does it have a rationale? Or is art an object of longing, just like luxury? Is art possible in a world full of anarchy at all? Does it have the power to eliminate misunderstanding? Or is it ultimately above anything, even things at which man fails?
Art and culture are the proof that civilisation is sensible.
So is art again the witness of an epoch, warning us against things to come.
I have a picture of a free and peaceful Donetsk. Art tries to make the circumstances transparent by illuminating them. The light reflected by art shines even through the darkest depths.
“…for art is the daughter of freedom, and it requires its prescriptions and rules to be furnished by the necessity of spirits and not by that of matter. “ (Friedrich Schiller)
Text: Lionel Favre