Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Culture In Ukraine: Signs Of A Hipster Rebellion
KIEV, Ukraine -- When it comes to culture venues, Ukraine is garish. With a business climate that leaves little room for bohemians to open a café or theatre on a shoestring, neon signs and plasma screens dominate. Even the hippest places can seem like ersatz takes on Western European "alternative" style. The best mainstream gallery, the Pinchuk Art Centre, is as famous for its flashy toilets as for its exhibitions. But there are signs of an aesthetic rebellion. "Rozy / Donbass", a song from the Dakh Daughters, went viral on YouTube over the summer, and has apparently been embraced as an anthem of a young and emerging counter-culture. The song mixes lines from Shakespeare with a Ukrainian folk tune, while "Donbass" is chanted repeatedly, almost menacingly, throughout. Donbass is the Russian-speaking region where Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, hails from. Under his clannish rule, Donbass natives now lead most of Ukraine’s key institutions. They are also renowned for their flamboyance. Ukraine's intrepid hipsters already boast an annual arts festival. In a spirit of ramshackle chaos, Gogol’fest held its sixth edition last month at Vydubychi, a disused industrial complex in the south of Kiev. The Russian-Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol is merely a namesake for an event that draws a broad sweep across the avant-garde, from street art to chamber music. The festival temporarily converted the industrial hangars into music halls, theatres and a cinema, and the shows were packed. Attendees were young and enthusiastic. Many of the highlights, such as performances by the Dakh Daughters, were offshoots from the Dakh theatre and contemporary arts centre, whose director, Vladislav Troitsky, organises the festival. One particularly popular concert featured Karbido, a Polish jazz-rock band, alongside Dakhabrakha, an “ethno-chaos” band, which has earned some notoriety for making Ukrainian folk music sound cool (the band is now on tour in North America). "This is not supposed to be a political event, yet in the end it is political," says Mr Troitsky. He claims that politicians from both the government and opposition parties have approached him with offers to help organise future editions. "They have realised there is a force here," he adds, though he is quick to assert that there are no plans to compromise the festival's independence. The cultural institutes of a half dozen member states of the European Union sent participants from their countries to both perform and collaborate in the festival. Pierre Roti, a French street artist who spent two weeks painting a huge mural on the side of Vidubychi's main building, was enchanted. He saw Gogol’fest as the shop-front "of a whole new creative generation here," he said. It is certainly the face of a very different Ukraine.