“A New Anthropology by Maria Kulikovska”. text by Galina Skliarenko. december 2012

December 17, 2012

In the last two years Mariia kulikovska has without a doubt become one of the most interesting young artists of Ukraine. Her varied and prolific work has led to her not only realizing a series of personal projects, winning several art competitions, participating in practically every notable art forum in Ukraine and the Young Artists’ Festival in Moscow (2012), but becoming the first ever Ukrainian recipient of a scholarship awarded by the Swiss non-profit organization AKKU. It’s also worth mentioning, that in 2013 Mariia got her Architecture degree at Kiev National Academy of Arts and Architecture and enrolled in the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Moscow, also has been nominated for Pinchuk Art Prize. Her energy is astonishing, and her enthusiasm for art is awe-inspiring.

An architect by degree, and an artist by calling, Mariia paves a difficult path, merging the use of non-traditional materials and time-consuming techniques with elements of performance – the process of creating a piece of art is equally as important as the finished result. It’s hardly coincidental that she often is the main character or “the material” she uses for her projects. She isn’t afraid to take risks her works are unexpected and ambiguous. This approach requires courage, open-mindedness, an ability to speak for yourself, ingenuity and charisma, and Mariia kulikovska possesses every one of those qualities, as well as being in tune with the current time, which entwines the cultural issues of the modern world with her intrinsically subjective life experiences.

In the projects “Icon”, “Clone Army”, “Homo Bulla” and “Pandora” the artist uses moulds of her own body. An exploration of self as something alien allows to have an outsider’s perspective and to reflect the confusion, perplexity and conflict of self-perception which are connected with the loss and search for identity – something that every person nowadays is experiencing. The creation of the projects made Mariia experience pure terror when she almost suffocated while forming a clay mould of her face, and “an exfoliation of consciousness”, “a loss of self” when surrounded by her own “clones”.

Although the naked human form is inherently a classical artistic image, Maria’s contemporary work becomes a dialogue with the traditional art. If the classical sculptures were created with the materials that were sure to immortalize the ideal artistic vision of classical masters for centuries, the unstable cast moulds of an actual living person are doomed to imminent destruction and a quick descent into nothingness. “Homo Bulla” takes it even further, presenting three armless figures – as do the classic sculptures – made out of soap. The sculptures were placed outside, in the environment where they would age naturally. Under the influence of the sun, rain and other natural events the soap began to get washed off the metal carcass, until it assimilated into nature completely – as do the human bodies after death. Can we interpret those works of art as a version of “Venitas”? Did the “liquid modernity”, a concept beloved by psychologists and sociologists, find itself reflected in those sculptures, characterizing today’s society as a “society of risk” that prefers technology to life, while life becomes an exercise in improvisation? Or perhaps those sculptures are a product of Maria’s childhood memories of a trip to the ruins of Panticapey in Kerch, Crimea, where the remains of ancient statues exist alongside the relics of another lost “civilization” of the Soviet Union… A fine line between life and death is a thread that runs through Mariia kulikovska’s art and binds the topic of “identity search” and her own personal memories and impressions together.

Anthropological conceptualism is a prominent tendency in contemporary art. In the age of genetic engineering and cloning the basics of human existence and the very phenomenon of human life are becoming more and more problematic. The human body loses its integrity and independence. It becomes the focus of new technological parameters, an object of manipulation, but at the same time it is seen as the last sanctuary of “human-ness”, which is the ability to suffer and to empathize. A person isn’t just “in a possession of a body”, as if it were a thing to possess and dispose of, but is the body, which determines who a person is on the outside and on the inside.

The unpredictability of human nature is the topic of “Pandora”. A female figure made out of silicon, crucified on a transparent cross with an infant in her arms, surrounded by flickering flames, presents a strange and terrifying symbol of unpredictability of new life and getting penance for your deeds. The feared Pandora’s box is not full of terrible mythical creatures, but of desires and deeds of man. The internal dramatization of life characteristic to Maria’s work adopts a tragic quality in this piece. The well-known mythological image acquired a new meaning. Paul Vilirio said that progress “treats us as a court physician”, entering every orifice of the body he is inspecting. Not only does it not let go, but, it goes through your body, wounding it – in a visual, social, affective, intellectual, sexual way. Every invention brings about new destructions.

“Pysanka” is probably Mariia’s most controversial piece. Pysankas are what Ukrainians call eggs painted for Easter, which are usually decorated by women. An installation in the form of gates decorated with multiple vaginas made of pink cast at first sight looks like the shining ornate “gates to heaven.” The image of the taboo female organ is discernable only upon close inspection. The artist plays on the archaic rituals that symbolize birth, death, love, taboos, where the gates (the vagina) are a way into an “another dimension”, a sensually and symbolically different world.

Sculpture projects of Maria kulikovska stand on the edge between technological and natural, random and structured. With them the artist explores her own biopsychology with its materialization. Those explorations are often radical, but their radicalism is insulated from society and enveloped into individual self-perception, expanding the edges of human experience in a way only art can.

In 2012 Maria did a very special artistic research, which is close to Science-art. A multi-hour long performance called “The music of unextracted sounds” lasted for 5 hours every day for 10 days in a unique insulated acoustic laboratory of total silence at Kiev Research Institute of Construction and Construction Materials. The participants of the performance were placed inside of two boxes which absorb 99,9% of sounds, where they could “listen to themselves” – their own uninterrupted and unhindered heartbeat, voice, breathing. In one of the boxes the artist was reading a text she had written, and in that total silence it gained a new, almost prayer-like meaning. Inside a second – echoless –  box  the participants could experience everyday sounds in a new way. For example, a burst balloon seemed like a world-scaled catastrophe, and a clap of the hands became astonishing and mind-boggling. The performance gave the artist an opportunity not only to test herself, but to study the reaction of other participants, who were often not ready to be left alone with themselves. After the performance Maria wrote: “Only when we step over ourselves and renounce ourselves are we able to discover something new about ourselves.”

Lastly, we discuss “Sweet/ss Life” – an installation of white sparkling blocks of sugar, erected at a park in the city of Uster for the period from September to December 2012. Sweet, comfortable, cozy, and at the same time artificial, fragile, easily destroyed by sun and rain – that’s how the Ukrainian artist visualized a life in wonderful Switzerland. The history of those countries is hardly comparable, but what else, other than the artist’s impressionable eye, is able to spot those new and hidden meanings…

Maria kulikovska is 25 years old. Her body of work is inviting a discussion about an artist whose mind and hand work with complexity, dramaticality and vitality. She tackles the huge topics of man’s relationship with life and death and insuperability of time bravely and insightfully. Her world is dramatic, changeable and unpredictable. By pushing her limits and exploring new paths she gives her audience a joy of discovery, new experiences and a possibility of a new outlook on life and themselves.

Galina Skliarenko (curator, art-critic, 2012)