Project Social Contract
by Mahmoud Bakhshi
Temporary art intervention at the former site of the Lenin monument Kiev, 2016
It is notorious that the destruction of the statue of Lenin in Kyiv in December 2013 triggered the symbolic Leninfall around the country, calling into action a controversial set of laws on Decommunisation, adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament on April 9th, 2015. And, ever since its legalisation, the witch-hunt has been fully embraced and put in practice by the bureaucrats and activists. At first, with the wiping out of Lenin's monuments, the prosecuting pursuit soon touched upon everything that contained Soviet symbols and could be supposedly classified as Communist propaganda.
The controversy around Decommunisation and its methods has fostered the Social Contract project, which interrogates the role of commemorative objects in public space. It is aimed at creating a discussion platform for the art community, society and authorities on the status and functions of commemorative objects in urban space, using the case of the Lenin statue in Kyiv as an example.
The project began in June 2016 and included an exhibition, public programme, and a temporary artistic intervention Inhabiting Shadows by Cynthia Gutierrez The Mexican artist built a scaffolding staircase allowing everyone to climb the pedestal where the Soviet leader once stood. The installation by Cynthia Gutierrez provoked a public debate, stimulating a discussion on the status of the existing commemorative objects as well as the perspectives and mechanisms for creating new ones.
Conversely the installation Endless Celebration by Mahmoud Bakhshi, erected at the same spot few moths after, reflected on recent historical events in Ukraine. The date of the opening intentionally coincided with the celebration of the Great October Revolution, which since not so long ago is doomed to oblivion in contemporary Ukraine. Commemoration of certain historical events as well as common flower-laying ceremony is another quite direct instrument of propaganda. In this respect, Endless Celebration innaguration is an act of non-celebration, liberation from the burden of Soviet propaganda and a way to try to desacralize the site once again.
In his previous works and projects, Mahmoud Bakhshi often looked at a role of a public monument (sculpture) as advertising for new ideas. The artist developed this project as an attempt to visually articulate the historical choice made by the Ukrainians when they removed the Lenin monument from its place. Bakhshi chose the changing colors of a traffic light to signpost the impossibility to go back to the past as red and the new possible directions as green and yellow. Three face images carefully selected by the artists are Lenin, Virgin Mary and pop-singer Madonna. Presumably they embody three essential pillars of society namely ideology, religion and economy. At all times depending on the goals to be achieved propaganda repeatedly instrumentalized certain images, just like the Soviet propaganda had idolized Lenin or capitalism worships money and success manifested by Madonna. On top of that Mahmoud Bakhshi resorts to the neon as a medium, which has a long history of employment in commercial advertisement and specifically tags aspired by the Ukrainian society neoliberal values. Each idol seems to address the audiences with the simple call ‘buy me’. And it’s so hard to resist the call or to base one’s choice on the rational thinking especially after decades of abstinence and economic and political shortage.
Thereby, Endless Celebration is a subjective ironical comment made by the artist on this particular historical moment that culminated in the radical action of removing the monument. It invites to have a conversation about the symbolic role of a public sculpture by voicing in an exaggerating manner opaque currents of the post Maidan society.
Mahmoud Bakhshi was born in 1977 in Tehran, Iran. Lives and works in Tehran. His previous exhibitions include: The Unity of Time and Place, narrative projects, London, 2017; The Great Game, National Pavilion of Iran at 56th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia; All the World’s Futures curated by Okwui Enwezor, Venice, 2015; Too early, too late. Middle East and Modernity, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna 2015; TalkCloud, Niavaran Cultural Centre, Tehran and narrative projects, London 2014; Recalling the Future: post-revolutionary Iranian art, Brunei Gallery, SOAS, University of London, 2014; Love Me/ Love Me Not, Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan and its Neighbors, The 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, 2013; DISASTER, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris-Pantin, 2013.
IZOLYATSIA is a non-profit non-governmental platform for contemporary culture founded in 2010 by Luba Michailova in Donetsk, Ukraine, a territory that was seized by the local militia of the self proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ on 9 June 2014. Until the seizure of the region, the foundation was housed in a former factory, which was built in 1955 as a plant for the production of insulation materials. (‘Izolyatsia’ means both ‘insulation’ and ‘isolation’.)
IZOLYATSIA has relocated to a shipyard in Kyiv and continues to present cultural projects and support socially active artists and creative producers in Kyiv, throughout Ukraine, and worldwide, as well as serving as a resource for international curators, scholars, artists and ambassadors.
Curator: Kateryna Filyuk