Degenerate Acts vs "Degenerate Art"

By    Thursday July 24, 2014

For five days after Malaysian Airways Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, the DPR [Donetsk Peoples Republic], armed separatists allied with Moscow, interfered with international investigators attempting to recover the remains of 298 victims. 

The DPR’s intimidating and degrading acts included shooting into the air, scavenging the belongings of the dead, and destroying crucial evidence. This is the same group that seized a contemporary art space in Donetsk and turned it into their military base [reported in DART June 25, 2014].

According to Luba Michailova, founder of Izolyatsia. Platform for Cultural Initiatives, who transformed the former insulation factory into an international art and education center for the Donetsk community in 2010, the separatists have looted the foundation’s files and transformed the art center into a DPR military base.

Photo shot from a car showing crossed railroad tracks used as rebel barricades. 

In addition, they positioned a sniper on a hill within the factory’s territory, used Izolyatsia’s Daniel Buren installation for target practice [reported in Hyperallergic, July 8, 2014], ripped up steel railroad tracks to barricade five of the six entrances to the factory complex and set up bulwarks to prevent Ukrainian tanks from entering their stronghold.

Michailova, who is the daughter of the director of the former insulation factory, notes that the rebels in fact were re-purposing tracks from a 2011 Izolyatsia Foundation art project, in which tracks were laid along the route of the original railway line “that was irreplaceable for the transportation of the products of Izolyatsia and had been cut and sold for scrap by criminal gangs in the early 1990s.” Michailova further states, “Anti-nuclear bunkers from the Soviet era are still on the site and resemble the factory site to a bastion.” 

Archival photo of the railroad tracks alongside the former insulation factory.

Michailova reports that “the commander of DPR special forces located at Izolyatsia is a militant Russian who goes by the nickname 'Mongol.'" In a videotaped interview with a Russian journalist for Forbes Russia, Leonid Baranov, who oversees Mongol’s “Emergency Commission,” is shown holding a book of photographs by internationally known artist Boris Mikhailov.

Baranov says, “My unit is stationed in an insulation materials plant. It is said [that] this factory that was seized by us was the world art center. Considering what kind of art center it was, we had to occupy this place. I don’t think those things are art [or] were created for the people of Donetsk Republic’s prosperity. As for me it’s not art and could never be. Some sick people photograph and show these to other sick people. Drug addiction, prostitution and that kind of art will be punished on the territory of DPR because it’s not art. This is pornography, that’s why it was our duty to banish those crazy people from the plant.”

Leonid Baranov, who oversees Mongol’s “Emergency Commission,” holding book of photographs by internationally known artist Boris Mikhailov. 

Izolyatsia’s events and educational programs have attracted a large audience, particularly young people. Most of Donetsk’s residents have fled the region to escape the escalating violence. Men between the ages of 18 and 55 who remain risk involuntary conscription into the DPR’s militia.

Although the intrepid Izolyatsia team is in exile, they are undeterred. Izolyatsia currently is working on a theater project in Kyiv with Yara Arts Group from New York about the dreams of young people of the Donetsk region. It refocuses Yara’sperformance piece shown in Donetsk last October in terms of recent events and the war in the eastern part of Ukraine.

“Underground Dreams” was presented on July 21 as a work-in-progress at the Les Kurbas Theatre Center in Kyiv. The creative team included writer Serhiy Zhadan and theatre director Virlana Tkacz, who heads Yara Arts Group. Further performances are planned for Kyiv in September and New York in December.

At a workshop performance of Yara’s 2013 project in Donetsk, held in a space inside the former insulation factory, audience members entered along a path of yellow leaves. hoto: Maiia Saienko

Yara 2014 Performance in Kiev. Photo: Waldemart Klyuzky

Editor's Note: Due to unstable conditions in Ukraine, Ms. Morton has postponed her trip to Kyiv until 2015.

Special for New Yorkers:

Current exhibition of degenerate art in NYC at the Neue Gallery: “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937” 

In Addition:

“After the Crash,” an excellent online comment July 17, 2014  by New Yorker editor David Remnick about how Putin has lost control of the pro-Moscow separatists in Donetsk.