Conversation with artists Pavlo Makov and Vitaliy Kokhan
Week of the Festival: Lviv
Week of the Festival: Lviv
Neither Vitaliy Kokhan nor Pavlo Makov were born in Kharkiv, but their practice subtly embodies the leisurely pulse of this imposing industrial and commercial city in Eastern Ukraine, where both artists studied, and now live and work. They belong to different generations and work with different media: Kokhan experiments with painting, sculpture, and installation, while Makov is a devoted and recognised adept of “art on paper” – a definition that he prefers to the concept of “graphic design”. Despite all these differences, and against the shimmering background of fast-moving modernity, both artists are distinguished by similar perspectives: poise, contemplation, mythologism and the ability to remain in their practice outside the daily fuss. In their works, invisible routes intersect with different eras, and the connection between place and time becomes an axiom. Their measured slowness is not a consequence of the global lockdown, but a daily rhythm of work.
VITALIY KOKHAN: LATER OR NEVER
In Jarmusch’s movie “Only Lovers Left Alive”, vampires are immortal beings sleeping all day long without rushing anywhere. They get high on it, and they are comfortable. When an interviewer asked Tilda Swinton “Who are these vampires?”, she answered: “They are artists, writers, musicians”.
From time to time, I get orders to make jewellery, and if there is no tight deadline, the work can take up to six months or a year. This can be perceived as not a very responsible attitude towards work, but I know why I need this time. However, if an idea comes up, I can implement it very quickly. Meanwhile if it has not come up yet – it is good to have time for walking and thinking. Sometimes, due to a deadline, you can work with great intensity, but this feels like a super-effort – as if you are wasting a resource that should not be used right now.
Sometimes it feels that something is wrong with the work. You leave it on the shelf, then in six months’ time you check on it and it looks better already. If over time the work continues to respond correctly, or, to put it simply, you enjoy it, then everything is fine. And if it somehow doesn’t respond so well, I change something. I also practice exhibiting work-in-progress or rather – completed to a certain level. I know that I will work on them after the exhibition, but first I will look at them in passing while they are standing or hanging some place. The work is complete when you, yourself, have moved on to the next level – both in work and in life.
The door sign of my workshop reads: “Later or never”. This is self-irony. I would like to work more efficiently but, as I am not able to change my nature, I work as fast as I can.
When I came to live in Kharkiv, I had an idea of what kind of a material would be characteristic of Kharkiv, and concrete seemed to come to mind. Concrete-setting technologies require a period of 28 days. This is the time during which concrete gains 70% of its strength and can be loaded. Now, thanks to new technologies, practically wet concrete can be topped with the next layer on day 3. However, Kharkiv’s concrete is the one that needs to be left to rest after it’s been poured. Generally speaking, I would not recommend removing the formwork earlier than 5 days after.
Manufacturability implies slowness. A conscientious approach to work lies in understanding what amount of time one should spend on a certain kind of action. I think that modern technologies do not speed up the production process, but simply become more accessible to a wide range of specialists. This is a question of craftsmanship – which way exactly to implement something –, whether it’s digital or analogue. The process of invention itself cannot be accelerated though.
I think that haste is not a fact associated with the development of technology and the speed of life, but rather an idea of how things are happening. Perhaps people who are rushing about do not quite understand why they are doing it. It is not a need born out of something, but only the idea that they have to rush, that the whole world has gone crazy. But in fact, over several centuries, nothing has changed much. Nowadays we can surely get quickly in touch via different ways of communication, but a person still looks out of his/her inner self, and this has remained unchanged.
PAVLO MAKOV: SOMETIMES WE JUST NEED TIME
It seems to me that deceleration cannot be forced. You just work the way you work. Pascal Gielen recently published a book, and upon reading it, I was surprised that a person from a completely different background and field understands the same thing as I do: indeed, sometimes we just need time. I call this “down time” – letting things settle and fall into place by themselves, and not through brainstorming. I can’t get anything out of brainstorming, it’s a waste of effort for me. Everything should be born naturally. You need to wait for its appearance, and then just catch it. This is what I practice. Even if the work is going well, sometimes it has to be put off for a while. And, sometimes, after six months you discover that it was completed a long time ago. Or not.
I want to emphasise that I do not consider time to be a quality criterion for evaluating art: you can do a very good job in 5 minutes or nothing good in 5 years. But this “down time” doesn’t mean you have to work 8 hours a day. This means that you simply do not have to try and suck it out of thin air, but that everything will slowly come to you in its own time. And the fact that in contemporary art a lot is done in a hurry, hastily, just to participate – this really is so, unfortunately. Because everyone wants to have fun faster. But we all know that the best of pleasures are the ones that last. Art is close to love – the principle of work is also natural. Sex stops being just sex and becomes love when you take your time.
The marginality of a position makes it possible to look at everything not during its formation, but when it has already been formed – as if slowing down a little. Now I consider my marginality, which hurt me in the 90s, to be positive. Because it gave me the opportunity to look at everything with an “indomitable eye” – to see what you see, and not what society wants you to see. You belong to yourself more than to the “social agreement”.
Everything changed for me some time after 2005, when I started working with the idea of the Garden. The situation in the world has changed. The world has become much smaller over the last 15 years. As Baricco puts it: “Previously you could hear swearing only in stairwells, but now someone sneezes in New York, and they hear it in Australia”. I got down to work – Mappa mundi, which resembles a drawing plan of both an apartment and the world. Mappa mundi is a communal apartment where everyone can visit everyone. Now the virus has proved this much: “When someone sneezes in the corridor, then everyone will get sick”. And in this apartment we need to do everything together – in China or America nothing can be fixed separately. I really like this idea of the Garden, because it is a metaphor in which you can put everything.
When I first visited a really large garden in Versailles, I realised a scary thing: a gardener, when planting a tree, clearly knows that he will not see it in the size that he plans to have it in this garden. Therefore, although Le Nôtre lived for a very long time, he died knowing that only his grandchildren would be able to see this garden the way he had planned it. And under one condition – these grandchildren and children of grandchildren would have to tend to the trees bent over with a hoe in hand for many years to come. Time is important here, because a garden is a very human thing. If you do not take care of it, then in 5-10 years it will be selva, wild nature. This is a completely different aesthetics – not worse but no longer human. In a sense, a garden is such a great human game. It takes time, and not only time, but also constant, unceasing care.
Cover image by Vitaliy Kokhan, Four Paintings on the Wall, 2017, concrete, Kharkiv, Ukraine