City and Art on the Edge

ID: 270

Mapping as an attempt to identify and theorize the practices of art conceptualism that existed in Lviv in the late 1980s — early 1990s.

In her 2015 book on art in the 2nd half of the 20th century, Catherine Dossin points out that in the 1980s American art was closely linked by many critics with conceptualism, while European art was related to painting (Dossin, 2015). On the contrary, Europe had both expressive forms and as well as an influence from conceptualism; even the Soviet Union had its peculiar aesthetics for conceptual art. In the former Soviet states, conceptualism as an art trend as well as its philosophy are usually associated with art centers in Moscow. In Ukraine, Odesa was the city where conceptualism has found its implementation, to a certain extent. Even though conceptual practices in art could be found already in the late-Soviet Ukraine, historians usually treat the "new" or "young" art that was born in the context of perestroika and glasnost as emotional and painterly. Since 1987, Kyiv-based critic Oleksandr Solovyov has defended a point that new and contemporary Ukrainian art should be perceived through the paintings by Oleh Holosiy (born in Dnipropetrovsk), Arsen Savadov (Kyiv), or Oleksandr Roitburd (Odesa). The exhibition of young and contemporary Ukrainian painters organized in Moscow in the late 1980s outlined this art as a "South Russian wave" or "South Neo-Baroque." Later, only the words "new wave" remained in the name from the original. Recently, a well-known Ukrainian artist and art theorist Hlib Vysheslavskyi defended his PhD thesis in which he focused on the scope and aesthetics of the "new wave" artists.

Even though a "new wave" concept has been established in Ukrainian art criticism, and artists from this "cohort" are associated with the Ukrainian version of postmodernism, there are still some voices raised (for instance, from an art historian Orest Holubets from Lviv) claiming that this art is "not Ukrainian" or "not chracteristic of" the national culture.It displays a common crisis that is quite typical in much of Ukrainian art: many of the artistic meanings we associate with the entire country actually have just local origins. This is especially true of Kyiv-based artistis.On the other hand, other regions demonstrate a lack of understanding of these practices; there is no model established on how to interpret "regional art" which was born in the late Soviet Ukraine without comparing it either to the West or to the East. To be more precise, the comparisons are needed, but stereotypes on the "right," "national," modern, or post-modern art, usually described in the better-or-worse categories, should be avoided.

This project has an objective to develop a model for how to view various artistic practices that existed in the western periphery of the Ukrainian SSR in the late 1980s. This model will combine a human (artist), urban environment (Lviv), and narratives, both of and about art. We intend to see how urban spaces and art studios impacted the different understandings of the artistic quality and the art objectives. We would also like to trace how authors positioned themselves in terms of the art of the West (USA, Europe) and the East (all other places except the imaginary West), and how they saw their role in such a symbolic topography. We would like to find out more about what the young artists of Lviv were reading in the late 1980s, and who they were looking at; where they were going to get experience and support. As a result, we are implementing the "human — city — stories" construction method to identify and theorize the practices of art conceptualism that existed in Lviv in the late 1980s – early 1990s.  

This would enable us to develop and offer the students the "updated" vision how the Ukrainian contemporary art was established and developed; it will include other methodological approaches, discovered materials, and will outline contexts other than that of Kyiv, the capital city. As a result, this will shape a narrative of how Lviv conceptualism of the 1980s developed through the lens of both aesthetic and spatial artistic practices. It will also widen our understanding of cultural heritage from a regional perspective. The project is meant to work with the virtually unknown materials. Video trips with the representatives of Lviv conceptualism of the 1980s will be organized. This will allow us to map the artists' experiences and artistic practices and localize them in the urban space. Archive collections of the artists will be digitized, critical essays will be written. The collected materials and further research will be used as a basis for preparing virtual city walks. 

In partnership with the Program of Culturology at the Ukrainian Catholic University, a format is under discussion to include this block into the curriculum for the "Culture and the City" study course. Therefore, having students of culture studies work with the materials will allow them to develop new research competencies, build experiences of working with sources,as well as help them shape and cultivate their practical skills for creating their narratives concerning cultural heritage from a perspective of local practices.

All the developed materials will be presented on the webpage of the educational platform. 

Project Methodology

The project's starting point was an attempt to find the confirmation for conceptualism practices in Lviv. However, since the project was implemented in the "learning by doing" format, certain hypotheses have been modified, and our understanding of the past has been adjusted. For instance, before the project, there had been well-known information that the Dzyga Art Association started its activities in Lviv with an exhibition of Andriy Sahaidakovskyi. Nevertheless, two interviewees confirmed that the first exhibition was a collective one (see Antonina Denisiuc), while the first display took place when the space was not officially opened (Yevhen Ravskyi).    

We started by identifying a list of 10 authors who would contingently represent different art milieus in the city. We talked to the artists about their places in Lviv and tried to construct an imaginary map of these sites. Upon agreeing on the items on the list, the project team studied the sites and made videography shooting in dynamics and statics. Artists and gallerists shared on camera why the sites mattered to them and provided the much-needed contexts. This approach was supposed to show that artists were dependent, but on the other hand, they also shaped the urban space. A key focus was supposed to be on the creative spaces, the art studios, where the aesthetic "meanings" were generated.

In 1971, Daniel Buren and Thomas Repensek wrote their well-known essay "The Function of the Studio." It was translated from French and published by the October magazine in autumn, 1979. It was one of the three texts related to the art system. Other texts were "The Function of the Museum" (first published by MOMA, and later in Artforum in September 1973), and "The Function of the Exhibition" published in December 1973, in the Studio International. Therefore, the early 1970s may be referred to as the launch of debate in Western art about the roles and functions of various spaces of art, including the studios. Buren claimed that of all the possible ways to "pack" and "unpack" the art, space where art is virtually born, such as the studio, is the most ignored one (Buren, Repensek, 1979, 51-52). However, we are interested not only in the phenomenology of the studio but also in the dialectics of relations between the space of creation and the space of non-creation, or the everyday. We also feel two worthwhile question should follow from this: Is a piece of art born only in a studio? And do other spaces matter for the construction of aesthetic meanings? In terms of methodology, we relied here on the work by the French researcher Michel de Certeau (de Certeau, 2002), the study of daily routine practices.

However, it did not take long to realize that an important aspect of the project will be the places in the city, and therefore, the "non-places," too. In this respect, the work of anthropologist Marc Augé (Augé, 1995) became useful. It conceptualized and developed the set of meanings and concepts that Michel Foucault was trying to delineate in the late 1960s. It implies the "heterotopy" that defines the urban "non-places." The social space is not homogeneous. We mark our borders in such a way, so that some places may appear to neighbour each other, even though they might be different in terms of living modes. For example, an artist's studio, and a street market, a gallery, and a private apartment. These are the heterotopies that Foucault identifies as hybrid spaces combining different contexts. They only share the ability to combine functions and fragments of many spaces within one space. These are prisons, baths, hotels, brothels, galleries — spaces of multiple social rituals, with no "original" residents, where everyone is crucially "alien."

Philosopher Valeriy Podoroha states that heterotopy is a basic function of any living space, and it is natural that it may modify and transform from epoch to epoch. There are no special heterotopies. They are all known and common to us: a theater, a library, a house, a cemetery, a cinema, a museum. Human life can be defined by a movement along the path from birth to death inside the similar heterotopic spaces. These spaces can encompass things; they can house even those things that might seem inappropriate therein but are attached to them since the spaces are born from the combination. When a living space is capable of reproducing itself and grow, it means that its heterotypical structure is sustainable and efficient.

Augé's "non-places" and Foucauldian "heterotopies"  have lead us to the concept of a "space of art" by Peter Osborn (Osborn, 2018, 162-187). In fact, on this stage, we managed to record the finalized method to view the 1980s spaces of art, such as to consider them in the dialectics of "places" (home, daily routines) and "non-places" (studio, gallery), keeping in mind the medial pricnciples of the contemporary city. We see the city not only as an separate space or an abstract entity but as a "space of flows," as Manuel Castells put it (Castells, 1996).

Methodological Model for the Project:

Modern City




Everyday life, workshop

Gallery, museum

Media, information

Shaping meanings

Legitimization of meanings

Sharing, borrowing

Art works




Spaces of the projects

The idea of an after-workshop

The project has not been completed, since it requires to develop more storylines and expand some focuses. The interviews helped us map certain spatial practices of the artists in the 1980s, but we still need to finalize the links between the places, the non-places, and the flows. We already know that studios were not of the same importance to all artists. Some of them created certain urban "dens" or "nests" where new art ideas were born. The finding is consonant with Peter Osborn's idea about the "spaces of projects" that go beyond the limits of a studio or a gallery. However, we surely know that contemporary urban form — the idea that was constructed in the period of modernism and post-modernism — is a spatial precondition for making and functioning of the contemporary art. Art and the city act in an indivisible and dialectic relation.  

Related Stories



  1. Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London: Verso, 1995)
  2. Daniel Buren, Thomas Repensek, "The Function of the Studio", October 10, 1979, 51-52
  3. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, (Malden, Mass: Blackwell Pub, 1996)
  4. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, (University of California Press, 2002)
  5. Catherine Dossin, The Rise and Fall of American Art, 1940s–1980s: A Geopolitics of Western Art Worlds, (Ashgate Publishing, 2015)
  6. Пітер Осборн, "Простір мистецтва", Рухливий простір, ред. Катерина Міщенко та Сюзанна Штретлінг, переклад Анна Кравець, (Київ: Медуза, 2018), с. 162–187
By Bohdan Shumylovych

Created with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation