Kiev Fashion and Arts Days, a festival celebrating art, fashion, photography and performance, took place from October 7 to 10.
The project is the brainchild of Sofia Tchkonia, founder of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Tbilisi. The aim is to consolidate Ukraine’s position as the cultural capital of Eastern Europe, but above all to create a platform for all Ukrainian creatives.
We at Collater.al entrusted the story of these 4 days to the editor and photojournalist Mattia Ruffolo, who made a photo-diary of his trip to Kiev.
I spent four days in Kiev where I was invited to meet and learn about the work of the new generation of Ukrainian creatives. Kiev Fashion and Arts Days is a new initiative whose aim is to strengthen, connect and export abroad the liveliest personalities of this country.
The resulting photographic reportage is not intended to be a total and exhaustive representation of the busy program proposed to the international press during these days, but a personal and subjective reading of what I saw in these days.
This work in Kiev, a city I had never visited, would not have happened without the precious and far-sighted talent of Sofia Tchakonia, the engine and propulsive mind behind Tbilisi Fashion Week in Georgia. Sofia was listed as one of the most influential people in the fashion world in 2019.
The arrival is as I expected. On the way from the airport to the city, a series of tall brutalist buildings draw the landscape of the outskirts of Kiev. As we get closer to the city center, I see the Dnieper River, which my hotel overlooks. The Fairmont is an imposing historical building. The corridors are very long and all the same.
Lesha Berezovskiy is one of the first people I meet. We meet on Khreschatyk Street, the main commercial street for Kievians. Khreschatyk Street was completely destroyed during World War II by the retreating Red Army, rebuilt with the architectural criteria of socialist classicism and renovated during the period of Ukrainian independence.
It’s afternoon, it’s sunny, the sky is clear and a cold wind is blowing and we head to Lesha’s studio.
We have to arrive before 6 o’clock because he says that in his studio, at that time, there is a beautiful light.
He tells me that in a few days he will be joining his wife in Moscow and that in two weeks he will be inaugurating a photographic exhibition in Almaty, Kazakhstan, of shots produced at a distance with a friend of his during his isolation.
We arrive at the studio, a former administrative office (perhaps a school) that at the moment the municipality is renting to artists at about 10 dollars per square meter.
He shows me the works he will exhibit and some photographic prints on vintage Soviet paper bought on eBay. He gives me a photography book where some of his photos are included. They are portraits of young people in their rooms and images taken in passing during the evenings at CXEMA, a Ukrainian rave that I will talk about later.
Lesha is a cyclist and there is a lot of nature in his images. He shows me pictures of his family in the countryside at his grandparents’, where he grew up. They are very intimate and tender. I ask him if this is a series he is still pursuing but he says his grandparents don’t really like having their picture taken. In the detail of one of his photos you can see some black sand that reminds me of Stromboli and I suggest to see Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli (Terra di Dio).
We go exploring the building, in the corridors there are still the coat racks where students (?) used to put their jackets. Exposed all together they are very beautiful; we take some shots there, but Lesha is shy in front of the lens, she prefers to stay behind. We say goodbye while looking at a map of Europe on a silk scarf hanging in her studio and we plan to meet again in the next evenings for a drink before leaving.
Situationist is a brand founded in 2016 in Tbilisi, proudly Made in Georgia.
Forbidden Family is a short film directed by Davit Giorgadze and Salome Potskhverashvili with music by Nika Machaidze. A six-minute video that takes you to the Georgian mountains, a snowy forest, decadent Soviet-influenced architecture and worn-out wooden inns. During these days dedicated to fashion and art, Situationist presents at TSUM-the most important department store in Kiev-the collection and the book of this trip to the mountains of Georgia.
“We tried to represent the variety of different styles and characters. The way of dressing and all the important details that make our traditions important. From the coast of the Black Sea to the high mountains of the Svaneti observing and defining every important detail that forms our mark”.
“The current world situation is showing us the importance of togetherness, taking care of the wildlife and nature around us. We hope to showcase the raw, untamed beauty of our country. The most important things in life are always around us”.
I meet Ivan Frolov in his atelier in the morning. Most of the things here are red: boxes, clothing shells, and a neon heart shape at the entrance. He seems to be obsessed with it.
He is humble and determined, telling me about his start in 2014 and that now his team consists of almost 30 people.
On the walls I find erotic drawings of pole dancers or naked young boys wearing only corsets.
Ivan specializes in corsetry, embroidery and couture-to-wear creations. Although sex and bondage are the things that most inspire his work, aesthetic provocation is followed by a deep research of tailoring techniques and human anatomy. Rita Ora, Gwen Stefani and Due Lipa have worn Frolov.
Inside the cafe where we had arranged to meet, I see sitting at the counter Misha Buksha, a very handsome and elegant young man sipping coffee. With him, his dog Sara, a Canarian podenco wearing a colorful handmade cardigan to protect him from the cold.
I order my coffee too and we go outside to drink it. With Misha I immediately feel a good feeling and we start comparing notes to find things in common: same age, same field (publishing/photography) and also he, like me, adopted a dog with his former partner, Yaroslav Solop, with whom he continues to work.
I had heard about Misha and his work, but I didn’t know much else: Misha is 29 years old and the co-founder and creative director of Booksha publishing house. I was intrigued because I had read about this important publication on contemporary Ukrainian photography called UPHA Made in Ukraine.
UPHA (Ukranian Photographic Alternative) is their first book. Misha and Yaroslav’s research started in 2017 and took four years to complete, mainly because of the rights issue. The book features 57 photographers who, according to the publisher’s research, document the important social, political, cultural, and historical metamorphosis in Ukraine and around the world, and describe how photography in Ukraine is evolving. This book is on a mission to explore, present, and archive Ukraine’s photographic heritage. The images, analyzed by the publishing house’s team of researchers, highlight a reflection on political and social changes, and document the critical stages in the development of Ukrainian society, war, religious impact on consciousness, the consequences of the economic crisis, gender, body and sexuality studies.
To browse through the book we went to the coffee shop of a contemporary art and photography gallery, The Naked Room, founded by curator Lizaveta German, Maria Lanko and director Marc Raymond Wilkins.
On the way he tells me about a trip he made to Venice with his mother, interrupted only after 24 hours due to an unforeseen event that brought them immediately back to Ukraine. The desire to return makes us say goodbye with the hope of seeing each other again soon in Italy and his suggestion to see a film by Russian director Aleksandr Galin entitled The Cape of Casanova.
A few days before my arrival in Kiev I wrote a message to Slava Lepsheeev telling him that I would be in town for a few days. He immediately replied giving me an appointment at Kosatka, a small hipster bar in the center of Kiev. Slava arrives with an electric scooter, we greet each other and start talking. He has few words and seems shy, but he listens well.
I know Slava because i-D, the magazine I used to run, had produced a documentary on the Ukrainian clubbing scene. Slava is the one behind CXEMA, a traveling techno rave that took place in the industrial areas of Kiev.
CXEMA was born on the heels of the 2014 violent revolutions in Kiev, culminating in the ouster of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Janukovyč. After the protests became full-blown riots, authorities opened fire on civilians resulting in at least 82 deaths, including 13 police officers, and more than 1,100 injuries. With an ousted president, Russia invading Crimea, and entire militias of opponents rising up across Ukraine, young people reacted in their own way by taking or forgetting on the runway all their disappointments and dissatisfactions that only such precarious politics can trigger.
With Slava we get straight to the point, I ask him how is the scene in Kiev at the moment and he tells me that, as everywhere, the lockdown has rellected things. He tells me that he would like to open his own club, small, for up to 100 people. He is looking at rental properties and may have found one. I ask him to describe to me how he imagines it and he replies with a long bar, vintage furniture and nice people.
He tells me that before the lockdown he would have liked to take a trip to Italy, to Sicily, and that he still dreams of doing it. He asks me for advice whether to go to Palermo or Catania and I tell him to see both, but that Catania in the ’90s was musically hyper in step with the rest of the world, that it was the Seattle of Italy – in my head there were names like the record producer Francesco Virlinzi who somehow created a fertile ground for artists like Michael Stipe, Peter Baks, Natalie Merchant who spent their summers there and that in the clubs they danced the Pixies, Sonic Youth, The B-52s – but it seemed to me to stray too far from the conversation.
We leave the bar and before we say goodbye we take a walk in the nearby park. As we talk about travel, I take a few shots of him, and we part ways by recommending I go to Yerevan, Armenia.
We are at Nosorog, a strip club in the west of Kiev for the presentation of the second issue of “Hrishnytsia”, an erotic zine founded by Julie Poly.
Yulia Polyashchenko AKA Julie Poly is a photographer and art director living in Kiev. She studied at the School of Photography in Kharkiv and today shoots for Vogue, Officiel, Harper’s Bazaar, Dazed & Confused and i-D.
Eroticism, fashion and unconventional beauty prevail in her work. The artist says she finds herself constantly inspired by “mundane things, everyday events, stories of friends’ lives and personal experiences”.
Julie is wearing a pink Balenciaga sweatshirt that says GAY PRIDE on it. With her is her award-winning poodle named Pushok, which means fluffy in Italian. Pushok is 21 months old and has already appeared on a cover of Vogue Ukraine. She has won several beauty awards such as: Junior Champion of Ukraine; Junior Grand Champion of Ukraine; Champion of Ukraine; Grand Champion of Ukraine; Poodle Club Champion; and still competing to win more. At the party he looks very annoyed.
There are 3 performers on stage: a hypnotic drag singer who looks like something out of a David Lynch movie and two pole dancers. One of the dancers is teacher Julie, who practices pole dancing regularly three times a week. The theme of this zine is tattoos: inside the club the guests can get tattooed by two professional tattoo artists.
Vic Bakin is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker originally from Turkmenistan but now living in Kiev.
We meet in his home-studio where he shows me his photographic archive of the last years. He lives in the upper part of the city and says that in that neighborhood he feels calm because he has everything at hand.
Entering his studio he plays techno music in the background and begins to show me his cameras, his books of his favorite photographers – some of them even autographed – his archive of printed works perfectly organized in his drawers. He shoots all the time and now develops his photos independently in his bathroom at home. During the lockdown, unable to meet people, he reworked his old photos with layers of paint that rarefied the images. A selection of these images is now on display at the K41 club.
K41 is one of the most interesting nights at the moment in Kiev.
It actually has no a fixed name, it is named K41 because it is located at Kyrylivska St, 41. The night is best identified with the mathematical symbol “∄” which is equivalent to “does not exist”. You can’t google them and they don’t even have social media. The night is currently held in a former brewery and the music goes on day and night all weekend long. What looks like an abandoned building from the outside is now an LGBTQIA+ friendly club that hosts local DJs along with big names. The line up and door selection are not much different from those at Berghain.
After approval, before entering, you have to undergo the Covid test, 15 min wait and if you are negative, you get in.
After a few minutes his floor is strewn with hundreds of images of young men in black and white. During the conversion, without meaning to, I start making a selection of the ones that strike me the most. Vic is surprised at how quickly I look at and select the pictures. I look at him and say: “I know, I scroll really fast. It’s a matter of instinct, I have to like the photo at first glance”.
In the meantime we talk about his relationship with his body and his models. She tells me about her muse, a boy named Roma, whom she meets regularly on the subway. She shoots with an American folding 4×5 photojournalism camera using large format film.
Once the images are selected, we pick them up off the floor and hang them on the wall he uses as a backdrop for his models. While we do this we try to find a connection between Aby Warburg and Tumbler.
Before leaving, he takes a copy of his photographic book titled “Heavy Clouds” and gives me a copy, writing as dedication “To Mattia, memories seem to vanish”.
Special thanks to Sofia Tchkonia, Julia Kostetska, Maria Mokhova (White Rabbit Agency), Vladyslav Tomik, Daniela Battistini.
Article by Mattia Ruffolo