Interview with Olena Kryvoruchko

Photo: Anneli Bäckman

Please tell us a little about yourself and your background. When did you start making art?

I am Ukrainian, and an artist, and through the usual patterns to describe oneself, I am a mathematician by degree, and have worked as a business analyst for several years. However, with a personal need to communicate more with people I changed my professional path and started working as a project manager.

When the full-scale invasion began, I quit my job, which might not have been the most practical decision at the time. But I felt the need to give myself time to figure out what I want to get out of my life. What is important to me now, what would I like to have done and felt, if I was killed by a Russian missile tomorrow?

I found my way back to photography in 2019. Several years earlier I attended a creative, workshop-based, course in one of Kyiv’s universities exploring different types of visual arts. When returning to the field of arts I started out by photographing people, beginning with a comfortable circle of friends and acquaintances. Over time, gaining more experience and confidence, I also began to experiment with composition and different environments. Besides working as a freelance artist I also worked on smaller projects and commercials, which supported me financially. Then, I managed to get to a place where I could filter requests and focus more on developing my own artistic practice. This is how I arrived where I am today, as a photographer and artist.

How would you describe your artistic practice, and what inspires you?

My sources of inspiration are diverse and sometimes unexpected. I find beauty and inspiration in a well-crafted film, where cinematography and composition are carefully thought out, and you want to rewatch each frame. I enjoy observing people in public spaces, trying to understand their emotions and thoughts, which often translates into my photographic practice. At times, I feel the need to disconnect from social life, and during those moments, nature becomes my source of strength and creativity — the tranquility and raw beauty of natural landscapes without human presence stimulate the brain to see lines and shapes.

Right now, you have a residency within Residence Botkyrka’s programme, can you tell us a little about what you are researching and the type of ideas you would like to develop whilst being here?

As this is my first time in Stockholm and Sweden I want to explore the cultural scene of Stockholm by attending art events, meet artists from different disciplines, and engage in discussions with colleagues at Botkyrka Konsthall. It has already been an enriching experience that has broadened my artistic practice and inspired me to develop my creative ideas.

However, my main idea is to continue to work on several artworks that are part of a bigger exhibition concept that I have developed together with a colleague in Kyiv, earlier this year. Our concept began in a wish to depict how the ongoing war impacts the citizens of Ukraine.

Using the language of art, we hope to include audio works, video, performance as well as installations.

Although my portfolio mainly consists of photographic works, I am eager to use new media to convey emotions and feelings that are difficult to express through photography. I would like to provide viewers with a deeper understanding of the human experience of being forced to live through a war.

How do you perceive the situation for artists in Ukraine right now because of the terrible war going on? What have you experienced yourself?

During the first months of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian artists were sharply divided into two distinct categories: those who ground their pain and expressed it in a very honest way through their artworks, and those who found themself paralyzed in the creative sense. I belonged to the second category.

All the news that channeled a new level of absurdity and inhumanity of crimes just broke through a new bottom of your soul. And as soon as you came back to your senses, news of new atrocities would come, and you would roll back in your emotional state.

The country is still at war, and as time passes, people adapt to the new reality and try to live as much as possible in pre-war rhythms. But no matter how much you try to distract yourself; the war remains and is constantly present, lurking just beneath the surface of everyday life, and the anxiety that lives inside you, needs an outlet. You can see this in the reflections shown through Ukrainian arts.

If we look at the state of Ukrainian culture and art, many institutions, projects, and grants came to a standstill since the beginning of the invasion. The same goes for museums and libraries across the country, as valuable exhibits have been moved to storage or taken abroad for preservation. Numerous cultural centers have also been bombed and are still being targeted by shelling. With this said, it is not enough to destroy or capture a country by taking away territories and people by force. A country exists and stays alive as long as its language and culture exist.

The war in Ukraine is not just a physical battle fought by soldiers on the ground or in the sky. It is a hybrid war that extends to various fields, including the informational and artistic. The propaganda resistance, and the preservation of Ukrainian culture and identity through art are all critical components of the ongoing struggle.

Russia is waging a war that aims to exhaust the Ukrainian people into submission and through resistance, every citizen contributes to the Ukrainian victory in their own way. Artists are also mobilizing to resist, to raise awareness, and to lay the groundwork for post-war renaissance. Some have traded their art instruments for weapons and have become soldiers in the Armed forces, or served as paramedics at Ukrainian Territorial Defense.

As the past months have shown, Ukrainian art has not only survived but also received a huge boost for further development – with new ideas and images. Ukrainian art has appeared in galleries, art exhibitions, and charity auctions in various countries. Great credit must be given to the artists who have been fighting for the future of the country and Ukrainian art all this time.