Monumental screening of Ukrainian artists takes over Chicago’s riverfront

The story of Shchedryka folksy, hypnotically melodic early 20th-century arrangement by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych who became known internationally as song of the bellsis presented as a projection at Chicago’s Art on theMART (AOTM) public art site twice a night next week (November 10-17).

The production was created by PHOTINUS, a studio of sound and light installation artists and musicians from Kyiv who worked in extreme war conditions and fought on the front lines. Prior to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the studio’s co-founders had participated in the Venice Biennale, Transmediale’s Vorspiel festival in Berlin, Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, and the Linoleum Contemporary Animation and Media Arts Festivalwhich took place this year despite the war.

Shchedryk – Carol of The Bells: Unbox the Holiday Magic was already under construction before the Russian invasion. It was originally planned as a celebration of Ukrainian identity and cultural diplomacy, screened during last year’s Christmas holiday season on the facade of the Kyiv Diplomatic Academy, with the idea of ​​presenting adaptations elsewhere, mainly in the United States and Canada. At first, the war put the project on hold, but then made it even more important.

“We really recognized the artistic and technological capabilities of the PHOTINUS studio,” says Cynthia Noble, Executive Director of AOTM. “We had seen footage of what they had done in Kyiv and previous work, and really appreciated how they can help us maximize the potential of this platform from a video mapping perspective and well. sure about the artistic sense. And it also made sense for Chicago in terms of content, because Chicago has such a large Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American community. Anyway, we usually do a winter vacation program, and that was perfectly logical for our platform.And then of course, the world changed a lot that year with the war and so the idea of ​​amplifying Ukrainian cultural expression took on a whole new dimension.

Shchedryk: Song of the Bells by PHOTINUS Studios Courtesy of Art on theMART

AOTM, launched in 2018, is the world’s largest permanent digital art projection, at theMART building, a 25-story, two-block center on Chicago’s waterfront. Chicago has one of the largest Ukrainian diaspora communities in the United States, with more than 200,000 in Illinois, now joined by 25,000 war refugees, said Yevgeniy Drobot, vice consul of Ukraine in the city. The arts journal. Chicago’s Ukrainian Village is home to the Ukrainian National Museum and the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

“We understood that at a time when the Russian occupying forces are destroying museums and art galleries, universities and historical monuments, taking away the works of Ukrainian artists from the temporarily occupied territories or simply destroying them, the war on the ‘cultural front’ is particularly important”, says Drobot. “With this project, we can help Ukrainian culture to ‘come out of the shadows’; from the encroaching imperialism planted by Russian propaganda and support Ukraine on the “cultural front”, draw the attention of the international community to Ukraine and its contribution to world cultural heritage.

The song, adapted by Leontovych from folk motifs like The little swallow which brings good luck as a harbinger of a bountiful harvest, was the cornerstone of cultural diplomacy under Symon Petliura, who ruled an independent Ukrainian state from 1918 to 1921, before it was subjugated by Bolshevik Russia. Shchedryk made its American debut at Carnegie Hall in 1922which ultimately led to Song of bells, the English adaptation by Peter Wilhousky, an American composer of Ukrainian-Rusyn descent.

Leontovych was killed in 1921, aged 43, by an agent of the Cheka, a precursor to the KGB secret police.

Max Robotov from PHOTINUS Studio working on light projection Shchedryk – Carol of The Bells: Unbox the Holiday Magic Courtesy of PHOTINUS Studio, Kyiv

Max Robotov, PHOTINUS Studio’s lead artist on the project, has served on the front lines with the Ukrainian Armed Forces since the start of the war. In comments emailed to The arts journalhe describes Shchedrykcreated by Leontovych from an “ancient sample of Ukrainian folklore”, as “one of the cross-sectional images of our culture”, with pre-Christian roots that transformed over the centuries after the conversion of Ukraine in 988 into a Christmas song and finally into “a universal song”. cultural treasure.

“We wanted, by means of Shchedryk, to tell both the history of Ukraine and the modern world of world culture, ”says Robotov. “We cannot say that this year’s large-scale war had a great influence on our outlook. But we wanted to emphasize important aspects: Ukraine is an independent country with a very long and rich history, but Ukraine is also an important part of world culture.

Shchedryk: Song of the Bells by PHOTINUS Studios Courtesy of Art on theMART

The fate of Leontovych is also “typical for most (as terrible as it may seem) representatives of Ukrainian culture of the 20th century” and “shows as clearly as possible that the destruction of Ukrainian creators, whose Shchedryks were not written, were not heard – is a loss not only for Ukrainian culture, but also for world culture,” says Robotov.

The December 2021 version of Shchedryk was funded by the British and American Embassies in Kyiv and the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF).

The use of blue and yellow in the projection is, of course, “a reference to the Ukrainian flag, but they are expressive and important colors for many cultures”, adds Robotov, and “the very combination of blue horizontal stripes and yellow is a rather universal and easy to read symbol of the sky and the flowery field, that is, a symbol of peace and prosperity”.

James C. Tibbs