Soviet sculptures from the Territory of Terror Memorial Museum, Lviv. Photos 2021 by Milena Khomchenko.

The project Garden was initially presented by Kateryna Lysovenko in July 2021 as a series of monumental drawings installed at the Territory of Terror Memorial Museum in Lviv. The works depict various scenes in which works of decommunized Soviet public art stored in the museum appear as utopian garden sculptures. Drawing on her academic background—Lysovenko specialized in monumental art at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture in Kyiv, a program based on socialist realist artistic methodology—she reappropriates the Soviet legacy by means of contemporary painting practice. The way the artist engages the socialist realist approach is bilateral—from one side, she modernizes Soviet techniques, working with the corresponding painting scale, while on the other, she taps into its ideological capacities. 

Just as official Soviet policy on art was aimed at depicting the party’s vision of the future, Lysovenko’s practice constructs her own future world of the free and diverse society. The artist simultaneously frees her agency from its limitations, taking over the formerly-propagandist position of Soviet apparatus, standing above the artist, by self-constructing the inclusive agenda of collective fate. 

The works were made before the start of Russia’s full-scale war and invasion of Ukraine, but they articulate a transition in a societal conversation about the heritage of the Soviet Union, as well as its other remains. This war is driven by the perpetration of Soviet narratives and a desire to reconstruct the former imperialist governing forms. What does it mean for an artist to work with the Soviet legacy under such circumstances? How can one work with a previous ideology’s erasure, when that erasure is partly being carried out by a current ideology that wishes to selectively reconstruct it for its own neo-imperialist agenda? This remains an ethically and culturally complicated question, however, Lysovenko’s work elaborates an alternative approach to disarming opponents with their own weapons, as well as returning the subjectivity of an artistic history shadowed by the imperial figure of the neighboring state by recognizing and constructively engaging Ukraine’s own position within Soviet legacy.

Published 28 November 2022
Kateryna Lysovenko was born in 1989. She is a graduate of the Hrekov Art School (Odesa), the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (Kyiv) and Kyiv Academy of Media Arts (Kyiv). Her works address the topic of the violence often caused by political, religious and ideological oppression. Since the start of the full-scale war, she has been displaced to Austria.