A Cultural Layer


Lada Verbina’s installation A Cultural Layer begins a series of the artworks within SONIAKH’s programme Erasing & Recalling, which examines both generative and declinatory aspects of the phenomenon of memory. Verbina’s work undermines the notion of ‘disappearance’ consonant to one of the central notions of the platform’s programme, ‘erasing.’ The artwork articulates both a loss and a gain: on the one hand, it addresses the devastation associated with the village’s disappearance whilst, on the other, it observes how natural processes transform the space, starting something completely new in the middle of ruin or emptiness. The work recounts a story of the natural vanishing which is occurring alongside the deliberate destruction of our land, history, and culture by Russian occupiers. 

The piece was created within Verbina’s solo show The Post Office Is No Longer There. A Car Comes Once a Week, whose name was taken from a common phrase of the locals of Stara Huta, a village in Khmelnytskyi region where the artist’s grandparents lived. This process of loss, which starts as a dormancy and culminates in complete disappearance, can be seen in various rural life occurrences, among them the gradual shutdown of infrastructure—in the case of Huta, the closure of the grocery store and post office—the migration of residents to urban areas, the death of older generations. In 2023, the artist’s grandmother passed away, leaving her house and homestead in a state of seasonless hibernation. This hibernation prompts a reversal of the roles between animate and inanimate actors: the animate fade into obscurity while the inanimate gain a subjectivity.

The installation consists of an artist’s work table with the walnuts and walnut shells together with the drawings and objects. The piece addresses a twofold setting, in which walnut fruits appear to be an object of the meticulous manual labour of the artist’s grandmother and her neighbours while also resisting it and acting itself. Thus, despite the impossibility of moving beyond the anthropocentric perspective, the village work demonstrates a specific devotion both to the land and to its non-human agents. Simultaneously, the walnut tree starts to dominate the landscape, adorning everything with its fruits and covering the ground with a blanket of leaves. It assumes a central role in local traditions and rituals, occupies space, provides sustenance, and demands human attention. 

The title, A Cultural Layer, refers to an archeological denotation of a layer of soil that bears the traces of a material human activity from a certain period of time. In this way, Stara Huta, as a village on the verge of extinction, itself turns into a cultural layer for future studies, which—while it is waiting for its researchers—will be protected by the layer of a nut shell. 

The installation was exhibited at Lada Verbina’s show The Post Office Is No Longer There. A Car Comes Once a Week curated by Milena Khomchenko at thesteinstudio, an artist-run space founded by Olga Stein. The publication partially adapts the curatorial text written for the exhibition. 
Editing: Ada Wordsworth.
Published 17 April 2024
Lada Verbina 
An artist from Kyiv. In 2022, she completed a Master's program in Monumental Painting at the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture. Her artistic practice primarily revolves around painting and graphics, alongside other mediums such as photography and objects. Memory, recollections, and the archivation of the past are central themes in her work, often depicted through the symbolism of food, particularly bread. Her artworks have been showcased at various exhibitions, including at depot 12_59 (Kyiv, Ukraine) and White World Gallery (Kyiv, Ukraine), 91 Galerie (Frankfurt, Germany), Milvus Artistic Research Center (Knislinge, Sweden), and Imaginart Gallery (Barcelona, Spain), among others. Additionally, she collaborated with Tamara Turliun on the project and artbook Hostynets (2022). She lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine.