Pavlo Makov was born in 1958 in Saint-Petersburg (then Leningrad), but his family moved to Ukraine when he was three years old and he has Ukrainian nationality. He is a graduate of the College of Art in Crimea, of the department of painting of Simferopol, of the Academy of the Arts of Saint-Petersburg, and of the Institute of Arts and Industry of Kharkiv.
He has participated in many international exhibitions and has received many prizes: Graphic Arts Biennale (Kaliningrad, Russia, 1990, 1992 et 1998), 6th International Biennale of Print and Drawing (Taipei, Taiwan, 1993), Osaka Triennale 94 (Osaka, Japan, 1994), National Print Triennale 97 (Kyiv, Ukraine, 1997), etc. In 2009, he received the Silver Medal of the Ukrainian Academy of Art. He has participated in many projects in Ukraine and abroad, and his works are in museums in Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States, among others.
Until very recently, he lived and worked in Kharkiv (Ukraine). For a long time, he said he would not leave Kharkiv but in March, he left Ukraine by car, with his wife and his elderly mother, for Vienna, and then Venice.
His artistic philosophy can be summed up as follows: “Our place is somewhere between being and non-being, between two fictions.” The sentence is a quote from Aveux et anathèmes (“Confessions and Anathemas”, 1986), by the stateless Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran (1911-1995). Makov’s drawings are created with graphite pencils, color pencils, as well as aquarelle and intaglio etchings, which he may use several times in a single work. He generally uses large sheets of paper. His basic artistic vocabulary is mostly composed of cities organized like genealogical trees, constructivist Mappae Mundi or horizontal Babylons, which are closer to Hell than to Paradise and seem plunged into a deathly silence.
They are not simply imaginary cities. It is important to see in these images of ruined infrastructure, which are typical of post-soviet cities, neglected public spaces where constant interruptions of the water supply have helped to destroy public fountains and create an atmosphere of dilapidation. Makov has long been interested in watery places, insofar as they encourage links between people when they are maintained: rivers around which cities are established, fountains at which people gather, and lakes where they can enjoy themselves. However, today, these are the places where we see the depletion of natural resources, physical and psychic exhaustion following the pandemic, social media fatigue, and the losses from wars.
Makov denounces these places that have become non-places, in which individuals are under the surveillance of cameras that follow their movements. He pays attention to the monotonous buildings which their inhabitants use simply to sleep and to leave for their work. In their monotony, they become invisible: “The question is not the extent to which each site does not coincide with the existing site of those who inhabit it, but the extent to which these two sites can effectively coincide.”
The Fountain of Exhaustion
One of Makov’s major works can be found at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. Inaugurated on April 19, The Fountain of Exhaustion represents Ukraine in the country’s pavilion. [LIEN A PHOTO DE L’OEUVRE] It is composed of 78 copper funnels placed in the form of a pyramid on a wall over three meters high by three meters wide. Each funnel has two spouts from which the water flows to the funnels below. Only a few drops reach the bottom of the pyramid.
This work is the reworking of a work conceived in 1995 to signify the feeling of exhaustion in Kharkiv in the 1990s. In that year, the city suffered a series of floods after weeks of drought. The destruction caused by these phases of drought and storms, following the economic collapse in the wake of the breakup of the USSR, was interpreted by Pavlo Makov as a symptom of general exhaustion of the environment, of society and of humanity.
Makov has since made other versions, which were exhibited in 2004 and 2017, one of which was composed of more than 200 funnels. Because the 1995 work was damaged by the bombings in Kharkiv, the funnels were recovered for the new work exhibited at the Biennale, with a much wider meaning. “Exhaustion” refers to Ukraine, its soldiers, its population, and its authorities, as well as the artist himself. Exhaustion obviously does not mean renouncement. It stands rather for an overall fatigue in the face of the difficulty of arriving at a specific goal. The fact that a few drops succeed in reaching the bottom of the pyramid clearly indicates that it is possible to resist exhaustion. Resistance will carry the day, in one way or another, however long it takes. The work shows that the Ukrainian pavilion can face adversity. For the Biennale’s curators, it embodies the courage and dignity of an entire people standing up to those who seek to wipe it off the map.
Today, exhaustion and resistance are that of an entire people. “It is a sad metaphor of the situation,” says Pavlo Makov, aware that he is participating in the name of art in the reconstitution of a Ukrainian culture that will have to be engaged in after the war, even if “art isn’t an antidote, but a diagnosis of the state of the world,” he added.
The work almost wasn’t shown. When Ukraine was invaded, the curators of the Ukrainian pavilion at the Biennale announced on Instagram that the pavilion could not open. But Venice presented a unique opportunity, and on March 1, the team announced, again on Instagram, “We will do everything possible to save the unique artwork produced by Pavlo Makov (...) and to represent Ukraine in the international contemporary art scene the way it deserves to be represented.” In mid-March, when Ukraine, invaded by the troops of Vladimir Putin, became daily more chaotic, the curators confirmed their participation with this statement: “In times like this, the representation of Ukraine at the exhibition is more important than ever. When the sheer right to existence for our culture is being challenged by Russia, it is crucial to demonstrate our achievements to the world.”
Because flights had been cancelled and communication was difficult, it was not possible to transport the work to Venice as had been planned. Because of the war, one of the curators, Maria Lanko, adapted her plans. The day of the invasion, she put the funnels in three cartons, put them in her car, and drove through Ukraine for six days and nights, seeking the safest route in order to protect them. Once she arrived in Vienna, the cartons were shipped to Milan. There, the base for the work, which could not be transported, was rebuilt in the artist’s presence, before being transported to Venice. Articles on these events can be found on Artshelp (April 3, 2022) and the New York Times (April 18, 2022) and in Maria Lanko’s interview at the end of February on Artmargins.
Paradoxically, the conveyance of the artwork under such unusual condition underscores the positive aspect of the work: not “exhaustion” (the loss of water, from funnel to funnel) but resilience (the fact that, in spite of everything, some drops reach their final destination). Putin’s bombs failed to destroy the work.
The work of the curators and the artist
The curators and the artist (from left to right, Borys Filonenko, Lizaveta German, Maria Lanko and Pavlo Makov) see in the artwork presented in Venice the exhaustion of the planet which has become that of a people. In their eyes, Makov does not simply denounce Putin and his offensive, he also denounces the naivete – or the cynicism – of the West, which does not dare to face the dictator. “Democracies are not ready to defend themselves,” insists the artist, before adding, “Listen, everyone reacted after Tiananmen and then what? They kept doing business with China. Because money decides everything. Your president, Macron, is stupid to want to argue with Putin. You don’t discuss with a thief and a bandit!” Because part of his family is in Ukraine, he feels exasperation, anger, hate and fatigue. “For the last eight years we have been at war, and nobody cared. Now, it’s too late to be interested in us.
Website: Pavlo Makov
Gallery in Kyiv : The naked room
59th Venice Biennale. Arsenale Campo de la Tana. April23-November 27, 2022.