The Izolyatsia Foundation
The Izolyatsia Foundation was set up in Donetsk in 2010 as a private cultural center. It was located in a large former factory of the same name in the heart of the city. It pioneered Ukraine’s transformation of abandoned industrial structures into centers of civilian life and culture. Today it has become a monument to the violence of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The Foundation was initiated by Luba Mikhailova, the daughter of the last director of the factory which closed in 2005. It was subsequently led by a team supported by companies open to collaborative ventures with the European Union, Great Britain and the United States. Ukrainian culture, broadly defined, is its impetus: over four years, it was a place for meetings, residencies, production, and diffusion. More than twenty projects were carried out, with Ukrainian artists (among them Borys Mykhailov, Roman Minin, Zhanna Kadyrova, Sasha Kurmaz, Ivan Svitlychnyi, Hamlet Zinkivskyi) and artists from other countries (such as Cai Guo-Qiang, Paul Chaney, Daniel Buren, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pascale Martine Tayou, Kader Attia). It sponsored activities such as literary gatherings, cinema programs, and participatory activities (such as the fablab for creators opened in 2013). Izolyatsia organized ambitious thematic exhibtions, from Izolyatsia 2.0 in 2010 with a group of Ukrainian artists. In 2012 alone it showcased Where is the time (organized with the French-Italian gallery Galleria Continua), Gender in IZOLYATSIA, and Turborealism (Breaking Ground). An archive of the projects undertaken by Izolyatsia is accessible at izolyatsia.org.
The Foundation has continued its work, in spite of the capture of the city by the Pro-Russians in April 2014. Then, on June 9 of that year, the separatists took over the factory and the Foundation. The factory had logistical and strategical value, and a desire for vengeance against cultural opening led to the destruction of the Foundation’s artworks and equipment and especially to its transformation into a warehouse for munitions, military materiel, and vehicles. It also became a detention center, which has been described by those who returned from it as a concentration camp. Since then it has been defined as such by local inhabitants, by the Ukrainian authorities, and by Ukrainian and international associations of human rights. Izolyatsia became the site of expeditious justice, torture, cruel treatment, and assassinations. It is a lawless zone, in spite of the pressures from humanitarian organizations and reports such as that of Stanislav Asseyev, recently translated into French by Iryna Dmytrychyn (Donbass : Un journaliste en camp raconte, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Atlande).
Today, the Foundation, which moved to Kyiv from 2014, gives on its website detailed reports on the terrible use made of its original location. It has also reported the chilling statements made by a separatist manager for whom the destruction of art is also an aim of the war. Speaking about members of the Foundation he declared: “These people are sick. They have shown what they make to other sick people. Those things will never be art. (…) The use of drugs like this kind of art should be punished. It’s pornography. This is why we can only act as we do. We couldn’t do anything other than chase these sick and crazy people out of the factory. They received millions for what they did. They trained as many people as they could. They created confusion in the minds of young people. Our young people should grow up, get married, and grow our population exponentially. It is reasonable that we have taken measures to throw this so-called art into the rubbish. [We have to] arrest them, put them in prison, they are enemies of the nation. (…) What they do has nothing to do with anything noble or sublime, with anything Slavic. These people hate everything that is Slavic or Russian.”
The Foundation has been in exile in Kyiv since 2014. It has remained in touch with the situation in Donbass, through activities and the collection of documentation, such as the interdisciplinary research project Donbass Studies. The Foundation was invited in the winter of 2014 to present a documentary installation, a day of action, and a conference at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Since then, the Foundation has developed, with the help of national and international public and private institutional support. It is located in an industrial site in Kyiv, with commercial activities (Izone), a cultural and multidisciplinary platform, and a place of residency and exhibition until the present phase of the war. The last signs of activity linked to its programming on its site date from February 21, 2022. Since that date, Izolyatsiamainly carries urgent information and requests for support to Ukraine, such as Support Ukraine Now.
An historical summary of the Foundation from the beginning up until the last developments in the 2020s is available on the site ukrainer.net (published in July 2020, with an English version).