Lia Dostlieva and Andrii Dostliev are an artistic duo from Ukraine whose artistic practice focuses on both collective and individual trauma. The artists try to understand individuality from the point of view of personal memories. Given the war in Ukraine, the works they display at the exhibition are all the more striking and difficult to digest. From this point of view, we can look at them as a real-time critique of events that are currently affecting everyone’s lives. The personal filter through which the artists use to write history traces the individuality of the stories of a toxic political context that spans several generations.
At the Chronic Desire exhibition, two older representative works of the artists and a new one produced for this event are displayed: Licking War Wounds, a performative action created and documented in between 2016 and 2021, I Still Feel Sorry When I Throw Away Food. Grandma Used to Tell Me Stories about the Holodomor from 2018, and Riding towards the Sunset, made this year.
Licking War Wounds is a performative work covering a period of five years. The work was born from a salt lamp bought in Bakhmut, the city with the largest salt mine in the former Soviet Union. After the Ukrainian army had managed to liberate the city from the occupation of the separatist terrorist organisation Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014, the residents of the city began to use salt lamps as a symbol of liberation. The performative process lasted 240 weeks, during which the artists licked the tank-shaped salt lamp until the salt completely dissolved from the structure of the object. The wooden frame that we see in the exhibition is the symbol of the ordeal suffered by the entire population, recontextualized in a performative act that describes an intimate trauma of the authors of the act. Following the public documentation of this performance, we can try to understand the artists’ suffering with the help of the historical setting in which it took place.
Also starting from a feeling of guilt, the work I Still Feel Sorry When I Throw Away Food. Grandma Used to Tell Me Stories about the Holodomor shows the anxiety over wasting food passed down from generation to generation. This could never have happened during the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine, known as the Holodomor. In order to understand this ongoing issue, this work documents the path of waste from the artists’ personal perspective, forming, together with undocumented places, a photographic collage of collective traumas in hitherto unmapped locations. The connections between the known places that the protagonists draw and the “discovered” spaces give birth to an uncertain familiarity for the viewer, as they are viewed through the artists’ personal memories.
Riding towards the Sunset, especially commissioned for Chronic Desire, addresses the issue of migration from the point of view of migration stereotypes. At the same time, it emphasizes the difficulties migrants encountered in the case of both voluntary and forced migrations. The artists look at migration through associations between words and culinary practices to give a negative description of the desire to emigrate. One of the most common terms in the former Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, the sausage migration, was used derogatorily to label emigrants who had no other motivation for leaving than to seek material freedom.
Documentation as an artistic practice identifies personal criteria applied to clearly defined historical events, addressing the traumas and emotions they defined. Such traumas can help us form our own opinion about the immediate past and discover the historical truth in the people’s approach of the events, be they involved in them or merely their observers.