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NIKITA TITOV: «I THINK A NEW PACIFIC WILL APPEAR AFTER THE WAR—A WORLD WITHOUT THE TWO-HEADED EAGLE»

A conversation with Nikita Titov, a poster artist from Kharkiv, about Ivano-Frankivsk, exhibitions of Ukrainian artists abroad, and new anti-war posters

Translated by Tania Rodionova

NIKITA TITOV: «I THINK A NEW PACIFIC WILL APPEAR AFTER THE WAR—A WORLD WITHOUT THE TWO-HEADED EAGLE»

Nikita Titov is a poster artist. He was born in Estonia, moved to Kharkiv during his school years and graduated from the Art and Graphic Faculty of Kharkiv National Pedagogical University. Titov lived and worked in Kyiv and Kharkiv. In March 2022, he moved to Ivano-Frankivsk, which he considers his third favorite city in Ukraine.

We met Nikita at Mickiewicz Square, one of his favorite places in Ivano-Frankivsk, and talked about his impressions of the city and people, as well as his creative projects and plans.


You have been living in Ivano-Frankivsk for 7 months already. Please share your impressions. How has the city changed for you during this time?

When I first got to Ivano-Frankivsk, I felt that this city was very close in mood. I feel at home here. One of the advantages of staying in Ivano-Frankivsk is its compactness, which gives you extra time for living. I think that’s why the rhythm here is calm and unhurried, and not turbulent and fast, as it usually is in megacities. Here you can have time to do everything you planned for the day, and there is still some time to rest.

Secondly, for me, Ivano-Frankivsk is an incredible city considering its architecture. I really like Soviet constructivism in Kharkiv and interwar Polish functionalism in Ivano-Frankivsk. I really enjoy walking along Pavlyka, Franka, and Hriunvaldska Streets. I was even lucky enough to go inside some of the houses and now I understand how architects in the 1920s-1930s planned those buildings: to be functional and comfortable for their residents.

There is plenty of incredible architecture in Ivano-Frankivsk, but it’s not abundant here so that it is oppressive for the viewer.

In one of your interviews, you said that «Architecture is the confession of generations in stone.» And what do the Ivano-Frankivsk generations confess?

Speaking of architecture, Ivano-Frankivsk has Austrian, Polish and, in my opinion, very interesting Soviet architecture. Looking at the Soviet houses, I think that the architects of that time were patriots of their city, as they tried to preserve the ensembles of streets and squares, forming an interesting combination with that very Austrian and Polish architecture. Sometimes Soviet houses emphasize the beauty of an old nearby building with their rhythm and architectural solutions. I have not encountered such things before either in Kharkiv or in other cities of Ukraine, where there is also a lot of Soviet architecture. Because there, those buildings are usually merciless, too pompous, or sometimes unsuitable. I even enjoy the local «Khrushchevkas» dressed in gray plaster coats, which makes them look quite elegant. Also, the combination of Soviet architecture with the Hutsul style is an interesting and unusual solution.

So, speaking of the «confession» of the Soviet generation in architecture: despite all the horrors of that time, I see that people in Ivano-Frankivsk tried to preserve a good face of the city.

However, if we talk about the «confession» of modern architects, then it is not a confession, but a fucking bullshit. Of course, there are quite good modern architectural solutions that are relevant. But looking at modern buildings in the center of Ivano-Frankivsk, in particular, those on Shevchenka Street or near the Town Hall hurts me a lot. I simply can’t understand why they had to build such tasteless things, which will hopefully be demolished or rebuilt in the future.

In general, I’m very concerned about the future reconstruction of all the Ukrainian cities, which will certainly take place after our Victory. I really want architects from abroad to help us do this. And I would suggest architects become mayors capable of creating a concept of development, functionality and image of the city.

Finally, if Ivano-Frankivsk and other cities understand what «confession» in architecture they are passing on to the next generations, I hope they themselves will demolish everything they have built.

Yes, unfortunately, modern architecture is not famous for either functionalism or reliability for the ages, like Polish or Austrian architecture. But let’s get back to your impressions of Ivano-Frankivsk, in particular of its people. How do you find the people of Ivano-Frankivsk?

A city is about people. Apart from the architecture, the city is primarily formed by the community of its inhabitants, thanks to which it breathes. I know that some people from other Ukrainian cities are jealous of the Ivano-Frankivsk residents. Because there is a unique density of kind, sensitive, intelligent, and interesting people here. Here, a powerful artistic core of the city’s vitality has been formed: in the Drama Theater, Vagabundo art space or other, less known cultural venues.

Do people recognize you on the streets of Ivano-Frankivsk?

Recently, people I’ve never met before started to recognize and greet me. For me, it’s a bit weird and unusual, but I understand, it’s a peculiarity of a small city. On the one hand, I have many new friends and acquaintances now. But on the other hand, here I feel I’m always in sight.

Photo by Rostyslav Shpuk

This can be called one of the disadvantages of living in Ivano-Frankivsk. Have you discovered any other negative aspects of living in this city?

Of course, my first impressions of Ivano-Frankivsk have changed a little during the time I’ve been here. Because at first, I saw only good things. Ivano-Frankivsk is considered a Christian city, but at the same time, it is a little «perverted».

For example, in Kharkiv or Kyiv, I got used to the fact that one can just be friends with a woman, treating her as a person and a friend, and no one cares about that. And when you are friends with a woman in Ivano-Frankivsk, certain suspicions appear, and people make up their own stories about your friendship.

That is they are gossiping.

Yes. And it’s by no means a bonus of the city.

Because for the city to still breathe freely, people should not feel dependent on someone’s opinion and be afraid of it.

By the way, in Ivano-Frankivsk, I miss freaks, people who are free in both their external and internal manifestations. For my artistic eye, there is a lack of bright and atypical manifestations of originality in the clothes of the Ivano-Frankivsk people who are elegant, but very restrained.

In fact, people across Ukraine know very little about Ivano-Frankivsk. Because now I have become an ambassador of Ivano-Frankivsk, so to say, and I tell everyone how cool it is here. In addition to all the advantages I have already mentioned, the city has an extremely developed restaurant business, which gives a great advantage from the tourism point of view. I found only two places where I didn’t like it and this is nothing. By the way, the prices here are very attractive. Although, if many tourists come here, it won’t be cheap anymore.

Let’s talk about your creative work. You already had many projects in Ivano-Frankivsk. Those were collaborations with the Drama Theater, VJ group CUBE, as well as the Patterns exhibition at the Vagabundo art space. Your recent projects in Ivano-Frankivsk are a Wings installation in the Museum of Local History and a solo exhibition of posters near the city hall. Tell us more about them.

I’m grateful to the Center for Contemporary Art and city authorities who supported me and agreed to exhibit 30 of my posters in front of the city council building. This is a public exhibition that exists on its own: there were no announcements and I did not invite anyone. One can still visit it because soon the posters will be dismantled.

I’m proud that Valerii Tverdokhlib invited me to participate in the project titled God is Among Us! Let’s Win Together! where I exhibited my Wings installation. It was then, during the creation of the installation, that I felt great pain because of the death of Roman Ratushnyi, a son of my friend Svitlana Povaliaeva.

For me, Roman was a person who was identified with the future of Ukraine. He should develop our country. After all, during his short life, Roman managed to change many things for the better, and his actions continue to live thanks to other people. His death at the battlefront is a great pain and an irreparable loss for everyone. Wings is a dedication to Roman and all the soldiers and civilians who died in the war.

Do you plan any further projects in Ivano-Frankivsk, perhaps together with local artists?

I would be interested in creating some murals in Ivano-Frankivsk. I recently saw a photo taken by Rostyslav Shpuk, it depicted a local building with an almost ready composition of a mural, it only needs to be finished a little. If I found a few more such places on Ivano-Frankivsk houses, then, without violating anything, I would add a bit to the existing images.

Would you paint murals yourself with a brush?

Unfortunately, I have too many health issues for such work. That’s why, I would rather cooperate with local artists who would paint, and I would create a sketch for the mural. I would like to implement such a collaboration or be invited to take part in it.

Do you feel like a part of the local «artistic gang»? Are you comfortable being part of it?

I’m a part of the «gang of good people». In general, I don’t divide people according to their activities. I’m interested in people themselves, how nice, smart and interesting they are. And, of course, how pro-Ukrainian they are. In Ivano-Frankivsk, I found myself surrounded by people who met all my criteria.

You have now joined the project of the Ukrainian Veterans Fund titled People of Different Professions Wear Uniforms under the hashtag «Callsign Ukraine». Please tell us more about this project. Do you find the stories of people based on which you create your posters, or are they offered to you?

I was approached by girls from the Ukrainian Veterans Fund, they wanted me to create a series of drawings for sale on NFT platforms, the money for which would go to the needs of the military. But when we understood how NFT works, we came to the conclusion that I’m not the kind of artist who could implement the NFT project. It was then that I came up with an idea to create a project dedicated to all military personnel who, until February 24, lived like ordinary people, without any special education or skills. Because now you could never tell whether the person who serves you in a coffee shop today won’t defend the state with a weapon in their hands in a few weeks. Anyone can become a warrior tomorrow. And I wanted to tell others about them. Therefore, all the stories of people in the project titled People of Different Professions Wear Uniforms are real, some of them I have heard myself and some are written down from the stories of my acquaintances. We have to capture them for the future.

Plus, I think this project could work well for a foreign audience. Because foreigners need to see that Ukraine is defended by people who are just like them: a kindergarten teacher, a violinist, a school teacher, and others. And not the mythical Nazi fascists invented by Russian propaganda.

«Projects have a beginning, but they have no end,»—that’s how you characterize the cycles of your poster works. Which of them do you come back to most often now?

To the Lullaby project. Since the beginning of the war in 2014, the followers of my Facebook page have mostly been volunteers, soldiers, and doctors, who since then have been living in the constant tension of the war. I wanted to simply wish them «good night» with my drawings, posting something nice on the network so that they could relieve themselves. Now, this is relevant for all Ukrainians, which is why I keep coming back to Lullaby.

Would you like to eventually finish any of the projects?

I have an old project titled Diaries—about my depression at that time—which hopefully has already been finished. I really don’t want this disease to bother me in the future.

It seems that the Russian-Ukrainian war has changed the approach to anti-war posters: if after World War II, they were mostly calls for peace, doves and all that stuff, now we are stating that peace is possible only if the Ukrainian army is supported.

During World War II, there were many different posters. There were calls to kill the enemy, both from Germans and Communists.

Among all the images, I have one that I hate the most. This is the sign of the pacifists, a circle with a dove’s foot inside. When it is drawn by foreign artists, hell with it, but when it’s drawn by Ukrainians, it just pisses me off. Once I literally said to an American curator «fuck off» when she asked me to depict a peace sign in one of my works. We really need to support each other now and do everything we can to bring our victory closer, including the language of the poster.

For us, peace means Victory and, unfortunately, its price is terrible.

I think that after the war, a new peace sign will appear—the world without a double-headed eagle.

Please tell us about the international projects in which you had a chance to participate in the last 7 months.

I don’t count how many times I have participated in international exhibitions. My creative ambitions are not directed abroad. I consider myself a Ukrainian artist and I’m interested in the exhibitions and projects that take place here. Besides, my posters are available online, where they are seen by a much larger audience than at any exhibition.

The only thing I’m really proud of is that many of my works are used by the Ukrainian community abroad during campaigns in support of Ukraine.

I guess this shows that your thoughts expressed on the posters are coherent with the thoughts of Ukrainians abroad.

I think it is harder for Ukrainians abroad now than it is for us in Ukraine.

During the Maidan Uprising in 2014, it was scary everywhere in Ukraine, except, the very Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). And now the Maidan has become the size of the country because everyone is fighting.

And it adds, I think, more confidence and peace than being abroad, far from home. This distance gives people more pain than comfort.

In your opinion, for whom do Ukrainian artists hold exhibitions abroad: for a Western audience, Ukrainians abroad, or rather for themselves?

First of all, Ukrainian artists do this for themselves. In the way that this is an important part of fighting for Ukraine on the information and culture fronts. An artist who is not on the frontline can make their creative statement on the war, on what Ukrainians feel and think and convey these messages abroad. This is their contribution to victory.

In general, cultural diplomacy is a very important and necessary part of fighting for the state. And Ukrainians are gravely lacking it. We need to diversify the artistic language of expression we use abroad to tell about Ukraine from various angles as much as possible. We need to tell not only about the current war and our pain but about everything. Because right now there are favorable conditions for presenting and discovering diverse Ukraine on international platforms.

Should Ukrainian artists during the war cooperate or interact in public with Russian artists abroad in order to promote Ukraine?

No. I think such interaction is possible in 300 years when Russians will be called something else, Russia will no longer exist, and a completely different generation of people will emerge there. Because everything they have done and they continue to do to us is unforgivable.

As for «good Russians», I have the same attitude towards this phenomenon as the majority of Ukrainians. I don’t think they even exist. Because, one way or another, they were all born or brought up in the imperialist system. Even if there is a Russian outside Russia who seems to be sane, when there are three such Russians, then the «Russian world» begins and they start to think and act differently.

The only useful and necessary thing for us now is to have more Russians in Russia who will shake the empire from the inside until it collapses. Such Russians can be conventionally called «good».

After the recent bombardments of Ukraine, many people write that the fear they felt was similar to that of February 24. Actually, you were in Kyiv then. What were your feelings?

I no longer had any surprise or fear as it was in February or early March. Because now, like everyone else, I’m clearly aware: even though I’m far from the frontline, I live in a country where there is a war. That’s why in Kyiv I just kept drawing since there are no bomb shelters near my apartment.

Has Kyiv changed for you over the past 8 months and which way?

Yes, the city has changed. In Kyiv, the number of cars on the roads has decreased, this is especially noticeable after the recent bombardments. Also, power shortages and savings will bring additional changes as many people need electricity for their work.

At the same time, the people of Kyiv, like the people of Kharkiv, or all Ukrainians are invincible. Russians can destroy a city with missiles, but they can never destroy such people. Every day, Ukrainians prove to the whole world that they cannot be conquered.

Main photo by Liliia Lylyk

Translated by Tania Rodionova

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