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«Impreza» as doubts of the interseasonal period

This text by Yuriy Andruhovych was first published in 1995. And it's time to reread it

«Impreza» as doubts of the interseasonal period

The current time looks rather unattractive. However, such is the fate of all the people in today’s world — to look tough, frightful, furious, etc. They arise as beautiful only from the past (in utopian systems, sometimes — from the future), in any case — when it comes to times in which we do not exist and, therefore, times that do not exist at all.

Yet this current time has surpassed all the standards of filth of current times.

We have merged with this feeling almost symbiotically, at the biological level, a little more and we will lack it for normal blood circulation, for example. We are convinced that the time in which we live is very vile, and this opens up boundless opportunities for us to be vile ourselves in order not to look anachronistic. Life is sad and terrible, the people around us are treacherous and evil and the prices are unreal, nine out of ten people think this way, although this does not mean that the tenth one does not think so either, at least occasionally. Under such circumstances, an attempt is made to introduce the imposing word «Impreza» into the generally accepted unattractiveness of the current time. So far, it’s only a word — not the action as such. After all, as people with philological consciousness (and Oksana Zabuzhko asserts that we are all people with philological consciousness, even those of us who do not know what it is), so, because of our philological consciousness, we would have to worship not the action (it is just inaccessible to us) but the word, a separate word, any word, after all. So let the «Impreza» be such a word for us. This word is essentially magical because it belongs to the category of words with the help of which, by pronouncing, whispering, repeating, singing, etc., it is possible to supposedly (and I believe in this «supposedly») change for the better not only the world, neglected and destroyed for unknown reasons, but also the current time itself, which we unanimously consider disgusting. «I will not survive this winter,» — said a semi-crazy hobo from a social canteen in Kyiv, a chronically degrading man, who used to be close to the Writers’ Association and the Institute of Literature. «I will not survive the current time,» — I heard from his mouth, although, one must admit that the phrase sounds rather absurd.

And so we survived this winter and spring has come. And, as a result, we have gathered here to say it out loud: the «Impreza». The very fact of such a meeting, in my opinion, suggests a certain threat. I would like this to become a rescue action. Maybe, it is even artificial respiration. Carried out successfully and in time, artificial respiration usually restores natural breathing. In time — for us it means in the current time, and it’s only up to us whether there is any chance of the future and more specifically: will there be the fourth «Impreza»?

Why do I ask this question? In order to answer it, I will try (as far as I can) to redirect my consciousness — from the philological dimension to the historical one. I will try to act as a sort of chronicler and look through the history of the «Impreza» biennale in all the previous (great) times, but as it is impossible to embrace the unembraceable, I will focus only on one aspect, so insignificant that we, free Cossacks and esthetes, should not care about it, namely the interaction of the «Impreza» with the surrounding society. Or I will say more specifically: was the «Impreza» wanted by our twice-renamed Stanislav, including its authorities (apparent and hidden/real), its structures, cultures, corridors, intelligentsia, creative intelligentsia (because these are different things), the community, the public, the population and the masses?

«Impreza», Part 1, 1989. That was a wonderful time in a classical sense! The authorities were still old and the situation was already new: the singing revolution, a carnival of rallies, the triumph of slogans, a political theater (theater in the highest sense, where they played for life or death), any mass gathering could be used one way or another. The authorities still wanted to be liked, desperately clutching for compromises and, although they regarded the «Impreza» as something very dubious, they still supported and allowed this «mass cultural event», financed it, provided premises and free Pepsi-Cola and overlooked the presence of a few suspicious-looking foreigners in a city that was still closed at that time. The public was overwhelmed with excitement, seeing the «Impreza», first of all, as another occasion to raise the national flag (both literally and figuratively). The exhibition halls were crowded, the reactions were heated. Wide publicity and full success (once again, I do not touch upon a purely artistic aspect here, only the social one).

«Impreza», Part 2, 1991. Social movements were still active, however, they were moving to their happy end: few weeks later, a referendum would be held and everything would be in the right place. The power saw already different, the language and the flag were legitimated, moreover, the government, the language and the flag were headed by … one of the initiators of the «Impreza»! That was the time when dreams came true. The Gartenberg Passage became the center of a sensational opening (never mind that it was not repaired but rather patched, as Yaroslav Dovhan said). Crowds of intrigued locals, mostly young ones. Bohemian visitors from Ukraine and from abroad. Chamber music, dancing clowns, illumination, rich cultural program for the first few days. Increased attention from the mass media. Everything worked, it was again a success. Everything stopped a week later. The raising of flags exhausted itself. Exhibition halls were getting empty, even the one in the Garthenberg Passage that exactly at that time became and still is the object of fight of intrigues that have much to do with politics. That was the time when the first accusations were uttered: the «elite» organized the «Impreza» for themselves;

the artists deprived our children of a happy childhood (as the Passage used to host the central children’s shop in the city), instead, they were exhibiting their daub in it. Provinciality rebelled and won.

«Impreza», Part 3, 1993. It was held just to be held, to prevent the rupture of the initial idea of the biennale. It was held but, in fact, it was evicted. It was outside the historical center and beyond the events that everybody in the city knew and spoke about. However, the authorities (different ones again) provided a brass band for the opening ceremony and even a secret hall for banquets, yet for their more than ephemeral goal — which for some reason was called the «development of the country» — they had already found better, although more expensive toys like the World Hutsul Congress, for instance. Moreover, from the point of view of politicization, each subsequent biennale was more and more „lacking ideas». And we could even be proud of this phenomenon as a proof of an ever growing acquisition of internal freedom by all of us. Without it there is no art, no creative act, pure, free, involuntary and senseless in its own way. But what can we do? To hold such large-scale events as the «Imprezas» were considered to be, this internal freedom was not enough. Someone has to pay for priests, brass bands, hotels and coffee with sandwiches!..

The current time — and this is its inherent quality — always tries to convince us of the uselessness of art. Our current time does it like no other.

For example, I am the author of three useless collections of poems and two useless novels, I am currently working for a useless magazine (the current time needs no description and, therefore, the magazine seems superfluous), but I’m stubborn and dream of publishing one more, not less useless magazine, thus accumulating this pile of uselessness for God knows what. To me, this uselessness seems to be almost the greatest virtue. For, if something useless still exists in this world, it is inevitable. And inevitable means necessary. That’s how I came up with an excuse for myself.

But in the case with the «Impreza», I would rather talk about its usefulness. After all, we have all gathered here, as I understand, to find a way for it to go on. To justify this usefulness, I will give five simple answers to five simple questions. I’ll formulate the questions straight away. They are all about the same thing, but they surround me in concentric circles.

 

1) Why do I need the «Impreza»? Sounds too egocentric, so I hastily correct myself: 2) Why do my friends need the «Impreza»? Here I mean the closer and the more distant circle, the identified and the unidentified, the dead, the living and the unborn. 3) Why does my city need the «Impreza»? 4) Why does my (our) country need the «Impreza»? 5) Why does the whole world need the «Impreza”?

If I am lucky enough to give more or less satisfactory answers to these questions, then you may consider this cause saved. Clearly, not the cause of my doubts. So, I’ll start with myself. Why do I need the «Impreza»? Because I am a resident of this city, attached to it with everything you can imagine, including family mysticism, I am not going to leave it, it brings me a personal bunch of masochistic pleasures and it is in my best interest to make this city widely known as the host city of the «Impreza» and not as the city with a queer monument to Ivan Franko.

Why do my friends need the «Impreza»? Because they created with joint efforts an environment here, it seems that for the first time in the history (of this city? this land? — I do not know!) it’s about something real, they have charged this environment with high «voltage», but they have no right to be stuck in it, to isolate themselves (to be isolated) at the level of a «regional center» and, eventually, become boring to each other and to themselves in the extremely tight quadrangles of death outlined by the coffee houses in the city center.

Why does my city need the «Impreza»? First of all — for «bringing back colors». There is a myth that five and a half decades ago, this city was quite colorful and interesting. Then it was painted grey by force (how else?). People got used to accounting for this greyness by provinciality, although according to all European standards, normal provinciality is by no means a disadvantage and stands not for peripherality or narrow mind or backwardness but for originality and uniqueness, that is for colorfulness. I dream that this city will be able to break the circles of spell. So far, all the initiatives, starting from a good independent magazine and up to a good independent pub, have faded away. Now I’m taking a breath because we are coming to the most important or rather the most global aspect.

Why does Ukraine need the «Impreza»? Besides the obvious point that this country is in a vital need of any new creative initiative in general, the «Impreza» is also a chance. Because the above mentioned peripherality must be overcome by us together — the country as a whole and each of us in particular.

Ukraine will cease to be the cultural periphery of the world, when its cities cease to be the cultural periphery of Ukraine and world-level phenomena flare up not only in Kyiv.

Why does the world need the „Impreza”? I think, first of all, to prove the principle of communicating vessels. We are interdependent and interconnected — this old truth borders on truism but that’s the way it is. The creative idea of a «Paris city» faded about a decade after the end of World War II, when the flow of personalities and ideas from Eastern Europe was interrupted. This is only one example. I dare say that the Peruvians, Egyptians or Swedes who sent their graphics to each of the previous «Imprezas» did not give but rather took something for themselves. The Japanese, who understand and know everything in the world, clearly confirmed this presumption. The «Impreza» is needed by the world as another opportunity for great geographic discoveries in culture.

But how can we fit it into the unattractive current time? What form can we find for it? Is it possible to turn it into a continuous interseasonal phenomenon? Maybe, we should only keep the spirit of it: lots of small „Imprezas”, miniature exhibitions in suitable and inappropriate premises, courtyards and dwellings, «apartment events», poetry soirees for five listeners, performances for casual passers-by, mobile street theater — maximal minimalism, minimal maximalism, secret festival without end or beginning, art for art’s sake? I do not know the answers and I hope it is not so important. One way or another — the main thing is happening inside of us.

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