Inspiration

Toy Stories: Yuriy Bolsa’s Childhood Monuments

Soon after the start of Russia's invasion, Yuriy Bolsa went to the village where he had spent his early childhood. There the artist created a series called "Toy monuments." These are black sculptures from wood and cloth featuring toy soldiers, children's books, and other items. Yuriy spoke to Bird in Flight about escaping the war, fighting anxiety, and reliving childhood traumas.
Yuriy Bolsa Age 25

A self-taught artist working with painting, drawing, and collage. Born in Chervonohrad, Lvov region. A graduate of the local trade school, where he studied to be an "computer typing and layout operator." Had works exhibited in Ukraine and Europe. Lives and works in Kyiv.

— My strongest impression was on February 24: first you hear explosions, then an air raid siren, and then, total silence. It’s as if everything has frozen, and no one dares to move. About a week later I heard an explosion very close to my home, but it wasn’t a big projectile. Then a man cried. I looked out of the window and saw him on the ground. He was wounded. Some people ran up to him and started first aid. It all was accompanied by cries of pain and attempts to calm him in the nightly silence. I saw a drone above. It was flying right in front of the house opposite mine.

The only way to fight anxiety for me is to work, trying to keep my usual pace and planning my future projects. Although I was only anxious during the first days, and then it pretty much passed: it’s just how I look at life in general. I no longer have fear of being killed or worry about the future. I just went on working, and then went to bed to the sounds of explosions and sirens, indifferent and hopeless.

I no longer have fear of being killed or worry about the future.

The war has had little impact on my daily life because it is closely connected to art, and I continued doing art from day one. First, in the studio, and then, in my apartment, when I couldn’t get into the studio any longer. Time went on, and that art became dishonest, sort of the same you would see on posters: my first paintings were my response to explosions and air raid sirens, but then I grew calmer and just painted anything war-related. It barely felt honest, so I stopped. And that’s how I spent three weeks, in egoistic ruminations not about my country but about my own art’s fate and future, with moments of fear and panic.

And that’s how I spent three weeks, in egoistic ruminations not about my country but about my own art’s fate and future.

Later, I took part in the evacuation of several hundred paintings, by myself and multiple other artists, to a safe place. It took us a week and a half. I was stressed and lost because I had never done anything like that before, needed to speak with many people in many places, and was responsible for organizing the evacuation. I am not a social animal, so it felt just awful. So I simply didn’t have any time or energy left to be afraid of the war. When I saw two cars with paintings to the safe place, I went to the village where I was born. I started a new project there.

It was the village where I spent the first five years of my life. My escape there was like a small child hiding behind their mother. But the reason why I had to hide in the first place did not disappear: it is still here, right in front of me. Since this war makes me feel like a child, it would be odd if I decided to create something serious, brutal, and adult.

This war makes me feel like a child, so it would be odd if I decided to create something serious, brutal, and adult.

The first thing I did was look through my childhood toys and books. It pushed me even deeper into being a child and brought up memories of so many events and traumas from those times. All those things were like monuments and memorials. I felt as if I were an old person passing by the World War II memorial. Now my childhood memories in my head are dusted with wartime psychosis.

I eventually decided to make toy memorials using toys and books from my childhood. Because, you know, if you see a photo of a destroyed city, the first thing you notice is this or that monument amidst the ruins. When I emptied out all the boxes with my toys on the ground, some were broken. And I just saw, in my head, the image of bombed Mariupol from above.

Two months ago I came back to Kyiv. I am working in the same conditions in which I used to work before. The only thing that changed is that now on my way to the studio I pass the damaged house and factory. Coming back to normal life is an ambiguous matter for me. Norm is not something static, so its change is also a norm that needs to be accepted. People from countries where hostilities have been taking place for years consider these circumstances normal and just go on with their lives with war happening around them.

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