Rapid Reaction Art: Ihor Husiev’s World War III
For several months, Husiev has produced a work every day. He calls it rapid reaction art. The artist has been reflecting on the influence that Russian culture had on himself and Ukrainian society at large. He has been working with illustrations in old books, elaborating on them with well-fitting witticisms, or creating new covers himself. The artist told Bird in Flight his story of making art in a city that the occupiers crave.
Ukrainian visual, performance, and installation artist and poet. Graduate of the Grekov Odessa Art School. Leader of the Art Raiders movement, founder of the Norma gallery. Exhibited since the 1990s, Husiev represents the new wave of contemporary Ukrainian art. He lives and works in Odesa.
— When the war started, I felt like an urban animal that was hunted round the clock. I found out a lot about myself and the people I know. All my usual moods, including musing and meditation, turned into rage.
I stopped working in one of my studios, the one by the sea. The view of a Russian squadron on the horizon was rather overwhelming. On the bright side, the Ukrainian language is now in vogue in Odesa, something that no one witnessed in a thousand years or so. The city has hardly any visitors, but it’s still something. They are swimming in the sea swarming with Russian mines.
Everyone has their own kind of war. A soldier has one, a volunteer, another, and an artist, yet another. My main weapon is a regard that scans reality. For all their thirst for blood, the enemy that came to our land is, in a measure, dumb and laughable. So the main task that I have been working on is to create immediate narratives. The metaphysical that I used to search for in my art before the war has been superseded by a different approach. It’s something that can be described as rapid reaction art, a phrase that in Ukrainian folds into MYSHVYR.
I stopped working in one of my studios, the one by the sea. The view of a Russian squadron on the horizon was rather overwhelming.
If I had called it ‘a matter of public interest,’ that would have sounded rather stiff, like something a Soviet pen pusher would have said. Rapid reaction art, on the other hand, is exactly what almost every Ukrainian artist is doing these days. To make such art, one requires an altered state of consciousness, the prerequisites for which are:
— air raid sirens, salvos, explosions;
— the latest news one can see from their own windows or online;
— the desire to express all that you think about this blasted war.
With all the boxes checked, hurry up, add the finishing touches, and post it online while it’s still hot and your device hasn’t died. Now we find ourselves reinterpreting virtually everything: stereotypes, patterns of human behavior, our attitude towards culture and society—and doing it in the military buddhism mode: right here, right now, under fire and bombs.
Sometimes, when curfew is days long, you have to use whatever you can find. Which is mostly old art books and literature from the nearest flea market. I don’t even view it as vandalism. Metaphorically speaking, it’s sort of a search for a new glance on a favorite Soviet movie whose director has supported the ‘special operation.’ As for canceling Russian culture at large, I’d start with adorning the Pushkin and Catherine monuments with disco balls. Stylish and fun.
Sometimes, when a curfew is days long, you have to use whatever you can find.
In Russia, I only have my friends’ friends left. But to be ready to admit that you are also to blame for all the chaotic madness that Russia has been spreading, you need to be a special kind of brave. Unfortunately, such bravery wastes away when you live in comfort. So all I can wish the Russians is to get rid of their multiple insecurities. Or rather, multiple rocket launchers.
So all I can wish the Russians is to quickly get rid of their multiple insecurities. Or rather, multiple rocket launchers.
My most powerful visual impression during the war has been the Ukrainian flag, which became a worldwide symbol of patriotism and love for freedom. Of course, it’s a trend of our time, but it’s still nice to see it be one.
The works from the World War III series were shown in Berlin, Prague, and Rome and are to be exhibited in Amsterdam, Brussels, and Vienna. I think there’ll be enough of them left to hold an exhibition in Ukraine when they come back from Europe.