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Metod Fund: Reshape the institutions!

Based in Kiev, Method Fund was founded in 2015 by a diverse group of artists, curators, critics, architects and educators. Their founders — Lada Nakonechna, Olga Kubli, Tetiana Endshpil, Ivan Melnichuk, Denis Pankratov and Kateryna Badianova — describe it as an experimental self-educational project, focused on searching the form of an art institution that would meet the requirements of the present as well as the peculiarities of the local context. We’ve met via zoom with Lada on one screen and Olga, Ivan and Tetiana on the other, to talk about their views on institutional experimenting and reshaping.

To begin with, could you briefly introduce us to your organization?

Lada: Method Fund is an institution based in Kiev. We started working together in 2015 and our main focus is educational and research projects. There are six of us in the organization, I’m here with three of my colleagues, Olga Kubli, Tetiana Endshpil and Ivan Melnichuk, and we’re missing Denis Pankratov and Kateryna Badianova.

Olga: We all work in the art field, but we are not all artists, we come from different backgrounds. We are interested in research programs and finding new ways of communication, looking at what the institutions can be and how they can work. 

We don’t know the answer, are just looking and trying to find out.

You describe Method Fund as an experimental self educational project. Can you elaborate on it, what is actually Method Fund and why did you initiate it?

Olga: We initiated it because here, in Ukraine we saw in what context we are and we realized  that we are not happy about it. We didn't want to be a part of any institution, so it was time to organize ourselves, our own institution. But we didn’t know what that institution should be, and that’s why it is experimental. We are trying to work out some principles, some procedures, and trying to realize how it can be satisfying for ourselves and for the local context. We are trying to see what is good for us and share it with others.

Tetiana: If you couldn’t find the right institution around, you should lead one of them! That is why we started.

Lada: We started from the research of the cultural sphere. We are practitioners, we worked quite long in Ukraine but we understood that all initiatives that rose just disappeared short after. In Ukraine, it is common that cultural activities always start from the beginning and then disappear. The question for us was how to make a long term initiative or institution that could be stable, which will also reflect on the ways it is operating, not just to initiate projects and then stop once the access to financing is lost. The question for us was how to make this stable group - but not really a group - of people who can also change within. We wanted to work on the basic questions: how different people could find the common principles on which this institution could work. That was our first aim and the first question we were discussing in the group. Projects we started were mainly educational and research based, and they are long term: there is an educational project and a series of seminars called Course of Art, which is a half-year course for a group of artists. We also have a web project or a web publication called Creating Ruin.

The Method Fund was initiated by a diverse group of people and you mentioned that you are trying to find some principles that you could build your organization upon. Can you tell us a bit more about those principles - how do you all work together?

Lada: First of all, the culture as we understand it is not based in one or two media. This might sound funny to the international community, but in Ukraine it is still a problem: the painters work with painters, for example, musicians are working only in a sphere of music, etc. We are really open to the culture as itself, and to the art which could use different ways of expressing. Although I think it’s important to mention this, it's not the main point. The main point is the horizontal structure, where we could care about each other and each other's needs; to care about the time and how we work, so we are not based on projects that structure the artfield now. We wanted to make the long term projects which are growing and developing in time. That is crucial. We also don’t want to be tied to one idea but rather always question it and reshape it. We want to challenge these ideas and see if they could really work long-term, can we develop them or change them in reaction to the new needs or new context. That’s why we say that we are a context based institution. We don’t want only to reflect but rather to change according to the context - if it changes to feel how it changes.

Ivan: I would like to add that we started the Fund and we are all working together not just for our needs but for the needs of everyone who is trying to find new ways of communication and culture in Ukraine. 

The contextualisation of contemporary art, either from social or from theoretical perspective, seems to occupy an important place in your projects. Some of them are aimed at researching socialist heritage. Why did you consider that part of your history important, and why is it significant for contemporary art?

Lada: Ukraine has a different history than other post-soviet countries, where socialist period wasn’t so long and so strict; this period changed our culture completely. After Soviet Union collapsed, artists wanted just to forget about that time, and to “play freely” in the contemporary art sphere, but it doesn't really work, as we see that now by the outcomes in Ukranian culture. We wanted to look back at our history, trying to analyse what kind of culture we’ve inherited from culture workers who were here before us. They structured the new reality, not just in culture but in the culture which was connected to the political and social sphere. Now I have this feeling that we are stuck somewhere and we can not make any step out. Therefore our aim was not only to look back but rather to find new ways how to research it and how to understand where we are now. Because if we want to go “to the future”, to go somewhere, we should really see where we are now. That’s why this research of Soviet time is an important part of our projects. 

For example, we collaborated with the National Art Museum in Kiev on the project called Social Realism: Seeming to be Another (it's a play of words in Ukranian, and it’s hard to translate). We wanted to research the representation of social realism in our museums, because this representational sphere was constructed at the time of Soviet Union. Nowadays museums structurally still work in the same way; they are changing the content but the structures are the same. We found that this is not the case only in museums but also in other spheres, including the institutional sphere. That is why we are working on new types of institutions - we want to understand what is common to Ukraine, how we understand the institutions and how we want to change them. Researching this socialistic and Soviet Union period is giving us the understanding of the cultural structure in which we are now. 

Olga: A lot of people in Ukraine are almost ashamed about this period and they are willing to talk only about the new Ukraine, capitalistic Ukraine. There are no connections to the past, to the USSR, to our history. We can see that we are modern Ukraine, but we still have roots. 

How do you see the development of the art scene, in a national or international context, from this point? In which direction would you like to see it go? 

Leda: You know, many initiatives of post-soviet countries do not include Ukraine. We are somehow in between all these initiatives of post-soviet countries on the one side and Russia on the other, somewhere in the air. It feels that our culture is also “in the air”. At times it is producing a lot of content but it’s not based on something real, somehow it is “out of the base”. That is why we are looking in what could be the base on which we could find new ways to really work in Ukraine; to have institutional support for artists, for research, not just for production. So, it might be funny to say, but in the future we wish for normalization in a way. This normality should consist of different ways of future, not only one. We really want to have many practitioners with different views on the future. Then it would be interesting to have a discussion and to find ways how to communicate, how to be together. That would be interesting for us - not to structure it in one line. If we find who we are and what we can propose to the common discussion, then we can participate in it with other countries. That is main core of our interest

Ivan: For a long time Ukraine was a part of the periferie of the modern art scene of capitalist countries and a part of the periferie of imperialistic Soviet context. We don't have a land, we don’t have a view of the Ukranian roots in art and we don’t have a voice. For me it’s interesting to look at the local context and realize who we are. Only then we will have the power and the position to discuss with other countries on the same level, to have an equal position, because now it’s not the case.

Leda: The reason we always speak about local context is not because we want to stay closed in our locality. It also has historical and contextual reasons. Ukranian culture is always looking at the others, trying to copy and to be as others. With this attitude we fail to recognize that maybe we have some interesting ideas which we could also propose to the common discussion. After the Soviet Union collapsed we saw a lot of initiatives, a lot of exhibitions and we participated in many of them but we were always out of the real discussion. We are also absent from the IRWIN’s East Art Map that includes other former socialist countries. If we want to be included in this discussion, we have to look into our context and into our locality. 

Eastern European artists are also often expected to replicate the narrative of the “Eastern experience”, whatever that is. There is a notion of what that is supposed to be, and artists are often expected to follow that narrative.

Leda: When we talk about conversations and participation in it we also have to consider language; trying to understand how we speak and reflect in the language. Some of our seminars were dedicated to the language we use in the cultural sphere, because, really, we are copying. In the conversations it sometimes feels like you say what others are expecting from you. It’s important to reflect on this.

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