Visual Culture Research Center closed down

Open letter to the President of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy S. M. Kvit

Dear Serhiy Myronovych!

Today both, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and the Visual Culture Research Center in particular are in a situation that turns out to be a deadlock, and it needs a solution. The development of events after your ban of the exhibition Ukrainian Body has been astonishing. It is very significant to track how the highlights that you’ve been making constantly changed and how your arguments transformed. When closing the exhibition, you played the part of a ‘notorious-art-critic’, naming it ‘shit’, since according to your convictions it presented ‘pathogenic texts’ and stated ‘porno as a concept’. Nextly, you declared not wanting to judge the exhibition since you were not an expert in art issues, blaming the VCRC in ‘clandestine’ organization of it, where the contents were hidden from NaUKMA and the visitors, while indeed the exhibition became hidden and clandestine exactly after you personally, voluntaristically closed it. Although there was no official resolution for its closure, and besides the head of university had no legal grounds for such actions. Meanwhile, you also publicly claimed that the exhibition was not actually closed, that you had only locked the door, but the journalists were invited to visit it after making an arrangement with the NaUKMA press service – as if there was crime in the exposition, so that not everyone would have the right to see it. You have presented your act as belonging to a responsible leader, who is anxious for the vulnerable souls of the students under age, and protecting the tranquility of the elder who might be ‘shocked’.

Your argumentation then shifted to accusations toward the Visual Culture Research Center of NaUKMA of ‘unscientific’ work in general, as well as the ‘absence of communication’ with the Academy. Speaking more than once of a public discussion on the situation around the Ukrainian Body, nonetheless you decided to conduct it behind closed doors, inviting several members of the cultural public sphere to participate. Instead of starting ‘communication improvement’, as was mutually agreed on the meeting, the next day you launched the tank of bureaucracy, raising the issue of VCRC activities non-publicly and without any warning or informing beforehand (clandestine, really) at the Academic Council of NaUKMA. Feeling in your proper field, in the grey zone of power, where one can use all the mechanisms of a boss’s authority, here you had no more uncomfortable questions by the journalists, nor any problematic discussions with members of the art community. With rare exception all the members of the Academic Council, of course, supported your act of closing the exhibition, describing it as ‘despicable’, ‘morbid’ and representing ‘evil’. Moreover, Visual Culture Research Center has been accused of imaginary sins and the real problems that the Academy is facing today, from ukrainophobia and scarcely to starting a fire in the Culture and Arts Center (sic!), becoming the spot for the outflow of the collective clear conscience imitation. As it is known, the Academic Council decided to cease the activities of the Visual Culture Research Center of NaUKMA, whereas your basic suggestion was my dismissal from the director’s position. Later you addressed the representatives of the cultural public stating your point more precisely, problematizing then the situation in a completely personalized manner: «the VCRC director simply has to be another person», «this could be done any day now», «a do not aim to revise all of the VCRC activity».

One can see that, apparently, the discursive transformation of your position during the conflict has been following harshly the logic of victimization: first, the exhibition was the problem, then it was the organization of it, an institution afterwards, and finally, one person. Firstly, the art was ‘shit’, however, in the end the person was (as you repeatedly claimed in the media, your statement about ‘shit’ did not refer to the exhibition, but to my person). As long as you are taking the position that the whole problem of the current situation lays in me personally as the director of Visual Culture Research Center of NaUKMA, in order to cut this conflicting Gordian knot, hereby I officially and publicly withdraw my candidacy from the director’s post of VCRC NaUKMA. Being concerned about the institution that I have been running since October 2008, I am guided by the interests of VCRC and the Academy, as closing such a research center would deeply and negatively affect the intellectual and artistic life both inside and outside the university. The VCRC collective has made the decision that from now on the director would be Inna Sovsun, Political Science Department lecturer, who had been working at the VCRC almost from the very start, is well-acquainted with its activity, is experienced in organizing many VCRC events, is active in the current issues in education and disposes of respect and confidence in the Academy’s community. Now that the problem is removed, you should open the exhibition Ukrainian Body at last, and restore the Center’s work for carrying out the next events that were planned.

The solution of this controversial situation turns our faces to the real questions determining the current state of things. For the main problem basically appears to be the fatal mistake the NaUKMA president has made at the beginning, when he closed the exhibition Ukrainian Body – which is so uneasy to admit for him and the members of the Academy’s governing body – harming the university’s image more than anyone. One can continually use bureaucratic slang and anxiety concerning NaUKMA as a cover, or find some other scapegoats, accusing them of all one’s errors, only not to answer for them by himself, however the fact that the president of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy turned to censorship is already accomplished and internationally known. How can one talk about getting into the world’s universities’ top-100 or top-500, when the head of the leading Ukraine’s university reacts on contemporary art as if he were a man from the Middle Ages? What kind of atmosphere will there be in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in ten years if today, after an unconsidered and inadequate, affected act injustice is being fortified by the official seal, and deepened, gaining undisguisedly the shape of banal revenge? The Academy’s strength has always been its uncustomizedness to the governing board, its conditional dissensus, the polemic clash of different points which makes precisely the space for freedom with the breezing spirit of Universitas. Though today, veiled by ‘corporate culture’, we have the university community that is shaped in a collectivist habitus of Dogville, which is deaf and inferior to alternative modes of development, where the absence of an elementary contemporary cultural competence is common sense.

It is sad to admit that the Academy’s goal is now found in protecting the students from social critique, normalizing them and teaching the ‘world moral values’. But the monopoly for establishing meanings in the university would not belong to the administrative bureaucratism eternally. Sometimes there is a need to verbalize something almost everyone understands clearly, but which is not articulated publicly, being the obscene reverse that serves as the one common base holding for now the governing university’s corpus, namely its body. But the king isn’t wearing anything at all! The debate concerning the ban of Ukrainian Body exhibition has been disorderly reoriented into questions, that were unsystematically picked up to reinforce the blame of the accused and take aside from the most important point: the true obscenity is not in the offences or phrases at the exhibition, it is the actions by the NaUKMA President Serhiy Kvit toward the exhibition and the Visual Culture Research Center of NaUKMA. This obscenity is being by all means oppressed, including repression – only to leave it unproblematized, providing the debate on anything but the true reason of the conflict: the boss’s aggression against contemporary socio-critical art and the institution representing it. It causes dishonour and discreditation for Kyiv-Mohyla Academy – the key phenomenon of the Ukrainian context for the last 20 years. This is why today perhaps, one doesn’t need to distinguish the exhibition’s title with quotes when writing it.



Vasyl Cherepanyn,

Visual Culture Research Center of NaUKMA, Cultural Studies department professor

background information:

On Thursday, February 23rd, the Academic Council of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy passed a resolution to bar the activities of Visual Culture Research Center of NaUKMA after the end of the exhibition «Ukrainian Body».

Therefore, in this connection on Monday, February 27th at 13.00 VCRC announces a protest action against the acts of censorship and repression of the VCRC, which will be held near the 1st building of NaUKMA (2, Skovorody str.). The Center’s members, students and artists will demand from the NaUKMA President to cancel the decision of the Academic Council, re-open the exhibition «Ukrainian Body» and let the VCRC continue its work.

While the attention of the society and the press to the closing of the exhibition «Ukrainian Body», held at the Visual Culture Research Center, has not yet cooled down, the administration of NaUKMA and its president Serhiy Kvit decided to end the activities of the VCRC itself. In this way they ignored the results of the expert meeting with the prominent representatives of the artistic and intellectual audience, which was aimed at discussing the exhibition’s re-opening.

After the act of censorship concerning the exhibition «Ukrainian Body», which drew a wide response in the Ukrainian and foreign media, the President of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Serhiy Kvit has initiated a number of bureaucratic restrictions against the VCRC as the organizers of the exhibition. On February 23rd the Academic Council’s decision stopped the activities of VCRC.

The governing body of NaUKMA were exasperated by the public attention and the condemnation of censorship at the ‘most democratic’ university. As a result of the administration’s sanctions, the work of Visual Culture Research Center is no longer possible. The unexpected decision of the administration imperils the events that are planned for March – art exhibitions and the conference on feminism with participants from Poland, Russia, USA, Finland, Serbia and France.

Previously, on February 10th, 2012 President of NaUMA Serhiy Kvit closed the exhibition «Ukrainian Body», dedicated to the study of corporality in the Ukrainian society, three days after its opening. Serhiy Kvit explained his actions in the following way: «It is not an exhibition – it’s shit.» The artists’ actions against censorship, letters from international partners and the media attention did not convince the president of the university to re-open the exhibition.

For additional information, please contact:
Inna Sovsun – 067 502 57 27
Ihor Samokhin – 097 985 58 73
Oleksiy Radynski – 067 442 23 89

Court Experiment

External Links
VCRC Homepage


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