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Apr 29, 2024

Assignment Task


This dissertation will examine how the full-scale invasion by Russia in Ukraine affects the country`s artists, artistic practices, and cultural institutions and redefines the idea of nationhood. This investigation will analyse the impacts and influences by employing the practice of Ukrainian artist Oksana Hehedysh, where applicable. It is a vital study to undertake at the present time as the war in Ukraine is an unresolved process, which requires further investigation and analysis in the artistic sector. The examination will reveal how the political conflicts in Ukraine result in positive and negative developments in the art field.

Chepter 1

This chapter forms the foundation for the study in subsequent chapters. First, I will provide a synopsis of the artist`s life and artistic career, which will introduce the principles by which Oksana Heheydysh worked in the past, continues to work and elucidate the shift in her practice from the beginning of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine. She expresses ideas about Ukrainian cultural heritage and social and political critique through folk art, abstractionism, and conceptual art. Nevertheless, her approach resulted in a shift to activist art. Robert Vallerand`s theory, “The Dualistic Model of Passion”, explains how emotions can impact the artist`s work. Hehedysh`s choice to shift her practice was an act of help to her audience. Stephan Duncombe and Michael Shank propose that activist art can be a valuable tool in shaping an audience if it can achieve them on an emotional level, which the artist has to balance. The chapter will examine how Hehedysh`s works from the beginning of the full-scale invasion successfully enforced the notion of activist art and how these events influenced her choice.

Oksana Hehedysh is a Ukrainian artist born in Lviv, Ukraine, in 1965. In her childhood, she devoted herself to art, as it was her preffered school subject. Throughout her life, she incorporated Ukrainian motifs and nature into her work. In 1984, she graduated from Lviv

State College of Applied Arts, and in 1993, she earned a master’s degree from Lviv National Academy of Arts. In the early 2000s, she began participating in exhibitions; her first exhibition participation abroad was in 2005 in Tokaj, Hungary. In 2015, she opened her commercial gallery, “Hegedysh Gallery”, in Lviv, Ukraine. Before 2015, Hehedysh’s works were featured in both Ukraine and abroad (Germany, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Italy). The opening of her gallery marked the beginning of the most significant events in her life as she started to display her artworks. In 2021, as she moved to Croatia, she had her first solo exhibition abroad, Wing of Inspiration , in Rogoznica, Croatia, and later in 2022, she repeated the same exhibition in Split, Croatia. Momentarily, Hehedysh works and lives in Croatia while periodically visiting and maintaining her gallery in Ukraine. Hehedysh continues to support Ukraine and influence her audience with her works. She experienced transformations in her artistic career, which impacted and shifted her method and subjects, yet her enthusiasm remained stable.

The critical element that distinguishing Hehedysh`s style from other artists who depict similar motifs is the incorporating of a gold leaf technique. The technique can be traced back to paintings and frescoes of the Italian Renaissance in the 13th and 14th centuries and is incapable of being anointed "new." Notwithstanding, she began utilising it in almost all of her works, as she became influenced by its aesthetic appeal and association of the technique with the spiritual, mythical and holy subjects that she correspondingly portrays (Figure 1) and (Figure 2).

Most of Hehedysh’s works that display pleasant and appropriate themes employ the gold leaf technique, which she initially employed to discern her style. The political conflict between Ukraine and Russia impacted and continues to affect her work, as she started eliminating the technique due to the portrayal of tragic themes where the method was inappropriate (Figure 3).

Her decision to change her artistic practice and annihilate the foundational technique changed her identification, helped her attract a larger audience and transformed her into an activist artist. In her later works, she changed her subjects to more optimistic ones, suggesting that activist art does not necessarily need to express dismay but can come in any form and still be assertive (Figure 4).

As a pro-Ukrainian artist who portrays cultural heritage, the shift in her style from pleasant cultural motifs to politically charged works is not unexpected. Due to political disputes, multiple principles can disseminate artists’ practices to more politicised works. People`s actions are powered by their choices. It is the artist’s active choice to decide what work they want to produce and what they hope to achieve with it. External factors influence the artist’s active choice within political conflicts.

Activist art can be a powerful tool to help create awareness and move the

audience. According to Plato , who expressed his fear about art having power and why it should be dismissed from the ideal society, he still culminated his fear that art in the form of theatre play can move its audience. As the audience encounters any form of artistic practice, they evoke feelings towards it, such as pleasure, sadness or both, despite the subject of the art being fictional. The mastery of the artist, being able to create and move the audience, is what makes art a form of activism. The artist`s emotional response to the events occurring at the time is one of the external factors affecting their work.

According to Vallerand, 10 during the creative process, artists may be influenced by their emotions, which are impacted by the external events of their lives and affect the subjects of their works. 11 Hehedysh’s intention to redirect her practice and evolve into an activist artist was an active choice affected by political influences. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, she changed the subject of her works to tragic themes and eradicated the use of the gold leaf technique in all of them. Within time, she returned to buoyant themes that still contained political influence but were more optimistic about the war situation. When she created works that explored tragic moments, she was powered by external power and the effects of the full-scale war, the events she witnessed from the news, relatives, and friends while she was in Croatia. Further, the place of her employment inspired her shift as she

wanted to feature the works in public space to raise awareness and be able to donate the money from the sales to Ukraine, which comes as both an activist and help tool.

Emotions influence our actions and choices. Hehedysh’s active choice to change her practice to activist art was affected by the invasion on a cognitive level powered by emotions, which affect decisions. 12 Before the full-scale invasion, Hehedysh did not engage with political motifs in her work. She explored Ukrainian cultural heritage and used a signature gold leaf method. In 2008, Vallerand 13 presented “The Dualistic Model of Passion” (DMP). 14 The model defines passion as a strong tendency toward a self-defining activity that an individual finds meaningful and in which he/she invests a substantial amount of time and energy. He proposed two distinct types of passion within the model: “harmonious passion” (HP) and “obsessive passion” (OP). Individuals with “harmonious passion” are dedicated to an activity with free choice, where the activity becomes a part of their identity. Once the activity takes a significant role, it does not conflict with external issues. People who hold “obsessive passion” experience negative consequences during and after engaging in activity. 15 Despite being stable over time, both types of passion can be moulded and shifted due to their motivation construct and external sources. 16 Hehedysh’s performativity can be seen from Vallerand’s 17 analysis which is approximated in her work. While she was powered by “harmonious passion”, her works showed pleasant subjects and the use of the gold leaf technique. When she experienced negative emotions connected with the full-scale invasion and powered by “obsessive passion”, she included that in her work, which affected her artistic style and the choice to remove her key technique (Figure 5).

Once the circumstances and public attitude towards the war became more optimistic, Hehedysh partially returned to her previous motifs, which still depicted activist art but with the inclusion of the gold leaf technique that she used for positive subjects (Figure 6). The shift can be outlined in her emotional state and return of “harmonious passion”, which is impacted by the sense of hope and optimism that most of the population in Ukraine has adopted within a couple of months since the beginning of the war.

As an outcome, she demonstrated how “harmonious passion” and “obsessive passion” can influence subjects and portray negative and positive elements in works, and that activist art can be powered by both and remain effective.

The concept can be further supported by Duncombe’s 18 view, which accentuates the necessity of producing art to encounter political activism as it has the power to evoke emotions and argues that activist artists can use their technical aims to turn their work into an activism tool. He recognises that “the power of art of art lies beyond thinking”, highlighting that it always existed and was called the “sublime” quality of art by philosophers and critics. Like art, the “sublime” can be beautiful and ugly, but it is always beyond comprehension or direct description. "Sublime" of art affects the audience in a way they cannot always account for. 19 When Hehedysh changed her practice and recognised the power of the "sublime", which, in her works from the beginning of the full-scale war, depicted both horrific “obsessive passion” (Figure 5) and, with time, captivating subjects

with “harmonious passion” (Figure 6), she was able to change awareness of the events occurring in Ukraine by exhibiting her political subject work.

Art can alter our minds, inspire us to see different perspectives and reimagine situations.

Shank 20 adds that art activism can serve as a transformative force for the social justice movement, as “the author thinks outside the boundaries of conventional activism and “goes beyond” by proposing alternative advocacy models for a new generation of activists.” 21 The social justice movement uses communication tools that include facts and figures. Artists can improve it by incorporating an emotional approach, which does not require proof to make it understandable but balances emotional and cognitive approaches and creates activism art.

Hehedysh recognised the power of activism and how she could produce it with her work. She she stated, “As a Ukrainian who lives outside of Ukraine at the time of the war I cannot help much, but as an artist who lives abroad, I could help them with my work.” 23 She aims to support her audience by creating awareness and concentrating on the emotional appeal, which does not require comprehension like the social justice movement. Conversely, she advances it despite the non-inclusion of particular facts and figures, but by defining the general outcomes and beliefs from the war to create meaning. Duncombe 24 describes, "Good art always contains a surplus of meaning: something we cannot quite describe or put our finger on, but which moves us nonetheless." 25

Art and activism perform distinct functions globally, and the challenge to conceptualise them is comprehensible. Activism challenges power relations and has many ways of producing it. Producing activism and being an activist does not necessarily require going to a protest to denounce the powers. 26 Artists who produce substantial politically charged works in the form of aid need to recognise the effectiveness of their works. As previously stated, it is the artist’s active choice to portray politically charged works, which their emotions may influence, and it is also their active choice to decide what to depict to evoke emotions from their audience and encourage them to take action. Activist art needs to bring transformative change and used strategically and systematically. Duncombe 27 suggests, "Art is an expression that generates affect." 28 He states that despite activist artists employing their time and mastery in works, their priorities are still imbalanced, as they may give less consideration to how their work can contribute at a social or political level. 29 Thus, both

Duncombe 30 and Shank 31 agree that activist artists convey their sentiments from the observer`s emotional state to their cognitive self, which many artists fail to do. 32 From the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Hehedysh continuously changed her practice and the subject of her works, resulting in activist art creation (Figure 5) and (Figure 6). Both artworks may evoke different emotions from the viewer as they depict different subjects.

Nevertheless, they are both politically charged and aim to serve as activist art, portraying segments that correspond to the theme of the war in Ukraine. In (Figure 5) The artwork was created at the beginning of the invasion and depicts lamentable motifs. It portrays a woman being crucified, an allusion to the city of Ukraine - Bucha, which is presently known for the Bucha massacre, where the Russian military forces murdered Ukrainian civilians. The evident Russian flag in the background, crucified Bucha, and vivid children`s and adults` faces signify the political conflict and its outcomes, which is targeting civilians. In (Figure 6) the work was completed one year after the previous one. It delicately balances figurative and abstract art. The evident portrayal of flowers signifies the multitude of emotions that Ukraine is undertaking. Despite the flower`s downward-facing appearance, its vivid colour indicates vitality, which alludes to the current representation of Ukraine. Blue and yellow (gold) designate the colours of the Ukrainian flag, and the shape of the abstract represents its map, which holds the flowers and symbolises strength and hope.

“Activism → Effect” shows how activism is focused on achieving discernible results or effects in the world. Activists` activities represent the effectiveness of their actions, which is measured by their ability to influence and address specific issues. “Art → Affect” accentuates the role of art in eliciting emotional responses that affect the audience by evoking feelings and provocation. 35 Her works aim to perform as an activist tool, generating an effect on the audience. She influenced her viewers to contribute to the problems in Ukraine, which resulted in spreading news and information, helping organisations, and donating money. Consequently, an affect pushes the actions further as it evokes in (Figure 5) a feeling of loss, tragedy and sympathy and in (Figure 6) hope and victory. Both artworks highlight the need for immediate aid to recover and help people in need or to boost their strength and spirit, which signifies the intention of activist art. Further, it demonstrates her choice to shift her practice to activate political activism in the form of aid during the political conflict as her work generates emotions and, most importantly, is balanced and comprehensible for viewers.

“The Social Games Theory” (SGT) proponents imply that the result of decision-making skills, relational patterns, and rational processing appears within social constructs and is socially embedded. “SGT” theorists suggest that individuals raised in disparate realities learn to adhere to these separate, socially conditioned rationalities and act accordingly. The concept of context-dependent rationality oversees the categorisation and examination of institutionally specific rationalities in market, bureaucratic, political, religious, and family settings. “SGT” gives artists fundamental inklings in accessing the viewer’s emotional pathways. Artists can emotionally approach the audience’s constituency through the revival of conditioned behaviours and rationalities. 36 In Figure 5 and Figure 6, Hehedysh displays a successful implementation of art activism by developing the social justice movement via the incorporation of artistic symbols and motifs that counteract emotional and cognitive processes. Consequently, as she has knowledge in the art field, her works correspond to “SGT” theory, which allows them to influence the audience on an emotional level.

Activist art influences its audience. It is provocative, inspiring and powerful. The activist tool activates an emotional response, which can lead to changes. Hehedysh`s practice offers accurately illustrated activist art, which, according to Duncombe , can achieve more splendid audience response, interpretation, and activation if the artist recognises how to express the thoughts successfully. Emotions play a crucial part in effectively expressing the artist`s thoughts. They visibly power Hehedysh`s work and shift between harmonious and obsessive passion. Nevertheless, Hehedysh`s works recognise both types of passion and work to benefit her works as an expression of the activist tool for her audience.

The artist`s creative process and choice of subject are a sequence of thoughts and emotions that lead to its production. Hehedysh’s active choice to shift her practice is justified by the horrific political events and emotions that she experienced due to them. With her newly charged political works, she provided activist help, which would not have occurred due to the influence of the war and the sentiments that she experienced.

Vallerand’s objectives prove that a specific work results from emotions that can be powered by “harmonious passion” or “obsessive passion.” Passion can be diverted over time due to external events that an individual experiences at a particular moment. The observation of Hehedysh’s works suggests a constant transition between “harmonious passion” before the invasion (Figure 1) and (Figure 2) and after when the population adjusted to an optimistic approach (Figure 4) and (Figure 6) and “obsessive passion” at the beginning and in time of the invasion (Figure 3) and (Figure 5). The constant change in passions proves that Hehedysh’s active choice, whether in terms of aid or preferences, is powered by external events and does not appear as an unaffected decision to change the practice. Vallerand also articulates that “obsessive passion” can be destructive and negatively affect the work. Hehedysh’s works (Figure 3) and (Figure 5) suggest the opposite. Despite being in a complex mental state, which influenced the depiction of tragic subjects in her works, it benefited her in the successful implementation of activist art.

Duncombe agrees that art does not necessarily require presenting pleasant subjects as they lie beyond perception. He proposes the term “sublime”, which suggests that art can display both cordial and displeasing motifs. Further, Duncombe and Shank emphasise the importance of producing activism art. Shank compares art to the social justice movement,

which needs more emotional engagement with the audience, for which art can account as it does not require any communication tools but rather an emotional appeal.

Further, Duncombe and Shank agree that the artistic appeal of the work and the ability to move the audience can only be achieved if the artist masters to give more consideration to how their work can contribute on a social or political level. In her practice, Hehedysh aims to produce “sublime” quality work and activate her audience through appropriate consideration and balance. She proposes different political motifs that evoke diverse emotions of sadness, loss, or, on the contrary, motivation and power. The effectiveness of her works can also be viewed from Duncombe’s structure “Activism → Effect” and “Art → Affect”, where the outcome of the activist art has to result in a persuasive audience response to it. The effectiveness of Hehedysh’s works, which emphasise the need for immediate action, is best visible in her audience`s responses. Her works encouraged the audience to contribute on different levels by making donations, spreading awareness, or helping charities. It is important to note that such effectiveness in balancing the proper consideration of engagement in Hehedysh’s work could not be possible without accounting for “The Social Games Theory.” Hehedysh has a vast knowledge of Ukrainian heritage and culture, which she depicted before the war, corresponding to the prosperous creation of activist art. Incorporating pro-Ukrainian elements helps the audience contribute and be activated further on emotional and cognitive levels.

In summary, activist art is a complex form that requires constant engagement from the artist. It can take various forms and depict distinct subjects, but it can only achieve its purpose through careful reflection and consideration. Hehedysh`s work recognised the requirements for an effective form of activist art, which simulates the emotional level and activation of the audience. Nevertheless, the production of her works would not have been possible without the impact of political conflicts, which influenced her emotions and will to produce such works. The next chapter will examine the influence of political conflict in art institutional spaces and the administrative side. Before the full-scale invasion, Ukraine was affected by the events of Euromaidan in 2013-2014, which served as the first steps in shifting the artistic style and the concept of galleries. Viktor Khamatov accentuates that three significant periods shaped the contemporary notion of artistic institutions, resulting in their liberation from the Soviet Union. Historical events such as war affect artistic styles,

resulting in the shift of the subjects in work. Suzanne Nossel suggests that artists are not entirely liberated in their choices. By comparing the events of 2013-2014 with 2022, the chapter will analyse the notion of liberation during the political conflicts.

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