I left Kyiv for the first time this week.
A 7 hour express train ride across flat farmlands to the Donbas, the industrial region of eastern Ukraine, where factories and mines – or rather terricones (slag heaps) as the visible evidence of the mining & mineral extraction below – dominate the landscape.
In the heart of the Donbas is Donetsk, a city of more than 1 million people founded by a Welshman, John Hughes from Merthyr Tydfil, who set up an iron works and coal mines there in 1869… the city was known as Hughesovska or Yuzovka until 1961.Ukraine’s mines remain dangerous places to work, and fatal accidents underground are not uncommon – safety standards are not high and equipment is outdated. Check out Hughesovka if you want to read more of the story of John Hughes.
For an industrial city that flaunts its wealth with a main street full of luxury shops, there’s a surprising lack of cultural venues…one municipal “art museum”, an Opera House that employs a full time company of more than 500 people (and presents just 9 performances a month!), and some strange references to Liverpool.
And yet, at the site of a former factory which produced insulation materials for the whole of the Soviet Union, there’s an amazingly exciting contemporary arts project, IZOLYATSIA Platform for Cultural Initiatives.
The new Director, Paco De Blas, and Communications manager Olga Yefimova both kindly gave up a morning to show me around the site – where exhibitions populate dilapidated buildings, and artworks created through ambitious residency programmes and collaborations with world class artists are visible/audible.
I particularly liked Leandro Erlich’s Invisible Train – an audio piece that creates the sensation, through sound, of a train rushing past on the overhead pipes that crisscross the site.
Huddled in rooms around the factory were groups of artists at work, and IZOLYATSIA is home to IZOLAB, Ukraine’s first FABLAB a small scale digital fabrication workshop with open access to high end equipment like 3D printing, and an environment dedicated to experiment, play and research.
Project manager Konstantin Leonenko showed me a prototype pasta robot, and I discovered there’s a whole world of pasta architecture out there – where engineers & architects are using pasta to design and research new constructions! Check out this spaghetti bridge structure which weighed 98gms, and supported a load of 466kg before it collapsed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORhjC-TslA4
Thanks to Paco de Blas, Olga Yefimova and everyone at IZOLYATSIA for making one Creative Consultant for the British Council feel so welcome.