The text which accompanied Ulyana Gumeniuk's 2012-2013 exhibition in the University Library is provided below. An online version of the exhibition can be accessed by clicking on this link.
The canvas is the laboratory/battlefield for exploring the phenomenon of an 'event'. It is not there to represent or to show. It is intended to be a place where the 'event' can be played out and its specific aspects re-enacted, recreated, and manifested as an experience. The image, or the choice of what to 'depict', comes from observing the surrounding world (the immediate environment, media information, large-scale social events) and trying to isolate an occurrence of the specific phenomenon that I am interested in at the time.
The phenomenon I have been particularly interested in, in this set of works, is that of thresholds, in particular the 'events' that arise in the 'threshold area' and how they manifest themselves. By 'threshold area' I mean space (physical and otherwise) where different elements engage with each other. By 'event' I mean the specific nature of the reciprocal engagement of those elements- this can be merger, infiltration, repulsion, violent transition of one into another, and the energy produced in such 'events'. The aim is to capture and reflect/restage those events on the canvas.
Events I have been interested in are social events as well as specific events in physics and in cosmology. Some of the 'triggers' (seeing at a specific moment something that develops into a working idea) that have spurred me on to developing these works have been: witnessing clashes between social groups in London, and events across the Middle East. In physics I have been fascinated by the property of atoms to maintain the distinction of all matter despite their similitude, and by the energy events that define this distinction, in particular what happens on the thresholds within matter, from its smallest constituent parts to manifestations on the grandest scale. In cosmology, I have been interested by the emergence of matter in the universe and by the elements that are thought to have played their part in the process.
The gestural language of the painting, the application of the paint (a movement of the entire body rather than only the brush) has in some instances tried to mimic such events. For instance, the flowing brush strokes that simultaneously define and blur the edge of the form have been adopted from Velásquez, while throws of colour in Pipes 3 & 4 are influenced by Francis Bacon. In these paintings, energy is represented by a gestural expulsion of 'energy' onto a canvas.
Entropy is another aspect of the 'events' that I have being interested in. As I see it, entropy works on, effects, defines, and destroys thresholds (Consumed 1 & 2, Entropy). On a social level, a large city such as London provides an example of entropy, specifically the overwhelming diversities that erase definition/distinction and render everything homogeneous in its very multiplicity - evenly important and ultimately same.
In Entropy, the central objective is to study the tension between this homogeneity of the material flux of daily life and a structured form. The central form is comprised of elements of contemporary corporate architecture. The construction of the form is linear but fractured, which both suggests and questions the image of a structure in space, so that it gravitates towards an homogeneity of its own. The painting is a reflection on possible tensions between clashing manifestations of differing processes of entropy. One tends towards the erasure of all distinction, the other towards a crystallised form. I am interested in what happens in the space where these tensions occur, in how these elements compete for space on the canvas and generate a visual experience of tension. The process of painting is itself an attempt to visually manifest/effect the concept of entropy as a social and physical phenomenon.
Entropy and Consumed 1 & 2 visually reference the vanitas still lifes of the classical period, which contained collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. In particular, they reference the way in which Dutch artists used a bouquet of flowers as a near homogeneous mixture of colours and elements among which were inserted small singular objects such as insects - e.g. a fly representing decay; a butterfly, resurrection; a snail, sensual sin, etc. The method of inserting a recognisable element that might trigger mental references has influenced my paintings. But although here nude bodies, skulls, oil pipes, the face of Gaddafi, and protesters are inserted in the multiplicity of matter, they are not there to tell a story. Newspaper cuttings were used as the main source of these details, as a way to connect with the world and also to create distance, to record an event and make it history. These elements do not tell a story but manifest history as a rhizomatic series of events.
I began using industrial landscapes as a source for the images (Pipes 2, 3 & 4) during my time as a Fellow and artist in residence at Trinity College Cambridge (2009-2011). What interested me was the disintegration of Western industry, the beauty of industrial landscapes, and the way in which the industrial age has shaped our environment, society, its tastes and choices and its aesthetics, as reflected by the architecture of the Pompidou Centre, and the Lloyds Building in the City and in countless works of film and photography, where industry and vanitas are closely interlaced. In Pipes 2, 3 & 4, I used photographs and sketches made during a visit to the Zaporizhzhia Steel factory in Ukraine and the BP Saltend Plant in Britain.
The presence of the body in Entropy and Consumed 2 follows a complex history. It is an image of perfection for the Greeks, a symbol or spiritual vessel for the Byzantines, flesh for Rembrandt or Rubens, and living meat for Bacon and artists after the Second World War, limbs contorted and torn but alive. Today the body is an object of possession: a commodity, a consumer item, a tool to be upgraded and enhanced. In my work, the body is mixed and mingled up with other material possessions, becoming part of a homogeneous heap of matter overwhelming our society. Here too, my painting attempts to manifest the tension at the threshold.
In Consumed 1 & 2, images are spliced into geometric shapes that are first outlined on the canvas. These shapes reference crystalline structures created by ribosomes and the curves of mitochondria organelles. Interacting layers or volumes of representational elements relate in such a way that the viewer can identify the elements and yet at the same time perceive them as abstract 'movements' of colour and shape.
About the artist
The daughter of Ukrainian artist-dissident Feodosii Humeniuk, Ulyana Gumeniuk had a turbulent artistic childhood. She had first-hand experience of secret gatherings of nonconformist art groups in Leningrad, including meetings of the Sterligov group (Vladimir Sterligov was a student of Kazimir Malevich). At those meetings, at the age of nine, she was introduced to constructivist and formalist concepts. After entering the State Art School in what was by then Saint Petersburg at age eleven, she went on to study at the Art Academy where she also received a classical training evident in her oil painting technique, for instance in Pipes 2. This painting also borrows stylistically from the dome paintings of Italian baroque churches. Through a benefaction and portrait commissions she went on to finish her studies at London's St Martins School of Art in 1996.
Since then, she has had a successful career, exhibiting with artists like Paula Rego in Belgium and France and at the Luke and A gallery in London. In 2008 she had a solo show at the Zaporizhzhia State Museum in Ukraine. She has also taken part in projects at the South London Gallery and at Tate Modern. Her works are held in public collections in Trinity College, Cambridge; Murray Edwards College, Cambridge; Princeton University, United States; Zaporizhzhia Art Museum, Ukraine; CUAF Museum, Toronto, Canada; Commune de Senigallia Museum, Italy; and the Collection of the Trustee of the Art Museum of Maryland, United States. Her works are held in private collections in Belgium, England, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.