Only Women Can Do That – The feminine element in photography: Bella Logachova Interview with Sabine Kutt

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“ARtNUO-New Ukrainian Ornaments”

>>Visit exhibition: Bella Logachov “New Ukrainian Ornaments”

Bella Logachova lives with her son Nikita in Ukraine, in the besieged city of Kharkov. Normally everything is easy for Bella, but now it’s completely different. The responsibility for her eight-year-old son, working with her students from the art academy, the sirens, the bombings, and grocery shopping are an incredible burden under the conditions of war. Only the work on her art gives her relief and helps her to express the unspeakable and to find a certain distance, at least for short periods of time.

In her artistic work, Bella combines traditional Ukrainian embroidery with her own imagery. The natural, joyful elements of the embroidery stand in sharp contrast to the images she has inserted. You don’t see them at first glance because her works are laid out almost like search images. On closer inspection, however, one discovers a flood of depictions of war.

Bella has explored war as a theme in her art since the occupation of East Ukraine and Crimea in 2014. She is one of the few artists who are able to immediately implement what she has experienced in a creative way.

Bella’s strength, courage and joy of life are amazing and have impressed me greatly.

© Sabine Kutt, Independent Curator

Bella Logachova Solo exhibition in cooperation with the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University

Artist statement

My project ARtNUO-New Ukrainian Ornament Plots covers the latest events in Ukraine, triggered by the Euromaidan protests in November 2013. I created compositional plots from elements of classical Slavic ornaments and my own ornamental units. Military elements, new animals and human symbols appear from floral and plant interlacings, which I bind historical and key events in the world into a single architecture. My project has been under development since 2014.

> Visit VASA exhibition: Bella Logachov “New Ukrainian Ornaments”

Bella Logachova requested that the interview be in Russian with a transcript in English.  VJIC embedded subtitles where needed.  The English transcript (thank you Igor Manko for the translation) is below (go to transcript)

>> go to the English transcript of the conversation

>> Visit exhibition: Bella Logachov “New Ukrainian Ornaments”


Bella Logachova is a Ukrainian media artist and photographer. She was born in Mariupol in 1973, and in 1999 she graduated from the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Art, where she currently teaches media arts. Following her graduation, she received a two-year internship at the Nuremberg Academy of Art in Germany. Bella Logachova is a co-founder of SOSka art-group and Excess cinema-group in Kharkiv. She has exhibited her work in galleries of Europe and Ukraine.

Bella Logachova received wide recognition for her presentation of a range of posters called “NUO – New Ukrainian Ornament” at the IX International Eco-Poster Triennale “4th Block” in Kharkiv, for which she received the Grand-Prix of the festival.

With the language of art, Bella Logachova describes the latest events in the Ukraine starting with the 2014 Maidan Uprising, also called the Revolution of Dignity, until today. She incorporates the new realities of the country into the format of traditional Ukrainian ornaments. Her work can be found in private and museum collections in Ukraine, USA, Japan, Austria, Germany, Poland and France.

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> Visit exhibition: Bella Logachov “New Ukrainian Ornaments”

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Interview transcript: Bella Logachova and Sabine Kutt

April 2022

My name is Sabine Kutt and today I would like to introduce Bella Logachova.

Hi, Bella, welcome to the interview of my series “Only women can do that – the female element in photography”

Bella, you are a photographer and media artist from Ukraine. You were born and raised in Mariupol, as we all know a city under heavy military siege.

Currently you live and work in Kharkiv not only as an artist but also as a teacher of the State Academy of Design and Art.

The city of Kharkiv is located in the far east of Ukraine, only 25 miles from the Russian border. It is the second largest city in the country and 1 and a half million people live there.

SK: Bella, you experienced the outbreak of the war in Kharkiv. Where exactly are you now and how are you doing?

BL: I’m in Kharkiv, and I choose to stay here. At the moment I’m in a basement where artists’ studios are. I guess it’s safer than my apartment in the north of the city, but I can get moving if the situation worsens.

SK: I can hardly imagine how difficult it is to work under the conditions of war. Where do you get the strength for it?

BL: War time is difficult, because things change all the time and you can’t predict the future. But we need to do something, to create new things – it’s our responsibility.

SK: You have been dealing with the war and its aftermath since 2014 when Crimea and eastern Ukraine were occupied by the Russians. In the eight years following the occupation many people returned back to normal lives. But not you. What kept you so engaged and was the outbreak of the war in February a big surprise for you?

BL: Not all of my work has to do with war, especially in photography, like my Home Exercises photo book, which tells an intimate story of two people in a rigid society. But in 2014, when the war in Ukraine started, I began the Art NUO series of computer-based images. As the war only escalates, this series is still ongoing. On February 2022, Russian full-scale invasion shocked everyone. We had been warned this would happen, but we couldn’t believe real fascism was possible in the XXI century.

SK: Please tell us a bit about your biography and what brought you to art, especially to photography?

BL: It was my motivation from the very start. I always wanted to be an artist, that was my line in every school I attended. When I was 16, my father gave me an analog camera, and I started taking pictures, developing and printing them, in a very amateurish way at the time. It was only in the end of 1990s — the beginning of 2000s that I used photography in my projects. Of course, I am a multimedia artist: I engage in video art, installation, photography, and graphics. My Art NUO series has been popular from the first day of its commencement.

SK: With your media artwork you have found your very unique language to depict the war visually. It is a combination of traditional Ukrainian embroidery and added war images. You named it New Ukrainian Ornaments.

BL: A number of artists use embroidery techniques in their work. In my project it’s combined with military elements. It has also to do with storytelling: each work is a documentary story told by means of ornament. This one is about the beginning of the separatist movement in 2014, when the insurgents used women as a shield to hide behind, to protect themselves. By the way, this was the only work in the series that I actually made in the embroidery technique, the rest are all digital imitations.

SK: Bella, what is the rooster standing for?

BL: Roosters symbolize war and aggression (you can see machine guns near them), they bring about discord. Also, brown and orange are separatist colors and the colors of the very popular local Shakhter soccer club. My roosters have the same color symbols.

SK: Bella, why do you call it “Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika” – (Donetsk Peoples Republic)? I mean, it’s always been a certain part of Ukraine – why do you call it “Respublika”, like it is an independent state?

BL: Of course, it’s Ukraine! This ornament tells a story of what the separatists did in this territory. They created a quasi-republic which they ruled and used as a foothold to go further into Ukraine.

SK: I have a picture here that touches me very much and also makes me very sad. It is about the membership in the European Union. Please share your thoughts about this image with us.

BL: Sometimes, when my work goes public, it comes back with a new meaning. I understand why this could be sad – the British bird left, but there’s a new bird -Ukraine – to take its place.

SK: Embroidery is a typically female occupation. Was it a coincidence that you chose embroidery as a means of expression in your art or was that a conscious decision?

BL: I must say, embroidery is not my cup of tea, I just don’t like it. It’s kitsch, and I never thought I would use it in my art. But it became meaningful, since I saw a great visual potential in it — a flower and a tank image in the poster calling to defend the city played the decisive role: they made people really stand up for it. And it was the conception of the Art NUO series.

SK: How would you describe the female element in your artworks?

BL: Flowers. They are the female element: the beauty, the blooming, the birth – that’s how I see the female.

SK: In the small embroideries we must look closely for your images. The whole thing is like a hidden images picture. Do you think that the viewers will memorize the images better that way and also automatically think deeper about the meaning?

BL: When creating these images, I always think of a hidden sense to be interpreted. There’s always a quest, a search for the viewer. What’s good and what’s evil are necessarily the coded meaning to be discovered. Being attracted by the formal beauty of the image, the viewer has then to interpret it.

SK: This is a very interesting image. It’s about the airport that has the name of the composer “Sergei Prokofiev” and there are lots of notes and a little snippet of a composition. And on the airport building itself, on that black stripe we can see the union of notes and the gunfire.

BL: Of course, I compared the notes, the arms, and the name of the airport that was our stronghold for 242 days thanks to the military called “cyborgs”. There were terrible fights there. I combined Prokofiev’s music and the music of firearms in this picture.

SK: Art and war is like a wide-open scissor. How do you deal with these opposites?

BL: I would say, the scissors point at the viewer so the viewer could see either the tragedy or the joy of this event. The dramaturgy, the combination of colors, the visual language of the images are directed at the viewer. So, I don’t try to overcome these opposites, I create them to understand the events better.

SK: What did you feel when the war broke out?

BL: To be honest I was shocked. I can’t say I wasn’t afraid. First explosions, first sounds of war brought on fear, despair, and desolation. I am sure it was a shock for everyone. But I also thought about excitement. People who come to conquer another country must feel excited, and I thought we will feel excitement as well.

SK: War exposes people to severe stress, physically as well as mentally. Can you describe how the war changes you?

BL: It’s a difficult question, and my answer will be rather subjective. I would say it’s the re-evaluation of all the values in life, the values of consumption culture first. We’ve been used to buying, to acquiring things. War teaches us that things change their meaning, and we should change ourselves as well.

SK: Can you think about the future at the moment? Do you dream about it? How do you imagine the future?

BL: Now that I am inside of a war, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, I tell myself not to think of the future. It’s impossible. You can’t cancel the future, but when you are outside, your plans can change any minute. So, I am trying not to think about my future now. But I’d like to see what there is the country’s future in general. Interesting to take a peek of what it would be like afterwards.

SK: Do you think there would be this war if women were in politics instead of men?

BL: I doubt it. Not likely. But we live in patriarchy, and war territory is men’s territory.

SK: What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself a feminist?

BL: I don’t live in a feminist paradigm, but some of its aspects are close, especially when it comes to female rights or violence. For me, nihilism has become a closer option. After WW2, postmodernism and nihilism were all the rage, and nihilism is now back. I’d like more global philosophy for myself.

SK: Before I ask my next question, I’d like to pull up another image. It’s called “Detskii Sad’ – kindergarten – and it’s quite aggressive.

We see the bombs hitting the kindergarten, we see the rooster that stands for war and fire, we see the toys laying around, rocket launchers shooting, children with their arms up in distress, and the kindergarten teacher in front of them is also in total distress. When I see this image, I would like to ask you: Have you thought about taking up arms yourself?

BL: I wouldn’t take up arms. If I would, I’d pass them to professionals. My arms is art, and the Art NUO series is my art. I am convinced that everyone should do what they are best at. This ornament was one of the first, when they started bombing kindergartens and schools, a strong emotion and understanding that they came to kill civilians. Everyone wants to take up arms, but they wouldn’t know how to use it. I think, my art challenges are much more efficient.

SK: This extreme war situation also creates extreme feelings like hate, disgust, and contempt. These are deeply human feelings. Do you have thoughts of revenge and how do you imagine your revenge?

BL: At the time of war, with massacres and violence, hatred is a common feeling, and it’s everywhere — this war is genocide of Ukraine’s people. The war is a brute force. As an artist I’d say that our duty is to help the military as much as we can to bring forward revenge. There’s also hope for heavenly punishment to all those engaged in violence and killings. And I’m thinking of an image that would show the revenge.

SK: Why do you stay in the bombed city Kharkov and not flee to the west of Europe?

BL: It’s not the first time I hear that question. I stay in Kharkiv, in Ukraine. Maybe I’m a patriot. I don’t want to make myself a hero because of that in order not to diminish people who have left. So, my answer is — I’m staying here with no obvious reasons. But in Kharkiv I keep working in my usual rhythm, and I see people staying here and working for the city, too.

SK: Does art give you support and strength in this most difficult time?

BL: Art always helped me in life. My projects have been to do with critical side of reality, and these times are no exception. Art distracts and gives strength. Art will always be against war.

Bella, thank you very much for this interview. Please stay safe. My solidarity and thoughts are with you.

>> Visit exhibition: Bella Logachov “New Ukrainian Ornaments”

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