Installation with 29 silver gelatin photographs and a notice board.

The exhibition “Exteriors”, Center for Contemporary Art, Kiev, Ukraine

In 1991, when Ukraine became independent of the Soviet Union, Maxim Popov did his final season at a Kiev high school. The borders opened and for the first time Max watched a Vietnam movie, The Platoon by Oliver Stone. His interest in war history was old, but this movie showed him a new and inspiring, more accurate image of what war was like. A few years later, Max and his friends started a re-enactment group called 1st Platoon. Specifically, they re-enact the 1st Platoon of the Alpha Company of 1/6th Infantry, an American military unit serving in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972.

The conflict in Vietnam was above all a war against communism. Even a large number of immigrants from Ukraine participated and fought for USA in this war. In Ukraine, the 1st Platoon stages fights, battles, operations and the everyday life of American soldiers on a non-profit basis. It is their hobby, and has no conscious connections to the changes in the Ukrainian society during the 1990’s. However, with a little bit of imagination it would be easy to picture a possible relationship between what this group chooses to portray and the recent history of post-communist Ukraine.

Located in the southern outskirts of Kiev is the Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture and Life. Consisting of a 150 hectare architectural landscape-complex, showing all historic-ethnographic regions of Ukraine, it is one of the largest open-air museums worldwide. Divided into two distinct areas, the museum focuses at the time before the Revolution as well as the socialist epoch that followed. Authentic and representative buildings have been collected from all over the country, and different areas of the museum depict different parts and eras of Ukraine. For instance, there is a Socialist Village that offers an intriguing look into the changes the Soviet Union brought to Ukraine. It was built during the mid 1980’s with typical 1960’s and -70’s villas along a winding and picturesque village street.

These two historical reconstructions, the American soldiers of the 1st Platoon and the Socialist village at Pyrohovo, are formally just surfaces: exteriors and interiors from the Soviet era and props and costumes of soldier equipment. But combining them, letting the soldiers act in the village, and documenting it with 1960’s and -70’s style of black and white photography, creates a story of its own, undefined and therefore open for interpretations. What and where is this? When is it from? Does it maybe show an unknown American military operation in Soviet during the Cold War? Beyond these fabricated fantasies it is nevertheless just contemporary Ukrainians acting in a museum setting. Still I think this illustrates something of the current situation in Ukraine: the approach to the past and the increasing Americanisation. Furthermore, it deals with international issues within the Living History culture of today; open-air museums commission to preserve and exhibit local History, and independent re-enactors unbound freedom to appropriate and perform whatever time and place they want.

Martin Karlsson, October 2007

Installation view, CCA, Kiev, 2007

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