Text by Anna Morgan, Ukrainian Events in London
Edited by Darya Malyutina
It hasn’t been our first visit to exhibitions by Olha Pryymak. The first one we visited was called Ukraine Diaries and consisted of an art-chronicle – a series of small square paintings of significant moments in the timeline of the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, 2013-2014. At that time Olha had already been living in London and experienced the dramatic events in her native Ukraine through the social media, TV news and conversations with friends. This very emotional exhibition was held in Shoreditch in 2015, and attracted significant attention.
In 2015, Olha started her one-year-long residency with Florence Trust, a UK-based educational charity that was founded in 1990 by painter Patrick Hamilton. Every year, Florence Trust selects 12 artists who are then provided with a dynamic development programme and studio residency in London. The location of the residency is pretty unique. All 12 selected artists work in studios (separated from each other by plain white walls) located at the St Saviour’s in Highbury, a fantastic neo-gothic former Anglican church designed by an eccentric architect William White (1825-1900). The programme is designed to support emerging artists’ artistic and professional development and culminates in a curated exhibition in July each year.
This year’s Florence Trust Summer Exhibition opened its doors to visitors on Friday, 1st July. At this exhibition, Olha has demonstrated 5 works that she created during the residency. To enhance the understanding of the significant impact of herbalism that got her so inspired, she invited her guests to the church garden outside, where she treated us to delicious tea brewed on the open fire. Olha’s close friend Svitlana Pyrkalo supported the idea of creating a ‘mysteria’ (from Ukrainian – magic experience), and impressed us with gorgeous singing of traditional Ukrainian songs, while we were sipping our aromatic herbal tea.
After the exhibition, we sat down with Olha to ask her a few questions to better understand the idea of her current work.
Q: Olha, can you tell us how you moved from Maidan series to Herbalism? Was there a connection? You were saying you see the power of healing not only in herbs, but also in the process of painting them and in your paintings, as objects. Was this your way to recover from what was obviously a traumatic experience during the Maidan?
A: The unifying theme between these groups of work is healing and transformation. In case of Ukraine Diaries it was more of an observation and digestion of the traumatic events from a distance and through the prism of social media, since I was not able to be physically present on the Maidan. The exhibition itself and the events accompanying it started an engaging dialogue about various ways people dealt with the trauma of war, and the ways human creativity helped overcome those problems. This was followed by a series of portraits resulting from those conversations, specifically, depicting the sitters’ ways of moving on from trauma and their creative means of transformation. The series, titled Icons, included portraits of Ukraine’s prominent personalities of the playwright Natalya Vorozhbyt, the chef and book writer Olia Hercules, and the world-famous Ukrainian ethno-chaos band DakhaBrakha.
These conversations and sittings helped me crystallise an understanding that herbalism is one such agent of change that I can employ in my work.
Q: I heard last year that artists in residence progressed a lot after their time at the Trust: for example, they were invited to exhibit their works elsewhere, succeeded in selling their art, or received scholarships and continued their studies. What was your main achievement of this residency?
A: The opportunity to develop my work to the point when it became part of a critically engaged dialogue by far has been my biggest achievement during the residency. Continuing the discussion about each other’s work and looking for opportunities to show my work with my fellow residents in the future will become the biggest takeout from this experience.
Q: What’s next? Will you continue working with herbal theme? Any other topics or inspirations?
A: I feel like I merely scratched the surface with this subject. First of all, I would like to continue working with current paintings, following the season into the autumn and expand on the kind of herbs that are possible to find in the city. Also, I would like to collaborate with the scientists working on herbal medicines. The next step is to develop a map documenting the kinds of medicinal herbs that can be found and foraged in London, perhaps, presenting the map in form of an interactive app.
Current exhibition at Florence Trust is open for visitors till 10th July 2016. It is open daily 13:00 till 18:00. More works by Olha Pryymak can be found at her website. Follow her on twitter and instagram.
PHOTO REPORT from the Florence Trust Summer Show.
After 10th July, some work from the Florence Trust will migrate to Herrick Gallery in Piccadilly, as part of the summer #SHIFT exhibition running there until 4th September.
Stay tuned for the artist’s talk and herbal tea tasting announcement coming up soon.