Nikita Kadan / Нікіта Кадан

° 1982

Lives in Kyiv (UA), born in Kyiv (UA).

Nikita Kadan: the beating heart of history (cross-section)

Nikita Kadan embarked on an artistic quest from his native Kyiv, charting the eventful and violent history of his people, his country, and, by extension, the entire former Soviet Union. Kadan studied monumental painting at the National Academy of Fine Art in Kyiv, engaging in cross-border and interdisciplinary collaborations. He draws, sculpts, paints and creates installations - often in collaboration with architects, human rights activists and sociologists -, zooming in on the shadow the past casts over our contemporary lives. Although there often is not a speck of blood in his work, he portrays all forms of oppression, torture, and other excesses of misplaced patriotism.

Nikita Kadan is one of a generation of Ukrainian artists to emerge after the Orange Revolution in 2004. This historical event largely determined his artistic practice, compelling the artist to reflect on his position in the social and political environment, his involvement in social processes, and his awareness of his own political and historical responsibility. Unlike the previous generation of artists, who focused mainly on the aestheticisation of the subconscious, Kadan's work appeals to the citizen's position as a conscious member of society, calling for action.

Despite the political overtones of his work, Kadan is an aesthete in the classic sense of the word, exhibiting a fascination with human forms and anatomical images in his drawings, reminiscent of the prints in old medical textbooks. Kadan, however, situates them in the macabre context of mutilation, torture, pain, and sadism. These drawings - verging on surrealism, at times even on the almost grotesque - are alienating collages of body parts, organic structures, or contorted faces, with the occasional fallen statue of a head of state or a set of discarded caterpillar tracks in the background. Neither morbid nor destructive, his drawings are judiciously coloured with watercolour. They are beautifully executed and, therefore, painful.

Equally painful is the collection of white plates – the kind of mundane porcelain you'd expect to find in hotels - which he had printed in 2015 with black pen drawings of all possible ways to inflict torture: from thumb screws and breaking someone's fingers to sexual torture. The series is called Procedure Room and refers to the 'doctors' cabinets' where gruesome torture was performed under the guise of scientific experiments. These are just 'preliminary' sketches, making their simplicity all the more poignant. The sarcasm lies in the old-fashioned incisiveness that he renders visible in a humorous way. 'The doctor knows what he is doing. It's all for our own good,' reads the comment.

To depict this and other horrors of the past, the artist draws on historical images, medical textbooks, and photographs (which he often repaints or overpaints), in addition to imagery from current events, lending the notion of torture a broader, societal connotation. Besides torture aimed at immediate physical pain, there is also another, more indirect form, which mainly affects women: standing on the city streets in the freezing cold for a whole day in the hope of selling some food. This is a strategy for survival in many Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv.

Kadan shows that the horrors of the past are still visible and palpable in daily life today. He reveals how much he struggles with culture, ancestry and patriotism, but also how the detrimental consequences of its abuse continue to define people's lives. This also explains his commitment to having an active presence in society as an artist, with monumental wall drawings and critical installations: a crumbling mausoleum and a slum with poorly maintained vegetable gardens.

Kadan seems to have no intention of imposing an opinion or belief on viewers. His position is neither mocking nor does it imply a judgement. Instead he shows the past as it is and the present as he sees it. Painful and gruesome. Because horror and pain are timeless. Therein lies the barbarity of humanity from which lessons can be drawn. He highlights the history of what was and that which perhaps should not have been, with neither regret nor wistfulness. We all are part of this history.

In 2015, his research into the origins and history culminated in a sculpture titled Guilt. It consists of a 'blind' flag hanging: the nationalist symbol par excellence, but in this instance, it is an empty, unrecognisable, and anonymous flag. And above all, it doesn't really flap in the wind. It is an elegant piece of folded metal, inflexible and motionless, with rust stains, welds, and dents. This flag has suffered. It is the flag of No Man's Land.

Kadan initially was a member of the Ukrainian artist group R.E.P. (Revolutionary Experimental Space), which emerged during the Orange Revolution in Kyiv in 2004. He has also been a member of the Khudrada curatorial group since 2008. In 2016, he joined the editorial board of Prostory, an online publication of artistic and social criticism. Kadan represented Ukraine at the 2015 Venice Biennale. In 2019, he curated the Gestures of Attitude exhibition series at the Kyiv Art Museum (after a concept by Yosyp Buhanchuk, the art critic and collector who established the museum in 1974). He has received several awards, including the first prize of the PinchukArtCentre in 2011, the 2014 Special Future Generation Art Prize, and the 2016 Kazimir Malevich Art Award in 2016. He was also the 2022 laureate of the Shevchenko National Prize (Ukraine).

His work can be found in the collections of the Pinakothek in Munich (Pinakothek der Moderne), the M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, the MUMOK Museum of Modern Art in Vienna, the National Art Museum in Kyiv, the Kontakt Collection (Vienna),  the Telekom Art Collection (Bonn), and the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris).


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