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Alexander Zhyvotkov. Altar
March 17 11:00 pm - April 9 7:00 pm
The Altar exhibition project features artwork which was created by the artist at the moment of greatest emotional tension.
Zhyvotkov methodically works to create his “Kyiv. 2014” series during the winter of 2014 which was marred by tragedy and heroism. The historical record reflects the events on Maidan practically minute-by-minute and the artist re-creates the events in his art with the same accuracy. Despair and hope push Zhyvotkov – the artist, to take on a role of an ancient chronicler. He symbolically re-creates the terrible events in his dark almost completely black wood bas-reliefs. It represents the artist’s hope that by “conquering death with death” Ukrainians will no longer need to make human sacrifices at the altar of freedom.
But his hopes were dashed when Ukrainian air defence systems shot down the first Russian missiles on February 24th, 2022. The shelling continued and the situation grew more dangerous with enemy forces advancing on the city, but Zhyvotkov stayed to work in his Kyiv studio, re-creating Ukraine’s modern tragedy as the country rose up against Russia’s barbarous onslaught. This war has caused Ukraine a lot of pain, despair, and misery and the artist carves these emotions in his sculptural reliefs and sunk reliefs in stone and wood.
“For a month I would wake up with a lump in my throat. I was filled with hate, I felt confused and scared, resentful and angry, I wanted to strangle those bastards,” – Zhyvotkov explains. Anyone familiar with the carnage suffered by the Ukrainian townships and cities as a result of Russian aggression, can relate to his words. The artist later admitted, that fear and despair left him only after he began working again.
On February 24th the artist’s studio became his own battlefield where Zhyvotkov fought as an artist for his country. Most of his works are dedicated to specific dates and months, which will be forever linked to heart-rending events in history. Bucha, Mariupol, Kherson, Irpin, and Vinnytsia. From October-December 2022, as air sirens sound repeatedly across the country, Zhyvotkov worked on his Tocsin series. Three works from the series now hang at the Saint-Séverin gallery situated nearby to one of the oldest bell towers in Paris and serve as a reminder of the many brutal crimes carried out by the Russian military.
Zhyvotkov’s artwork reminds one of wounded flesh: some of his most iconic symbols, like birds, crosses, the sun, and outlines of a woman’s face look like they have been shattered by shell fragments and splattered with crimson blotches of congealed blood.
He belongs to a rare creed of artists who focus their art on the tragedy of being and human moral ideals. His art is truly genuine and his expressive bas-reliefs in wood and stone have an deep effect on the spectator as they document tragic events and remind us of the frailty of humanism in the real world.
But his art does not leave the spectator alone with the trials and tribulations of the trying times. A contemporary art project with a sacral significance ultimately uncovers the great mystery of being – Zhyvotkov’s project Quo Vadis represents the gates for the living and the dead, the fate which eventually awaits us all.
Zhyvotkov effortlessly introduces handwritten quotes from Ecclesiastes onto the surface of his artwork. The artist from the contemporary age of tragedy supports the words of an anonymous, ancient wise-man. He preaches from his altar, the altar he built with his own hands:
The fighting will end, peace will descend on us.