Twice bound, once removed, born quick, born tangled,

        That is the beginning of a story. But it very well may be an end too. With three lines, you might never know, but can only guess at. It is a fragile thing -  to imagine beginnings with little to go on, but can this be a useful practice?

Imagining is a difficult thing as a Ukrainian, immigrant, woman.

Elements of identity, object-hood, making, are up in the air as a result of consistent imperial and institutional attempts at cultural erasure. The personal diasporic and refugee experience, which defined my interest in fragmentary life and cultural hybridity, now becomes the general experience for Ukrainian peoples. My displacement 13 years ago now molds itself with the mass displacement of many, fragments hovering and inviting a conversation across all cultures, settlements, and lifestyles. The diasporic experience in art is becoming a complex, global wound, waiting to be told intimately, and heard in its entirety. When nothing is solidified, my origin, future, and past are dispersed on an equal plane of happening, and the method becomes

to propose, to group together, to string along.

Ancient Ukrainian practices, such as embroidery, have survived consistent upheaval, and have become the core gestures of recollection and proposition for future origin making. In this iteration work, embroidery becomes a central activator of a new creature - a propositional, contemporary, and speculative Ukrainian character. Confidently named Lyusterko, she is a creature of trans-locality, silently hovering in the pictorial space, on the fringes of nerves and feelings. Quiet and monumental, her skin reveals vulnerable stitches turned inside out, bubbling in thread and symbols, just on the verge of the viewer’s primal understanding of the human body and experience. Lyusterko does not yet live in flesh, but through tactile objects, connected by semiotic meaning, and the care and determination put in red thread.

Through craft, haptic making, and strategies of display, space between elements in the installation proposes new ethnoscapes. Imagination and suggestion heal the gaps in memory, and create intimate and empowering origin stories.

And yet, all objects point to a crucial moment in time — a story caught in between a beginning and an end. Lyusterko is vulnerable, fragile, stuck in the brink between a new, clumsy birth, and an ancient, sweeping death. Entangled in red thread, congealed embroidery, in between fleeting moment and permanent structure.

The traditional practice is the central activator of the character’s life, a care of past heritage extended into the reaches of today’s possibility, woven with thread. Even now, in the midst of isolating, suffocating violence on cultural populations such as Ukrainians, red thread is amplified in meaning:

Hair,                        body,


  growth,                                blood,

bloodline,           puncture,


All there, tactile, interpretable, rich with narrative, determined in its care.

This installation is not a reenactment, or a nostalgia for the past — this is a pulling of thread, and the casting out. I do not make out of a desire to re-enter a unified Ukrainian story, but aim to give voice to the diasporic and mobile, and give them a legacy and future that is activated in making and imagination. After all, any origin starts with an act of creation — a sweeping of thread, a linking of name and body, an installation, a setting up of something. We are all carriers of origin stories.

We originate even as we move — granular, running, fleeing, fighting.

Sand over stone, sand over stone.

I am not searching for wholeness, I am searching for beginnings, and Lyusterko, little mirror, becomes my story heroine. In this, the installation asks - how do we imagine cultural futures while floating through upheaval and loss? How can tradition evolve in diasporic, moving bodies?

It is important to define how “origin” functions in the conceptual nature of the work. The origin is an evolving entity, it never finishes and never begins, and its incompleteness is what gives us hope. An origin lives parallel to acts of creation - every time a new design is embroidered, something originates. In this, making becomes propositional and speculative in cultural practices, just as much as it solidifies ancestral knowledge and ritual. Lyusterko, which means little mirror in Ukrainian, serves as the conduit between tradition and the future possibilities and recollection of tactile cultural facets — all while reflecting the contemporary nuances of human emotion and environmental or geopolitical changes for Ukrainian people and all who can relate to displacement.

Her entire functioning is a reply to the phenomena of cultural ossification, in which consistent trauma from cultural genocide leads to cultural elements reduced and preserved to continual redundant repetitions and stereotypes. Constant upheaval and instability in identity leads to a smaller amount of innovation in traditional practices, an emotional response to loss may override the risk of changing symbology, language, or visual style.

Natalie Kononenko’s investigative interviews with prominent Ukrainian-Canadian heritage collectors points to this phenomena in a set of emotional testimonies about Ukrainian object collections, and the role they play in the fantasy of unity and connection to the motherland. Both case studies explained that they wished for visual culture to remain the same as it gives them a stable fantasy of a time they never got to experience due to relocation.

In Ukrainian embroidery archives, the visual symbology is almost linguistic in its application and expression - certain designs are passed through hundreds of years in order to retain knowledge, lineage, and birthright. What fascinated me however, were the earliest examples of this craft in the Ukraine region — every maker interpreted the world through differing motifs - and the resulting works carried a permeating sense of wonder, fragility, and imaginative flexibility.

This links to the possibilities the come of instability — dizziness as resource, negative space as teacher. Reverse Archaeology, a photo essay collaboration between archaeologist Lea Wei and geographer Rupert Griffiths, points to the space around the object as a valuable resource. Perhaps, the space around the material says as much as the material itself, perhaps, disappearance and fragmentation can become the room for considering how the past and future meet through reverse temporalities.

The perhaps turns into the suppose if, or the proposal or the imagine. Imagination as practice, however chaotic it might be, stems from an intimate place of memory. Vijay Agnew’s Diaspora, Memory, and Identity: A Search for Home suggests that the imaginary can act as a constructed, generative landscape of collective observation, and that imagination becomes an access point to memory through alternative archives (craft, music, oral storytelling etc). And so, imagination informs memory, memory informs imagination.

Ursula Le Guin’s iconic text Carrier Bag theory of Fiction mentions that the imaginary is seldom anything without storytelling. That same storytelling, fictional or otherwise, is a carrier of meaning and context in its own right, conceived as a way to describe a gripping reality, while proposing the ranging spectrum of the possibilities of tomorrow.

In this thought process, I aim to link the traditional craft as meaning-carrier with the possibilities of instability, creating a story that empowers the current struggles that I carry in my own identity of being a Ukrainian. Naturally, traditional techniques demand consistency and repetition - from dyeing thread, to stitching, carving, and tying. The unstable space of possibility had to be created with patience, and so even the unknown of the future found healing and comfort in making. Lyusterko and her objects speak to this joining of worlds, while also curiously, clumsily, indulging into their folkloric and playful personas.

Every detail of the installation plays its part in this narrative and imaginative relation -building:

Body/ costume: 6 months of quiet violence, poking in and out and in. Traditional but completely unscripted, all designs intuitional. Turned inside out - inner guts and anatomy of the human and fabric for you to see

Hoop wall hanging: The care, the unkept, and the stubborn body that remembers.

Lyusterko’s womb like, violent beginnings. The weight of thread grounded in repetition.

The print: A sighting in the flesh, way back when in 97’, but only merely. Did she already live a life? Or is she just now coming into being? Is she a figure threaded through time, if we were only to see her?

Other: brush, bottle, hoop, grass, appliqué: objects of ritual, defence, grooming, boundary making, babbling symbols of a meaning just coming into consciousness. Personal objects and counterparts. Both cared for in making, and haphazard in existence.

Just as there is tension between memory and history, this iteration of Lyusterko and her mythological objects attempt to capture the fragile meeting in the loop between coming out of existence, and coming into it —- the ancient and the firstborn both carry a curious wisdom. Culturally specific, yet inherently collective, tactile craft making and the use of object space empower to story-making while the earth shakes. Lyusterko’s installation becomes a tribute to resiliently hoping, to translocality, to the origin stories that might also feel like the beginnings of ends, and to persistent making when a timely tragedy also feels timeless.

The viewer has the choice to interpret the narrative of the installation and its fate, whether it is in birth or in death. The maker has the ability to heal while sitting in a space thought to be erratic. Like in the volatile war that overtook Ukraine since 2014, onlookers are in the position to decide - help or leave, listen or abandon. It is my curiosity, and an intimate painful desire to know — how can a story develop in the face of destruction? How can  a life have autonomy when its very core and identity is negated and hunted? Is tradition a legacy, or a future?

Like the most destructive of actions, creation also does not happen quiet.

Annotated Bibliography

Agnew, Vijay, editor. Diaspora, Memory, and Identity: A Search for Home. University of Toronto Press, 2005,
    Offers a sociological perspective into the nuanced development of Diasporic studies, in relation to memory, language, and autobiography. Although none of the narratives speak of Ukrainian diaspora, which distances some theories and observations due to cultural difference, Vijay’s commentary on the imagination as a social resource is infinitely useful. The editor’s ideas around the imaginary as a constructed landscape of collective observations bring about an interesting perspective into viewing imagination as an access point to memory through alternate archives. As the central themes in my work target fragmented knowledge, the imaginary as resource becomes a central bridge between the known and the forgotten.

Bove, Carol. “The Artist’s Voice: Carol Bove| The Institute of 7Contemporary Art/Boston”. Youtube, uploaded by ICA Boston, 12 May 2017,
    Bove’s artist talk positioned her in conversation with object-based ontology and the power of display as a method to grapple with contemporary meaning making. Bove explains that display strategies are complex mechanisms used to deliver meaning and interpretation. To make art and to show art is part of the same activity - internal tensions and subconscious narratives that objects can evoke through display becomes a gritty magic of the material. In addition to Turkle’s work, Bove heavily informs my collector and display methods and the inherent meaning that they are able to evoke. Bove acts as one of the leading contemporaries on engaging with selection strategies and reformatting existing components into new frameworks and structures.

Griffiths, Rupert & Wei, Lia. “Reverse Archaeology: Experiments in Carving and Casting Space”. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. Vol. 4. 195-213, 2018, pp. 195-213, 10.1558/jca.32392.
    This photo essay, offers an engaging way of looking at how negative space around varying historic structures can become room for considering how the past and future can meet through reverse temporalities. It provides an alternative perspective to the way cross-disciplinary practices converge in discussions of materiality. The text discusses how negative space is said to hold infinite modernity in relation to the dating of the positive material, which is a very experimentative yet valuable thesis to consider in relation to installation practice the spatial and conceptual charge around the physical emptiness between objects.

Kononenko, Natalie. "Collecting Ukrainian Heritage: Peter Orshinsky and Leonard Krawchuk." Canadian Ethnic Studies, vol. 47 no. 4, 2015, pp. 127-144. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ces.2015.0036.
    This short yet generative article explores the lives of two prominent Canadian-Ukrainian heritage collectors which provide instructive case studies of collector motivations in Ukrainian diaspora groups. Kononenko argues that while some folk art collectors are motivated by financial gain, a lot of Ukrainian folk art collectors are built upon a need to make the past tangible, to rediscover one’s identity, and to create a physical link to a yearning for cultural belonging. These case studies proved to be integral in the way my work comes to critique the ossification of cultural innovation within groups whose culture was always under threat. Both case studies explained in interviews that they wished for visual culture to remain the same in order to give them a stable fantasy of a time they themselves never experienced.

Laliotou, Ioanna. “Historical Culture and Immigration, or How to Remember and How to Forget Our Immigrant Pasts.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 26, no. 3, University of Illinois Press, 2007, pp. 81-83,
    This series of two books looks examines how the history of human mobility and globalization has contributed to the formation of subjectivity of culture in the United States and Canada. Both texts offer fresh perspectives on diaspora studies by combining cross-disciplinary approaches that are founded on research of post-colonial studies. These texts were important to my research as they offered a succinct glimpse into the importance of memory and oblivion for the production of national identities. In that, cultural memory is explored as a catalyst for immigrants’ ways of remembering and representing their ethnic past.

Le Guin K. Ursula. The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. Ignota Books, 2020.
    I find Le Guin’s intriguing lyrical analysis of the means and beginnings of the development of story telling to be incredibly empowering to all those who create the “imaginary”. Two main notable points from this text are: the first cultural device was a recipient, container, and surely fiction acts as a carrier of meaning and context in its own right, and that science fiction, or fiction of any genre, is conceived as a way to describe what people actually do or feel - imaginary context to deal with a gripping reality.

Noven,Roman, and Tania Shcheglova. “Slightly Altered.” Synchrodogs, 2019,
    Photographer duo exploring the interdependency of humans and nature. Their strong visual language informs my navigation of creating spaces of the surreal in order to experience something very ordinary, humanistic and sensual – inherent reality or experiences that tie us all together. The duo also integrates traditional Ukrainian imagery in their work, usually creating photo-scapes that point to feelings of loneliness and transcendental identity.

Roelstraete, Dieter. The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art., Mar. 2009, archeological- imaginary-in-art/.
    This short yet penetrative article highlights the importance of aligning fine art and archeological practices. Roelstraete makes a point of the necessity of haptics within reconstructing the past and understanding the future : that those who seek something buried, must conduct themselves like they are digging. His arguments for more involved, and engaging artistic practices that focus on earthly matter are of great appeal to my own practice, which aims to understand through objects how contemporary display often carries an inability to grasp the present or to excavate the future. Archaeology aligned with art produces a relationship that encourages bodily engagement rather than distanced marvelling.

Sabol, D. M. Ethnocultural Semantics of Ukrainian Embroidery. Problems of General and Pedagogical Psychology, vol. 6, 2011, pp. 278-285.
    Translated. This text provides a theoretical analysis of Ukrainian semantics in embroidery, mainly exploring the role of embroidery and folk motifs in the development of an ethnic consciousness. Interestingly, the author pays considerable attention to the creation of ethnic identity through symbolism in the early childhood development stage. Sabol likens the process of embroidery to the biography of a person’s life, linking the ethnic power of the craft to a breathing, living member of society. This is useful in understanding how craft carries meaning like a developing organism that has the ability to absorb and reflect current shifts within cultures. It can operate as the perfect metaphor.

Skirskaja, Vera. New Diaspora in a Post-Soviet City: Transformations in Experiences of Belonging. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, vol. 10, no. 1, 2010, pp. 76-91,
    This article critically considers the scholarly ideas of “new diasporas” in relation to globalized cultural mixing within Odesa, Ukraine. The article is able to achieve considerable depth of analysis within the specific context of a single geographic location. As Odesa is my birth-city, its culture and views on diasporic communities still inform my own understanding of diasporic life and the complexities that this term truly inhabits. One crucial point made was in regards to how major cultural mixing within the city resulted in local communities feeling that they themselves are people of diaspora. Suddenly, diaspora is not tied to physical trajectories, but rather self-reflective ideas of belonging.

Turkle, Sherry. Evocative Objects: Things We Think With. The MIT Press, 2007.
    This collection of autobiographical essays served as a foundational text in regards to thinking about material culture through the lense of fine art. Turkle’s generative thoughts on the role of objects as meditations, sources of desire, and storytellers actively formed the way that I consider the role of objects as narrative vehicles of meaning within complex art installations. While Turkle speaks mostly of definite, recognizable objects such as cars or televisions, I use the author’s cross- disciplinary analysis of objects to apply to things that have partly lost their meaning, or are perhaps one shift away from being recognizable objects by the collective audience. We think with objects we love, but how do we think with objects we have partly forgotten?

von Hagen, Mark. “Wartime Occupation and Peacetime Alien Rule: ‘Notes and Materials’ toward a(n) (Anti-) (Post-) Colonial History of Ukraine.” Harvard Ukrainian Studies, vol. 34, no. 1/4, [The President and Fellows of Harvard College, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute], 2015, pp. 153- 94,
    Von Hagen’s essay on the functioning of (Soviet) colonialism within Ukraine’s recent history (first world war to present) acts as a foundational source for understanding the complexity of nationhood and identity due to colonial oppression. While I find the author’s approach to be quite removed from cultural nuance and emotion, the concept of the “imperial turn” and its relation to Ukraine’s lack of independence and social safety is thoroughly analyzed as a catalyzer for the contemporary political and cultural climate in Ukraine.

Yee, L. Florence. “How to Give Ghosts a Sunburn.”,
    Florence Yee’s hand interventions on printed fabric served a pivotal material presence in my research. Focusing on places and people unwilling to be claimed, problematic forms of archive, and the desire for commemoration, Yee’s subversion of archival practices introduced new ways of thinking about cultural groups in academia, material glances, and the commemoration of the unknown or vulnerable. Yee’s work informed my position on material practice within conversations between diasporic knowledge systems and the immovability of history and archive.