Julia-Anna Simonchuk

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In my research and practice I am exploring ideas around power, ideology, war, cultural identity, historical & personal memory and time. The focus is on the urban and the natural landscapes in relation to ideology, specifically - architecture under totalitarian regimes. I am engaging with the conversation around Soviet monumentalism and the approaches to its demonumentalisation in my home country – Ukraine. I am looking at these themes in conjunction with the concept of the uncanny. Through the critique and visual experiments I’m attempting to reflect on civil and personal identity.

Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the russian federation in 2022 I have been reflecting on the function of art and the role of an artist in society - the questions of politics of culture and public art and who it serves. Whether an artist has agency for making a change and what could be the ways of contributing to resistance to tyranny and lies using skills and platforms artists have. These thoughts made my practice shift towards being more collaborative and socially-engaging. I have started to engage in and organise performance events and treat them as a form of action, the way of spreading awareness, raising funds for charitable causes and strengthening communities.

Although addressing grand narratives & ideologies and debunking those I normally work with a small scale and use delicate and fragile materials such as casting wax, foam board, paper, fabric. This way I am reversing the meaning/nature of a phenomenon, trying to question, desacralise and subvert it. For instance, with a notion of the monumental - making works that are antonyms, direct opposites to what the word is associated with: grand, sublime, colossal, permanent becomes fragile, insatiable, miniature in size and transient.

Monumental Threat
foamboard, plastic, modeling clay, glue, 153x46cm November-December 2022 My practice is concerned with the decommunisation of ideological monumental art of the Soviet period in Ukraine (my home country). The Palace of the Soviets - a utopian megalomaniac project that was never realised, is being deconstructed, altered and transformed into a Kalashnikov rifle (AK-47). This way I’m emphasizing the formal likeness of the architectural structure with a weapon. Also, I’m reflecting on official art and architecture being an aggressive and harmful instrument of propaganda under totalitarian regimes.
Palaces and Illusions
Collage, A4 paper November 2022 Landscape picture – Dmytro Barchyshak. Ukraine, spring 2022; Monument – proposal of Boris Iofan ‘The Palace of the Soviets’, 1935 In this collage series I am working with Soviet architectural proposals which were never realised. This fact conceptually adds to the idea of the utopia. These structures, as the ideology they were called to represent are something that could work in theory, or what was attempted to be made but ended up being far from the initial idea. For the collage on this slide I am making a reference to an idea of naturalisation, when the artists would address the imagery of land and nature in order to justify and legitimise the rule of the regime. Landscapes and idyllic rural life were frequently pictured in Soviet propaganda films. In the nazi Germany the metaphor of a living organism was frequently applied to nation and functioning of society (Brandon Taylor and Wilfried van der Will, 1990).
The Falling
Casting wax, mdf 2021-22 This work is an exploration of movement as a static image, employing the principle of chronophotography and converting it into the three- dimensional form. It is addressing Decommunization - a campaign in Ukraine and other post-Soviet republics, aimed to remove communist symbolism, including monumental propaganda, from the public sphere and space. One of the main targets are monuments to controversial Soviet leaders. Even though the USSR has collapsed more than 30 years ago, the conversation around its legacy and the effect of colonial history is still on-going. What's been literally solid and solidly unquestionable gains a fluid and ephemeral quality. A statue can be dismantled rapidly, but the continuous process of toppling idols, reconsidering identities and dealing with the consequences of consistent ideological propaganda, is much more durable and complicated. This proposal allows a statue to remain and fall at the same time - critically engage with history and question those who were and are in power. This work could be considered as a proposal for action and for no action at the same time. ​
Work Credit: 
Credits to technician Dr Sarah Fortais who was guiding me through the technical process of realisation of the sculpture
The Worm
A4, acrylic paint, erasing October 2022 Dzyga Vertov 'Enthusiasm. Symphony of Donbas’, 1930, 95 min (photograph from the feature film); German troops at the Polish border, 1939 (documentary photograph) This work is made using found images and acrylic paint is exploring the theme of propaganda. The thread/worm here is an invasive organism, a threat, a parasite. The red colour of this organism refers to biomorphic imagery, like parasites, blood vessels, intestines, a worm, an animated industrial pipe - a link of superstructure and infrastructure. The colour is frequently associated with far left or right ideologies, states and parties, extremist or nationalist movements. Also, it’s the colour of the Soviet flag. A giant mythical creature such as Hydra or Leviathan is often used as a personification of evil, power, enemy or state apparatus.
The Red Corner
137x260mm; steel, red acrylic thread December 2020 In Christian Orthodox tradition the Red Corner is a sacral place in the house where religious icons and the most precious objects are displayed. The role of an icon used to be, and still remains, quite essential for some people in my country (Ukraine). I was questioning what type of feelings an icon evokes in a domestic environment. It can be both a sense of protection, but also an impression of being constantly watched and controlled. It reminds me of a CCTV camera. You know that you are being guarded, but also under surveillance, which may bring anxiety and enhance self-consciousness.

Originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, Julia is currently based in London. She is a recent graduate from BA (Hons) Fine Art at Central Saint Martins (UAL) and is beginning an MA course in Slade (UCL) the next academic year. This year she received UAL SU Arts Award in a category «Outstanding Student Contribution to Community» and was nominated for MullenLowe NOVA Awards.

Julia is working with various media, including sculpture, collage, installation, dance and performance and socially-engaging projects. She has experience in participating in cultural, theatrical and visual art events (e.g. Gogolfest (2017 and 18), ProEnglish Theatre (2021), both in Ukraine) and collaborative performance projects of CSM with Studio Wayne McGregor and the National Gallery (2022). In September 2022 she organised and performed at a fundraiser classical music concert Sounds for Ukraine in St. Paul’s Actors Church Covent Garden, London. The event involved both critically-acclaimed pianists as well as talented amateurs performing classical pieces by celebrated composers and their own compositions inspired by Ukrainian music. She has an experience in designing posters (UCL academic event) and album cover («Alternative Readings», Michael Finnissy).

In 2021 Julia was a presenter at Post-Socialism and Art symposium at TrAin research centre, organized by Dr Nela Milic and since then has been following and is now starting to be involved in activity of the community of artists and scholars working with the questions of power, ideology, decolonisation, Eastern European art and history and memory studies.

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