The video-series project Armed and Dangerous, initiated and curated by Mykola Ridnyi, reflects on the ambiguous state of Ukrainian society undergoing an external Russian intervention and internal disruptive movements.
Armed and Dangerous is a project bringing together a group of Ukrainian artists who work at the intersection of contemporary art and experimental cinema. It was initiated by Mykola Ridnyi in 2017 when he created the first video episodes that started the series. After his own production, he invited other authors to create short films exploring the phenomenon of violence in everyday life. As a result, the collective body of works was shown and exists in different representative formats: as a moving image exhibition, screening programme and online platform.
Armed and Dangerous explores the militarisation of society and, in particular, the attitude of Ukrainian youth to violence and weapons. Much attention is paid to the patriotic and militaristic education of children, both in schools and at sport camps. In this context, the problem of domestic violence, which largely affects women and children, remains virtually unnoticed in the Ukrainian political landscape.
The Russian annexation of the Ukrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the outbreak of war in the Donbass region in 2014 radically changed the social and political climate in Ukraine. The toxicity of war spread out from the hot spots, making one search for enemies where there are none. The logic of the “hostile environment” prompts a return to the cult of power and masculinity, in which any indication of diversity or otherness is regarded as a threat to “order”. In the need to defend themselves against the aggression of the Russian Federation, Ukrainians often ignore and some even support the unconscionable actions of right-wing radicals. Often, the problem of violent attacks on representatives of the LGBTQ+ and Roma communities is only seen by the victims and their milieus. Contemporary art projects critical of conservative values are also at risk. The Visual Culture Research Center in Kyiv, other institutions and their representatives have repeatedly been attacked by right-wing radicals.
The new conservative turn is not only happening in countries affected by war but also in “calm and stable” Europe and the US. Right-wing populists have skilfully filled a niche that meets the demands of a society dissatisfied with the problems of capitalism. Their cheating strategy is to shift responsibility for social problems away from corporations and political functionaries and to blame the most vulnerable groups in society. With a diplomatic smile on their face, new conservative parliamentarians legitimate violence based on intolerance of gender, religion and race on the streets and in families. The recent massive wave of protests against police brutality and racism in the US and support campaigns in other countries have shown that democratic society does not agree with such order and offers new hope of changing this anti-humanitarian course in politics.
The narratives of the episodes in Armed and Dangerous are about people seeking to emancipate themselves and to emancipate society while existing in an aggressively conservative environment. What is the role of the moving image in this process? Much of the world still finds out about political events through the TV; young people are mainly exposed to video blogs. At the same time, popular movies, which are also full of political messages, are slowly moving from cinemas to commercial online platforms. YouTube and the increasing popularity of shocking content and cinema production with attractive goals have lots in common and have had a significant influence on each other in recent decades. The perception of reality is predetermined by representations and simulations. The more moving images determine social outlooks, the less linear the connection between objective reality and its representations on the screen. This context forces artists to resort to inter-media expressions, appropriating forms of moving image such as staged or documentary cinema, television broadcasting, video blogs or archival footage, reflecting and going beyond the original sources.
Armed and Dangerous, episode 1, 2019
The first episode of Armed and Dangerous made by Mykola Ridnyi shows scenes of parties, walks and random urban situations with the author and his friends. These are mixed with found footage of right-wing radicals and militants. Superimposition of different video sources opens up the concept of “horror” between attraction on the screen and fear in real life.
Fabulous Squirt, 2019
Oksana Kazmina imitates the form of journalistic coverage used by the Ukrainian National Militia, a paramilitary organisation, whose official objective of helping the police is at odds with what they actually do in practice. Kazmina creates a comic book story about the Fabulous Squirt – a queer superhero who turns militants into quirky characters from My Little Pony.
Untitled Episode, 2019
The video essay by Elias Parvulesco explores patriotic and military education, as well as the direct impact of the war on children. Parvulesco combines documentary footage from a recent weapon manufacturers and historical guns exhibition accompanied by an expert’s commentary, with a teenage girl walking in an unknown direction with a gun in her hands.
In their film Sisters, Anna Shcherbyna and Valentina Petrova play the members of a fictional organisation called the Sisterhood of St. Mary of Egypt, which parodies a real Ukrainian anti-feminist group, the Sisterhood of St. Olga. Mixing suspense with documentary elements, the artists ridicule the cliché of how a woman should look and behave according to the conservative women’s movement.
Structures of Care, 2019
Pavlo Khailo’s Structures of Care focuses on children’s war games in their current nationalist form and their historical tradition in the Soviet Union. Using a video of a popular children’s game called ‘Dzhura’ found on YouTube, the artist reflects on his place as a researcher in front of a computer screen: an observer who becomes a participant, transmitting the material through himself.
*1985 in Kharkiv, lives in Kyiv
Mykola Ridnyi graduated from Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Fine Arts in 2008. Mykola was a founding member of the Kharkiv-based artistic collective SOSka group and co-founded the artist-run gallery of the same name. He combines different artistic activities: Mykola is an artist and filmmaker, curator and author of essays on art and politics. Site-specific installations and experimental films constitute the current focus of his practice.More about Mykola Ridnyi