The installation Ukraine Suite (1996 – 2022) by British contemporary artist, educator and researcher Pam Skelton is comprised of four short films, including Liquidators (1996), Conversations with Liquidators (2001), Chernobyl Mon Amour (2021) and Aftermath (2022), as well as five photographic portraits which utilise Skelton’s own footage recorded during her two research trips to Ukraine in 1993 and 1995.
…In Resnais’s film [Hiroshima, Mon Amour], two places, Nantes and Hiroshima coalesce. In Skelton’s video [Chernobyl Mon Amour] two radiological events are brought into relation; her filmic layering opens up what academic Michael Rothberg refers to as multidirectional memory, in which collective memories emerge in dialogue with each other, current crises and past traumas being linked in such a way that acknowledges their difference while creating a wider narrative of implications across times and locations…
How did Pam Skelton’s work Ukraine Suite evolve over the last 25 years? In the artist’s own words:
I set out from London on 12 July 1993 with a Hi 8 video camcorder, still camera, Walkman recorder, notebook and a small suitcase. My destination was my ancestral home – an Ukrainian village near Chernobyl. Travel had become possible for the first time since Ukraine emerged as an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was an encounter with a land reeling from a turbulent past and facing an uncertain future. The crumbling buildings and the empty shelves bore the signs of years of shortages and neglect. The layered histories of past conflict and the overwhelming fear of the consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant explosion still loomed large.
I had two agendas – to explore the impact of the nuclear disaster and the aftermath of the Holocaust in Ukraine. I visited the Chernobyl Power Plant and a number of impoverished small villages and towns which once were home to a significant number of Jewish inhabitants, including my grandparents. I was not making an artist’s film. I was documenting a visit and reflecting on the lived tragedies of millions of people. The resulting footage is raw and nervous, perhaps mirroring my emotions at the time. Revisiting the rushes and scrutinising the images that I recorded during my visits, I recognise now that my connection to the past and to the continuing narrative in the present, including the current war in Ukraine, is part of theinterconnected and mutually shared history in which we are all implicated.
29 Oct 2022 3pm at Tension Fine Art, 135 Maple Road, London SE20 8LP
Free entry. All welcome.
Join me, Iliyana Nedkova and Pam Skelton to find out more about the installation in the context of the artist’s current and most recent exhibitions, including Consequences. Art and Activism in the Nuclear Age and We Refuse to be Scapegoats
The first public presentation of Skelton’s Ukraine Suite in the UK was part of the group show Consequences. Art and Activism in the Nuclear Age at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Edinburgh 16 Aug – 3 Sep 2022 as documented in the exhibition views by Tiu Makkonen above. Consequences was one of the exhibtions and events which comprised the Peace Cranes project co-curated by Iliyana Nedkova and Heather Kiernan and initiated by Peace & Justice (Scotland).
Following Consequences, Skelton’s works, including her five film stills and the four short artist’s films from the installation Ukraine Suite, formed part of her solo exhibition at Tension Fine Art, London 13 Oct – 5 Nov 2022, alsongside a selection from her early painting series The X Mark of Dora Newman and Zones.
Chernobyl Mon Amour (2021), the third film in this four-part series Ukraine Suite, was commisisoned as part of the Peace Cranes project and presented online at CHRNBL International Forum, Kiev over 5 days 6-10 Oct 2021, alongside presentations by other artists, scientists, liquidators, representatives of state and cultural organizations from 15 countries. The forum presentations explored the impact of Chernobyl on humanity, including through the silence, forgeries and classified USSR documents, the problems of reintegration of victims and liquidators into society and the possibilities of modern technology to question and preserve our history.
Chernobyl Mon Amour brings together the two nuclear disasters of Chernobyl 1986 and Hiroshima 1945 through the artist’s own personal, multidirectional memory. and draws on Skelton’s interest in Marguerite Duras’ screenplay of the film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) directed by Alain Resnais. Could contemporary art help us remember and re-remember historical events wisely? Could artists enable us imagine peaceful futures by connecting seemingly unrelated histories? It draws on newly unearthed footage from her first visits to her ancestral Ukraine, including at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the Institute of Clinical Radiology in 1993 and 1995, as well as on her interest in Marguerite Duras’ screenplay of the film Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) directed by Alain Resnais.