Arsen Savadov is a central player in modern Ukrainian art; he formed part of the New Wave movement of the late 1980s-early 1990s that broke away from the tradition of official Soviet art and pioneered a new artistic language.
The Donbass-Chocolate series dates from 1997. The main characters in this project were real life miners, who played a leading part in the continual social unrest experienced in Donbass in the mid 1990s. In the series, the Donbass miners’ perceptions of the senselessness and hopelessness of their existence, together with the dirt, sweat, and often life-threatening accidents in the mines they experienced, are contrasted with gentle and fragile ballet tutus. These had become symbolic of the Soviet Union’s disintegration, in large part due to Swan Lake being broadcast across all Soviet television channels during the attempted military coup against Gorbachev in 1991.
The Collective Red-1 series was shot in 1998 in a provincial meat processing plant. The provocative performance makes references to the ancient legend of the Minotaur, a love child of queen Pasiphaë and a bull sent by Poseidon. The backdrop of a place dedicated to the routine slaughtering of animals proved a powerful setting for the ritualistic activities performed by the participants, who were surrounded by the colour red – the same colour as the blood of the real, recently-butchered animals.
Collective Red-2 series begins as an intrusion into a quite realistic performance of a May Day communist demonstration on the European Square in Kiev. Its central theme is the collapse of the totalitarian system and plays on the association of the colour red with the most appalling system of terror of the 20th century.
In the second half of the Collective Red-2 series, young male dancers in ballet skirts and demoralised-looking common Soviet people play out a costume drama against the backdrop of Soviet paraphernalia. Here the conflict between the Soviet and post-Soviet is represented by the aesthetic contradiction between the apolitical youth (symbolised by the handsome actors, radiating erotic energy) and the faceless crowd.