This mysterious new club is Kyiv's latest creative refuge
Take an exclusive first look at their new publication, profiling the Ukrainian capital's most exciting artists.
Left: Polina Karpova, right: Yana Franz
Before you continue reading, we recommend opening a tab with flight options to Kyiv, Ukraine. Let’s face it: after their infamous Cxema raves, it’s no big secret the city hosts one of the best parties you’ll ever attend. Like that wasn’t already enough, a mysterious new club opened in November 2019 on the site of a former brewery. What looks like an abandoned building from the outside is now an LGBTQIA+ friendly club hosting local upcoming DJs alongside big names like Volvox, SPFDJ and Blawan.
The club night has no fixed name, only the mathematical symbol “∄” which equates to “does not exist”. You can’t even look it up unless you have the specific link to their website, as it changes every season, and they don’t have social media either. But don’t panic, we’ve got you covered.
For every new season, they publish a magazine that explores a specific topic and is only available inside the club. The team behind it produce content that helps to define the scene itself: for its very first edition, it’s all about Ukrainian identity and features 18 local artists and their work. Questioning how youth culture is represented in contemporary Ukrainian photography, it aims to inspire the viewer to dig deeper and find new meanings in the things they already know.
The interviews below are a small preview of their latest issue. Get your hands on it at their next rave in Kyiv!
Polina Karpova, 28
Who or what influenced you as an artist?
I use the crafts of both of my parents: photography and costume styling. My father was a commercial photographer and knew all of the members of the Kharkiv School by name. When I started with photography ten years ago, I tried to find my place, my own signature style and relied on famous foreign photographers, mostly fashion photographers like Steven Meisel.
My mom has been a tailor all of her life. When I was a kid, she told me to pay attention to the people passing by on the street and I noticed how some of them are dressed in a funny way. Later, I realised that I was interested in using irony, kitsch, and nostalgia as the main themes in my work. I also used the aesthetics of fashion photography -- in particular its staged nature, artificial poses, and prescribed angles. I also went to art school, so I am very concerned about the colour schemes in my photos.
Would you say that post-Soviet aesthetics unite contemporary young photographers?
I felt it did very strongly after the Maidan demonstrations. To be honest, I was mad about it because I thought that all these hipsters had bought film cameras and rushed to take pictures of the “Sovok” -- a Russian derogatory term to refer to Soviet nostalgists -- just because it was trendy now. I felt like they were taking away my main source of income. Now I understand that there is absolutely no point in that: everyone is so different, everyone has their own path.
Sasha Kurmaz, 33
How has graffiti culture shaped you? To what extent do you consider yourself a part of its subculture?
I became part of the movement because I wanted to develop my creativity. I grew up in brutal residential projects on the Left Bank. There is nothing great around there: the only option you have is hanging out with the guys on construction sites, popping pills, playing soccer -- or you can do graffiti. But at some point, I realised that I couldn’t go on like that. Graffiti is a very isolated subculture, and it does not allow you to realise your creative potential to its fullest. Photography became a continuation of my creative path, and of knowing myself.
Graffiti has left a very textured imprint on me: it gave me a feeling of freedom. At night, you can go out and dare to do something others don’t. I mean, you can leave a tag that nobody but other graffiti artists will understand; you can leave a political message that is clear to many more; or you can leave a dick, which is autonomous, universal, and understandable in any language. You leave a dick and it’s clear to everyone: it’s just a dick.
What are some characteristics of young Ukrainian people that stand out to you?
For me, young people today are an entirely new generation. I don’t know what kind of people they are and how they perceive life. Everyone has a phone, everyone’s attention is distracted. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel like there will be a lot of people with new mental disorders linked to all these devices.
Do you remember the first thing you took a photo of?
I did a graffiti diary. Then I started to ride my bike, taking photos of my friends on our trips around Ukraine. Nothing special.
What defines your photography right now?
I use my intuition. Before I moved to Kyiv I would just pull out my camera on the go and take a picture. But the more work I saw from other photographers, the more beautiful my pictures became in its composition. When I shoot portraits, it’s still based on emotions, but my approach became more meaningful.
What gives you comfort?
I find comfort in freedom and in a sincere environment. When there are people around me who I can meet regardless of what mood I’m in.
When talking about comfort, is there still something Ukraine lacks?
I’ve never been super comfortable here, but in the past few years, it changed. It’s probably related to my family as we used to move a lot and never had our own apartment. After three years in Kyiv, I thought about moving to Berlin. But then, at some point, I felt super comfortable, and now I don’t want to live anywhere else. I like that I know many places and restaurants where you can drink great coffee and just walk around in the city.
Yana Franz, 26
How did you become a photographer?
When I was in high school, I started going out with a boy who took photos. Back then, I was selling clothes, and we did a few photoshoots together: I was the stylist, he was the photographer. I suggested we work as a team, but he refused and soon we split up. A few months passed, and I found a Skina film camera at home with the crappiest lens you can imagine. I just started taking pictures when I was out with friends.
Some clubs have a no-photo policy so that people have a chance to feel unrestrained and free.
I like the idea of banning photography because people are fully immersed at the moment. When I was taking photos at the first Cxema event, people turned away from me. The more popular it became, the more people asked me to be photographed -- they even messaged me a week before. I wasn’t interested in staging photos, I want people to be in the middle of an action.
You have a series of photos of people kissing. Did this start by accident, or did you intend to develop this series?
It’s my favourite series, and it was quite accidental. I enjoy looking at people who are in love with their souls. You can feel and see the person’s attitude toward their partner through a kiss.
In general, I’m a very sensitive person: I experience life through my feelings, although it’s not always convenient. At the risk of sounding trivial, I think that nothing would exist without love: the world would be grey, and people would be robots.
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Editor's note: In June 2019, the United States Board on Geographic Names changed its English spelling of Ukraine’s capital from Kiev to Kyiv, as that is the official Latin transliteration of the city’s name in the Ukrainian language. Since then we've also changed our style guide and are now using Kyiv instead of Kiev.