- Project summary
- Making of the documentary – 2015-2016
- Current activities – October-December 2020
1. Project summary
I have been making an independent documentary about the situation in Donbas, Ukraine, focused on the socio-philosophic aftermath of this war for 5 years now. In this process I use my own cognitive methodology and innovative artistic techniques on the verge of absurdity. Currently (October-December, 2020) I am realising the artistic “The Pink Rider” performance, during which I am cycling around the military zone to create “Premortal portraits” of the forgotten inhabitants of Donbas. “The Pink Rider” is an alter ego created especially for the purpose of my work. It is the result of the absurd of the reality found there as well as an experimental attempt to reflect on the essence of humanity in the modern world. A world dominated by large urban centres and sterile, calculated media headlines, which imitate reality rather than describe it.
It all started 6 years ago in Cracow (2014), on Rittmeister Zbigniew Dunin-Wąsowicz street, vis-à-vis the neo-expressionist architecture of the late modernist “Kijów” (Kiev) cinema, near which I lived at that time. Immersed in the fumes of my own internal wars, I watched the bloody Maidan for days on live streaming. An ineffable coincidence (which I experience constantly in my work) – the building, the body of which was designed by the architect Witold Cęckiewicz, began its cultural activity on November 6th, 1967 with the premiere of the movie by the Soviet director Sergey Bondarchuk entitled “War and Peace” (an adaptation of the historical novel by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy under this same title).
Photography: Kyiv Cinema in Cracow, fot. CC
I first came into contact with Ukraine in 2012, when I met a Ukrainian woman named Antosia while studying at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow. It was for her that I obtained a passport for the first time. I had never felt such a need before. In my eyes the East was the “East” – I had been successfully instilled in its unattractiveness. I understand that. I grew up in the times of political changes in Poland, where antagonism to everything what was eastern and the West glorification were effectively implemented in the consciousness of my year (1983). It was this year, on July 22nd in Poland, that martial law, which lasted from December 13th, 1981, officially ended. During its duration, Polish society was constantly threatened by an intervention from “the East”, meaning by a Big Brother, that is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of communism, many new opportunities appeared in Poland, such as starting your own businesses, traveling the world, or paying with foreign currencies. The love of my countrymen for the West was at its peak. Consequently there was an effective antinomy to everything “eastern”. All these events coincided with my adolescence and shaping my own identity. Western culture became an unsurpassed model that every Pole wanted to aspire to. We Poles, we Europeans. This dominant worldview had such an effective stigma on me that when in 1998, in the first grade of Secondary School No. 10 in Toruń, I was given a choice of Russian or French as an additional language (apart from mandatory English), I chose French without hesitation, which I regretted repeatedly later on.
My maiden trip in 2012 to Antonina, to Lviv, made me fall in love with Ukrainian culture, architecture, and people, as well as their habits, mentality, metaphors, the continuity and simplicity of social life organisation. It was my great discovery at that time, so crucial and significant that a moment after the Maidan events and the outbreak of the Donbas war, in April 2015, I arrived in Kiev out of a completely unjustified need to act.
It was due to my creative instinct that I often experience and let it get swept away – sometimes against logic, and even on the verge of the absurd. It was a month before establishing contacts with the Ukrainian “Babylon 13” documentary collective, which in my opinion, at that time was creating the history of documentary cinema – martial and intimate. I had one plan, to make a documentary about the “Babylon 13” collective. However, already in Kiev, after getting acquainted with the subject and the details of the collective’s activities, their history ceased to be attractive to me. Therefore I gave up, persuaded by my competent friends. At that time, I lived in the kitchen, in one of the typical Kiev prefabricated block of flats, right next to the Taras Shevchenko metro station, inhabited by the rising Kiev intelligentsia – future Doctors of Philosophy, Antonina’s friends. Sipping coffee, I watched them read Ukrainian poetry, and with what passion they learnt their national language that way, the knowledge of which was not considered justified at that time. These were the first heralds of the cultural transformation and breach that were taking place, which I could observe with my own eyes. Even though I was not able to understand much of what I saw then, I stayed.
3. The First Phase: Creating a documentary with the working title “Black coffee stirred with Kalashnikov”– Donbas 2015-2016
I experienced Donbas, both on the Ukrainian side of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the People’s Republic of Ukraine at the time when the war was already in its prime. I have developed my own methodology of documentary art, based on the idea of interacting with the environment by being an integral part of it, and not only an observer, as opposed to the correspondents from all over the world found there. Documentaries are intended to present a fragment of reality that is subject to the least possible interference by a director. However, my cinematographic vision is as realistic as it is creative – excluding any form of uniformity. One of my workshop features is an incomplete control over the reality being filmed and reacting to it. My work is based on the tradition of constructivism and conceptualism, deriving from the achievements of conceptual art, which prefers purely intellectual speculations over sensual impressions. However, I treat the formalistic and conceptual approach as natural and inseparable components of media art, containing forms and concepts that constantly create the changing act of communication. So I treat the area, which I am moving in as an area of philosophical confrontation between art and the reality. I confront myself with the reality, in which also “me” myself, during this project realisation, I am the subject and object of the cognition.
Gallery: Making of documentary ‘Black Coffee stirred with Kalashnikov’ 2015-2016, fot. Sebastian Plocharski
I am interested in the criticism of the substantial concept of a man, the meaning of his or her individuality. Stanisław Judycki looks for the foundations of individuality in the analysis of direct experience. He asks about the reason for the presence of “I” in human consciousness, i.e. the subject of consciousness processes. In metaphysical thinking there is a place to analyse inner experience, focus on the problem of consciousness and the way of experiencing oneself as a human being. One of the errors of systemic thinking is (after Tischner) the use of the term “substance” towards humans. This results in their objectification. In Donbas I experienced exactly such an “objectification” of a man. The area of the philosophical confrontation of art with the reality, I treat as a form of my authorial experiment. These are very private and personal experiences. However, artefacts in the form of a movie and photography become a public activity.
The “content” resulting from the form of its acquisition seems more important to me than the content as an autonomous category. An art tool – a type of a transmitter that is a mobile phone with videos recording ability. A mobile phone in the first phase of my film was very important in the creative process, definitely more desirable than the professional camera that I am currently filming the rest of the documentary with. It is the camera in the mobile phone, although it has a limited artistic quality of the acquired image, it also has the most important and desired property in documentary production (which is absent in a professional camera) – intimacy.
I am aware that my work is exposed to a whole range of interpretations, I am not indifferent to them and I want to interact with them. However, one has to distinguish between artistic and political work, although each form of art in some is way political, especially when dealing with such a delicate topic as war. Contrary to the correspondents or journalists found there, my activity in Donbas is always focused on daily, natural matters. I experience a situation through its inevitability and the continuity of my path. I live with the people of Donbas and experience their everyday life by cooking dinners with them or helping them with their work. I have lived both with the civilian population and in various military battalions – submitting to this process and almost glorifying it.
The Second Phase – “The Pink Rider - The Line” performance. “Premortal portraits of the people of Donbas” project realisation. October-December 2020.
Photography: Transport of the bike by train Kyiv – Popasne, 2020, fot. Sebastian Płocharski
On September 29th, 2020, I got off at the station in Liseczańsk. Further east, you will not get to Donbas anymore, at least by train. As they would say in Kiev – a province.
A province is a pejorative term instilled by the townsmen. I do not know why, it is believed that the province is a barbaric place, almost backward, with little culture. At least this is what one of my friends, a Ukrainian director living in Kiev, thinks when he says – “The people of Donbas are the problem of the Donbas itself”. But when you look closely and get rid of all stereotypes, this “province” occurs an area that is visually extremely rich in terms of space and people. I live in Glasgow, Scotland, where Ukraine is considered a hyper-province, not to mention Donbas.
Photography: The bike with all of the equipment what I carry with me. Sievierodoniecku, Donbas, fot. Sebastian Płocharski
Glasgow or Kiev are one great reproduction. The city thinks what it looks like, what it does and what it should do. The city is constantly recreating and copying. The flow of life is constantly mechanically documented and symbolised.
In contrast to a city, a “province” like Donbas is unreflective, self-determined. And when I enter its environment, I act as an agent who records a trace on myself, an index of this reality and transfers this imprint through various communication channels, from a film to photography, to the imagery sphere. I make a breach in its hermetic structure and collect its artefacts. Let’s face it, I formally belong to the bourgeoisie living in a post-industrial city like Glasgow. I learn communication through experience. I am interested in everything happening here and now. And between such culturally and spatially vast areas as Scotland and Donbas, you have to learn fast, really fast to survive.
Photography: Preparing to the project and the bike. Toruń (Poland), 2020 fot. Sebastian Płocharski
Photography: Sebatsian Plocharski on the bike in Kiev, 2020, fot. Sebastian Płocharski
“The Pink Rider” is a kind of my alter ego, especially created for the project’s purpose. In “The Pink Rider” performance I cycle around Donbas, as a bicycle is a natural transport for the people in the “provinces”. This bicycle symbol is a kind of a link between the “province” and the city. I also cycle in Glasgow. The bicycle allows me to experience direct contact with the road, nature and people. I have with me only the essentials for survival and photographic equipment to record (which is also a form of an interaction) everything that I encounter on my way. I try to move from village to village without setting myself any particular time frame, giving in to the situation and the road. I do my work in quite specific conditions, on the front line, so I take into account all the adversities of this situation. I want to create photographic portraits of the people of Donbas, already a little forgotten and left on the margins of history, of the aforementioned considered unnecessary “province”. I will present the result of my work in bourgeois conditions – warm and sterile galleries of Western Europe. And this dissonance, contrast and provincial-city confrontation are also in the sphere of my interests.
You can track ‘live’ my rout by bike on Strava app: https://www.strava.com/athletes/22475449
The Rout is along the first front line, approx. 350 miles. Should take 4 weeks.
Screen: Map of the Donbass and the rout of 350 miles which I will be making for 4 weeks by bike
Officially, there is no “art” involved. The path I take to reach my heroes (present and future ones) may be associated with an adventure, tourism or sport (bicycle), something that is not directly related to art, but in this case the choreography of the moment is important. And my work synchronises all its components. My own corporeal presence, experiencing this path, people, situations and reality is like a framework. Therefore, I find this process very personal. For me, it is an internally important, individual challenge, in which it is impossible to escape from a certain pathos.
Photography: All of cinematography equipment what I carry with me, fot. Sebastian Plocharski, 2020
My work even sins with absurd to some extent, it has elements of daydreaming and nonsense, it is “useless” in a documentary form. However, it is also a reflection of the absurd situation found there, which war belongs to. An example of the absurdity and symbolism is, among others, a silver-coloured bicycle – reflective, it is not only my current means of transport, but also a medium for experiencing Donbas in the most primal way. Part of the symbolism constitutes also a pink bicycle helmet. It is an intermediate colour between white and red. It is a symbol of love and serenity, but pink also causes uncomfortable associations in some people.
I try to devote this path to reflection and observation, to read metaphors and be their natural, symbolising component. I try to unify the time without being distracted by tourism. Donbass exists as a symbol and I try to capture a fragment of it, which I personally experience.
Sebastian Plocharski with bike on the main train station in KIev, 20020, fot. Sebastian Plochrski
I do not want to dramatise my work, it has nothing to do with heroism. I see myself as a privileged person – not only for financial reasons, but also because of the opportunity to spend my time. I am an independent artist, so I can allow it myself, I will return to “safe” Glasgow in a moment. I use the official press card authorising me to enter the military zone, and I am also a member of the British Association of Journalists. I believe that what I do is a response to my privileged position, but also an effect of an artistic alienation.
Photography: The bike with all of the equipment what I carry with me. Sievierodoniecku, Donbas, fot. Sebastian Płocharski
The situation in Donbas has not changed for the last 6 years, currently it has just disappeared from the mainstream of information. I believe in my work, I do not know if it changes anything, but I know that every action showing the nonsense and degradative properties of war is important and necessary.
This is dedicated for all people of the Donbass, for my and yours peace!- Sebastian Tomasz Płocharski, Sievierodonieck, 11.10.2020
Photography: Preparing for project “The Pink Rider – The Line”, Kiev, 2020, fot. Takeshi Omura