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I translate contemporary Ukrainian poetry into contemporary American poetry. My partner in translation has always been Wanda Phipps, an African American poet. Together we founded Yara Arts Group in 1990. To create Yara's original theatre pieces we start with Ukrainian poetry, in the original and in our translation, and then "translate" these texts into bilingual theatrical scenes that acquire a dynamic visual aspect in production.

One day last fall I had the idea to invite other artists to "translate" this poetry into their own media. I sent ten poems we translated to fifteen artists. I asked each to chose one of the poems and create an installation inspired it. Every artist accepted my invitation and several invited others to collaborate on their pieces. We also met two installation artists from Ukraine who were visiting New York on a Soros Travel grant and invited them to take part in our exhibit.

Nineteen artists took part in our exhibit creating seventeen installations. They included: Anna Sidorenko, Sergei Yakunin, Luba Kierkosz, Alex Kytasty, Petro Hrytsyk, Hilary Zarycky, Joel Schlemowitz, Margaret Morton, Anya Farion, Watoku Ueno, Ilona Sochynsky, Yarko Cigash, Ana Rewakowicz, Olga Maryschuk, Judith Campbell, Larissa Lawrynenko, Annette Friedman and Cynthia Karalla. Most artists chose to work with poems by contemporary Ukrainian writers such as: Oleh Lysheha, Attila Mohylny, Oksana Zabuzhko, Yuri Andrukhovych and Anka Sereda. One artist chose a poem by Pavlo Tychyna, while the artists from Ukraine decided to work on ancient Ukrainian incantations.

We exhibited the installations throughout the three floors of the Fifth Avenue mansion that houses the Ukrainian Institute of America. At the entrance to each installation we posted the poem and its English translation. The installations included experimental films, photographs, videos, sound, sculpture and painting.

The exhibit was part of a weekend festival entitled Poetry: Installations and Performances. At a special gala on Saturday night Yara actors performed excerpts from "InVerse, " in which they plait an original poem with its translation so that the two languages speak to each other on stage. The actors performed the unsurpassed lyrical poetry of Pavlo Tychyna, delicate poetry-in-prose pieces by Vasyl Stefanyk, futuristic poetry from the 1920s and the 1960s, but concentrated primarily on the works of writers from the 1990s. "InVerse" featured music by Genji Ito, Julian Kytasty and Roman Hurko. The festival concluded on Sunday with an afternoon of poets reading their own works.

I believe that the magnificence of our literary tradition is overlooked by many because it is no longer truly available to them. By translating the poems into other media and languages we allow the power of these words to speak to new audiences. The poems in turn inspire the artists to speak in a new voice, to enter into a dialogue with another artist, the writer.

Virlana Tkacz, Curator
Artistic Director of Yara Arts Group



Certainly, the events Virlana Tkacz creates with the Yara Arts Group are both unusual and unique. The festival began with the opening of "Installations" - visual works of art based on specific poems - in the original Ukrainian and in English translations by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps. On the first floor the installations by Anna Sidorenko and Sergei Yakunin were based on traditional folk songs. To walk up to the second floor you had to pass by "Fortune Telling" by Vasyl Makhno, as Luba Kierkosz embodied this text. -- two heaps of earth or mounds connected by wire. On the second floor you could breathe the cold air of "Mantra for the First Week of Winter" by Yuri Hudz and Alex Kytasty, look at "Pastels" by Pavlo Tychyna and Hilary Zarycky, or see, yes see, "Song 2" by Oleh Lysheha and Petro Hrytsyk. You could cross the cinematic bridge Joel Schlemowitz created for Attila Mohylny's "A Bridge Crosses the Pond," and read Oksana Zabuzhko's "Letter from the Summer House" through the eyes of photographer Margaret Morton.

Walking up to the third floor your could visit "Home" by Maria and Ana Rewakowicz, a room seemingly without walls, that breathes with primal breath. You could pass the white paper "Mountain" of Oleh Lysheha with a traditional mountaineer's costume made out of wire mesh by Watoku Ueno, to walk into a garden of fallen leaves with the single "Pear" by Oksana Senatovych and Anya Farion. You could also walk in the opposite direction into the "Library" of Yuri Andrukhovych, from which Annette Friedman expelled all the exotic birds and plants, leaving antiques in the spirit of Andrukhovych. - a fireplace, a piano and library shelves filled with book s Andrukhovych wouldn't dream of reading. Also in the library Cynthia Karalla found a refuge for Victoria Stakh's agitated "Ode to the Brain."

One installation deserves special mention. It was exhibited on a mantelpiece, inspired by Anka Sereda's poem "I Don't Want To Be a Poet…" and was appropriately titled ""Preserving Ukrainian Culture." Next to a jar of sauerkraut which the poet aspires to be, stood similar jars of pickled Ukrainian Easter eggs, embroidered dancers and other material manifestations of "national identity"… The highpoint of the festival, as expected, was the theatrical performance "InVerse" on Saturday. The auditorium was packed.

Taras Luchuk, Narodna Volya (Scranton, PA) March 11, 1999

Virlana Tkacz, who loves to translate poetry, came up with the very interesting idea of translating poetry into visual media. She invited a group of artists and gave them poems on the basis of which they would create installations.… My attention was drawn the most to the installation "Preserving Ukrainian Culture." On a mantelpiece stood a row of jars, with pickled kozaks, bandurists, embroideries, Hutsul carvings and, of course, sauerkraut. I could not stop laughing when I saw this installation… whose spirit was so postmodern. The best installations were: "Mountain" by Watoku Ueno to a text by Oleh Lysheha, "Before the World Began" by Anna Sidorenko, "Hold a Candle" by Sergei Yakunin, "Fortune Telling" by Luba Kierkosz to the poetry of Vasyl Makhno, "Home" by Ana Rewakowicz to a text by Maria Rewakowicz, and "Song 2" by Petro Hrytsyk to a poem by Oleh Lysheha.

The dramatic readings of the Ukrainian poetry by the Yara actors were especially good. Cecilia Arana, Tom Lee, Xenia Piaseckyj and Shona Tucker delivered the texts in English and Ukrainian, reading, chanting and singing the poems. The collage-like style of the performance was very appropriate for the style of the installations that filled the space of the building. The bilingual poetry readings were on par with the rest of the festival. Both the Ukrainian language poets and the English ones presented quality texts in effective readings.The festival was original and successful.

Bohdan Boychuk, Svoboda, February 26, 1999


Everything we saw and heard at the poetry festival January 29-31 organized by Yara Arts Group at the Ukrainian Institute of America challenged our assumptions... The audience, primarily young, watchs a film. The film is unusual. A small antique picture frame hung on an almost invisible thread stretches diagonally across the room. Behind it a vintage projector focuses "eye" so that a black and white scene comes to life inside the picture frame: "A bridge crosses the pond/ In the garden of our youth" The thread, the picture frame, the projector and the film were an installation that embodied these words from a poem by Attila Mohylny, a contemporary poet from Kyiv. Ukrainian-American director Virlana Tkacz and African American poet Wanda Phipps translated the poem into English. The visual composition, or installation, was the creation of Joel Schlemowitz, a well-known New York film and video artist, who has created over 45 short experimental art films shown in the most prestigious museums of the world.

"A Bridge Crosses the Pond" was only one fragment of the poetry festival - this very unusual event that Yara created within the walls of the Ukrainian Institute of American. The main event was the premiere of "InVerse."

The installations began in the reception hall. On a stone mantle piece stood the installation "Preserving Ukrainian Culture:" various-sized mason jars contained pickled wooden folk dancing couples, embroidered napkins and unfinished traditional ornaments. Right next to them stood another part of the composition - a jar with real sauerkraut. This installation was inspired by a poem by Anka Sereda claiming that she doesn't want to be a poet, nor an artist, nor even a model. "I'd rather be sauerkraut," writes the poet, "How many questions would then automatically disappear..." Every composition of the festival could provoke a discussion. So it should be...

I asked Joel Schlemowitz how closely, he felt, his work transmitted the essential idea of the poet. He answered: "The poet has his secrets and I have mine. An installation gives you the right to authorial interpretation." Virlana Tkacz the artistic director of Yara and the organizer of the festival told me that at first she picked 200 poems and sent them to 18 artists who she thought would have "interesting reactions to the written word." Each artist chose one poem. Some of the artists were making their debut in this medium. Anya Farion is a well-known American sculptor who is listed in the "Who's Who of American Women." She chose a poem by Oksana Senatovych, a poet from Lviv, who died two years ago, because she liked her ideas on balance in the world. The materials Anya chose included dried leaves, seeds and a pear. Ilona Sochynsky is a painter who works with oils and pastels. She said she knew from the first phrase of Oksana Zabuzhko's poem: "I know I will die a difficult death" that this poem was also about her. This inspired the images she chose for her composition: a self-portrait from her youth marking the beginning of an individuals life on earth and five candles that burn in the shape of a cross as the end.

During the three days of the festival you could hear, see, smell, feel and taste poetry on all three floors of the Ukrainian Institute of America. Anyone who assumed that the white doors in the reception hall led to a balcony where they could smoke, would soon discover that they had entered "A Mantra for the First Week of Winter" by the Kyiv poet Yurko Hudz and Alex Kytasty, a sound designer who presented the poem as music, using five pieces he composed and lights.

In this kingdom of poetry there were two dark room, which perhaps best presented the mystery and complexity of "decoding" these visual interpretations of the Word. One room had an ice cone pendulum suspended from the ceiling that slowly melted, as does human life (installation by Lviv artists Anna Sidorenko and Sergei Yakunin). In the other a video shot very close-up showed us millimeter by millimeter a young woman's skin with goose bumps being "recognized" by an elderly woman's hand (installation by Ana Rewakowicz, a young artist from Canada based on "Home," a poem by her sister Maria Rewakowicz.)

-- Kateryna Kindras and Valentyn Labunsky, Meest Newspaper, February 5-11, 1999


Poetry Installations
Exhibit curated by Virlana Tkacz and Olga Maryschuk

first floor
installation by Anna SIDORENKO

HOLD A CANDLE, traditional
installation by Sergei YAKUNIN

FORTUNE TELLING by Vasyl Makhno, 1996
installation by Luba KIERKOSZ

second floor
by Yurko Hudz, 1991 -- installation by Alex KYTASTY

I DON'T WANT TO BE A POET by Anka Sereda, 1996
installation "Preserving Ukrainian Culture"

SONG 2 by Oleh Lysheha, 1989
installation by Petro HRYTSYK

PASTELS by Pavlo Tychyna, 1917
installation by Hilary ZARYCKY

A BRIDGE CROSSES THE POND by Attila Mohylny, 1993
installation by Joel SCHLEMOWITZ

LETTER FROM THE SUMMER HOUSE by Oksana Zabuzhko, 1992
installation by Margaret MORTON

third floor
PEAR by Oksana Senatovych, 1990
installation by Anya FARION

THE MOUNTAIN by Oleh Lysheha, 1989
installation by Watoku UENO

SYMPTOMS OF POETRY by Oksana Zabuzhko, 1990
installation by Ilona SOCHYNSKY

installation by Yarko CIGASH

HOME by Maria Rewakowicz, 1983
installation by Ana REWAKOWICZ

PRYPIAT. A STILL LIFE. by Oksana Zabuzhko, 1990
installation by Olga MARYSCHUK with Judith CAMPBELL and Larissa LAWRYNENKO

LIBRARY by Yuri Andrukhovych, 1989
installation by Annette FRIEDMAN

ODE TO THE BRAIN by Victoria Stakh, 1991
installation by Cynthia KARALLA

Production coordinator: Jason Eksuzian
This exhibit was made possible by the Global Commitment Foundation: Fine Art for World Peace.
Translations by Virlana Tkacz & Wanda Phipps were supported by NY State Council on the Arts.

first photo strip: installation by Ana Rewakowicz, installation by Sergei Yakunin, Maria and Ana Rewakowicz.
second photo strip: crowd at Poetry: Installations and Performances. Photo by Stefan Tur.
third photo strip: Yara actors Cecilia Arana, Xenia Piaseckyj and Shona Tucker perform poetry. Photo by Stefan Tur.
fourth photo strip: installation "Preserving Ukrainian Culture," installation by Sergei Yakunin, installation by Ana Rewakowicz, taking in Margaret Morton's photographs.

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