Catherine Gfeller is a world-famous artist and photographer. Last May she visited Kyiv to work on her art project "Voices in Kyiv" to be presented at the Shevchenko National Museum in March-April 2018. Catherine Gfeller created a unique multimedia portrait of Kyiv, bringing together its present and past, traces of war and fragile peace, tragedy and hope.
Catherine Gfeller appreciates every moment of life which she as an artist tries to capture in different parts of the world. "I am interested in combining photography (still images) and video (moving images). In my exhibitions, I like to expand the expressive strength of photography by building a whole universe with text installations, sound pieces, large-scale video projections so that visitors evolve in a sensory and multiple experience where unconscious emotions can arise," she describes her unique style.
Catherine was born near the picturesque Neuchâtel Lake in Switzerland. But now her home is in Paris and southern France, or wherever projects take her. The geography of Catherine's creative travels and art studies is incredibly vast: from native Switzerland and France to Italy and the UK, from the Netherlands and Germany to Belgium and Argentina, Chile, from the USA, Canada to South Africa and Ukraine. A year ago, the Swiss artist came to Ukraine, to Kyiv for the first time.
– How did you come up with the idea of "Voices in Kyiv"?
The Embassy of Switzerland invited me to work on the project in 2017, the year of the 25th anniversary of friendship between Switzerland and Ukraine. The idea of my project is to portray the ancient and at the same time modern city the way I see it as a foreigner, through the voices of iconic writers (Oksana Zabuzhko, Andriy Kurkov, Kateryna Babkina, Galyna Tkachuk, Iryna Tsilyk, Yevheniya Kononenko and others) and random passers-by who confided in me. This project is somewhere between fiction and reality. Although I am a visual artist, I like to highlight sounds in my projects. "Voices in Kyiv" is a combination of video, sound and reconstructed photos because I work with photography as an artist. There are different parts of the city on my palette: buildings, streets, crowds and individual people (I like to capture people on the move, especially women in the streets) and transport (buses, metro, boats and bridges). And my urban projects are more about my dreams and my visual perception of this or that city.
– This was your first introduction to our ancient city. I would like to quote you: "Only visual component is not enough to understand Kyiv."
That is why I decided to interview Kyiv writers for my project because they played an important role in the discussion of the country's search for its post-revolutionary identity. Various slogans of the Maidan, when they are processed by writers and opinion leaders, have a special deep power to them. So, I asked the iconic Ukrainian writers to share their feelings for the city in which they live. All of them were very sincere and confessed their very personal ties with Kyiv to me. I'm very grateful to them for that. I found their memories to be so impressive that at my exhibition you will find them framed, just like photographs. I call them "verbal photos". I like this dialogue between the visual and the verbal.
– What challenges did you face when working on this project in Ukraine?
To be able to express many different aspects, the multiple and rich impressions I had gathered during my explorations of the city. To be able to capture the essence of the city in a short time. Kyiv is very secretive and multi-layered. Generally, the first impressions are very strong because they are free and come to you in a direct, almost wild way. I feel like a lion in a jungle in search of food. Then little by little, as you spend more time, you become accustomed to new things and their particularities. That is why the first days are very precious and inspiring, they are pure. Being in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language was certainly a challenge too.
– What caught your eye on your first visit to Ukraine, Kyiv?
The vastness of space. The Dnipro River. How expansive the urban fabric is, the monumentality of certain buildings, the multi-layered historic constructions (and deconstructions) of the city.
– What do you like about Ukrainians?
They have a bold, direct and poetic approach at the same time. What strikes me is the personal commitment Ukrainians have to their own country and their desire to protect their identity.
– What would you say about Ukraine to a foreigner who has never been here?
I am an artist, not a politician and journalist. I work with sensations, perceptions, unfathomable senses. I like sharing visions, thoughts, ideas and hopes. They can be stronger than mere facts and stay in your mind for longer and on a deeper level, I hope.
– What is your source of inspiration?
Many different artistic fields nourish my inspiration: dance, poetry, literature, philosophy, painting, performance and cinema. And life and its complexities offer endless surprises, of course.
– What makes you feel young?
Desire. Desire to do projects, to invent new things, to explore the unknown… To be hungry for an intense life.
Catherine seeks to highlight unique beauty in every object, be it a person, a piece of architecture, an entire city or area.
With her husband, philosopher, true friend and partner, and daughter Clara.
Interviewed by Miroslava Makarevich
Photos provided by Catherine Gfeller