How Ukrainian artist Pavlo Makov's Venice Biennale installation was saved from war

Parts of 'The Fountain of Exhaustion' were driven out of Kyiv in February at the beginning of the Russian invasion

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On February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, curator Maria Lanko loaded her car with several works of art and drove for six days through Romania, Hungary and Austria before arriving in Italy. One of those pieces, a monumental installation by Ukrainian artist Pavlo Makov, is now on display at Ukraine's pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Makov's installation, The Fountain of Exhaustion, comprises 78 light blue funnels mounted on a triangle through which water flows, slowing as it travels downwards to drip slowly into the collecting basin, echoing in the otherwise silent space.

He describes his work as "a metaphor for contemporary life".

"I don't think art can change the world. But art can help us to survive," he told AFP.

Scroll through the gallery above for more pictures from Pavlo Makov's Venice Biennale installation.

A visitor takes a photo of 'Fountain of Exhaustion' by artist Pavlo Makov at Ukraine's pavilion. AFP

The 59th Biennale, one of the world's prestigious art exhibitions, has however been overshadowed by the war.

Makov, 63, one of the country's most important living artists, said his participation was "an act of defiance" against the Russian invaders.

"This war in Ukraine is not an ethnic conflict," he told Associated Press.

“It is a conflict of cultures. They want to destroy, to demolish, to eliminate Ukrainian culture, so that Ukraine doesn’t exist.”

In Kyiv, Makov left behind his adult son and daughter, who were working as volunteers to help the besieged population — and his lifetime production of artworks.

“There was no question about whether to take art, because there was no room for it,” he said. “Plus, we were leaving from the bomb shelter, we were not leaving from home or the studio.”

His works have since been transferred to safer ground in western Ukraine. Some pieces have already been requested for exhibitions elsewhere.

The Fountain of Exhaustion was inspired by the lack of vitality he felt as Ukraine transformed into an independent nation in the early 1990s, and again as he travelled throughout Europe in the 2000s.

“I felt this lack of ability to protect ideas. I felt this dependence on the energy that Europe was receiving from not democratic societies was growing,’’ says Makov.

A total of 58 countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are represented in national pavilions at the Venice Biennale, showcasing 213 individual artists. But the Russian Pavilion lays empty, after the curator and artists resigned following the invasion, with artist Kirill Savchenkov saying "there is no place for art when civilians are dying".

Organisers of the Biennale praised the move and subsequently banned anyone linked to the Russian government from the entire event, joining a global cultural boycott of Moscow over the war.

In Venice, Makov is speaking more about the war than about his art.

“It is like a diplomatic mission for us," he says. “I see myself less as an artist and more as a citizen of my country.”

Scroll through the gallery below for Emirati artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim's installation at the National Pavilion UAE at Venice Biennale:

— Additional inputs by AP and AFP

Updated: April 26, 2022, 7:25 AM