Fountain of Exhaustion. Acqua Alta is an exhibition project. It presents a new 3.5-meter (10 ft) version of Pavlo Makov's fountain and reveals its 27-year history through archival materials. Fountain of exhaustion is an object consisting of a system of funnels, each of which has two exits and splits the water flow into two. Arranged one under the others, 12 rows of funnels direct the water from top to bottom, so that the water flow gradually diminishes. Unlike spurting fountains, the Makov's Fountain is exhausting itself.
The history of Fountain of Exhaustion dates back to the mid-1990s. Back then the artist worked with the theme of a Place: he printed etchings with a panorama of Kharkiv and produced art books and photo documents. The main motives of these works were waters bodies, rivers and fountains. Kharkiv at the time has been experiencing significant transformations in the urban landscape and social relations. Abandoned fountains, infrastructural accidents and water supply disruptions served as a background and sometimes additional confirmation of Makov's practices. The place of confluence of the Lopan' and Kharkiv rivers, which has appeared in his etchings since 1993, gradually led the artist to the image of a funnel that splits water flow into two and makes it lose its strength. Assembled into a large multi-level structure, the funnels formed Fountain of Exhaustion — an art object, a paradoxical symbol of life in the place of Makov's exploration.
Despite the artist's attempts, the fountain has never been installed in the urban space of Kharkiv.
"That's when I saw that the society was not able to comprehend this work, unable to diagnose itself," Makov explained the situation.
Since then, Fountain of Exhaustion has been appearing in the artist's practices in a variety of versions, materials, scales, and contexts. After a quarter of a century, it went from a local statement about the state of the place where it was created and turned towards the general agenda – the exhaustion of resources at the personal and global levels.
In April 2022, for the first time, the Fountain will take its original form at La Biennale Arte in Venice – a city that is annually experiencing high water cataclysms and canal droughts and is lively discussing the problem of exhaustion.
"Fountain of Exhaustion. Acqua Alta" is an attempt to talk about global modernity within the Ukrainian context. One of the curators' plans is to show how the local agenda has become consistent with the rest of the world, exhausted by the pandemic, environmental issues and military conflicts.
Today, while writing this text, Ukraine is defending itself from military invasion. The army, volunteers, and community services guard the cities and restore the infrastructure with various weapons in separate areas under pressure and shelling. The 32nd day of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war is underway. They haven’t managed to take over Kharkiv, a city with one and half million inhabitants; thus, they attempt to erase it with artillery and shelling, seeking to overtire the citizens by depriving them of their homes, water, food, and medicine. They are trying to exhaust Kharkiv.
Kharkiv is the city of Pavlo Makov, where, in 1995, he created his Fountain of Exhaustion — a paradoxical symbol of life in a big Eastern European city. At the end of the 1980s, Makov decided to stay here for a longer, within a circle of close and exciting people, in a landscape he wanted to research and talk about in his own works. Makov identified himself as an artist of the place. He documented and revealed local myths and phenomena — the rivers, the fountains, the flat of the outsider-artist Oleh Mitasov, the botanical garden, the targets, the tin soldiers — and engraved them into the chronicles of his artistic practices.
In 1991 in the all-Ukrainian referendum, Makov voted for Ukraine to declare its independence. For the following years, he participated in numerous international exhibitions, where each time, he had to decipher his place of residence. He was asked over and over: “Ukraine? Where is it?” In this way, a particular concept of Utopia appeared in Makov’s artistic practice, a place that is nonexistent to many, yet life there continues on its path. UtopiA — in short, UA, like Ukraine.
In 2014 the Russian army first invaded Ukraine. After the events of Euromaidan, abusing the state of transition, the Russian Federation annexed Crimea and attacked the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The war postponed the exhibitions, and selling artworks with proceeds donated to the army, military doctors, and internally displaced people became a standard form of artistic action. Concrete blocks, a modular wartime material used for building defensive structures and road block-posts, appeared in Makov’s works. In the gallery spaces, Makov used downscaled models of concrete blocks to make a city plan and a significant foundation for the new reality. In his drawings, a block appeared as a paradoxical part of a garden: it filled private places and divided different worlds. As if in Calvino’s Invisible Cities: on one side — hell, on the other — something that is not; something that needs life support, attention, and care.
The first works by Makov were related to the Kharkiv landscape and combined urban relief with the anatomy of the human body. The first autopsies in Europe and the further appearance of anatomical theatres took place during the Age of Discovery. One could assume that similarly, today, the full-scale invasion of the Russian forces in Ukraine coincides with an age of discoveries of Ukrainian culture.
Since 2014 Makov has been reiterating a thesis on the fundamental role of culture in wartime: “Without an understanding of what Ukrainian culture is, both Europe and the whole world cease to grasp what is being lost in this war”. For the European gaze, the fires, terrorist attacks, and catastrophes are as painful, as the massive losses, devastating shootings, and mass murders committed in the extermination of Ukraine are unnoticeable.
Let’s walk alongside these ruins. Clearly, we are very much secured: there is no broken glass under our feet, no burned wood and crushed stone, no feeling of an explosive wave going through the ground and air, no rattling sound of cruise missiles over our head. No effects of this presence, so well-known to the artist Pavlo Makov. Today, on the 32nd day of the war, more than a thousand residential houses, schools and hospitals, an art museum, and an opera house have been destroyed. Shells have fallen on Independence Square, where the constructivist Derzhprom building — where Vasyl Yermilov showed his works - is standing; on Karazin University, where three Nobel laureates worked at different times; on the place where Walter Gropius planned to build a theatre; on the Slovo house, which was built and inhabited by a generation of poets and artists known as the Executed Renaissance. We could walk along the itinerary of Makov’s places, close to where the rockets fell. The optics of war, as optics tuned to the detailed history of the Fountain of Exhaustion, allow us to follow thirty years of the artist’s practice to be connected to the flowing states of the Kharkiv landscape.
In the etchings, photographs, objects, and artbooks from the 1990s to the 2000s, two long-term motifs are evident: targets and tin soldiers. In 1996 Makov made a photographic archive of male and female targets found in the Kharkiv schoolyards — the unsettling remnants of the Soviet system of education with military training at its core. An image of the target was one of the metamorphoses of the human body in Ukraine-Utopia: bodies with a permanent existential threat of being under the sight of a gun. Another image — a tin soldier and a conscripted toy army followed the Utopia citizen from their childhood. Since 2001, Makov has kept personifying his tin veterans: he photographed them separately and printed their portraits on a full-size human scale. He mystified their diaries in the made-up tin language. In 2003, thirty metres from the place of an unrealised Fountain of Exhaustion installation, Makov sent a paper flotilla down the Kharkiv river to a toy war — to the siege of the Pentagon. In 2010, a central theme for Makov became latency, a feeling of an uncovered threat originating from grey stability and wrong happiness. Since 2014, it has been transforming into personal responsibility, and the etchings started depicting concrete blocks. In 2014 he created the work Kharkiv siege; in 2017 — Shelter. Simultaneously, Makov’s themes have become more global, including the cities’ future and the future after humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic made the work Mappa Mundi possible: a giant flat map with room-countries — the biggest ‘zoom-out’ of the place in the artist’s oeuvre.
The war has changed the Fountain of Exhaustion. In response to numerous journalists’ questions, Makov outlines the nature of these changes: “An exhaustion remains exhaustion. Only in time does the work remain in the past. Before the phase of the war that is now, the work could warn about the hazard of our old-world exhaustion and what will follow, but now, this warning is no longer relevant. This work does not warn anymore, rather, it declares”.
In the first statement of the pavilion’s catalogue, we said that over the 27 years of its history, the Fountain of Exhaustion has ceased to symbolise only mid-90s Kharkiv. Its exhibition history brought a broader meaning — a symbol of contemporary world politics, culture, economics, and ecological exhaustion. The war returns it to its local context: Kharkiv, under shelling, at the peak of exhaustion, becomes a local and global challenge, the place — actually, one of the numerous places in Ukraine — in which destiny is inseparably connected with the world’s future. From the very beginning, the point of view of Giorgio Morandi, who could speak about the whole world by looking at it through the window of his studio, was essential for Makov’s practice. A question for today: can the world prevent the complete exhaustion of humanity? It is possible to answer this while looking through the windows of Ukrainian cities.