Maria Plotnikova (b. 1983, Zhytomyr; raised in Mariupol) is a Ukrainian artist working mainly in performance and painting. In 2015, Maria was awarded the Chevening Scholarship, enabling her to enter the Contemporary Arts course at Oxford Brookes University. In 2017, she was awarded the first prize in Ukraine’s biennale festival “Tomorrow that never came” and had a solo show at IZOLYATSIA, Ukraine. In 2021, Maria completed her MFA degree at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, being a Fulbright Scholar. In 2021 Maria cocurated and took part in the performance festival “Proximity” in Chicago, US and did a solo show as part of her residency in the Institut für Alles Mögliche in Berlin, Germany.
When the full-scale Russia-Ukraine war started, Maria was in Kyiv but had to leave the country soon after. Now, she is living and working in CeRCCa residency in Catalonia, Spain.
Photo by Arda Asena, 2021
Photo by Arda Asena, 2021
I am fascinated by people. Specifically, their complex and often messy relations with each other—mixing in the same body sense of belonging and sense of personal boundaries, alienation and acceptance of the Other, a need to love and a need to destroy each other. My art is the process of exploring and expressing these eclectic ties and their development in time and space. I use various mediums— performance, painting, drawing, video, and installation—seeing them as different languages. They can not be directly translated, as a lot of sense will be missing.
In my group performances, I reflect on collectivist and individualist paradigms and the relation between group and individual. The instruction is usually simple and does not assume a trained body. The performance narrative relies a lot on the particular group of people performing, free to interpret the instruction in a way that better reflects their personalities, background, and present group dynamics. Therefore, each iteration of each performance is different. The simplicity and asceticism of the action place the focus on performers and their experience, making them co-authors of the piece they take part in.
In my paintings and drawings created since February 2022, I try to define the experience of war that other Ukrainians and I live through, personally and collectively. Balancing between being changed by this and staying myself, I do it while breaking down this indescribable, all-encompassing pain into smaller parts—the cuts, as I call this method and this series. The core realization for me is that being in a state of war is one of the ancient, ugly forms of relationship between humans. War is not an exception, as in history, there was not a year humanity didn't do war. Yet, this realization is immensely unwanted and heavy, especially when the war continues. Pressured by this, my mind and body badly crave a sense of safety. This is when I clutch to the rescuing physical border between my body and a canvas. The one that performance does not give.
The topics I work with may be uncomfortable, yet they help to reveal the nature of human relations in its fullness and, by this, help to heal them. I see this in how the audience and participants interact with my art. Paradoxically, the non-verbal experience of grief can unite better than the language of compassion, as pain is universal. The awkwardness can build community better than confidence, as being awkward with others opens vulnerability and trust. Willing to be connected and left alone simultaneously, we humans somehow recognize our own paradoxes by experiencing these contradictory interactions with art. As an artist, I aim to keep myself in a state of sensitivity to these subtle and enormous glitches of human relationships' and keep exploring counter-intuitive ways of sharing them with others.