Through the Looking Glass, Looking glass, 2008-2009

Installation view: The Ecologies of Peace. Works from the TBA21 Collection, Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía C3A, Córdoba, Spain, 2024
Foto: Imagen Subliminal (Rocio Romero y Miguel de Guzmán)

Diptych; Multiple intaglio, drawing, acrylic, on paper 
226 x 177 x 7.5 cm (each, framed) 
TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection

In Through the Looking Glass / Looking Glass, Ukrainian artist Pavlo Makov combines the printmaking technique intaglio with drawings and etchings to make prints characterized by raised ink lines that end up looking like Kafkaesque labyrinths. Their combination of images, symbols, and letters functions like a rebus, obscuring hidden messages while hinting at the manifold cultural and historical layers of the artist’s war-torn hometown, Kharkiv. Makov forges a personal cartography that responds to the city’s tumultuous history, drawing inspiration from local landmarks to envision layered worlds populated by insects and overgrown plants.
The diptych portrays two mirror-image gardens, each designed according to the plan of Kharkiv’s landmark Freedom Square. Absent are the square’s grand architecture, including the monuments in Soviet Constructivist style and its concrete skyscrapers, and the monumental statue of Vladimir Lenin, which stood at the square’s center until its removal during the 2014 Euromaidan uprising. In Makov’s work, which not only predates the popular protest movements but also the city’s severe shelling by Russian forces during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Soviet leader’s honorific place is substituted by a gaping hole drilled into the glass frame.
In a harsh critique of the complex post-Soviet conditions which haunt Ukrainian politics, Makov juxtaposes the dreamscape of the utopian garden on the right panel against Ukraine’s dark reality in the late 2000s (on the left). In the mirror-image, the city’s avenues and central arteries become the meandering paths of cockroaches symbolizing, as the artist has said, “the ‘leading’ and insurmountable representatives of society, who can turn any garden (i.e., dream) into a cluttered dump where they will feel comfortable living by their own laws.” Makov’s depiction underscores the transition from utopia to dystopia, governed by distorted powers and the uncomfortable truths lurking beneath the surface.