History and artists exist in constant tension with each other, with not a chance of catharsis. Only history can pass the final judgments that won’t ever reach the artist. History made Johann Sebastian Bach into the greatest composer of the Baroque period, long after both the style and its other adherents have drifted into obscurity. History made Marquis de Sade into a XX century philosopher, since that’s the era that was defined, both in deeds and in thoughts, by the colossal projects of the new world and the new man for which humanity had to pay in ghastly mechanistic cruelty.

However, artists also hasten history along. It’s their fate: to denominate, to name the surrounding phenomena. Images precede thought, denominate the future and present it to the world, long before these events, these discoveries come to pass. To name is to prophesy, or to warn.

Artists are the nervous system of humanity: they sense pleasure and pain earlier than the rest of the body.

Artists want to hasten the world along. Why else would they work? Even the most vain know that the recognition of contemporaries is but an illusion.

In the tragic times of drastic and painful social shifts, artists manifest their essence: they are “wounded healers.” The archetype of Verwundeter Heiler was introduced by a Swiss analyst Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig: it evokes the image of Asclepius, the god of medicine in Greek mythology, who himself suffered from physical pain. Guggenbühl-Craig contends that doctors who have personal experience of an ailment can devise more effective therapy, but the experience also makes them more prone to sadistic outbreaks. However, healing is often impossible without drastic measures, and each artist is prone to sadistic violence. He violates the world with his works, which not a soul had asked for.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso is one of the most important works of the type in the XX century. It is one of the most penetrating and realistic documents of the era of colossal modernist projects of total revolutions that bled over into total wars.

Such conscious violence is typical of the works of Volodymyr Budnikov and Vlada Ralko. They are confident, willful artists, driven by their own sensibilities and the raw will to express rather than by trends, the logic of an instilled tradition, social demands or even by rational analysis.

Therefore, Budnikov and Ralko cannot be described as a tandem. They stay in dialogue. Yet the dialogue is stripped of all shreds of conformity, both in the microcosm of their conversation and in the broader context of the country or the world. The Shelter Project marks a milestone in their dialogue and highlights its most salient features. Both artists stay true to themselves, and both evoke the catastrophe through their recognizable imagery. There’s no obvious shelter for those caught in it.

Through all stages of his career, Volodymyr Budnikov’s sensibility was marked by the understanding of the world as an ongoing catastrophe. He explored the motif through landscapes, through the images of nature that is always born of the strife of elements and organisms. The scholars of Budnikov’s works are often tempted to mention the Baroque style with its catastrophic worldview. For decades, Budnikov has been exploring the future, with all its unpredictable shifts, anxieties and anguishes, through landscapes. His gaze is unflinching, since he knows that life, in all its anguish and glory, is contained in movement. Each tree that breaks out of its seed in a titanic spasm is in movement. Each boulder, the meanderings of rivers are born of the planetary drama of movement.

Humanity flees from the understanding, seeking shelter from changes; they eschew the naming by hiding behind vague phrases, catchy mottoes, vulgarities, and parodies. This is but another reminder that our biological species teeters on the verge of self-destruction.

These days, Budnikov’s works erupt into a series of nuclear explosions, and it’s not a warning: he’s merely naming the world. It’s the world that may linger, in all its anguish and glory, but it would be swept clean of people. Within the context of natural elements, a nuclear explosion belongs to the sphere of the aesthetic. It bespeaks the grandeur of natural aesthetics.

The nuclear explosion series by Budnikov offers a synthesis of his landscapes and nonfigurative works. The series is centered around the will and conflicts. Lines, colours, textures remain in a perpetual orgiastic confrontation.

Vlada Ralko is closer to Gustav Meyrink, a Czech writer who believed that the uncanny and the dramatic, the most eerie demons rein supreme in the quotidian, in the mundane. Budnikov explores landscapes; Ralko denominates sexuality on the crossroads between the biological and the social. Both grant names to the captivatingly uncanny: the inexorability of changes. It’s life, viewed as a series of metamorphoses.

The works created for the Shelter series partly overlap with the Kyiv Diary, the cycle conceived during Maidan, honest, powerful, shameless in its despair and startlingly humane in its vulnerability. Meyrink’s image of feet that follow one another in a circle became a mystical metaphor of the rise of Nazism. Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco laid bare the anamnesis of a citizen turning into a beast. The prints by Francisco José de Goya depicted the impending darkness of the mind that came to believe that war is the vehicle of technical progress. Similarly, the interplay of biomorphic and zoomorphic beings in Ralko’s works draws our attention to the phenomena that already permeate our existence. There’s no point to seeking shelter from them in the quotidian, since the yearning for the somnolent mundane became the breeding grounds for the bacteria of war.

In stark contrast to these drawings, Ralko forgoes direct emotional responses in her paintings of the Shelter cycle. Their unwavering suspense is evocative of Alfred Hitchcock’s films: the anticipation is more horrifying than any actual horrors. The cycle culminates in the landscape with folded umbrellas, the kind you see on beaches or in outdoor cafes. What do these evoke? The closing of a nice day? The closing of a tourist season? Or is it the final, imminent closure?

An umbrella looks like a mushroom. It calls up the absurd aesthetic conciseness of the project of Enver Hoxha, a socialist leader of Albania. At a certain point, he started to propagate the idea that the entire world has turned against Albania, one of the most closed-off countries. Albania was on the verge of nuclear destruction. The citizens were charged with building small family fallout shelters, absurd cement structures that pepper Albania to this day like giant mushrooms. It’s the most grandiose installation of paranoia, a metaphor of mock-shelters.

In Budnikov’s drawings, mushroom clouds spring up like bright lines in a cardiogram. Georges Bataille contended that the ocean is a metaphor of monumental masturbation; similarly, a nuclear explosion may evoke a planetary orgasm, a cosmic catharsis. Sure, nobody will live to see this art object, so you might as well enjoy it while you last.

Our best hope for a shelter, if there is one, lies in trying to come to our senses, open our eyes, break free of the darkness of our own making. Only then will we manage not only to save ourselves, but to also save someone else. (Kostiantyn Doroshenko. Kaniv – Lviv – Kyiv, 2015)