EtchingRoom1 – drawing on the edge during wartime
EtchingRoom1 is a Ukrainian artistic group founded in 2016 by the graphic artists Kristina Yarosh and Anna Khodkov. Since the Russian invasion in their home country, the two have been travelling through Europe several times, but Kyiv is still their place of residence and work. In advance of an exhibition in Berlin, the artists are now residing in The Hague for a month to finalize their latest work. A perfect opportunity to meet.
We are talking at the living room table, in between two smoke breaks, drinking a cup of tea and eating ‘stroopwafels’ which turned out to be a good present. An ordinary quiet apartment in Voorburg now functions as a temporary studio and living space. Tabacco packages on yhe table show warning signs in Ukrainian that state that smoking can be deadly, but these artists know better. The house is owned by people who have been working at the Dutch embassy in Kyiv and now happen to be in Georgia. They were kind enough to offer their empty house to the artists. For Kristina and Anna this is a very relaxed place to stay, far away from the air alarms and the day and night sounds of generators which now are a constant nuisance in Kyiv. The peace and quiet of a Dutch suburb does them well.
They have been here once before, a couple of years ago. Back then, they were able to visit the Escher Museum, some contemporary art museum of which they forgot the name, the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandt House, which reminded them of the Rembrandt copies they had to make during their study at their art school. But the situation is different now. In Kyiv the two have prepared a new series of etchings, which are now being hand colored here in The Hague. In a couple of weeks the artists will move to Berlin to work in a graphic workspace to make new works and to present all this in a small pop-up exhibition. Last summer they have also been in Normandy during a residency and in Berlin to exhibit and to make arrangements for this upcoming project.
Kristina and Anna met each other in 2014 when Anna used the graphic workshop of the institute where Kristina was studying. The workshop simply was better equipped than the one at her own school. They both were interested in drawing and found a mutual interest in etching echniques, and thus collaborating turned out to be a logical next step. In 2016 they founded ‘EtchingRoom1’ and their work became a permanent dialogue between the two. The cultural heritage from the Soviet era is part of their visual language and also futuristic imagery has become part of their graphic style. Kristina is very much into buildings, spaces and structures while Anna adds life to it by drawing human beings who are waiting for things to happen or involved in some sort of interaction. Crowds, officials, confrontations between people, sometimes reflecting personal experiences. Later in the process Kristina adds texts, typography and signs which guide us through the collage works. Animals are also a favorite subject for Kristina. The artists rarely discuss ideas and simply work together in a tolerant and intuitive manner. They don’t need many words, let alone arguments. It usually begins with making some sort of lay out. Several smaller etching plates can be used as building blocks for creating larger compositions.
EtchinRoom1 now has its own workshop and equipment in Kyiv, although the artists had to move their studio practice already five times within the past seven years of existence. But moving to a new space sometimes also offers opportunities to make exhibitions. Sometimes they get invitations to exhibit, but this usually means you have to organize everything by yourself. Kyiv has a nice and lively art scene, but since February 2022 many initiatives had to stop. Last August, Anna and Kristina could use one of the empty gallery spaces to do a project. They decided to do it in the form of a workshop, but many people didn’t really understood that this setting was a form of presentation. In earlier projects they also made larger installations and tile mosaics with their imagery.
For many artists the war has become a subject in their work, but Anna and Kristina don’t think it has had an influence in their etchings. They don’t feel the need to respond to the war, although their work has become much more colorful this last year. Time will tell how this could be interpreted.
Reading the news has become an addictive hourly routine and working on their etching is the only way to relax. There are no parties and exhibition openings to go to and everybody has to be home before 11pm when curfew begins. It feels like living like a robot. Sleeping, eating and working when there is light available. You need to be ready for everything that could happen, every minute of the day. It all feels like a life in slow motion. When the air alarm warns to take shelter, Anna stays at home. She doesn’t feel comfortable in a bomb shelter and simply wants to sleep in her own bed. She’d rather try to escape when it gets dangerous.
Here in The Hague; the international ‘City of Peace and Justice’, EtchingRoom1 is now focusing on their upcoming project presentation. Anna and Katrina just booked a day at the Grafische Werkplaats (Graphic Workshop) to silkscreen merchandising materials for Berlin. T-shirts and maybe some bags are going to be printed with the typical EtchingRoom1 logotype drawing of a flat face without any expression. A face which accidently reflects their current state of mind. They also started to execute their drawings in embroidery. Maybe this will be a new direction in their practice.
But first, let’s have another smoke outside.