Viacheslav Poliakov is a Ukrainian photographer deeply interested in the public spaces of small, provincial towns. What particularly excites him are objects and structures that seem to lack a conscious author, or have been created without concern for their visual appearance. “You can call it a melting pot, you can call it chaos, but here [in Ukraine] we live in a visually strong, vivid and uncontrolled space,” Viacheslav tells It’s Nice That. “There can be an abandoned Soviet factory used as pasture next to medieval castle turned into a warehouse, and that will be surrounded by a market made of cheap glossy colourful plastic, with a golden church on the left side and just empty area with mud and puddles on the right.”
Due to outdated laws, bureaucracy, and mafia infiltration of city administrations the repair of cheaply built Soviet buildings and infrastructure has fallen by the wayside, leading citizens to do what they can themselves to improve the state of their streets and gardens. “This might sound like not the best place on the planet, but it gives me endless unique combinations of shapes and meanings that I work with,” says Viacheslav. I grew up in this Ukrainian environment and I’m part of this folk-baroque-industrial mess. I hate it and love it. I try to make it work. It’s never boring to take a bus to the nearby small city – you will be surprised and inspired.”
For project Lviv – God’s Will Viacheslav documented a bus route that connects the city of Lviv (in western Ukraine) with Bozha Volya, a small village lost deep in the forests along Ukraine’s border with the European Union – “the promised land of wealth and eternal joy”, says Viacheslav. In Ukrainian “Bozha Volya” translates literally to mean “God’s will”, but also shares its origin with the word “bozhevillia”, meaning madness. From sculptures of unicorns made from old tyres to a fence fixed with a variety of colourful metals, it’s the creativity of everyday people that this series aims to capture. “A naïve, visual subculture involving public space has become widespread throughout Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent expansion of globalisation. Makeshift sculptural scenes appear in the environment through accidental interactions and random interventions by unrelated people – products of indiscriminate behaviour, mistakes, destruction and natural vegetation running wild. Ultimately, nobody is responsible for this happenstance. It is all God’s will.”
For a joint project with photographer Elena Subach, the pair took this interest in the incidental aesthetics of cities to neighbouring Poland, to document the so-called “city of gardens” Katowice. “Poland is in a unique position for us,” explains Viacheslav. "It’s culturally and historically close enough for us to clearly see differences and be able to analyse them, yet far enough to make all our usual approaches not work anymore.” Inspired by the mythology of Katowice (including the photography and levitation practices of turn of the century psychic Julian Ochorowicz and a group of 1940s miners-come-artists called the Yaniv group), Viacheslav and Elena made a series of photographic collages that are both surreal and beautiful. It’s an ode to a city that captures far more than the tourism board ever could. “I’m interested in what a city says of itself – and then what the city actually ‘shows’,” he says.