In COVER 54 Rachel Meek speaks to artist Oksana Levchenya about OLK Manufactory, the Ukrainian crafts renaissance and her campaign to save age-old weaving skills:
‘Look closer. Is that a Pac-Man ghost chasing soldiers on horseback and posing as a flowerhead on a traditional Ukrainian kilim? Indeed it is. So what is a 1980s computer game icon doing in the company of Cossack militiamen? The unexpected meeting of worlds is the product of OLK Manufactory in Kiev, Ukraine—the brainchild of artist Oksana Levchenya, set up in 2017. ‘I find it very important to keep original Ukrainian carpet-making alive,’ she says. ‘To make traditional ornamental motifs, style and colour more comprehensive and closer to modern values, I implanted symbols of modern pop culture into folk patterns of the 16th-18th centuries.’ Yoda and Pokémon crop up elsewhere, but some OLK rugs reference the past in a more direct way. Reproductions of designs of the 16th-20th centuries are being created with the assistance of D.V. Lukin, a librarian from the Maksymovych Scientific Library, while one kilim is inspired by a Kazimir Malevich sketch.
The thread that brings these together is art. ‘We produce tapestries and woven articles for quasi-ethnography,’ Levchenya explains. ‘The concept tells of technological breakthroughs and modern mentality. The main point is that through the ages, people haven’t changed a lot. All of us aim to do the things our ancestors used to do many years ago. What differs is by what means and how we achieve our goals.’ OLK weavers are students from the Kyiv State Institute of Decorative and Applied Art and Design M. Boychuk, trained by senior artisans. Levchenya’s flatweaves were shown at Dutch Design Week in October 2018 in the group exhibition ‘Creative Ukraine: MODERN_ISM’, organised by the design platform Prostir 86. She is now using them as sculptures or ‘costumes’ representing a theoretical modern tribe ‘that does not transmit any collective thinking and prejudice’. These could be seen in the Mystetsky Arsenal, Kiev, as a part of Ukrainian Fashion Week 2019.’
Congratulations are due to Levchenya, whose Space Cossacks flatweave was recently shortlisted for the debuting Design section of the 13th Arte Laguna Prize. Representative of traditional Ukrainian kilims, handwoven on a vertical loom by OLK’s artisans according to the folk carpet-making technique, the base of the kilim is hemp and the wefts are hand-dyed wool yarn. Blurring the line between the past and the present, Space Cossacks is symbolic of humankind entering a new stage of progress.
Find OLK at Milan Design Week 2019, exhibiting alongside seven other Ukrainian designers at the SuperDesign Show 2019, Via Tortona 27, April 9 – 14, in an exhibition representing the history of Ukrainian modernism. Register online to gain entrance to this event.