Currently an art professor at the University of Lethbridge, Ukrainian-born Taras Polataiko first made a name for himself as an artist in Canada when he arrived in Saskatoon in the late 1980s. One of the first projects he did after he immigrated was a parody of a statue of Progressive Conservative Senator Ray Hnatyshyn that was commissioned by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 1992 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. Concerned that that proud history was being reduced to a single person (male, upper class, conservative) Polataiko painted himself bronze and stood on a base of his own, inviting people of Ukrainian descent to write the names of their ancestors on the base to commemorate their memory.

Another exhibition of his that was memorable was held at the Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon in the mid-90s. It was called Cradle. To prepare for it, Polataiko journeyed to the town of Chernobyl in Ukraine where a massive release of radiation from a Soviet-era nuclear reactor occured in 1986. While there, he was exposed to ambient radiation. When he returned to Saskatoon, he drew numerous vials of blood from his body, which he placed in a nickel-plated bathtub that was suspended from the gallery ceiling (picture above). The work commented on the lasting legacy of that tragedy, plus the fraility of human existence.

Now, Polataiko is again in the news with an exhibition in Kiev on the theme of Sleeping Beauty that involves five young women taking turns sleeping in the gallery. After being vetted by security to ensure they are single and free of oral herpes, visitors, both male and female, may kiss the woman on display if they choose. If the woman opens her eyes, the pair would be free to wed.

Here’s a link to an article on the project in the Guardian. The broader theme that Polataiko is addressing in the work is tied to the failure of the Orange Revolution in 2005 when Ukraine had an opportunity to establish itself as a true western democracy but instead lapsed back into old-school Soviet ways so that it remains a “cursed kingdom” in fairy tale-speak.

Sounds like a great show.