Produced specifically for the location of Kazerne Dossin, the guest exhibition Ground Shadows seeks to address the chain of violence and trauma that has unfolded in Babyn Yar, Kyiv, Ukraine. In her project, Ukrainian artist Anna Zvyagintseva stitches together tragic occurrences of World War II and the current Russia-Ukraine war, thus providing a space for reflection and remembrance, mourning and commemoration.
Babyn Yar is a ravine in a former suburb of Kyiv and a site where mass crimes were committed by the Nazis. On 29-30 September 1941, a total of 33,771 Jews of Kyiv were shot at Babyn Yar. In the autumn of 1941, the Nazis also killed patients of a psychiatric hospital, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and enemies of the occupying forces here.
Babyn Yar symbolises the ‘Holocaust by Bullets’ in Ukraine. A French researcher and priest, Patrick Desbois, used this term to refer to mass crimes committed by the Nazis in Eastern Europe when victims were shot near their homes. The Holocaust by Bullets occurred before the Nazi death industry was launched in Auschwitz, i.e., before the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, where the ‘final solution’ doctrine was planned.
Today Babyn Yar is more reminiscent of a forest or a large park whose trees have grown taller over the past few decades. They didn’t see the horrors of World War II but met the attack of another criminal regime. On 1 March 2022, Russian troops attacked the Ukrainian capital with missiles, one of which claimed the lives of five people on their way to the Babyn Yar memorials.
Anna Zvyagintseva refers to the memories of both wars, the already distant World War II and the current Russia-Ukraine one. In her project, she resorts to the image of a tree damaged by bullets and cannons. That image reappears in her drawings and sculptures imminently alluding to the mutilated human bodies. For this installation the artist deliberately chooses fragile materials such as clay and paper.
Instead of merely focusing on casualties and dry statistics, Zvyagintseva concentrates on the uniqueness of a single human being, proclaiming that each lost life is a lost universe. Her work offers a more complex and nuanced image of the world, an image in which Babyn Yar serves as a reminder of the vulnerability of human and non-human universes that become targets for war criminals over and over again.