Founding father of the modern Lviv scene

  • Founding father of the modern Lviv scene
Issue 6, October 2008.

This year Dzyga will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary with a vast array of arts and cultural events. Over 15 years the Dzyga team have been involved in much that has been exciting and dynamic about the city’s thriving post-independence artistic awakening. Overall, they estimate that they have been responsible for 2239 cultural events including 394 exhibitions, 1223 club gigs, 26 festivals, 117 arts performances, 360 literary presentations and a great number of fringe events which defy categorization. In total, they have entertained around 1.5 million people, a figure which reinforces the Dzyga brand’s reputation as an engine of modern Lviv culture. The distinctive Dzyga arts centre, which lies welcomingly at the end of Armenian Steet, remains a popular and hip hang-out and has long since expanded from the primarily arts space of the 1990s into an urban social hub and cultural focus. The man behind Dzyga is Markyan Ivashyshyn, who in the last 15 years has become intricately linked with the cultural life of the city and done much to shape the current cultural landscape through his pioneering role in the previously uncharted waters of post-independence art.   

Mr. Ivashyshyn is a Lviv native who has played a role in the recent history of the city in a number of spheres beyond his arts commitments and has become a public figure in his own right as both a politician and businessman. His resume includes the popular “Lvivska  Gazeta” newspaper, musical projects including “E” and “Listen to Ukrainian”. He is also known for his coffee shops and clubs as well as annual jazz festivals and much more. But for many Lvivites he will always be associated with Dzyga and all it has meant to Lviv for the past 15 years.  

When you first created Dzyga in 1993 did you have any idea that you would make it to you 15th anniversary?

 The intention was never to do some sort of short-term project. It was a tough and challenging but also extremely promising and fascinating period in both Lviv and in broader Ukrainian history and we were attempting to introduce something that would be challenging and that would appeal to a sense of renewed national identity. We chose the name “Dzyga” (“whirligig”); the ‘dz” sound in the word is very typical of the Ukrainian language. A whirligig is a dynamic, energetic toy which is exactly in line with what we aimed to do. At the time, in the early 1990s, Lviv was stuck in a cultural vacuum but there was no doubt that the city was ready for something new. For the first time in thirty or forty years society was opening up to freedom of the arts. Once we had begun working we received huge interest from people and were overwhelmed by proposals. The first year was difficult but we managed to overcome every obstacle and we’re still going strong.   

Have you ever considered opening up other representative offices or cultural centres in Ukraine’s other major cities and expanding your scope to the cultural heritage of the whole country?

 Yes, the idea is appealing, but now is not the time. I cannot make the personal commitment necessary to make new regional centres work. Every place has its own specifics and its very important to be there personally in order to secure the right contacts and handle negotiations. Each city has its own attractions and dangers. Kyiv is a very demanding city with so many business temptations that it can sometimes quickly begin to dominate the artistic process.  

Do you consider the Dzyga mood to be a reflection of the general atmosphere in Lviv?

 Absolutely! Dzyga is pure Lviv. It is a very local place, and the way the venue has developed reflect the manner in which the broader Lviv atmosphere is changing and developing. I have witnessed how the arts scene has grown more and more dynamic as a result of the positive social impulses of the city. The social mood in Lviv is approaching a new evolutionary level and there is no need to force this process as it moves forward of its own accord. Around us museums, libraries, galleries are all changing in order to keep up to date.    

Dzyga has been involved in launching such Ukrainian pop legends as Ruslana and Okean Elzy. What is the secret to the success of your fame factory?

We are not in the business of making someone famous overnight. Everything depends on the talent and an ability to grow on a cultural level. Today with the Internet and mass media we can attract a lot of attention to a new group or artist but still the outcome will 90% decided by the quality of the product.  

What is your opinion of today’s cultural climate in Lviv?

 I know one thing – of all Ukraine’s cities Lviv has the most open and freedom-loving cultural life and is in many ways very tolerant. Compared to many European countries we might be considered conservative, but there is room for future progress.  

Have you ever had to abandon a project for fear that it might flop before members of Lviv’s conservative arts community?

After 15 years moving in these waters I have developed some intuition about what’s the best time to implement cultural innovations or introduce controversial new ideas. If we decide that the time isn’t right for any given project, we will always return to it at a later date. We are not quitters.  

Do you feel that the political situation in the country has a major impact on the artistic climate in Ukraine?

In my opinion we are living through a period of controversial, provocative and socially driven art, which is a mirror of the current political climate. The instability in the political sphere is reflected in an arts world which is dominated by reaction to social injustice. 

You have dedicated much of your life to political struggle. (In 1989 Markyan became a deputy on Lviv’s regional council during the USSR’s brief and fatal flirtation with democracy. He participated in hunger strikes in Kyiv in 1990 demanding political change and in the post-independence era was involved in both the 20001 “Ukraine Without Kuchma” movement and the 2004 Orange Revolution, where he played a role in the youth activist group Pora whose good humour and creativity did so much to win over the Ukrainian general public in the run-up to the falsified election.  

I cannot say that I can fully differentiate my artistic and political lives. In politics many of the people you deal with are artists and actors, all playing their respective roles. A successful politician is in many ways just like a successful artist. Both need to take on many roles and connect with many moods. Throughout today’s world we can see how deeply show business has penetrated into political affairs, with its glamour and glitter.    

Could you ever see yourself in the role of a presidential advisor on cultural issues?

I could imagine it, but none of our presidents have asked me for advice yet! I think my views differ from those of the president on how Ukrainian culture should develop. I am working hard to bring together communities from all over Ukraine. In December we are having a jazz festival which will feature groups from Sevastopol and Kharkiv as well as participants from Russia, America and across Europe. We try to get Kyiv involved in these initiatives but they are not always ready to participate so we are looking elsewhere in the country. Right now I am interested in Sevastopol as a venue for a jazz festival.     

You are famed for your love of jazz, which has seen you establish two separate Lviv jazz festivals. Do you see Lviv as a jazz city?

 Jazz is all about improvisation and this allows our musicians to improvise about Lviv. Our festivals are getting bigger and bigger every year as the city’s reputation as a regional jazz capital grows.  

People often refer to you as a living legend of Lviv. How does it feel to be a legend?

I don’t feel like a legend and I have no plans to retire either! This is just a media label that seems to have stuck, but in reality it is like all labels: a lazy way of describing someone.  

What does the next fifteen years hold for Dzyga?

 There should be plenty more from us as I have yet to attempt to realize about 90% of my ideas. I terms of the way Dzyga functnios we are now in need of our own media resource, which could be a radion station or a newspaper. We have in the post had both a radio station and “Lvivska Gazeta” newspaper political issues eventually resulted in an end of both associations. We are currently looking at opportunities to have a new media outlet.  

Do you see yourself in Lviv in fifteen years time? Will you still be combining the arts and politics?

 No, I don’t see myself in politics in the future. Only a major event of national importance could keep me from leaving the political arena. I see myself moving towards curatorial work This has become a very trendy profession in recent years and I was skeptical at first but after my first few projects I grew to really enjoy the process. Although I don’t feel the urge to see my name on the exhibition just like the names adorning the works of art themselves, but nevertheless I do get the sense that in some ways I am also the author of the overall exhibition. And finally, of course I will live in Lviv! 

What is your favourite place in Lviv?

I would have to call Striyskiy Park my home. I spent my entire childhood in this park and lived nearby. Even today a walk in this park can make me feel so free and full of positive energy.  

How do you describe Lviv to foreign arts contacts who are thinking of cultural cooperation?

I tell them Lviv is a borderland capital, because in my opinion Lviv is the exact border indicating the continental shift from Europe to Asia. We combine both the Asian and the European in our traditions and in our multicultural society. As a whole we are tolerant, despite the damaging stereotype of aggressive nationalism which continues to damage the city. Lviv is a remarkably open city capable of valuing the quality of other cultures. I tell people to come and feel the freedom, to feel totally at home.