BALCONY CHIC: A Study Of Ukraine’s Idiosyncratic Exteriors
Modern Ukraine has many strengths. Organization is not one of them. Impulsivity reigns, especially in the fields of architecture and urban development. In the absence of municipal master plans, cities across the country are stretching out. Artist and architect Oleksandr Burlaka is engaged in a constant pursuit of these extensions. Burlaka’s latest publication, Balcony Chic, is an homage to the emblem of contemporary Ukraine’s vernacular of runaway individualism. Published by the Kyiv-based Osnovy, the hardcover photo book-cum-fanzine takes viewers to apartment blocks in 13 cities across the country.
In Poltava, readers pit-stop at an L-shaped balcony wrapped in curved wire painted in white. In Bila Tserkva, a monochrome balcony inscribed with grapevines is punctuated by pyramids of blue glass bricks. In Fastiv, a spot of sunlight strikes the bottom corner of a wood balcony festooned with its own shining sun on its glass upper half; see the light, be the light. In Kyiv, a wooden plank with metal notches leads up to a first-floor balcony. The balcony itself is wrapped in a sheet of metal from which two wooden steps extend, allowing the owners to bypass the building’s entrance and climb directly into the comfort of their flat. The residents’ lust for flexibility and freedom is clear. But, surely, the makeshift steps aren’t strong enough to support someone, are they? Burlaka doesn’t say or show, so we are forced to speculate. Questions about stability come up time and time again in Balcony Chic. The architecture of personal expression appears liberated, yet precarious.
According to Burlaka, in Ukraine, “skepticism is the only way to survive.” Embracing incredulity as an operating mandate, Burlaka obliges his audience to revel in the idiosyncrasies of Ukrainian residential life. He himself has built his career doing just that, honoring the abundant intricacies of the country’s infrastructural character in his many roles, including exhibition designer of the Ukrainian National Pavilion at this year’s 58th edition of the Venice Biennale; founding member of Hudrada, a curatorial and activist collective; and through his Instagram @maidan_nezalezhnosti. Half-built dachas, polished Orthodox onion domes, tire walls, and nouveau-nationalist tridents populate the latter, Burlaka’s ever-multiplying photo archive named for Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s Independence Square. In claiming the central, hyper-symbolic site for himself, the public intellectual and the public monument become one.
“Every year the face of the city is changing,” says Burlaka, explaining that each new construction boom competes to consume the legacy of its predecessor and each new tenant remixes the renovations of the one before them. Faced with such a bombastic reality, Burlaka is obliged to move quickly. Indeed, there is a sense of speed to Balcony Chic connoted through Burlaka’s straightforward style of photography. Only a handful of balconies are captured in full glory at, say, golden hour. Since Burlaka’s pictures avoid overt exaltation of the balcony exteriors, readers are reminded of an essential point — the Ukrainian balcony is often not a gesture towards the outside, but a conscious extension of the interior.