Curator and art critic Milena Khomchenko discusses the two iterations of the exhibition “Let the long. Road. Lead. To. Stairs in. The Heavens”, which unpacks the vision of the Ukrainian destiny after the end of Russia’s war in Ukraine. How could the notion of ‘destiny’ serve as an emancipatory network not to be just attained in the future, but also constituted by the multiplicities of past/present elements?


“Let the long. Road. Lead. To. Stairs in. The Heavens. There, eternity. Will be to wonderland,”

This is how Anna Sapon, an artist from the art group Atelier Normalno, begins her poem, written on June 28, 2022. On that day, a doctor known as Avstriika from the Hospitallers, a volunteer medical battalion that rescues wounded people on the battlefield, died in a street accident. This poem became one of the starting points from which the idea of our exhibition developed: in its verses, strength, despite everything, defeats death. Dedicating her poem to the doctor, Anna imagines a wonderland where her memory is protected by golden stars and thick paths decked with magical berries. Nonetheless, the voices of the dead and a powerful feeling of resistance prevent us from finishing the long road.

When, in the summer of 2022, our team was invited to create an exhibition set to open in February 2023 in Ostrava, Czech Republic, we had a hard time imagining how we could predict what political and cultural discussions would be relevant six months in the future, when the events on the front are changing in a matter of days and hours. We could not know, and did not undertake to predict what would be important then, but nevertheless, all of us were full of enthusiasm for and faith in this new time that was yet unseeable. In response to this conundrum, one of the members of our curatorial group of the exhibition, Clemens Poole, proposed the concept of destiny, as a way to denote a future that does not have a fixed date, but is determined by the certainty of its realization. Just like the wonderland of Sapon’s poem, destiny is not an exclusively positive, ephemeral signpost that can serve as a tool to hide fear, wall-off reality with mysticism, or hide unwillingness to take responsibility for the present. Fate shapes us, and we shape fate. 

Exhibition view. Photo by Oleh Samoilenko

Destiny is not only the future. Like a living organism, it consists of a network of atoms that form its multi-element structure. Some of these elements are completely new, while others were among the foundational fragments that laid the basis of our world’s essence. Destiny is that infinite structure whose cells die to allow new ones to regenerate. These new cells do not constitute a new body—the body carries its entire history within itself. Fate opens before us a horizon of events that come not only from the future, but also from the past, and accordingly are conditioned not only by the past, but also by the future. Being in constant expectation of the times to come, our contemporaries did not notice how these temporal structures had already appeared and had been filling the days of our lives for some time. Whereas last year, we may have refused to talk about the future, this year almost everyone is not just talking about the future—they are living it. Last year, the long road had just begun to show its path—this year, we can already look back, drawing from the road the strength that allows us to keep moving forward.


During the preparatory meetings regarding the new iteration of the show, our team surveyed the developments to the exhibition’s thematic premise over the course of the year. Some of the themes now vibrated even more, whereas other ones had taken a new direction or vanished while travelling through time and spaces. Time has lost the linearity of its structure, and the schedule of the day has lost the function of creating order. An online work meeting is interrupted by the targeting of a thermonuclear power plant. A public event is disrupted by an air raid alert. The importance of planned events is erased by the urgent need to eliminate life-threatening obstacles, and the global task for the humanity of our time becomes the ability to be sensitively flexible and instantly adaptable. We can plan for the future, but the future no longer asks us when it will come. While previously the Ukrainian tradition of aviation kept popping up in different parts of the idea, now, under closed airspace, appears the space of the minefield. The urgent and permanent need to de-mine the de-occupied territories is a task that faces us despite all political, economic, or any other factors.

In a conversation entitled “The Time-Complex. Postcontemporary,” Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik talk about the concept of a speculative time-complex that comes to us from the future. Following this line of argument, the present no longer explains the movement of the past and future, because time is constructed by a movement beyond the possibilities of memory and human temporalisation, which includes elements not only of other living beings from the animal and plant worlds, or even unicellular organisms, but also complex technological and virtual structures and networks. Our experience is only one part of more complex formations that have been created historically and take into account what can be formed and achieved in the future. While it would seem that war, which prioritizes not only the human level of existence, but also the exclusive dominance of one group of people over another, has little in common with the hyper-complex structures of the modern hybrid world, the mechanisms of war work against the ideologies of those who initiate them.

In this way, the current wars bring us into imagining the post-apocalyptic future of a hypothetical nuclear dystopia and further ways of restoring nature, endangered animal and plant species or mushroom flora. In addition to human destiny, we must reflect on the future of all eukaryotic organisms and systems. On the other hand, even forecasts that we build out to outline all kinds of strategies must acknowledge not just people, but the various complex structures that make up the future destiny of our world. Returning to the aforementioned conversation, Avanessian gives another example of this type of time organization—a pre-emptive strike as a new political phenomenon of the 21st century, and as the artificial production of a situation arising from initial speculation. By trying to construct an all-Russian reality, continuing the expansionist imperial policy of the past, Russia has locked itself into the prison of its own network of speculation. According to its own fictitious narrative, the Russian state has perpetrated a pre-emptive strike on a neighbouring territory under the pretext of preventing an attack supposedly planned by NATO, while simultaneously propagating the fiction that it is acting on behalf of people in the eastern regions of Ukraine who, it claims, are suffering from extermination at the hands of a supposedly neo-Nazi government. 


The year 2022 seems to have dealt a decisive blow to the archival turn in art, which had already been repeatedly undermined by the development of digital technologies. Currently, this undermining occurs not only from the outside, but through an absolute and global revision of historical memory and its durability and validity within historical structures. During this year, we managed to see that not only separate stories and archives can be falsified, the world can be under the influence of a hyper-complex fictitious machine that operates for a period of several centuries and moves in three directions at the same time: in its own territory and already occupied lands; in the territories that it seeks to occupy; and in the international arena. In each direction, it seeks to ultimately control the information space and reinforce the self-created narrative through various means of influence and manipulation. In addition to the need for the revision of archival practices, 2022 also became the year of dispelling the relevance of the designation ‘post-Soviet’ to denote countries that were part of the Soviet Union until the 1990s. After the logic of reproducing the past union led to Russia’s full-scale invasion of a neighbouring sovereign state, any joint historical and cultural discourses, let alone alliance ties, have been made impossible not only between Russia and Ukraine, but also other states of the former political bloc (with the exception of the well-known examples).

However, the speculative structures of time, unlike the cultural practices of modernism, did not lead us to self-destruction, or the end of history or art. Encountering a world-scale fiction, we saw not only that reality is fiction, but also that fiction is reality. Our people did not only begin to remember about themselves what Russia had forced them to forget for a continuous time, but also to find fragments of reality that had been suppressed and cast as fictitious by external power structures. The Soviet government, and later its successor, the Russian Federation, tried and continues to try to not only create a monolithic cultural product by promoting specific language, literature, cinema, and cuisine outside its territory, displacing local traditions in occupied countries, but also to cling to an identity from a specific fragment of time, namely an imperial period that ceased to exist a long time ago. In the initial iteration of the project, our curatorial team wanted to create an exhibition that would talk about Ukraine as a sovereign and independent state—one that does not require determination in accordance with the traumatic experience of being under colonial influence. We sought to look at the question of decolonization more broadly and indirectly, decolonizing the history of Ukraine from its self-constitution through connections with the Other. This time, we are looking at a diverse range of events and determinations.

Usually, a longer term perspective is required to think through historical events; now, it has turned out that centuries-long records can collapse within days or months. In addition to the collapse of the global imperial narratives, the local cultural histories gain additional value furthermore. Accordingly, the artistic and literary tradition of the late 20th and 21st centuries—from the early modernist prose and poetry to the works of the writers, directors, and artists of the Executed Renaissance—reappears again as the beginnings of a critical anti-imperial civic struggle, and finds its echoes in the inspired queer voices of our contemporaneity. Going back even further, the religious histories of our ancestors bring us back to Old Church Slavonic writing, and reveal the Russian Orthodox Church’s propagation of myths to co-opt histories related to the language formation created by Cyril and Methodius. The long-forgotten or hidden past returns to us in the future, and what was reality has taken the place of myth.


It is also important to note that today time does not only come at us from different directions and destroys linearity, but it also has the ability to expand and multiply. In his book Anywhere or Not at All, Peter Osborne talks about our contemporaneity as a disjunctive unity of present times: now we do not simply exist together ‘in time,’ now the present is characterized by a combination of different but equally ‘present’ temporalities or ‘times,’ a temporal unity in disjunction. Time no longer emanates from one point or a few main monolithic centres—as it did in the most active times of former empires and the localized accumulation of capital, which ensured possession not only of material, but also immaterial resources. Now, in this period of a hyper-complex network of capital circulation, mass and rapid migration, intercultural exchanges, and a multitude of other factors, the centres are opening up the ‘peripheral’ temporalities that they overshadowed in the past. What is more, the peoples and territories distant from the conventionally defined centres are gradually reinstating their agency and place in both history and the contemporary dispersed network of time.

Our project also proposes a concept of destiny that is a non-linear organization of futures in which various voices, speaking different languages, belonging to different ethnic groups, subcultures, gender identities, and other present-day designations, reinstate their agencies together. This is the future that already exists now and has always existed. It undermines notions of the binary, of linear time, of border-oriented space, and of the nation as something constructed solely from the forms of traditional institutions. While the ongoing war has shown us that a nation’s rights to peace, security, and sovereignty are vital and must be protected, it has also reminded us of the deep threat of right-wing intolerance driven to imperial ambition. The nation, once relevant as a structure for demarcating borders against invading interests of external political apparatuses, is currently losing its supremacy due to its outmoded tendency to prioritize singularly accepted types of identity and to exclude the other—notably the representatives of ethnic peoples who may be less visible within a current political formation, but are nonetheless contributors to the historical culture and society of the territory. More than once, contemporary theorists have defined this world-wide state as transnational

When we refer to territories demarcated thusly, these borders never succeed in serving the homogeneous ideas of cultural heritage and ethnic consistency that produced them. Equally, appears the future of Ukraine—an independent, sovereign and, still, multi-ethnic country which has occupied the transitory place in the collision of continents throughout the centuries. Thousands of Nogais, Lezgins, Rutuls, Avars, Tsakhurs shared a home with other local peoples for long decades and centuries; Crimean Tatars, Azov Greeks, Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Krymchaks, and many other ethnic groups have always constituted the indigenous population of Ukraine. In contrast to the long-standing imposition of singular standards propagated by the empire, it is a time to reclaim ourselves in the plurality of local identities and local culture. 

This iteration of the show is preserving the points from the past, but not only to remember, but also to remember anew. To remember what we may never have known, but which has always been a part of us. To remember not only what happened to us once, but also where our destiny leads us in the future. We stand at the continuous beginning of the destiny of Ukraine, of its people and of the multitude of its multitude of other inhabitants. Let the long road lead you not only straight, but also to the left, to the right, up, circularly and upside down.

The exhibition is curated by Milena Khomchenko, Yulia Krivich, and Clemens Poole with the works of Beauty Studio, Taras Gembik and Vlad(a), Diana Khalilova and Zamina Khalilova, Larion Lozovyi, Darja Lukjanenko, Sashko Protyah, Anna Sapon, Zhenia Stepanenko, Viktoriia Tymonova accompanied by Probability Lines by Frosiko. The show was initially presented in PLATO Ostrava, Czech Republic, from 9/2–16/4/2023 and is currently open in Dnipro Center for Contemporary Culture, Ukraine, till 8/8/2023.

Cover image: Larion Lozovyi, Amalgamated Society of Friendly Creators, 2020. Photo by Oleh Samoilenko

Milena Khomchenko is an art critic and curator from Ukraine and a co-founder and curator of the SONIAKH digest. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Aesthetics and Art Theory at Kingston University London supported by a Chevening Award; and she has also studied philology, English language and Ukrainian language at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Her texts have been published in L’Internationale Online, Spike Art Magazine, Danarti, KORYDOR, ArtsLooker, Blok, Your Art and other media outlets. She is co-author and archivist of the book MUHi 2009–2021 (Osnovy Publishing, 2022). She is currently based in London.