In anticipation of the Semi Peppered x Inter:Mission ‘Empty Spaces’ event, Leila Tinne met with photographer Daniel Delikatnyi to discuss what Empty Spaces means to him.
Name: Daniel Delikatnyi
Degree: Third Year Politics and Philosophy
What does the word ‘empty spaces’ mean to you?
Artistically I associate it with long corridors and empty buildings. I grew up in Ukraine in the countryside in a former Soviet Union sanatorium. When the Soviet Union was still functioning government officials were eligible to rent space there. But in 1991 when the party broke up the space was privatised so very few people lived there with us. The grounds and the buildings are massive, there are empty long corridors with chandeliers hanging from high ceilings. It’s kind of a nostalgic reminder of the by gone era.
(L) Is that where you artistic side has come from? Growing up in such an obscure place has prompted the artist within?
(D) I would say that a lot of the photography I do has been very much to do with obscure architecture. The buildings I grew up with are grand in their own way but not captivating in the obvious way, certain elements of the interior or the exterior are fascinating. I almost want to say tacky. It is the juxtaposition of these weird ornamented carpets, old concrete walls and empty spaces that I find inspiring. It’s a very strange place, but it feels like home to me so I am kind of drawn to those sorts of spaces.
Can you tell us a little bit about growing up in Ukraine?
It was very interesting. I moved to the UK when I was 11 but moved from Ukraine to Moscow when I was 8. I hated Moscow. There was a big contrast growing up in Ukraine to Moscow. Moscow is very large and cold, everyone is very impersonal. Ukraine on the other hand and Kiev specifically is a little more European. It has a Parisian vibe, everyone is a bit warmer. It has a more homely personality.
(L) So artistically you resonate more with Ukraine than Moscow?
(D) Yeah – it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two because obviously the traditions and history of Ukraine is often associated with the Soviet Union and Russia. That’s what the task is these days, to create a distinction and find the little elements in Ukrainian history which stand out and are inspirational.
(L) Do you feel responsible taking on that role as an artist?
(D) Yeah definitely because after everything that’s happened there has been such a political shift. It is crucial that anyone taking part in this movement must put a heavy accent on the history and give Ukrainians something to be proud of.
Do you have a driving force behind your art?, in other words what inspires you to take the picture? (politics, outrage, emotion or a combination of it all)
Coming from Ukraine and having my adolescent years in England has given me a unique viewpoint. It is interesting to notice the little differences between both countries in everyday life. I find it fascinating because most people on a day to day basis have the same routine, they wake up, go to work, cook, clean, etc. But it’s the way they do things in Ukraine that is just different. It’s quintessentially Ukrainian and these details are what defines cultures. You can relate depictions of everyday life to larger subject like class and gender. So the small details have a kind of ripple effect into larger issues.
(L) I think that’s very clear in your series of Ukrainian women.
(D) Yeah definitely. Which is funny because I asked my mum if she knew any publishers in Ukraine that would be interested in publishing my work and she said that its interesting, but for them that is just normal every day to day life – my work isn’t interesting to Ukrainian people but for British people the mundane is so different and therefore entertaining.
So how does this idea of the mundane in Ukraine yet interesting in England concept play into your work?
There is definitely punchy interesting elements to the work that comes out of quite a simple subject matter.
(L) Yes like the Wedding Dress Photograph?
(D) Exactly. It’s effectively a shopfront, a photograph of a kiosk in quite a dark dingy space. As a British viewer that is the last place you would want to shop for a wedding dress right? It’s such a foreign concept, but to Ukrainians that is totally normal. It’s funny the irony of everyday life. When you think twice about it you’re like ‘yeah actually that is quite bizarre’.
In England the class system is completely different, the middle class is very prominent. In Ukraine you are either very wealthy or you are poor. There is no middle class. So the majority of people have a much less comfortable life than we are used to. Old women are still working hard. It is a life and society that they are used to but is foreign to a lot of us in the UK.
Do you think you communicate your personality through your work or do you like to look at the work purely through a documentarian’s eye?
I would say I communicate my personality through my work. I like to look at something, analyze it and take away details that I’m particularly drawn to and then come up with my own personal take on it. Coming from both a Ukrainian and English background I can perhaps notice details that others wouldn’t. So I like to take those details and highlight them so others might understand them better.
How are you planning on illustrating Empty Spaces in the Exhibition?
This project actually came about quite handily because I took a trip to Chernobyl in April. It is a major disaster in Ukraine’s history so I felt I should go. Shall I just explain what happened?
(L) Please do.
(D) So Chernobyl was a big nuclear disaster. It was a power plant where the reactor overheated and exploded. 31 people were killed directly from the explosion and 15 were killed indirectly due to the radioactivity of the area since. It’s now quite a big tourist destination. Its a ghost town. I know this is quite a generic thing to say but it shocks you when your standing there in this place that is built for people to live in but it is derelict and empty.
(L) Like a creepy theme park?
(D) Yeah, nature has taken back the city because it has been 30 years since it happened. In places where the buildings have fallen down trees have started rooting themselves into the ruins.
There is a slight conspiracy theory about Chernobyl, when the nuclear power plant was built the Soviets said it was built as a radio station to track air space in South America. But the structure and the energy that was needed to power it were way too massive for it to just be a simple radio station. So many people have theories that the Soviets were developing a climate weapon which would be able to effect the weather.
So I have taken a series of photographs of Chernobyl to reflect what I think of as Empty Spaces for the exhibition.
Is there a narrative to your art/ what do you hope for your audience to feel when they walk away from it?
With this specific project I hope people will be slightly taken back just by the enormity of the disaster depicted through the images. My depiction is maybe not as harsh as others who have portrayed Chernobyl but I really take the composition into account. I want it to be a beautiful image as well as an interesting and powerful one. When someone looks at the photograph I want them to hear the deathly silence, the white noise I experienced when I was there.
What do you like about being an artist?
The power and responsibility of giving the younger generation an insight into Ukraine’s history and past.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to do a master’s degree in Photojournalism.