Visual Art

Stanislava Pinchuk’s astute and surprising survey exhibition, Terra Data, explores the human aftermath of catastrophe through delicate works drawn from data-mapping.

By Andy Butler.

Stanislava Pinchuk’s Terra Data

A room in the exhibition Stanislava Pinchuk: Terra Data, at Heide Gallery of Modern Art.
Credit: Clytie Meredith

Stanislava Pinchuk’s work sits in the emotional aftermath of cataclysmic political events. Her practice is concerned with the scars embedded in geography – how landscapes hold memories of war, catastrophe and trauma. Her transmutation of these questions into art is a process of coming to terms with how people carry the fallout of crises.

After growing a profile as a street artist under the moniker Miso, Pinchuk transitioned into contemporary art with an interdisciplinary practice that crosses drawing, sculpture, photography and more. Terra Data, currently on at Heide Museum of Modern Art, is an early-career survey of a selection of some 40 key works from 2015-20. Series of her well-known pinhole-on-paper works, as well as terrazzo sculptures and a recent work of public art are brought into a single space for the first time.

A survey of Pinchuk’s early-career practice offers a poetic representation of our relationship to legacies of violence, war and catastrophe. Its layered emotional and conceptual complexity is revealed through an astute and surprising use of materials.

The earliest work in the exhibition – Surface to Air (2015) – represents the beginning of her data-mapping and pinhole-on-paper works. The Ukraine fell into a political crisis in 2013 when the country’s government suspended preparations for signing an agreement with the European Union in order to maintain its economic relations with Russia. Ukrainian-born Pinchuk data-mapped the shifting political and topographical landscapes of the country as it descended into war. The outcome is a series of delicate perforated drawings that resemble both flowing fabric and a gridded topographical map.

The process behind these works – especially in Surface to Air – draws the viewer into a world of art-making that attempts to grapple with the outcomes of war and political upheaval. One can imagine the artist forming these pinhole drawings while embedded in the emotional uncertainty of a country of personal significance facing a great crisis. It is a methodical and meditative undertaking.

Data-mapping is central to these works, and the delicate form of mark-making that Pinchuk uses is brought together with raw data gathered from news reports that more objectively convey the consequences of societal ruptures.

As Pinchuk’s practice progresses, she experiments with pinhole renderings that take their cues from textiles and other forms of data collection. Sarcophagus (2017) is a series of works on paper drawn from Geiger counter readings taken around the site of the Chernobyl Reactor 4 nuclear explosion in 2011. The artist turns this data into pinhole drawings that take their cues from the lacework in funereal shrouds and bridal veils, suspending the radioactive activity of Chernobyl in a space between life and death.

Terra Data also includes the artist’s sculptures. Minimalist terrazzo blocks sit atop museum plinths throughout the gallery. Forming part of the Borders series, Pinchuk collected layers of detritus embedded in the ground of the Calais “Jungle” migrant camp, which formed at the height of the European migration crisis of 2015-16. Following the disbandment of the camp, Pinchuk encased discarded items from the camp in blocks, metaphorically embalming them.

A mostly unresolved tension haunts Terra Data, mostly because of the work that has been excluded from this survey. Pinchuk’s overall practice consists of both collectible and non-collectible elements, but only the former is included in Terra Data. Alongside her well-collected drawings on paper, she has an ongoing project of stick-and-poke tattooing those around her. Through a non-monetary barter exchange, Pinchuk forms constellation-style designs on willing participants that track relationships to place, stars, immigration journeys and so on.

A central element of how we make sense of social upheaval is to more deeply understand the intimacy of the relationships around us, and how we might communicate to each other the things we hold most dear. The element of Pinchuk’s practice that approaches this most clearly is her tattooing and its absence from Terra Data is a loss for the works represented here.

The Red Carpet (2020) is the closest that Pinchuk comes to grappling with the tensions in making art about the legacies of trauma while navigating the structures of power that tear us apart. In a stunning performative intervention on the Sydney Opera House, she covers its stairs in a detailed imagery of a Ukrainian Bessarabian rug, its design embedded with a topographical data map from Independence Square in Kiev. The Opera House is photographed empty in early morning light, an icon of cultural prestige covered in the realities of a far-off uprising for democracy.

The Red Carpet points to Pinchuk’s growing capacity to make us feel emotional vertigo in our relationships to global politics and power, but as only one small element of Terra Data, the work is overwhelmed.

A five-year early career survey is a strange phenomenon in the art world. Surveys are meant to be an opportunity to consider the breadth of an artist’s practice and its growth over time – but five years is only a tiny insight into the world an artist creates, and it feels premature to be looking back on an artist’s work at a point where she is gaining momentum. Pinchuk’s practice has much to offer, now and into the future, and one hopes that exhibitions to come will demonstrate the depth of her work.

Stanislava Pinchuk: Terra Data is at Heide Museum of Modern Art until June 20.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 1, 2021 as "The art of data".

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Andy Butler is an artist and writer. He is the exhibitions curator at West Space in Melbourne.