Now in its third year, the Ukraine-Based photography festival has moved out of the gallery and into the city itself amid the Covid-19 pandemic
“I think our main goal is to find an innovative tone of voice in photography,” says Asya Zhetvina, co-curator of the Bird in Flight Festival, an international photography prize and exhibition based in Kiev, Ukraine. Along with her fellow curator Dmitry Kostyukov, Zhetvina has brought the festival to new digital and public spaces amid Covid-19 restrictions. Where in previous years prize shortlisted exhibited within galleries, this year, the exhibition expands into the streets of Kiev: all the works are displayed throughout the city centre.
In March, the Bird in Flight team realised they would have to modify the festival for a socially distanced city and turning the outdoor spaces of Kiev Into a gallery became the solution. As well as the finalist artworks being exhibited across the city, the festival will also utilise Kiev’s CCTV systems to bring the work to new international audiences. By inverting the surveillance and “spying” nature of the cameras, the festival plans to use them in a “positive and constructive way.” Through the internet, anyone and everyone will be able to tune into footage from a mapped-out city and attend the festival themselves.
By employing CCTV cameras to further stretch the reach of the festival, Bird in Flight also hopes to explore new questions regarding who is engaging with the art. “We in the industry very often stay in photography bubbles. You go from one festival to another; you see the same people and the same works. This is a problem,” says Kostyukov. “Gallery environments often create a certain atmosphere, and some groups of people never go in” he says. With a fully public and digital platform, Bird in Flight hopes to engage the people of Kiev, and viewers from across the world.
Both curators have a deep personal connection to the city. “We decided to combine our knowledge about this place where we grew up,” says Kostyukov. “The community of Kiev is not so big, the city is heavily polluted with advertising.” By displaying artwork on the streets they hope to create a conversation between it and the official and unofficial advertisements, posters, and graffiti, between which it rests.
Championing work that finds new ways to tell photographic stories, the Bird in Flight shortlist includes artists such as Silvia Rosi, Alex Turner, and Pietro lo Casto; an international jury of curators, artists and writers will decide on the final prize winner, which will be announced on 13 November 2020. Accompanying the exhibition, the festival also hosts lectures and round table discussions.
Given the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Bird in Flight Prize has adapted to produce their most innovative and accessible festival to date. “We discovered some new methods and mediums which we would have never developed without Covid-19,” reflects Zhetvina.
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.