Plant (1955 — 2005) this section depicts usage of selected space by the former insulation materials plant. The plant was opened in 1955 in the city of Donetsk. The company produced mineral wool and other insulation materials for power stations and military and astronautical applications. The plant’s products were exported to the republics of the USSR and European countries, and around 1000 workers and engineers were employed at the company. In 2005 the plant went bankrupt because of the railway line being closed, and its premises began to be used as warehouses.
‘Izolyatsia’ foundation (2010 — 2014) this section depicts how the space was used by the international charitable foundation ‘Izolyatsia’. In 2010, Donetsk activists opened a platform for cultural initiatives with the support of local business, using the legacy of the factory as a source of inspiration and material for creating new ideas. The Foundation used the plant premises to realise educational, cultural and art projects, to create new enterprises in the creative economy, and to stage concerts, theatre performances and cinema viewings. Both artists and cultural actors on a Ukrainian and global level and the local community were actively involved in ‘Izolyatsia’s work.
‘Izolyatsia’ illegal prison (2014 - ...) this section shows the space during the operation of the illegal prison and military base that representatives of Russian Federation armed units set up on the site of the plant and cultural foundation. Buildings which were earlier used for cultural events and art projects are now a place of illegal imprisonment, torture, execution by firing squad and used for the storage of ammunition, weapons and military equipment. According to the testimony of former prisoners, the hostages are kept in inhumane conditions, made to do forced labour and undergo moral and physical abuse.
Having used her experience of working with casts of the body, in the same year Kulikovska, alongside curator Olena Chervonik, created the project Homo Bulla. It is a series of three soap sculptures: clones of the artist herself underneath the open sky on the site of the industrial zone.
Homo bulla is a Latin metaphorical expression. It speaks of human life as a delicate soap bubble, which is iridescent for just a brief moment and then is broken from the smallest breath of wind. In the mid-16th century homo bulla, popularised by Erasmus of Rotterdam, became a famous phrase and entered into the vocabulary of vanitas artworks: still-lives and genre scenes allegorically demonstrating the ephemerality of human existence and the brevity of life.
Maria Kulikovska continued the vanitas tradition in her own way, having created soap replicas of her own body. As envisioned by the artist, under the sun and the rain the soap solution would flow off the metal spines of the sculptures, dissolving in nature in the same way as human bodies after death. In such a manner, the birth of the sculptures in the ‘Izolyatsia’ Foundation warehouse was just the start of the art project. The three translucent sculptures around the industrial site fast became one of the recognisable symbols of the Foundation.
After the seizure of the ‘Izolyatsia’ Foundation in 2014, the team did not have access to the factory site, but journalists from the Russian opposition publications Dozhd and Forbes managed to get in there. And so it became known that Maria Kulikovska’s works had been moved to a former warehouse, which the Russia-backed illegal armed formations had turned into a shooting range. The Homo Bulla sculptures were used, amongst other things, as targets.
In 2019 the Ukrainian director Daria Onishchenko shot the film Zabuti (‘The Forgotten Ones’), which tells the story of normal people who remain in occupied Luhansk. Maria Kulikovska played a journalist from a propaganda channel who shoots at the Homo Bulla sculptures.
According to the artist, she had already developed the idea of shooting her own sculptures for a long time, and had already done performances featuring the destruction of her own works in the Saatchi Gallery in London and the Mystetskyi Arsenal in Kyiv. The scene in the film became the metaphorical completion of Homo Bulla.
“Now I know how everything really happens in war. To reproduce it all, to feel it, is psychologically important for me. This performance gave me the opportunity to understand that only I can truly be the owner of my own body and my own life.”, Maria Kulikovska speaking on this experience.