Amy Winehouse staggers in shortly before midnight. It doesn’t go without notice how unwell she is.

Amy will be DJ’ing. There is a yellow shimmer to her skin and her skinny body looks more fragile than ever, her hands skeletal. The singer, twenty-five years old, seems to be exhausted. She is jittery and swaying to and fro and has to support herself by leaning against the DJ console. She isn’t even able to put the needle on the record – one of her assistants does this for her.

Amy Winehouse

There has to be alcohol, of course. Again and again Amy takes a big pull on the vodka bottle. She then passes her laptop, which is covered in smudges and fingerprints, to her companion and asks her to show the photographs of herself and her husband kissing and grimacing. They are like Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers.

Suddenly Amy’s blurred face appears on the screen, photographed from above. She has a telephone in one hand and a big dick in her mouth.

Amy begins her set with ‘Nothing but a Heartache’ by The Flirtations. Again and again the headphone wires get entangled in a strand of her hair. Now her shifty eyes are firmly fixed on the record player. No eye-contact, no flirting with the guests. No hello. The singer gives the impression of a shy girl playing her favorite records alone in her room. Lost in her own world. After only thirty-five minutes the show is over. Tepid applause. Amy is leaving, cuts and scars visible on her arms and as she goes up the stairs she scratches wildly at them.

“Thank you, Amy!” someone shouts.

“Pleasure,” she replies and murmurs: “You fucking gooks.” She laughs.

After her gig the newspapers say that she was drunk. She was hours late. No underwear. Her PR woman, Tracey Miller, denies it all. According to her everything went well.

The Ukrainian oligarch, Victor Pinchuk, has invited us to Kiev to visit his museum. It is the first museum for contemporary art in Ukraine. It is situated on Khreshchatyk, the main street.
In the darkened room of the Pinchuk Art Centre the visitors are standing close together. Some of them refrain from looking at the screens on which, in rapid succession, scenes of brutal human rights violations are being projected. They call this drastic confrontation political art. For the visitors it is just too much reality. In the neighboring space, in a video piece from 1968, Bruce Nauman is galumphing across his studio.

A young man shouts at us in broken English: “Welcome to Kiev. You will be surprised to see what is happening here. You’ll see: we are special. You’ll like us.”

The inner courtyard of Kiev’s Arena Complex, next to Pinchuk’s Museum, is densely packed with young Ukrainians. They were only young kids when, in 1986, about 100 kilometres away, the reactors in Chernobyl blew up. They probably weren’t even born, when, in 1975, the band Kraftwerk from Düsseldorf played the song ‘Radioactivity, is in the air for you and me, discovered by Madame Curie’. And the band members from the upper Rhenish bourgeoisie were declared avant-garde. The musicians are on the stage, standing motionless behind their laptops. The faces of the audience are turned stoically towards them, staring at them, as if ghosts were about to appear. The vibrant sound of ‘Man-Machine’ runs through their motionless bodies.

Enthroned high above Kiev is the giant Mother Motherland statue.

Mother Motherland is overlooking the city’s menacing high-rise housing estates which encircle its impressive center as if only the Dnjepr could prevent her from swallowing the monastery with its magnificent cupolas. One can see the giant statue and the raised sword from far away. Mother Motherland is wearing her hair in a bun; her healthy body is clad in a tunic. She symbolizes the victories of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. This steel giant was erected as the obverse of the Statue of Liberty and it is even higher. At Mother Motherland’s feet there is huge expanse of concrete. Every few yards one comes across tanks and warplanes. Visitors proudly climb up on them. From loudspeakers, martial sounds are to be heard: CHINK. CHOONK. BOING BOOM CHUK. BANG BANG BANG, WOOM WOOM WOOM, CHUKA CHUKA CHUKA.

We are now in the Skyloft, a cafe on the top floor of Pinchuk’s art center. The café is entirely white: the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the chairs, the bar, the lamps. Only the people bring a bit of color to this dazzlingly white space.

At the bar white wine, vodka and niblets are being served. A woman is tottering on incredibly high high heels. Fixed on her head is a kind of violet wire netting.

Here, in this space, reality is locked out, the menacing bouncers at the entrance see to that. Reality only exists as a still frame: the wide panorama window offers a view of the city’s gay colors, the neon-lights of Sony, Samsung and Carte Noir.

After leaving the village of Orane the country road gets bad. There isn’t much traffic. Chernobyl is only 25 kilometers away now. At the bridge leading over the river Usch the tarmac is being patched. In the village of Zalissja nice wooden houses are decaying. A new road sign says that we are now approaching Chernobyl. In the city center a refreshed Soviet mural showing an atomic nucleus and a peace dove welcomes visitors. The Lenin statue is in good shape as well. Entering Prypjat our Geiger counter goes crazy. The exposure to radiation is a hundredfold higher than it is in Kiev. Prypjat is the only town on earth the age of which can easily be calculated: 1970 (rise) to 1986 (fall). The writer Juri Andruchowytsch once told us that at the beginning of 1986 the big Christmas tree in front of the cultural palace ‘Energetik’ fell over, twice. But hardly any of the citizens took heed of this bad omen.

–Jürgen Schneider


Essays

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