The Power Plant

Taras Polataiko


Courtesy Taras Polataiko

Taras Polataiko is a Ukrainian-Canadian performance artist and painter. He was born in 1966 in Chernivtsi, Ukraine and immigrated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1990.

Taras Polataiko consistently uses his work to explore political history and memory, sometimes referring to his own Ukrainian origin. In Artist as Politician: in the Shadow of a Monument (1992), Polataiko, explored performance as a means of challenging the installation of a public sculpture of Ray Hnatyshyn, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian arrival in Canada. Covered completely in bronze paint and standing completely still for hour-long intervals in close proximity to the Hnatyshyn sculpture, Polataiko questioned the choice to have Hnatyshyn stand for all Ukrainian-Canadians. Polataiko's performance therefore became a way of addressing the invisibility and marginalization of the Ukrainian people which was further underscored by the engraved pedestal where Polataiko stood, which read "Dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement, in honour of those Ukrainians who never became Governor-General." Joan Borsa commented that the performance opened up "a space where we can participate in producing our own history. This is the difference between art that monumentalizes and art that provokes thought, between facade which postures and forecloses in the attempt to impress, and debate which risks raising questions and uncertainty even in areas of which we have good reason to be proud" (1992). Returning to his native Ukraine in 1994, Polataiko visited the contaminated region that surrounds Chernobyl, resulting in his exposure to radioactivity. Upon his return to Canada, the artist had his blood drawn regularly over a 14-month period, storing it temporarily in his freezer, in order to preserve it for Cradle (1995) an installation exhibited at the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon. Cradle consisted of a nickel plated bathtub suspended from anchor chains inches above the floor, filled with the artist’s blood. In Cradle Polataiko investigates the phenomenon of biological mutation, contemplates the similar dynamics of physiological transformations and socio-political changes, and suggests that the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl precipitated the decline of the Soviet Union.

Also in 1995 Polataiko presented Glare, an exhibition of thirteen images painted from photographs of black-and-white reproduction of Kasimir Malevich's paintings. Malevich, also from the Ukraine, was part of a non-objective art movement called Suprematism, which sought to authenticate the space of a painting by avoiding traditional painterly illusion. By removing the images several times through his various means of reproducing them, Polataiko created "a situation where the supposedly autonomous languages of these media overlap" (quoted in Beatty, 1995). Greg Beatty described the series, referring to the glare that resulted from Polataiko's photographic process, which he then included as a distortion when he painted his images: "This glare, which is common to all thirteen paintings, serves as a metaphor for perceptual blind spots that arise through exposure to mediated information. As Ukrainian artists, Malevich and Polataiko were required to operate in the visual/linguistic space created by the colonizing force of Soviet propaganda. Their experience provides evidence that these blind spots influence the development not only of personal narratives but of cultural and historical ones as well" (1995).

Polataiko continued to explore this theme in his 1998 exhibition Scotoma, using fourteen life-sized self portraits to explore "scotoma," the gap or dark area in a field of vision. In Canadian Art the show was described as "a painterly metaphor for blindness, fear of the invisible and surveillance . . ." (1998). In addition to his artistic practice Polataiko has been a visual arts instructor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon (1990 to 1993), and a guest lecturer at the University of Saskatchewan (1993) and the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation in Richmond, British Columbia (1990).