Follow the Fellow #4

Monthly notes from Les Vynogradov

23. Mai 2024 | Les Vynogradov

Blossoming rhododendrons on a lake
©Les Vynogradov

In this series, inm fellow Les Vynogradov from Kyiv shares sonic, spatial, and existential explorations of Berlin. 

Last week I had a dream about writing my next Follow the Fellow entry. I would dedicate it to dinosaurs. My premise would be that, in a scenario where dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, humans could coexist with them just like we do with all the other animals — that is, we would’ve had several hundred species extinct by now and we’d keep the rest in zoos and on thin slices of protected land. Oh yeah, and we would have pet dinos. We’d definitely have cute, tiktokable pet protoceratops.

Believe me, it sounded much more exciting — and poignantly relevant — in my dream.

So, was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Am I writing an entry about dinosaurs now? I will let you be the judge of that while I’m telling you a little story involving natural sciences, Kyiv, and Berlin.

I come from a family of biologists. My grandfather, Mykola Szczerbak, was a legend: after spending six years in Gulag for ›Ukrainian nationalism‹ he managed to become a prominent zoologist, co-found the Kyiv Museum of Natural History, and head its zoological wing (today bearing his name) for over twenty years. My grandmother, Halyna Shcherbak, and my mother, Oxana Vinogradova, have had successful careers in acarology and phycology, respectively. That is to say, my granny studied ticks, and mom is a specialist in cyanobacteria.

It’s no wonder I dreamed of becoming a zoologist and then paleontologist as a kid. I would spend hours in grandpa’s museum and join him in his birdwatching expeditions outside our dacha. And I loved dinosaurs. Naturally, my interests were met with utmost encouragement, and for a few years no one in the family had to break their head over a present for me: I had books, magazines, figurines, stickers, VHS tapes, computer games, and all other sorts of dinosaurs paraphernalia. This paleontological imagery had such a lasting impact on me that, years later, my first museum tour of Berlin started, not with Museumsinsel but the Museum für Naturkunde. Seeing the iconic Archaeopteryx fossil was as strong an experience as beholding the Gioconda for the first time.                  

My childhood dreams were shattered the day I was told that to become a natural scientist, I would eventually have to dissect a frog (or a mouse, or some other critter). My tender little self couldn’t stand the idea and, with a sense of utter defeat, I turned to humanities. A few years ago, however, as a testament to my old affection I wrote, together with my wife Lisa Korneichuk, one of the very few texts I am truly proud of — »On the Shores of the Eocene Sea,« exploring the hidden gem that is the art of the Kyiv Museum of Natural History. The publication is in Ukrainian (with a little help from Google, you’ll get the gist of it) but just open the link and check out the vintage paleoart and the article’s mindblowing web design by Olia Hordiienko. You won’t regret it, I promise.

But back to the city of blossoming rhododendrons, aka Berlin. If you’re in town on 9 June, I seriously recommend you to come to the Großer Wasserspeicher for Maulwerker: Orte+Räume #5. Why? For one thing, you’ll get to hear the premiere of Adrian Mocanu’s »madrigali guerrieri. libro 1.« Inspired by Monteverdi, the work deconstructs the medieval genre of a madrigal by filtering it through the perception of wartime Ukraine. Adrian is an awfully talented composer, a goth at heart (I mean it as a compliment), and a Weltoffenes Berlin fellow like myself, so I can’t recommend him enough.

If you aren’t familiar with Mocanu’s music, I invite you to listen to his haunting »Kiovia: esplorazioni delle tenebre« for large ensemble and electronics. Referring to the blackouts in Kyiv in 2022–23, this piece is sadly relevant again, as Russia has been more successful at bombing our energy infrastructure in recent months due to Ukraine’s lack of air defense. As a result, Ukrainians are once again experiencing regular power outages across the country. »Kiovia« does an excellent job of conveying the eerie and uneasy atmosphere of a megapolis drowned in darkness. I wish these states were reserved for the art realm.

Adrian Mocanu · Kiovia: esplorazioni delle tenebre (2023) for large ensemble and electronics

»Follow the Fellow« – ermöglicht im Rahmen des Stipendienprogramms »Weltoffenes Berlin« von der Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Gesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalt.

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