Campus Life

Polataiko exhibition garners worldwide attention

Taras Polataiko's exhibition, Sleeping Beauty, at the National Art Museum in Kyiv, Ukraine, has generated considerable media interest worldwide. What initially started out as an interactive performance art exhibit with live streaming video has stirred up a firestorm of international commentary that includes critical praise, some apprehension, a possible copycat, and at least one newfound romantic relationship.

The three-week-long show, which ran until Sept. 9, 2012, featured five women in white gowns sleeping on a raised podium bed in the gallery, to Eric Satie's mystical Gnossiennes piano pieces. Each Beauty had her own melody. Men and women who came to view the show had the opportunity to participate in it by 'awakening' one of the women with the power of a single kiss…and an important accompanying commitment. Before attempting the kiss, both men and women were required to sign a contract stating that they were single, at least 18 years of age, and seriously intended to marry the Beauty if their kiss caused her to open her eyes. The 'Sleeping Beauties' participating in the exhibit signed a similar agreement: that they would only open their eyes if they felt a true, intuitive connection in the kiss, and they agree to marry the 'Prince' whose kiss awakens them.

Instead of a quiet exhibit, international TV and radio networks like BBC, EURONEWS, FOX, ABC, CBS, RAI, ANSA, American Public Radio and GloboTV all of the major international news companies – including Associated Press, Reuters, France Presse and The Telegraph – online news and major international newspapers from Le Figaro and The Guardian to the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, and social sites from Hyperallergic to Huffington Post have pounced on the story, some repeatedly.

The responses have ranged widely from the romantic to the political. The exhibition was almost shut down by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture a day before it was scheduled to open. There is cultural commentary embedded in Polataiko's take on the fairy tale regarding the enduring patience of the Ukrainian people awaiting a "catalyst" for successful revolution (see the Guardian's article for more).

The gender roles of the 'beauty' and the 'prince' ignited online discussion about old-fashioned gender tropes, positive and negative notions of 'true love', even voyeurism. In a media world where courting has been turned into successive generations of reality television programming, the idea of love found through hopeful intuition is perhaps not so far-fetched; at least one hopeful suitor moved viewers to tears when his kiss was not successful.

Only one 'awakening' was reported, with a twist - instead of a 'Prince' waking the sleeping beauty, it was a 'Princess'. Same-sex marriage is currently not allowed in Ukraine, but the attention the exhibit received might stir new consideration of that issue. Further information regarding this development was examined by the Huffington Post.

Five days after Polataiko's project ended, a notably similar event took place at the Guggenheim Museum in New York: a one-night-only launch on Sept. 14, by American pop singer/writer Lady Gaga, where she 'slept' inside a large set construction of her perfume's custom bottle. While sleeping performances have been seen previously in art, Gaga's exhibit may have been less about contributing any kind of artistic statement and more about simply promoting her fragrance. Polataiko's response to the similarities was posted on the New York art website

While this inaugural exhibition has ended, Polataiko may recreate Sleeping Beauty in North America, South America, Europe or other parts of the world. He is indeed interested in other possible readings its restaging in other countries may engender.

Taras Polataiko has been teaching at the University of Lethbridge since 2010.