“Home” seems to be a recurring theme within the work Empty Stretch is drawn to. It was the title of our first publication and still has a strong presence within the work we seem to produce. Usually, when I think of the word “home,” a sense of nostalgia crosses my mind, and while the location isn’t always the same, I have a very certain type of image that comes to mind. My mental image of “home” though is not to be found within Mariya Ustymenko’s newest zine, “Kievbound,” published by Antler Press. This surprisingly didn’t hinder me from becoming transfixed within the story Ustymenko’s unravels.
Kiev seems stagnant and not within a “home is where your heart is” ideal. Rather, the city seems as if it’s waiting for something, a something Ustymenko may or may not think will come. The images were taken between 2003 and 2007 using two classic Soviet era cameras, the Kiev-19 and Lubitel-2, a seemingly deliberate decision by Ustymenko to obtain a gritty and even at times, ugly aesthetic. Muddled blacks and blown-out highlights help paint the picture that Kiev is still trying to find its path, like the viewer trying to decipher a shadow from an outline of a dog, the city struggles to distinguish what is old and what is new.
The portraits, of possible friends and family, provide a sense of growth that the viewer is looking for within the zine. While some inhabitants seem content or stuck, others stare definitely at the viewer, countering a gaze that up until that point had been laden towards voyeuristic. It is like a subtle backtrack on Ustymenko’s part; that while things may seem bleak to a certain degree, power, and even love, still flourishes within the city. This complexity, or even contradictory element to the book, is what I find so appealing. “Home” shouldn’t be a simple word to describe, and the emotions it derives are never as clear-cut as they may first seem. This is felt by the viewer when they finish experiencing the zine. A feeling that is hard to describe with words comes to mind, but ultimately that’s okay, because Ustymenko’s images help create a visual story that provides an answer to what that feeling is.
The design and layout of the zine is rather simple and seems more inline with an ongoing series Antler is currently producing, and while I think it would have been interesting to see how a more organic design would fit with these images, the attention to printing and consistent design helps support the narrative that is being presented. “Kievbound” is an interesting short glimpse into Ustymenko’s past and a portrait of a city that may or may not still be looking to be “found.” I’m sure the archive is much larger than what is being shown and ultimately, I hope to see this evolved into a more fleshed out story, whatever that story may be.