Sleeping Beauty to Awaken Political Slumber in Ukraine

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: In 2004, Ukraine seemed to be a country on the verge of great change. It didn't have a civil war like Syria's, but it did have an uprising that was dubbed the Orange Revolution. It's goal was to rid Ukraine of it's corrupt old Communist guard, and bring in democracy. One of the uprisings leaders was Yulia Tymoshenko, she went on to become the country's first female prime minister. But since August of last year, shes been in jail, convicted of abusing her public office. She claims she's being persecuted by her old guard political opponents, now in power. But today, Ukraine's highest court rejected Tymoshenko's appeal.

Background: [speaking Ukrainian]

Werman: A judge read out the ruling, which upheld the seven year prison sentence against the former prime minister. Tymoshenko's supporters in Kiev rallied after the ruling shouting the word 'shame' over and over.

Background: [Speaking Ukrainian]

Werman: Tymoshenko also has supporters outside the country. The European Union has been critical of the ruling, just as Ukraine was hoping to further its case for EU integration. There's another event taking place in Kiev today that, at first glance seems unrelated, but there is a connection. It's an art exhibit called The Sleeping Beauty Project. It's part social experiment, part political statement and as the artist Taras Polataiko, likens Ukraine itself to a sleeping beauty.

Werman: So, Taras, how is Ukraine like a sleeping beauty?

Taras Polataiko: Well, it has a difficult and tragic history, and somehow, I think an enduring, long patience. I mean for example now, with Tymoshenko in jail, nobody is really doing anything. Its a place of apathy. It seems like nobody cares about politics, because everybody is so disappointed about the bad outcome, or the failure, of Orange revolution.

Werman: Explain The Sleeping Beauty Project, how it's a rumination on Ukrainian patience.

Polataiko: The sleeping beauty is waiting, and waiting is a type of patience. The other thing that I'm interested in is taking the old archetypal narrative, which any fairy tale is, and making it real, and seeing what happens.

Werman: So, you go into this gallery; tell us what you see.

Polataiko: There is a sleeping beauty. the lenghth of the performance is 15 days, so I've cast 5 beauties, each gets 3 days. When you enter the space, it's empty space. And there is this beautiful white bed, everythings white, shes dressed in white, and she's asleep. To make it simple, if you kiss her and she opens her eyes, you marry her. But in order to get in…

Werman: You have to marry her? Legally, you have to marry her?

Polataiko: Legally you have to marry her. Anybody can come in, anybody over 18, which is legal age in Ukraine, and single. So, there's basically a contract and a statement. If you sign the statment, you are basically stating, that you are not going to kiss her, you are just going to observe. If you are signing the contract, it means you are a potential kisser.

Werman: And all the sleeping beauties are cool with that? has anybody opened their eyes yet?

Polataiko: Not yet.

Werman: Not yet. And how many people have gone through the gallery and kissed these sleeping beauties?

Polataiko: I don't remember exactly. But the first, I think she got over 20 kisses. What makes the performance intense, is the consequences are serious. I describe them in terms of roles: the prince and the beauty. The prince has to think twice because he doesn't know the essence of the beauty, he just sees the surface. And the beauty is opposite, the beauty doesn't get to see the prince, she gets to feel intuitively…

Werman: Well, exactly. I was going to ask you: for you, what's the big surprise here? I mean, have you found yourself rooting for one of the five women?

Polataiko: I root for all of them, because they are really romantic types, really romantic souls. The nature of the project is, it's a fairy tale, a gentle fairy tale. It's magical. and the kind of people it attracted are of that kind. You know, they are very refined, and gentle girls. They are smart and beautiful. They actually believe they want to find the true love. There was one, who just said, "Ah, I love kissing, I'll just kiss away for 3 days." That's great for me.
its a sensitive situation. I kept asking girls, "If the dude is not sensitive, he kisses for too long, what do you think, should we limit the kiss to maybe like 5 seconds? And give the security guard the timer?" And the girls consensus was, "Oh, what if it's a nice kiss, though?" So, I…

Werman: Let it linger

Polataiko: I asked them. We kind of came up with this: that if they don't like it, they just lift their hand, and then the security kicks in right away. And I'm there, too.

Werman: Wow.

Polataiko: Everything's been great so far, but I had to push one guy slightly back. Because, I think he kind of got too emotional, and he touched her gently on the wrist. It's just, no touching means no touching. Because if you start letting it happen, where do you stop, right? So, I had to… He was mad at me, because he actually left the IPad on the bed, and eventually the beauty told them, there was money in it for her ticket to Amsterdam to visit him, and his email address.

Werman: Unintended consequences.

Polataiko: Yea, so theres like a drama everyday

Werman: Artist Taras Polataiko, his work, called The Sleeping Beauty Project is at the National Art Museum of Ukraine. To see a video of the Sleeping Beauty Project come to Taras, thank you very much.

Polataiko: You're welcome.