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Art instructor photographs Chernobyl


Several members of UCC staff visited Ukraine spring 2013 after being visited by the Ukrainian Open World delegation. Department Chair of Fine and Performing Arts Susan Rochester visited The Kiev Pechersk Lavra Monastery, founded in 1051 by two monks. The monastery, an example of Ukranian Baroque construction, is uniquely sited over caves which the monks excavated.
Photo provided by Susan Rochester
Several members of UCC staff visited Ukraine spring 2013 after being visited by the Ukrainian Open World delegation. Department Chair of Fine and Performing Arts Susan Rochester visited The Kiev Pechersk Lavra Monastery, founded in 1051 by two monks. The monastery, an example of Ukranian Baroque construction, is uniquely sited over caves which the monks excavated.

Susan Rochester, department chair of Fine and Performing Arts visited Ukraine spring 2013 as a part of the UCC team.

Rochester, who was on sabbatical, arrived before the team partly in order to photograph the ghost town of Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear power plant explosion. The land is still extremely radioactive, and Rochester had to be scanned on the way in and out of the site. She also photographed  aspects of Ukrainian culture.

Rochester dedicated time before her trip to study maps of Kiev and Chernobyl and learn several keys phrases so she would be able to navigate Ukraine without a translator.

Q:Why did you go to Ukraine before the remainder of the group arrived?

“I went a little earlier than the group. I wanted the challenge of being there without the group because when you are with other people it changes the way people respond to you. I wanted to be by myself in a country where I spoke like 10 words of the language and in no way, shape or form could read anything. There was this double literacy going on. I wanted to see if I could function. I could. It was fabulous. I really wanted to be able to see more of Kiev than I knew we would be able to as a group. I wanted to see the architecture and the art and take a side trip to Chernobyl, which is an hour and a half, two hours away. I have an ongoing photography series about places that have been deserted, and Chernobyl is kind of that ultimate place, and I really wanted to be able to photograph there. I wanted to have that time to soak in the Ukrainian culture.”¬†

While visiting Ukraine, Rochester observed a traditional ballet class. Dancers attend rigorous practices 20 to 30 hours a week as they strive for perfection.
Photo provided by Susan Rochester
While visiting Ukraine, Rochester observed a traditional ballet class. Dancers attend rigorous practices 20 to 30 hours a week as they strive for perfection.

Q: What did you find to be the most interesting aspect of the trip?

“There was a unique and distinctive Ukrainian identify they have held on to despite being a part of the Soviet Union, and it comes from centuries of occupying this area and having other groups run through and over the top of them. There is a definite identity though different language, religious and cultural differences. Even though I’ve traveled a lot, I expected the people to be distant and formal. The people were the most impressive thing though. They were lovely.”

Q: What was your impression of art education?

I was just blown away by the work ethic and determination of the students. I went to a performing arts school and students go to regular classes and spend another 20 to 30 hours a week in their performing arts class. I went to an acting class based on movement, a classical Russian-style ballet class, a folk dance class, a modern dance class and a class with folk music. Those hours invested are above and beyond. There was an aim for perfection. Every single student wanted to be at that point. I was amazed by how much they could do with much less. Their ceramics class was in a 12 by 15 space, and they fired in a bathtub with wood. The instructor has 20 to 25 students who work elbow to elbow that produce amazing work. Even out of incredible hardship, beautiful things were happening.”

Q: How would you compare the experience a student has in Ukraine versus the experience a student would have at UCC?

“One of the things I was curious about was at community colleges, we have open enrollment; everyone can find a place here. They don’t have the equivalent to that. In Ukraine, they have competitive enrollment. Likewise, they don’t have a system in place for students with disabilities. One of the things we do an amazing job of here in the United States is mainstreaming students with disabilities who are not able to learn in regular ways. In Ukraine, they are warehoused and not able to attend regular schools and learn as well as they could. When you take that out of the equation, you have a different competitive experience. The stakes are very much based on exams. You have to pass an exam in order to get out of the class. If you don’t pass the exam, you can retake the exam. Here, we don’t put everything on an examination. One thing they could probably learn from us is there are other ways of testing knowledge other than examination.”

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    Photo Provided by Susan Rochester
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    Photo Provided by Susan Rochester
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    Photo Provided by Susan Rochester
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    Photo Provided by Susan Rochester
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    Photo Provided by Susan Rochester