As I was driving past the armed guards and the various sentry points in the towns which mark the way to Kyiv, I was thinking I should write about them for the blog. About these free-standing, impromptu sculptural forms which are all to do with controlling movement within space, and ultimately to do with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Piles of tank traps on front gardens are necessarily intriguing in the way they mimic modernist sculptures. So I was thinking to write about that, about the war and how the war is visible in Ukraine even far from the front lines. But actually, having been in Kyi for a few days, what I want to write about instead is a hardware store called Epicenter.
If you are in any doubt that Ukraine should join the European Union you should just come and walk around one of their hardware stores. Honestly, as soon as possible Ukraine, PLEASE join the EU and then come and open hardware stores in Germany. I would be so very grateful! I will admit to being a bit of a Hardware store nerd, and to being a bit of a fan of fixings, lengths of timber, pipes, insulating materials. But I can also spend ages wandering around the wallpaper section. Except back home the wallpaper section is never really big enough to wander around. Often no more than a few dreary rolls of woodchip sulking next to something which sadly goes on about coffee time. But here, oh my god, Epicenter has an eternity of wallpapers. So many happy slogans, so many swirling patters. If made me giddy, and at the same time sad that I don’t have any walls in Germany that need wallpapering with colourful stacked houses.
To say that there is *everything* in Epicenter is something of an understatement. If you need wallpaper paste there are something like 50 varieties. Google Lens wasn’t working for me in the depths of the building so I had no way of translating what the various flavours of wallpaper paste might be. Suffice it to say the tendency seems to veer towards the encyclopedic in virtually every sub-category. It’s more like walking round a town than walking round a shop with a range of products that suggest an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in the buying department. Much like those small stores which will famously stock every whiskey in the world, or every something else, the totality of the offering being more significant that any individual iteration of a product. We are of course in Kyiv, the capital city, so one would expect this to be where you find the grandiose commercial offers. There is something affirming though about being in Epicenter, the normality of the place and the way that a hardware store is always a cathedral to getting-on-with-your-life as well as a document of shabby materialism. But the hardware store is surely a more acceptable temple of materialism than say the duty free shop or the jewellry store. It manages to wrap that guilt of materialism in a cloak of virtuous utility. Irrespective of your politics you might agree that life is more pleasant in a world where you can buy a brush for the toilet bowl.
I was cooing the whole morning as I wandered around and picked up a few fridge magnet souvenirs, some working gloves and a bottle of patriotic shaving cream with Patron, Ukraine’s famous bomb disposal sniffer dog, taking pride of place on the front. As a tourist of course I was intrigued by the things I don’t see back in Germany. There is shift in aesthetics, slightly more bling, slightly more gold trim and lots and lots more floral. My favourite aisle was probably the Avenue of Doors, a small installation in itself, which, when you think about it, offers a quite different symbology to checkpoints and tank traps.