SOLARPUNK: Ukraine and Visions of Futurism

Dystopia, Utopia and building Virtual Worlds in Wartime with Creative Director Lena Semenenko
Crossing time zones, fuzzy phone connections, and unreliable wifi, we connected with Lena as she attempts to flee the warzone that is Ukraine. Lena is a powerhouse and her label Semenenko Digital was the first Ukrainian label to present a digital collection at Ukrainian Fashion Week 2020. Each collection constructs a future world, a utopic vision for the potentiality of planet earth and its inhabitants at the intersection of technology, ecology, and social transformation. In conversation with Lena, we shed light on the present-day dystopia she and her country are living through and creating in the midst of chaos. What unfolded was a weighty and rich conversation via our DMs on redefining the collective conscience, visions of future realities, and the current state for so many Ukrainian citizens. Speaking with Lena is humbling, and her intellect, resilience, and heart shone through each word received on my screen through hers, connected from worlds apart.

We love your NFT titled META PUNK. The piece is the first in a series of magical digital talismans you say "will endow their owners with super cosmic level abilities and universal freedom of mind in creative manifestations." Do you believe fashion and the clothes we wear have the power to transform us as individuals?

Yes, and I planned to continue the implementation of my concept of the Axis of Life. But I cannot create right now as I live through war, and I have lost my computer.

When creating digital clothes, the artist is in a special immersion, on the thin line between two worlds. This is a kind of meditation, you are a living being, but your consciousness is there, in the virtual world. This is the magic.
I do not prepare references when I create digital clothes. I start only with a concept, the story I want to tell. Everything else happens when I'm in the process, thanks to the magical state of immersion in the virtual world and the awareness of my complete freedom here. The freedom to be yourself. The absence of any physical and creative restrictions. I think that freedom from the framework once established by society allows each person to find their unique personality and be sure that no one will judge them. I believe in our universe; everyone is endowed with their own superpowers. It is important to realize them and develop your potential.

My digital talisman is designed to share this state with the world. These changes in personality benefit both the person and the planet. After all, we came to live our own life and fulfill a certain mission intended for us. Not, for example, to fulfill our lives for an idol whose lifestyle, behavior, and values ​​we should copy. This is what digital clothing can offer us. It is created by the artist alone and endowed with the energy of the creator. This is how users find it, by resonating on the same energy wave and strengthening the state embedded in the piece. The creator and user are in synergy for the benefit of both parties.
"I believe in our universe; everyone is endowed with their own superpowers."
Lena Semenenko
I love the idea of the threshold as a tentative line that separates two territories, the physical and digital, and what moves between is our spirit or our minds. And it creates a space where we can move into a more thoughtful consciousness, where we can challenge and be more critical of how we individually and collectively live in the physical world.

Many digital fashion creators take inspiration from science fiction and speculative fiction. Films and books of this genre take a critical look at science (fact) and combine it with fiction (imagination) to create a dystopian or utopian future or somewhere in between. Meta Punk was inspired by an imagined future in the year 2050, a time where economic and cultural globalization is in full swing, and political globalization follows. The Meta Punk Manifesto states that "...the truth is that there is no "correct" freedom: as if a person always chooses only between freedom and slavery… Complete freedom is having the ability to choose the political conditions to live in and nothing more."

You've been displaced from your home, leaving all your possessions. How would you reflect on this manifesto now?

Humanity, the heads of state, and their authorized representatives need to realize that the whole world should unite now and solve as quickly as possible, amicably, and harmoniously all the problems associated with global warming and the overuse of the planet's resources. Otherwise, our children and grandchildren will not see the Earth as we see it now. The UN climate change conference in November 2021 adopted an agreement on the refusal of coal and oil in the energy sector in favor of renewable energy sources, calling for active development in the field of "clean technologies" and direct carbon capture. This is what humanity needs now, not the creation of bloodthirsty divides in territories by going to war with neighboring states.
"When creating digital clothes, the artist is in a special immersion, on the thin line between two worlds. This is a kind of meditation, you are a living being, but your consciousness is there, in the virtual world."
Lena Semenenko
Instead, there are wars, both in my home Ukraine and in other states. There is a senseless division of natural resources and the expenditure of huge finances on various types of weapons. I don't understand how dishonest and bloodthirsty people find themselves at the helm of states. What we need is a high level of awareness. We need to think about how we can better the world out of love for the planet and each other.

The concept of META PUNK describes various types of world government; collective consciousness, the world parliament, and the unification of mankind into one state. The manifesto is about the ideology of "poly-states". This implies not a specific form of government, but a Meta-Country, where each person is free to choose a new constitution without the need to physically change location. That is, complete freedom to choose what political conditions to live within.

Having survived the horror of the bombing of my house by airstrikes from the Russian invaders, I thank God that I am alive. Yes, I really had to flee from my house, from my city of Kharkiv. I only managed to grab a few clothes and documents, leaving my whole life, my heart, in my native place. Reflecting on the META PUNK manifesto, I think that if humanity were united into one large state without territorial boundaries, with Meta-Countries as I imagined, there would be no need for geopolitical wars.

Your digital fashion collections are based on a story you have imagined for our future. Digital Fashion has been a great focus of hope for the fashion industry as a more sustainable way forward. Many digital designers, including yourself, have created a story behind their collections and used their imagination to create a revolutionary time when things are different, sometimes utopian, sometimes dystopian. How do these ideas or stories inform your design process?

I desire to share my thoughts and observations on what the future of humanity could be if we turned our attention in a different direction. I envision a world where humanity acts out of love and kindness to the planet and each other. This perspective provides the basis for developing my visual concept. Once the storytelling is complete, I create design elements for digital clothing that will highlight the concept's theme and translate it to the world.

I created the Ready for Future collection based on an imagined future with no carbon footprint. The clothing designs were based on materials of sustainable, futuristic architecture, where buildings could be 3D printed from plastic waste and algae.
For another collection, I looked at phytoplankton which is the primary form of life on Earth. It can reduce the greenhouse effect to zero. From this idea, I took photos of
diatoms under a microscope and used the images as a print on digital dresses.

I almost never have a mood board, references, and sketches of a future collection. I have a story in my head that I want to tell the world. I open a 3D program and follow my inspiration. That's why I said there is a special magic for me, and I share this state through my work. I hope one day I will be able to create and share something special again.
Right now, you're living through a present, dystopian state. Your reality, your life, has crumbled around you. Through the despair you are living through, where are you finding hope?

This is truly a dystopian state. Since February 24, with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, my life has stopped. All previous dreams and plans have disappeared, and in their place, there is only one desire. That my family stays alive and that this horror ends, nothing more. We are now used to sleeping on the corridor floor, near a load-bearing wall, dressed in our clothes and shoes. I had a backpack with documents at hand to run away if something happened. This saved us. On the 10th day of the war, after the bombing of my house, we fled to western Ukraine, closer to Poland. They don't bomb here.

Today is the 25th, the first day of the war. Every day feels like the first. Not a single night has brought a peaceful sleep. At this moment, I don't believe I was ever a digital designer, although it was only 25 days ago. The fear and horror in my city and country displace memories of my life before the war.

Like my computer, so my inspiration and desire to create beauty remain in a past life - in life before the war. In moments of this despair, I thank God that I am alive. I thank God that my family is alive. Every day, the most important thing is the call to loved ones in the morning to hear that everyone is alive. I am proud of our nation's strong spirit. I am proud of how united Ukrainians are now and how they help each other. I am proud of my son and all the Ukrainian soldiers who fearlessly defended their country. I sometimes manage to help volunteers. And if someone needs something, we find it in a matter of hours.

I am proud of my community, which responds quickly and promptly and wants to help those who need it. This is my reality now. I believe that very soon, the enemy who came to our lands will come to his senses, lay down his arms, and the war will end. I would like all the people of Ukraine to remain alive so that they can sleep peacefully, live peacefully, smile, and enjoy life again.
How can the global community and we support Ukrainians at this moment?

Ukraine really needs the support of the world community. This is necessary in order to inform people from all countries in every possible way about the war in Ukraine, about the truth, which is twisted in its own way by the media paid for by Putin. My city Kharkiv was very beautiful. Now the entire historical center has been destroyed, ancient buildings have been destroyed, which even Hitler did not touch during the Great Patriotic War. Russian occupiers have destroyed about 600 residential buildings in my city with missile strikes, and many kindergartens, schools, universities, and parks have also been destroyed. In total, about 1000 buildings have already been destroyed in Kharkiv. All missile strikes are carried out from the territory of Russia.

You also need to call on the heads of state and companies to stop all types of trade relations with Russia to not sponsor the aggressor country in this way and not allow them to sponsor their army. Just look for alternative energy sources to not be dependent on Russia.

Ukraine has been begging for the sky to close above us. This has been unsuccessful. Ukraine asks for help with aviation from the EU countries and the United States so that we can close the sky. We really need help. The whole world is asking for help. Putin must be stopped in every possible way because people die every day, including children. So many people have lost their homes. There are no fake photos or videos. This is real.
"I am proud of our nation's strong spirit. I am proud of how united Ukrainians are now and how they help each other… if someone needs something, we find it in a matter of hours."
Lena Semenenko
An element of digital fashion that inspirits us is the next-to-no barriers to entry for designers. They just need a computer, wifi, and talent. Seems simple, right? When you're in a war zone? Nothing is simple. Over the past month, we've been trying to support our Ukrainian designers and help them remain financially empowered by making their incredible creations available for purchase to our community. Only, for that, they need their computers. Lena had to leave her laptop and countless meaningful relics of her life in Ukraine.

If you are able, please donate to to aid their teams on the ground right now who are working with forcibly displaced people and providing them with life-saving aid, shelter and protection support.

To support Lena, follow @semenenko_digital on Instagram and discover her first Meta Punk NFT on Artisant. Stay tuned, to shop Lena's digital wearables at Special Items soon.

On the date of publishing, Elena shared the tragic news of her son's passing. Danil, just 19 years old, believed he could help change the world for the better and protect his home, family, and country. May he rest in peace.

“You are my Hero! You are our Hero! You are the Hero of our country. Heroes don’t die! Eternal memory to you and our love.” - Lena Semenenko.
Interview: Sally Paton
Imagery: Courtesy of Lena Semenenko
Date: May 1st, 2022