“Kachalka” is a famous outdoor gym in Ukraine. Founded by a private initiative 35 years ago, it today offers free training facilities across 10,000 square meters of floor area for anyone who wants to get in shape. Working out on these mostly homemade, archaic-looking machines is an equalizing experience, with people from all social strata rubbing shoulders here.
The photographs taken by Kirill Golovchenko not only document the universal bodybuilding rituals that can be observed in emblematic form at Kachalka. The Ukrainian bodybuilders both young and old in his pictures also serve as a powerful and ironic visual metaphor for the ambitious spirit of awakening in this country.
When I was about 13 years old, I tried to look as “Kulturist” (a body-builder), as many of my contemporaries. Therefore, I worked out very often at some kind of gym at my neighbor’s house. In a small room with low ceiling, we have tinkered some dumbbells and bench press. The different weights of dumbbells should have shaped my muscles unilaterally. However, you can also make the dumbbells change sides. But I never succeeded to have, the muscles from metal such as my ideal, Arnold Schwarzenegger had on many of posters and movies from my youth.
More than 20 years later, I was walking around in Kiev at the beach and saw something that has refreshed my youth memories. I saw my dream: on a dusty place under the open sky endless rusty dumbbells were hanging on steel frames with a thick chain secured against theft. Close to the steel frames, I found blue-painted wooden boards just to be able to start working out.
»Kachalka« comes from the Russian word »Kachat« (pump) and is an open-air gym. It started in the early 70s with a (weightlifting) bar between two poplars near the beach. At the same time, some fitness enthusiasts have begun to construct the sport equipment under the leader of the mathematician Jurij Kuk and the gymnast Kasimir Jagelsky alone. With own investment, effort and many tons of scrap metal they have progressed little by little in this construction. Today, »Kachalka« covers about 10,000 square meters and has about 200 gym units.
The »muscle machines« based on own designs and have been welded from rusty steel scraps and rammed into the fine sand. For some weights, they used often parts of tank treads, machinery gears, crane hooks, stones or other things. The thick welds such as a finger hold together steel beams, axles and heating pipes. These archaic steel monsters look like something from a science fiction movie. They are very rude, crude and heavy. Again and again, equipment is tinkered and welded, because it breaks time to time by the friction. In the same time new gym equipment are created.
»Kachalka« with it’s archaic equipment remind me of a scene from the classic bodybuilding movie »Conan the Barbarian«: A little boy is chained to a monstrous similar machine with no apparent function and rotates nonstop the wheel. Finally, he turns into the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The use of »Kachalka« is free and it is used intensively from the early morning until late at night. The facility is financed by donations. The »Kachalka« is democratic – here are all equal, no matter from which social class the people come. You can meet all different kinds of people there: young and old, students and bodyguards, Mafioso, known athletes. The atmosphere is most of the time relaxed – never mind if you’re weak or strong.
I admire this place and the people who built this muscle machines. When you stand in front of it – it seems to be like a stronger opponent, who you want to defeat. It takes all your strength to move these units. Maybe not at once, but at the end you will win and go home with a heavy body and a light heart.
Kirill Golovchenko: Kachalka, Ukraine
Kirill Golovchenko (born 1974 in Odessa, Ukraine) studied photography and communication design by Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. He got several awards, including the Documentary Photography Award from the Wuestenrot Foundation, EPEA European Photo Exhibition Award 02, the Berthold-Roland-Photo-Art Award 2012. Further his photographic projects have been implemented in the Ukraine and in Eastern Europe supported by the the DAAD scholarship and the project funding VG Bild-Kunst. His photographs can be seen since 2003 in solo and group exhibitions in Germany and abroad, including: Museum Folkwang, Essen; Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Uferhallen Berlin, Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, Württembergischer Art Society Stuttgart, Art Society Ludwigshafen, Photo Espana Madrid, Photo Museum Braunschweig. »Kachalka« is the third book by Kirill Golovchenko, following »7km – Field of Wonders« (2009) and »Totalniy Futbol « (2012).