PORT talks to curator Will Strong and artists Danila Tkachenko and Eric Lusito about photographing ruins and abandoned spaces
Power and Architecture is the theme for Calvert 22’s new season. Between their conferences and workshops, the foundation will host a four-part exhibition series exploring the complex relationship between architecture and its link to power, ambition and influence. Part 2, Dead Space and Ruins, focusses on Soviet architecture as an expression of power and a specific Soviet vision, and looks at how those structures are inherited by the post-Soviet world and citizens. The show sees photographers Danila Tkachenko, Eric Lusito, and Vahram Aghasyan turn their lenses to the decaying architecture of Eastern Europe’s Cold War era, and explore those abandoned ‘dead spaces’. The exhibition also features the UK premiere of Anton Ginzburg’s Turo, which explores the residues of the Soviet Constructuvist vision.
Here, PORT talks to curator Will Strong about the season, and photographers Danila Tkachenko and Eric Lusito discuss the inspiration behind their photographs.
“Across the former Soviet Union there are countless examples of the relationship between architecture and its uses as a device or expression of power. There are many buildings and spaces originally designed with a utopian ideology in mind, situated now in environments inhabited by citizens that no longer applies to. We are interested in what the relationship was between these spaces and the people who live with their legacy in a vast region questing for new national identities.
“Power and Architecture is an opportunity for us to explore, both visually and thematically, what these buildings mean in a post-Soviet world.
“The aesthetics of ruined or abandoned spaces from the former Soviet Union and related socialist countries have, in recent years, have been fetishised in Western photography. But the footprint left behind in as large a territory as the USSR is rich; when we are talking about legacy, this is one of the forms it can take.”
“The project began in Ozyorsk, formerly a secret city, which is still a restricted area today. It is possible to enter by special pass, or by invitation of relatives living there (my grandmother still lives there). In 1957, there was an accident known as Kyshtym disaster: an explosion on radioactive waste, which spread contamination hundreds of kilometers beyond the town. The authorities managed to keep the accident secret for several decades. After visiting Ozyorsk, I decided to further explore this conflict between humans and technological progress.
“I am trying to fantasize and imagine the possible future, by documenting the objects and facts which already took place in history. For instance, the interesting fact about Memorial on a Deserted Nuclear Station is that this memorial was built close to the nuclear station which was in the process of construction. It was intended for the workers at the station, to raise the spirits and remind about the greatness of the nation which defeated the fascism. The station was never finished, though; the memorial didn’t have a chance to fulfil its mission.”
“I decided to go in the Eastern Europe countries with an old camper van and a camera as my only companions. I arrived in July 2002 to Novy Jicin in the Czech Republic, a little lost, I did not speak a word of the language. I met Radek, a young geography teacher, and we became friends and had long conversations in English about how people lived during the communist era.
“Observing my interest one day, he suggested we visit former Soviet military base in the North of the country. It’s a spectacle that is both amazing and desolate, but nonetheless it grabbed my imagination. I began to understand the strength of the Red Army and the fear it inspired. I then made the decision to travel the former Soviet bloc in search of these sites which represented the ambition and power of the USSR.
“These now decaying military buildings and structures once formed the very heart of the Soviet system. Ruins of a recently defunct civilization, these sites of power are doomed to disappear in the course of time.”
Will Strong on Vahram Aghasyan
“In terms of key works, I was drawn to Vahram Aghasyan’s Ghost City. The work documents the city of Gyumri in Armenia, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in the late eighties. The Soviet government responded to this crisis by building new homes for the citizens of Gyumri nearby. However, as the Union began to break down and despite vast amounts of money invested into the project during and after perestroika, these building remain unfinished and left to the elements. I felt that this series embodied very literally the idea of the ghost of a former strive for a future-facing and utopian socialist society.”
Interviews Cécile Fischer
Dead Space and Ruins is an exhibition staged as part of Power and Architecture season by Calvert 22 Foundation. The exhibition will take place from 7 July to 7 August 2016 at Calvert 22 Foundation, 22 Calvert Avenue, London, E2 7JP. For further information, please visit calvert22.org