The existence of Zheleznogorsk remained secret until the Soviet Union’s dissolution. The city was therefore not documented on any official map until the 1990s. Using blackboard chalk, I sketched my own maps in which Zheleznogorsk is missing. The absent city becomes a symbol of a culture of secrecy and hidden realities. Atlases from the 1950s to the 1980s inspire these maps. Some depict the landscape of the surrounding Yenisei Valley. Although the city is not indicated, its existence may be deduced from indirect signs and traces, such as pollution and radioactivity.
Through these traces, I also consider whether a place can ever actually be separated from the outside world, without outside influences getting in or the impact of human activity seeping out. The green colour of the blackboards refers to the fact that this ideal city also served military purposes and was nicknamed ‘Atomgrad’.
chalk on painted multiplex, 5 pieces, sizes each 153 x 244 cm.
Part of Proyekt Z.
Proyekt Ж is a long-term project about the closed city of Железного́рск (Zheleznogorsk) in the heart of Siberia, Russia. Founded during the Cold War to outrun the atomic power of the American adversary and to secretly produce plutonium and missiles, Железного́рск was also a utopian model city. For those allowed to work there, the hidden city held the promise of realising the socialist ideal. In contemporary times the city is no longer a secret but it stays inaccessible as the largest (still-) closed city in the Russian Federation. Officially its population voted to stay in 'splendid isolation'. With my camera, I have been circling around this impenetrable place for years. The project took on Kafkaesque traits as I never gained access, like K in Kafka’s The Castle.
Ж became therefore a space onto which I project my desires and hopes. Is it conceivable that a place exists, or has existed, where socialism has succeeded? Could something of the relevance of the original socialist utopia persist or sustain? Are socialist ideals by definition unreachable?