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 Z.is a long-term project about the closed city of Zheleznogorsk in the heart of Siberia, Russia. Founded during the Cold War to secretly produce plutonium and missiles and to outrun the atomic power of the American adversary, Zheleznogorsk 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 secret but stays inaccessible as the largest still closed city in the Russian Federation. With my camera, I have been circling around this impenetrable place for years. The city takes on Kafkaesque traits as I never gain access, like K the land surveyor in Kafka’s The Castle. Zheleznogorsk becomes therefore a space onto which I project my desires and speculations. 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 are socialist ideals unreachable?