Article by Marina Leven
Growing through the past
Artistic research conducted by Irina Gulyakina "Lessons from emergency situations" or "My unpeaceful atom" or "Regardless the circumstances – plant potatoes"
Temporality of Irina's project could be defined as "unfinished past". In 1986 Irina together with her parents and sister found herself in the radioactive contamination zone of Chernobyl, where she had been living there for two years. The exhibition is an attempt to unravel the tangle of technological collapse and its impact on the present time and the future.
Photo of the exposition by Roman Konovalov
The exposition has taken place in Elektrozavod gallery. This gallery space fits ideal - a huge concrete room, windows overlooking a ditch in the courtyard (buildings of the former Fazotron manufacturer being demolished to their foundations). The focal point of the exposition is a 10 minutes long video-essay "In search of a missing detail" which is being projected onto the wall. The artist goes through the images – as an investigator, who is trying to find a common thread. Soviet newsreel, Loui Fuller's "Radium dance", Maria Primachenko's colourful simple beasts, a herd of feral cows in the "red forest": everything escalates the feeling of anxiety, contains an imminent and unpredictable threat. The conclusion of this video-research is that Chernobyl's accident became a hyper object, a toxic fragment of the USSR history, which continues to live its own life in the media environment and the field of contemporary art.

Screenshots from video-essay "In search of missing detail"
Irina Gulyakina focuses on everyday Soviet objects, which became poisonous after the accident. Three-litre milk jars have filled an entire exhibition space – due to the fact, that dairy products were radiation-hazardous, where consumption of these products was leading to radiation sickness. After the accident radioactive iodine, which is used to cure cancer during a therapy, diffused in the atmosphere. But by penetrating the bloodstream and thyroid gland in large amounts the substance could cause severe outcomes. The artist has repainted old family photos using iodine; the drawings look frighteningly faded, together with iodine evaporation peoples' health was fading away. Potato remained on the side of humanity – it was discovered that tuberous are resilient to radiation. Carefully illuminated potato bushes immediately connect us to the soviet past. Irina Gulyakina calls potato a "hymn to conservatism", or chthonic archaism, to which each generation of Russians address in search of food security.

In the exposition space destruction of everyday life does not look extraordinary. As Anna Tsing wrote "once a beauty of life seemed to be the destiny of disadvantaged. Nowadays, it seems, life is delightful for each of us." Chernobyl accident is one of the most catastrophic events in recent history. Investigations, blame game or excuses, though necessary, cannot undo numerous and incompletely exposed consequences of an outbreak of such scale. "The return to fully restored and repaired will not happen. But this does not mean, that any restoration, repair or return could not be performed as a second knock out."

Photo of the exposition by Roman Konovalov
Trying to find "a quick way" for survival is the base for the performance "Vegetlization. Femenization. Musicalization", which Irina Gulyakina showed during the finnissage of the exposition, on the anniversary of Chernobyl's accident. Performance's title is connected to the works by St. Hidegard of Binengen, theologian, botanist, painter and musician. Hildegard lived in XII century in Germany and viewed the world as a "shipwrecked ship". Also, she had proposed a survival guide as development of self-healing and regeneration inherent in botanical world and women. Collective healing was imagined by nun through musical experience, which embodies consonance of human souls in relation to each other and the Other. Hildegard considered that people's identity is similar to an open wound, that the world and connection with other people are often destructive. Nevertheless, she preached that a place of destruction could be a place of healing for a human, sprouting like a flower, through its pain.

This complex model was explored and presented by curator Irina Gulyakina, singer Vasya Krasnoyarova and invited performers, in their vocal-participatory project. In half lighted space performers were consumed by their own, very personal autistic dance. The vocal improvisation by Vasya Krasnoyarova, constructed out of Hildergard's musical citations, indicated a very subtle connection among participants. There was no development in the action itself, but emerging theatrical impact of the melody has taken over the performers – but led to nothing. To feel the process of growing through grey dead space, accept possibility of this growth - it was feasible in the moments of silence and overall out of synchronisation state. Nevertheless, it was possible.

Screenshots from Dmitry Petryakhin's video
It seems that St. Hildegard would have appreciated the recipe "Regardless the circumstances – plant potatoes". The act of survival together with plants – whether medieval thyme curing brain fatigue, or "a mushroom at the edge of the world" matsutake, or radiation resistant tubers – happens exactly this way. Slowly in garden bed, surrounded by ruins.

1 Red Forest (Ukrainian: Rudiy lis), sometimes Rusty Forest, Red Forest - about 202 km² of trees close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which took on the largest share of the release of radioactive dust during the reactor explosion in 1986.
2 Tsing A. "The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins"
3 Donna J. Haraway "Staying with the Trouble"

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