About the project objective
The objective of the project "Russian Palimpsest"that I’ve been working on for five years now is to create a catalog of archetypes that make up our urban environment. It is urban. I didn’t shoot specifically in villages, but only in cities and suburbs, on the basis of the sociological fact that more than 70% of Russia's population are urban residents. The result was a kind of catalog of what the urban environment consists of. And it consists of the most common types and buildings. The railway and everything connected with it: some station, a pedestrian bridge. Supermarket, shop, stall. Clinic. Hostel. Residential buildings of different times: new, old, remodeled. Offices, office buildings. Supermarkets and hypermarkets where they managed to appear. Some markets, whether stationary or spontaneous. Highway, street. Railroad crossings. Industrial buildings, abandoned or operating.
About project geography
I wanted to get a certain geographical coverage. This is still a documentary project (albeit a conceptual one at the same time), so the reality itself is primarily important in it. Therefore, the principle was this: on the one hand, I came to some city and did not take off conventional attractions there, but, on the contrary, what can be found in any other city. And on the other hand, these photographs are still signed with the exact place and date of shooting, up to the geographical coordinates of this place. It was important for me to demonstrate that the post-Soviet space, regardless of political and administrative borders, looks something like this. I shot not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and also in Mongolia, which never entered the USSR, but at the same time its landscape looks completely indistinguishable from similar regions of Russia. At the same time, I did not include the Baltic states, which were in the USSR, but at the same time its landscape, of course, is very different from the Soviet one. Any resident of the post-Soviet space had to find familiar objects in the catalog - and take them for their own. People who looked at these paintings at exhibitions made an assumption where it was shot, because it is all very familiar, very similar. We all grew up among this, but rarely paid attention.
About the lack of people in photos
I didn’t shoot people for two reasons. One is purely technical. With people it’s more difficult to build a frame composition. It’s easier to wait until they all exit the frame. The second reason is that a person in our environment does not play any role. He is neither the subject nor the author of this medium. The author is power. Not even the state, but precisely the government - but a person in this environment plays the role of a figure, which was put on the model. One of the mental tasks of this project was precisely the attempt to win the right to look at this landscape from its private bell tower. Soviet culture did not imply anything private at all, including a private look - even purely symbolic. You can give an example: there were almost no points where you could shoot from above. Until recently, it was impossible to shoot even on bridges, and in some places it is still forbidden. This is a legislative ban that has been in force since Soviet times. When I was in Krasnoyarsk, I removed the bridge across the Yenisei. There was a scandal with the guard of the bridge, which threatened to call a police outfit, because the bridge was allegedly forbidden to be removed. Although all these prohibitions were introduced in a semi-conscious state, they have a far-reaching meaning.
On the return of the right to view
The lack of a right to look has grown into a collective consciousness. And who will point out to people that it is generally possible to have a look? It is important that projects such as the Russian Palimpsest appear. There are more and more of them now, but they all exist in a very narrow framework of the artistic or photographic communities. If they were wider, then the concept of space would gradually change. But in reality they are changing - it is important to understand that most people now have cameras. The perception also changes the presence, for example, of Yandex-panoramas, where you can poke any street in almost any city and see how it looks. Another thing is that the desire to know your city should be understood. This is also a big problem, because we are alienated from our own territory, it is not ours.
On the romanticization of sleeping areas
The aesthetics of sleeping areas are becoming fashionable both in the West and in Russia, but the difference between the views from different sides is enormous. A Western man and even a Western photographer who comes interested in the post-Soviet space still cannot get rid of a certain idea of Russia that his culture shaped. And abroad, the view is extremely fragmented - and this is not their fault, but our problem, because we did not create for them anything but a certain set of images. Therefore, the view of the West on Russia is still exotic: Russia for the West is roughly like China. We also have a certain perception of China, but we don’t know a damn thing about this country, even if we were there, we don’t understand anything - some fragments come to us, and that’s it. Such is our life for people from the West - in many aspects it is completely wild and incomprehensible to them. And the sleeping areas, apparently, fit very well into their idea, because this is one of the hallmarks of our space: a gigantic territory, built up with seemingly standard houses in which people live like in barracks.
From our side, the mod is a little different. I will express my speculation, but when you are on the periphery of the city, then unconsciously, or perhaps consciously, you find yourself in the territory of freedom. Where nothing is formed, there is no identity. You can fantasize as you like, nothing holds you back, no traffic flows, the presence of government agencies that you don’t want to look at.
About the role of photography
I was inspired by American photographers, in particular Stephen Shore, who shot his most famous project Uncommon Places in the 1970s in the USA. He simply fixed the landscape of America, its archetypal elements of that era. I think my task was about the same. Not only was I inspired by Shore, I made out his entire method, and in a very simple way - I began to search for the places that he photographed in Google Street View. Found most. Somewhere, something has changed, in some places - it has not changed at all. I wondered what were the defining archetypes of our landscape, and after that I began to meaningfully work on the project.
I was recently attracted to the idea that photography alone does not represent anything. This is a zero object, an empty place. But she immediately refers to something that is interesting to talk about. If we have a certain cultural background and know what happened where we took the photo, then it is a reason for discussion. The landscape theme is inexhaustible because it is the backdrop against which everything happens.