In the project “There Round the Corner in the Deep”, I rely on the history of a closed Soviet city of Sarov, a key center for the development of nuclear weapons. This is a story about the state violence and an impending invisible threat intertwined with the magic of everyday life on the example of one particular family. I connect a number of time periods and historical contexts incorporating my grandfather’s archives from the Cold War period, photographs taken by me in and around the city, staged and physically manipulated images based on facts, legends and speculation. In this way I construct a mythical image of a place filled with anxiety that resonates with today.
The project takes its name from the poem by Boris Pasternak. The poem uncovers a future full of uncertainty and oppression which already awaits “in the deep dark thicket’s secrecy”. This is a recurring motif in the science fiction novel “Snail on the Slope” by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. Both pieces use the forest as a symbol of the unknown, of all that is at present hidden from mankind. They are also conceptually crucial as they represent a surreal notion created by collective memory.
For a long time, the city, which took its name from a swampy river, was associated with a site of Orthodox pilgrimage. One of the most important saints, Seraphim (meaning “Flaming”) of Sarov lived and died there. The saint lived ascetically and was known for his unprecedented miracles. He hand-fed a bear, healed gravely ill people, and spent a thousand days and a thousand nights praying on a stone. Later, in the Soviet era, the heroic figure of the wonderworker was replaced by the new hero, the nuclear physicist.
In the late 1940s the name Sarov disappeared from the maps of the Soviet Union. Remote enough from major population centers, but at the same time located close to Moscow, hidden from prying eyes by dense forests, Sarov was chosen as the location for the unfolding Soviet nuclear program. This secret facility became one of the main development centers of weapons of mass destruction. Now it’s a place where religion and science, faith and militarism are intertwined. The Russian government openly states that Orthodoxy and nuclear technology are aligned, and strengthen Russia and its security. The boundary between fact and fiction becomes less and less visible.