Group photo. 2017. acrylic on canvas. 60х80. Courtesy of Gallery Victoria, Samara
Shelter. 2018. oil on canvas. 60х80
Each mid- and large-sized industrial enterprise in the Soviet Union was mandated to have a Civil Defense Office (CD) to deliver trainings and show instructional filmstrips. I found a few of these films at one of the local plants. Most cover emergency procedures in case of a chemical attack. Af-ter 1945, anticipation and fear of war were deeply engrained in the post-war subconscious of the new generation. There are still large bomb shel-ters below some production buildings.
One of my grandfathers was a CD instructor and regularly organized drills where workers were required to prep their workplace, put on a gas mask and go down into the nearest shelter.
The CD training was not only and maybe even not so much about protect-ing yourself from an enemy strike. The real danger came from the chemical plants themselves with their frequent incidents and emergencies. The civil defense skills were very useful in preserving your health and life.
«Chemical weapons», instructional filmstrip. 1968
Mustard gas. 2018.oil on canvas 100х150
This highly-toxic blister agent was manufactured in Dzerzhinsk from 1939 to 1959. The production facilities were deactivated and then, in the 1990s, fully dismantled. Its output, dozens of tons per year, was never used. Those who suffered the most harm were the plant workers. “The production process was primitive and lacked modern protective measures. The shop air was saturated with mustard gas vapors. Frequent spills were covered up with sawdust to be later decontaminated with bleach powder. Neither a gas mask, or rubberized
overalls, or boots and gloves could prevent skin damage, acute eye or respiratory poisonings. Each shift had a double crew. One crew to do the work while the other was being treated. [...] Massive worker deaths began after the war, mostly in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, depending on exposure and lifestyle. The cause of death was cardiopulmonary failure, slowly but inevitably progressing. The condition was untreatable.”
From In the City of Big Chemistry. A Memoire by I.B. Kotlyar
12.02.1960. 2017. acrylic on canvas 180х260
February 12, 1960
On Feb 12, 1960, there was an explosion in Bldg. 6 of the Caprolactam Plant caused by a gas leak. A powerful blast wave shattered the glazing and window sashes in surrounding villages and even at the Gorky Automo-tive Plant ten kilometers away. All 24 workers on the shift died. The casual-ties were buried in different sections of the cemetery to prevent large crowds. Secret service set up a perimeter around the cemetery for the time of the burials and only the affected families were let in. A great deal of non-disclosure paperwork was signed. Although everybody heard and saw the explosion, the media chose not to cover it at the time. I carefully poured over all local and factory publications dated February 1960—not a single word about the tragedy. But there was a helicopter photo in a plant archive. You can make out black ruins of a building torn down by the blast. I con-verted it into a “newspaper” photo and painted in on a large canvas to fill this gap in the historical memory.
Aerial photography. 1960
Ruins. Passage. 2017. oil on canvas. 100х150. Private collection
There are a lot of visual propaganda shots in the archives. Slogans painted by factory graphic designers were meant to motivate the workers to, say, honorably welcome another Congress of the Communist Party or increase output quotas. In one of these photographs I recognized a passage, the remains of which survive today. But, sadly, this passage will not take you anywhere. It used to connect two factory buildings, and one has been razed to the ground.
Passage. 2018. acrylic on canvas 100х150
Slogan. 2016. acrylic on canvas 180х260
Landscape with Barrels. 2016. холст, акрил. 180х260
Landscape with Barrels. 2016. acrylic on canvas. 180х260
Monuments of mismanagement
Exploring factory newspapers, I saw a major shift in the prevailing narrative and agenda occurring from the early 1960s on to the 1970s. To try and give it a brief expression, the proposition “this should be so” gave way to a statement of fact “this is so.” A small-circulation factory paper For Honora-ble Labor ran a new rubric titled “Popular Compliance Bulletin.” It printed self-criticizing pictures, calling out instances of mismanagement: abandoned vessels, plant air pollution, production buildings in critical condition... One article in this series was ironically called “Monuments of Mismanagement.” Going through newspaper binders chronologically, I was seeing in-creasing entropy that was to prevail in the end. With this foreknowledge, the “monuments of mismanagement” look more like a prophesy than just a spin on self-criticism. The images are strikingly similar to what you might see at abandoned plants today.
'Monuments of mismanagement'., article in the rubric 'Popular Compliance Bulletin'
Demonstration. 2017. acrylic on canvas. 100х150
Meeting. 2017. oil on canvas. 100х160
Factory newspapers contain a lot of reports on rallies and meetings to support the course taken
by the party and the government. As a rule, the workers voted in favor of those decisions “unanimously.”