Another lunch break (well, two actually) and another exhibition. This time it was to see several works by Jane and Louise Wilson at the Whitworth Art Gallery. The works were commissioned to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and consisted of eight large photographs and a twenty minute film.
Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum)
Pripyat is a city, come ghost town, situated within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Its primary purpose was to house the people working at the nuclear plant. When the accident happened, it was evacuated and it has remained empty ever since, apart from a handful of visitors each year.
The photographs themselves were stunning. Huge, yet still incredibly detailed (so different from the photographs displayed in the previous exhibition I saw here). The large size to me represented the scale of the disaster and helped give the sense of an entire city abandoned. I found myself walking back and forwards to initially view the whole scene, then to examine the details, before moving back to view the whole scene again. Incredibly captivating. There were no captions on the photos, so I found myself playing “guess the location” and imaging what each must have been like before.
A yard stick was present in each image (again, I played “where’s the yard stick” with each of the photographs). The sticks served to give a sense of scale for each image, but also reminded the viewer that each scene would have been measured many times for deadly radiation. It was that scientific measurement that determined their fate.
The colours used in the images were wonderful. They were slightly washed out, with a palette that seemed designed to emphasise the feeling of abandonment and decay. It gave the photographs an eerie feel; not cold, just slightly lonely. I could almost imagine myself walking through those rooms, and I would very much like to find out what it’s like to visit and photograph Pripyat.
The Toxic Camera
A twenty minute film from Chernobyl. Inspired by the film “Chernobyl: A Chronicle of Difficult Weeks”, made by Vladimir Shevchenko just days after the accident itself. Shevchenko noticed pockmarks and static interference on the film he made, initially fearing a faulty batch of film, he then realised that he’d actually captured the visible effects of the radiation.
Created in HD and displayed on a large, rear-projected screen, it was a haunting film. At times confusing – it was not entirely clear what the narrative was. I didn’t realise until later that it was merely inspired by Shevchenko’s film and even now I’m not sure whether some of the footage used was from the original film or just a recreation. A mirror had been placed next to each side of the screen, creating an infinity effect that was at times dizzying, particularly with some of the vertical panning. I would very much like to see Shevchenko’s film and then compare it with the Wilsons’ work.
I found the stories from the scientists and film crew fascinating and worthy of a documentary in itself. The footage complimented and enhanced what they were saying. Nonetheless, I still found it hard to know who was talking. Perhaps that mystery was deliberate, providing fragments of memories; like the fragments of buildings and lives left behind.
EDIT: I’ve just found an excellent write-up in the Guardian about the exhibition. It also states that Shevchenko’s original film is on display too, I must have missed it before. I’ll have to go back again!