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imperial objects

2020, 136 pages, 24 × 17 cm, thread-sewn hard­cov­er, lim­it­ed edi­tion of 20

This book brings togeth­er sight lines, frag­ments, sto­ries, and impres­sions col­lect­ed dur­ing my stay in the Repub­lic of Sakha (Yaku­tia) from 2017 to 2019. The Repub­lic of Sakha is also known as the four­teenth “Fed­er­al Sub­ject,” a Russ­ian neol­o­gism used to cat­e­go­rize ter­ri­to­r­i­al enti­ties accord­ing to their degree of auton­o­my. Like this impe­r­i­al ter­mi­nol­o­gy, the Sovi­et Union’s major projects in Yaku­tia are under­tak­ings to con­trol resources and main­tain pow­er. The start­ing point for my research was one of these projects, the Mir dia­mond mine in the city of Mirny—the first dia­mond mine in the Sovi­et Union. The mine is 1.2 kilo­me­ters wide and approx­i­mate­ly 500 meters deep. Mir began as an exper­i­ment, a com­plex exper­i­men­tal arrange­ment of dozens of polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and ide­o­log­i­cal mea­sures on a scale that had nev­er been seen before at the time. Now there are numer­ous oth­er mines of a sim­i­lar mag­ni­tude in Yaku­tia that are set to run for sev­er­al decades. The suc­cess of the Mir mine prompt­ed even more auda­cious exper­i­ments on a mon­u­men­tal scale. For exam­ple, twelve atom­ic bomb tests were car­ried out in Yaku­tia between 1974 and 1987 to make the land­scape more eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable.

These atom­ic det­o­na­tions were an attempt to screen the land­scape with seis­mic mea­sure­ments on the one hand, and to cur­tail con­struc­tion work or divert rivers on the oth­er hand. The con­se­quences are enor­mous, but it is impos­si­ble to com­pre­hend their full extent because the impact of the bombs is deeply inscribed into the ecosys­tem. With­out claim­ing to be exhaus­tive, Impe­r­i­al Objects (2020) brings togeth­er some of these projects that were car­ried out on a large scale—and pre­dom­i­nant­ly in secret—by the Sovi­et state. Because of this secre­cy, per­son­al obser­va­tions, sto­ries, and mem­o­ries are often the only remain­ing evi­dence of these events. In view of this past, the (post-)Soviet land­scape could be described as a mate­ri­al­ized ide­o­log­i­cal field of exper­i­men­ta­tion that has been deeply inscribed into the earth’s crust for many cen­turies. In its vehe­mence, the state appa­ra­tus hid­ing behind the projects is like a gigan­tic machine con­tin­u­ous­ly eat­ing its way through geo­log­i­cal space and long peri­ods of time.