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.