2015-2016

Vepsian forest

I was born in Penza, all childhood spent in the Tula region, studied in Moscow, and now I live in St. Petersburg. I can confidently classify myself as ethnic "Russian", but I can't identify my affiliation with the local / regional identity group. I can't call myself «tulyak», «penzenets», Muscovite or «Petersburgets». Perhaps the reason is that my family lost contact with their native territory, its roots. For example, my grandfather and father - the military, which is distributed in the direction. In Russian and Soviet history, there are many other reasons why people would lose their connection and the binding to the native place, was forced to leave their city or village. There are numerous turning points in Russian history - the Civil and the Great Patriotic War, the repression, the big Soviet construction, Rearrangement and etc.

In the last century, people feel huge difficulties defining the relation to geographical space, what let some experts speak about new kind of "nomadism" and "nomadic identity". Such roaming the world is somehow unnatural, it deprives a man of social connections and stable identification. Often the governments interfere in the regulation of the process, accelerating it and assimilating whole nations. There were many reasons why people were being deprived of their belonging to their home in Russia and the Soviet Union. They had to leave their native city or country. The Civil War, the Great Patriotic War, repressions, widespread Soviet building projects and other crucial points have become the reasons why there is a low level of local/regional identification of people in Russia.

During the last three years, I have made four long travels through the original centre of Vepsian settlements – the Vepsian forest, examining the abandoned villages. Vepsian assimilation (from the beginning of the 20th century – abt. 30000, now – abt. 6000) was came largely because of the forced assimilation policy of minorities in the end of 1930s, government activity in 1950-60s, which was directed to reform the traditional rural settlement system (the liquidation system of the "unpromising" villages), and because of administrative and territory separateness (the abolition of Vepsian national districts in Leningradskaya Oblast and the Republic of Karelia in 1938). During my journeys to the abandoned Vepsian villages, I was literally embedded in space and time, I "reformed" it by projecting archive century-old photographs made in these places on the tumbledown log huts. I reached out to the Vepsian mythology, epos and rituals, was holding myself out as a Vepsian and tried to experience the folk hurt anew, retraced the path Vepsians left the forest. My intervention somehow echoed the government activity, it was repressive towards both me and the place. I was a person without any local belonging, desired to grab another's identity, history, pain of the Vepsians. What for? Such aspiration is impossible. I believe that the association between someone and his motherland or roots is a necessary requirement to self-identification even in the age of the "tourists" community development.

Website of the project. Multimedia version.
Documentation of performance
Vepsian epic Virantanaz was published in 2012. In contrast to the Karelian-Finnish epic Kalevala, which was a turning point in the history of Finnish culture and the formation of the Finnish identity, Virantanaz - it is rather an attempt to rescue from oblivion, save the tales, songs of vanishing Vepsian people in writing. Doing boats of leaflets with the text of the epic and letting them on the water, I return, materialize, connect the epic with the native Vepsian land.
The exhibition "Vepsian forest" in the Fotodepartament Gallery, Saint Petersburg. 10.12.2016-12.02.2017.
Excursion through the exhibition