The project takes its name from the poem by Boris Pasternak. The poem uncovers a future full of uncertainty and oppression which already awaits "in the deep dark thicket's secrecy." This is a recurring motif in the science fiction novel "Snail on the Slope" by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. Both pieces use the forest as a symbol of the unknown, of all that is at present hidden from mankind. They are also conceptually crucial as they represent a surreal notion created by collective memory. Furthermore, the essential part of the project—archival photographs—matches the historical period of both literary writings.
The story unfolds around a large settlement in the Nizhny Novgorod region, a closed administrative-territorial entity (ZATO), a city best known as Sarov.
For a long time, the settlement, which took its name from a swampy river, was associated with a site of Orthodox pilgrimage. One of the most important saints, Seraphim (meaning 'Flaming') of Sarov lived and died there. The saint lived ascetically and was known for his unprecedented miracles. He hand-fed a bear, healed gravely ill people, and spent a thousand days and a thousand nights praying on a stone. It is believed that he predicted his death by stating that "his end will be revealed by fire." Later, in the Soviet era, the heroic figure of the wonderworker was replaced by the new hero, the nuclear physicist.
In the late 1940s the name Sarov disappeared from the maps of the Soviet Union. Remote enough from major population centers, but at the same time located close to Moscow, hidden from prying eyes by dense forests, Sarov was chosen as the location for the unfolding Soviet nuclear program. This secret facility became one of the main development centers of weapons of mass destruction and was known for its design bureau, KB-11.
In the decades that followed, the city changed its name, status, and direction of development, taking shape under Soviet ideology, Orthodox myths and legends, and the nuclear weapons program. Now it's a place where religion and science, faith and militarism are intertwined. The Russian government openly states that Orthodoxy and nuclear technology are aligned, and strengthen Russia and its security. The boundary between fact and fiction becomes less and less visible.
Sarov is still obscured by the trees and bushes like the Sleeping Beauty's castle. I went back there, to the house where my grandfather, who worked at KB-11, lived. Like many other young scientists, he thought he would go to the city for a year or two, but stayed there for the rest of his life.
The project is assembled as a speculative archive. I connect a number of time periods and historical contexts, my personal family history and the image of a closed city, incorporating pictures from my grandfather's archive, photographs taken by me in and around the city, and staged images based on facts, legends and speculation. Moldy, spoiled by time and treated with acid photographs become a metaphor for the cyclical nature of religious and state imperatives, while the city remains elusive in temporal corrosions of memory.