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Otherworld Breath: The Chronicle of the Apocalypse

Krolikowski Art * 

The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was de facto the agony of the Soviet regime, the last borderline after which the existence of the large empire in its current state became impossible. The accident that killed thousands of Ukrainians showed the inability of the Soviet ruling elite to maintain the projects whose creation was driven by the impulses of imperial megalomania. 

A felonious experiment conducted at the Power Plant during the night of April 26th in 1986 brought about the Chernobyl disaster, at the same time putting an end to the worst criminal experiment, the Soviet regime, which had divided the world with the Iron Curtain. This same Iron Curtain extended itself to the homeland of the photographer Sungtae Jung breaking the single country into two parallel worlds of North and South Koreas. 

By the end of the 80’s the world had already got used to the existing geopolitical situation, perceiving the borders between the political blocs as a norm. However, the radioactive cloud rushing out from the destroyed reactor knew no bounds erected by people and fell as radioactive rain all over the world. Human negligence, or maybe criminal intent, released the demon from the reactor vessel.

Loosening geopolitical boundaries of the Eastern Bloc, the Chernobyl disaster created new borders – the borders between the radioactive exclusion zone and the outer secure world. Despite the mandatory evacuation following the accident, many people who were called “samosely” (that is “self-settlers) returned to their homes shortly afterwards. Nowadays, the terrible catastrophe is fading into history for many outsiders, but it still remains the key point that determines every aspect of the reality for the people dwelling inside the exclusion zone. 

During his six trips to the exclusion zone, the photographer Sungtae Jung immersed himself deeply in the world of Chernobyl. He visited the ghost town of Pripyat and met “samosely” living in the forbidden area. 

In Sungtae Jung’s photos, not only do people live in the parallel world where the time has frozen still – maybe during the accident or at some other point of the Soviet Middle Ages... Silently, they tell us the story of their personal estrangement from the outside world. These people are not afraid of radiation because they have spun around themselves a sturdy cocoon from the fragments of the Soviet past – the world with which they did not want to part. The attachment to their own land turned out to be stronger than the fear of loneliness. 

Looking intently into their faces, we can clearly see that these old men and women are not afraid of the wrath of the man-made demon that broke out of the reactor’s guts. The aging children of the Chernobyl woodland made their choice in favor of their native land and remained loyal to it. The heirs of the abandoned world, they lift the veil before the photographer - the veil that hides from our sight another Chernobyl: small islands of human life in the sea of entropy and decay. 

The photographer not only managed to penetrate into Chernobyl’s reality. Behind the broken doors and windows, he saw something more notable than a post-apocalyptic landscape - he recognized hell and heaven of the forbidden territory, the death of the old world and the new page in the history of Pripyat. 

The space in the photos is not just a background. It is the protagonist of the story. Peeling paint on the walls, frost on the windows, rust on baby cribs – all this makes the surrounding space alive and personalized. 

The dust of oblivion has erased all the bright colors. Sungtae Jung reveals to us a sickly pallor of dying. The netherworld colours come through the pale and dusty wall paint, showing the reality with which the human world has nothing in common. 

Each of the Sungtae Jung’s photos captures the inhalation and exhalation of the exclusion zone space. The visual language of the pictures focuses on the breath of time and space in the Chernobyl area. Like in deep meditation practice, consciousness of this breath leads to immersion in the “here and now” of the reality of the exclusion zone.

The breath of Chernobyl is almost inaudible like a faint echo of the steps in the empty corridors of the abandoned buildings. It is the breath of wide open windows and forgotten walls with flaking paint. It is the breath of nature advancing on the territories devoid of inhabitants. It is the flagging breath of the old people living out their last days in their dilapidated houses. Owing to these photos, we become witnesses of the silent decay of the fragile human existence. 

They are the voices of the abandoned land and abandoned people struggling to survive among the old family photos and faces of the saints in the iconostases. The heroes of these photographs are the living monuments to the “Cold War” era, the time of the fear of a nuclear catastrophe looming over the whole of humanity. 

In one of her interviews, the author of the book Chernobyl Prayer, the Nobel Prize winner, Svetlana Alexievich says, “After Chernobyl we are living in a different world; the former world doesn’t exist anymore.” 

We can forget about the abandoned walls and abandoned old people, but these photos duly warn us that, ultimately, such oblivion will only make the humanity revise the bitter lesson again and again until it had been learned deeply and thoroughly. Sungtae Jung’s photo project is the chronicle of the apocalypse which will allow our descendants to hear the echo of the disaster coming from the bottomless well of the past. 


* Critic Krorikowski Art
The duo Krolikowski Art is the Bonnie and Clyde in the world of art. Art-works of the duo are what the philosophy describes as the metamodernist art, ironic and naive at the same time. The main techniques of Krolikowski Art are the syncretic photography, installation, performance. The duo has research in contemporary visual arts, especially photography, the author of critical articles devoted to the newest philosophy and contemporary art. Also Krolikowski Art lecturing about metamodernism and transformations in art of XX-XXI centuries. 


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