1957: the year my family moved from a Siberian labour camp to populate the “virgin territories” in Kazakhstan. 1957: the year Sputnik was launched, starting the space race.





Using mapping as a processual tool for investigation, I will explore unmarked settlements in Siberia. On Google Maps this region is mapped at a much lower resolution than its neighbouring areas. I wonder whether this blurriness implies that the location is deemed of little importance by the authorities; or that it is, in fact, an area of sensitivity, hence the need to censor it.

Following the map to Kazakhstan, I will intertwine my family research with other significant political events occurring in Kazakhstan at that time; namely the creation of Baikonur Cosmodrome (the USSR’s space launch facility) and its infrastructure, and nuclear bomb tests in eastern Kazakhstan.

My research will juxtapose the nomadic state of my family and their search of a new life in Kazakhstan with the space race (the ultimate human journey into unknown territories) and space exploration as an imposed unifying ambition for the USSR’s citizens.

Visually I am trying to understand, depict, imagine the fragments of information that my family had at the time about the grand and very secret projects of the USSR. Their knowledge, I've been told consisted of a disjointed combination of rumours, wild guesswork and speculation, even though they might have directly contributed with their labour to the infrastructure creation leading to the nuclear test sites or Baikonur Cosmodrome.


More details about the first part of the project on :

https://digitalartistresidency.org/artists/letta-shtohryn/







Neighbouring Sites (2019)






L I S (2019)



(in Ukr. timber and forest )
"The parents would build a timber house together for each family. Everything was made out of timber and the landscape was the forest."
(Pre 1957 years at the labour camp settlement)

Here I am thinking about a story my aunt, who grew up in the camp, shared with me about the residents'relationship to nature - they were surrounded by it, used it for their needs, it was their work but also they were kind of tired of it. Nonetheless, my grandmother would take photos wearing summer dresses in front of an artificial birch tree in the middle of Siberian winter. 







Nature as barbed wire (2019)



" Some tried to send their daughters away on sledges. They found them frozen at the edge of the forest. The forest was all they'd known. Anyway one cannot get far at -60" Where was "away"? "Just away from the camp. To the nearest settlements. But nobody really knew exactly where the next settlement was " The camp had created pseudo normality for the workers. First, there were only barracks and a canteen, later the workers decided to build their own wooden houses. Nobody stopped them. After 1953 when they were paid on money rather than food rations, the structure of the camp got a shop and a cinema. The illusions of normality, stability and abundance of resources prevailed. But still, they had known that they've got to stay in the area for the duration of the prison sentence of the "criminal" of the family, usually the father. There were some guards with a few dogs, later individual families started having pets related to the dogs of the guards. There was no need for a wall or barbed wire, they were kept on the territory by the unknown terrain and nature, that they worked with, lived from, and were unable to overcome.










2019©GOOGLE

Some areas that are still not clear, not cared for by Google, cannot be zoomed into to provide an HD knowledge

















After my family was allowed to leave the settlement, they came back to Ukraine, where they were denied settlement rights by the Soviet government, but in exchange, the government offered them a ticket to the "virgin territories" in Kazakstan to populate lands that need populating. Their first home in Kazakstan was about 2000km away from the place where they originally lived in the labour camp settlement. What connected the two places was the Irtysh river that was used as a waterway for timber transportation downstream, how far - difficult to say. But one could say that along the river were a few other secret sites - Semyapalatinsk - the nuclear test site and lake Chagan where Anthroposcene was in the full swing creating a lake out of a river with a single nuclear explosion.  






Nuclear explosions for the national economy.  


Anthropocenic games without consequenses for wild horses and a single swimmer.  

* Lake Chagan, Kazakhstan, is a lake created by the Chagan nuclear test fired on January 15, 1965, part of the Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy. A 140 kiloton device was placed in a 178-metre (584 ft) deep hole in the dry bed of the Chagan River. The blast created a crater 400 m (1,300 ft) across and 100 m (330 ft) deep with a lip height of 20 to 38 m (66 to 125 ft).; it is often referred to as "Atomic Lake". The lake's water comes from the Chagan River (tributary of Irtysh River). The crater lake's volume is approximately 100,000 m3 . (WIKI)





People were here. Anthropo(s)cenic sites as comfort. (2019)


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Looking further into Kazakh events of 1960. Like my family - between 600 000 and 1.2 milliom people arrived in a few years span to work on collectivist farming and later possibly populate the 'virgin territories'. There was a shortage of wheat in Ukraine and European Russia in the early 1950s due to the post WW2 agricultural halt. So the soviet government issued a call for young graduates and skilled workers to get a free ticket to set up the 'collectivist wheat production for the nation', which meant starting agriculture in lands that have never been farmed before in on a large scale. This was a pure form of colonialism and clashed heavily with the Kazakh way of life, who saw cattle farming as their main agricultural activity. In this process my family was transformed from young ex-gulag prisoners/ 'enemies of the Soviet way fo life' to a young coloniser who will ' go to the planet Tselina ( virgin territory)' - as one of the propaganda slogans stated. Due to the gender imbalance of the volunteers - the main propaganda target recrutees were young women, as they had the potential to stay and start families.  
'we return to you, planet Tselina' - some people were returning seasonally to the place they were send to colonise throughout the 60s.
                 
                    

Terraforming


The pressure to produce harvest was enormous, which, like any other type of colonialism did not take the sustainability of the resources into consideration. It increased the use of pesticide to a point that a double of the usual amount had to be produced in the USSR during those years. This resulted in extremely fast soil erosion, made the top level of soil completely unusable and created dust storms that became the norm ever since.  


The process of the soviet type of terraforming, but on Earth..on lands that actually have other people living on them. Meanwhile 1400 km NW the Soviet government was building a fake cosmodrome (rocket launching site) next to a village called - Baykonur, Karaghandy region.


A site of the fake base. The real site was being set up in a totally diferent place.


The name of the original site was leaked to the press and caught on. The real cosmodrome was built next to a place called - Toretam. But the leaked name entered the citizen's consciousness via the press that the new cosmodrome got renamed to Baikonur, which probably confused the americans even more if they were looking for it. A very soviet hyperreality.


Baykonur


In 1955 the site was a collection of tents that housed everyone involved in the Space Program - engineers, builders, the military. In November 1956 the place had  a launching site, railway station and a road leading to it. In May 1957 R-7 ballistic missile was launched from the site, but the launch was unsuccessful, the repeated the attempt in August and it succeeded. Later in the year the satellite Sputnik-PS1 (PS or ПС - Простейший Спутник - in Russian 'The most simple satellite' ) was launched, which started the Space Race and that started the process that shaped the technology I am using today in this project



Baykonur1, Baikonyr2, Baykonyr3 (2019)


- colonial mistranslation of distraction sites.  'They needed water, railway line and remoteness' to build a rocket launch site.  The Kazakh name for the site - Байқоңыр/Baıqońyr/بايقوڭىر (Kazakh for "wealthy brown", i.e. "fertile land with many herbs"), which contains ambiguous letters that morphed into new colonial name identity in case of transliteration into the lingua franca of USSR. This ambiguity is two-fold - until 1929, Kazakh was written with the Arabic script; between 1929 to 1940, it was written with the Roman script; from 1940 onwards, Kazakh was written with a modified version of the Cyrillic alphabet that contains 42 letters, 33 of them taken from the Russian alphabet and 9 specifically designed to represent Kazakh sounds.  

This highly colonial approach of cyrillicising the local language was common in the neighbouring countries of region speaking Turkic languages including Mongolia. The double transliteration as an erasure of localised identity to transform the diverse nations into a pan Cyrillic universe. Thus on google maps, Байқоңыр/Baıqońyr/بايقوڭىر has got a number of various transliterated identities and three localities that are called/spelt similarly using triple transliteration to Latin script in google maps. This lack of specificity would definitely have thrown off the competing space race power. From the perspective of digital colonialism the issue is quite clear, as Google maps have to choose what version of the name to use - the Kazakh spellt using transliterated Latin script, transliterated Cyrillic scripted Kazakh or the Russian Cyrillic version spelt phonetically (using the sounds that better represent pronunciation of a word) utilising only 33 Russian Cyrillic letters. The choice by international platforms often swings into the direction of the Cyrillic Russianised name and also a latin transliteration of that already transliterad cyrillic name making the Kazakh identity of the site invisible under the layers of hyperreal transliteration.  
The future : the government of Kazakhstan started talking about a switch to a Latin-based alphabet in 1990, and has been working on such a switch in a start-and-stop manner since 2006. Due to a strong opposition to the switch, it now appears that it will not be finalized until some time in 2020s.  

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On 12th April 1961 Yuri Gagarin flew from Байқоңыр/Baıqońyr/بايقوڭىر/ Baikonur to the orbit to became the first human in space and the first person to orbit the Earth.
On 16 June 1963 Valentine Tereshkova became the first woman to fly to the Earth's orbit. An achievement that could not be followed by the US until June 1983, when NASA astronaut Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in space when she launched on the STS-7 mission of the space shuttle Challenger. She was the third woman in space, after soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who flew on the Soyuz T-7 mission August 19, 1982.  
Those first gorundbraking space flights took off from the Kazakh base, which was a bubble of technology in the middle of steppe. Meanwhile Kazakhstan granted women full suffrage only in 1994. Will there be a Kazakh woman in space any time soon?

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The project continues in October and November 2019 as part of Google maps residency at http://www.offsiteproject.org/Google-Maps
Mark An area of some importance.