Chasing the Chernobyl Zone: Atmospheres, Temporalities, and Vital Remainders
April 13, 2019 | Chasing the Chernobyl Zone: Atmospheres, Temporalities, and Vital Remainders – A Symposium. Co-organized with and supported by the Institute for the Humanities, SFU.
Participants: Lindsey Freeman (SFU), Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı (Emily Carr), Adrian Ivakhiv (University of Vermont), Svitlana Matviyenko (SFU), Eldritch Priest (SFU)
For many the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is mostly a tragic marker of a great mistake, an illustration of the dangers of nuclear power, and one of the last nails in the coffin of the USSR. Its continued existence is often reduced to little more than an adventurous tourist destination or a seemingly endless cleanup project. In June 2018, a group of us travelled to the Zone for a three-day research expedition to spend time thinking the site within the site. We took seriously the status of the Zone as an environmental and political concern, as well as an ongoing experiment on the very concepts of life and the ecological lessons in the (im)possibility of recovery. Our goal was to create a set of documents that does justice to its material, political, and affective complexity. During this one-day symposium, we will share our findings.
By weaving together small paragraphs surrounding ideas, reminiscences, historical facts, and feelings of place, Lindsey Freeman’s ethnographic prose chases the circling affects and memories of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 to trace how a certain 86ness can never leave the place. She carefully examines how half-lives swirl around this time into our time like the swirling eyes of cartoon characters under hypnosis or in extreme shock in order to invite us to think zonally, which, for her, also means to think about attempts to contain the uncontainable. Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı ponders about the existence of vital signs in a post-apocalyptic landscape and where to look for the presence of life in the Exclusion Zone. Although most stories about the landscape contaminated by radioactive fallout tend to narrate life in terms of decay, everyone who has been there is astonished by how this decay meets revitalization in flourishing green that, she suggests, opens a possibility for a different narrative. Adrian Ivakhiv will situate the Chernobyl ‘hyper-event’ of April 26, 1986, within a series of spatio-temporal layers — from the local and national to Cold War geopolitics to the techno-industrial and geological — to theorize the nature of time as nonlinear, processual, and irredeemably open. Svitlana Matviyenko draws the connections between the infrastructure, territory and the body — human and non-human — the subject of the post-damage cultural, legal, political, geopolitical, biological and ecological regimes. She will theorize “citizenship,” as a relation between persons and any non-human people (Morton) performed as a membership in a certain political and territorial body that, in the case of the Chernobyl Zone, is literally inscribed in the matter of contaminated flesh of its biological citizens’ (Petryna). For Eldritch Priest the Chernobyl Zone might be considered less a place to enter and occupy than a disposition. To stalk the zone is, then, to query the temperamental horizons of thought that determine its very idea and shape its forms of expression. Experimenting with “melody-casting” as a way to draw out the affective tonalities and ambient contours of his wanders through forgotten cemeteries, overgrown boulevards, and secret radar arrays, he asks not what the Zone is but what mood it’s in.
Digital Militarism: Sovereignty, Surveillance and Cyberwar
May 15, 2019 | Please join us for the workshop Digital Militarism: Sovereignty, Surveillance and Cyberwar led by Nick Dyer-Witheford (Western University) with Sun-ha Hong (SFU) and myself as part of the Digital Democracies Conference that I co-organize with Wendy Chun and Zoe Druick.
The utopian concept of the Internet as a globally unifying apparatus has exploded. Recent years have seen a rapid escalation in the exercise of state power over and within digital networks, targeting enemies both internal and external as well as redrawing the lines of sovereignty and governance across the borders of nation states and “smart cities.” This manifests both in expansions and intensifications of surveillance, and in the increasing militarization of the Internet, aka cyberwar, both of which feed off and accelerate the more everyday processes of cybernetic capital in complex ways. A powerful dynamic of digital threat, paranoia and confusion is emerging; resistance is only incipient. This workshop will explore digital militarism by looking at several recent cases through the lens of communication theory. As tech CEOs are arrested to advance political disputes, Google Maps misrepresents contested territories, security services fake journalists’ deaths to the global public, and Big Tech moves into public housing, problems of sovereignty, surveillance and cyberwar spill out far beyond their typical domains and pose new problems for our scholarship and methodologies.
Communicative Militarism as Cyberwar (Dis)organization
May 22-25, 2019 | “Communicative Militarism as Cyberwar (Dis)organization,” the 14th Organization Studies Summer Workshop on “Technology and organization”, Mykonos, Greece.
Empire and Communication: The Infrastructural Legacy of the Soviet Union
June 27-30, 2019 | “Empire and Communication: The Infrastructural Legacy of the Soviet Union,” Decoding Europe: Technological Pasts in the Digital Age: the 9th Tensions of Europe Conference, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg.
Wilhelm Reich’s Machines of Sexual Revolution
On December 11, 2018, I gave a lecture “Wilhelm Reich’s Machines of Sexual Revolution” to celebrate the publication of the Ukrainian translation of Reich’s biography written by Christopher Turner Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How Sexual Revolution Came to America (2011). The event was organized by the VSL publisher and hosted by “YE” bookstore in Kyiv. My lecture was based on my introduction to the Ukrainian translation of the book and my recent article about Wilhelm Reich’s work in Emotion, Space and Society.
The video of the talk (in Ukrainian) is available here.
Vertical Atlas (Amsterdam – Rotterdam)
On November 29, 2018, I gave a talk “Communicative Militarism: Runaway Circuits of Cyberwar” at a public event at Het Nieuwe Instituut (Rotterdam) upon the invitation of a research group of Benjamin Bratton, Leonardo Dellanoce, Arthur Steiner and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer.
Vertical Atlas is a research project aimed at the creation of a new atlas to navigate the complex techno-geographies of the world today. The project is developed through a series of five public talks and research labs that will take place in 2018 and 2019.
During Vertical Atlas, 5 geographic zones will be explored and re-mapped, focusing on the technological and political borders, connections and frictions within them. The public talks will take place at Het Nieuwe Instituut on Thursday evenings, and the research labs the next day in Amsterdam. Prominent voices in policy making, law, art, design and technology will be invited to challenge the current maps and to draw new ones. The result of these efforts will be documented and published in a book.
Model: The Stack
Vertical Atlas applies the conceptual model of the Stack, as laid out by Benjamin Bratton, to actual geographies in order to unravel the mesh of intertwined conflicts among powers and sovereignties at different locations. With its different functional layers, the Stack is a way of schematising and investigating the accidental megastructure of planetary scale technological developments. Applying the Stack model reveals materialised techno-politics that remain hidden under current predominantly economic, technocratic or cultural modes of understanding geopolitics.
Each event in the series focuses on a specific geographic zone and its own set of frictions and fractures among the stacks’ political, economic and algorithmic sovereignties. Key voices from the regions will interrogate, challenge and/or implement the stacks at their own coordinates.
This project is initiated by Benjamin Bratton, Leonardo Dellanoce, Arthur Steiner and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, and is developed and produced by Het Nieuwe Instituut, Hivos Digital Earth and Stedelijk Museum.
Our book with Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyberwar and Revolution: Digital Subterfuge in Global Capitalism (Minnesota UP, 2019) is now published.
Global surveillance, computational propaganda, online espionage, virtual recruiting, massive data breaches, hacked nuclear centrifuges and power grids—concerns about cyberwar have been mounting, rising to a fever pitch after the alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Although cyberwar is widely discussed, few accounts undertake a deep, critical view of its roots and consequences.
Analyzing the new militarization of the internet, Cyberwar and Revolution argues that digital warfare is not a bug in the logic of global capitalism but rather a feature of its chaotic, disorderly unconscious. Urgently confronting the concept of cyberwar through the lens of both Marxist critical theory and psychoanalysis, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Svitlana Matviyenko provide a wide-ranging examination of the class conflicts and geopolitical dynamics propelling war across digital networks.
Investigating the subjectivities that cyberwar mobilizes, exploits, and bewilders, and revealing how it permeates the fabric of everyday life and implicates us all in its design, this book also highlights the critical importance of the emergent resistance to this digital militarism—hacktivism, digital worker dissent, and off-the-grid activism—for effecting different, better futures.
Lacan and the Posthuman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), the collection I’ve co-edited with Judith Roof, is now published. For a variety of reasons, this project took much longer to bring to a completion than we expected, so we are grateful to our contributors: Louis Armand, Allan Pero, Colin Wright, Ben Woodard, John Johnston, Nancy Gillespie, Scott Wilson, Timothy Morton. Special thanks go to Calum Neill and Derek Hook, the editors of The Palgrave Lacan Series.
When Posthumanism displaces the traditional human subject, what does psychoanalysis add to contemporary conversations about subject/object relations, systems, perspectives, and values? Promoting psychoanalysis’ focus on the cybernetic relationships among subjects, language, social organizations, desire, drive, and other human motivations, this book demonstrates the continued relevance of Lacan’s work not only to continued understandings of the human subject, but to the broader cultural impasses we now face. Exploring Posthumanism from the insights of Lacan’s psychoanalysis, chapters expose and elucidate not only the conditions within which Posthumanist thought arises, but also reveal symptoms of its flaws: the blindness to anthropomorphization, projection, and unrecognized shifts in scale and perspective, as well as its mode of transcendental thought that enables many Posthumanist declarations.
sum of the parts: I spoke about Felix Kalmenson’s films A House of Skin and Neither Country, Nor Graveyard in a conversation with curator Jenn Jackson — Wednesday, May 16, Pollyanna 圖書館 Library, Vancouver
“Examining a private archive is risky: one often discovers how little of the personal and the intimate such archive usually holds. The reward of facing this risk is a discovery that the archive is never equal to the sum of its parts, but rather, it presents a possibility to reveal an extremely complex and volatile relation between its random objects. Watching Felix Kalmenson’s Neither Country, Nor Graveyard (2017) and A House of Skin (2016), we witness how such relation emerges through the emotional labour of the artist, the subject of the archive.”
April 11, 2018 | The Village interviewed me for their story about “people who are not on Facebook” (In Ukrainian).
June 12, 2017 | Following my comments for Hromadske TV (Ukraine) regarding Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s ban of the Russian social media (VK & Odnoklassniki) as well as Yandex and Mail.ru in Ukraine, Vitalii Atanasov asked to elaborate on some points made for Hromadske. This is a bit shortened version of our dialogue translated in Ukrainian and here is an English version. And a full version in Russian.
“By implementing this ban, however, Ukraine is not different from other counties. Every government has realized by now that they have got a new animal in the political jungle. This animal reminds of the monstrous Thing from Carpenter’s horror – it is unruly, unpredictable, deadly.
The superior intelligence, it becomes us, learns from us and all about us, by parasiting the delicate network of our invisible relations, and then it absorbs us to nourish its non-human core. This social media monster “moves fast and breaks things” and the governments understand they have to survive in one space with it. They are all calculating now what is more beneficial and less risky for them to do: to burn this monster, tame it somehow, make human scarifies, or use it against the enemy. So, I guess, we will see all these scenarios. One is currently unfolding in Ukraine.”
Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion
September 26 – October 10, 2017 | Ukraine
I traveled to the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion again — this time with two guides: Oleksandr Syrota, a former resident of Pripyat, an eyewitness and a victim of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, now the editor-in-chief of the internet project pripyat.com and the president of the International Public Organization Center Pripyat.com; and Oleksandr Rybak from the same organization, who specializes in the history of the Chernobyl-2, the Soviet radar system DUGA aka “Russian Woodpecker.” Coincidentally (and luckily!), on the way to the Zone we were joined by ecologist Denis Vishnevsky, the head of the radio-ecological monitoring group at “Екоцентр,” who has been monitoring the Zone for 17 years, from whom I learned a lot about wolves, rats, mushrooms and forests of the Zone, including a lot of info about the current chemical composition of the observed area. Here is one of the interesting interviews with him, “Life After Life: Cities Abandoned by Humans” – for those who read Russian.
First, led by Oleksandr Rybak, we went inside the abandoned facilities of the Chernobyl-2 radar. Its intensely damp and drafty interior immediately made my throat sore, but the objects inside — all those remains of the Soviet super computer system — could keep one wandering through the rooms and corridors of the building, imagining this ambitious Soviet radio-location machine.
Our next stop was Pripyat, where the V.I. Lenin Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located. The construction of the power plant began on 15 August 1972. The city of Pripyat, founded on 4 February 1970 about 100 km from Kyiv, was not build yet and it was officially proclaimed a city only in 1979. So the plant was given its name after another city, Chernobyl, at the time, the closest big city. It is possible, too, that such decision was made in order to not draw the attention to Pripyat, the city of military importance, although, unlike other Soviet atomic cities, the access to Pripyat was not restricted.
Oleksandr Syrota gave us a tour around the remains of the glorious atomic Soviet city, the reversed symbol of “safe nuclear power.” Originally from Pripyat, Syrota took us to his abandoned apartment. According to him, it might be dangerous to enter this building in six months, in spring 2018, and he would not be taking people there: the housing infrastructure in the area has reached its 30-year life span — apparently, that’s how long this particular type of constructions can survive without care and central heating, open to the winds, snow, rain and marauders. On the way, we passed the building of the school that Syrota had attended before April 1986. Half of the building collapsed several years ago; the rest is deteriorating.
The Zone as we know it today — that seems to be timeless, a surreal “frozen-in-time” or “future-in-the-past” scene such as that of the Pripyat amusement park known to many of us via too many YouTube videos — has been disappearing. To be more precise, it has been transforming into something else, and it has been transforming for a while now — on its own speed, with its own rhythm. And while it still remains a visible reminder of the Soviet technogenic catastrophe, it might be the moment to think about its meanings and pose new questions.
Photos by Oleksiy Radynski and myself.
August 21 – November 27, 2016 | Ukraine & Georgia
My two-month research trip to Ukraine and Georgia was related to several projects: the book on cyberwar (with Nick Dyer-Witheford), the documentary project on the Soviet-Ukrainian cybernetics (with Oleksiy Radynski) and the project on techno-politics of the Soviet Union. In September, I traveled to Tbilisi where I conducted a series of interviews — about the events of Russo-Georgian cyber-war of 2008 — with governmental officials, security specialists and the representatives of telecommunication business, among them, David Lee, the President of Georgian major telecommunication company MagtiCom. My first trip to the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion in a company of Margret Grebowicz later that month, when we were able to see the remains of the Fourth Block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant before it was covered with a confinement in November 2016, was particularly informative and led to another trip to the Zone in 2017 and several research projects, still in progress today, that bring together the infrastructure studies, the studies of imperialism and posthumanism. In October, as a fellow at the Center for Urban Studies of East Central Europe, I taught a course “Information City.”