September 26 – October 10, 2017 | Ukraine
Chernobyl & Pripyat
I traveled to the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion again – this time with Aleksandr Syrota, a former resident of Priypat, an eyewitness and a victim of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the editor-in-chief of the internet project pripyat.com and the president of the International Public Organization Center Pripyat.com; Sasha from the same organization, who specializes in the history of the Chernobyl-2, the Soviet radar system DUGA aka “Russian Woodpecker”; and ecologist Denis Vishnevsky, the head of the radio-ecological monitoring group at “Екоцентр,” who has been monitoring the Zone for 17 years.
First, we went inside the abandoned facilities of the radar. Its intensely damp and chilly 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.
Then in Pripyat, Aleksandr gave us a tour around the city, or rather, what used to be the atomic Soviet city. He took us to his abandoned apartment. He said he would not be able to take people there next spring as it will be dangerous: the buildings in the area have reached their 30-year life span – apparently, that’s how long they can survive without care, open to winds, snow and rain. The building of the school that he attended before April 1986, for instance, already collapsed several years ago. The Zone as we know it today – that seems to be timeless, a “frozen-in-time” or “future-in-the-past” scene – is now disappearing. Or, to be more precise, it is transforming into something else. And while it remains a visible reminder of the technogenic Soviet catastrophe, it might be a good moment to think about its meanings.
Another project on media-archaeology of a temple that in its previous lives used to be a church, a mosque, a cathedral, and a museum of atheism: the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Kamyanets-Podilsky, my hometown. The original building was erected in 1373, initially designed in Renaissance style, but in 1646-1648, it was rebuilt in Baroque style.
In 1672, during the Turkish occupation of these lands, the temple was transformed into a mosque – which it was for 27 years until 1699 – and a minaret was added to the building’s entrance. After restoring its status as a Catholic cathedral, a gold stature of Mother Mary was put on the top of the minaret.
As a Soviet child, I encountered this building when it was a museum of atheism. I have a very clear memory of how fascinated I was with it being a marvelous collage and collection of objects that you cannot normally see together. This is precisely what fascinates me until now.
Another curious example of the same cultural collage is the complex of the Dominican Monastery that also bears the imprints of different epochs and styles. Just like the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, it was a mosque during the Ottomans’ stay. Among the preserved objects from that time, there is a beautiful minbar, a pulpit from which the sermon (khutbah) is delivered. It is usually constructed in a form of a domed box at the top of a staircase that is reached through a doorway that can be closed, a common element of Islamic mosque architecture throughout the world.
In the Soviet times, this minbar was kept at the the Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, when it was a museum of atheism and where I saw it for the first time, but recently the Pauline monks of the Dominican Monastery claimed it back to complete the Dominican Cathedral’s interior, where, they thought, it belongs. And it does so – beautifully.
As of August 1, 2017, I joined the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University as Assistant Professor of Critical Media Analysis. Honored and happy to become part of this wonderful community at the time of the School’s expansion.
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.
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.
August 21 – November 27, 2016 | Ukraine & Georgia
Photos by Anna Dolidze, Margret Grebowicz, Valentina Semenikhina, the Center for Urban History and myself.
Interpassive User: Complicity and the Returns of Cybernetics – Fibreculture Journal 25 (2015)
The essay explores the notions of “extension” and “prosthesis” as two different logics of being with technology. I trace the distinction between them to the work of McLuhan influenced by both Norbert Wiener and Buckminster Fuller. I argue that the logic of softwarization (Manovich, 2013) is similar to the logic of extension; while the logic of appification (IDC, 2010) is similar to that of prosthesis. The former is the logic of metonymy, while the latter is the logic of metaphor. I explain why such distinction is useful for reading mobile / social apps and the new practices they enable. I conclude by raising the questions about users’ enthusiasm and complicity within the bio-technological cybernetic assemblage.
Cinema for A Missing People: Gilles Deleuze’s Crystal Image and Alexander Dovzhenko’s Zvenyhora – Harvard Ukrainian Studies 32-33, no. 1-4 (2015)
The essay discusses Dovzhenko’s 1928 film Zvenyhora, which Deleuze uses in a second book of Cinema to illustrate his notion of the crystal-image of time, the only film made before the WW2 among many examples of the time-image that Deleuze generously offers in this volume. I also read Zvenyhora as an instance of minor cinema, with all the potential of the minor attributed to it by Deleuze and Guattari in their work Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature and others text written separately and together.