Lina Selander: Lenin’s Lamp Glows in the Peasant’s Hut
2 November–18 December 2011
Lina Selander’s film installation Lenin’s Lamp Glows in the Peasant’s Hut is a work with many points of entry. In the text piece which is part of the exhibition and may be viewed as a sketch for the film that constitutes the main component of the installation, she likens the conceptual content of the film to a number of mineshafts, various vertical movements that are joined together and create a system of meanings into which viewers may descend.
One of these shafts and one of the film’s points of departure is the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine. While making the film, Lina Selander visited Pripyat, the town founded to house workers for the nuclear power plant, and, on site, photographed the contaminated zone. She also gathered material from the museum in Kiev that administers the historical heritage of the accident.
The film begins with a sequence of images from the approach over the snow-covered countryside surrounding Kiev. The ground below floats away in a horizontal movement while Selander establishes the vertical movement that corresponds to the distance between the viewer’s gaze and the ground far below. These two movements recur in several aspects of the film.
Pripyat is located on a tributary of the Dnieper, upstream from Kiev. On the shores of the Dnieper is also where the 1928 film Odinnadcatyj [The Eleventh Year] by the Soviet film director Dziga Vertov takes place. The film, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Soviet state, depicts the construction of a power plant, focusing on electricity as the prerequisite for the development and progress of modern society. The title of Selander’s installation is borrowed from an intertitle in Vertov’s film and the artist also uses footage from The Eleventh Year in order to connect the utopian dream from the first decade of the Soviet state with a contemporary set of problems in regard to modern society’s insatiable need for power and its consequences, as well as with the role of the mediums of film and photography in this development.
Vertov’s famous statement, “I am the machine /—-/” echoes in Selander’s film. The human being as machine, a component of the social structure, is a consistent theme that addresses the reduction of the human being to labour, subordinated to ideological systems. Against Vertov’s Soviet workers who radiate youth, pioneering spirit and enthusiasm, the artist places images of the liquidators – decontamination workers – who, after the nuclear disaster, were despatched to dig a tunnel under the reactor and who all died shortly after, from injuries sustained. The montage is completed with pictures from the museum in Kiev and from Pripyat’s abandoned schools, houses and hospitals.
The historical parallel that Selander draws between the Soviet power plant construction and today’s dead zone in Pripyat is carried forward through an image of a Scythian grave borrowed from Vertov. The image, which in Vertov’s film functions as a reminder and a continuation of the proud heritage from a long-gone civilisation, establishes, in Selander’s work, a historical shaft that extends much further and deeper down into a pre-historic time. A series of pictures of plant fossils and drawings of how the original forests may have looked find their counterpart in nature images from Pripyat, a place where human history has come to an end and where nature has been left to heal itself.
The millions-of-years old fossils included in the film may be read as the first images. They are images without human interference, without purpose, but still razor-sharp impressions of a reality long gone. They have an indexicality reminiscent of that of the photograph. Present here, among other things, is a trace fossil, a so-called Cruziana, which preserves the digging movement from a pre-historic trilobite. The Cruziana is a depicted movement, the first film image, as it were.
Like Vertov, who regarded the film medium as a tool in the construction of society, Selander points to the development of photography as part of modernity. From the fossil, the first image, the work continues to delve into mining, the rails as a symbol of expansion and power, electricity as a symbol of knowledge, enlightenment and efficiency, and, more precisely, and connected to film and photography: the silver mine, Roentgen technology, the camera. The camera lens is a tunnel in which light travels; the movement is the prerequisite of the image. If the vertical movement of the mineshaft points to history and to the descent, the many horizontal movements of the film – tunnels, corridors – are geared towards the film strip and the camera’s objective lens. In images from the archives of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the walls are covered with documents and preserved objects. Against the corroded light, reminiscent of the photographic flash light, which Selander often places central in her images, the history is outlined.
Another indexicality is created in the photographic work which is part of the installation. Selander has had rocks containing uranium emit their radiation onto photographic paper, a method that points to how nuclear radiation was discovered by the French scientist Henri Becquerel during his experiments with photographic plates. Here, the photographic image is not just a propaganda tool in the service of modernity, but directly connected to the scientific discovery that made it possible to harness nuclear power as an energy source. Radioactivity is also a movement; the radiation is a relocation of energy. In Selander’s photographic work the uranium-containing rocks have been exposed onto the photographic paper, resulting in black spots reminiscent of the after-images that emerge when one looks into a bright light for a long time.
The film which is a part of the installation Lenin’s Lamp Glows in the Peasant’s Hut is 23 mins.
Born in 1973, Lina Selander lives and works in Stockholm.
Thanks to Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet (the Swedish Museum of Natural History), and to Hagströmer Biblioteket (the Hagströmer Medico-Historical Library). Thanks also to Peter Thörneby who has made the graphic design of Lina Selander’s text piece which is part of the installation, and to Lena Bergendahl, Hanna Cecilia Lindkvist och Carl Palm.
Lenin’s Lamp Glows in the Peasant’s Hut is a new production for Index. It will also be exhibited at Manifesta 9, Belgium, 2012. A book presenting new essays on the work together with a generous selection of visual material is under production and will be presented during spring 2012.