Arles, exhibition, photography

Whiteness & Occultation (Rencontres d’Arles – 2)

1 Danila Tkachenko, le plus grand

Danila Tkachenko, The world’s largest diesel submarine, Samara region, Russia, 2013 [exhibition view]

At the Rencontres d’Arles, there are the official Rencontres, and then there is the “Off” Festival. The official exhibitions and events are detailed in a green and white 24-page leporello leaflet, which serves as a guide map as well as a distinctive emblem, along with your Pro, Press or Staff lanyard. But the leaflet also includes the “Associated Programme” [sic], which goes back and forth between the “In” and “Off” and comprises the exhibitions presented by the LUMA Foundation, the ENSP (the national photography school based in Arles), the brand Olympus, the Musée Réattu, and the Méjan (curated by Arles-based publisher Actes Sud). At the Méjan, after the butoh on the first floor (I will of course come back to it [see Arles 3], as this confrontation between two conceptions of photography is too interesting not to address), I made my way upstairs to look at Hans Silvester’s ethnographical account of the Bench, a little-known ethnic group living in the south of Ethiopia. It is interesting as a documentary work but, beyond that, it does not elicit much enthusiasm. However, basking in the yellowish glow of the room, I was awed by the discovery of a remarkable work, not mentioned anywhere, missing from the program, forgotten by all official speakers, overlooked by the media… although it is, in my eyes, one of the most important propositions of the week.

2 Danila Tkachenko, Deserted

Danila Tkachenko, Deserted observatory located in the area with the best conditions for space observations

Danila Tkachenko, a Russian photographer aged 27, has earned a couple accolades already (the ever-insightful Arlesians of Voies Off awarded him in 2015). He produces white photographs: white as snow, fog, blizzard… and disappearance. In this opaque whiteness (unfortunately tinted yellow by the lighting at the Méjan), black and grey shapes emerge progressively from indistinction (with traces of color, here and there, from a rusted pipe or a red and white fence). There are no traces of life, neither human nor animal ones, no footprints, no smoke plumes; only a stunted tree stands in the midst of a barren mineral landscape, absolute and pure in its whiteness.

3 Danila Tkachenko, Monument to

Danila Tkachenko, Monument to the Conquerors of Space. The rocket on top was made according to the design of German V-2 missiles, Moscow, Russia, 2015

Depicting such nothingness reveals another process of disappearance, which resulted in secret ruins of forgotten, hidden, forbidden sites. Tkachenko has been looking all over the territory of the former Soviet Union for structures that have fallen out of memory, in areas that were closed off for a long time, absent from maps and speeches, sacrificed to a merciless Cold War. When we manage, despite the snow and wind occulting the view, to make sense of the shapes, we see radars, antennas, bunkers, rocket debris… And also the largest diesel submarine in the word, reminiscent of a beached whale; the refloated wreck of the Bulgaria, where 122 people died in complete secrecy; or the traces of the 1957 Kyshtym nuclear disaster that was kept secret too, the city still being off-limits today.

4 Danila Tkachenko, Memorial on a

Danila Tkachenko, Memorial on a deserted nuclear station

Everything is in ruins: memory itself has been frozen deep under interdictions. Here and there, a monument to cosmonauts or heroic workers feebly emerges from the fog, almost pathetic. The utopian belief in progress and technology is dead and buried.

5 Danila Tkachenko, Headquarters

Danila Tkachenko, Communist Party Headquarters, Yougostoichen, 2015

These Communist Party headquarters have become nothing more than an abandoned bunker despite their bold intergalactic architecture. To conclude, there have been lots of interesting photographic works on the fall of the USSR and the ruins of Communism, but Danila Tkachenko’s is the first, in my opinion, to succeed in reflecting this end-of-a-world dereliction through such definitive and dramatic images.


Photo 1 by Lunettes Rouges (so as to show the cumbersome yellow lighting), all others taken from D. Tkachenko’s website.

Read this article:
in the original French; alt.


Original publication date by Lunettes Rouges: July 13, 2016.

Translation by Lucas Faugère


2 thoughts on “Whiteness & Occultation (Rencontres d’Arles – 2)

  1. Pingback: Une blancheur occultée (Arles 2) | lunettesrouges1

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