Made in Chernobyl

(Alternative post title for MA purposes: Physicality of an Aspiration)

Chernobyl & Pripyat 2016
Wednesday 30th March – 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster… a sense of ‘Place’ becomes a reality, a physicality.

Abandoned Apartment

Since returning from my ‘once’ (?!) in a lifetime, trip to Chernobyl this time last year, I have wanted to return and have been trying to make this happen. I am asked often asked ‘why?’ I’m not that sure… but it had such an impact on me, deeply affecting my whole being, that it was something I just had to do, no matter what.

And I’m still not finished.

I am just starting to realise that this post could be as long as a book, oh! maybe I should write a book :0

The most important or rather the most emotional hours there this time around, were those spent spent producing ‘work’ – filming myself making a physical response to my surroundings for 2 hours, reflecting on those people in April 1986 who had to suddenly leave their homes with just 2 hours notice and few belongings…

I had organised this as much as I could beforehand; considered possible suitable locations through my contact (based on trust and his extensive knowledge), schedules, how to fit it in etc., and practised setting it up (at home) how I wanted it to look; where the cameras would be, at what distance/height etc. tried to imagine it…needless to say it didn’t quite work out as planned.

The rest of the group were taken to the Duga structure and Niall, my assistant and I were led down an overgrown dirt track which eventually led to the last housing block and the designated apartment in Chernobyl-2, one where the military personnel who worked at Duga radar system and their families had lived.

Chernobyl-2 & Duga

Chernobyl-2 & Duga

When I got there, it was not exactly I hoped for or expected (unsurprisingly) which threw me a little, well a lot, i.e. not one chair was left in the whole apartment block and believe me we ran around looking in every room. There was a bit of stress, a lot of anxiety, it was cold, damp, incredibly quiet and once I sat down (on a few bits of wood) very, very emotive…

I sat for 2 hours, alone (I realised at once that I HAD to be alone) and started to methodically and meditatively stitch, just stitch, in those silent, abandoned surroundings. Almost immediately I was hit by a wave of emotion, I felt incredible loss and a sense of emptiness, hopelessness and helplessness that was almost tangible. Never have I felt like that before.

The act of stitching was much more important and connecting than the actual stitch itself. I felt compelled to take a tiny piece of damp, drooping wallpaper from that room, that home, incorporating it into the piece of fabric I was working on. (I am almost crying while I write and remember this.)

Made in Chernobyl

Made in Chernobyl


Looking back, I left something of myself in that room and brought something away with me. I thought of all those who have had to leave their homes, their lives behind, those who had no choice.

On discovering ‘Heterotopia’; a place outside space and time, I think it must be here. It is a pocket of nothing and everything, a place like nowhere else. It is a place of wistfulness, thoughtfulness, empathy, a little misery, hopefulness, mindfulness, learning, of wonder and of still quietness. A reminder of what has gone before and a prognostication of what could yet come.

It is a memorial. A monument. Saviour and beautiful monster.

And so I filmed myself, and it did not go according to plan. I’m not sure what happened, in a perfect world and in hindsight, I should have somehow spent one full day in that apartment, though I would have had to hire a personal guide to ‘look after me’, albeit at a distance, which was cost prohibitive and I would have had to give up other parts of the trip. If I had done that, then I could have figured it all out and re-done it all again. But I’m not sure that’s the point [no, its definitely not]. So, I am left with some footage where the aesthetics/positioning/distance are not what I initially wanted.

I haven’t been able to really look at it yet, so some impartial first impressions of this short collection of a few tiny clips would be welcomed and of great help (please comment).

My next post/chapter will be the start of a short series about the trip in general; the amazing experience that it was and somewhat less emotionally taxing.


One Response to “Made in Chernobyl

  • Pauline Easby
    8 years ago

    Thought provoking; an emotional emptiness and inability to understand the true pain and fear experienced by the people of Pripyat.

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