Photographer and Filmmaker
“Anna Ehrenstein’s work ironically and humorously explores the possibilities and limitations of virtual reality to bridge the gaps created by eurocentrism, colonialism and racism.“
The photobook has undoubtedly become one of the main platforms used by photographers to share their work. Besides being a tactile and intimate object, it is also a vehicle through which artists, designers, publishers, distributors and audience can communicate and exchange their ideas. One of the exciting steps in publishing a photobook is preparing a dummy – a test copy that helps to evaluate the choice of paper, size, typography, design, layout, and other components. While they quickly disappear from circulation, dummybooks open a window onto the work-in-progress of an artist; the raw and experimental version of what later becomes a more polished product.
Through a series of interviews with Daria Tuminas, Head of the Book Market and Unseen Dummy Award, we share some stories from the Unseen Dummy Award 2018 shortlist, beginning with Russian-Swiss artist Anastasia Mityukova and her work Project Iceworm.
Daria Tuminas: The title of the dummy Project Iceworm refers to the name of an American military experiment base that was constructed to store nuclear missiles. Built in 1959, with the agreement of the Danish government, it sits under the Greenland ice sheet. Within six years the icecap became fragile, the place was abandoned, and the nuclear, human and PCB waste left behind was threatening both the local ecosystem and the Inuit population. As you mention in your statement, the disaster will peak in 2050 – the year radiation exposure is predicted to be at its most severe. How did you stumble upon this story?
Anastasia Mityukova: I have been obsessed with explorers’ journals since my childhood. I was particularly intrigued by expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic – places with extreme weather that are seemingly preserved from the destruction of humankind. I remember reading The Last Kings of Thulé (Dutton, 1982) by French anthropologist Jean Malaurie and the very last chapter was a warning about a military base that was under construction in Greenland. I forgot about it until 2017, when I came across an article in the news called The abandoned ice sheet base at Camp Century, Greenland, in a warming climate. That was when I began my research.
DT: Your work is an interesting case study on constructing a photographic image (of the vast territory as it underwent many transformations over the years) whilst having no access to the subject – photography was completely forbidden across the whole base. The ‘unseen’ subjects and territories, as well as finding the ways to visually represent them, are probably, your main artistic interests. For example, In Cosmic Anomalies you study extraterrestrial life and UFOs, and in Find a Way or Make One you talk about the arctic conditions at the North Pole through materials found at home. Can you elaborate on this red thread in your practice, and tell us how you approached the ‘invisible’ subject within the Project Iceworm?
AM: I'm interested in the idea of photography as evidence or documentation, and the bigger the impossibility of reaching the object of investigation, the better. I can then show something else which could investigate a particular aspect of the image’s craftsmanship. For example, how media manipulates an audience through visual materials.
I started working on the book Project Iceworm from an inner frustration as there were no accessible archives of the place. I tried to get in touch with the American airbase, but had no success. I needed visuals to have an idea of what happened there, and there were only ten or fifteen images available online. I decided to establish an archive of Project Iceworm and started to obsessively collect images of it. I found them on various social media platforms, in the National Archives and on blogs by people who served at the base and had taken pictures illegally. I wanted the book to incorporate all the images I had found without any compromise.
DT: You worked on the design of the book yourself, which in total weighs more than a kilo! What was the logic and workflow behind selecting and sequencing the images into such a bulky volume? Why did you decide to give the publication sections of yellow and white pages?
AM: The form of the book came together naturally. I wanted it to serve as an encyclopaedia of sorts, a documentation of the research. While gathering images I tried to classify them as accurately as possible by place and date, which determined the book’s structure. The dummy is thus a complete and chronological collection of the base’s images that I had found and edited or modified. The photographs are black and white but printed on yellow paper to create a sense of alarm. Landscapes printed on white paper are made in relation to the local Inuit population. By choosing different paper I confront their idealistic view of the beauty of the place with what actually happened. The chapters of the book are related to different events, each time introduced by a small text. These chapters include, for example, stories such as the Operation Blue Jay – the construction of the Airbase in 1949 by the American Army in Thulé, where Inuits’ homes were destroyed and they were chased from their land.
DT: Project Iceworm was a solo show at the Museum Folkwang Essen, where the installation came after the dummy. Could you tell more about the translation of the project, once conceived as a book, into a spacial presentation?
AM: The exhibition’s purpose was to transcribe the book’s atmosphere into an installation. This transformation was the result of a dialogue I had with the curator Thomas Seelig. Within the show, it was necessary to choose a number of images, 22 in this case, that would give a general idea of key events. Thus I refused from the timeline based narrative and mixed everything up. 22 prints was glued directly on black walls, and lit by yellow lights that gave the room a poisonous feeling.
DT: What are your plans for the dummy and the project at large?
AM: I am always searching for ways to incorporate found archives into the dummy. Besides continuing with the collection, I’m developing new binding techniques and researching new ways to present large archives. I’m also looking to collaborate with a historian who specialises in the history of the Cold War.
All images © Lilia Luganskaia