Norilsk Substance

«Nadezhda — The Hope Principle»
Artistic perspectives on Russian industrial cities

Curators: Simon Mraz (Austrian Cultural Forum Moscow), Nicolaus Schafhausen (Kunsthalle Wien)

180 x 230 x 350, Polymers, metal, motors, colorful liquids

Biomorphic, perforated with a myriad of holes and cuts, and with a heart pierced by a different sort of active material, it is an elastic dark substance composed of numerous figures of people. Its movements are similar to the inching along of an earthworm, segments of which stretch and elongate or compress into folded wrinkles.

The tens of thousands of prisoners sent to harness Norilsk’s deposits, as well as the several generations of paid staff working there today, have dug endless labyrinths of underground mines. The scale is staggering. The manmade machinery and production systems permeating the entire city and many kilometers below it compel the imagination to build everything visible into an enormous three-dimensional substance, a living mixture of industrial and organic elements.

The installation’s upper part is a solid transparent surface, out of which come bright streams of colored liquid. They spread out and then merge downward, turning into a dirty liquid that drenches the lower layers.

This essentially absurd and tragic cycle of forces and materials never stops, not even for a minute. At the level of everyday thinking, we all understand that we are built into a single system of material relationships. But within our involvement with the series of daily events we see that this is only a representation of an abstract fantasy. Being in such a giant mechanism that feeds our “reality” with the life-giving milk of precious metals, you feel how monstrous and uniquely beautiful this utopia is.

On June 25, 1935, the people's commissar for internal affairs, Genrikh Yagoda, signed a secret edict, number 00239, to commission the construction of a nickel factory in Norilsk and, for this purpose, ordered the establishment of an associated prison labor camp, Norillag.

Norilsk’s first open-pit mine, Coal Creek, was opened in 1940, and at the Minor Metallurgical Plant the first matte – an intermediate in the production of non-ferrous metals – was obtained and in 1942 the first nickel.

Norillag was closed upon an order by the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Internal Affairs on August 22, 1956. Approximately 300,000 prisoners had been to the camp. Today the population of Norilsk is about 176,600.

The mines at the Talnakhskoye deposit extend for 12 kilometers, but the total area of development exceeds 450 kilometers, some 150 kilometers longer than the Moscow subway system.

From the local ores, the enterprises of Norilsk Nickel extract nickel, copper, cobalt, gold, silver, platinum, iridium, selenium, palladium, ruthenium, osmium and tellurium. The October mine is the largest in the country and accounts for 40 percent of the total volume of the concern’s extracted ore. More than 150 million tons of ore have been extracted at the mine.

The mine’s planned work force comprises about 3,000 people and its workable depth exceeds 1,200 meters. Norilsk Nickel’s production volume of nickel in the first half of 2015 was more than 130,000 tons, palladium – 1.35 million ounces, and platinum – 339,000 ounces.

Norilsk is one of famous Russian city with an inclement climate, but with the biggest opportunities to make money.

It has the largest nickel deposits on Earth. Consequently, mining and smelting ore are the major industries. A global leader in base and precious metals production (1):World's leading producer of Nickel - 13% and Palladium - 44%Top 4 producer of Platinum - 14%One of the largest Copper producers - 2%

Norilsk has an extremely harsh subarctic climate, and is covered with snow for about 250–270 days a year, with snow storms for about 110–130 days. The polar night lasts from December through mid-January, so there is no sun for about six weeks. In summer the sun does not set for more than six weeks.

Nickel ore is directly responsible for severe pollution, generally acid rain and smog. Heavy metal pollution near Norilsk is so severe that the Russian Federal State Statistics Service named Norilsk the most polluted city in Russia. The Blacksmith Institute included Norilsk in its 2007 list of the ten most polluted places on Earth. Norilsk is closed to all non-Russians, except for Belarusians.

Simon Hewitt, reports on the Russian Contemporary Art scene
in the wake of his recent visit to the Moscow and Ural Biennales
November 12 2015 (eng)

AP Russia Art Biennale 23 September 2015 (eng)

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