Russian illegal prison on IZOLYATSIA premises has been operational for 10 years.

Forest Song

18 April 2015 — 17 May 2015

The exhibition runs from 18 April till 17 May 2015.

Exhibition is opened:
23 April - 24 April
27 April - 30 April
12 May - 17 May
from 12am to 7pm. Entrance free.

This photographic series by an Italian artist Marco Citron results from his participation in the Izolyatsia's Partly Cloudy artist-in-residency of 2011. That summer eight photographers from different countries were chosen by Boris Mikhailov to experience life in Donetsk for two months and provide their reflections of that experience in a photographic form. All of the international participants of that residency visited Donetsk for the first time in their lives.


An outsider's vision often creates emotional and conceptual distance thus revealing certain cultural assumptions that escape the routine point of view of the locals. Yet it's not quite possible nowadays to visit any part of the world and to be completely unaware of its history and culture. When we travel to a new place we know at least something about that place and that “something” often turns out to be a set of rigid stereotypes and preconceived notions that are firmly, and often subconsciously, planted  in our heads.

Thus in the summer of 2011 we were excited to host the artists chosen for the residency and yet wary of the possibility that the invited photographers would be entrapped by the superficial kitschy side of the post-soviet reality so characteristic of any Ukrainian city, Donetsk included. Yes, it was quite easy to be hypnotized by the kitschiness and incongruities of the post-Sovietness with its zesty motley of colors and smells coming from chaotic street vendors, from visually loud and often vulgar advertising, from rampageous construction sites mushrooming in the city every which way, without any obvious urban planning. It was easy to be distracted by strange flashy fashion choices, mind-bogglingly expansive vehicles and other demonstrations of extreme wealth that paradoxically coexisted with extreme poverty and destitution. Yet, all invited residency artists proved our fears wrong. In the end, they all went beyond the obvious and the superficial. They all revealed to us the Donetsk we have never seen or experienced before, although it has always been there in front of our minds clogged by the self-evident.

Immediately upon arrival Marco asked the team to assist him in gaining access to the most elevated places in the city. There were lots of negotiations to get to the city's roofs: we had to explain to various zhek authorities, vigilant building residents, office managers of the Green Plaza (the tallest office building in the city) and all sorts of other building custodians in possessions of roof keys that we needed to see and photograph the city from above. Why would anyone want to do that? What can we gain from this bird's eye view – a virtually “inhuman” point of contemplation as we are customarily experiencing the city from the ground up. Months later, when Marco's project was ready for the exhibition, the artist's visual puzzle began to unfold.

Marco's project is cinematographic. It starts with a panoramic view of the location, which emerges as some sort of an enchanted forest. The human presence is leveled down and subsumed by the vivacious greenery. There are no wealthy or poor, fashionable or outdated, young or old – any social construction is not discernible from that point of view. In fact, no human presence can be detected from that hight.  The feeling of a non-place is further emphasized by the color choices. The artist desaturates the whole series and tinges the images with a certain type of green and ochre that creates an ambiance of a faded post card. The desaturated colors look decidedly asynchronous, if not entirely atemporal. Is this an image from 2011 or from the 1960s or 1970s? Where is it exactly located on the space-time continuum? Is it even an image of actual Donetsk or just some film set, not yet populated by its actors?

Then the artist's camera zooms in into some individual court yards. The characters of this enchanted forest begin to emerge from the greenery. Each photograph reads as a still shot, ready to erupt with its narrative. Here is a couple exchanging an intense gaze. Have they already spoken or just about to start a conversation? Here is a man reading a letter. Might he be reading a note from the girl he has encountered earlier on the porch? Here is yet another girl in a provocatively short red dress. Is she walking away or luring somebody in? Rejecting or enticing? Several other photographs feature individual figures who look even more perplexing than the characters from the genre scenes. Who are these individual characters that seem to emerge from the bushes as the artist's gaze travels through the thicket? They look like some magic creatures, elves and fairies, that might help or harm the protagonist of the narration. 

None of the characters are actors. Marco simply travels along the court yards of Donetsk and spots its inhabitants. They are the people of the street. Not necessarily homeless, although in some cases their dress and posture point vividly to their social status – just the people who spend most of their time outside: children and teenagers who play games or loiter idly during their lazy summer vacations, street cleaners who seem to be the real masters of the place, old ladies firmly planted to the benches at each building entrance and who contest the ownership of the surrounding world with the street cleaners, unemployed and homeless or just people who are tired to be confined to their tiny Soviet apartments.

The artists frames the scenes in such a way that they vividly point to the existence of some connections between the portrayed individuals and therefore at the existence of some stories, of which the photos were just still shots in a larger narrative. The still shots are brimming with suspense. What is the genre of the story? A gruesome fairy-tale along the lines of Brother Grimm or a thriller in a Hichcockian fashion? Somehow this thick voluptuous greenery that obliterates social conventions and whisks Donetsk out of its contemporary chronology and location turns the city into an enchanted forest where strange things are bound to happen. 

In a typical curatorial fashion we could write that the viewers are urged to pick up the narration where the artist has left it and develop their own plots, their own grand finales, as disastrous or as happy-ever-after as they wish them to be. Yet we all know how the Donetsk story is unfolding right now – Marco was right in the end as the forest turned out to be bewitched in a very unpoetic and un-metaphorical way.

Photo archive