May 04 2021

Artists Exhibit Drawings in Chernobyl’s Dead Zone

by Chloe Morrissey

Installation view of a drawing by ALINE BOUVY, at “Chernobyl Papers,” in the Exclusion Zone in Pripyat. Courtesy New Scenario.

Thirty-five years after the world’s largest nuclear disaster took place in Ukraine, the alternative art platform New Scenario has curated a site-specific exhibition, “Chernobyl Papers,” in the now abandoned Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Drawings by 40 international artists were installed onsite, and documentation of the project was released online in two chapters on April 23 and 30. 

New Scenario’s ninth virtual presentation in their ongoing exploration of non-traditional exhibition settings, “Chernobyl Papers” was staged at the Exclusion Zone without permission from Chernobyl authorities. Comprising more than 2,580 square kilometers in the 30-kilometer radius around the most contaminated area, the Exclusion Zone has been considered an illegal destination ever since the explosion in April 1986. With the help of “stalkers”—explorers who enter the Zone illegally—the New Scenario team, including founders Paul Barsch and Tilman Horning, spent five days installing and documenting sketches by artists including Keren Cytter, Michiko Nakatani, İnci Furni, and Timur Si-Qin in abandoned warehouses and classrooms in the area. According to the press release, these drawings “will remain there forever—contaminated and rotting.” 

Previously, artists have worked with Ukrainian authorities to exhibit in the Exclusion Zone. The “ARTEFACT” project—supported by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation and the Ministry of Culture, among other state agencies—launched in 2018 with a “rave” in Valeriy Korshunov’s immersive installation in the ghost town of Pripyat. In 2016, Australian artist Guido Van Helten’s mural Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, based off the work of photojournalist Igor Kostin, was installed inside a disused nuclear tower to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the disaster.

Art groups in other countries have also initiated projects in restricted areas contaminated by radiation. In 2011, the Tokyo-based artist collective Chim↑Pom created a long-term international exhibition titled “Don’t Follow the Wind” in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Featuring 12 artists including Ai Weiwei, Meiro Koizumi, Ahmet Öğüt, and Trevor Paglen, the project remains inaccessible to the general public despite its “opening” in March 2015. 

Chloe Morrissey is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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