The project involves:
Necromancer Anatoly Moskvin (Nizhny Novgorod), batyr Klaus Vetter (Yakutsk), Kraeved Yuri Dmitriev (Petrozavodsk), general Konstantin Petrov (Public Safety Concept), Permafrost Ontologies Researcher Charlotte Alexandra Wrigley (London), Mammoth Museum (Yakutsk)
as well as artists:
Alexander Agafonov (Perm), Jess (Yekaterinburg), Alena Koziol (Tyumen), Olga Mezhevich (Yekaterinburg), Juliana Semenova (Yakutsk), Egor Sleptsov (Yakutsk), Eugene Strelkov (Nizhny Novgorod), Irina Filatova (Moscow), Sergey Yudichev (Chelyabinsk)
Daria Antipova (Yekaterinburg), Elena Vasilieva (Yakutsk)
Chthonic (subterranean) forces possess a number of resources important to humans and are inextricably linked to the solution of the issue of death and/or immortality. The project is devoted to the study of human chthono-politics which turns out to be the Gaia-politics, namely the building of relations with the inner forces of Earth.
The exhibition-essay is built in accordance with the narrative, which has three semantic centers. 1. Different mythological and religious ideas about the world beneath the Earth's surface; 2. The positivist discourse of the Modern Period about the conquest of nature penetration under the earth's surface and the extraction of resources; and 3. Hybrid Contemporaneity in which new technologies are combined with animism.
Narrative of the exhibition is not historic. Rather, it is concentrated on the complex nature of Contemporaneity. It aims to demonstrate the complicated character of the ideas connected with the Subterranean world today and to show the origin of its components. Ideas of the Subterranean world today are often the heirs of the earlier sacral meanings of chthonic in new hybrid forms. For example, new techno-secular projects that are trying to find resources for immortality under the surface of the Earth, upon closer examination, turn out to be closely related to sacred archaic beliefs in the power of the Lower World.
1. The Underworld
The chthonic (Underworld) was an integral and very important part of many ancient cosmologies. Underground depths were exemplified by the Netherworld, namely, the astral world of spirits and "subtle" matter. On the one hand, it is associated with death, the cult of ancestors, and the world of spirits. On the other, with fertility, wealth, and the resumption of life through resurrection.
The Netherworld is known in the pagan beliefs of the Eastern Slavs and Russians as темная навь (dark nav), in the Yakuts as аллараа дойду, in the Mansi (votyaks) as хамал-ма, and in Bashkirs as теге донъя (another world). The Underworlds or Neverworlds in different pre-Christian geocultures have much in common: they are all places of eternal life, but of a fundamentally different life, namely, the life of spirits with which it is dangerous to interact. For example, a number of geo cultures have similar legends about ancient people who have gone beneath the Earth's surface. In the Finno-Ugric tradition and in the Urals these people are known as the белоглазая чудь (white-eyed Chud), and among the Celts as elves and fairies.
Thus, the ancestors, spirits, and eternal non-life beyond death are linked together closely through the chthonic. This world is dangerous and is associated with death for the living. But since the ancestors patronize the living and the Earth with its depths creates new life and gives strength, the Subterranean world is also associated with wealth, extraordinary strength, and resurrection. In various geocultures, such as the Bashkirs, Eastern Slavs, Mansi, and Yakuts, the connection between worlds (lower, middle, and upper) is depicted as a World Tree.
Birds figure prominently in the work of the Yakutsk-based artist Antonina Shadrina. Within the cosmology of Siberian pagan beliefs, birds connect the ground with the air and often act as a symbol of the soul. The birds' own kind of freedom in the works of Shadrina is only possible on the surface of the ground, as the subterranean roots trap and hold them, preventing them from flying.
Memory and a link to the underworld with all its roots acquire here a somewhat fatal and even ominous character.
In the meantime, a character in the Yakut fable Yi kyyha escapes to the Moon from the misfortunes and bitterness of her unhappy life by changing her physical state — literally evaporating into atoms. The Earth had offered to help the girl but she was afraid of the underworld and refused that help. Artist Ayiyna Alexeeva depicts two episodes from this tale in her prints: the girl's atomization while she is contemplating her bitter destiny and looking into an ice hole. This black hole in the ice leads deep inside, opening an entrance into the world underneath, the world of the dead.
In Slavic mythology, the other world, which is often associated with underground space, is called навь (nav'). The eponymous work by the artist Alena Koziol is based on a synthesis of various cultures: the common cultural heritage, according to the author, also serves as a path to immortality.
In the background of the painting is the Princess of Ukok, an ancient mummy found in the Altai burial grounds. She guards the gates to the underworld, and we see how the ferryman on the river of the dead (known as Charon in Greek mythology) transports someone past her. The main part of the picture is the image of the underworld. The gloomy cavernous space is filled with characters and symbols of the World of the Dead from different cultures: a girl in a Mexican death mask, Cerberus, mermaids, spirits, poppy flowers, water.
The synthesis of various traditional beliefs is continued by Ekaterinburg-based artist Olga Mezhevich. Her work depicts the Mistress of the Kingdom of the Dead, apparently Hel from Scandinavian mythology. But the artist avoids proper names, preferring generalizing epithets in the style of integral traditionalism: the Great Foremother, Mistress of the Kingdom of the Dead. As the artist herself says: "In my paintings I express the power of the Great Foremother. The language of my paintings is her language, the root language of our planet. My paintings are a look from the 'other side."
The work of Perm-based artist Alexander Agafonov is presented in the center of the hall. Alexander is a doctor by profession. For the Vanitas series, he used home-made and semi-decayed photographs from gravestones. Placing the image of the deceased at the place of burial is a tradition that testifies to the belief in a posthumous life and allows sensory communication with the deceased. Regular visits to deceased relatives in the cemetery, their photographs on the graves, and the mass character of the Immortal Regiment movement show that in modern Russian culture the dead are actively involved in the lives of the living. According to pre-Christian beliefs, East Slavic in particular, part of the deceased acquire parental status in the правь (prav'), while others remain in the dark nav'. It is the latter, the заложные покойники (wicked dead), who are connected with the subterranean world and regularly disturb the living by shaking the ground, because they can't find post-mortal rest.
General Konstantin Petrov became known for creating the Dead Water Public Safety Concept. At the end of his life he became the magician Meragor. In one of his videos, he talks about the traditional Slavic division of the worlds into the spheres of правь (prav'), явь (yav') and навь (nav'), and also says that today the world of nav' is an information space.
The artist Jess (Yekaterinburg) is certain that immortality is possible through experiencing oneself in a vast endless stream, with neither a beginning nor an end, and undergoing constant transformation. According to the artist, everyone is connected to the Earth, and grounding is a powerful recharge "created specifically for Us by Us." Astral travels between worlds is a spiritual practice, a way of attaining unity with the world where the Lower World is embedded in the general flows of energy. Jess creates visionary images representing the connection between different worlds as a document of his spiritual practice.