System of Absurdity

23 September – 7 October 2017


In October 2015 I visited Lithuania as part of the MAP6 Collective Photography Group, a collective project to explore the shifting concept of what defines modern Europe. In particular we wanted to visit the country that was, at the time of our visit, recognised as the “official” centre of Europe. I was interested in exploring the impact of the Soviet Occupation on the Baltic States between 1944 and 1991 and for this purpose I arranged to visit the Soviet Bunker, set just outside Nemencine in Lithuania.

I was met by the organiser, Mindaugas, who kindly agreed to took me on a tour of the bunker, a square grid covering an area of 2500 m². The bunker was originally a telecommunications centre, set up as a back-up station to keep broadcasting in the eventuality of a nuclear war. It was built between 1983 to 1985, at the height of the Cold War, and was part of the LRT: Lithuania Radio & Transmission, a back-up telecommunications centre set up by the occupying Russians. It was abandoned in 1991 when the Russians left Lithuania. The departing Russians stripped the space clear, leaving the bare concrete cells of an extensive bunker, covering a square grid of 2500 m².

The space has now been adapted into a place of theatre, a fabricated space constructed from the leftover paraphernalia of the Soviet Occupation. The rooms are set up to present a bewildering array of set tableaus set around the theme of the Soviet Union. Within these set spaces is the re-enactment: an actor, in full KGB uniform, is employed to issue out a torrent of abuse at the audience. It is a one man tour de force, a piece of absurdist theatre designed to highlight the absurdity of real events. It’s purpose is educational: colleges send students here to learn from the experience. Afterwards the actor asks the audience whether they like their freedom – the implicit message being that the absurdities and horrors of the past need to be remembered so as not to be repeated.

This is a staged reality, a created fiction to highlight the absurdity of real events. The effect is eery: the uncanny reality of the Soviet regime enhanced by the subterranean and claustrophobic environment. These intricately set pieces occupy an interstice between the abandoned and the occupied, the past and the present, fiction and reality, fear and trauma. When the performance begins it adds another level of remembering, reinforcing both the absurdity and reality of past events. My interest is in the bunker as a psychological space: a place where a fragile sense of safety is held together by fear. Although this bunker no longer carries out it’s original function it remains a place of terror and represents an ever present and on-going preoccupation with human instability and imminent destruction.



Barry Falk (b. 1964) is an artist photographer documenting urban spaces and peripheral landscapes, areas that have undergone a process of displacement and loss. His focus is upon revealing certain disturbed states of mind which are buried in both the urban and rural landscape. He is particularly interested in the edges of the city where the built up areas merge with the rural landscape. As a photographer his meanderings have taken him from sprawling derelict sites to unclaimed brownfield areas, the land of scrapyards, temporary dwellings, quarries and derelict industry, where abandon accumulates and homes are makeshift. More recently he has concentrated on locations further afield, particularly Poland and the Baltic countries, to explore how these places hold a sense of memory and collective loss. His current project focuses upon the Jewish narrative in Poland from the turn of the Twentieth Century to the present day. His main interest is to explore how trauma effects individuals and communities and how memory is held through generations but can also be buried by collective amnesia.




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