A Moscow artist burned down several village homes for his latest project, and not everybody’s loving it
In a new photo project dedicated to the decline of Russia’s villages, Moscow artist Danila Tkachenko set fire to several empty village homes. Speaking to Colta.ru, Tkachenko said he deliberately selected abandoned homes and spent several days studying what the last tenants had left inside the houses, before burning them down. “The whole thing is very Russian,” Tkachenko explained. “You take it and then you burn it to hell.” The project is called “Homeland” and all the photographs were taken at dusk.
Tkachenko says he’s certain that nobody was using the houses in his photos, which were dilapidated structures with collapsing roofs in totally abandoned villages, but he concedes that the photo project seems “crude,” insofar as “it relishes burning objects.” All his work, Tkachenko admits, is fundamentally simple. The artist says he was prepared for a negative response to the project, and hasn’t ruled out that he could be forced to leave the country. “Maybe there will be some kind of uproar, and that would be perfect. Art should agitate people, not comfort them,” Tkachenko told Colta.ru.
Danila Tkachenko is one of Russia’s most notable contemporary artists. Twenty-eight years old, he graduated from the Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography in 2014 — the same year he won first prize in the People Staged Portraits Stories category at the World Press Photo Contest for his project “Escape,” where he photographed recluses who have voluntarily excluded themselves from contact with civilization. In 2017, Tkachenko was awarded the Kandinsky Prize for “Restricted Areas,” where he photographed abandoned oil rigs, forgotten scientific installations, and other derelict Soviet infrastructure. Tkachenko’s photos have been exhibited at galleries in Russia and abroad.
“Homeland” has enraged the charity “Krokhino,” which criticized the photo project in a Facebook post on November 28. The charity argues that state prosecutors, not art experts, should be the ones evaluating Tkachenko’s work, which possibly constitutes criminal acts like arson and the destruction of cultural heritage sites. “For this ‘creator,’” the charity wrote online, “the country isn’t only dead, but is also fit to perform whatever experiment enters his gifted head.”
Since 2010, the Krokhino Foundation has worked to preserve and restore cultural heritage sites. The organization’s mission is “to cultivate Russian citizens’ commitment to their cultural heritage.” The charity is responsible for installing a dam at the Beloye Ozero to protect a partially flooded 18th-century lighthouse church in the village of Krokhino (in the the Vologda region), and for collecting local cultural artifacts. Anor Tukayeva, the charity’s director, says two Vologda churches also appear in “Monuments,” another recent project by Tkachenko (where he didn’t set fire to anything, but he did cover small churches in canvas). Tukayeva says burning down buildings should only be acceptable on movie sets.
The Krokhino Foundation’s Facebook post doesn’t make it clear if the charity has filed a formal police report, but the website Gazeta.ru reports that the organization is planning to appeal to Russia’s Culture Ministry and Federal Property Management Agency, on the grounds that the government would have managed the villages in Tkachenko’s photos, if they were abandoned.
Konstantin Mikhailov, the coordinator of the watchdog group “Arkhnadzor,” has also condemned “Homeland,” telling Gazeta.ru, “This is our heritage, regardless of its state or protected status. In many cases, there is still people’s property in these homes, even if they’re abandoned.” Mikhailov has not, however, called for any actions against Danila Tkachenko.