Suffocation

Be fertile, be laughing, train a good hunter for God, take care of your husband (originally: ‘hold him in your arms’), bring up your child well, let him have plenty of fire.

 

A Tungusic shaman incantation, XVII century

 

We woke up and didn’t see a thing. The smell of burning filled my nose. Helicopters hovered in the air like wagtails. I gathered dead insects. It seems that, like them, the city was struggling, yet was somehow still alive.

 

In 2019 more than 14,000 wildfires occurred in Russia. By the end of the season, 277 criminal investigations had been initiated. One-fifth of the fires spread through Siberia and Irkutsk region where the forest that belonged to nobody was turned into a political game board. The photos in the news depict green wood burst by red flames, but they almost never show particular individuals responsible for setting the forest on fire, supporting illegal deforestation and seizing the seemingly untouched area. Media photography, being in charge of representing the problem worldwide, becomes the evidence of concealed incidents where the key figures are men: legislators, ministers, hunters, foresters, firefighters and criminal groups leaders.

Turning conventional masculine roles upside-down, imparting the strength, that is normally stays unseen, into feminine, I am confronting rational with emotional, religious with scientific, real and imaginary. Three women – a scientist, a shaman and a wildfires witness – are playing out a common situation as masterful tricksters. A situation where one can find archetypes of potential malefactors who have something to do with bureaucracy, politics and mythology. Connecting a number of time periods and historical contexts, three heroines explore on different levels the issue of intentional burning, taking the attention back not only to the problem and consequences of wildfires, but also to the hidden reasons of their emergence.

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Marina Istomina