Marina Istomina

2019 - 2021

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, XVIII century

We would wake up and not see a thing. The smell of burning filled my nose. Helicopters were hovering in the air like wagtails, I was gathering dead insects. It seemed to me that the city was like them: struggling to breathe, yet 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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