Vyksa Steelworks History Museum (Vyksa, Russia)

The project is presented in the gallery of Vyksa Steelworks History Museum. Using the example of a mono-town born around the plant, which later became the flagship of Russian metal industry, “Drunken Forest” examines the metamorphoses of the archaic worldview.

Vyksa plant foundation in the middle of the XVIII century coincided with the final stages of the Christianization of Russia – a violent and painful process manifested in regular peasants’ riots, withdrawal into forests and banditry. Partly due to this, dense forests, repeatedly described in folk tales and myths, had ill fame. M. Zagoskin in his novel “Yuri Miloslavsky” (1826) describes these forests in the following way, “He who happened to pass through them, with horror imagines the impenetrable depth of the wild deserts, flowing sands covered with moss and thick spruce grove, impassable swamps, gloomy glades, laid with whole generations of gigantic pines sprouted, grown and decayed in the same places where their ancestors, as old as the hills, once used to tower; in a nutshell, nowadays many people imagine Murom forests as “a shelter of witches, wolves, robbers and evil spirits”.” Thus, one can assume that this ancient and distinctive land with its myths, sacred trees and stones was unlikely ready to face progress.
The plant marked fundamental changes in the local population’s worldview becoming a symbol of complex social transformations of the entire era. The “dark” worldview, full of superstitions, rituals and rites, similar to iron ore, was lifted from the depths of the pagan past, fragmented and in the technological flame melted into the first iron bridges, rails, openwork stairs, cannonballs and pretentious sculptures of triumphal arches. Pagan worldview, organically linked to nature and interacting with it at the magic-spell level, was confused and disoriented.

Based on 9 charred platbands, the central work of the project transforms the gallery space into a village street.
In traditional Slavic culture, the platband has the function of a charm, it protects home and keeps evil spirits away from it, at the same time becoming a peculiar form of identification. Metal panels with frost patterns generated by legendary Russian frost are mounted in their frames. Frost is a Slavic deity often associated with a blacksmith who ice-chains rivers, decorates trees with silvery snow, and with a single touch can freeze a person. People feared Frost and glorified it because it not only annoyed people, but also protected them from enemies. After all, it was Frost who stopped the adversaries with its sever cold weather, pushed enemies under the ice, as it happened with the Teutons on Lake Peipus, or with the French and German armies forever stuck in the snows of Russia.
The floor of the gallery is covered in metallurgical slag excavated and assembled specifically for the exhibition. This slag is still used in lining country roads despite the controversy about its toxicity.
The conceptual center of the exposition is a photograph of an ice-hole made on the lake right behind the building of the museum. The ancient ritual of swimming in the ice-hole is still topical in Russia. Despite having been appropriated by the Orthodox Church, this tradition dates back to the pre-Christian era – the times when it was an initiatory rite. According to the researchers, the ancient Scythians bathed their babies in icy water, thus accustoming them to the harsh nature.

The fire that swept the Russian forests in 2010 was a kind of project catalyst. The fierce struggle with the fire lasted for about two months acquiring a national character. Huge plots of age-old forests were destroyed, dozens of people were killed by the fire, thousands of houses – burned down. Absorbing entire villages, the fire came close to the cities, and its smog reached Moscow forcing the residents of the capital to put on respirators. Moreover, the cinder from the Russian fires crossed the Arctic and even reached North America...
According to the official version, the cause of the fire was drought, abnormally high temperatures and the so-called grilled meat amateurs. That is why in the altar area of the gallery, similar to a real ritual altar, the brazier has been installed.

Jura Shust