Strelka Institute: The New Normal
Paul Van Herk
Speculative short film
This speculative video clip was developed as a collective initiative result of a field trip to the Kolyma region in the Russian Far East under the course of The New Normal Urban Design Think Tank in 2018.
Kolyma presents reserves of gold, silver, tin, tungsten, mercury, copper, antimony, coal, oil, peat and twenty-nine zones of possible oil and gas accumulation have been identified in the Sea of Okhotsk shelf.
Under Joseph Stalin’s rule, the area became the most notorious region for the Gulag labor camps between 1932 and 1954.. Tens of thousands or more people may have died en route to the area or in the Kolyma’s series of gold mining, road building, lumbering, and construction camps between 1932 and 1954.The principal town Magadan has nearly 100,000 inhabitants and is the largest port in north-eastern Russia. It remains open year-round thanks to icebreakers.
In December 2050 a supply chain archaeologist explores the ‘xenoboxes’ that dot the wintry landscape of old Kolyma Port. She accesses unintended archive-fragments (‘data fossils’) in the data storage of the boxes that narrates the lives, memes and visions of the nomadic avto-provodnitsas whose supervisory work was necessitated for a time by the transition of shipping networks to full automation.
As the xenoboxes were only intended to store localised data about discrete parts of the system, our archaeologist finds only fragmentations of communications and media in the domestic-scale xenoboxes. She hopes to piece together the ethnographic story of the avto-provodnitsas from these clips but instead discovers evidence that their collective impact on the larger system was much greater and more deliberate than anticipated.
The video oscillates between the silence of the now deserted destination node of Magadan and the fullness of the fragmented archives that capture its evolution from a place of extraction to a place of archive. It emerges from statistical and interview-based research into port automation and the global inversion of gender patterns in supply chain employment.