Stalking the Chernobyl Zone: Atmospheres, Temporalities and Vital Remainders

April 13, 2019

A Symposium

Saturday, April 13, 10:00AM–2:30PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

For many the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is mostly a tragic marker of a great mistake, an illustration of the dangers of nuclear power, and one of the last nails in the coffin of the USSR. Its continued existence is often reduced to little more than an adventurous tourist destination or a seemingly endless cleanup project. In June 2018, a group of us travelled to the Zone for a three-day research expedition to spend time thinking the site within the site. We took seriously the status of the Zone as an environmental and political concern, as well as an ongoing experiment on the very concepts of life and the ecological lessons in the (im)possibility of recovery. Our goal was to create a set of documents that does justice to its material, political, and affective complexity. During this one-day symposium, we will share our findings.

By weaving together small paragraphs surrounding ideas, reminiscences, historical facts, and feelings of place, Lindsey Freeman’s ethnographic prose chases the circling affects and memories of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 to trace how a certain 86ness can never leave the place. She carefully examines how half-lives swirl around this time into our time like the swirling eyes of cartoon characters under hypnosis or in extreme shock in order to invite us to think zonally, which, for her, also means to think about attempts to contain the uncontainable. Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı ponders about the existence of vital signs in a post-apocalyptic landscape and where to look for the presence of life in the Exclusion Zone. Although most stories about the landscape contaminated by radioactive fallout tend to narrate life in terms of decay, everyone who has been there is astonished by how this decay meets revitalization in flourishing green that, she suggests, opens a possibility for a different narrative. Adrian Ivakhiv will situate the Chernobyl ‘hyper-event’ of April 26, 1986, within a series of spatio-temporal layers––from the local and national to Cold War geopolitics to the techno-industrial and geological––to theorize the nature of time as nonlinear, processual, and irredeemably open. Svitlana Matviyenko draws the connections between the infrastructure, territory and the body––human and non-human––the subject ofthe post-damage cultural, legal, political, geopolitical, biological and ecological regimes. She will theorize “citizenship,” as a relation between persons and any non-human people(Morton) performed as a membership in a certain political and territorial body that, in the case of the Chernobyl Zone, is literally inscribed in the matter of contaminated flesh of its biological citizens’ (Petryna). For Eldritch Priest the Chernobyl Zone might be considered less a place to enter and occupy than a disposition. To stalk the zone is, then, to query the temperamental horizons of thought that determine its very idea and shape its forms of expression. Experimenting with “melody-casting” as a way to draw out the affective tonalities and ambient contours of his wanders through forgotten cemeteries, overgrown boulevards, and secret radar arrays, he asks not what the Zone is but what mood it’s in. 



10 AM - 11:50 AM

Moderated by Stephen Collis (SFU, English)

Svitlana Matviyenko (SFU, Communication) – Introductory Remarks
Lindsey Freeman (SFU, Sociology) – 86ness
Adrian Ivakhiv (University Vermont) – The Zone is Us: Times & Spaces of a Hyper-Event


12 PM - 2:15 PM

Moderated by John O'Brian (UBC)

Sanem Güvenç-Salgırlı (Emily Carr) – Vital Signs in a Postapocalyptic Landscape
Svitlana Matviyenko (SFU, Communication) – Citizenship and Contamination
Eldritch Priest (SFU, Contemporary Arts) – Melody, Mood, and the Zone as a Hole