Nicky Larkin, Pripyat, video still, running time: 15 minutes; image held here

Pripyat, by Nicky Larkin, submerges you – in its mere fifteen minutes – into a world of the forgotten. [1] Pripyat, the town built specifically to house the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and now located in the 36km-diameter ‘dead zone’, acts simultaneously as a both mute witness and unexpected monument to the accident/ disaster in April 1986.

If one is to Google ‘Pripyat’, a monsoon of harrowing facts and figures swamp the screen. In contrast, Larkin rather overwhelms you with the power of ‘the still’.  The film is composed of a series of fixed-camera images that linger in timed slots; deliberately slow-paced, a foreboding sense of desertion and abandonment consumes the visitor. Transfixed by each image, you cannot escape the sense of almost gagged noise – buildings, rooms complete with minor yet abandoned personal belongings, idle streets, dry swimming pools, barren amusement parks, all once buzzing with life’s mundanity now stand empty and forsaken, robbed by a formless, timeless, vicious enemy. Eerily, such images slide forward from the depths and linger, motionless, trapping us, and then retreat back to the unknown darkness from which they came.

Nicky Larkin, Pripyat, video still, running time: 15 minutes; image held here

However, despite our expectations for grave, earnest silence, they are never realized. The devastating feeling of lifelessness is almost nullified by the Hollywood-zombie-esque music that echoes randomly throughout, permeating each scene with a sense of ‘selling out’. You find yourself unintentionally slipping into the realm of constructed fiction, compelled by the unnecessary music. You uncomfortably end up expecting – waiting – for something sinister (and green, in my imagination) to jump out from behind a semi-open door or from beyond the confines of the camera lens. Only this never happens – instead, a type of hollow, guilty realization sets in that this is an actuality, life did not choose nor want to vacate the scenes present in the film – it had to. The hurting reality is left to sink in again.

Nicky Larkin, Pripyat, video still, running time: 15 minutes; image held here

It is due to this recognition of reality that the images captured and shared, however odd, feel like and morph into our own glimpses of the city, it could be any city, any apartment room, only the Soviet Block-type architecture gives it away. As though looking at them with familiar eyes, they are just regular, unsurprising scenes and their randomness of assortment become like flashes of memory returning in hazy bursts, only to drift back into the depths of the forgotten and beyond our grasp again. The only activity present is the oddly thriving foliage of trees, and insects that scuttle mindlessly about, feeding unthinkingly off the radiation-embedded ground. Larkin captures nature defying the unnatural.  

It is disconcerting that no mediator appears present; we are only made aware of the cameraman or Larkin himself by the sound of an occasional shuffle or foot-fall – which in themselves seem hauntingly alien. Silence would have been apt in mirroring the now soundless city.

Kasia Murphy is a recent graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, in History of Art and Architecture.

[1] This review focuses on Nicky Larkin’s work in this exhibition.