Mikhail Tolmachev

Still from Natural Zones, 2014/2022, Mikhail Tolmachev

The project Natural Zones examines the relationship between power and territory based on the last remaining Stalin-era construction site in northwestern Siberia.

Natural Zones deals with an unfinished, vast railway construction project that was initiated by Josef Stalin and was supposed to cross large parts of the northern Soviet Union at the latitude of the Arctic Circle. Its construction was carried out mainly by the hands of tens of thousands of prisoners. By the time of Stalin’s death in 1953, the railway had not been completed. The railway passes through the territory of Yamal that has a long history of being commercially and industrially colonised by Russia, and used for the extraction of minerals, oil, and gas.


Today one of the largest natural gas fields is located in Yamal, and the gas has been transported to Europe through 4,107 kilometres of natural gas pipeline. Yamal is also the home of the indigenous Nenets people, whose traditional ways of living are now being disrupted by the effects of climate change. This complex history is being told through a folding screen playing with the idea of how it represents an agreement of how to use and negotiate space, it makes a division between something public, visible for everyone to see, and something private that is hidden.


Mikhail Tolmachev was born in Moscow, lives and works in Leipzig and Berlin. In his practice, he looks into the constantly evolving status of a document and politically mediated production of truth and reality. He collaborates with writers, historians, and artists to explore fractures of representation and the violent history of visibility.