Liquidators was first shown at Camerawork, London, in the exhibition 10 years after Chernobyl curated by Helen Sloan in 1996. Versions of the work were shown in Northern Ireland, Finland and Croatia.
Liquidators and Conversations with Liquidators are the result of two visits to Chernobyl in ’93 and ’95. In October 1995 I visited the Institute of Clinical Radiology in Kiev with Helen Sloan who, at the time was the curator of Camerawork, London. We were researching for an exhibition commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and Helen and I spent a week recording the recollections of a group of Liquidators who were patients at the Institute. Less than a decade earlier the Liquidators had been mobilised to decontaminate the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the surrounding region following the nuclear accident in reactor 4 on 26th April 1986. The Liquidators of the Chernobyl accident is the name given to the 800,000 people who were enlisted into the military and other public services, to take part in the clean up operation at Chernobyl Power Station. After their service they were sent home to resume normal lives, but normality was never to return. It is estimated that the Liquidators lost between 60% – 80% of their ability to work and suffered a cocktail of radiation induced illnesses.
Liquidators is a video journey around the Chernobyl Power Plant, the workers town Pripet and Chernobyl town using footage shot by Pam Skelton in ’93 and ’95. The journey is both a reflection of the artist who undertakes the journey and that of a fictional character, Velimir Adnavryen who for a day takes on the role of scribe for his generation. The author and narrator, Bernard Hoepffner uses the ‘writings’ of Adnavryen as a vehicle to portray firsthand experiences of Chernobyl and to record his impressions of the disaster and its impact. In Hoepffner’s words, “(Adnavryen) is redrawing (he prefers writing) the site, the country, the land of Black Wormwood.”
Conversations with Liquidators is a series of video conversations with several Liquidators who were patients at the Institute of Clinical Radiology in Kiev. The men who generously contributed to this video were asked to talk about their experiences during and after the Chernobyl disaster and to evaluate what they had been through. Documented in the Institute’s formal boardroom the anxiety of the Liquidators and interviewers inflects the video with a starkness that is occasionally offset with an irruption of humour or ordinariness.