Balaklava Odyssey

 Balaklava is situated in the extreme south of the Crimean peninsula; its roots stretch to very ancient times. Only ten years ago this bay was closed for tourists and civilians, due to one of the most secret installations of the Soviet Union: a hangar for submarines and a storage space for nuclear armaments. Only due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liquidation of the Black Sea Fleet was Balaklava opened. Today it exists as a huge unexplored territory and historical lab.

During the siege of Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet team hid submarines in Balaklava. The city, being a garrison, was closed. Immediately after the “Hot War,” the city entered the context of the “Cold War” without a break. Since Balaklava was hermetically sealed off from the outer world, the inhabitants of this place passed special check points only with special passes issued by police. As the Soviet secret service readied for a nuclear attack on Sevastopol and Balaklava by America, in the 1950s the construction of the gallery in the Taurus Mountain began. Immense amounts of money were spent on the construction of the anti-nuclear bunker, which included workshops for repairing submarines, a torpedo plant, and an arsenal for keeping nuclear warheads. The confidential military name for this gallery was “Object 825,” and its security was divided into three spheres, which were all kept in the dark about each others’ activities; the workers and officers of the submarine part did not know anything about the existence of the other parts. The name of Balaklava disappeared from all Soviet maps. Even some of the inhabitants of Sevastopol did not know about the existence of the neighboring settlement.

The tunnel to the missile canal. Photo by Oleg Chernous ( The main canal, submarine berth. Photo by Oleg Chernous ( Dry dock. Photo by Oleg Chernous ( The torpedo testing room. Photo by Oleg Chernous (

As in Berlin, the front line of the Cold War ran through Balaklava in the form of thirteen patrols that were set up in order to protect the town from spies and intruders. Berlin was the extreme western point of the Iron Curtain, and Crimea was its east. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Wall fell, and former Soviet secret military bases, unlike American ones, were opened.

From 1991, the demilitarization of the bay began, and the checkpoints disappeared. The withdrawal of the military and the distinction of the Soviet fleet into Ukrainian and Russian units resulted in a vacuum of responsibility in the military city of Sevastopol and in Balaklava, including the former military installations. At that time, the useless “Object 825” was maintained by the city administration until 2000, and was then abandoned due to lack of financing. In this unattended state, “Object 825” was robbed and stripped of its metal and electronic equipment. At the same time that these wild robberies occurred, Balaklava was undergoing a process of assimilation in the form of real estate deals and land speculations. The city administration did not work out a plan to return the town’s identity and importance in the sphere of culture.

The “Balaklava Odyssey” festival, which took place in the tunnels that perforate the Taurus Mountain, established a counterpoint to the recent military past of the Black Sea bay and sought to uncover its cultural and historical diversity. Artists and filmmakers from nine countries were invited to work in a spectrum of media that ranged from the visual arts to live performances, and which referred to the history of Balaklava. The results of the creative work were presented in August 2006 for three days in the tunnels, canals, and workshops of the submarine hangar, which is now used as a Ukrainian museum. The visitors passed 1.5 kilometers along the long underground exhibition corridor where exhibits alternated between graphic art and audio-visual performances.

In one of the exhibition spaces, a huge hall where submarines were formerly assembled, the ( artists group, a part of Trans-Media-Academy in Hellerau, Germany, showed a video-dance-show. The artists brought modern equipment and installed it in the submarine gallery, highlighting the contrast between the destroyed and abandoned installation space and the live performance of the dancer Nora Schott. By means of a special system that followed her body movements, her motions were scanned and integrated into the sound background and video images, connecting her dancing in the present to the stories of the past. (Ger). “Iphigenia Tourist.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Alexander Grigorias & Levana German (RO) “Room with view.”Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.

Young Romanian artists Alexander Grigorias and Levana German tried to express the point of view of one of the inhabitants of Balaklava by expressing this perspective in the form of a video-installation. They used the image of one of the Balaklava rooms with a view of the bunker and animated it through a special video program.

Soviet music from the 1950-60s carried the spectators back to a time when the gallery played a different role in the lives of the inhabitants of the Black Sea bay, when it functioned as a storage hall where torpedoes were kept.

The Kiev-based group RES (Revolutionary Experimental Space), newcomers in art who have already achieved success, tried to catch the apocalyptical atmosphere of “Object 825” and turn it into its opposite. In the arsenal where nuclear warheads used to be stored and assembled, RES displayed their huge pictures in an attempt to create the Taurus variant of the magnificent Saint Petersburg Hermitage gallery in this former military installation. The works of other artists, such as Klaus Pobitzer’s ( project consisting of 1,600 tins used to create a huge fire show on one of the Balaklava mountains, referred to the history of Balaklava, too. Equally significant was the text generator by Hendrik Schumacher (, Germany), which compiled a few written sources connected to the ancient Crimean bay and reflected these texts on the gallery walls, thus transmitting different aspects of the history of Balaklava.

Klaus Pobitzer, “Fire-Laistrygon.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Hendrik Schumacher (GER) “Random ways to Tauris.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.

All these exhibits were representative of a wide spectrum of art. Artists Aleksander Janicki ( ) (Poland) and Joulia Strauss ( (Germany), for example, used 3D animation and video, and the work of Olga Kumeger ( (Russia) and Marta Ladjanszki ( (Hungary) attracted attention due to the interlacing of computer graphics and dancing.

 Aleksander Janicki (PL) “Black Box.”Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Joulia Strauss (Ger) “Romantic Regeneration.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Olga Kumeger (RU), Marta Ladjánszki (HU) & Alexei Borisov “Iphigenia on Tauris.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.

Simona Sbaffi ( (Switzerland) artistically recited the texts of Euripides, and Claudia Plank with Hans Werner Poschauko (Austria) made a play of rituals, costumes, and singing. The acoustics of this underground construction came into play in the concert of the experimental electronic music of Kotra ( (Ukraine), Alexei Borisov (Russia), Andrey Kiritschenko (Ukraine) and Motor ( (Russia), a constituent and impressive part of which was seen in the computer graphics of Nikita Tsymbal ( (Russia).

Simona Sbaffi (Ch). “Iphigenia Underground.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Claudia Plank & Hans-Werner Poschauko “Holy Water.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Dmytro Fedorenko (alias Kotra) & Andrej Kiritshenko (UA) “Concert for Electronic Music.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina. Nikita Tsymbal & Vadim Ugrjumov (alias Motor) “Space is the place.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.

Audio-visual devices created new contrasts with the real military spaces of these art installations. In the opera by Nikolai Morozov (Russia), presented in the former dry dock of “Object 825,” musical instruments such as the harp were used, and the improvisational art of the orchestra “Fusion” (Ukraine) was expressed in a form of the reaction of the electric guitar playing to the true, real-life sounds of the hangar. The creaking of the steel doors and cranes re-appropriated and found a new use for the objects that used to be military. Different time periods, typical for Balaklava, were impressively reflected by Natalia Poloka ( (Russia), who exposed such real findings of the ancient times as archeological pieces of potsherd, submarine equipment, and toys of the times when there was a bunker in the Taurus Mountain.

 Fusion Orchestra (UA) “Singing Doors.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.  Fusion Orchestra (UA) “Singing Doors.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.  Fusion Orchestra (UA) “Singing Doors.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.  Natalia Poloka (RU) “Objects in the object.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.

Apart from artists, the festival also involved images of the military, which were represented in the gallery: in the spaces of the former torpedo workshops, spectators could see large-sized portraits of the veterans in their working places. All this was realized by the Moscow-based photographer Oleg Chernous ( An important objective of the festival was the dialogue and exchange of opinions between the artists and the inhabitants of Balaklava, and mutual meditations about the versatile past of the Bay of the Black Sea. All of it was the first contribution to the revelation of the bay in the widest international and cultural sense.

Oleg Chernous, “Photo Exhibition Object 825.” Video still filmed by Svetlana Kasarina.  Oleg Chernous, “Photo Exhibition Object 825.” Colonel of technical service Ivan Gavrilovitsh Orishenko, by the fleet between 1945-1990. Photo by Oleg Chernous ( Oleg Chernous, “Photo Exhibition Object 825.” Senior midshipman Anatoliy Andreyevitsh Tertytshniy, served as construction worker in the gallery 1957-1959. Photo by Oleg Chernous ( Oleg Chernous, “Photo Exhibition Object 825.” Main foreman Zinaida Ivanovna Boiyko, senior storekeeper of a ware warehouse in the gallery 1965—1994. Photo Exhibition Object 825”. Photo by Oleg Chernous (

The artistic objective of the festival was to present the history of Balaklava to spectators. Within that frame, the empty gallery became a perfect place for the event. Different historic events of this place were preserved here simultaneously, and the inheritance of ancient times interlaced with the ideologies and fears of the Cold War. The artists had an opportunity to use the gigantic spaces of the submarine hangar and incorporate into their works the elements of the history of this settlement, which were presented to the spectators in the form of an Odyssey. Along all the route of the festival, different medial interfaces emerged that layered oral texts and visual presentations were layered. The events and stories passed in parallel and were reflected on the walls of the gallery. The myths mixed with reality, the fantasy with the military and ancient artifacts. During the festival, a multi-layered heterogeneous combination of art that expressed the story of Balaklava was produced, which might be better than the linear narration of the historic events in a text.

Sebastian Kaiser was educated in Cultural and Theater studies in Berlin, Moscow, and Leipzig and currently works as a curator and writer of documentary films and TV-reports. Along with Roman Markholia (Moscow), he is the producer and curator of the International Media and Performance Festival Balaklava Odyssey Kasseler Dokumentarifilm & Videofest in Germany. (Balaklava, Ukraine, April-June, 2006) and has directed a documentary by the same title, which was nominated for best film at the Kasseler Dokumentarifilm & Videofest in Germany.

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