The protagonist of any fairy tale, sooner or later, finds themselves in a dark, thick forest. Their journey either transforms the protagonist in a major way, or brings them into a new world, or — in certain circumstances — lands them in the nether world. Research by the renowned scholar of folklore Vladimir Propp describes several models of constructing a fairy-tale narrative. Analysing the story structures, he poses a hypothesis that folk tales contain trace elements of ancient initiation rites. The forest in the tale is often described in broad strokes without any specific detail, just as something mysterious and home to peculiar locations, huts, or cabins, of ritualistic purposes. After millennia of human history, in the modern forest, it is still possible to find surreal structures, resembling the architecture of ritual pyramids built by our ancestors. Nature and these objects are the subject matter of the graphical panorama series by Taisia Korotkova, Dark Forest.
The projects by Taisia Korotkova explore the contemporary state of science and address such themes as the state of the art in human reproduction (Reproduction series, 2009–2012), space exploration (Technology series, 2007, and Museum of Cosmonautics series, 2013–2018), the legacy the Soviet industrial complex (Closed Russia and ITEP series 2013–2015). The new series Dark Forest expands the artist’s geography and introduces the ruins of Cold War-era military projects, located in different parts of the world. As preparation, the artist browsed online blogs by urban explorers (or stalkers), who produce accounts of their trips to abandoned industrial sites. Their stories are sometimes reminiscent of narratives akin to folklore. Stalkers venture into the forest in seeking adventure and unique experiences, and explore classified environmentally hazardous, and life-threatening ‘zones’. Having completed such a journey makes you feel like a hero, which brings stalkers even closer to the characters in magical tales. Taisia Korotkova created these works on laminated tablecloths, as a reference to the rituals of hospitality, traditionally assigned to be carried out by women. The pieces become the flip side of a militarised ‘male’ world that produces weapons. By stitching the tablecloths together, the artist evokes the role of women as storytellers as well as their roles in the ancient rites of initiation.
Dark Forest by Taisia Korotkova is a realm of the mysterious, close to both fairy tales and the Zone from the Roadside Picnic story by the Strugatsky brothers — where the magical is also the dangerous, and food can also be poison. Surrounded by landscapes devoid of human presence, the secret military installations are encircled with tree, grass, and shrub species that would co-exist so closely together only as a result of an environmental disaster. Taisia Korotkova invites the audience to follow in the footsteps of a wandering stalker, contemplating the civilizational collapse amid the ruins and ghosts of the past. At the same time, this is an invitation to pose as an engaged observer, who explores the kingdom of plastic-eating fungi, medicinal and magical herbs, imperceptible dust particles, and plastic debris transformed by sea water. The book Being Ecological by the British philosopher Timothy Morton advises a change of attitude to nature and acceptance of its instability, wildness, and uncontrollability so that people refrain from the stance of exceptionality and go for new modalities of coexistence with other species. In this sense, Taisia Korotkova’s project works to undermine the anthropocentric view and suggests that we look at the flip side of science and nature to recognise the endless complexity and structural interdependence of the world.