Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy Report

On 9 and 10 October 2015, Dark Ecology and Fridaymilk organised a two-day Critical Writing Academy in Murmansk. Nine Norwegian and Russian writers with a connection to the Barents Region were selected to take part in the Academy led by me and the experts Furqat Palvazande (RU) and Arne Skaug Olsen (NO), who shared their insights into specific aspects of their craft (language, style, context. framework, focus). They are now in the process of providing feedback on texts written by the participants.

Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015, excursion to Murmansk Harbour. Photo by Rosa Menkman
The Academy was organised with several objectives in mind: to enhance the art of critical writing while communicating the themes of the three-year Dark Ecology Project to a broader audience of writers who might help to document upcoming Journeys and local residencies. The Academy also intended to build and foster an interconnected, horizontal community of critical writers across the Barents Region, which can provide a vital infrastructure for any future projects, in order to have a more lasting and distributed impact. Fridaymilk curated an inspirational programme, which took us to three different locations in the harbour: Alyosha, the ‘dead’ part of the harbour (which seems to have been turned in a military zone) and the still ‘alive’ part, to illustrate ‘the lost myth of Murmansk’.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015, excursion to Murmansk Harbour. Photo by Rosa Menkman
Murmansk was founded 99 years ago because of increased activities around this new port. This is demonstrated by the city’s coat of arms, which depicts a fish, a boat and auroras. At that time Murmansk was a vital Soviet transit hub, connecting one of Russia’s northernmost railway stations to a port to facilitate Arctic convoys of weapons and minerals. But over the last few decades the industrial and fishing activities in the region have significantly declined. Today large parts of the port of Murmansk have been turned into a ships’ cemetery: what once made up the identity of the city have turned into disintegrated carcasses, inseparable from nature and the landscape. Besides Alyosha and the ‘zombie harbour’ the participants also visited Lenin (Ленин), a decommissioned nuclear-powered icebreaker – now a museum – that is docked alongside the Rosatomflot, the world’s only active nuclear-powered fleet of icebreakers.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015, Inside the Lenin Icebreaker. Photo by Rosa Menkman
After this trip, a number of common threads surfaced among the participants: landscape, mythology and action vs. impact, but above all the story of a younger generation of Murmansk locals became a subject of conversation. Anton Petrunin and Liana Mkhitarian, Murmansk-based participants in the Critical Writing Academy, explained their perspectives on the issue of leaving Murmansk to live elsewhere (often in Moscow), which resonated among them and their friends. They explained their quest for anything that sets Murmansk apart from other Arctic and Russian cities and what it feels like to live inside the remnants of a history they will never be a part of.
Dark Ecology Critical Writing Academy 2015. Photo by Rosa Menkman
The two very busy days flew by but we did ignite some important discussions. Together with the Norwegian participants, I had to board a mini-bus that would take us from Murmansk back to Kirkenes. Just before we entered Zapolyarny, a town famous for its nickel ore industry, I saw the beautiful snowy tundra landscape with newly informed eyes: the many little black trees, resembling dead sticks more than living, growing organisms, had become poignant indicators of a region heavily polluted with sulphur dioxide. As leader of the Critical Writing Academy I had also discovered a new perspective. RM Go to the Sonic Acts Flickr page for the full visual report.

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