As a child I lived in a suburb of Moscow, in a newly built apartment building surrounded in equal measure by architectural decay and rapid construction. Not far from my home was a crumbling WWII era train station, its entrance hall, once intricately adorned with hand painted moulding, was now an abandoned pit of refuse many feet deep. A treacherous ocean of broken glass, splintered wood and rusted metal that one waded into at great peril in order to fish for the hidden fragments of ornament submerged within. One day I found a plaster flower pendant as large as my hand, it was colored blue, pink and cream. I was so happy, I ran to show my parents but most of the plaster crumbled in my hands before I reached home.
This train station was next to an abandoned hospital, a dirty four-story building oozing with the smell of decay. During WWII wounded soldiers would be transported there from the front. It was common knowledge amongst the neighborhood children that the hospital was haunted by spirits whose malevolence was beyond imagining. Though we freely played everywhere else, only once did we dare venture inside its outer walls, and only then to briefly step inside the musky darkness of a silent hallway, before the anxiety of our transgression overwhelmed our curiosity and we fled back to safety. One evening the hospital caught fire, everyone assumed it was arson. With great excitement the entire neighborhood gathered outside to watch. A circle of people with upturned faces illuminated by an impossibly tall tower of flames snaking up into the night sky. A final destruction for an already destroyed place.
I use to be amazed that no matter how abandoned, hard to reach and out of the way a place was, it invariably contained the vestigial remains of human visitation. Climb to the top of a mountain and you’ll find an empty beer can, hike out to a lake in the middle of nowhere and there’s an candy wrapper, stumble across an abandoned house and there’s a collection of used spray cans. At first I believed this litter to be an act of willful thoughtlessness and this made me angry, but eventually I realized that it’s the complete opposite, we want to leave a trace of ourselves behind. When there are no witnesses to affirm our existence we leave proofs to a future audience using a language that will survive our absence. Some communications are merely accidental, some are much more specific. On very rare occasions the message feels as though it was intended for us and us alone.
When something is finally destroyed as in a great fire, it takes with it not only the place itself but all of the traces of all of the people that have ever left something of themselves there. When I make something at a particular site, I’m entering into a dialogue with all the people that preceded me, and like my predecessors I leave behind an anonymous message for the next visitor.
Photography & Text by Alex Yudzon