Katja Stuke, sans titre (thumb)
Peace, Pyramiden, Svalbard, September 2023
I took this photo moments after we got out of the parked bus to walk towards the abandoned town of Pyramiden. Our guide, Igor, with a rifle slung casually over his shoulder to protect us from polar bears, explained that the previous weekend he and another guide in Pyramiden had climbed up the side of the mountain to fix the words PEACE beneath the Russian words Миру Мир (Peace to the World). I asked if it was a difficult climb. He said it wasn’t very high, but the ground was very loose and they kept sliding back. They also knocked the hammer and sickle half way down the mountain by mistake. I didn’t quite know what to make of Igor’s deadpan delivery. I would find out more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, in those first minutes in Pyramiden, I felt the strange geometry of the landscape pull me into its force-field like some otherworldly Solaris-like realm. My eyes flitted about searching the horizon for polar bears, in between dipping back into a past I knew had absolutely vanished in 1991. I’d been there at the end. This was a film-set, but more stirring and alive and contradictory than any film set.
Back to School, Digital Photograph, Willis, Virginia, 2023.
Warm light so hot I can almost taste it. A bus covered in weeds and vines home to squirrels cobwebs lining broken window panes. A bus that could have been my bus when I was growing up. The driver stopping slowly at the curb and waiting for a gaggle of kids to trudge on. A gang of middle school bullies sizing you up as you turn past the stairs. Furtively meeting someone’s eyes to find a seat. No seat belts. The rumble of the engine and the screech of the brakes as you lurch forward.
Thankful the wheels could go round and round without the threat of dead bodies lying in the street hanging over my head and freezing me in my tracks.
Autumn Sunrise in the Garden, oil on canvas, 150 cm x 200 cm, 2023