The Inferno and Other Art

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Mural of a firefighter hard at work in Ternei, Primorye, Russia. Photograph courtesy Anton Gabrielson.

The Russian province of Primorye is unexpectedly rich in public art, particularly the capital city of Vladivostok. This port town is awash with stunning renderings of cityscapes, landscapes, and surrealism that blanket a diversity of otherwise grey spaces peppered throughout the city. Decaying building walls, rusty metal fences, and other urban canvases pop with color and creativity to reward any individuals who take the time to notice their surroundings. A bus stop near downtown is shaded by a relief cut into the concrete; a tree with branches interweaving to spell the word “Vladivostok.” A life-sized and colorful trolley-car adorns the brick retaining wall in another part of town along an unused railway track. And by the bay, a massive whale crowds the side of a two-story building; painted in a way that the windows of the second floor become houses in a city tenuously supported on the back of the enormous cetacean.

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A mosaic in Dalnegorsk. Photograph Ⓒ Jonathan C. Slaght

There is notable artwork in other parts of the province as well. Further north, for example, a neglected corner of the city of Dalnegorsk hides an arresting and vivid example of Soviet space art, a mosaic three stories tall.

But my favorite public art in Primorye, without question, is a mural decorating an outbuilding of the fire house in the village of Ternei, some 650 km northeast of Vladivostok. Although the above photograph captures it a bit past its prime, I remain intrigued by the intentions of this anonymous artist. Intentionally or not, he or she captured palpable indifference in this firefighter; a faceless figure casually sprinkling the few remaining charred beams with a weak stream of water. Too little, too late.

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