Growing up in the Cold War era, memories of air raid drills, backyard bomb shelters, and watching Kruzchev on a fuzzy black and white TV screen beating the speakers podium at the U.N. with his shoe while proclaiming that Russia would bury the United States, helped form Sarah Hart's early vision of the Soviet Union. In 1992 when she visited the Soviet Union for the first time, she carried some of those memories with her, along with an image of a country informed by dreary newsreel footage, and black and white photographs from numerous picture magazines. Hart found and photographed the monochromatic public landscape, but also discovered that people's private lives were filled with color, music, and a passion for eating and drinking. The difference between the public and private life struck Hart as so extreme that it became a starting point for her to discover a country she was just beginning to know.
In a previous documentary project Hart described the socialization of suburban girls in northern Los Angeles County, and their 'entry into consumer culture and the process of constructing a gender identity.' While in Russia she spent a good deal of time with a group of teenage girls in the industrial city of Mytishi just north of Moscow. In one of Hart's photographs taken at a 15th birthday party, a group of very animated girls are playing a fortune telling game meant for children. A crucial age in any society, the girls in the photograph are at the end of being little girls, and laughing at themselves for playing a children's game. Hart sensed that most of the teenage girls she met in Russia, unlike their American counterparts, have no plans for the future, and yet they can no longer hold on to their innocent past. The precarious position of these teenagers allows them to be easily seduced by even minimum exposure to Western advertising that promises a commodity oriented future.
Trying to deal with a deteriorating social system, uncertain futures, and being disjointed from the historical past are just a few of the difficulties facing all Russians as they entertain possibilities for the future. The sense of feeling disjointed from the historical past is evident in Hart's photograph of a statue depicting an iconographic young soviet. As snow covers the statue it becomes obliterated from view along with the history and vision of the former Soviet Union that it symbolizes. In another photograph, a young girl mimics a statue of Lenin. That she can so easily and freely poke fun at a revered Soviet hero speaks to the swift and total change in the culture, and perhaps the relaxed attitude and sense of humor that will be needed to survive an uncertain future.
Sarah Hart lives in Amherst, MA and participated in our Artist-in-Residence program in June 1994.
Jeffrey Hoone (c)1995