FEATURE: 28:86 Collective | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Photograph by Claire A Baker

On 26th April, 1986, a catastrophic nuclear accident took place at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine. Whilst the disaster killed, injured and continues to affect an immeasurable amount of people, it also contributed to the alarming level of public suspicion that surrounds the safety of nuclear power.

Of course, this haunting event is also the namesake of the 28:86 Collective: a group of North-East artists determined to explore and subsequently expose the nature of life in the internationally infamous ghost-town of Pripyat. In short, they aim to raise awareness of how this disaster transformed lives – and continues to do so. Claire A Baker, who founder of the collective, describes how it came about. “In 2014, I started studying for an MA and, initially, I was interested in ‘Dark Tourism’ – when people travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. This stemmed from my interest in exploring abandoned buildings, and upon discovering that you could actually visit chernobyl, I immediately decided to go there myself.”

we want people to know that the effects are still being felt, as it has almost been forgotten

As it has been for many others, the trip proved an utterly moving one. Claire decided to return as soon as she could, discussing the possibility of creating some artwork based on her experiences with family and friends.

“I realised that most of the people who responded by saying, ‘I would LOVE to go there’ were also creatives, so we, a group of artists, organised a self-funded trip on the 30th anniversary of the event. After this, we wanted to make and exhibit artwork in order to inform as many people as possible about the accident – we want people to know that the effects are still being felt, as it has almost been forgotten.”

Naturally, each artist had their own interpretation of the trip: whilst Claire’s work is concerned with loss, “particularly of domesticity, evacuation and the dispersion of peoples”,  Nicola Golightly’s work is based on lost places and found objects. Gavin Vaughan’s intricate embroidery is based on a chinstrap from a fireman’s helmet found in a hospital in Pripyat  (which was still highly radioactive when it was found) and Niall Kitching has produced a series of brash, anti-propaganda banners based on the “graphic Russian posters seen in the zone”.

Other artists were influenced by radioactive fallout, a city of empty apartment blocks and the notion of a ‘model city’. Further inspiration was garnered from chance meetings with some of the self settlers; that is, the few people who had managed to return to and live in the zone.

The exhibition has toured all over the North East, gaining more and more popularity each time.This month, however, the collective aim to bring their work one step further with their finale, which takes place in Hartlepool Art Gallery on Saturday 9th September.

“Our finale exhibition also boasts a ‘satellite’ exhibition running alongside it (and just across the square) at Cleveland College of Art & Design.” Explains Claire. “This shows some of the developmental work by the artists – what’s more, both exhibitions are set to show additional new work not previously exhibited.”

The finale of Chernobyl will be on show at Hartlepool Art Gallery on Saturday 9th September.

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