A photo exposition Martian Taiga by Stanislav Podusenko was exhibited during the Arctic Science Summit Week 2022. It represented work conducted by the artist during the expedition to the north of the Baikal region in August 2021 within the Informal Roads project.
Roads are a crucial part of human daily lives. We depend on roads for dwelling, traveling, socializing, extracting and transporting goods, and as such, they serve as the most vivid form of entanglements of human and more-than-human assemblages.
However, there is no established definition of roads in scholarly literature. In particular, archaeologists distinguish between formal and informal roads to identify government efforts of strategically planning and maintaining some roads from spontaneous pathways formed along animal trails. While the latter is still important for Indigenous communities conducting subsistence activities. The current development of off-road vehicles and the expansion of extractive industries re-emphasizes the need to explore transportation pathways formed beyond official road systems. Taiga landscapes in the north of Baikal region provide us with numerous examples of such informal roads: service roads for oil industry, forest roads for logging and hauling timber, seismic line cleared corridors for geological exploration and remains of subsistence roads for hunting and gathering activities of local and Indigenous communities.
Informal roads are an inevitable component of extractive industrial development. Usually, these roads either do not have any surfacing or are covered by gravel extracted nearby.
Removal of the upper layer of soil reveals sediments that have been accumulated in the area for hundreds of millions of years dating back to the Ordovician geological period of the Paleozoic Era. Rocks grinded by heavy vehicles into a red dust coat surrounding surfaces and bring both physical and chemical changes to environment.
While many informal roads are used beyond their initial function, there are a few where the regime of use is strictly regulated. This photo shows the intersection of a forestry haul road and oil service roads. Since haul and oil service roads were created and maintained by two different companies for two different purposes, they are laid in parallel to each other, and together create an over 100 meters wide line of cleared forest.
In the summer of 2021, social and physical scientists and artists traveled together to the north of the Baikal region. The aim of the expedition was to map informal roads, practices of their creation, maintenance, and abandonment, and their impact on the local and Indigenous cultures, economies and environment. The team arrived using formal and informal roads, including public and private forestry roads, the seismic line cleared corridors, subsistence trails, and oil company roads, with their permission.
Since creation of all-season roads is very expensive in this taiga landscape, forestry companies often have only haul roads functioning year round and use the logging roads only in cold season. During the winter, from hard-to-reach areas the timber is brought to and piled along the haul roads for transportation to the larger settlements where this wood will be processed and prepared for Asian markets.
Removal of trees in permafrost areas triggers such processes as melting of ground ice which leads to subsidence of the ground and thermokarst formation.
Both dust and wildfires are examples of human-caused disturbances. When they are combined, the visual image reminds us about the risk of turning Earth into a planet as uninhabitable as Mars.
During the expedition, the team saw landscapes slowly recovering from wildfires and other disturbances. Fireweed is typically the first thing that grows in burned scars and other disturbed areas. Later on, they will be replaced by shrubs, that in turn, are succeeded by deciduous and then coniferous trees. The latter can support the regrowth of lichen, which is expected to return in about half a century, if not accounting for the interference of climate change.
The team’s research emphasizes care, respect, and harmony in relations with other living beings by recognizing and reconciling different ways of understanding. Altogether it allows humanity and the Earth to support native species, and as a result, support itself.
Photos by Stanislav Podusenko
Text by Vera Kuklina
Curated by Olga Zaslavskaya
View full story https://redtaiga.artslink.space/