anna and phantom, 2016

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“Anna and Phantom”, 2016, b&w photographs, 3 pieces: 30 x 17 cm and sound recording, 3 min. 15 sec.

A rare Cold War relic, a 32-metre-wide radio telescope, has survived at Irbene in the northwest of Latvia. It was a secret device used by the Soviet military, and one of its main functions was to spy on radio and telephone communications in NATO countries. The Russian army pulled out when Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the withdrawing troops destroyed all their equipment and technical documents. But Latvian scientists have repaired this radio locator, and started to use it for scientific purposes. The transformed and kaleidoscopically adaptable radio locator is presented in several photographs, and twinkles in the pages of old and recent history like a cosmic phantom.

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Cosmic “phantoms” were not only an object of attention during the Cold War, when the world’s most powerful countries tried to demonstrate their power, and espionage operations and manipulation were frequently used. Reviewing the situation in present-day Russia, Edward Lucas warns us that the country organises deception operations that take advantage of the West’s credulity and the temptation to believe that wishful and imaginary things are real.

A soundtrack is presented along with the photographs, and it looks as if it has been created for a film teaser, where the voice of Anna Chapman, a famous and pretty Russian secret agent, who was deported from the USA to Russia in 2010, recurs obsessively over and over again. She talks about unknown objects in the sky. In this project, an excerpt from Chapman’s interview with a BBC correspondent is used, together with extracts of sound recordings from her television show “Secrets of the World” on the Russian channel Ren TV.