Palimpsest.  I had to look up the word too.  No, it’s not the superlative form of palimps.  As it turns out, palimsest has to do with surfaces that have been reused or altered while still retaining traces of its earlier form.

What does it have to do with this blog post?  It is the name of an exhibit of photos by a Poland-based collective, Sputnik Photos.  Between 2008 and 2016 this group compiled their ‘Lost Territories Archive‘; this is a project that documents the “physical, political, and sociocultural” aspects of the former Soviet republics.  Some of the thousands of images that they collected are on display in the Allan Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place as part of this year’s CONTACT Photography Festival. It is on view for the month of May.

people in Allan Lambert Galleria, a couple of large photos, a workman on a crane,

below: “A sculptural model in a student atelier, Spitak Armenia, 2014”.

large picture of an old white statue, Brookfield Place, 2 men looking at it. Photo's title is A sculptural model in a student atelier, Spitak Armenia

below: “Cafeteria at the Heydar Aliev Centre, Gobustan Azerbijan, 2016”.   In 2013, to mark the 10th anniversary of the former president of Azerbijan, Heydar Aliyev, his son and successor, Ilham Aliyev, ordered the country’s 70 district capitals to each build a monumental centre named after his father.

people walking past a large photo in Allan Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place. Photo by Sputnik Photos, title is Cafeteria at the Heydar Aliev Centre, Gobustan Azerbijan,

below: “Semipalatynsk Nuclear Test Site, Kazakhstan, 2016”.  The Soviet Union conducted over 400 nuclear tests at this site in northeast Kazakhstan between 1949 and 1989.  The impact of radiation exposure was hidden by Soviet authorities and didn’t become known until the site closed in 1991.

a couple walk past a large picture, small reddih mounds of dirt on a barren grassy field, flat land, no trees or other plants

 below: ‘Homemade construction for growing grapes, Yerevan Armenia, 2013’.  Urban farming was popular during the post-Soviet crisis in the 1990’s.  Today grapes are grown in every neighbourhood using homemade constructions for supporting the vines.

a large picture on display in Allan Lambert Galleria of a homemade structure to hold up grape vines in a back yard in Yerevan Armenia

below: “Anaklia Georgia, 2013”  Anaklia is a village on the Black Sea.  In 2011, Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, announced a program to transform the village into a luxury resort.  Construction began in 2012.  Saakashvili’s party lost the parliamentary elections in 2013 and he fled the country.  Work on this project was discontinued.

large photo of a oval shaped structure on the top of a tower, on the coast, surrounded by barren land, abandoned building, in Anaklia Georgia (former USSR republic)

below: “Slutsk Belarus, 2013”.  This image is of ‘Cultural Space’, an installation in the sugar factory Saharny Zavod.  The factory was given an award for best ideological work in a contest organized by a regional committee for ‘admiration structures’.

two large photos on exhibit, with a woman standing in front of one of them.

Members of Sputnik Photos: Andrej Balco, Jan Brykczynski, Andrei Liankevich, Michal Luczak, Rafal Milach, Adam Panczuk, and Agnieszka Rayss.

***

More about the word palimpsest:

In Ancient Greek, it was παλίμψηστος (palímpsēstos) and in Latin it was palimpsestus meaning “scraped clean and ready to be used again”.  It was originally applied to wax covered tablets that the ancient Greeks and Romans used to “write” on by scratching out the letters with a stylus.  Smoothing the wax would erase the words.   Around the 6th century vellum, or parchment prepared from animal skins, became more commonly used.  It was expensive.  Early on, writing on parchment could be washed away using milk and oat bran but over time it would come back, but faintly.   In the later Middle Ages, writing was removed with powdered pumice which was more permanent.

Along with the historical definition, palimpsest has a more modern definition.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives this newer meaning as, “something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface”  while the Cambridge English Dictionary uses these words, “something such as work of art that has many levels of meaning, types of style, etc. that build on each other.”

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