Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA): Revolutionary Metallurgy I & II

17 October 2023, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

installation view

This event includes talks on ‘Revolutionary Metallurgy’ by Deborah Tchoudjinoff (University of the Arts), Rebecca Empson (UCL), Victoria Donovan (University of St. Andrews) and Linda Kaljundi (University of Tallinn). This event is organized within the framework of the SAVA Research Week at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students






Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Forum
G17, Ground Floor, South Wing, Wilkins Building
UCL, Gower Street, London
United Kingdom

Artist Deborah Tchoudjinoff (University of the Arts London) and Professor Rebecca Empson (UCL Anthropology) will address the social and environmental legacies of mining in Mongolia, followed by Professor Victoria Donovan (University of St. Andrews) and Professor Linda Kaljundi (University of Tallinn) on extractivism in eastern Ukraine and eastern Estonia.

Revolutionary Metallurgy I

Deborah Tchoudjinoff will present 'Baigala I: A convergence of art and technology through sculpture, virtual reality realities in reflecting on extractivism'. This presentation will share the thinking and process behind the artwork produced for Five Heads (Tavan Tolgoi): Art, Anthropology, and Mongol Futurism in 2018, a group exhibition featuring 5 anthropologists specialising in Mongolia, and 5 artists responding to the research. Working closely with Dr. Lauren Bonilla, Baigala I developed through following her extensive research on extractive atmospheres into western Mongolia. The sculptures were made to reference horse saddles as a poignant reminder of what is at stake. The virtual reality component bring viewers into significant terrains and landscapes of western Mongolia. Merging physical artistry with a digital experience, Baigala I asks that a deeper understanding of the delicate balance between change and resilience is needed.

Rebecca Empson will present 'Extracting Minerals and Ambiguous Borders: profit-making strategies in Mongolia'. When coal is mined in Mongolia by state-owned companies and sold to China for a profit, it is often viewed as good for the Nation and something everyone can benefit from. People were given shares in the company as a portion of anticipated gains, but over the years scandals have surrounded this extractive industry. In one case the border between Mongolia and China was deliberately made opaque to allow for coal to be sold at two different prices, generating a share for those who ran the company. In this and many other instances, resource to cash schemes abound as a way for politicians to appease the electorate and do business with each other.

Revolutionary Metallurgy II

Victoria Donovan will present 'The Making and Unmaking of Black Myth of Donbas'. In the first part of this talk she will engage Asia Bazdyrieva’s idea of the “resourcification of Ukraine” to examine how the Ukrainian East, also known as Donbas, was reduced in the colonial visual imaginary – through maps, corporate advertising, and industrial photography – to a space of extraction and economic exploitation. In the second part, she will examine how creative and curatorial practice from the region in the post-2014 period has challenged these visual politics. Drawing on decolonial thinking, she asks how those with situated knowledge of the region's multiple realities have broken with resourcifying epistemic practices, “thinking and doing differently.”

Linda Kaljundi will present 'Estonian Donbass, Ruhr, and whatnot – oil shale and transnational imageries of petroculture'. The expansion of the Estonian oil shale industry and mining is closely linked to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. During the 1930s, the oil shale industry was booming largely thanks to the commissions coming from Nazi Germany. In the 1940s, the Soviets invested heavily in Estonian oil shale in order to produce gas for war-torn Leningrad. Although often represented as Estonian own super technology, the economically vulnerable oil shale industry is heavily dependent on global flows and the availability of fossil fuels. Cultural imaginaries of the oil shale industry and the infrastructures around it have been equally transnational. Influenced by the Western European, North American, and Soviet visions of industry and extractivism, they reveal well the intense cultural transfers shaping the face of global industrial modernity. This talk will primarily focus on visual representations of the oil shale from the Soviet period and their wider context in the Soviet visual culture, but it also touches upon the impact of transnational and interwar period imaginaries.

About Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA)

Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA) sets out to radically transform current critical debates around the Anthropocene, addressing the major lacuna in existing accounts by establishing the Socialist Anthropocene as a conceptual framework that asserts the constitutive role of the environmental histories and potentialities of Socialism in the formation of the new geological age. The project is led by Dr. Maja Fowkes (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) and funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee.

Image: Installation view of Priidu Aavik, Alo Hoidre, Lepo Mikko. The Rise of Industry in the Estonian SSR. 1950s. Courtesy: Kumu Art Museum. 

About the Speakers

Deborah Tchoudjinoff is a Lecturer on BA (Hons) Graphic and Media Design at London College of Communication. Deborah is a London based artist intrigued by human-landscape entanglements and how the term Anthropocene brings about new forms of social, cultural, and spiritual practice. She uses multimedia and sculpture to create installations that explore different narratives of our relationship to notions of wilderness. Her work has been shown as part of Five Heads (Tavan Tolgoi): Art, Anthropology and Mongol Futurism at Greengrassi gallery (2018), Victoria & Albert Museum (2019), Space Studios (2017).

Rebecca Empson is a Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Anthropology, University College London. Her research has focused on personhood, ownership, memory and material culture (Harnessing Fortune, 2011), and forms of temporary possession in the global economy (Cultural Anthropology, 2019). She has held a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidatory Grant tracking the ‘emerging subjects’ of Mongolia’s rapidly changing mineral economy. She is Series Editor for UCL Press book series, Economic Exposures in Asia, a judge for the Bayly Prize, and an Advisory Board Member for ‘Energy Assemblages’, at the University of Lausanne on the lithium Industry. Her book ‘Subjective Lives and Economic Transformations in Mongolia’ was published in 2020.

Victoria Donovan is Professor in the School of Modern Languages at the University of St. Andrew’s. Her current research is on the industrial history and heritage of the Ukrainian East, also known as Donbas, questions of heritage management and manipulation and the role of the industrial past in forming community identities and politics. She has led several collaborative research projects with partners in Ukraine, including “Donbas in Focus: Visions of Industry from the Ukrainian East” (Arts and Humanities Research Council, 2021-23). She is currently joint PI on the “Ostroh Academy/University of St Andrews Partnership for Advancing the Public Humanities” funded by UUKi. She is co-author with Darya Tsymbalyuk of Limits of Collaboration: Art, Ethics and Donbas (Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2022), and her monograph Monotown: Tales of Resistance from the Ukrainian East is forthcoming with Daunt Books Publishing in 2024.

Linda Kaljundi is a professor of cultural history at the Estonian Academy of Arts and a senior research fellow at Tallinn University. Specializing in Baltic history, historiography, and cultural memory, as well as in environmental history, she is first and foremost interested in finding new, transnational, and entangled perspectives on the region’s history and heritage. Kaljundi has published and edited collections on history and history writing, historical fiction, and images. At the Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, she co-curated the exhibitions History in Image—Image in History: The National and Transnational Past in Estonian Art (2018), The Conqueror’s Eye: Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus (2019–20), and the new permanent exhibition Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art, 1700–1945 (2021).