'When there is enough out-of-placeness in the world, nothing is out of place' (Don DeLillo, Mao II)
'Physical space is vital to the type of testing and training [required by a hi-tech military force]. A single open-air test range requires nearly two million acres of open land. The Southwest is the only region of the country that offers land of this size, as well as air and sea space needed for other kinds of testing. The Southwest offers over 335 million acres of federally owned land. Over 490 thousand square miles of airspace is available in the Southwest, and 484 thousand square miles of sea are open for training activities. This land can be used without the interference from civilians or substantial electromagnetic interference - both of which are a problem in the rest of the country' ('Southwest Range Complex', GlobalSecurity.org)
'Tremors from the future can be felt throughout Stalker. In less than a decade Professor's summary of how the Zone came into existence had taken on the aura of a premonition fulfilled, and Stalker acquired yet another dimension of suggestiveness: in its foreshadowing of the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, in Ukraine. Tarkovsky was not only a visionary, poet and mystic - he was also a prophet (of a future that now lies in the past).
The damaged reactor and much of the radioactive material were sealed in a huge concrete 'sarcophagus'. Nearby towns such as Pripyat were evacuated and a thirty-kilometre zone of exclusion was established around the plant. Like Stalker's child ... large numbers of the children of parents who lived near Chernobyl had birth defects.
After the evacuation the Zone of Exclusion was littered with the rusting remains of vehicles that had been used as part of the emergency clean-up. Plants stitched the empty roads and cracked concrete. Trees thrust through the warped floors of derelict buildings. Leaves changed shape. Vegetation clambered up the crumbling walls of abandoned homes.
Photographs taken by Robert Polidori of Pripyat and Chernobyl in 2001 (and collected in his book Zones of Exclusion) look like stills from a retrospective location shoot from the set of Stalker (1). Except it might not be quite as simple as Polidori and others documenting a world which had come to resemble a film made thirty years earlier. It could be that the photographers' aesthetic - their tacit sense of what they were looking for - was partly formed by Stalker, so that the film had helped generate and shape the observed reality that succeeded it.
Rumours began to circulate that within the Zone there was another place (in any magical realm there is always a deeper recess or chamber of more powerful magic) where your wishes could come true. There you have it. In the most concise form imaginable, Professor has outlined the birth of a myth and religion: a place where something may or may not have happened; a place with a power that was intensified - possibly even created - by being forbidden.
That's certainly the view of another professor, good old Slavoj Zizek, who reckons that the cordoning off is the defining aspect of the Zone: "What confers on it the aura of mystery is the Limit itself, i.e. the fact that the Zone is designated as inaccessible, as prohibited". In a classic Zizekian bit of reverse dialectics, "the Zone is not prohibited because it has certain properties which are 'too strong' for our everyday sense of reality; it displays these properties because it is posited as prohibited. What comes first is the formal gesture of excluding a part of the real from our everyday reality and of proclaiming it the prohibited Zone"'.
(1) (footnote): 'Rather different but even more extraordinary documentary corroboration of the existence of some kind of Zone is provided by Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen in his book Satellites (2006), particularly the images from the so-called spacecraft crash zone in Kazakhstan and just across the border in the Altai Republic of Russia. The debris that regularly came crashing from space gave rise to a thriving unofficial business here - in spite of the risks - in scrap and salvage. Bendiksen's most famous - and beautiful - photograph shows two villagers atop the dented remains of a spacecraft or satellite in the midst of an idyllic green landscape and blue sky, all snow-blurred by the wings of thousands of white butterflies'.
Extract from Geoff Dyer's recent book about Tarkovsky's film Stalker - Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room, Edinburgh & London: Canongate, 2012, 74-77
Photos (from the top): Nellis Air Force Base perimeter signs, Nevada; Robert Polidori, 'Unit 4 control room, Chernobyl', 2001; Jonas Bendiksen, 'Spaceship Junkyard', Altai Territory, Russia, 2000; declassified photograph of remnants of a crashed titanium A-12 spy plane from Groom Lake/Area 51, Nevada, scattered on the ground near Wendover, Utah, 1963
For the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) website and database, an invaluable resource 'dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived', see here
For an earlier post about Nevada nuclear tests in the late 1950s, Elvis, Las Vegas etc, see 'Plumbbob' here
For an earlier post about Chernobyl & Pripyat, nuclear waste, 'toxic tourism' etc, see 'A new fire (unknown fields)' here
For a sequence of three earlier posts about waste, see 'Underhistory' here, here and here
For cheerfully apocalyptic driving music, 'The man comes around' by Johnny Cash, listen here