People are starving to death in 2011. Why?

We've got the money, the logistical and security capability. There is a geo-political case and a mor

Serious question. Why, in 2011, are we letting people starve to death?

It's such a basic one, it almost feels trite to ask it. In fact, somewhere along the way, it ceased to be a question. More a statement of moral outrage. Or, depending on your perspective, one of supreme naivety.

But I'll ask again. In 2011, why are we letting people starve to death? According to the UNHCR 1,700 people a day are, as you read this article, streaming across the Somali border with Kenya and Ethiopia. They, to an extent, are the lucky ones. That figure doesn't include the elderly or sick that are left behind, or the children who died along the way.

Why? I don't just mean why morally. Why logistically; practically?

Cost? The UN refugee agency has just launched an appeal for US$144 million to provide emergency relief, about £88 million. Why are they having to even appeal for that amount of money? In global terms that's not petty cash, it's not even the change you'd find down the back of Barack Obama's sofa, austerity package, or no austerity package. Actually, try asking those people trekking across the Somali wastelands what austerity looks like.

A report by Brown University estimated the cost of the combined wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to be to be in the range of $3 to $4 trillion. The Treasury has admitted the UK alone is currently spending £3 million a day on the operation in Libya, and that's not even a proper war, just an "intervention". We've got the money. Were just not spending it right.

Again, why? In Somalia, innocent people are dying at the hands of brutal local warlords, as they are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. A region is being destabilised. As in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The internal governance of the nation has imploded -- something we're spending billions trying to reverse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

I don't remember seeing campaigns for any of those operations. Charity singles. Celebrity appeals; "Just £5 will help buy the bullet that could stop one insurgent oppressing an entire village for a whole month".

When crisis like Iraq and Afghanistan develop we somehow manage to open the cheque book, get the heavy lift aircraft in the air, and ask questions later. But when people are starving to death in numbers al-Qaeda's most fanatical terrorists could only dream of, we are suddenly turned to stone.

Is it logistics? It can't be logistics. When the Haitian earthquake struck, satellite imagery was used to pinpoint the devastation in remote areas, and Nasa deployed special radar imaging aircraft to locate areas of possible aftershock. The United States Navy tasked an entire US carrier group to assist in the relief operation and the US Air Force managed over a hundred daily relief flights into and out of Port au Prince airport.

Some have said there are issues of security. World Food Program spokeswoman Emilia Casella recently told reporters that the UN is asking for assurances of security, and the ability to have full access to deliver and distribute aid in southern Somalia. Why? If there are people disrupting the flow of aid we should get a large number of those Marines and Paras, who are not going to be putting their boots on the ground in Libya, over to Somalia. Then if anyone tries to disrupt the relief effort, we can quickly and efficiently kill them. We've done it in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and demonstrated we're very good at it.

Is it a lack of political will? Again, it can't be. Even David Cameron -- hard cutting, belt-tightening, time to stop maxing out the credit card, David Cameron -- has publically stated overseas aid and development is a priority for his government. As recently as June, he told the Observer, "I don't believe it would be right to ignore the difference we can make, turn inwards solely to our own problems and effectively balance our books while breaking our promises to the world's poorest. Instead, we should step up, deliver on our promises to the world's poorest and help save millions of lives".

We've got the money. We've got the logistical capability. We've got the security capability. There is a regional case. A geo-political case. A moral case. We have the political will. I'm damn sure we have the public will.

So I ask again, and I'm genuinely not preaching, or making an appeal. It's 2011. People are starving to death. Why?

 

Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
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Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

Deserted fairgrounds, disused factories and forgotten military bases may look cool, but are we fetishising the remnants of such a cruel history?

Armenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.


Mixed air corps, Mongolia. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Eric Losito

It’s a bit passé now to mock the hipster obsession with reclaimed industrial detritus, exposed pipes and bare concrete. An aesthetic – that of a post-industrial wasteland, but a chic one – which has gripped western cities for years, and crept worldwide.

But it could be this tendency to find disused stuff visually intriguing, and a morbid fascination with cruel regimes, which has led to the art world’s obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture. A whole wave of artists and photographers have been poking around the eastern bloc’s architectural graveyard in recent years.

Late last year, we saw the hugely popular disused Soviet bus stop series by photographer Christopher Herwig, echoing photographer Sergey Novikov’s equally absorbing collection of abandoned Soviet cinemas from 2013.

Following Russian filmmaker and photographer Maria Morina’s “Atomic Cities” project four years ago, London-based artist Nadav Kander explored the “aesthetics of destruction” in his exhibition, Dust, in 2014, snapping “radioactive ruins” of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. The same year, Moscow photographers Sasha Mademuaselle and Sergey Kostromin travelled to the disputed region of Abkhazia, capturing fragments of its deserted infrastructure.


Fighter aviation regiment, Mongolia. Photo: Eric Losito
 

And photojournalist Anton Petrus’ now iconic pictures of Chernobyl’s abandoned amusement park have long been an internet favourite, as have numerous haunting images of Pripyet – the city famous for lying deserted following the nuclear disaster.

Jamie Rann, a lecturer in Russian at Oxford University, has written that the quality and technical accomplishment of most of this photography make the style more “ruin erotica” than “ruin porn” (the tag being used by some critics), but argues: “The enormous online popularity of this genre . . . combined with their voyeuristic, almost exploitative feel, certainly has something porny about it.”

The latest exploration of Soviet society’s skeletons can be found at the Power & Architecture season at London’s Calvert 22 Foundation. In an exhibition called Dead Space and Ruins, we see abandoned military bases and formerly mighty monuments, forgotten space ports freezing in the tundra, the ghost of an entire unused, unfinished city in Armenia lying derelict.



The unfinished "ghost city" built in Armenia to house earthquake survivors (water added by artist). Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Vahram Aghasyan

The works are beautiful, but do they feed in to this zeitgeisty lust for Soviet ruins?

One of its curators, Will Strong, laments this trend. “I was keen that this didn’t become like a kind of ‘ruin lust’, ‘ruin porn’ thing; this slightly buzzwordy term that there is at the moment, this kind of fetishisation of dead space,” he tells me.

“This history is incredibly loaded, and it did not end in 1991. To sort of fetishise it in the very bourgeois western way of, ‘oh yeah, look at all this wonderful Soviet architecture, isn’t it fantastic?’ Obviously a lot of people who lived in that time hated it . . . a lot of people were very miserable under these regimes, so it’s important not to forget that.”


Gym at the Independent Radar Centre of Early Detection, Latvia. Photo: Eric Losito

He adds: “It’s more a point of reflection on how buildings were designed, what their legacy is, what their narrative is, and who the people are who live with that story. This show looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn’t been delivered.”

This view is echoed by the Moscow artist, Danila Tkachenko, whose work is featured in the exhibition. “It is rather a metaphor for the future, not the past,” he says. “It represents an image of a possible future. When there is a visualisation of this issue [utopia], it evokes a response in people; they see this utopia in their lives . . . There is disappointment in all utopias.”


The world's largest diesel submarine, in Russia's Samara region. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko

His Restricted Areas series explores great behemoths of European communism left to lie forgotten in the tundra of remote regions in and around Russia and Kazakhstan: the world’s largest diesel submarine, like a beached whale in the snow; a giant satellite, thatched with antennae, built to communicate with Soviet bases on other planets some day; the deserted flying saucer-like communist headquarters in a region of Bulgaria. The structures hover in blank, white space, making the photos appear black-and-white.


Deserted observatory, Kazakhstan's Almaty region. Photo: Danila Tkachenko
 

Anton Ginzburg is an artist who grew up in St Petersburg in the Eighties as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He believes studies like his film, Turo, of disused modernist constructions in the post-Soviet bloc, appeal to people’s connection to history. After all, picking through the architectural carcasses of former societies isn’t exactly a new thing:

“Russian culture is still haunted by its Communist past, and constructivist architecture is a decaying shell for its ghosts. It is an active reminder of the recent history,” he reflects. “Perhaps [its appeal] is a mixture of memento mori, with its thrill of beauty and destruction, along with a Romantic tradition of contemplation of Greek and Roman ruins.”

(Anton Ginzburg Turo teaser from Visionaireworld on Vimeo.)

The Power & Architecture season is on at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London, from 10 June-9 October 2016. Entry is free.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.