Baikal Lenses is an intimate look at Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest, deepest and most voluminous lake, located in Eastern Siberia. The project places a special emphasis on the Lake’s ecological problems, including growing levels of pollution and rapid climate change. The title refers to the Latin name of many species of plants and animals that are unique to the Lake, “baikalensis,” but it also makes clear that we explore Baikal from several different vantage points. The project includes experimental photographs, multi-channel video, essays, original music, installation and performance. We focus our literal and figurative lenses on Baikal’s native landscape and its people in an effort to immerse ourselves in what noted Siberian author Vladimir Rasputin called the “eternity and perfection” of the Sacred Sea. The project draws its inspiration from Buryat myths and legends, local people’s lives and personal stories, and their powerful connections to the Lake’s past and present. In many cases, we use an abstract approach to universalize our subject matter and make clear that the problems that Baikal faces affect not only local people or even Russians, but everyone around the globe. Our goal is to significantly raise awareness of Baikal’s plight and inspire people everywhere to do more to safeguard the Lake.
The Second Fire
Embers and Effluents
Like Water Through Plastic
Plastic pollution of our waterways is a critical issue facing the entire world. Approximately 300 million tons of plastic is produced yearly, and less than 10 percent is recycled. As many as 8 million tons per year ends in our oceans and waterways, where it entangles marine mammals, birds and fish and lodges in their stomachs, causing death. As plastic starts breaking into smaller particles, it is consumed by humans and may cause cancer and fertility problems. A recent study by the World Wildlife Fund found that most people consume the equivalent of one credit card of plastic per week. Plastic refuse is found in almost all waterways and and has formed massive floating islands in our oceans.
Siberia is no different. As more and more tourists visit Lake Baikal, the problem of plastic pollution is growing dramatically. At this point in time, there is minimal recycling and no serious plan for reducing plastic pollution.
After encountering numerous plastic and glass objects on land and in water, we chose to begin incorporating these found objects directly into our work as a sort of "supplemental lens." The distorted view of the landscape created by these objects is emblematic of the negative impact they have on the environment. At the same time, the subtle beauty of the images reminds us of the resilience of nature and the capacity of humans to solve this problem if there is enough will.
Shallow Frieze is a collection of experimental photographs of Baikal’s landscape that were frozen in ice and then rephotographed during a melting process. These photographs directly comment on the problem of global warming, which is occurring more rapidly in Siberia than most places in the world. Research by Russian and international scientists demonstrates that Baikal’s ice cover, critical to its many endemic species, is significantly shorter and thinner than a century ago. These warming trends are already contributing to changes in the Lake’s precious ecosystem, from tiny plankton to the world’s only freshwater seal.
Music from Data: Voices of the Amphipods
Lensed devices are inadequate to the task of portraying Lake Baikal’s magical complexity, majestic beauty, and monstrous size. Instead, Baikal speaks most emphatically and completely in the sounds of its waves, wind, ice, birds, and animals -- and the medium that best captures its complexity is music.
As we read the many scientific studies by Russian and international scientists about climate change and other anthropogenic changes to its ecosystem, we became aware that these data points can be plotted as musical notes. We honed in on studies by Irkutsk State University about the effect of temperature changes on the amphipods, little crustaceans that are critical to the Lake’s health. The scientists’ work shows that amphipods unique to Baikal are comfortable at specific depths and temperatures, and may face danger or death if forced into different zones (see Preference Ranges Correlate with Stable Signals of Universal Stress Markers in Lake Baikal Endemic and Holarctic Amphipods).
We used data from this study, along with related data on temperature changes at the Lake, to create a series of original compositions. Different electronic instruments represent the stress response of several endemic and holarctic (non-endemic) species of amphipods as they are subjected to gradually increased temperatures. Higher notes represent increased stress response that may lead to a lethargic state or even death. In this way, the compositions provide a soundtrack for the growing body of scientific research — and a voice for underwater creatures whose plight might otherwise go unnoticed.
Some of the compositions were created in collaboration with talented and innovative Siberian composer Evgeny Masloboev, someone who can coax exceptional music out of almost anything…from Baikal’s ice and water to plastic bags, coat hangers and found objects. Evgeny took several of the compositions and added his own improvisational sounds, intended to emphasize the urgency of the problems facing Baikal.
MASLO is the name of an electronic music project of Baltimore-based composer and musician Maria Shesiuk. We were first introduced to her from afar, in Siberia, and we quickly found many things in common and a great synergy between our efforts, including a strong focus on the power of the natural world and the importance of ecology. We quickly began sharing images, videos, and most importantly, recorded sounds with her. She composed several new works that are inspired by the sights and sounds of Siberia. You can listen to her composition Fog here and her piece titled A Walk Through Sleeping Land here.