More than 3,500 Russian soldiers were reportedly killed on the third day of fighting, and this number has become the starting point for Maria Gvardeitseva's project Imaginary Cargo 200 Journey From St. Petersburg to Moscow (Le Voyage Imaginaire d'un Carganison - 200 between Saint Petersburg and Moscow).
Eleven pieces of digital art and an installation - put a human face on statistics to show the world the depth of the tragedy happening in Ukraine. The artist creates a hyperrealistic visualization of the touristic places of so-called two Russian capitals - Moscow and Saint Petersburg - with their tourists being replaced by coffins. Thus abstract losses are transformed into a striking and palpable reality. Maria Gvardeitseva reminds us once again the unbearable horror of war where people lose their history, their individuality and become integral and dehumanized parts of weapons.
The term "Cargo-200" belongs to the Soviet military code and refers to hermetically welded zinc coffins, used to transport deceased soldiers and which even the families of fallen militaries are not allowed to open. The fact that the Russian Federation was preparing to massively receive this "Cargo-200" long before February 24 is evidenced by a number of indirect events, such as the entry into force on February 1, 2022 of a new GOST standard (State standards in the Russian Federation). This standard establishes "general requirements for the organization and implementation of a set of measures for the burial of the corpses of people and animals, who died during or as a result of military conflicts, as well as due to emergency situations in peacetime, if necessary".
An iron curtain falls over the country. The number of sanctions taken against Russia is far greater than that concerning North Korea and Iran. St. Petersburg and Moscow can no longer be visited. Like foreign tourists, soldiers killed in Ukraine might have dreamed of visiting emblematic places in these two cities. Today they can only get there as Cargo-200. This reality forms the basis of Maria Gvardeitseva's project and brings a narrative around this imaginary journey of a soldier in the form of Cargo-200 from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.
The name of the project refers to the work of Alexander Radishchev Journeyl from Petersburg to Moscow (1790), a cult example of critics of the Russian monarchy. After the publication of his book, the author was sentenced to death. The choice of this reference is not due to chance: today in Russia, any criticism of the war against Ukraine or the simple use of the word "war" in the context of the Russian invasion is liable to imprisonment of up to 15 years. The “journey of an imaginary Cargo 200 from Saint-Petersburg to Moscow” is a testimony to a human catastrophe, a cry of pain.
The works of the project are sold as NFT. All proceeds will be donated to the Ivan Honchar Museum in Kyiv to preserve and restore Ukraine's cultural heritage.
Nine digital images depicting the most visited touristic sites of Saint Petersburg and Moscow follow the path of Alexander Radishchev and his novel “Journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow”.
Two identical digital videos show the military parade of May the 9th on the Red Square in Moscow. This day - The Victory Day - represents the very center of Russian national Identity as does the co-called triumph of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War. This celebration is used to exhibit the great power of the Russian army. In Maria’s video the military troops are replaced by Cargos-200. One video is dubbed by Putin’s speech for May the 9th in 2018 where he speaks about the Great Victory and the importance of the Peace. The second one is dubbed by the artist's mother reading the poem of Taras Schevchenko (1814 - 1861) the emblematic Ukrainian poet and painter. He was born slave and by dint of his artistic taled Taras bought out his freedom and put his life for Ukrainian liberation. Couple of hours before passing away in a Russian prison Schevchenko wrote a poem “Zapovit” (ukr. “Testament”) - an anthem of Ukrainian resistance.
A performance opens an installation. Maria plants flowers with her bare hands in a coffin filled with soil in the middle of the room. The installation represents the highest point of the artist’s anti-war manifesto, where hope remains and persists regardless of the ugly reality; a hope for the future where all fallen boys will be properly buried and the burnt land of Ukraine will flourish again.