Of What Once Was | Sketches of Siberia






The track ‘Of What Once Was’ (2011) was used as part of the soundtrack in this beautiful documentary / roadmovie by Ben van Lieshout

Diary notes made by Fridtjof Nansen more than a century ago evoke images of the colonization of America between 1865 and 1890. This Norwegian polar explorer also encountered native people, whom he described with a mixture of compassion and paternalistic disdain. He wrote about the difficulties of imposing progress, about gold and fertile soil. However, Nansen was not a pioneer of the Wild West, but of the Siberian interior. Following a voyage across the Arctic Ocean, he descended the Yenisei River to the town of Krasnoyarsk. Director Ben van Lieshout follows Nansen’s trail, revealing along the way that not very much has changed since then. The clothing is different and there are now cars, but the wooden houses are the same as back in Nansen’s day – as is the omnipresent Orthodox Church, the mud roads that are impassable in the rainy season and the stigma of Siberia’s history as a penal colony. Van Lieshout is able to maintain focus on the human scale in this vast landscape by zooming in on small stories and details. The slow tempo of his road trip (on a boat) contrasts markedly with the unpredictable geopolitical and economic forces at play because of Siberia’s rich natural resources.