I’m walking along the road. It weaves through the emptiness of the city outskirts, dips into a field, and then, having passed through a small copse, leads me to the cemetery. I think about how I’ll end up making a similar journey one day. But without the opportunity to turn back.
In old Russian culture, attitudes towards death were formed on the basis of mythological thinking. Myths described the world, and via traditions, humanity put it in order. Customs and rituals helped people deal with various life situations, including the passing of their loved ones. In the 20th century, various events took place that changed the perception of death within society. Wars, repression, and urbanization facilitated mass migration and tore people away from their families' gravesites, thus interrupting the continuity of funeral traditions. New laws related to burials transferred the responsibility for organizing them onto the state, and thus funeral rite became formalized. Communal ritual services, hospitals, and morgues took over working with death, and following the collapse of the USSR, commercial organizations joined them. Burying people became a profitable business. Myths and traditions came to be replaced by a scientific approach and specialized institutions. The latter, however, cannot always provide answers to existential questions, and they place the modern individual in a position of confusion when faced with the terrifying countenance of death, by forcing it out of collective consciousness to a safe distance.
Using the impartial, computerized perspective of the Google Street View service, I take screenshots of the landscapes of Russian roads that lead to cemeteries. I am addressing the traditional Russian notion of the posthumous journey of the soul: it was believed that the latter took part, invisibly, in all the stages of the funeral ceremony and that in the last, most important parts of the ritual, it followed along with the funeral procession, accompanying the body to its final resting place.