Natalia Papaeva grew up in Orlik, in Buryatia, 270 km west of Lake Baikal. Since 2013 she has lived in the Netherlands, where her practice has drawn on her strong yet emotionally fraught bond with her homeland. In her powerful video performance work Yokhor (2018), she repeats the only two lines that she remembers from a traditional Buryat song; an act of resilience tinged with both sadness and hope. It is imprinted into memory by rote, but only in this fragmentary state. Buryat is one of almost 2,600 languages threatened with extinction. For Natalia Papeava, this is a deeply painful loss—not only a loss of her heritage, but also of her ability to fully articulate her emotions and thoughts as her language slips from common use.
She has since dedicated her energy to ensuring that her mother tongue stays prominent in her mind. In her new video work, The River I Grew Up With, she extends this practice of active memorisation to the stories of the Orlik landscape, revisiting her childhood memories and family lore in an extended conversation with her mother, Lena.
As a bilingual family, they often mix Buryat and Russian. Unfolding against the backdrop of a mother and a daughter talking about their native village, the Soviet past, stories about neighbors and foggy memories of ghost tales, Natalia Papaeva maps this linguistic mix, marking down the Russian words in red and Buryat ones in green. The Buryat words are written with mistakes reflecting the current condition of the language. Together they create a patchy verbal map reminiscent of a dissolving landscape, making a single family a reflection of an entire culture in flux.
If you want to delve deeper into the permafrost, visit the full online programme Dissolving Earths HERE.