59.989586° N, 29.717846° E
February 3rd 2014
25° F / -3° C
The morning found me back out at point Azimuth Zero to create a piece that was part action / part film with the final result being a photograph, but that will be addressed at a future date in a Huffington Post article titled “After Malevich”. Upon completion of the work/action/film Mikhael suggested we try and visit Fort Alexander which I was very happy about and had wanted to visit while I was here.
Heading outside of the city center we followed a few meandering roads pulling up to a massive blue and white building which was is swimming pool and gym. Parking along the lots far edge I could see the fort sitting out on the ice directly in front of us. We make our way down some wooden stairs and Mikhael tells me we just passed a sign that says, “Walking on the ice is dangerous” and we laughed at how they had constructed a nice set of stairs after encouraging you not to go.
We could see some standing water that was on the ice’s surface but to avoid the slush we walked a fair distance around it, heading out the 1 mile / 1.6 km distance to the Fort. The sky to the southwest is very dark and it seems a storm is approaching, we will see how quickly it moves. On our left is a huge building made of grey stone or cement. There were trees growing from its roof and it had tall lighting rods that crown the buildings top.
Mikhael explained that it was once an arsenal for battleships and cruisers and that it was likely still in use because we could see huge clusters of icicles (like 2 stories tall) hanging from its sides, he said they must heat it which causes the ice to melt from the roof in turn forming the icicles.
On the walk I can see two amazing red lighthouses in the distance and finally a beautiful white lighthouse just to our left. Unfortunately they are not accessible from this side of the ice as they lay on the opposite side of the broken ice field that the ships sail through.
We finally reach the fort, the snowstorm that had been in the distance when we left the shore has reached us now but it is just beginning.
Fort Alexander was built in 1883, which required an artificial island be constructed beneath it. According to Wikipedia “The fort’s design is close to that of Fort Boyard in France. It is an oval-shaped building with a yard in its center. The building measures 90 meters by 60 meters, with three floors. The overall floor space is over 5000 sq. meters. In all, the fort was large enough to hold a garrison of up to 1000 men. There are 103 cannon ports with additional space on the roof for 34 guns.”
The fort was used as a Plague research center from 1894-1917, after the discovery of the plague pathogen by Alexandre Yersin in 1894. Converting the fort into a bacteriology research facility the scientists took a structure that had previously been designed to keep the enemy out, and brought the threat to mankind inside of the fort, which essentially created something of a deliberate Trojan Horse. The tests resulted in three pneumonic and bubonic plague cases amongst the staff, which resulted in the death of two scientists (and countless animals which they tested on including one camel).
We started making our way around the fort, Mikhael new of a window that was usually accessible much to our dismay the rope he had used before was no longer there and the windows bars had been push back into place. We circled the fort getting within about 20 feet of the broken ice field. Watching the windows for another entrance.
Finally coming back around to the front we find some junk to use as a step stool and return to the window. After a few failed attempts finally was able to make my way up on the sloped snow and ice covered ledge by forcing my hands into the cracks and managed to get a very small rope (more like a fat string) tied around a piece of metal sticking out of the wall. I then slide the large rusty bars back far enough that we could get in and reached down to help Mikhael make his way up. It was SUPER sketchy, and I don’t really want to repeat it.
Once inside it was easy going, there were strange objects and pieces of wood left over from a rave that had been thrown there a number of years ago and we headed to a beautiful metal staircase that found its way up to the ceiling. The weathered bricks were beautiful as was the domed brick ceiling at the top. Reaching the roof I noticed a large cargo ship approaching and I hurried to set up my camera. On the side of its hull read the name Phoenix J and the front of the vessel churned up the large blocks of ice in a beautifully destructive way. A few minutes later another ship passed and I was able to get two separate films of them from the top of an amazing fort. I was as happy as a schoolboy.
j.frede : The Passage of The Phoenix - Fort Alexander, Kronstadt, Russia from j.frede on Vimeo.
Mikhael showed me around we explored the oddly shaped fort for a while he even pointed out the elevator they used for the animals (this being my first sighting of a camel elevator).
After a while we headed back to our window that proved much easier to get down from than climb thanks to gravity and all. Another ship was passing at this point and we watched it muscle through, very close to us and we could hear the quietest rendition of the ice screeching (no where near as insane as the night we were on the ice)
We retrieved a pair of anchors we had discovered at the front of the fort and started making our way back. I was very excited about the anchors, I had looked high and low for the perfect anchor in Los Angeles when I was creating the work for my Heirlooms show in 2012 and never found one that was right. Now I found one, at a Plague Fort in Russia with a beautifully weather blue rope attached, looking forward to making a piece with it. (note: I do not advise carrying an anchor a distance of 1 mile across ice through thick snow)
The storm was fully upon us now, the white out obscured all land besides part of a fort to our right. We could faintly see our footsteps from the walk out and followed them the best we could on the return. Finally land started to fade in through the thick snowfall we were wrapped in. I couldn’t have planned a better way to see and explore Fort Alexander.
(self portrait with anchor)
(Mikhael with anchor and pipe)
j.frede 2014 - Russia