Photographer Yang Xiao’s fascination with Brutalist architecture can be traced back to a trip in Bulgaria in 2012, where she first heard about the Monumento Buzludja. The monumental, sublime structure, situated atop the Buzludzha Peak, was built by the Bulgarian communist government and inaugurated in 1981. While hundreds of abandoned communist memorials are dotted all over the Balkans, few hold quite as much intrigue.
“Monumento Buzludja is popular nowadays, but back then, there wasn’t much information about it online, and only a few people had ever visited it,” explains Xiao. “So, I got in contact with a British photographer on Flickr, who had been there before to gather some information. In the end, we became friends and traveled there together.”
On the trip, the photographer, Mark O’Neill, introduced Xiao to light painting – an art form using hand-held lights to paint and/or draw a scene while the shutter of a camera is left open during a long exposure photograph. Since then, Xiao has visited 40 countries across Eastern Europe, focusing on photographing abandoned places, monuments, brutalist and Soviet modernist architecture as part of her ongoing series, Eternal Monuments In The Dark.
Most of these locations are shot at night using light painting photography, which lend the photographs a distinctly surreal, sci-fi feel, with many of the structures resembling alien spaceships.
These qualities are particularly noticeable in the Tjentiste War Memorial, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, which Xiao says was the most striking and memorable place she photographed for the series. “The spectacular design of the monument, the breathtaking sea of clouds behind it, the huge fireball of a bright bolide across the night sky, all made the overall experience there very beautiful, surreal, and romantic,” she recalls.
For Xiao, the project has allowed her to imagine the past in its former glory. Speaking about the building in her photos, she says: “Their daring and avant-garde appearance used to be filled with utopian and futuristic imaginations, this beauty is dazzling and everlasting.” Through the light painting technique, Xiao hopes to imbue the buildings with the same revolutionary spirit that inspired their creation.
As Xiao puts it: “I am trying to create a door: a door that connects the past and future, prosperity and decay, glory and pain, the monuments in front of my eyes and myself.”
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