Anastasia Samoylova FloodZone
Anastasia Samoylova’s large-scale, sundrenched images draw attention to rising water levels encroaching on Miami and other Florida shorelines. Signs of the impending disaster are not always easy to see, often eclipsed by bright colours, seductive facades, and our collective will to overlook them. But Samoylova finds hints of future catastrophe all around, hidden in plain sight in construction hoarding, storefront reflections, eroding concrete, and tangled tree roots.
Full of moments of striking beauty and electric energy, FloodZone exposes the tensions among the power of nature, the destruction caused by human overconsumption, and the spectacle of distraction designed to draw attention away from both. Gathered together, Samoylova’s images serve as subtle warnings embedded in a tender document of a place—Miami, and planet earth—on the brink of transformation.
Born in Russia but already living in the US, Samoylova moved to Miami in 2016, a leap of faith that coincided with a shift away from her studio-based practice, a plunge into full-time freelance work, and a deeper feeling of being settled in her adopted country. She would often spend mornings looking at photography books before taking to the streets with her camera. Early observations, some of which would become the foundations of FloodZone, began as a way of understanding a new city, and of defining an approach to documenting the public realm from a range of perspectives and contexts: outsider, woman, mother, documentary photographer. Seeking a position without agenda or explicit subject, Samoylova’s images are rich in their differences and feel free, part of a flow of curiosity and discovery.
Miami, it turns out, is the perfect stage for an increasingly fragile ecosystem—and for the elaborate diversions we’ve built up as flimsy defense. As Samoylova became more attuned the elusive signs of slowly seeping water and other cues of climate change, hurricane Irma swept in in the fall of 2017, announcing unequivocally the awesome power of nature and the absurdly inadequate infrastructure in place to protect human life and the built environment from its ravages. Irma was, at the time, the most powerful hurricane on record in the open Atlantic, only to be surpassed two years later by Dorian. Samoylova was stranded with her family, without gas or running water, and her experience of Irma provoked fear—a mechanism as capable of inciting action as it is paralysis.
For Samoylova, the hurricane brought focus to the significance of what she was seeing—not just the environmental disaster, but the unrelenting propaganda of an idealized vision of place that seemed designed to cover over more disturbing realities. Influenced by the Russian propaganda of her youth, Samoylova was quick to read the nuances of this dance, and to recognize Miami as, in her words, “a scale-model collage of itself.” Like many cities, it’s been subsumed by images and reflections, eager to mirror the desired lifestyles of its inhabitants—tourists and residents alike. Eventually the distinctions between “reality” and “image” become hard, if not impossible, to parse.
Samoylova’s project seeks out the cracks in these facades, the edges of their frames, to expose the menace of what lurks beneath and around them. There is no clear pattern to discern here, no typography or recurring motif. Instead, Samoylova brings together an array of approaches, including street photography, staged still-lives, and aerial views, working in colour and in black-and-white. The purple hue of the stain on a concrete overpass betrays the high octane fuel of luxury vehicles that speed past below; stacked shipping containers disappear at the dock as the humongous vessels that carry them float idly by; a perfect rectangle of water appears out of place, a pool for mining adjacent to the protected wetlands of the Everglades. In one image, what appears to be a postcard depicting gushing water sits tucked in amid rusting pipes, a metaphor for Samoylova’s larger project, and for our own complicit self-sabotage.
Displayed throughout Davisville Station, FloodZone takes up the space of traditional advertisements, asking viewers to consider the dissonance among present desire and hope for the future. The effect of climate change may be most palpable at the edges for now—but as these images show, the interconnections among things implicate us all. As news headlines are increasingly dominated by new evidence of impending climate disaster, we live, much like a photograph, in a suspended state, the vision of our future as yet unclear.
Curated by Sara Knelman
Presented by CONTACT. Supported by PATTISON Outdoor Advertising. Part of ArtworxTO: Toronto's Year of Public Art 2021–2022
Anastasia Samoylova is a Russian-born American photographer who moves between observational photography, studio practice, and installation. Her work explores notions of environmentalism, consumerism, and the picturesque. She has recently held exhibitions at Kunst Haus Wien; Chrysler Museum of Art, HistoryMiami Museum; Kunsthalle Mannheim, and Museum of Fine Arts, Le Locle. In 2022 Samoylova was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize and will present an extensive solo exhibition at the Eastman Museum (Rochester, NY). Her work is in the collections of the Perez Art Museum Miami, the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, and the Wilhelm-Hack Museum, among others. Her two monographs, FloodZone and Floridas, were published by Steidl in 2019 and 2022.