nikolay smirnov. mikhail sumgin’s subterranean museum of eternity
Nikolay Smirnov offers an account of the partially completed Soviet project of the "Subterranean Museum of Eternity" and contextualizes it within the current discussion of Anthropocene and of overcoming contemporary art.

In 1927 the Far Eastern Geophysical Laboratory published a book titled Permafrost soils in the USSR. The author, Mikhail Ivanovitch Sumgin, summarized disparate studies (some dating as far back as the 18th century) of crystosphenes, made a valid case for the use of the term "permafrost," delineated the boundaries of the permafrost zone on the map and put forward a number of ground-breaking hypotheses and insights. For instance, he discussed the ancient, pre-historic genesis of this phenomenon and the gradual degradation (that is to say, the warming and thawing of permafrost and the concomitant decrease in the thickness or the areal extent of permafrost) in our times. Furthermore, in one of the chapters of his book Sumgin argued that a "subterranean museum of eternity" should be created in order to preserve the most valuable documents, samples of plants, animals and even corpses of people. The idea was to safeguard these "model exhibits" for future research and study by relying on the preserving properties of the frozen soils.

Such project went far beyond the narrow instrumentalist and practical attitude towards permafrost that had dominated Russia's scientific discourse on the subject and its research since the late 19th century. In 1937, in the book's second edition, Sumgin still asserted the importance and beneficial role of his museum project for the humankind as a whole. From his first encounters with the permafrost in 1910s onwards he opted for an integrated approach to this phenomenon, which he regarded as a "Russian Sphynx", an enigma waiting to be solved. Sumgin's passion, energy and personal integrity, his ability to think in terms of projects, ultimately led him to spearhead the institutional creation of the new branch of Soviet science: geocryology, the study of frozen soils.

A brief overview is due of the scientific context of the era and of Sumgin's biography. From the 17th century onwards written sources have been mentioning accounts of the Cossacks about the subterranean ice deposits. However, for a long time it was believed that these disparate accounts were mere legends. The colonizers, faced with the necessity to procure water, could not dig wells, because the ground was frozen. The first discursive descriptions of permafrost (Lomonosov, Gmelin, Middendorf) are recorded in the 18−19th centuries.

In the first half of the 19th century, a certain Yakutian merchant by the name of Shergin managed to dig a well 116 meters deep. He did not reach water but the well shaft that he had dug became a scientific sensation of sorts and a testing site for measuring temperatures deep underground amidst the thickness of the ice. The outset of the construction of the Trans-Siberian inaugurated the new era in the study of permafrost from the practical point of view that took into consideration the tasks and objectives faced by the engineers. The industrial construction that was then underway necessitated development of specific methods and strategies of building on permafrost foundations, as well as the study of its properties and features. Different governmental agencies that had to do with the colonization of Siberia began to create specific departments and offices dedicated to the study of this phenomenon. One of these service agencies, the Amour Expedition of Transmigration Administration, came to play a vital role in the life of Mikhail Sumgin. By 1910, when Sumgin joined the Amour expedition, he was a political prisoner who had been exiled to the Tobolsk region.

A son of a scribe from a small Mordovian village, Sumgin was kicked out from the Saint Petersburg University (and not once, but twice!) for his participation in various underground groups and student riots. By the early 1900s he had joined the Socialist-Revolutionary party and was an enthusiastic member of Samara's revolutionary circles. Most notably, he played an active role in the creation of the short-lived separatist peasant movement, the so-called Stary Buyan Republic, for which he was later sentenced to five years in exile. A chance encounter with the Asian expedition of the Transmigration Administration of the Ministry for Agriculture enabled Sumgin to participate in the scientific exploration and research in the Amour area, where he dedicated himself to the study of frozen soils. By 1917 Sumgin had become a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party but soon left the party because he disagreed with the terror that the SRs unleashed against the Bolsheviks. He appealed to the Joint State Political Directorate, asked to be rehabilitated and promised to abandon any political activity for good. The period of stagnation during which Sumgin was not able to lead a productive professional or social life lasted for ten years. Sumgin tried to survive, took on odd jobs as a common laborer, or statistician, while simultaneously writing a book about permafrost.
A portrait of M. I. Sumgin (Kristina Popova, 10 years old, Igarka).
The late 1920s saw the institutionalization of permafrost studies, the onset of what came to be known as "the golden decade" of the new branch of science, geocryology, and a rather happy time for Sumgin himself, who managed to spearhead and coordinate the entire process. In rapid succession a Commission for the Study of Permafrost was set up, followed by a Committee for the Study of Permafrost, until finally, in 1939 the Institute of Permafrost Studies of the Soviet Academy of Sciences headed by and named after Vladimir Obruchev was established. All this time scholarly works about permafrost were being published, special Arctic stations and laboratories for the study of frozen ground were being founded and university curricula were put together. Predictably, the major thrust of Soviet geocryology was quite practical: it was important to study this phenomenon in order to develop appropriate construction methods of building on frozen ground, to be able to drill all the way down to reach the sub-permafrost waters and to understand how permafrost can serve the country's economy. Thus, Sumgin's first book carries a characteristic preface written by the director of the Far East Geophysical Observatory P. Koloskov. The preface reads: "Our ultimate task should be the destruction of permafrost by the joined forces of science and technology" [1].

Nevertheless, Sumgin continued to promote his own figurative, "poetic" notion of "permanent frost" and to advocate his project of the Subterranean Museum of Eternity. His determination was given a further boost by the successful experiments conducted by P. N. Kapterev who reported on finding viable amoebas and ciliates in the Transbaikalian permafrost sediments at the Skovorodinskaya permafrost station in the 1930s [2]. Perhaps, sensing that his own project was vulnerable at best, in the 1937 introduction to the second edition of his book Sumgin maintains that his "fantasies" were perfectly realistic. In one of the chapters of his work he writes: "Would it be possible to completely reverse the situation and to let the scientists who would live tens of thousands of years after us, examine the animal world of today through the study of permafrost? In other words, can the preservation of dead bodies within the permafrost, which up until now has been a matter of whimsical accident, become the conscious objective of human activity?" [3].

He continues: "Let us now imagine a storage place dug inside the permafrost into which corpses of animals that are of practical and scientific interest to humanity are systematically deposited. Once every millennium, corpses of different animals will be taken out of the depository for study and comparison with similar species, who will inhabit that distant future. And this scientific research will be carried out from one millennium to the next. I will not go into details as to the significance of such a museum for science, this is a task better left to zoologists. I merely propose the idea of using permafrost as a scientific museum-cum-fridge. However, I cannot help but dwell on one specific idea. Human corpses belonging to people of differences races can also be stored in this museum for thousands of years.

What is going to happen to humanity many thousands of years from now, when people's life styles, diet, occupations and their way of relating to each other will have changed beyond all recognition, and when humanity will have in fact merged to form one big family?
we are talking about an institution that should be able to continuously operate for thousands and thousands of years without a slightest interruption. even a minor interruption is bound to destroy the results of centuries and millennia of work.
Even beyond those ambitious objectives, it would be really interesting to chronicle the development and evolution of certain organs of the human body: brain, heart, the digestive system, etc. However, this museum-cum-refrigerator can serve other purposes as well. Continuous and uninterrupted exposure to the very low temperatures of the permanently frozen ground enables scientists to conduct experiments with long-term anabiosis lasting hundreds and even thousands of years…

Moreover, our museum built into the frozen ground can become a custodian of the most valuable and unique manuscripts of the famous people, of archival sources, of photographs documenting significant events and so much more… [4]".

"We are talking about an institution that should be able to continuously operate for thousands and thousands of years without a slightest interruption. Even a minor interruption is bound to destroy the results of centuries and millennia of work. Can we really vouch for a refrigerator operating without a hitch, for thousands of years on end? No, we cannot guarantee that a surface-mounted refrigerator will be able to operate trouble-free for so long. In contrast, the "refrigerator" of the permanently frozen ground is certain to function without a hitch for thousands of years and to safely preserve its contents. Moreover, if a social or a geological disaster were to ever destroy the museum-refrigerator inside the permafrost, its contents would not be damaged, although it would be difficult for humanity at large to conceive of the contents of this subterranean repository. I am convinced that despite the skepticism of the "sensible" naysayers and "well-wishers", such a museum is bound to be created one day to serve the humankind, and in doing so, it will contribute to its progress much more than the pyramids have ever done [5]".

Thus, the conservation of model samples of plants, animals and cultural artifacts for the purposes of comparing them with the evolved "offsprings" in the distant future becomes the key objective for Sumgin. By way of example, he speaks of a horse, that progress is certainly bound to change biologically, and argues that it would be really illuminating and fruitful for science to be able to compare contemporary (early 20th century) horses with the horses of the future. The very idea of preserving model samples in order to compare them with similar species in the future is closely linked to the constituent practice of establishing wildlife sanctuaries and reserves that was popular in the Soviet Union throughout the 1920s. These natural conservation areas were conceived of as a matrix or model of entire eco-systems that are subject to preservation. Sumgin's ideas on the subject dovetailed with the thinking of V.V. Dokuchayev, V.I.Vernadsky and the like. Parenthetically, Vernadsky's support of Sumgin and his authority in the academic community played a non-small part in the creation of the Commission for the Study of Permafrost in 1929.

Both editions of Sumgin's book contain almost identical deliberations on the subterranean museum of eternity. The popular science-fiction publication "The Conquest of the North", however, that Sumgin co-authored with Boris Demchinsky, a journalist, adds new touches to the subject: an enthusiastic description of the future museum itself: "The interior design of the museum can be very austere and simple, and yet magical, as if belonging in a fairy-tale. The pillaring and wall coverings leave much room for artistic creativity. Nothing on the surface above the site shall give away that there is a magnificent edifice concealed underneath. Perhaps, the only visible marker of the hidden museum would be the towers erected above the day-drifts equipped with elevating machines and integrated management of the lighting circuit and of automation devices installed inside the mines. Since the museum's interior space needs to be guarded against the impact of exterior temperatures, the vertical passage into the mine should be fenced off with isolating compartments to prevent warm air from entering the galleries. Electric lamps with their warm light gushing out would have been dangerous for the permafrost. That is why their light should be cold. Cold air injected from outside might cool the lamps and eliminate that danger. Galleries will be located on several levels or floors of the structure, one above the other. This would enable engineers and planners to have spaces with different temperatures at their disposal. At a certain depth the change of cold and warm seasons no longer has its effect. While on the surface bitterly cold winters give way to sweltering summers and the torrents of spring ice over in autumn, deep down under the surface temperatures do not fluctuate and remain continuously very low. At a certain distance from the subterranean museum of permafrost (so as not to disturb its smooth operation), a city of science should be built, with laboratories, study rooms and apartment blocks for scientists and researchers. This will inevitably resuscitate the surrounding region, spurring its economic and cultural development…

This grandiose project would be unique and unrivaled in the entire world in terms of its scale and originality! Nothing would serve the cause of life better than its silent galleries. Science would translate their silence into its own language. The process of evolution in its entirety would be displayed right in front of the viewers' eyes for all to see, thereby bringing into sharp relief the laws of life. Such a museum would be an invaluable gift for the future generations, exposing them to evolution, culture and the past in all their entirety [6]."

The lofty rhetoric and the non-academic tone of the book, among other things, suggest that it was probably authored by B. Demchinsky who drew on the ideas of Sumgin, rather than by Sumgin himself. Sumgin's conception itself, just like the discursive field of the then nascent area of geocryology is located in between the noosphere as an area of thought and the practical studies of that period geared towards the creation of underground depositories to serve economic or industrial purposes, not unlike Krylov's project for underground glacial storages.
Glacial storages designed by M. M. Krylov, created in the early 1930s.
For example, in December 1936, the geocyologists at the Igarka permafrost research station that at the time was operating under the auspices of the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route (also known as Glavsevmorput') began to construct a large-scale underground research laboratory. Constructors took particular interest in the issues of technical exploitation of subterranean spaces as natural refrigerators or traffic arteries. One of the underground chambers functioned as a biological museum since 1942. It contained frozen lizards, bumblebees, ruffes, as well as a sphinx-moth in the state of anabiosis, a ladybug and a fly. Scientists replenished the collection of the museum whenever possible and welcomed visitors.

Seeking to translate into life Sumgin’s idea about the preservation of documents, museum and historical objects de vertu inside the subterranean depositories, staff members of the Igarka permafrost research station decided to deposit a stack of war-time newspapers into this repository on April 6, 1950. Among the publications — "Pravda", "Izvestia", "Trud" and "Krasnoyarsky rabochy". In memory of the war dead the entire staff of the Igarka permafrost research station with L.A. Meyster at the hem declared that the box filled with newspapers should be open on May 9, 2045. The newspapers were put inside a wooden container which had been specifically manufactured for the occasion and had been well insulated to keep humidity out. The box was then placed at the center of chamber # 5 at the depth of two meters below the floor. In March 1965, a piece of Whatman’s drawing paper (with the copy of the "Act" about the burial of the newspapers on it) was frozen-in, embedded into the permafrost [7].

The head of the permafrost research station, a certain A.M.Pchelintsev, decided to put into action Sumgin’s idea. Besides the conservation of biological material and valuable documentation proposed by Sumgin, Pchelintsev conceived of a project to construct an underground skating rink, or rather a 120-meter long race track in the shape of two concentric circles carved out of the permafrost. V. Yaroslavtsev, a journalist for the "Krsanoyarsky rabochy", reported on this construction project: "The usual skating rinks in the Arctic are covered with layers and layers with snow during the heavy blizzards that last for many days on end. Moreover, it is not really that pleasant to skate outside when temperatures drop to — 40 degrees. [The new skating rink] will allow the locals to enjoy skating come rain or shine, in winter and in summer alike".

Construction of the museum began in February 1965: chamber # 5 was enlarged to match the size (3×7) of the small hall of the Museum of Permafrost, designed by Pchelintsev. The "burial" place of the newspapers-filled box was properly fitted out, a copy of the "Act" documenting the burial of the newspapers was installed in a wall niche inside two sheets of ice. The floor of the chamber was covered with water and frozen thoroughly. And thus, work began to fill the museum with exhibits.

A special register of all the exhibits of this museum that dates back to March 20, 1965, contains a complete inventory of all the objects that constituted its first exposition: a total of 34 items, mostly academic scholarship on the study of permafrost. The books were embedded, frozen inside the sheet of clearest ice taken from the Yenisey River. Workers used electric carpenter’s plane to treat the ice sheets that were then filed down and smoothed thoroughly with the help of heated steel plates. The polished ice sheet was "stamped" with a hot stamping tool to match the size of the books. Books were then placed inside the indent and covered with another sheet of ice and finally frozen through and through with the help of wet snow.

Unfortunately, the "Diary of the Museum of Permafrost" does not contain entries for every occasion. The most detailed notes were made by the Museum’s first ever guide Pavel Alekseevitch Evdokimov since 1972 onwards.

The Museum of Permafrost became an integral part of the system of the country’s academic and research institutions, and was mentioned in the reference book "Museums of the Soviet Academy of Science" and "Museums of the Academies of Science of the Soviet Republics" published between 1980 and 1985 [8].
Blueprint for a skating rink inside the permafrost by A.M. Pchelintsev (1965, Igarka).
Thus, the idea of an underground museum of eternity articulated within the nascent Soviet academic community, was partially realized. What is more, it was realized within its own institutions. However, it is interesting to view it against the backdrop of the global philosophical thought of the early 20th century on the one hand, and on the other, to juxtapose it with certain theories, including some that are still relevant today in the sphere of arts. If viewed in the context of the latter, Sumgin's project can be regarded as something refreshingly original and sensible.

As I have noted earlier, certain ideas of the founder of geocryology came close to the noospheric thinking of the time, so it is possible to say that they were implicitly characterized by certain general "scientific esotericism", "integral to the scientific discourse of modernity" [9]. Yet even more importantly, the author makes a special point of stressing that the subterranean museum of eternity denies overt metaphysics and symbolization of permafrost. By applying poetic, lyrical terms M. Sumgin nevertheless, believed it was important to reclaim them back from theology, and to understand these terms in their strict natural-philosophical sense: "I think that the authors that protest against the use of the word "eternal" in relation to permafrost, have issues with the use of terms that have already been deeply entrenched in theology. But this is nothing but a tactic of defeatism in the face of theology, while what we should really be doing is to launch an all-out offensive, including the sphere of terminology: we have to reclaim and repossess the terms and concepts appropriated by our opponents, and to imbue them with the natural-philosophical meaning, whenever possible [10]".

This specific focus distinguishes Sumgin's beliefs from Pavel Florensky's ideas about permafrost [11], and even more so, from Hanns Hörbiger's Welteislehre ("World Ice") cosmological theory, which was built around mythical epiphanies and later put at the service of German Nazism. At the same time, the juxtaposition of the museum intentions of the "World Ice" doctrine on the one hand and of the Subterranean Museum of Eternity on the other can become the subject of further research and study [12].

The absence of overt references to metaphysics also sets apart Sumgin's museum from the museum conceived of by Nikolay Fedorov. Russian Orthodoxy was at the heart of Fedorov's thought, while Sumgin refused to undergo the ceremony of confession at his wedding.

However, for our current purposes it is more important to highlight their similarities, such as orientation towards projects and universality. Planetary (and cosmic, in Fedorov's case) regulation certainly constitutes a chain of long-term museum projects. In this sense they are rigidly teleological. In Sumgin's case, a world museum constructed inside permafrost is integral to the planetary regulation in the future. Both Fedorov's and Sumgin's projects imply an exclusively scientific, research purpose of their museums: their museums are created by researchers and for researchers. "The Radiant Future" belongs in this world, it arrives as a result of the collective efforts and labor of the entire humanity, it is not given from above. It is important to overtake and possess nature and to triumph over death. Sumgin suggests that the way to do it is through the development of scientific methods, biology and experimentation with anabiosis, while Fedorov believes that the Resurrection of the dead is the key. Although Sumgin, the founding father of geocryology, does not explicitly speak about the triumph over death, in a sense, his references to the conquest of nature and his avid and continuous interest in anabiosis do imply exactly that. The very term "eternity" in the name of the museum suggests a certain finality of this project, the potential "unlocking" or opening up of human life span in the Future.

Both Sumgin and Fedorov believed it was important to engage the general public into their respective projects. While accumulating information about permafrost, Sumgin initiated a project of collecting observations from representatives of different social strata (alluvial miners, ethnographers, educators and students). In the early years of his life, Sumgin began his studies driven by a dream of becoming a "travelling professor" who could work towards improving the situation of the Russian peasantry. In the following years, whenever circumstances demanded it, he repeatedly sacrificed his academic pursuits to revolutionary activities and his work with the peasants. Ultimately, his academic and revolutionary pursuits merged into one big project that had to do with permafrost.
it is quite clear today that contemporary art is a systemic art of capitalist world order, and that is why we can often here calls for overcoming it, which essentially means, calls for overcoming capitalism per se.
When Sumgin came up with a proposal to create the Subterranean Museum of Eternity, in a sense, he instrumentalized the present for the sake of the Future, renounced the aesthetical properties of material objects for the sake of their function in future research. In other words, he postulated the supra-aesthetical mode of their existence, in which aesthetics was subjugated to certain more important tasks and objectives.

This correlates with the ideas of several contemporary theoreticians who are trying to solve the "access problem", the problem of the "subject-object relations" and that of overcoming contemporary art, "exiting" art and creating a supra-aesthetical mode of existence for contemporary art.

It is quite clear today that contemporary art is a systemic art of capitalist world order, and that is why we can often here calls for overcoming it, which essentially means, calls for overcoming capitalism per se. Contemporaneity is conceived of as Capitalocene or Anthropocene — a historical period when the scale and intensity of the impact that capitalism has on the planet have become truly menacing, "geological", which only goes to show that humanity has to find some ways of vanquishing this world order and moving on to a safer and more harmonious mode of being. This transition will inevitably lead to a change in the modality of being for society and for art in particular. Philosophers of speculative realism show that the art of the last two centuries is the art of correlation that operates and "happens" first and furthermost in the perception of the viewers without enabling them to access things "as they are", without as much as giving them hope of ever gaining such an access. But the most important thing is that art and contemporaneity are extremely self-involved, obsessed with themselves and anti-utopian in nature. The horizon of the Future as a point of attraction is missing, at times appearing in the guise of commodifiable ruins and ghosts, at best. It is exactly the urgent task of dramatically altering the objectives and modes of being that dictates the need of "exiting", abandoning art [13].

Theoreticians raise the question of creating a non-correlational art, an art that is born out of humanity's encounter or collision with the "arche-fossil", that is to say, with a certain fact that precedes the history of humankind. For example, Suhail Malik suggests the ultimate project for such a museum: not unlike an "arche-fossil", an artwork can exist for an indefinitely long period of time within an eternal darkness. "The demand here upon contemporary art is strictly non-trivial: it removes subjective interpretation or experience as a condition or telos of the artwork, and therewith collapses the entire edifice of the contemporary art paradigm [14]."

In a sense, the discovery of the remains of mammoths and other pre-historical animals, as well as certain "successful" cases of anabiosis of protozoans in the permafrost conditions outlined a particular horizon for contemporary scientific inquiry, not unlike the one that according to Quentin Meillassoux, is outlined by the problem of "arche-fossil" [15]. Sumgin's response to this — the project of the Subterranean Museum of Eternity — is a repository or a storage place of sorts, a machine manufacturing "ache-fossils" for the Future. It is an anti-teathron, a place of not-seeing, an art sanctuary, a port-franco and a duty-free storage [16], a solution to the problem of "access" on the part of natural sciences, a radical project of art without any viewers in the present. These are the objects that radically withdraw themselves from the field of experience, critical assessment and aesthetics in the present. This is the kind of art that seeks to become the "arche-fossil" itself. We are talking about a totalistic teleological museum project that postulates art and culture not as a flight of fancy or a frustrated desire, but as a rational knowledge and a project-oriented activity.

In that sense, Sumgin proposed a project of a supra-aesthetical museum, a museum with a "delayed" or "deferred" viewer, a museum-repository or archive of "arche-fossils" preserved for the future. The Subterranean Museum of Eternity postulates the duty of each and every individual to dedicate his or her life to the wellbeing of all the other people, including those, who have not yet been born. It warns us against being overly focused on the short-term trivial concerns. To this effect, it is geared towards the overcoming of the Present as it asserts its concept as a holistic creation, uninterrupted by the generational change, with a focus on the piecing together of a cohesive unity. Reason is called upon to govern that mega-project. This is the language of Utopia, which is still a non-being, but a potentiality, a project that constitutes (at least in the realm of language) an explicit possibility of existence.

Today it is one of the practices that are capable to a certain extent of providing an outline of the present and of overcoming its totally anti-utopian essence. Benjamin H. Bratton, for example, seeks to delineate the project of exiting the Anthropocene, that is to say, our current predicament, through accelerationism, the perception of the Present as an incubator for a certain xeno-Future and the shifting of attention towards the forms of this future, would-be "Other". This implies, among other things, inverting the logic of the "arche-fossil" but redirecting it towards the present. In the words of Benjamin H. Bratton, "For the post-Anthropocene, and our contingent disorientations (apophenias, aesthetics, designs) we must pivot and rotate that arche-fossil's temporal trajectory from one of ancestrality toward one of alien descendence". It means visualizing and encountering our descendants that we already carry within us in a form of complex biotechnological processes and "for which we are the ancestor and for which we are the unthinkable fossil" not very different from the Caenozoic Era fossils [17]. This rotation of the logic and trajectory of the "arche-fossil" was integral to Sumgin's thinking as well. His Subterranean Museum of Eternity was a project of collecting arche-fossils for the future that today can be regarded as an attempt to guarantee a Future, a different, post-Anthropocene kind of future, by making it a matter of concern.

Thus, we can adapt the project of a global museum inside permafrost to these current demands by reconsidering and redefining a number of its conditions or stipulations.
Irina Filatova, The Subterranean Museum of Eternity. This project was implemented on the premises of the underground laboratory of geocyrology at the Institute of Permafrost Studies, within the framework of the Arctic Biennale of Contemporary Art. (Yakutsk, 2016, transmission customized by Aleksei Romanov).
First of all, we should radicalize the supra-aesthetical mode of being of this subterranean museum that implies a total absence of viewers in the present and in general, a substitution of viewers by future researchers. By fulfilling this stipulation we can hope to be able to overcome contemporary art as an industry of display and demonstration and to identify a solution to the philosophical «access problem». It will also help constitute a museum of non-correlationist realism in the present.

Secondly, it is suggested, that a certain xeno-descendant in the Future will become a researcher. For now we can ignore the anthropocentric character of Sumgin's project that is also centered around science, while maintaining its teleological essence. The planet Earth itself is drawn into the project with all of its geological layers. Artifacts belonging to human culture, art, animals, biomaterial, plants and any other possible entity become equally important and valuable as exhibits.

Thus, the modified museum envisioned by Sumgin receives a new emphasis and focus that turns it into a project that accelerates and overcomes contemporary art in its conventional forms, which support the status-quo, and more generally, Anthropocene and Capitalocene as expressions of the logic of algorithmic neoliberal capitalism on its route to post-Anthropocene.


[1] M. I. Sumgin, Vechnaya merzlota pochvy v predelakh SSSR [Permafrost Soils in the USSR] (Vladivostok, 1927): viii.

[2] See P. N.Kapterev, "Ob anabiose v usloviakh vechnoy merzloty" ["On anabiosis in permafrost conditions"] (Soviet Academy of Sciences, Biology series, 1936, no.6, pp. 1073-1088)

[3] M. I. Sumgin, Vechnaya merzlota pochvy v predelakh SSSR [Permafrost Soils in the USSR] 2nd edition. (Moscow, (Moscow; Leningrad: Publishing House of the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1937), 354.

[4] Ibid, p. 355

[5] Ibid, p. 354

[6] M. I. Sumgin, "Zavoevanie Severa (v oblasti vechnoy merzloty)". The conquest of the North: (in the permafrost region) / M. I. Sumgin and BN Demchinsky; Academy of Sciences of the USSR. (Moscow; Leningrad: Publishing House of the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1938), 140-141.

[7] See the official web-site of the ethnographic complex the Igarka Permafrost Museum http://www.igarka-permafrostmuseum.ru/index.php/20….

[8] Ibid.

[9] See Wessely, Christina. Cosmic Ice Theory – science, fiction and the public, 1894–1945". http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/project….

[10] See, M.I. Sumgin, Vechnaya merzlota pochvy v predelakh SSSR [Permafrost Soils in the USSR] (Vladivostok: 1927), 12.

[11] In 1934, Russian Orthodox priest, theologian and philosopher Pavel Florensky spent six months as a Gulag prisoner doing research and conducting observations at the permafrost experimental station in Skovorodino. This is when he became passionately interested in the subject and began writing his final lyrical poem "Oro", dedicated to this phenomenon. In Florensky's poetic rendition, permafrost comes to symbolize certain metaphysical forces. For him, it embodies purity and serves a potential source of creative and destructive powers, because it conceals Gold in its depths. "But the same goes for the soul. Permafrost covers up past bitterness, insults, and sad observations in the soul. There's no need to dig in the soul's depths. Permafrost courage gives strength to cope with the destructive forces of chaos. Permafrost is Hellenism".

"Oro" is a lyrical poem, in which permafrost functions as a triple symbol of nature, people and individual personality. Florensky's perception of permafrost is characterized by symbolism, cosmology and resemblance among different worlds:

"Crystal cupola, blue as the sky, emerges from the taiga moss. But is not the canopy of heaven – the very same ice that sparkles with an abyss of bubbles, locked inside the icy cover. (Florensky, "Oro")

[12] The Welteislehre ("World Ice") theory was based on the activities of a Nazi Ahnenerbe project ("ancestral heritage") that, in turn, sought to research and recover the racial heritage of the German people. According to the ideologues of Ahnenerbe, there are traces of the great civilizations that have ceased to exist, scattered all across the globe, and these traces can be interpreted as messages from the past. These cultural remnants were meant to enable to revival of the super-human race in Germany, the true heirs of the ancient Aryan race. In order to discover and decipher these messages, Ahnenerbe organized and launched various expeditions. In both Mikhail Sumgin's project of the Subterranean Museum of Eternity and in the "World Ice" theory, artworks function as a valuable research material, a message of sorts addressed to future readers, an important evidence that serves purposes other than the purely aesthetical ones, etc. Their projects mirror each other in relation to the present. Sumgin proposes to replenish the underground repository for the sake of future generations, while the Ahnenerbe were seeking out traces of the past in order to put them at the service of their current project. The Nazis "inverted" the vector of Sumgin's project towards the present by claiming that the time has come to start collecting traces of the past. However, both Sumgin and the adherents of the Ahnenerbe doctrine stress the importance of the very act of collecting and the instrumentalist, project-oriented approach to the "heritage" that is bound to become an extremely valuable source of knowledge. Yet at the same time, unlike the Welteislehre theory, geocryology did not venture into the realm of cosmology and did not pretend that it could explain the entire history of humankind. While Hörbiger's doctrine required of its adherents to take a leap of faith and to be enthusiastic about it, the Soviet study of permanently frozen soils mostly belonged in the realm of the purely scientific discourse, unemotional and instrumentalist in its relation to the planet. Similarly, regarding his project for an underground museum of eternity, Sumgin keeps stressing its feasibility and importance for science and future experimentations.

[13] See, for example, Malik Suhail's "Reason to Destroy Contemporary Art: 21st Century Theory" in Spike Art 37 (Autumn 2013); Pamela M. Lee's Forgetting the Art World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012) or Peter Osborne's Anywhere Or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (Verso, 2013).

[14] Malik Suhail, "Reason to Destroy Contemporary Art", quoted in Stefan Heidenreich, "Freeportism as Style and Ideology: Post-Internet and Speculative Realism, Part II" in E-flux. Journal # 73 (May 2016) http://www.e-flux.com/journal/73/60 471/freeportism….

[15] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (Continuum, 2008).

[16] It is, perhaps, appropriate to reference here the ideas of Hito Steyerl on freeportism and the writings of Stefan Heidenreich that further elaborate on them http://www.e-flux.com/journal/71/60 521/freeportism….

[17] Benjamin H. Bratton, "Some Trace Effects of the Post-Anthropocene: On Accelerationist Geopolitical Aesthetics" in E-flux. Journal #46 (June 2013)