What does it mean to “be in the right place”? In the USSR in the 60s, an era of stagnation began. Many citizens mistook for stability. A strange gap was found between childhood dreams and the reality of life: most children dreamed big of becoming astronauts, pilots, heroes, but fell into one of the “school-professional college-factory” or “school-university-research institute” conveyors. Each one was accompanied by the Soviet material standard “apartment-country house-car”. And the main trick of the USSR: it was not necessary to earn money for material values - it was necessary to “stand in line” (to be in a list) and wait for these benefits from the state. How soon the turn “would come” depended on the state institution in which the citizen “stood in line” and on how quirky the citizen was. There were various unofficial mechanisms for moving to the top of the list.
My dad belonged to the post-war generation born after the end of World War II, which is called the “Great Patriotic War” in Russia. Dad had a talent for mathematics. As a school student, he took part in the mathematical and physical Olympiads, and won prizes in many. He could enter the best mathematical university faculties in Moscow — at Moscow State University or at Moscow Aviation Institute. Just at the time when dad was finishing school, a new 4th Technical Faculty was opened at the High School of the KGB. This faculty supposed to prepare mathematicians-cryptographers. Faculty workers were looking for talented graduates and offered admission without exams. My grandmother, my father’s mother, found that proposal wonderful — guaranteed admission (for other faculties it was necessary to pass exams, prepare with tutors and extra spendings), and a predictable stable future (the military workers traditionally made good money, especially those who worked in the KGB). But for some reason she forgot to include dad’s soft character in this system of equations…
Soviet youth was infantile and careless, as everything was predetermined. The pipelines are clear. Ambition had nowhere to manifest itself, with rare exceptions.
And dad ended up at the High School of the KGB, and then in the department of the committee that dealt with the security of state communications. This department in 1991 separated into an independent Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI). The employees of this department/Agency were considered the intellectual elite, but the military order still reigned in the organization. And everyone had a military rank. Dad started working there right after high school. He worked there until his death in 2001.
He was forbidden to talk about his work at home. And he didn’t. My sister and I thought he was an ordinary programmer — that’s what our parents told us. And the fact that he wrote algorithms for encrypting information — I found out after his death. I put together “1 + 1” — my father’s books on cryptography and books on the C ++ programming language, which I sorted out after his death.
He left on September 13, 2001, hanged himself on the balcony in our family apartment. My mother and sister slept in adjacent rooms. I was 21, my sister was 16. Dad was very fond of photography, he took a lot of pictures. He himself developed films at home and printed photographs. Films and prints were kept and are kept by my mother in a large box. I was ready to to open this box only in 2019.
Looking through the pictures and slides, scanning my father’s films, I got to know another him. And I wondered: what is it like to live a double life? Keep one life a secret from you close ones? Just imagine that you have a job, you go to the office and you are not allowed to discuss your office life with anyone. And at work, you are obliged to follow instructions, to follow orders without any doubts and discussions. Will you be the same person at the end as you were at the beginning?
Binom — (from Latin “bis” — twice, “nomen” — name) — a special case of a polynom consisting of two terms. Students of the 4th Technical Faculty of the High School of the KGB jokingly called themselves “binoms”.
What was it to live double life? The book consists of two parts. One is about military life (which was secret for me) and the other is about his ordinary life with my mother, my sister and me.
The project’s path
This period was dedicated to my lost memories about my father. I opened the box with his photo archive after 18 years after his suicide. This stage was very painful and very personal.
I was searching the main idea of my project. I realised that the fact of suicide was so strong that it overshadowed everything else. It beat immediately with an uppercut on the viewer. I wanted to focus on something else. I felt the main idea wasn’t in suicide but in something else. I tried the are of mathematics and cryptography. I tried to find a secret key or a secret message from my father. In this stage I’m still too personally connected to the material.
My project “Solve the system of equations” within the exhibition “Constructor_fathers” curated by Liza Svetlova (Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 2021)
My performance “Open key” within the K-fitness program led by Alec Petuk (Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art, 2021)
Finally the main idea is found — the double life of my father. One is an ordinary life of a soviet family man with a wife and two kids. The other — is a secret life of a cryptographer for the governmental information, of a military man on duty.
On this stage I went to the Photobook as an Object workshop by Yumi Goto (Reminders Photography Stronghold) and Jan Rosseel.
Photos from the “Photobook as an Object” workshop are made by Moe Suzuki.