The philosopher George Santayana once said, ”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That statement very accurately (and chillingly) applies to the recent history of military and ideological conflicts in the Western world.

Looking at the map today, the tragic geopolitical events of the past century seem to have either been forgotten or pushed out of the collective experience and labeled something inconvenient or outdated. The seemingly obvious facts about the numerous wars—the cold war between NATO and the Soviet Union, the arms race and recent disarmament treaties—appear to have had no lasting effect on modern society. Once more, we hear the drumbeat of war, we see the return of Cold War rhetoric, nationalism and conflict…

The works from the series “Shelter” are rooted in performances that occur in different places, in image archives and in the very memories of those who witnessed the previous conflict between NATO and the Soviet Union. Across the former USSR, old Soviet military bases are now being adapted to the needs of NATO armed forces after more than 20 years of neglect. These walls might soon witness a replay of the not-so-long-ago-yet-still-forgotten history of the 20th century.

Visually, I found inspiration from decades-old archival material that instructed civilians on how to protect themselves in a state of war, or after the deployment of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. This was just one of many inspirations for the images in “Shelter.”

All in all, these works are about the recurrence of group oblivion, about history repeating itself and about the grotesque language of propaganda. In my works, a particular emphasis is placed on the meaning of the images and the technical codes of communication. When decontextualized and visually recoded, they expose new and ironic perspectives on our collective fears and memories.

—Alnis Stakle