the project

Barabinsk, July 2013

The Palka Diaries

This was a family history project led by Adrian Palka, a senior lecturer at Coventry University. It is based around an inherited wartime diary, which tells the story of how Adrian’s grandfather and father were exiled in a Siberian labour camp during World War 2. The project aims to shed light on to this dark period in European history as well as honour the memory of deceased relatives by making their story available to the general public, using this website, educational talks and art exhibitions.

This has been done with the support of Coventry University and the Heritage Lottery Fund's All Our Stories programme.

Personal statement: Adrian Palka

The story of the Siberian episode has ingrained itself as an elemental narrative within our family. It is a story of extreme hardship and loss which defined my father’s life and reverberates deeply in all of us.

My father, like the Ancient Mariner, told and retold this story unprompted throughout his life. The natural focus of his mind was on this period and though engaged in the daily processes of life, he was drawn back and back in an endless cycle of rumination and above all in the act of 'telling the story'. The diasporic sense of loss and yearning for lost home, the infinite turning of the mind to 'somewhere else', the preoccupation with national identity, the repeated journeys back to Poland and the weight of suffering underpinned normal family life with a latent tragic undertone. At the same time, the story was full of the will to survive, bursting with a deep love of nature and respect for the Russian people who helped him on his way. This constant point of reference made the quotidian task of daily life part of an epic tale of survival and the will to prevail over circumstance.

Field Trip

When I inherited the diary, I decided to explore its contents, to grapple with the family story and the history. As part of this project I undertook a research field trip following in the footsteps of the diary to Siberia with Wolfram Spyra (Berlin) and Roksana Vykaluk (Kiev) in July 2013.

The intention behind the trip was initially simply to see the landscapes contained in this family myth. At a deeper level it was to process the psychic material contained within the story and gather materials for artistic and educational projects.

We took this journey at the same time of year as the trip in the diary and passed through many of the places mentioned in it. We travelled six days by train and two days by car. Naturally our experience was unimaginably different from that of my father and grandfather.

Documentation

On the field trip we made comprehensive audio-visual documentation, including photos, video and sound recordings. We collected these as materials for future performances, installations and educational projects.

Interventions

While travelling we made several spontaneous performance interventions on the way using live projections and live readings, as well as recordings of readings from the diary text. On one level these were intended as a live processing of the materials around us and on another symbolically to mark the survival in memory of those the labour camps sought to annihilate.