Narva’s Fringes: Acupuncture in a post-industrial context

Inês Moreira, Pille Runnel and Ruth-Helene Melioranski

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Inês Moreira is an architect, curator, researcher, critic and university lecturer. She is Principal Investigator in Visual Arts (Laboratory of Landscapes, Heritage and Territory, University of Minho). Her projects explore broad life cycles of buildings and address human-induced accidents in (de)industrialised territories. Recently, she has been seeking to understand contemporary legacies and non-beloved heritages, such as post-WWII monuments, infrastructures and industrial and military architectures.

Pille Runnel (PhD) is a communications scholar, curator and editor. She is research director at the Estonian National Museum (Tartu, Estonia). With a background in communication and media studies and ethnology, her research has looked at the user side of the information society. Her current research focus is museum communication and innovation, cultural heritage and heritage policy.

Ruth-Helene Melioranski is the Dean of the Design Faculty at the Estonian Academy of Arts. She has a background in design research, practice and education, focusing on exploring how design can tackle societal challenges. She conceptualises new and emerging design practices in higher educational and professional contexts through her research-through-design projects. In her professional practice, she leads several strategic, service and co-design projects to help partners envision their future possibilities and build scenarios in healthcare and well-being.

Narva is a small regional town playing a neuralgic role in European geopolitics and history on its eastern-most border. Remote from regional capital cities – by the Baltic Sea and between Tallinn and St Petersburg, depending on the perspective – it holds a centrality which became evident again after the reinforcement of the European Union and NATO borders with Russia in 2022. Once a lively international industrial epicentre, home to the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company, whose ruins sit in an island in the middle of the Narva River, which separates Estonia from Russia, and the Baltijets factory, producing military hardware to feed the Soviet army, the city has more recently been reinventing itself as a strategic postindustrial region. It is a place where information and digital technologies, the ruins of different industrial pasts (Russian, German, Soviet, Estonian), and the powerful energy production industries are undergoing a complex transition for a more sustainable society in line with European Union policies. 

Deindustrialized, re-industrialized and still feeding international energy production, the context is complex and deserves time and attention from a diversity of perspectives. Narva recently attracted the Context working group of the European Forum for Advanced Practices, a collective of artists, scholars, curators and academics researching the conditions and contexts from which experimental and creative practices emerge. 

The research looked at Narva as part of the European geographical fringe, in a close reading of its post-industrial and transitioning layers, departing from artistic, design and curatorial practices and informed by the perspective of cultural critique. When the working group arrived in Narva, the Ukrainian war had just started and the context reflected the new geopolitical circumstances, complicating even further the postindustrial condition. This text is a dialogue on the notes, impressions and reflections of Inês Moreira, Pille Runnel and Ruth-Helene Melioranski, written a year after the Forum’s fieldwork visit in April 2022.

Ruth-Helene Melioranski: We come from different disciplines and have various backgrounds, so for introduction, we should shed some light on our personal and disciplinary perspectives on the post-industrial. I, as a designer, see designing as an inherently industrial profession. Therefore, post-industrialisation is extremely exciting for the discipline, as so many developments are taking place at different levels and in distinct directions. For example, immaterial design disciplines (e.g. service design, interaction design etc.) have emerged, which can be industrially produced in a certain sense, but are not mass-produced in factories. In addition, design is directed to post-industrialisation via digitalisation both designing digitally and designing for digital distribution or use. The digital can provide global reach without mass production in the industrial sense while being highly personalised and people-centred. It is also linked to the recent explosion of artificial intelligence, whose scale and impact on the design industry have numerous possibilities.

Pille Runnel: In media and communication studies, which is my original academic field, the post-industrialist discussion likely started with Daniel Bell in the 1970s, when he outlined it as a society led by services and information accompanied by societal restructuring: techno-elites and the emergence of science-rich industries. In communication studies the debates moved further under the concepts of the ‘information society’, ‘knowledge society’ and ‘networked society’, all addressing the role of ICTs and the digital, globalisation, shifts in understanding the role of state etc. Since I studied the development of the information society (users/audiences/consumers, development of e-services), I have left the more clear-cut field of media studies.

Inês Moreira: From architecture, landscape and territory, we tend to think of post-industrialism as the material evidence and remnants of the industrial past, its ruins and former infrastructure. From visual and urban cultures, postindustrialism is part of the collective imaginary of late 20th century, a site for appropriation and intervention, from urban explorers to graffiti and other spatial practices revealing the inside of abandoned giants. Cinema has had a relevant role in defining its apocalyptic aesthetics, in both Soviet, American and Indie films.

The post-industrialism of Western Europe and the US corresponds to the delocalization of industry to other sites of production (East, Middle East, Asia, North Africa), and is therefore the result of the globalisation of companies; production leaves the physical locations of the old factories, but the other functions stay in the original countries. Also, for industrial heritage and industrial archaeology, the care for the original factory, machinery and brands encapsulates the present as referring to its foundational opening, the present condition tends to be perceived as a distortion, or a failure of the heroic past. On the other hand, as I work in an interdisciplinary manner, we also know that economy, technology and new media consider post-industrialism as the digital industrial revolution, referring most especially to dematerialization and the creative and intellectual dimensions of work – most often not in factories. For these two perspectives on post-industrialism, there is an obvious difference between a factory building – as architecture or heritage perceives it – and a networked industry operating a global business – eventually operating several factories.

When thinking of post-industrialism, nowadays, I try to bring the three dimensions into play: architectural ruins and remnants of factories, the global economy and networks, and the dematerialized production of knowledge and digital assets. Narva encapsulates them all; that is the reason why visiting in 2022 was so relevant for our debates.

A vibrant energy flowing between Estonia and Russia. A view from Kreenholm to Russia when the floodgates are open during spring tides. Photo: Ruth-Helene Melioranski

PR: In my current field of heritage studies, post-industrialism is very much what Inês just outlined. Recently, there is more discussion around the communities linked to the post-industrial places, heritage and memory, on the one hand, and abandonment, displacement and lack of stability in these communities, on the other, intertwined with the impact of industries on their overall existence (e.g., ecological impact, contamination of places or health issues).

R-HM: The impact of industries is a super-complex topic, which is obviously reflected in post-industrial phenomena. Just to mention two aspects: one complicated set of issues relates to the workforce. It is widely known how industries exploited their workers and impacted people’s livelihoods. Kreenholm shares the same history, the work was hard, and conditions were unhealthy. The gender issue is part of it, as the industries were gender-wise quite imbalanced; the workers at Kreenholm were primarily female. Our Soviet past contains a specific understanding of gender equality and the proletariat’s power, which was highly valued in words but not practised in daily actions.

The other tremendous impact of industry links straight to the climate crisis. This enormous disaster happening to the planet nowadays is a direct consequence of the industrial and market-based design applications to date. Therefore, all attempts towards more sustainable, circular, multi-species-centred approaches can be considered post-industrial. As Inês described, the same process occurred here: industry moved eastwards when our living standards got too high, and Estonia wasn’t the place for cheap labour anymore. The source of pollution also moved away, but it still arrives here more indirectly – it is still the same planet.

IM: The ecofeminist debates around culture and art consider human and post-human notions of manmade ecologies and territories, which have been turning heads towards post-socialist countries and regions, where infrastructures, industries and the extraction of natural resources and energy production form new contemporary landscapes – this is quite evident in northeastern Estonia. Beyond binary categories of good and bad, right and wrong, ecofeminism embraces complexity and follows an integrated understanding of nature-culture and its conflicts, as we have learned from Donna Haraway. Therefore, the ash mountains of the Ida-Virumaa region, the artificial lakes for energy production, the infinite underground mining tunnels and the invisible chemical ponds seen only by google maps as new man made geographies and topologies, are parts of the relevant (post)industrial territories where people have settled and reflect their daily activities. Remediation, decontamination, cleansing and sustainability are needed to keep the balance between human life, the planet and the livelihood of communities – one reason why post-Soviet territories invite integrated and holistic approaches.

PR: Yes, and one more layer I’d add as a personal interest is the post-industrial ecology of space – abandoned places, no-man’s lands meeting post-wild nature and plantscapes emerging in post-industrial spaces. In landscape architecture and gardening new forms of planting in a post-wild world are emerging, seeing the promise of managing local landscapes so as to make them tools to address environmental change, challenging the attempts to keep the landscape cultivated, fixed and layered on top of the locality, which follow traditional cultured models or visions (e.g., as we can see in monument-management in Narva, and its well-funded, carefully planned and utilised conservative landscape management).

Designer Bruno Tomberg’s Estonian design classic electric radiator Tempo-2 (1974) in the abandoned Baltijets factory. Volta produced half a million pieces and sold them across the USSR (on the map). Photo: Ruth-Helene Melioranski

IM: Post-industrialism, in its relation to past legacies and heritage, is a culture-specific condition that I have been researching in recent years. In the Baltic, we look at deindustrialisation and post-industrialism, also as post-socialism, and there’s an aesthetic and symbolic connotation from the grey geometric blocks, the chimneys, cranes and shafts of that period, whether abandoned or not.

The apocalyptic aesthetics of deindustrialisation, contamination and dereliction – influenced among others by Zone ambience in Tarkovsky’s Stalker which was filmed in Estonia – were gigantic attractors for people to visit and to study the architecture, infrastructure and landscapes of the Baltic countries. While this accelerated after being immersed in the Soviet aesthetic and catastrophic spatial experience, my research, contrary to that, evolved to explore more subtle cultural nuances when relating to the Iberian Peninsula.

The socio-political context of the industrial past and the national struggles during the 20th century have set the basis for different relations to heritage and to past legacies, now, in the 21st century. I have explored this in the Post-Nostalgic Knowings curatorial project, and book, where through feelings towards the past grounded culturally as toska, nostalghia and saudade, we perceive different relations towards these legacies, affecting the perception and acceptance of heritage. Of course we cannot generalise, and they change in time, as they did in Poland at the shipyards. We have been finding that Estonia had a sour, toska, relation to legacies of the Soviet past, not assuming it as heritage when these sites lost their function.

The long abandonment and untouched condition of places like the Patarei prison and the Maarjamäe memorial in Tallinn exhibit loud silences – even their loud ideological thematisation as horror chambers exaggerate this symbolism. Again, think of Linnahall, of the hundreds of collective farms or the factory buildings which became redundant when the production system changed. This is also the case of the perception of post-industrial sites, to which we must add another layer: some production sites were abandoned in the 90’s, while others kept functioning and absorbed the production of deindustrialisation in Western Europe – like Kreenholm, in Narva, did until 2010

In the context of this conundrum, the relationship to industrial sites differs from other more celebratory approaches; in fact, it is easy to understand that for people working in such poor, unhealthy and polluted conditions there isn’t much to celebrate after independence. And, to a very direct extent, we can perceive why stars and communist symbols are now being removed. However, heritage processes demand wider readings and a sense of contribution to humanity beyond these immediate communities.

Industrialisation in Estonia (as in Latvia and Lithuania), and therefore its memory, coincides with socialism and with State dominance. Its representations, aesthetics and language became controversial legacies upon independence from the Soviet Union – there is no celebration of architecture, infrastructure and other urban elements, like soviet monuments, most were kept suspended for two or three decades.

PR: For me, this links to the concept of the adaptive reuse of heritage, which is one of the concepts emerging in post-industrialism. It has become a novel policy concept in the framework of the European Green Deal at the forefront of European heritage politics, being to some extent limited in its optimism, as the outcome is expected to be the well thought out and successfully implemented reuse of old (built) infrastructures. This is what actual heritage processes rarely are, as you just discussed in the case of post-industrial or post-socialist built heritage. Apart from flagship buildings and areas, it is challenging to absorb it all. Also, what about the monuments representing difficult heritage and conflicts? They are simultaneously significant and uncomfortable complicities of the past, which cannot be adaptively reused in terms of how the concept is understood in cultural policies. The past century has shown constant wars over monuments. Often there have been rapid solutions involving the complete demolition of sites. It happened in the Second World War even with graveyards, where the new graves of the fallen soldiers and civilians were quickly demolished and used for new burials by the new regime. When we are talking about adaptive reuse, is it only possible in the educated settings of 21st-century Europe? For example, as manifested in the re-use of buildings by merging them into contemporary architectural solutions, which sometimes succeeds in balancing the politics and poetics of the urban built infrastructure inclusively.

The monument inside Kreenholm Factory commemorates the centennial of the workers' strike. Photo: Inês Moreira

IM: I am particularly interested in the non-beloved heritages and legacies that are there but have been made invisible to the eyes. In a twisted manner, one of the adaptive strategies is the cleansing of the non-beloved layers. Some buildings were cleansed of their socialist layers, the giant Kreenholm factory was turned even more British than Britain as the building was polished and made pure by eroding all elements revealing its cumulative history during the last decades, with several socialist additions. This is not adaptive reuse, I know, but a strong epidermic reaction to history producing a new kind of time travel to the foundational moment by eliminating the non beloved socialist layers.

PR: Interestingly, what you describe, in a way paved the road to adaptive re-use, as Kreenholm is subject to major redevelopments as a cultural quarter.

R-HM: Today, as a former industrial site, Kreenholm looks abandoned, but several gentrification initiatives are taking place: NART is in the former director’s residence, musical and theatre pieces are played in the courtyard, exhibitions and concerts take place.

Additional post-industrial development in design, which is linked to these gentrification practices, relates to neo-materialism and crafts – being physical, present and the search for roots and localness. This includes all the local making practices, maker-spaces, diffused production and distribution systems, and so on. To some extent, it is balancing globalisation and digitalisation. As we saw at NART, there was a design exhibition up during our visit. It was called a comprehensive overview of Estonian design and mostly exhibited crafted objects. We saw the same at the design fair in the rooms of the centre of innovation and creativity, Objekt, mostly crafts and hand-made products were on sale. This is a bigger transition from hyper-specialisation and dependence on corporations and professional know-how towards self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Diffused production and distribution systems relate to an overall post-industrial trend towards the decentralisation of power and resources.

PR: In my museum work, there is a link to post-industrialism in terms of how you described it (crafts, increased focus on locality and re-using pre-industrial heritage as a resource for the future) – colleague’s work around reuse and repair and circularity. There is a sense of praising crafts and the local as a part of ideal futures.

IM: Narva is a very precise location and context, with Soviet monuments, nationalist tensions, international borders, the Kreenholm factory, Vaba Lava theatre centre, Objekt entrepreneurial platform, the TV studios, the digital companies, the artistic residency at NART, the refugees and artists in-transit, we can read its postindustrial condition from different angles.

R-HM: Narva has been a famous industrial hub and its post-industrial density with its rich historical and cultural conditions were the reason we planned our visit to Narva. The conditions in Narva have always been full of tensions, as it is at the border of Estonia and Russia, the border of the West and the East. But then, the Ukrainian war just started, so these tensions intensified even more.

PR: My previous links to Narva have mostly been professional and mediated by relations in the museum field and secondly rooted in the sociological studies we carried out at the University of Tartu, looking at the social processes and stratification in the region as part of larger, national developments. So my immediate reaction was actually feeling that I have managed to step out of these institutional framings. What emerged was a mixture of insights into local everyday life, which appears to be like the intersection of continental plates: in a calm state, yet the tensions have been building throughout the past century, and some tears have become visible again (unexpected meetings with Ukrainian refugees who had escaped hell in Izyum). I also learned about the post-industrial condition in Narva in particular: earlier historical layers that have not been so smoothed over (socially, in terms of urban development) appear to be layered on top of each other rather rawly and harshly, and are still affecting the here and now.

IM: As an image, when entering Kreenholm, right before the river bridge, there is a monument to the workers with a multitude of small men and women led by a woman with strong arms and an affirmative posture: with the years 1872–1972, to commemorate the largest workers' strikes in Tsarist Russia. In 2022, 150 years later, the centennial artwork is a monument that cannot be seen; it sits within the private grounds of the factory, just facing the private company Rapid Security OÜ between the street and the inner plot of the factory. Instead of celebrating the pride and struggle of the workers, now, a security company maintains the health and safety of  the empty production site. The lonely monumental woman stands in a very dark and abandoned atmosphere, celebrating the harshness of a former era. Now, in front of her a green park bench amid wild vegetation provides some space for contemplation; behind her, the barbed wire keeps people from crossing the Estonian border. I think it’s a very interesting monument and image of the present condition: public and private, multitude and individual, artistic and mundane, contemplation and security, industry and nature.

R-HM: Baltijets and Kreenholm are both very vibrant examples. Kreenholm was once the most prominent textile factory in Europe – the centre of this industry. It is renowned in the Estonian design scene, as it was a prominent textile design hub for the former Soviet Union. During its last years of operation, it was producing for Marimekko, the famous Finnish design collection.

Visiting Baltijets, a former military factory, felt schizophrenic – several post-industrial tensions were simultaneously apparent. One wing was being demolished and in the process of becoming dust. The wing we visited was covered in dust, a kind of still-life from the beginning of the 1990s – piles of technical industrial drawings, catalogues and archives just left there at the moment of abandonment. Maps of the USSR in the offices representing the political reality of the time. The other wing, where Object is located, had a start-up community building vibe with enthusiastic Narva youngsters trying to build a brighter future for themselves despite the dust and otherwise toxic atmosphere full of tensions.

IM: The sequence of our visit to Baltijets was very revealing of the compression and juxtaposition of uses and times within one city quarter that was once a factory. It started as a visit to the Vaba Lava theatre, with high-end TV studios and technical and public areas, it presented a proud conversion of an old building for new cultural uses in a remote area of Estonia (and the European Union). From the back windows of the theatre dressing rooms, the demolition of other buildings within the same complex created an apocalyptic and sublime view: concrete and metal frames being scavenged out of the internal colourful walls, as if exposing the organs of a once fully operating organism that used to produce military hardware. The contrast was evident, new repurposed cultural facilities versus an old derelict factory being torn down. Then, we crossed a service door into the lobby of Vaba Lava, and a time capsule revealed itself: the headquarters that Ruth mentioned with their original, vintage, retro materials, scattered everywhere or simply destroyed. In a certain room, someone arranged a diorama-like ambience, with spectacular red chairs and coffee cups. And then, the next building, a lively, vivid, technophilic environment preparing youngsters around 18 or 19 years old to work with technology, data, and information. 

PR: Exploring the legacy of de-industrialisation in our joint field trip format involved not directly meeting, but becoming better aware of the community which was mostly formed post-WWII and built its shared past around WWII and the industrial development that followed. For many of the current inhabitants of Narva, its history started 75 years ago. They are disconnected from not just the pre-war town, but the old industrial infrastructures because although production continued at Kreenholm, new industries which needed completely different sets of skills, and thus new labour, were created, such as Baltijets, which was established in 1947 (called “BO Box 22” – “Почтовый ящик (П/Я) 22”).

When trying to understand how a community handles the change and disruption around sociopolitical, spatial, material and memorial conditions, art often becomes one of the mediums for that. In our site visits, art professionals gave the impression that art is somewhat rejected by the locals. At the same time, art is a post-industrial phenomenon in Narva, a sphere of collaboration, interaction, and contacts outside the community (Estonia, international). It often functions as the entry point to Narva for outsiders and our working group also used it as an entry point, rather than a destination. What our short visit did not reveal, is the increased presence of theatre in Narva (three major projects within the last three years, and a theatre festival) which contradicts the managers of art spaces saying that it is difficult to initiate community dialogue through the arts. Two out of every three plays have been political community theatre using ethno-drama as a method, built upon the participation of the locals and based on ethnographic research. At the end of 2022, a play called “Narva – a town that we lost” was directed by Julia Aug, a prominent Narva-born actor and theatre director exiled from Russia last spring.

R-HM: During our visit, the acting manager of Vaba Lava, Rene Abramson, while guiding us around the Baltijets premises, introduced the court case Vaba Lava was engaged in with the Ministry of Culture, as the Ministry did not recognise them as being a significant enough regional cultural institution to be funded by the state. Their artistic practice has been critical. As the local community has not been exposed to contemporary culture, it is complicated to engage local residents in dialogue. All this cultural work has been left undone for decades. And it is the same at NART with contemporary art – it takes time to fill the gap and raise the ability to perceive contemporary critical art forms. But making this a political decision not to continue funding an existing practice as irrelevant from the regional perspective was highly cynical. Putting this into the context of the “monument war” which followed shortly after, and as we know, Narva was one of the hot spots, the short-sightedness of these political actions became even more cynical.

IM: If we take post-industrialism from the perspective of the knowledge society, Narva can also be understood as a centre with all these small companies being cradled there. It’s post-industrial in terms of maintaining and living with the material reality from the past. But it’s also post-industrial in terms of providing new ideas that also need new energy.

Kreenholm emptied of machines and workers in a suspended past. Photo: Inês Moreira

PR: Only after our field trip, did I learn that Baltijets is directly related to experiencing post-industrialism in my own life. “Juku” computers are one of the most well-known products from Baltijets from the end of the 1980s. Between 1989 and 1991 Baltijets produced 2,500 Jukus for Estonian schools. Our school ran a one-year experiment of dividing classes into humanities and maths and science streams. I was one of the very few girls to join the latter. We were able to get our hands on the “Juku” computers and learn basic programming. Unknowingly, instead of spending the year reading Honoré de Balzac, I had given myself a chance to experience ‘postindustrialism’  and see the future. As I see it now, this industry made post-industrialism possible in a very unique way. While producing the computers kept factory employees busy, by this time these computers represented both the technological backwardness of Soviet computing (by the time the industrial mass-production of Jukus started at Baltijets, tech was a few years outdated) but at the same time, also the dawn of the new era of post-industrialism (the information society). The shift from a planned economy to a market economy started also to affect the shifting of Narva towards its current challenges.

IM: Another small observation on the digitalisation of everyday life by the border: when we visited Johanna Rannula in NART art residency, we met a Russian journalist and activist, coming from Russia, who was using Telegram to connect with other people who were just crossing the border. She had to flee the country due to signing a manifesto against Putin. She was anxious, tired and had to interrupt her testimony to call some taxis via Yandex, a Russian app, for different people arriving in Estonia. I found it really striking that moment we were there at NART for artistic reasons to understand local creativity on the fringes, and to visit the residence of the former director of Kreenholm, albeit with a nostalgic perspective on the dismantling and transformation towards new artistic languages. And suddenly, in a mundane burst, digital technologies and very small smart devices were operating the networks of refugee solidarity and hosting, through the codified language of art, in a transnational manner. Digital and communication technologies are present in post-industrial societies and we tend to think of work and entertainment. In that moment it had the clear activist purpose of international support for individuals at risk in Russia.

R-HM: At first, during the eighties the first Estonian computers were developed, and these were produced at Baltijets. Nowadays, Estonia is a front-runner in designing all kinds of digitalised services and platforms, basically the whole Estonian public service-system operates on digital architecture to provide transparent and efficient public well-being. But this Russian activist arrived in Estonia from a completely different reality. In this reality, she had to use digital platforms and services for entirely other purposes, not just to express political views, but also to counter-act and help victims of political repression. All the burden, what she was facing there was extremely unfortunate, of course. The gap in political realities presented itself in the use of digital services, another fringe or border was between us.

PR: Many of the major Western social media platforms had already been blocked by Russia by the time of our visit in April 2022. I remember collecting information myself regarding what mail services and platforms were still working across the border at the time and what had been blocked. It was both a practical act from the Russian side – blocking access to information – as well as a symbolic one. European democracies have become dependent on those (commercial) platforms and they are seen as conditioning the post-industrial democratic West. But actually, this ecosystem is also problematic and not necessarily better or more secure for solving the immediate crisis the activist was trying to manage. The activities we witnessed briefly might have involved contacting networks of volunteers in Russia, who were trying to get refugees or other asylum seekers across the border, or helping them to continue their travel elsewhere. Everything she did actually needed fast upskilling of digital skills at the underground activist level, using whatever is at hand and understanding when it is safe to use public or commercial services to exchange information, using encrypted platforms popular among Western activists. For more elaborate information exchanges, Telegram was considered a clear no-no.

R-HM: Interestingly, digitalisation is related to hope, future ideas and an easier life. It is still seen as a recipe for most of the troubles of our times. But its impacts need a thorough critical examination as well. Although widely known, it is not acknowledged that digital services and systems are extreme energy wasters, and a lot of rare materials are used in producing the hardware. And this need for energy brings us back to Narva.

From the Baltijets rooftop, we admired the view over the town and its surroundings. We saw the new windmills and the energy plants with their chimneys. However, we went to Narva to explore the fringe, something at the edge, being torn apart. But from the energy point of view, Narva is the centre point of Estonia. This is not post-industrialisation; this is an industry at full scale. This means oil-shale mining and power plants with substantial artificial mountains of leftovers in the region. This links also to the EU’s programme “Just Transition”, which should help introduce new industries and jobs, and lead to closing down the current oil-shale-based energy plants. How “just” this process will be for the locals, I’m not sure. This transition is another major source of tension for the locals. It threatens a major industry that is one of the main landmarks of the whole region.

IM: Energy supply plays a relevant role in the location and relocation of industrial production. Deindustrialisation in Western Europe meant seeing the production moving eastwards, and then following to Asia and other geographies where work, energy and resources are cheaper and legislation on the environment and workers’ rights is looser – the European Union has tightened the legal limits of the transition processes, as it did in Portugal, where textile industries found new production sites in the east and south, Morocco, for instance, or in Estonia after 1991, I dare say.

PR: In some ways, energy also appeared to have a key role in everything we experienced, as Narva is a key area regarding energy security, an energy hot spot also in these post-industrial settings. I remember how we stood at the mouth of the river, looking towards Russia, with dark clouds over it, the symbolism impossible not to notice, and talking about the energy crisis, Estonia has been in the middle of, and talking about where our energy comes from. More recently, after our trip, Finland re-opened a nuclear power station. Although it adds to the security of the region, the actual tensions are nevertheless re-activated with every event, such as the explosion on the gas line under the Gulf of Finland, which essentially also passes this area, although further away in the sea. A year later, there were media reports that underwater infrastructure in the Baltic Sea is likely a target of the ongoing hybrid war, to destabilise the region by attacking such infrastructure.

Onsite, Narva waterfall was both a strong experience and a strong metaphor – although we had the opportunity to see it and admire its power (which was a happy coincidence, as it is usually empty), currently only 400 m3 pass through it per minute. However, at the height of the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company, this volume was 2,000 m3. It stopped in 1950 because of the creation of a new power plant, but it nevertheless enabled us to “experience” the loss of power of the industrial age.

Kreenholm is located on an island in the Narva River, as the Narva Museum guide explains while showing future plans for the development of the Creative hub for various cultural activities. Photo: Inês Moreira

IM: State infrastructure from the socialist era was very much related to the distribution of energy from the Baltic region. When speaking about post-industrial cultural conditions, the artificialisation of landscapes, turning them into energy providers is relevant, and we can describe Narva as a place severely transformed to provide for other regions. The waterfalls as they are now are different because they had been changed in the past; maybe the waters are darker, their artificialisation shaped the territory, and the new nature-culture relationship is a functioning legacy of former industrial times.

PR: The focus on energy also enables us to think about what post-industrialism means in terms of our value system. First, Narva reminded me of how it is still related to the progressive ideas of economic development and technological innovation. But if we were to manage post-industrial conditions according to the principles of degrowth, we would need to prioritise the reduction of the consumption of resources and energy. What does this mean in practice when we look at Narva, which has been the regional energy hotspot? From the perspective of a scholar of the humanities, I think that Narva could enable further, more conceptual explorations regarding the interactions between energy and society and how these two visions: progress and degrowth affect how we negotiate environmental costs, political realities (social and energy security), the everyday needs of the local community and how it affects the urban structure and its opportunities. 

R-HM: Although post-industrialism arrived in Narva through the closure of large factories, the abrupt end of a significant and influential era, post-industrialism does not necessarily mean a discontinuity. It can also be seen as an extension or continuation of industrialism. Particularly if we look at it as a human phenomenon on a personal level. For an individual worker, industrialism tended to be working behind the line without seeing the end result, the artefact of production, and therefore the meaning of it tended to be unclear. In crafts, the meaning of the work is in the hands of the worker. And this is evident both in the final result, the immediate presence of the artefact, and in the process of making a synthesising form of handwork and thinking. From this, many find, sometimes unexpectedly, a kind of support that society's circumstances do not otherwise offer. In the Soviet period, handicrafts were highly valued as they enabled unique things with a personal touch instead of anonymous, often bad quality products. It was the same with gardening, which kept us alive during the Soviet period. Or as we saw in Narva’s Venice, fishing practices have never lost their popularity. However, in Western Europe, these kinds of activities, like community gardens, are now re-emerging, and people have to learn to garden again.

Likewise, the whole growth in the appreciation of caring and nurturing, which is extraordinarily personal in nature. The industrialisation of care is now being reversed similarly both through the design of more personalised services and the development of community services. The realisation that by undervaluing care work, we end up neglecting care itself was also clearly hinted at in the corona crisis. And how there is a growing realisation of how caring and caregiving are emotionally enriching. And this was all evident in Narva as well – caring for the community and also for refugees, caring for the culture and developing the culture, and creating opportunities for youngsters as a form of caring. This couldn’t grow on emptiness, but most clearly has roots and earlier experiences, including community with its identity and strong social ties. Perhaps looking back, the threads of caring and nurture in Narva stand out very firmly, no longer forming fringes but also beautiful laces and strict framing edges. The lace and scars alternate in a beautiful, multi-layered and multi-meaningful pattern that provides a rich ground for approaching post-industrialism.

This article is supported by COST Action 18136, the European Forum for Advanced Practices. Thanks to Johanna Rannula (NART) and Ene-Liis Semper (EKA) for helping to organise the visit and to the Vaba Lava sales manager, Rene Abramson, for showing us Vaba Lava and Baltijets from the inside.


  1. While the Russian word 'toska' means a sour feeling towards the past, the English 'nostalgia' refers to a sense of longing and the Portuguese word 'saudade' to an embellished relation with the past.
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Post-industrial Landscape
Peeter Laurits