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Stalker In The Land: Sculpting in Time, photographing the Zone.


The film 'Stalker', by Andrei Tarkovski (1979), revolves around a mysterious place known as the zone, a territory that seems to have a life of its own and that has emerged after a strange event not entirely specified. The film, a free adaptation of the novel Roadside Picnic by the writers Arkadi and Borís Strugatski, has subsequently been seen as a prophecy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (which occurred just a few years later within the Soviet Union itself), since the place where the plant was located is now a zone similar to the one in the film: a territory we are forbidden to enter, in which nature has a strange vigor and which is capable of causing disturbing mutations.

In the temporarily autonomous zone that Tarkovski recreates there is a room in which, whoever manages to get in, will be able to see his most secret aspirations fulfilled. For this reason, there are people who want to enter the zone, putting their own lives at risk. To enter there, the “stalkers” will guide the visitors. The term stalker, however, is somewhat ambiguous; means stalking hunter in English, but also stalker and, in fact, the English verb 'to stalk' refers to stalking or spying. The expression stalking has become relatively popular today, referring to who to spy on someone on the internet, preferably through social media. In this sense, a stalker could be the dark reverse of the flâneur, that urban explorer Charles Baudelaire told us about. However, the stalker in the movie is more of a spirit guide than a flâneur or anything else.

When Tarkovski was seriously ill, in the mid-eighties, the first edition of “Sculpting in Time” was released. Reflections on the art, aesthetics and poetics of cinema, a text (recommended reading for anyone interested in art in general) written by the Russian director in which he talks about his films, art and the relationship between the artist and the public. The title has also been translated as 'Sculpting the Time', although this alternative transcription perhaps refers us more to photography than to cinema (because of stopping time in something inmutable just like a sculpture), but if we consider it as shaping the time, that shape may be the moving image. The ability to register moving images (movement is actually an optical illusion caused by the succession of still images) makes this a resource that must dialogue over time. In 'Stalker' (without being what would later be known as dogma cinema), Tarkovski tries to reflect a real linear time development:

I wanted it to be as if the whole film had been made in a single shot. Such a simple and ascetic approach seems to me to be rich in possibilities. I eliminated all I could from the script in order to have a minimum of external effects. As a matter of principle I wanted to avoid distracting or surprising the audience with unexpected changes of scene, with the geography of the action, with elaborate plot. I wanted to demonstrate how cinema is able to observe life, without interfering, crudely or obviously, with its continuity. For that is where I see the true poetic essence of cinema 1.


We cannot help but draw a parallel between this austere approach and the sobriety that characterizes the locations of José María Marbán's 'Stalker In The Land' project: Tierra de Campos and Montes Torozos, central areas of the geography of Castilla y León shared by the provinces of Valladolid, Palencia and León. These places, paraphrasing Tarkovsky, are almost ascetic, but nonetheless, they hold great aesthetic and symbolic possibilities. Marbán's project, materialized through photography and art installation, is a rereading of the Russian director's film, and adds a link to this crossover; a story that begins in the pages of a book, which takes the form of a film and, now, an exhibition at the Museum Patio Herreriano in Valladolid. In the Castilian capital this project materialized and, in fact, it was here where it began, when in 1986 Andrei Tarkovski received the Golden Spike award at the Seminci (International Film Festival, Valladolid) for his masterpiece “Offret”. Then, in homage to his career, all his filmography was screened, including 'Stalker' (his previous film), and it was then that José María Marbán discovered the work of the Russian director.

We don't know what Tarkovski would think of 'Stalker in the land', but (in addition to the intrinsic brilliance of the work), we see the project legitimized in some passages of 'Sculpting in Time', including the following: 'The film was made in such a way that the viewer could have the impression that all this could happen today and that the zone was very close 2. The locations seen in the film have been described on occasion as post-apocalyptic settings, and it is curious to see, first, how it constructs a story considered science fiction without spectacular special effects (the retinal masturbation to which we are so used to in Hollywood productions) and, second, how we have recently seen other post-apocalyptic scenarios in the streets of our cities completely empty due to the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In both cases, furthermore, we are talking about images pregnant with a strange beauty. In the same way, it is interesting to note the validity of Tarkovski's approache, since 'Stalker' can be understood as an inner journey, in which the zone is our deepest moral roots (a journey that we all made to some extent during the aforementioned lockdown and from which not everyone came out undamaged):

The zone is simply the zone. It is the life that man must go through and in which he either succumbs or endures. And that it resists depends only on the conscience that it has in its own value, on its ability to distinguish the substantial from the accidental 3.

Returning to 'Stalker in the land', we pointed out, on the one hand, that it is a rereading of the aforementioned film by Andrei Tarkovski from the field of visual arts and, on the other, that we do not know what the Russian director would think of this project . What we do know is that Tarkovski knew that, for better or for worse, we cannot control the impact that our work is going to have on the audience he is directed to:

the author should never expect a unambiguous reception, according to his own impression. The artist only makes an attempt to present his vision of the world so that people look at the world with their own eyes, revive it with their feelings, their doubts, and their ideas 4.

The receipt of Tarkovski's work embodied in Marban´s work, is a source of direct inspiration for the development of both the photographic series ''Sueños' (dreams) and 'Naturaleza Cambiante' (changing nature) as well as the installation entitled 'Umbral' (threshold). This last art work is a personal recreation of the heart of the zone; the room to which we have referred at the beginning of the text and which, mysteriously and magically, enables the materialization of the wishes of those who manage to reach it. 'Sueños' and 'Naturaleza Cambiante', meanwhile, invite us to look with different eyes at our closest environment, combining in their images the references to 'Stalker' and the referencing of José María Marbán's photography with different locations of the Tierra de Campos and the Montes Torozos.

Together with the art installation 'Umbral' and the photographic set that make up 'Sueños' and 'Naturaleza Cambiante', the third vertex of this exhibition triangle is the series 'Dípticos' (diptychs). If up to now we have talked about rereading the work of Tarkovski or inspiration in his work, now we are going to dare to talk about collaboration. And we do it because the 'Dípticos' are a contrast of frames from 'Stalker' with works by Marbán, a fruitful visual dialogue of equal to equal in which the compilation of both exceeds the sum of the parts.

We hope that Andrei Tarkovski, wherever he is now, does not get upset that we dare to talk about collaboration. Although, perhaps, we should talk about a collaboration between José María Marbán and the film itself, since, if we interpret the words of Tarkovski´s work literally, this seems somewhat plausible:

Once the film is finished (which then, after a more or less long period of time, after greater or lesser efforts, gets to be distributed), I stop thinking about it. Why do it? The film has detached itself from me and is beginning to live its life, an "adult" life, independent of its "father." A life in which I no longer influence.5.

Juan Gil Segovia.


1 Tarkovski, Andréi: Translation from the book Esculpir en el tiempo. Reflexiones sobre el arte, la estética y la poética del cine, Madrid, Rialp, 2002, page 219

2 Ibidem, p. 223.


Ibidem, p. 193.

Ibidem, p. 196.


Original versión of the text in Spanish:

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