During the winter months in Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana, fishermen park up on the frozen Ishim river, hoping for a bite beneath the ice. The tradition goes back for generations, back to when Astana was a small rural farming village, not the high-rise, futuristic city it is today.
When the country was part of the Soviet Union, fishing equipment was standardised and sold only at government-run hunting shops. But since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the fishermen have been constructing their own customised fishing tents, sewn together out of plastic packaging found in the city’s markets.
Aleksey Kondratyev’s new book, Ice Fishers, examines the use of this salvaged material, mostly originally used to import Western, Chinese, and Russian goods, as a means of protection against the harsh weather conditions. Kondratyev, who has lived in America for most of his life, but is originally from Kyrgyzstan, first saw the fishermen when he travelling through Central Asia in 2015 for his project Formations. “I wasn’t sure what they were, but as I got closer I could make out what was going on,” he says.
Tapping on the bags, he met confused men, many of whom couldn’t quite understand why he was interested in them – after all, they had been doing it for decades. But Kondratyev was fascinated by the appropriation of this imported, globalised material, re-used for local nomadic purposes.
The resulting images have a sculptural element to the images, the frosted bags moulding over the bodies and equipment beneath. Kondratyev was inspired by post-minimalist artists like Eva Hesse, and anti-formalist ideas of letting material dictate the final outcome of the work.
He wanted to translate this physicality and tactility of the material into his book. Working with the team at Loose Joints, they chose a “plastic-y leather” cover and interweaving pages of thin glossy paper and rougher, textured stock, to mimic the material of the fishing tents. “The idea of touch was really interesting to me, the effect of experience you get from handling material,” he says.