In III parts>
author: Anna Domini
This is an essay on the phenomenon of a post-Soviet human through the metaphor of Sanatorium. Anna Domini's research is not only a graphic representation, but a whole layer of sociocultural meanings. According to her, the Sanatorium itself is a closed system, from where it is hard to get out of but that seems exclusively positive for patients, while in reality it is a mechanism of suppression of the will and freedoms. The style of the Sanatorium itself is a capture of an era starting from the 1950s to a supposedly not-too-distant future, where everything is eclectically mixed in such a way that it could well be the Russia of the future.
PART I. Sanatorium Research. Intro
This story began many years ago. I grew up in Russia during perestroika, when the situation in the country was extremely volatile and unstable.The system collapsed, and there was an empty space in its place, without any meanings and ideas. People have lost their anchors, their belonging to significant and understandable ideology. A new path was needed, a new faith.
To convey this sense of loss of direction, many years later, a sanatorium appeared on the cover of my comic book, floating in the air, devoid of support - as a metaphor for an unrealised dream of a socialist future.

Sanatoriums were popular recreation areas for the Soviet people created like artificial paradise islands. These were resorts with a fenced area located by the sea or forest, with their own internal daily routine and four meals a day. State institutions and factories gave free vouchers to sanatoriums for distinguished workers. Going to a sanatorium was considered prestigious.

I started writing a book in 2014 and since then “Sanatorium” has become a huge multidisciplinary project that exists as a zine and as a book, and is also being developed as a game. Parts of this multifaceted universe are also reflected through the soundtrack, selective fragrance, virtual clothing and video.

So I started to create my Sanatorium project in order to analyze all the experience I had gone through, fix it in a book and call a spade a spade. For several years I ran a Tumblr named Anna Karamazoff after the movie or Rustam Khamdamov, dedicated to insider Russia, where I sent all the images that gave me food for thought.These were the first materials that formed the basis of the comics.

The process of drawing connected me to the unconscious, and with the help of this I could tune in not to superficial images, but to the essence of what was happening to us.
The project turned out to be much more global than I could have imagined: I was able to study through the prism of three prisons the same mechanics of tyranny that lie at the base of any system from the state apparatus to the family community.

I started with an anthropological study of the Soviet Union and its ins and outs, since such were the clichés of those who raised me. I wanted to understand what was the basis of the lies and ambiguity in which I lived.

I was interested in the origins of ideology, its formation in the 30s and consolidation in the 50s. At this time, sanatoriums began to flourish along the south coast, and at the same time camps began to appear throughout the country. This contradiction, as well as the colossal tragedy of imprisonment within one's own country, in which many innocent people were involved, plunged me into horror. Reading the diaries of Gulag prisoners showed me the dark side that many did not want to know about, closing their eyes, preferring to see only the bright side of the system.

Sanatoriums were artificially created oases in the midst of a very difficult reality in which people lived in the Union. The camps were the reverse side of the sanatoriums, and the coexistence of these two phenomena on the same territory was a catastrophic absurdity.

Moscow was the focus of the visual style of the era. Underground Metro Palace; exemplary pavilions of VDNKh; sculptural groups of milkmaids and proletarians demonstrated that the country was colossal, prolific, happy.

There was something that kept slipping away, something that I couldn't comprehend. The second layer of meanings that stood behind all this diverse and lush culture. All this aesthetic was created as a distraction; the main goal was to create a nation of obedient slaves who believed in the myth, ready to endure and suffer endlessly. Hiding one meaning behind another was the basis of that system.

Having dealt with the socialist enclosure, it became clear to me that the prison situation is ubiquitous: governments create restrictions, people do not rebel against it and accept the order, justifying its injustice and forgiving its contradictions. The same pattern is widespread.

My comic has become a metaphor for an individual escape from these restrictive frameworks and paradigms, in which the Sanatorium has become a reflection of the system in which we exist (understood much more widely than a single country) and a kind of fusion between the paradise and the camp, doctors and staff are symbols of gatekeepers or an elite that does not let you leave this space, and the search and the path are the only stable vectors on which the personal journey continues. The journey of one who no longer accepts prison as a way of thinking and opens the bars of others' cells.

Isn't that supposed to be a historical lesson for all of us? If you have not had the experience of life in captivity, you will not be able to appreciate the beauty of freedom. But real freedom is inner freedom – so the first step is to get out of mind control.
PART II. Locked paradise
While studying sanatoriums, I saw them as a kind of theme parks for people of the Soviet era. But in the USSR, having rest meant doing other kinds of labor, but the sanatoriums served as a kind of recharging stations, where the working class was sent for recovery, and having gained strength, they would return to their duties with even greater zeal.
In a society that rejected faith, new mechanics of influencing the masses were needed. The religious structure has been preserved, but the scenery and symbols have changed. In order to paint a picture of a bright future for the people, it was necessary to start materializing it somewhere — and such sanatorium complexes began to appear, into which an ordinary person could step into like a paradise, as the Soviet era saw it.

In the post-Soviet 90s in Crimea, many closed sanatoriums opened their territories, and I was lucky to get into them. Passing over the fence was like playing a virtual game:

Hubert L'Hoste game
I saw a field with many locations and with its own regulated rules. Vacationers moved along the paths like following game modules. Areas were overgrown, able to absorb a variety of sculptures, fountains and palaces of the pre-revolutionary period, giving the latter to the needs of canteens or hairdressers.

Taking care of others in the Soviet-era sense bordered on coercion, and sanatoriums were an example of how one can hide behind the other. The regime of a day on vacation is the same regime as in labor. A person, as a rule, adhered to a diet and did not go far from the sanatorium, always remaining under the supervision of the system.

In a similar vein, it is interesting to consider the psychological case that people in the USSR had to remain children. Children need to be led and they are easy to manage. Acquired helplessness has created generations unable to move on their own. A human being grew up, but their inner age stood still.
In a society that rejected faith, new mechanics of influencing the masses were needed. The religious structure has been preserved, but the scenery and symbols have changed. In order to paint a picture of a bright future for the people, it was necessary to start materializing it somewhere — and such sanatorium complexes began to appear, into which an ordinary person could step into like a paradise, as the Soviet era saw it.

In my comic, I view sanatorium as a micro-model of a system that took over the right to lead a person and make decisions for her. The result was a fear of going against the system, and an acquired inability to escape. Locked in this cycle, moving along the same route from location to location was what terrified me in sanatoriums.

I was greatly impressed by the stories of the escape of people from the USSR, who swam many miles and in general acted very inventively in order to leave their homeland.

In one of the versions of the finale of the story, I wanted to send my heroine to the sea, which everyone talks about, but no one knows where it is, since the sanatorium keeps its guests in the dark. The sea symbolized infinity and freedom.
Probably for this reason, sanatoriums in the Union were always in demand — the suppressed desire to go beyond, to go abroad was replaced by temporary calm near the open space.
But the sea in my story would be a descent down, so I sent the heroine up to another sea - the sea of awareness. Her movement through different levels of the Sanatorium takes place on the elevator.

The prototype of the elevator also existed in reality, the underground passages under the Livadia Palace were taken as the basis. From the point of view of cosmogony, an elevator is a kind of tree that connects the worlds, like Yggdrassil in the Scandinavian Vedas.

Leonidov Staircase
Thus, in my story, post-Soviet reflection was mixed both with personal memories and with the culture of fairy tales and myths.
PART III. Forma Formante
It is important to describe the world of the Sanatorium from the point of view of the Soviet medical system, and all that formed people’s perception of themselves as just a human body.

The human body was elevated by the USSR propaganda to the rank of a cult. Form and conformity to form were important, the inner world did not play a role. This was the task of the system – to create a homogeneous mass of faceless people who would run the Soviet operation.

The Soviet healthcare system contemptuously ignored everything that remained unexplored and unproven by science. Faced with a very primitive approach to treatment in post-Soviet medical institutions, I began to study the topic of corporeality and why it was a taboo in Soviet culture.

The main goal was to keep the consciousness of the nation at a very low level, having established its own “bad and good,” thereby depriving people of the opportunity to have their own moral compass. This created a depressed psyche in some and a lot of problems pushed into the unconscious, in others — an unhealthy interest in everything “forbidden.”

Body’s stiffness and tension, a ban on the manifestation of mental disorders, fear of condemnation led people's bodies to quickly wear out, Soviet citizens looked older than they actually were and died prematurely. Medicine treated external manifestations of diseases, without looking into their causes. A person was important as long as he or she could serve as a cog in the Soviet machine.

In the comic, I emphasize that the heroine undergoes medical procedures that look like a burial. This shows that many procedures were repulsive in form and only increased fear of life. Metaphorically, burial is her preparation not for death, but for transformation; death on the one level of Sanatorium means birth on another.

The desire to stay in the Sanatorium, to be on an endless vacation is a mistake of guests and it will be followed by retribution: their individual experience becomes a platform on which a new, more “advanced” illusion is created.
It is part of a locally disturbed cosmogony that wants to appear real even though it’s not. The heroine's exit from the world of the Sanatorium is her way to save her life and consciousness. Rejection of unreality and experience, which leads to death, is self-affirmation in the opposite.

The realization that the world of the Sanatorium is an illusion, an invented game, helps the heroine to take a sober look at her existence and begin to explore preset game codes.

Termination of contract with this game means that in fact there was neither her character, nor a strange disease, nor the world as such.

There were only long-playing dreams.