This is a project about people with multiple severe developmental disabilities for the charitable organization Perspektivy

There are 504 psychoneurological asylums in Russia, most of them are located outside the city and surrounded by high walls. They house almost 150,000 residents unnoticed and unaccepted by society. We don't see them on the streets, in shops, or on public transport. We don't know how they live their life. The asylum in Peterhof is one of the largest of its kind. 1030 people live here. The Perspektivy charity takes care of 148 adults and young people with the most varied and severe developmental disabilities. This story is about them.
How the project idea was born

Aleksei Poleukhin
co-founder of Gonzo Design studio
Springtime. On the outskirts of the city, rough snow still lingers under your feet, mingling with the morning April sunshine. Together with the girls from Perspektivy we arrive at the Orphanage for Disabled Children No.4 in Pavlovsk. A few hours later we return to the city and immediately board the train to Peterhof, to visit the asylum. From the station, it's a long walk along an empty road through a black and white forest. There, then back again. Today we visited another world, which yesterday did not exist for us and still doesn't for most of our friends, acquaintances, colleagues or casual passers-by. A lot of thoughts are spinning in my head. How to make visible the invisible; notice the unnoticed; want the unwanted. How to overcome my own fears and prejudices. Break the wall. Acknowledge myself as part of a society in which there is a place for people for whom there is no place. Demonstrate that this is not frightening, but above all necessary for each of us. To understand yourself, and others.
The purpose of the project Deep Inside is to make visible the world of special people from closed institutions, to bring attention to them and potentially attract support. The mission of the project is to re-examine the limits of empathy, compassion and human closeness within society.
Getting started
Getting started is always about immersing yourself in the topic and defining its boundaries. We communicated a lot with the patients, as well as the staff of both Perspektivy and the asylum itself. It was important for us to gain a thorough understanding of all the external and internal processes, their distinctive features and peculiarities, in order to predict the possible risks involved, and crucially – to assess the degree of responsibility and resonance of the project.
We constantly asked ourselves questions: how can we discuss this topic with people, so as not to frighten them or incite rejection? What should the visuals look like, so as not to violate the personal space of either the patients or carers? How should we organise the process so as not to create difficulties for Perspektivy's further work in the institution?
The project concept
The concept was based on our observation that the closed-off life within the institution runs according to its own special rules and along its own coordinates at a different pace and with different goals than we are used to. So we came to the following starting points: isolation, deceleration, microdynamics, microcosm, different perspective, different scale.
Key image
The concept is focused around a key image of another world, fenced off by a wall of forest, the asylum walls, and our own ignorance or indifference. From here the visual image of a line emerges: the line of trees and the linear road leading from Peterhof station; the corridor in the asylum; but also the disparate lines defining our skewed assessment of what is accepted as "normal" in society.
We decided to interpret the organization's name Perspektivy (Perspectives) not so much as a view into the distance, but rather a broader view (a wide angle). Therefore the visuals are based around panoramas; so long and detailed that they would be impossible to grasp for the human eye in normal life. Thus even literally at a physical level people are forced to look at the world in an unfamiliar way. Following this guideline, we pasted together individually shot frames into single seamless images of forest, corridor and activities in the asylum.
Textual component
The project comprises three main categories of text, representing three groups of project participants – our impressions and factual notes; interviews with the volunteers, staff and trustees of Perspektivy; and excerpts from conversations with the guys in the asylum.
Ksenia Diodorova
co-founder of Gonzo Design studio
"You enter the tenth unit from the third, right at the entrance one of the guys, usually Kostya, greets you like a guest in someone's house: takes you by the hand, and shows you around everything that's going on."
Margarete von der Borch
founder of Perspektivy
"We are afraid of pain, so we try not to see or feel it. Most of us have a phobia of our feelings. But if we allow ourselves to feel both pain and joy, we can feel that there is something behind the pain too."
a Perspektivy ward
"I also want to see where you are? What you do? I really want to… what is going on with you. You can see what is going on with us. And what about you, what are you doing?"
Project structure
While working on the project the concept developed into three distinct formats:
1. Online
Multimedia longread
2. Physical
Multimedia installation
3. Print
Book edition of the project
Multimedia longread
Website teaser
Two months before the launch of the main site, we launched a teaser version with brief information about the project and some amount of photo and video material.
Website structure and navigation
The site is divided into four chapters: Forest, Corridor, Recreation Room and Forest. This sequence reflects the route a visitor takes through the asylum – there and back. The site also has practically no customary vertical scrolling – the main navigation is horizontal. This makes it possible to feel the course of time differently, reflecting the characteristic flow of time in the orphanage.
We avoided standard approaches not only in structure and navigation, but also in the presentation of most materials. For example, in the second section we montaged short videos into the corridor panorama: when clicked on they open to create the effect of a live broadcast, allowing the viewer to feel closer to what is happening inside.
In the third section the photographs of recreation can be enlarged and viewed in the smallest details, akin to Google maps. The panoramas are alternated with photos of the guys from the asylum, and with interviews of the Perspektivy staff and trustees.
Physical FORMAT
Multimedia installation

Galeria shopping mall
17.04–14.05.2017 (St. Petersburg, Russia)

MEGA IKEA shopping mall
24.06–24.07.2017 (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Installation project
From the outset we knew that the project should exist not just in the form of a multimedia website and book, but also as a physical construction; a space which you can enter and experience all those things we had come up with in the concept. This portal into an alternative world aimed to shift the public's involvement from contemplation, towards direct interaction and immersion. The installation took the form of a black container that you can go inside, with long panoramic photos of the forest and corridor displayed on the walls; and video and audio excerpts of interviews with Perspektivy staff and trustees.
Installation opening
The opening was accompanied by an interactive choreographed performance engaging the space and audience in elaborating the project's main point – the importance of empathy, compassion and human closeness. The opening ceremony was attended by the staff and trustees of Perspectivy, as well as partners of the project including Consul General of the Netherlands Hans Wesseling.
Why exhibit in a shopping centre?
The idea of exhibiting a substantial and complex social project in a shopping centre seems provocative or inappropriate at first glance. However, over 20,000 people visited the installation in the mall, many of whom left strong emotional feedback of their impressions.
We live in our own familiar world. For some it's made up of home and work, for others it's home-work-family. But hardly any one of us, unfortunately, ever thinks that there are people for whom our life is something unattainable; something fabulous and unimaginable. And hard as we may try, we can't understand their rhythm of life, their thoughts, and their desires. All we can do is help – at least somehow. And such exhibitions bring us closer, even if only by a fraction of a millimetre, to these people cut off from ordinary life. Thank you!
I think this kind of box should be placed in every shopping centre, in every city of our country immediately. Otherwise, the concrete jungle and glass shop fronts will swallow the majority of us.
I was asked these questions today: "Do they think?", "Do they know that cities exist?", "Why are they like that?", "I wouldn't like to communicate with them," "Can he stop doing that?" (about rocking), "When will they be cured?", "Are they unwell?", "Why don't they leave that place?", "Don't they want to escape, why not?", "Why is he so small, oh, scary woman – terrible!" "Why do they live?", "Can they work?", "Why don't their parents take them away?"
We live without thinking that life is given to us for a reason, some are luckier then others. We need to support the people around us. The key word being – people. We are all people. Little things make big things happen. You understand this at such times.
This project is very timely for our rapidly changing world. Today you might be healthy, but everything is unstable in this world – a terrorist attack in the metro, a plane crash due to turbulence. And you suddenly find yourself in a different world, needing help and support. This portal into another world promotes empathy even now. Maybe next time you will not simply pass by a person with disabilities, but hold the door for them or even just smile.
I left the black box and looked around: the shopping centre is beautiful – "expensive and rich" as my grandmother would say. When I was leaving a young man caught up with me, we had been listening to the audio in the headphones standing side by side. "We don't even have time to stop and think," he shared his finding with me. We looked each other in the eye for a long time, and then almost simultaneously said aloud: "What's stopping us?" Indeed, what stops us?!
Street installation

Manezh central exhibition hall
8.08–10.10.2017 (St. Petersburg, Russia)

1.07–7.08.2017 (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Street installation project
The street exhibition-installation Deep Inside opened on 8th of August on Yakubovich Street in a public square next to the Manezh central exhibition hall building. We installed a wall with cut out windows in the pedestrian zone. This wall symbolises the corridor of the psycho-neurological asylum, where people live enclosed in the institution. The windows cut out in the wall allow the two different worlds inside and outside the asylum to meet on one plane and intersect. The wall shows moments from the life of people with severe developmental disorders alongside their recorded thoughts and feelings, which are in fact easily understood and felt by anyone.
Book edition of the project
The book was released in a limited edition of 100 copies. Each copy has a unique collection number inscribed by hand, and the binding was stitched in emerald green thread, for which the printer especially swapped out the usual white in the machine. The narration inside the entire book follows three parallel time axes: time of day, change of seasons and human lifespan.
Production team
Idea and the concept — Ksenia Diodorova, Aleksei Poleukhin, Zoya Smirnova, Ekaterina Farutina

Photo, video — Ksenia Diodorova, Zoya Smirnova

Text — Ksenia Diodorova

Video and photo editing — Zoya Smirnova, Ekaterina Farutina

Coordination — Ksenia Diodorova

Interview — Ksenia Diodorova

Interpretation — Yana Pitenko

Proofreading — Dave Ray

Text editing — Alyona Zakharetc

Design — Alyona Zakharetc, Aleksei Poleukhin, Zoya Smirnova, Ekaterina Farutina
Deep Inside

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