Gratitude: #Thanks #Спаси́бо

Прошла зима        The winter's passed,
настало лето      The summer's here.
Спасибо партии       For this we thank
за это!       Our party dear!

On October 7th, 2011, the blogger and now United Russia Party member Vladimir Burmatov posted a rhyming couplet on Twitter - “Moscow is warm and sunny. Summer! #ThanksToPutinForThat” (VMoskve teplo i solntse. Leto! #spasiboputinuzaeto) - and encouraged others to follow with their own tweets using the hashtag. The invitation was accepted with more than 10,000 tweets that day alone and it became the first globally trending Cyrillic hashtag.(1) The resulting Tweets are frequently sarcastic or critical of Putin’s political agenda.  The tweets identify the tactics of state controlled media apparatus Putin has used to blanket Russia in a single voice of his creation.  This project visualizes the underlying conditions that paved the way for the current war in Ukraine and political quagmire in the US.   

For the last seven years, through our collaborative project Geolocation, we have used publicly available embedded GPS information in Twitter updates to track the locations of user posts and make photographs to mark the location in the real world.  We photographed sites linked to #ThanksToPutinForThat in St. Petersburg and Moscow during an artist residency and #ThanksObama over the following years in Chicago and Los Angeles. 

We began the work for Gratitude in the summer of 2016, on the heels of the US Presidential election, during the fourth year of Vladimir Putin’s “first” term as President of Russia, and two years after invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea.  We completed the book three days before Russia invaded Ukraine (again) on Thursday, February 28, 2022.  Three days later, we received word that our dear friend, translator and writer for this project was able to safely escape Russia.  He now lives as a refugee, along with a quarter of a million Russians who fear for their lives and denounce the atrocities of Putin. 

After our time in Russia, we photographed sites linked to #ThanksObama in Chicago and Los Angeles, the sister cities to St. Petersburg and Moscow.  We started this project during the 2016 US presidential election, one that borrowed strategy from Putin’s 2012 Russian presidential campaign, and concluded photographing as the former US President was impeached for the first time by soliciting a sovereign nation to participate in a reelection scheme.

The US portion of the project reveals the weaponization of social media in the American political arena, mirroring Putin’s tactics to mobilize the right wing through lies and partial truths. This propaganda push created space for the 45th president to gain dominance through his use of social media and mobilization of White voters through barely-veiled dog whistles. The #ThanksObama hashtag is a precursor to birtherism, white nationalist rallies, installation of far-right extremists on the Supreme Court, racist attacks on immigrants, and an insurrection at the capital. 

Our Russian translator, Iaroslav Volovod, a curator at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, writes the afterward, framing the work alongside the current war, his conflicting situation as a citizen of Russia and a refugee, the use of social media as a tool for dissent, and the history of photography. 

The completed project illuminates the relationships between world leaders and their constituents, examines the tensions of Russia during Putin’s reign, and analyzes the use of social media as a gathering point for social movement. 


(1)  Michael S. Gorham, Ingunn Lunde and Martin Paulsen, Digital Russia: The Language, Culture and Politics of New Media Communication, 2016

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