What was this billboard advertising?
April 5, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

In 2008, I came across a bizarre billboard whilst walking on the Cornish coast. I've always wondered what it was advertising.

On the 30th of August 2008, at 11.54am (metadata is a wonderful thing), I was walking along the Cornish coastal path somewhere between St Ives (the Cornish one) and Zennor, when I came across this billboard.

The text reads:
"Next meeting: the car park of the plywood factory, just north of the new town of Tolhóin, on the western edge of the Lago Fagnano, by taking the Ruta 3 southwards towards Ushuaia along the valley of the Rio Ewan, Tierra Del Fuego."

I have always wondered: next meeting of what? Why is there no date for this 'next meeting'? Why was it being advertised via a billboard on a remote Cornish cliffside, miles from the closest road and a good 8000 miles away from the stated location? Why is the picture of young girls in some kind of (Brownie-equivalent?) uniform? What is the (Russian?) sign they're holding? Who is the guy in the (political?) portrait?

All my Google-fu has come to naught (except for the even weirder discovery that searching for "plywood factory tolhuin" yields a results list of Facebook pages that all begin with 9, hashtag spooky).

It's probably something creepy and cultish, but every time I come across this photo I start wondering all over again. Over a decade out, but Metafilter, can you help?
posted by aihal to Grab Bag (41 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
So weird.

There is a link between Cornwall and Argentina in emigrant miners (and the Cornish pasty which is made there too).

I'm sure you saw Tolhoin was established in 1972, and the 70s in Argentina was an 'interesting' time...some kind of meeting related to that?
posted by atlantica at 9:01 AM on April 5

Or, you know, this is just placeholder text and image on an empty billboard. I hope not though!
posted by atlantica at 9:01 AM on April 5

That is pretty weird.

I'm noticing the blank space after the words "Next meeting". It looks like a date/time would fit perfectly in there. I wonder if they blacked out the text in that space to make it a general-use non-time-specific image.
posted by umber vowel at 9:17 AM on April 5

I think the portrait could be of Yuri Gargarin? See here for face, here for uniform. Ok, bowing out now.
posted by atlantica at 9:17 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]

This certainly doesn't solve it, but here's another person asking about it, with further metadata.
posted by condour75 at 9:20 AM on April 5

cropping the image and feeding it into google image search yields nothing, but i notice the banner in the image is written in cyrillic.
posted by zippy at 9:26 AM on April 5

IDK what the deal is with that Google search. It is kinda creepy to me. DuckDuckGo yields no correspondence.
posted by glonous keming at 9:31 AM on April 5

It's likely, given the uniform, Gagarin poster, and Cyrillic, that the girls are part of the Youth Pioneers, a thing I just learned about.
posted by condour75 at 9:47 AM on April 5 [2 favorites]

The girls in the image seem to be wearing the uniform of the Komosomol (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League) and the sign is certainly in Cyrillic.

The first couple words read все что (everything that) and the one two lines down reads жизцц (life). I can't make out any other full words on the banner with that quality of photo (and understand only a few words in written Russian (which is why все что stuck out for me).
posted by urbanlenny at 9:48 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]

It has a feel of play about it to me, the directions seeming both a bit too vague to be meant as useful, "the car park of the plywood factory" being generic, while the indications of "new town of Tolhóin" is overly specific providing more information than needed for anyone familiar with the locale.

Here's a little snippet on Tolhoin:

Near the eastern end of Lago Fagnano, the road splits: the left fork is the more scenic, old, unsealed RN-3 route, which cuts north across the lake along a splendid causeway; the right is the RN-3 bypass, the more direct route to TOLHUIN, the region’s oddest little town. Created in the 1970s, Tolhuin was designed to provide a focus for the heartland of Isla Grande – indeed, the name means “heart-shaped” in Selk’nam – but as a place of unassuming houses that hangs together with little focus, it has an artificial commune-like feel. It does, however, make a useful halfway point to break the journey – as most buses do – between Ushuaia and Río Grande.

So, "new town" was true in the 1970s, which fits the image which looks like it came from around that time as well, so long before the time the billboard would have been made, giving the suggestion of something more playful or fictional to it all. I'm gonna guess maybe some weird geo-caching deal? That was a big thing back in the day.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:49 AM on April 5

Kids wearing red scarves is pretty standard in communist youth groups, see photos here.

Anyone recognize the park in which they're photographed?
posted by mareli at 9:50 AM on April 5

If you google "tolhuin fabrica" (factory in spanish) you get this page...which talks about an aserradero (sawmill) called CAMI, which I suppose is related to plywood.
Lake Fagnano is also called Lake Cami, according to Google Maps.
But the western edge of the lake would not put you just north of Tolhuin, which is on the eastern end of the lake.
posted by conifer at 9:52 AM on April 5

Also if you look at a map, the given directions don't really make much sense. Just north of Tolhoin is nowhere near the western anything of Lake Fagnano. Fagnano itself is entirely directly west of Tolhoin and crosses the Chile/Argentina boundary so the western "edge" is in Argentina. The road to Ushuaia runs south out of Tolhoin so you're not gonna get anywhere north of Tolhoin by taking that road south. There is a Rio Ewan running in a valley but it's more north still of Tolhoin, and doesn't connect directly to Fagnano; it runs into other, smaller lakes.

Since this appears to be moving into unsolvable territory, the only other thing that pinged my "mystery box" sense was that the text direction contained references to north, south, and west, but nothing to the east.

My gut feeling is that this sign is some weird red-herring unsolvable oddity erected by a local eccentric in Cornwall.
posted by glonous keming at 10:04 AM on April 5 [3 favorites]

Now I have a reason (besides the Pirates of Penzance and Merlin's Cave) to go to Cornwall. I'll take this photo with me.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:13 AM on April 5

What if they visited these cliffs on a ..scout trip? And tierra del fuego was next year on their international exchange? There's space for a date, maybe they didn't know where they were going yet.

It could be something cultish or creepy, but it could also be russian girl scouts remembering their trip and, with poor english, looking forward to the next one
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:19 AM on April 5

Agreed that that is Yuri Gagarin - here is the photo that that poster seems to come from (what a looker!).

Also I misspelled the name of Komsomol before. Sorry!
posted by urbanlenny at 10:47 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

I was going to say that's Gagarin in the photo and the young people are Young Pioneers, but have been beaten to it.

I'm going to agree with people above that it feels more like a prop for a play, or perhaps an art installation. There is the Tate St Ives to consider, but you can read the Tate's annual review 2007-8 (pdf warning) and it doesn't quite mesh with any of the projects that are mentioned in there. However, there are a lot of other artists and art projects in Cornwall who could have been behind it.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:24 AM on April 5

I like to think that if you went to that spot in Tierra del Fuego, you would see another billboard pointing you to some location on yet another continent.
posted by tracer at 11:53 AM on April 5 [13 favorites]

Looks like those kids might be going through a graveyard?
posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on April 5

Lake Fagnano is also called Lake Cami, according to Google Maps.

Also if you look at a map, the given directions don't really make much sense. Just north of Tolhoin is nowhere near the western anything of Lake Fagnano. Fagnano itself is entirely directly west of Tolhoin and crosses the Chile/Argentina boundary so the western "edge" is in Argentina.

You could argue that technically there isn’t even a western edge of Fagnano, as it becomes Lake Cami.

Or that the western edge isn’t on land, but is the completely straight imaginary line crossing the lake north-south. But that location seems an unlikely place to locate a sawmill, still less one with a carpark.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 12:01 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised nobody's brought up the possibility that this is just an ARG thing -- either a promotional one or a weird art one, you decide. The remote location, the bizarre-scavenger-hunt aspect, the strange Google results, the prominent Yuri face, all reek of ARG. Y'all are unwittingly playing it by trying to figure out the billboard, as intended. The trail might be a bit cold after 10 years.

(Thanks for figuring out the Yuri Gagarin pic, I knew he looked familiar and it would have bugged me all day)
posted by neckro23 at 12:02 PM on April 5 [4 favorites]

Seconding neckro23; could be another Nonchalance type of thing.
posted by salt grass at 12:05 PM on April 5

There was a “Lost” (the TV show) ARG based around billboards in 2008. Could this have been a continuation in some way?
posted by chappell, ambrose at 12:18 PM on April 5 [2 favorites]

I'm spitballing here ... is there any chance this was a prop/background piece for some sort of a film/video project that was being made there at the time? Maybe the filmmakers just left it up as a joke or to see what would happen, or because they were too lazy to take it down?
posted by mccxxiii at 12:27 PM on April 5

The Geograph.uk link upthread has an email address for the person who posted it ...you might email him and see whether anyone was able to provide any more information.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:41 PM on April 5 [1 favorite]

The additional photo of the billboard linked by condour75 is also posted on wikimedia commons. I don't think there is any special significance to this--it was just picked up from the geograph.co.uk link condour75 posted. But FYI.
posted by flug at 12:58 PM on April 5

> I'm gonna guess maybe some weird geo-caching deal? That was a big thing back in the day.

Geocaching is a big thing in the Corpse household and it doesn't fit in with that at all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:55 PM on April 5

Geocaching is a big thing in the Corpse household and it doesn't fit in with that at all.

I was thinking more in the puzzle sense, but I guess ARG was the better description. I just didn't recall hearing that term.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:55 PM on April 5

Thanks, all. Given the nonsensical directions and the seemingly unrelated image, looks like the ARG idea is coming off most likely. Shame, I was hoping for a nice juicy cult / Illuminati / intercontinental scavenger hunt story!
posted by aihal at 5:47 AM on April 6

Here's something weird about this. The Google search linked to above doesn't return any hits at all except this page. Removing the quotes provides lots more results, but none of the Facebook pages described.
posted by lostburner at 9:31 AM on April 8

I also got no facebook pages for the google search linked above, just this AskMe page.

But when I searched for "plywood factory" tolhuin in google books, it returned two snippets.

First, a snippet view of a 1993 book called "Insight Guide Argentina," which looks like some kind of travel guide. The snippet included this text: "The new town of Tolhuin (population 460) lies just north of the 60-mile (100-km) -long Lago Fagnano. ... The area is now full of logging roads for the plywood factory just north of Tolhuin, but the trail is being restored and marked for adventure .."

Second, a 1979 publication called Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, by Rae Natalie Prosser de Goodall, seemingly in both Spanish and English. This says on p. 111 that in 1952, "After a fire, the CAMI plywood factory is moved from Ushuaia to the head of Lago Fagnano." And on p.189: "CAMI FACTORY S.R.L. (Argentine Company of Industrialized Woods). This plywood factory was begun in Ushuaia in 1950 by the Finochieto brothers, but soon burned down. They moved to the present site in 1952, and in 1969 sold it to new owners. The wood principally used is the high beech, taken from a concession south of Mt." something or other.

So there does seem to be some truth to a plywood factory north of Tolhuin, for whatever that's worth.
posted by chinston at 10:11 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]

Huh, and now when I run that google search, I do get the list of facebook pages beginning with 9. Weird.
posted by chinston at 10:18 AM on April 8

The plywood factory mentioned in that 1979 publication would appear to be the present-day Aserradero Guarani, a sawmill "just north south of the new town of Tolhóin, on the western eastern edge of the Lago Fagnano, by taking the Ruta 3 southwards towards Ushuaia along the valley of the Rio Ewan, Tierra Del Fuego."

There's not a lot going on in the car park.
posted by designbot at 1:13 PM on April 8

Huh, and now when I run that google search, I do get the list of facebook pages beginning with 9. Weird.
Me, too.
posted by lostburner at 1:27 PM on April 8

On further inspection, there are actually several sawmills in that area, including Aserradero EL ARAUCANO, Aserradero Iguazu Diosnel Fregosini, Aserradero Mansilla, as well as Aserradero Guarani.
posted by designbot at 1:37 PM on April 8

Is the picture from the Artek Summer Camp?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:21 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]

A nice gallery of Artek here. I'm less sure it's the same place, although the photographer coincidentally teaches at Emily Carr next to where I work, so maybe I'll send him the pic and see what he things. Either way, a fascinating place, it's got a real The Prisoner vibe to it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:33 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]

Fascinating, Jon Mitchell, I've never heard of Artek, but I've just spent an hour looking through photos of it and its sculptures, in the hope of seeing the sculpture on the right of the shot (to no avail - and where there are pillars, they seem more likely to have busts of Soviet worthies on top, not urns. But it's a pretty large place).

At first I'd thought the big sculpture was someone with a huge bow and arrow but I'm leaning more towards someone wrestling/holding up a big seagull/albatross...
posted by penguin pie at 3:14 PM on April 9

The sculpture seems to be Vuchetich's classic Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares. The original sculpture is at the UN in New York, and Wikimedia Commons mentions a replica in Moscow "near a branch of the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val" and another in "Oskemen, East Kazakhstan." However, it seems likely that other replicas exist all over the former USSR, so I fear this doesn't narrow things down much. I wasn't able to find any mention of a replica at Artek, but it wouldn't be very surprising if there was one.

A thought: Penzance and Tierra Del Fuego share the property of being at or near "land's end," which would make them logical stops on some sort of "ends of the earth tour." Supposing that the photo also shares this conceptual connection, Crimea could fit into that pattern -- as could any number of other points e.g. in eastern Siberia or around Vladivostok.

(Noted just now: there is a Gagarin Park in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, but I don't immediately see any photos that would match with this one)
posted by shenderson at 3:04 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]

Ooh yes that is totally the sculpture. Nice!

Wikimedia Commons mentions a replica in Moscow "near a branch of the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val"

This is the sculpture garden in Moscow called Monument to Victims of Totalitarian Regimes/Fallen Monument Park (where they basically took much of the Soviet sculpture to display in one park) so unfortunately likely wouldn't be the original provenance for that sculpture in Moscow.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:00 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]

Here is a photo of the installation of Swords into Plowshares near the Tretyakov Gallery in the Gorky Park area of Moscow. This is definitely not the one in the OP's billboard photo.

The other thing strange about the OP's billboard photo is it surely seems to have all of the elements of Vuchetich's Sword into Plowshares. The sword, the nude model, the general stance of the model, etc.

But when you look at it in detail, all the details are wrong. Vuchetich's sword-beater is very definitely looking down--one of the most marked feature of the piece. In the billboard, the sword-beater is definitely looking up. Vuchetich's sword hilt is held well below shoulder level whereas in the billboard, it is about even with the top of the head. In Vuchetich, the right leg is thrust forward whereas in billboard, it is left leg. Angle of the thrust-forward leg is far different (45 degrees from vertical in Vuchetich, nearly 90 degrees in billboard). Etc.

So the billboard sculpture is either some variant of Vuchetich's sculpture--perhaps an early version or draft, that type of thing is fairly common--or copy or homage based on it but different in many details, or something else of that sort.
posted by flug at 11:54 AM on November 3 [1 favorite]

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