Participants lived in replica Stalin-era research institute as part of three-year art project

In an art project that has been compared to The Truman Show, Big Brother and the Charlie Kaufman film Synecdoche, New York, a Russian artist has paid 400 people to live for three years in a fictional but functioning Stalin-era research institute.

In an experiment long anticipated in the film and art worlds but confirmed by the Guardian on Friday, Ilya Khrzhanovsky created an institute of theoretical physics in eastern Ukraine modelled on the shadowy facilities which existed in the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the 1950s.

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