Сегодня прогрессивное человечество празднует 160-летие со дня рождения Алисы Лиддел, той самой девочки, познакомившейся на улице Оксфорда с профессором Чарльзом Лютвиджем Доджсоном и превратившей его в знаменитого Льюиса Кэрролла, а себя – в мифическую героиню, без которой невозможно представить современную европейскую культуру. У меня родилось несколько тостов по этому поводу, ибо вы все про именинницу, в лучшем случае, в книжке читали, а я знаю чуть больше. Я имел честь быть представленным госпоже Алисе Лиддел пару лет назад, на Таганке, в гостях у автора классического русского перевода «Приключений Алисы» Нины Демуровой. Знакомство было не фигуральным, а совершенно взаправдашним: в Москве гостила одноименная правнучатая племянница музы Льюиса Кэрролла.Read More
They are images of pain and damage inscribed with the sound of forbidden pleasure; fragile photographs of the interiors of Soviet citizens layered with the ghostly music they secretly loved; they are skin-thin slivers of DIY punk protest.
By Stephen Coates
A smartly dressed young man, Nick Markovitch, is walking through the Moscow streets sometime in the 1950s. He is carrying three or four flat boxes under his arm and is on his way to a friend's house to play music just like multitudes of young people have since. In the boxes are various gramophone records: discs with current Soviet pop tunes; discs bought by his parents before the war but which can no longer be obtained in the Soviet Union; and other, stranger records, records that are illegal, records that would be confiscated and get him into trouble if he is found with them, records that he has bought on street corners in shady deals, like a Western kid buying weed or hash.
If we could listen as Nick plays these records on his friend’s gramophone, we would perhaps hear Western jazz, rock ’n’ roll, tango, gypsy songs sung by Russian émigrés, blatnaya folk songs about criminal life, love, lust, violence, and jealousy, perhaps even the songs of a local popular singer. And if we could hold the thin, flexible, roughly-cut records up to the light, we would see spectral images of skulls, ribcages, spines, pelvises, the broken bones of hands and feet. For, remarkably, these discs were cut with homemade recording machines onto used X-ray film.
In the years 1946–64, an era when a huge amount of music was forbidden in the USSR, enterprising music lovers used an ingenious means of reproduction in defiance of the Soviet censor and found a way to disseminate the music they loved through an underground bootleg network. The X-ray records they made were single-sided, recorded at 78 rpm in real time. The discs were cut into shape with scissors, and the spindle holes were reportedly sometimes made with the burning end of a cigarette. They were ephemeral and often lasted for only a few plays. Each was an edition of one, sounding and looking different from all others and often strangely beautiful. In the family of dissident cultural works that includes samizdat and tamizdat literature and magnetizdat bootleg reel to reel tapes, they are ‘roentgenizdat’ – x-ray press.
The X-Ray Audio Project tells the stories of the people who made, played, and paid for these records, people who were at times persecuted and imprisoned for the music they loved. From our position of musical abundance and almost complete absence of censorship and in a time when individual songs have diminishing value, these stories resonate with a peculiar poignancy amplified by the discs’ skeletal, intimate images. The project, which I founded after discovering an x-ray record in St Petersburg a few years ago, has now evolved into a book, documentary, live events and a exhibition all created with my collaborator, the photographer Paul Heartfield. The exhibition will open at GARAGE Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow in August. More details HERE. Join us at Pushkin House on July 27th to hear the Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone and be amazed as we demonstrate how the Soviet bootleggers worked as we cut a live musical performance by a very special guest direct to x-ray on a 1950s recording machine and then play it back.
By Clem Cecil
This weekend - 14th May - huge protests are expected on the streets of Moscow - a march against the biggest demolition programme in history. A new bill is presently under consideration in the Duma that that will remove some 10% of Moscow’s housing stock (7,900 buildings) home to 1.6 million of its 12.6m population. It is aimed principally at the 5-storey apartment blocks built under Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s otherwise known as pyatietazhki or khrushchevki, but also appears to be arbitrary, allowing the demolition of anything that the city wishes. The proposals have sent shock waves through Moscow and led to the formation of extremely organised and articulate action groups such as Snos Domov Info.
This week at Pushkin House, ex Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had this to say about the demolitions that he oversaw of the same kind of housing stock during his 18 year tenure until 2010. He demolished about half the amount over the last ten years of his time as Mayor.
The demolition plans are almost as ambitious as the original building project itself, that provided housing for tens of millions of citizens, across the entire USSR. The Khrushchev housing project was a modern marriage of technology and socialism: free housing provided for all. Between 1955 and 1964, roughly a quarter of the Soviet population, some 54 million people, received their own flats. They were built without lifts, to speed their construction, and were intended to provide individual apartments for a populace that had been crammed into barracks, communal apartments and other forms of inadequate housing where bathrooms, if they existed at all, were shared, as were kitchens. Although quickly nicknamed Khrushcheby - combined from the words Khrushchev and trusheby (slums) - people were delighted to move into their own private apartments. Arguably, at these kitchen tables people were able, for the first time, to formulate and discuss their individual opinions about state policies, and thus began the erosion of the might of the Soviet Union from within.
Today’s bill represents another kind of erosion: of the rights of citizens to their own property, as not only was there no meaningful consultation, but also the bill includes a clause forbidding legal recourse for those wishing to defend their apartments. Citizens have been promised new apartments that will be up to 20% bigger (the kitchen and the corridor, not the other rooms). No financial support is being offered for the inconvenience of moving.
Ironically, one of the co-authors of the bill is Vladimir Resin, deputy mayor under Yuri Luzhkov, who initiated a similar programme on a lesser scale, demolishing some 1,7000 Krushchev-era residential blocks over the last twenty years, and their replacement with high-rises. He fondly remembers in his own memoir “Moscow in Scaffolding” his own family moving into their own apartment during the Krushchev period, and having their own bathroom for the first time. Mr Resin now owns a capacious dacha with 10km of grounds.
One of the hallmarks of the Krushchev-era micro-regions, as they are called in Russian, is that they were carefully planned, with all the necessary facilities: a market, shops, a metro station, acinema, roads and green spaces. They were thoughtfully laid out and well-planted, with trees now as high as the 5-storey buildings. Today these are well-established areas where people happily live. Not all, but many of the buildings are in good condition and there is no indication in the plans for how poor the condition of a building has to be for it to be demolished, or whether a survey will be undertaken to establish this fact.
In his statements, Mayor Sobyanin implies that because the Communism of the future that Khrushchev promised never happened, it is time to tear down the temporary housing that was built during the period, and make way for something more permanent that will ‘last for 100 years’. After all, is the implication, we are now we now find ourselves in a stable new era of capitalism. Cue- hollow laughter.
Moscow has very unusual laws pertaining to the ownership of land which mean that since the collapse of the soviet union, when all land belonged to the state, nobody has taken responsibility for common areas. Today, you can own your apartment, but not the land under the apartment building. The land under the building is owned by the city and the land between housing blocks is owned by the municipality or the developer. They have no responsibility to create pleasant urban spaces, and they rarely do.
Campaigners are concerned not only about losing their apartments, but also their pleasant and in many cases well-functioning urban environment. Observing the shockingly indifferent response of Duma Deputy Mikhail Degtyarev, one of the authors of the bill, in an interview on Rain TV station, to basic questions about how it will be implemented, one is struck by the lack of consideration for the human element. In a discussion on TV Radio Svoboda with anchor Sergei Medvedev, urbanist and sociologist Petr Ivanov, mentioned another bill that had been passed in february that he thought was more significant, but that this new bill, is a cover for it. He said this bill is, "a pre-election cover-up for the real essence of the other bill: that the powers that be receive the right to mark off territory and name it a renovation zone. In the framework of this renovation zone they can demolish whatever they want and build whatever they want... they can introduce their own construction norms and rules. A zone is constructed in which the normal laws of the country do not apply." Sergei Medvedev concluded the discussion by dubbing this approach to the city: ‘authoratitive urbanisation.'
Not considering the human element in large-scale demolition and construction schemes is folly. After working in conservation and campaigning in Moscow for 8 years, I moved to SAVE Britain’s Heritage where one of the lead campaigns was opposing Pathfinder, otherwise known as Housing Market Renewal. It was introduced by former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 2002, when 12 northern cities bid for the right to enormous government subsidies to demolish up to 400,000 terraced houses to be replaced by new and bigger housing with bigger gardens and garages to appeal to wealthier buyers. Like khrushchevki, terraced housing, almost 100 years earlier, were built to house growing worker populations moving to the cities to work in factories and moving them out of slums, and as with the Krushchevki, the houses and rooms were considered too small. And also similarly, there was very little public consultation. The scheme blighted thousands of lives of people fighting to stay in their homes; it divided neighbourhoods where some wanted demolition and others didn’t; it blighted huge areas of housing which were emptied of their inhabitants and ‘tinned up’ awaiting demolition. When demolition was blocked and hampered due to mismanagement by local councils or legal cases from inhabitants wishing to save their homes, areas simply declined and became wastelands.
In the end fewer than 30,000 houses were demolished, and replaced by less than half that number, at the cost of £2.3bn, subsidised by the government. Last year the winner of Britain’s biggest art prize - the Turner Prize - were Assemble design studios for designs to adapt simple terraced housing for modern needs. This was a clear indication of changing attitudes towards the terraced house.
What Pathfinder demonstrated was that if the human element is not considered it leads to huge wastage of resources both in terms of housing stock (embodied energy) and money. It also leads to divisions within neighbourhoods, thousands of blighted lives, and large inner-city areas becoming demolition and building sites for many years.
A demolition programme and reconstruction programme of the ambition and scale proposed in Moscow is going to lead to a massive grassroots protest movement, people joining their voice to the dalnobioshchiki and others protesting at the moment.
There already appears to be an element of back-tracking: Sobyanin recently announced that there would be further consultation before the final proposed list of demolitions was announced on 1st May. It is important to point out that not everyone thinks that the bill is bad news. Some people’s housing is in an extremely poor state. Architect Andrei Kaftanov, specialist of this period of architecture believes that “this bill is an important political statement that makes us think about what to do with Soviet era housing, which is a good thing and necessary to think about.” Kaftanov points out that poor housing is not all from the Khrushchev era, and includes 12-18 storey buildings from the Brezhnev era.
Acknowledging that although this will probably affect between one third and a half of Muscovites, he thinks that if approached properly, real enhancements to the city are possible. ‘The approach has to be surgical,’ Kaftanov says. ‘With careful intervention it is possible to improve housing and urban areas in such a way that fewer people are displaced and there is an overall improvement of the urban environment.’ However, with reference again to Pathfinder, developers, whether that is the government or private investors, often want large, convenient rectangular sites on which to build, mercilessly knocking down whatever might get in their way, with little regard for the wider neighbourhood.
The economics of this plan are another issue. Unless the government has billions, nay trillions of spare roubles splashing about, this can only be delivered with private developers coming on board. However, the housing market in Moscow has slowed right down, so it is doubtful that there would be an appetite to build thousands of new flats, especially when a significant proportion of them will not be for sale, but rather are replacing demolished apartments.
There is another way: in Eastern Germany, as Guardian journalist Alec Luhn pointed out in his excellent article in March this year, some Khrushchevki were refurbished by Stefan Forster. This may not be possible across the board but it it certainly possible in many cases. This involved removing the top storey, as “a commitment to higher quality through reduction”, knocking apartments into each other and adding balconies and lifts where possible. It is also essential to have clear criteria for which buildings are to be replaced and why. It should be done in stages, and not in one tsunami of destruction and should be thought of as a whole with the entire city - how new high rises around the edge of Moscow will affect the whole city. If this goes ahead we will all remember the Moscow of today as a quaint old capital, with skies of scudding clouds.
It was established by British architects Peter and Alison Smithson in the 1960s that 6-storeys in the optimum height for a residential building - 6 storeys up you are still close enough to the ground to feel part of the city and connected to the whole. The theories of American urbanist Jane Jacobs, republished in recent years in translation in Russia, about safe neighbourhoods hinge on them being low-rise - 6 storeys and less - allowing people to keep an eye on what is happening on the street. This project carries a very real danger of disconnecting hundreds of thousands of muscovites from their own reality and from the reality of the city. Beyond the replacement of some of the worst housing - that constitutes only a fraction of the some 8,000 buildings currently proposed for demolition - it is hard to see what positives this will bring. On the contrary, it has the potential to cause huge suffering and be a major distraction and burden on the lives of Muscovites wishing to remain in their homes.
This blog was commissioned by the BBC and can be found here in Russian.
Clem Cecil is Director of Pushkin House, former Director of SAVE Britain's Heritage, Trustee of SAVE Europe's Heritage, and co-founder of the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society. She is co-editor of two reports about threats to Moscow's architectural heritage.
These observations on Russian drinking were made in the early 1990s and have been adapted from my book on living in provincial Russia, 'Little Tenement on the Volga'.
Much has been said about Russian drinking habits. In the 17th century a Croatian priest wrote, “What can be said of our drunkenness? If you were to search the whole world over, nowhere could you find such a vile, repulsive and terrible drunkenness as exists here is Russia.
The priest was sent to Siberia for his remarks.
Nineteenth century European travellers in Russia commented upon the comatose figures lying outside every inn, sleeping off the effects of vodka. These days [this was written in the early 90s] there are fewer restaurants and hotels than in Tsarist times, so the sleeping bodies are distributed all over town, in bus shelters, entranceways and courtyards. As a friend wryly observed, ‘You have a lot of pubs, and we have a lot of streets.’
Drunks congregate at railway stations, private kiosks that line the main street and little beer stands called pivnushki. There was a pivnushka at the end of my street which attracted a constant stream of shabby figures clutching three-litre pickle jars. As they left I used to fear they would never make it across the road. Swaying dangerously at the kerbside, they stared ahead with the eyes of crazed fish. Sometimes an unsteady couple would link hands and tenderly help each other across the tram tracks.
Some people preferred cheaper and stronger intoxicants such as furniture polish and window cleaner. The department stores were full of old ladies blowing their pensions on perfumes; in the evenings they displayed their little bottles on upturned crates in the streets. The favourite brand amongst connoisseurs was cucumber face lotion – drunk neat.
In 1986 the militia had to be called to quell a threatened riot in the city’s largest store. Staff had limited sales of eau de Cologne to two bottles per customer.
In 1994 dozens of people in the neighbouring town of Syzran dropped dead from alcohol poisoning. They had waylaid a goods train and broken into a wagon of industrial alcohol. To my mind this was desperation on a par with 18th century London when Gordon rioters fell dead as they drank the gin coursing through the gutters of Holborn.
But who was I to judge? I could afford vodka.
On 5 April, Caroline will be giving a talk at Pushkin House about her experience of co-writing another of her books ‘Smashed in the USSR’ with Ivan Petrov, a vagrant and drunk in late Soviet times, who was practiced in the art of mixing cocktails of glue, petrol and eau de cologne to achieve his alcoholic fix. This searing memoir is a terrifying picture of surviving on the margins of Soviet society, and the affliction of alcoholism on the nation. This talk is part of our season of events accompanying our exhibition: 'Alcohol: Soviet anti-alcohol posters.' (23 March-13 April).
The Russian Revolution season is upon us: its revolutionary juices have matured. It is as if a wine merchant of history declared that that dusty bottle of red wine (of course red!), which for many years was too young, was finally ready for drinking. Many a cultural institution in many a European capital will be happily drinking from this bottle this year.
It is not a race, but Hebbel am Ufer (or HAU for short) a German theatre and performance centre in the once bohemian West Berlin district of Kreuzberg, may have been one of the first to drink from the revolutionary bottle.
HAU's recent production Eternal Russia, which completed its mostly sold-out run at the end of January, was largely about that special Russian cycle of a revolution inevitably followed by a counter-revolution. The show uses a quote by Oscar Wilde which could serve as an epigraph: that nothing is impossible in Russia but reform.
Eternal Russia - conceived, developed, written and directed by the Moscow theatre critic Marina Davydova - is a clever little production. The audience of perhaps 50 or 60 people is literally taken on a walking tour of Davydova’s ideas. (Full disclosure: many years ago Marina Davydova and I studied together at theGITIS theatre school in Moscow). In the classic style of a promenade theatre (or parcours theatrale, as the French call it), we are guided by theatre staff through HAU3's old Berlin building to witness scenes of Russian history in different rooms on different floors.
There are no live actors. The story of the Russian cycle of the rise and defeat of all things liberal and revolutionary is told through the sets and props (co-creator Vera Martynova), electronic music (Vladimir Rannev), historic video footage, and short feature films. The Russian language is translated into English and German surtitles well enough for both Russian and non-Russian audience members to laugh at the same moments.
We keep returning to the same ‘red’ room where portraits, sets and props change every time we re-enter. A long dining table in the middle is imaginatively set for tea with the violent history of Russia of the last two centuries. The dining table serves as a familiar common denominator of a home (everyone has to eat!), and the visual representation of the changing times outside the room. Pre-revolutionary bone china and a classic sculpture of Venus crack loudly in 1917 to give way to the messy table of the early 1920s with dirty laundry hanging off Venus. Then comes the devastation of the Gulag 1930s with many of the dinner guests dead under and around the table, which soon fast forwards to the Soviet quasi-imperial longing for a conservative neo-classicism. Once the revolution won, who needs it! The new sculptures of the young Communists replace Venus, but their shape and style remain similar (sans nakedness). The new Stalinist army uniforms looks remarkably similar to those worn by the old tsarist officers.
In post-revolutionary Russia, where Stalin and his successors came to see themselves longingly as the new tsars, the imperial aesthetic and style become more important than political ideology. Newly build grand buildings with classical columns and imperial parades trump any revolutionary rhetoric and communist ideals.
This, of course, equally upsets the true revolutionaries and the liberals. In one black and white video a liberal character (Sergei Chonishvili) narrates the history of defeated revolutionary ideas with the air of a disillusioned acceptance. During the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 millions went on strike and mutinied. But the numbers have been dwindling. Mere thousands turned up to protest outside the Kremlin in 2011.
Ditto the Russian sexual revolution. The black and white video gives way to a Technocolour pseudo-vintage short and funny film (also directed by Davydova) featuring an assorted cast of today’s Moscow theatre beaumonde characters inspired by the the revolutionary sexual liberation of the 1920s. On screen they cross-dress, undress, and thus address their creative kin of some 100 years ago. We are told a story of naked revolutionary daring. Apparently, soon after the Revolution two young women - Inessa Armand (Lenin’s lover) and Alexandra Kollontai (Russia’s first female ambassador to Norway) - shed their clothes and walked around Kremlin naked, much to Lenin’s dismay. Whether true or myth, it reflects on today’s struggle (a never ending struggle) in Russia between the liberal intelligentsia and the church and patriarchal society where the likes of Pussy Riot are sent to prison.
Eternal Russia is neither a rich nor lavish production. There is a whiff of the ‘poor theatre’ aesthetic about it, which is compensated for by its creative energy. In the theatrical sense it is brave, for example, to play one entire scene in a dark room with nothing happening but projections of old Stalin-era photographs and audio narration. Yet this is when we get to hear some of Davydova’s most interesting ideas, some of which had been expressed in her critical writings over the years.
It is unusual for a theatre critic to succeed at directing. Kenneth Tynan, a prominent English theatre critic observed that: “a critic is someone who knows the way, but can't drive the car”. Much to the credit of both the producers and the director, Davydova’s maiden test drive at HAU3 delivers the goods. The deep and generous well of big themes that is Russia sustains and feeds this production.
There are, of course, books and dissertations and museum exhibitions which can be found on every aspect of Russian history. But engaging with them is often hard work. Eternal Russia does a lot of hard work for you. You are propelled along, made to see, listen, and think about Russia’s history, pain, illusions, hopes and disappointments. It is easy to see the educational value of Eternal Russia. Its modest and transferable format would easily allow it to travel. Museums and universities ought to take note.
Will Eternal Russia will be shown in today’s Moscow? Several Russian theatre critics travelled to Berlin and published raving reviews in the leading Russian newspapers. This ought to be a good omen, but in Russia you never know…
As the show ends, we are ordered by a booming mechanic announcement to leave the red room immediately. The only way out is through an ominously red-lit ‘Emergency Exit’. An emergency exit into Berlin’s chilly air may be the only way out of this Eternal Russia. But, given its eternal nature, we are very likely to be back.
Sergei Ostrovsky is a trustee and co-chair of Pushkin House
The brief period of the Russian avant-garde left a lasting impact on world architecture, yet it is still unclear how to protect this heritage. Even the most famous Moscow monuments like Ginzburg’s Narkomfin building or Shukhov’s radio tower have been neglected for years. While the proposed demolition of the Shukhov Tower in 2014 was halted after a massive local and international campaign, the fact that such an absurd idea was even put forward by the tower’s owners is indicative of the serious threat faced by monuments from this period. The news that the long-awaited restoration of Narkomfin is about to become a reality, is good news indeed! We should not, however, forget that Narkomfin has been ignored by Moscow’s cultural heritage authorities for a long time. In the meantime the building’s condition needlessly progressively worsened and the flurry of renovation works carried out illegally by the building’s previous owner will give the restorers a set of problems that weren’t there before. The controversial takeover of the Melnikov House in August of 2014 sharply divided the architectural community, highlighting problems of heritage management. Despite the start of regular tours to the house, legal issues surrounding the house have yet to be settled and the ongoing conflict between parties involved necessitates moderation by an independent committee to ensure the house and the legacy of the Melnikov family are being dealt with properly.
This past year is also not lacking in controversial events surrounding avant-garde heritage. The well-documented demolition of the Taganka telephone station roused a response unexpected for such a less well-known monument. The demolition proved to be so controversial because of numerous circumstances that city activists are all too familiar with in the battle with developers and Moscow authorities, and in this case it struck a chord with much of the general public as well. While architects, architectural historians, and specialists in architectural heritage preservation judged the telephone station to be an “undeniable monument of architecture” - their expert opinion was ignored, and instead the developer’s view that the telephone station was just a “utilitarian industrial building” was upheld by Moscow authorities. Effectively the demolition of the telephone station showed that when Moscow authorities take a biased stance against constructivist architecture, developers get the green light to build yet another luxury apartment complex in Moscow’s historic center where supposedly “new construction is practically forbidden” as recently declared by Moscow's Department of Cultural Heritage.
In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in popularization efforts that include lectures, exhibits, tours, and various publications. The Moscow Constructivist Map that just came out is one such example of an effort that both celebrates the legacy of constructivist architecture and at the same time highlights the uncertain fate of these monuments. There’s always the possibility that not all 50 monuments featured in the map will remain part of Moscow’s landscape. The existing built environment is, after all, a finite resource that we have inherited from our ancestors and charged with its keep, whereas new architecture can always be built. While there are some instances of readapting historical buildings and territories to modern use in Moscow, like Melnikov’s Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage now functioning as a museum space or Nikolaev’s student dormitories that are again housing students today, the number is far too few for a city that has such a rich architectural past.
Natalia Melikova is the founder of the Moscow-based preservation group The Constructivist Project.
The painting 'Mellow Yellow Golden Age' was inspired by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's short story 'Yellow Coal' (1939). In Krzhizhanovsky's story the earth is experiencing an energy crisis; oil wells are running dry and energy returns of black, white and brown coal are diminishing yearly: 'The earth had a fever. Flogged mercilessly by the sun's yellow whips, it whirled round like a dervish dancing his last furious dance.' In an attempt to solve the crisis a competition is launched to reward the discovery of a new energy source. The eventual winner successfully harvests human spite and transforms it into a form of energy that becomes known as yellow coal. Soon every bus seat, office turnstile and matrimonial bed is adapted to absorb the bile from people's pores and strategies are devised to keep the general population in a permanent state of bilious acrimony.
'...the world had entered a kind of Golden Age. And no need to hack through the earth's crust for the gold, no need to rinse it in streams - it seeped out of the liver on its own in yellow granules...'
Ultimately, though, and despite the state's best efforts, the population's supply of bile is exhausted; they become 'vacant, rosy-cheeked and mentally dead' and their livers fall asleep. The unintended consequence of this vast experiment turns out to be a doomed populace starved of ideas and without the ability to think its way to a new solution for the new energy crisis.
'Mellow Yellow Golden Age' takes the idea of a population in thrall to a revolutionary source of energy. The round dance is a motif I sometimes use to symbolise a joyous, carefree existence. In this instance the figures resemble hippies and it is unclear exactly what they are dancing around - it could be a pile of earth, gold or yellow coal. The 'Golden Age' of the title refers both to the 'Golden Age' described in Krzhizhanovsky's story and to the eponymous painting by Lucas Cranach that features a group of naked dancers in an eden-like setting dancing around a fruit tree.
In all my work, through the imagery, colours and painting processes, I try to create a certain atmosphere or mood of simultaneous hope and anxiety. Broadly speaking the work is about the idea of a faded idyll - it could be described as nostalgia for some time or place in the past full of hope for the future, seen from a current position where our lived reality reflects a compromised idealism. The imagery is abstracted and intentionally left open to multiple, possibly contrasting, narrative interpretations.
Ed Saye's work is part of Pushkin House's current exhibit "THE RUNAWAY FINGERS" which runs from 29 September - 13 November, 2016. A group show of seven Russian, British and American visual artists based in the UK, interprets the imaginative world of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950).
Open 2pm - 5pm; Monday - Saturday, most days. Please call in advance to check or if you would like to see the exhibition outside these hours.
Semion Chuikov: Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia
A Daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia was, and still remains, one of the main images to spring out in the minds’ of post-Soviet peoples at the mention of Central Asian art of the Stalin period. The original painting was created in 1949 by the artist Semion Chuikov, who was born in Kyrgyzia, but of ethnic Russian origin and educated in Russia. It was exhibited in Moscow and in 1949 was given the highest award for an artwork, the Stalin Prize. Such recognition of the work immediately gave it an almost iconic status and lead to the widespread dissemination of copies. There are at least three painted versions in existence. But more importantly, there are countless photographic reproductions. In terms of public memory the illustrations produced within schoolbooks and distributed right across the USSR were especially effective. To this day ‘Kyrgyzia’ is to Russians a girl lost amid the steppes.
When the image of a whole nation, even one so small a nation as Soviet Kyrgyzia, rests heavily on one oil painting of a girl walking through an empty steppe clutching a book in her hand, there must be very powerful forces of representation at play. The daughter of Soviet Kyrgyzia is walking away from the imperialist past and towards an imaginary future. The painting now rests at the State Tretyakov Gallery in the Russian, and previously Soviet, capital city of Moscow.
This painting had a lot of power in an almost political sense: it had the power to grip people’s minds, to alter, or create perceptions, to be seen, to be remembered and to be loved. This power rested upon the significance of several diverse factors, such as the appropriateness of the painting’s subject, the painterly style, the celebrity of the artist and the means for dissemination available when all the aforementioned factors had successfully been put together.
The girl is at once a Central Asian emancipated heroine, the new future of the Soviet woman and the forever young and forever feminine image of the Soviet East. Yet she is also the object of the Russian gaze, which can be identified as male, adult and progressive. The relationship signified is that of parent and child, of educator and student, of powerful male and subjugated female. With the angle of the composition the girl’s figure pushes up into the sky and she becomes a monument to illusive freedom and a reminder of an obliterated past.
This is an excerpt from art historian Aliya Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen's new book 'Central Asia in Art', published in June 2016 by I.B.Tauris. Presenting the 'untold story' of Soviet Orientalism, Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen reveals the imperial project of the Soviet state, placing the Orientalist undercurrent found within art and propaganda production in the USSR alongside the creation of new art forms in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The issue of Russia’s disappearing church architecture was opened to me after co-founding the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society in Moscow in 2004. I met an extraordinary woman, Svetlana Melnikova, who has been raising funds to carry out emergency repairs on rural churches for over 20 years for the organisation that she runs called the Village Church Society. She took me to Tver Province and showed me church after church cracked and crumbling into the earth, or poorly patched up by locals who out of ignorance were using cement that was causing havoc with the original lime plasterwork and creating worsening damp.
Supported by the Khlebnikov Foundation, I took a group over from the UK’s oldest conservation group The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings who were astounded by the scale and beauty of these churches that had been neglected for so long. They were amazed at the sturdiness of the structures, and showed me how no expense had been spared – the 3 foot thick walls were solid brick, rather than the skins of brick filled in with builders rubble that you find in England.
Village after village in Tver Province, and most of central and western Russia, is crowned by a great carcass of a church, mostly with its domes stripped of metal, sold for scrap, and often with the roof falling in. Svetlana showed me the memorials to those who fell in the Great Patriotic War (as Russians refer to WWII) and said, ‘this is why.’ The memorials showed rows and rows of names, whole families were wiped out, leaving only the women - thus the population dwindled and the villages emptied. This followed most of the churches being converted, in the 1930s, into cattle sheds, village clubs or workshops. Then in the 1980s there was another wave of attacks on churches - some of the cracks up the middle of walls were a direct result of dynamite.
Svetlana also showed me a church that had miraculously survived all these political and social upheavals and had continued to work throughout the period. We were asked not to photograph in one, which had incredible wall paintings, as burglary has become such a problem recently.
Since 2006 I have accompanied Svetlana on many trips into the Russian countryside, and every time we discover a new church – either she has been called by a local who wants to do something about the church, or she has spotted a spire poking out of the forest, like a hunter. In many cases the churches have been reabsorbed into Russia’s great forests.
There are thousands of abandoned churches across Russia. Nobody knows the exact number – the inventorisation process is underway but there is a long way to go. This is being undertaken by the Russian State Institute of Art History, and there are 10 volumes planned for Tver Region alone.
However, with an increasing number of Russians buying dachas, the process of the rediscovering of the Russian countryside has begun. On one trip we met some locals at the church who had organised subbotniki (voluntary days) at the weekend during which villagers cleared the debris from around the building, and they had a plan to make the building watertight and slowly bring it back into use.
In the next door village we met Father Popov who was delighted when one of the editors of the Inventory of Russian Monuments gave him the volume that included his church, about whose history he knew almost nothing as there had been no research available. In exchange he said prayers over our party and let us ring the bells as dusk fell.
In 2016 the whole world celebrates the 125th anniversary of Sergey Prokofiev, an emblematic Russian composer, one of the artists that makes up Russia’s Hall of Fame. CDs are being released and his music is being programmed around the globe. Valery Gergiev has put on two extraordinary galas in Moscow and St Petersburg and in September he is bringing his famous Mariinsky Orchestra to London’s Cadogan Hall to perform all of Prokofiev’s symphonies in the course of three evenings. Russian pianist Nikolay Lugansky continues to do the complete cycle of Prokofiev’s concertos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. On 5 October Blackheath Halls launches a brand new charity, dedicated to the memory of Sergey’s son, Oleg.
As the home of Russian culture in London, Pushkin House could not possibly stand aside and we will host our own Prokofiev marathon on Friday 21st October during Bloomsbury Festival. Distinguished musicians whose geography ranges from Siberia to Estonia, Kazakhstan to the UK combine forces in order to produce a rarely heard combination of Prokofiev’s vocal and instrumental works.
Songs on Akhmatova’s poems will be followed by instrumental and chamber music masterpieces and the whole evening will culminate in the performance of one of his most famous works – the 7th Sonata for piano for which the composer received a Stalin Prize. Performers on the night are prizewinners of more than 20 international competitions including ‘Tchaikovsky’ in Moscow and ‘Van Cliburn’ in Texas. What will add to the uniqueness of the event is the world premiere of a work commissioned by Pushkin House especially for the occasion. In his composition British composer-pianist Nathan Williamson will be paying tribute to Prokofiev’s ‘indefatigable belief in his own decisions and opinions’.
Alexander is the Music Curator at the Pushkin House and helps organise the classical music side of our programme. He is a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and City University London, where in 2014 he successfully defended his doctoral thesis on performance practice in the music of Nikolay Medtner. If you would like to propose a concert at Pushkin House, or have any other enquiries relating to our music programme, please email Alexander on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The beautifully proportioned, elegant spaces of Pushkin House are a perfect setting for our new work, based on the imaginative world of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. It’s installation week and we arrive laden down with our work - canvases of all shapes and sizes, photographic prints, sculpture, furniture, even a typewriter…and there’s still more to come. The pale grey walls of the Grand Salon are an excellent backdrop to the delicate colours and rich textures of the paintings; the difficult task of curating this body of work begins.