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“The City of Tomorrow” Shows the Future Left Behind

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Fragment of a project documentation. Sokur rural settlement. Novosibirsk Region Architect Vyacheslav Misin (Aurora Bureau), 1987.

“The City of Tomorrow”, the exhibition project of the international group of curators and researchers, is currently on view in Novosibirsk within the framework of the Year of Germany in Russia 2020/21. The show considers the life and afterlife of the Soviet city, focusing on the social and ideological fabric that once wove the Soviet Union together. The vast body of documentation presents the evolution of Soviet modernist architectural heritage from the early 1920s to its end that coincidedwith the collapse of the Soviet Union. Numerous thematic sections include both architectural projects implemented in the Soviet Union as well as utopian projects left in paper.

The current moving exhibition is a visible manifestation of cultural diplomacy and research thinking. The curators of the project Ruben Arevshatyan  (Armenia) and Georg Schölhammer (Austria) have been researching and documenting the architecture from across the CIS countries and beyond for almost two decades. Previously much of this legacy has been left out of architectural history books. In an attempt to bridge that gap a big team of researchers and consultants later joined the project. As a result, the current show presents over 600 acclaimed masterpieces and not widely known architectural monuments from Russia and the former Soviet republics displayed in the form of photographs, models, plans, and film fragments from more than 70 archives.

Grandeur palaces of culture and gigantic stadiums, brutalist industrial structures and residential districts, sanatoriums and swimming pools, boulevards and monuments, cinema houses and even bus stops – all these components of architectural landscape expressed the spirit of the Soviet project embodied in stone, giving the urban space a certain flavour so characteristic of those times.

The exhibition was launched back in 2019 in Minsk, and since then the Goethe Institute project has been in Yerevan, Moscow. In 2021 it will travel to Kiev and Tbilisi.

The show organized by Goethe-Institute Novosibirsk in the Center of Culture (CK19) includes a new section, especially developed for the Novosibirsk edition of “The City of Tomorrow”. It encompasses the architectural processes in Siberia throughout the 20th century. “We talk here about architecture and urban development with a reference to the Bauhaus school in Germany. The exposition consists of two main sections – the core that is exhibited in different cities and the local extension with a focus on paper architecture – projects that were not realized in construction”, says Mr. Per Brandt, Director of the Goethe-Institute Novosibirsk. Our observer Elena Rubinova spoke with Anton Karmanov, Novosibirsk edition curator, about the role of Soviet modernism for architectural history and practice, the second wave of paper architecture, and young viewers’ impressions of the exhibition.

As far as I know, the curators of the entire project have been researching for the project across the former USSR for almost two decades. Why has the project finally emerged in recent years as a traveling exhibition? ​​​​​​

The research project began around 2004. At that time, the first discussions about the phenomenon of “Soviet architecture” were initiated. Large-scale architecture seemed solid, but in fact, complex ambiguous processes were behind its declarative nature. And finally, it was possible to talk about it and do major research. In the 2000s, Soviet modernism started to be seen not as a homogeneous, but multifaceted phenomenon, described by the notion of “local modernities”. With this new approach, it became possible to see the whole picture of Soviet modernism, on a different level and in a different quality. In parallel, interest in modernism was spurred by a number of popular publications. In 2011, Frederic Chaubin’s book “USSR” (“Cosmic Communist Construction Photographed”) was published. The book was a dizzying success and became a bestseller in the West: The architecture described in it did not exist in the Western countries, the audience did not know it existed and did not expect to have such a revelation. Interestingly enough, this architecture was not expected to be discovered in Russia as well. The book became a revelation both for the professional audience and for the general reader. So the growing interest in the Soviet heritage and the discovery of new layers of the architecture of that time were the catalysts of the exhibition process.

What is the significance of Soviet modernism today?

Speaking about Siberia, the importance of Soviet modernism is fundamental: urbanization of its vast lands falls largely into the 20th century, the height of modernism. Much of the infrastructure, transport, energy, education, culture, and cities in general are the result of processes where modernism as a philosophy and modernism as a style prevailed. Cities in Siberia were often formed from scratch, from square one, so to say. The structure of the future cities immediately implied that they would be populated by a new type of people, society would not be “traditional” – with kitchen slavery and class distinctions. In these cities of tomorrow schools, kindergartens, and colleges were built from the start.

What is behind the blanket term “Siberian” modernism, the concept which has been in focus in the current edition?  What cities other than Novosibirsk and territories does this term describe?

First and foremost, “Siberian modernism” stands for a modernist architectural school formed in Siberia, its institutions and architectural heritage, which territorially refers to this region and implies the idea of this place. Of course, the school did not include only local architects who designed Siberian, Far Eastern, Northern cities or cities of Central Asia. Here in Siberia there were many leading specialists who received their architectural education and began to work here such as the renowned Soviet architect Mikhail Posokhin (the Palace of Congresses, New Arbat street in Moscow, and a number of international pavilions of the USSR are among his projects), or the engineer Nikolai Nikitin, who went through the progressive “concrete” school at the Siberian Institute of Technology. He used his knowledge in the design of the Ostankino TV tower, the sculpture “Motherland calls!” and a number of other iconic projects. To outline briefly, the Siberian modernism is a modernism of the bases which is supposed to convey “more ethics – less aesthetics”. Siberian modernism has an essentially strict, universal character.  And, of course, this concept refers not only to Novosibirsk, but this city was one of its centers.

Does the exhibition trace ideologically-induced changes? How is this aspect reflected in the exhibition?

Architecture is always a manifestation of its epoch, a story of economic and political power telling a viewer how social relations were perceived.  It always provides rich material for studies. It is these particular issues that thematic sections of the main part of the exhibition address. For instance, the exhibition includes such sections as “Ideology in Stone,” or “Parallel Ideologies.” In the latter section one can find what was behind the declarative nature of Soviet modernism, what ideas were conceived within the architectural process but were camouflaged under Soviet norms. On the display viewers can see examples how post-modernist or nationalist motifs made their way in Soviet architecture. Or the section “Free Time and Leisure,” tells us about the concept of “free time” in Soviet society. It was only in the early 1960s that a 5-day working week was introduced, and the employees were meant to enjoy an extra day off in libraries, cinemas, and houses of culture.

For a wide non-professional audience, the concept of “paper architecture” is not always familiar. What does this special phenomenon stand for? How is this theme presented in the exposition?

“Paper architecture” is a phenomenon of the 1980s, which emerged as a reaction to overregulation. “Paper architecture” was an alternative, a step away from the mainstream of Soviet architecture with its functionalism and standardized construction, it was an idea of a generation, a special character of the sensibility of that time. In the Novosibirsk edition of the show “paper architecture” fits into the architectural and urban history – it demonstrates the transition from Soviet urbanism to urbanism, which then in the postmodernist mindset and theories was popular among architecture students in Novosibirsk. We focus on the main architectural groups – some were employees of design institutes, others opened the first private architectural studios in 1985. In the show, this inclusion of “paper” as part of architectural history builds a bridge to the 1920s, to late-Soviet architecture, to the architecture of the 1990s, and to what is happening now. But it should be noted that “paper architecture” as a mass phenomenon did not appear everywhere. There were two centers – in Moscow and Novosibirsk, they had different backgrounds, but they were in a dialogue. The architectural schools of Leningrad and Yekaterinburg did not engage in paper architecture en masse and remained mostly conservative and pragmatic. It should be noted that many of the Novosibirsk “paper” projects are quite realizable and quite modern to this day.

What is the Soviet style in architecture – details, certain elements, dimensions? How will the audience, especially viewers who did not live in the USSR – imagine a “Soviet city” after they visited this exhibition? I assume, this must have been one of your goals as a curator ….

As a curator, I set myself the task of breaking down the one-sided understanding of the “Soviet style”. It was important to me to show the multiple concepts that were born in the Soviet period and were in dialogue, in development. In order to show this, there was enough material. I cannot say that people who did not live in the Soviet Union have absolutely no idea what a Soviet city is. In Novosibirsk, there is almost no historical development of the city, and all significant public buildings are Soviet buildings, with very few exceptions. Even younger generations who have not lived in the Soviet Union, were born in Khrushchev time residential blocks and grew up in bedroom communities. Rather, the exhibition gives enough material to make it clear what projects were originally like, before multiple reconstructions, without advertising, banners, and the infamous siding. General knowledge of architecture ends in the 30s at best. The history of Soviet architecture is not taught in institutes of higher education; this experience is not understood, not studied, not engaged. The oblivion of modernism, its invisibility despite its ubiquity, is characteristic not only of the philistine, but also of the architecture student. And the exhibition certainly fills this gap.

What is happening to the legacy of Soviet modernism today? Will gentrification be most common in terms of conservation? What is the situation like in Novosibirsk?

“Gentrification” often hides a meaningless development that does not increase the quality of the territory, but reduces it. If most people thought about development rather than profit, then the doctrine of modernism aimed at development would have come true. Even if the urban modernist framework changes, the spirit of modernism is unchanged – the desire for development. One other problem is also most common – what are the criteria of a piece of architecture or monument to be under protection? At the city and regional level, let’s say, a run-down crooked hut of Peter the Great times is more likely to be considered a monument than a well- preserved masterpiece of modernist architecture. I think that the situation in Novosibirsk is no different from many other cities. It is clear that nowadays there is no need to have a large number of huge cinemas and libraries with auditoriums for thousands of people – the distribution of video, films and texts takes place by other means. However, the need for public buildings, public relations, and cultural practices remains; it does not disappear, but takes new forms. And we have to work with this.

From our partner International Affairs

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Squid Game, Style influence and Sustainable consumption

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Photo source: Netflix

Have you heard about the recent South Korean drama blockbuster named Squid Game yet? It was released on Netflix on Sept. 17, 2021, and has quickly earned a worldwide audience. Since debuting, it has been viewed by more than 100 million people and has become the no. 1 trending in top 10 lists in 94 countries around the world.

Not only topped the list, but the South Korean drama has also created a trend that has influenced fashion style around the world and dominated the online platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and several online shopping websites: Amazon, eBay, Shoppee, and so on.  On Google.com, you will find more than 223,000,000 results in only 0.53 seconds; on Amazon.com, the term “Squid Game costume” has also become a top finding, even when you have just typed only two characters “sq”, the full term “Squid Game costume” will appear and you can find more than a thousand of results about this kind of clothes. 6,150 results for Squid Game costume appear when searching on eBay. On Instagram and Facebook, the hashtag #SquidGameCostume has recently become the most popular key hashtag and could be the influent style this winter.

Unlike trending superhero movies like Captain American, Avengers, with characters wearing specialized and inconvenient costumes for daily use, “Squid Game” is full of players wearing banal teal-green tracksuits. And this style of wearing tracksuits has been promoted by luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Channel in recent years, because of its convenience and full of fashion, suitable for almost everyone from children, young people, and adults. That’s why the seemingly simple tracksuits in “Squid Game” turned out to be more trending.

The green tracksuit will likely become popular because of its convenience and ease of production, but it’s not the only known outfit, one that’s probably even more sought-after is the set of hot pink boiler suits and black masks watch the spectacle. Halloween is just around the corner, this type of costume has the potentiality to become another “red jumpsuits and Salvador Dalí masks” – a phenomenon that comes from the previous hit Money Heist.  Clearly, Squid Game costume could be a perfect choice for the one who is looking for the new and trending Halloween costume, and fashion influencers may have to queue in line after Squid Game this Halloween and winter.

With marketing strategies in all aspects that an ordinary person can reach just by picking up the smartphone, it is not difficult for “Squid Game” to be accessible through advertisements, and finding a way to win in marketing could be more easily for fashion companies and even companies that are not engaged in the fashion industry. Netflix even sells Squid Game t-shirts and hoodies on its website, and it seems that marketing the products of trending movies will become the marketing trend in the future.

However, from the environmentalist or sustainable consumption supporters’ perspective, the influences of the fads can go against what they’re pursuing. Sustainable consumption is the use of services and related products, which responds to basic needs and brings a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations. Sustainable consumption is closely related to sustainable production and sustainable lifestyles. When thinking about the relationship of a hot trend like Squid Game and its influence, we could see the 4M plus model (4M +) including Mass media marketing -Mass outfit obsession – Mass production – Mass consumption, and the plus could be the Mass damage for the environment. It may seem to be not a kind of mass production if it only happens once in a blue moon and only happens for one movie/show, but in fact, it is an unstoppable game that every director wants to win. Fashion’s influence could be a tool to reach the top trending show of the year and also be a push for the fashion industry and consumption later.

So, is the top trending show doing well in marketing and promoting fashion consumption by creating style influence, definitely Yes, but is it promoting sustainable consumption? I am not sure.

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The winner of the All About Photo Magazine contest is a picture of a happy Nenets family

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Photo: Yulia Nevskaya, "Tundra people"

The work of the Russian photographer Yulia Nevskaya “Tundra People” – a photograph of a happy woman from the Russian northern region of Taimyr surrounded by three children won first prize in the All About Photo Magazine travel photography competition. This photograph’s victory is particularly noteworthy for the UNESCO-announced Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032), which will focus on the rights of native speakers of indigenous languages.

All About Photo is a free and independent magazine that has become one of the most vibrant portals of photography on the web. Moreover, All About Photo result is one of the most far-reaching online magazines where you can find everything related to photography.

Nevskaya worked a lot in the north of Russia, including with small peoples: the Nenets and the Sami. She took many photographs in one of the most interesting and northern cities of Russia – Norilsk.

This is how she described her trip.

“Norilsk is an industrial city, there are many industries that are harmful to the environment. This city was a revelation for me. I expected to see a smoky sky and an oppressive atmosphere. But the city turned out to be full of light, a combination of shades of white and blue against the background of the silence of the Arctic, “Nevskaya said.

The main enterprise of the city – Norilsk Nickel – has been actively cooperating with the indigenous people of the region for a long time.

The Taymyr Peninsula is a peninsula in the Far North of Russia, in the Siberian Federal District, that forms the northernmost part of the mainland of Eurasia. Administratively it is part of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Federal subject of Russia.

Nornickel has been cooperating with the Indigenous Minorities of the North for more than 30 years.

The photo shows Angelina Wanga with her children Denis, Linda and Dima. The picture was taken at the end of April. Snow in the tundra will melt only at the beginning of summer.

In July, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with the support of Norilsk Nickel, the exhibition “The World in the Faces” of the famous Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin was held. The author personally presented a collection of more than 170 artistic photographic portraits of representatives of different peoples of the world, shot in authentic national costumes in places of residence. The exhibition was dedicated to the upcoming International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People and Their Languages. It is a celebration of multiculturalism and our incredible ethnic diversity at its best.

In 2018, Khimushin went to the Russian Arctic – Taimyr. The result was a series of portraits of the region’s indigenous inhabitants – Dolgans, Nganasans, Enets, Nenets, Evenks.

Khimushin became the first Russian photographer to have an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York. Works from The World in Faces project were exhibited at the University of Lille in France, and for six months were broadcast on the screen of the world’s largest digital art center in Bordeaux.

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Landmark report highlights untapped potential of Africa’s film industry

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Nigerian film actress Toyin Abraham was among entertainers who helped the UN share messages to address myths surrounding COVID-19./ Toyin Abraham

Africa’s film and audiovisual industries could create over 20 million jobs and contribute $20 billion to the continent’s combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, said on Tuesday in a new report highlighting this untapped potential. 

The African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth is the first-ever mapping of the sector, which currently employs some five million people and accounts for $5 billion in GDP across Africa.

Making creativity viable

Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director-General, presented the report in Paris alongside esteemed filmmakers Abderrahmane Sissako and Mati Diop.

“This landmark publication reflects on the importance of strengthening international cooperation to enable all countries, in particular developing countries, to develop cultural and creative industries that are viable and competitive both nationally and internationally,” she said.

The report aims to help the African film industry, and decision-makers, to take stock of the current landscape and plan strategically for future growth.

Africa’s potential as a film powerhouse remains largely untapped, despite a significant growth in production across the continent, the report argues. Nigeria alone produces around 2,500 films a year.

Even though affordable digital film equipment and online platforms allow direct distribution to consumers, opening new avenues for content creators, Africa is the most underserved continent in terms of movie theatres.  Currently, there is only one cinema screen per 787,402 people.

Lights, camera, piracy

The film industry also faces the significant problem of piracy.  The UNESCO report estimates that 50 per cent to over 75 per cent of revenue is lost to piracy, though precise data does not exist.  Additionally, just 19 out of 54 African countries offer financial support to filmmakers.

The report outlines further challenges, including limitations on freedom of expression, as well as education, training and internet connectivity.

Films as ‘public goods’

This year marks two decades since the adoption of a UNESCO Declaration that upholds cultural diversity as being as necessary to humanity as biodiversity is to nature.

Ms. Azoulay said in commemorating the anniversary, “we must raise our voice to reaffirm that films are indeed ‘public goods’ that require public support and investment to ensure equal access to creation, production, distribution, dissemination and consumption.” 

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