Izmaylovo, Belyaevo, and… Japan
The Belyaevo Gallery in Moscow hosts a new exhibition of the ‘Soviet Modernism. From: and To:’ project. Anastasia Petrova, an architect, and Elizaveta Zemlyanova, an artist, are the curators of the project. They believe that every city and neighbourhood are unique and the value of their cultural and architectural legacy can’t be overestimated. The new exhibition united two topics related to modernism, conceptualism, and the architecture of the Izmaylovo and Belyaevo Districts.
Chief Architect of the TZAM Group investment and construction holding company, Dean of the Architecture College of the International College for Arts and Communication (MKIK), co-curator of the ‘Soviet Modernism. From: and To:’ project
artist, Dean of the Faculty of Design of IGUMO, curator of the Days of Contemporary Art (DOCA) international festival, co-curator of the ‘Soviet Modernism. From: and To:’ project
The event at the Belyaevo Gallery has become the eighth of the series of exhibitions of the ‘Soviet Modernism. From: and To:’ project. Initially, the project originated in the Izmaylovo District and was aimed at studying its architecture. However, over time, the initiative acquired a new scale. Every new exhibition started combining the main exposition dedicated to Izmaylovo’s Soviet Modernism with additional ones related to the district of Moscow where it took place.
In the interview with the Global Women Media, Anastasia Petrova told about the event at the Belyaevo Gallery and shared interesting results of studying the district’s architectural legacy.
– What is the unique feature of the eighth exhibition of the project?
– The main feature of the exhibition lies in its additional part devoted to the Belyaevo District where the Belyaevo Gallery is located. It is a very interesting district in terms of its architecture first noticed by Kuba Snopek, a Polish architect. He wrote a book called Belyaevo Forever that attracted the attention of many of his colleagues in Russia and abroad. Moreover, Kuba Snopek proposed to include Belyaevo in the UNESCO list.
The district is also interesting thanks to the fact that Dmitry Prigov, an outstanding artist, lived there. He liked Belyaevo very much and called it the Dutchy of Belyaevo. He also liked to call himself the Duke of Belyaevo. The artist not only created pictures and installations but also wrote literary works and dedicated some of them to his district.
Today, the personality of Dmitry Prigov is an important component of the district’s identity. Belyaevo residents know his poems by heart and organise thematic events. Street artists often refer to his creativity in their works.
Belyaevo is a typical residential district with a number of standard housing elements: Khrushchev-era buildings erected in the 1970s-1980s. However, Dmitry Prigov saw special beauty in that.
Thus, we decided to create an exposition consisting of two parts. The first one included all the basic elements that we preserve from one exhibition to another: the collection of graphic products of the 1950s-1980s, stamps, badges, booklets, and other objects related to the architecture of Soviet Modernism. We developed the second part of the exposition specially for the Belyaevo Gallery by turning to the works of Moscow conceptualists and referring to Dmitry Prigov’s works.
Once I was lucky enough to meet Dmitry Prigov in person during a meeting at the Lubyanka Club for beginning young authors and renowned contemporary artists. Dmitry Prigov spent the whole evening with us. He talked very interestingly about himself and his work and behaved very simply and friendly despite his status in the professional community. He fascinated and inspired me so much that, after the meeting, I read his books avidly. I especially loved two of them: Live in Moscow and Only My Japan. We turned to them when preparing the exhibition.
In the book called Only My Japan, Dmitry Prigov told about his experience of travelling to the Land of the Rising Sun. He shared his impressions of the new culture he saw and analysed it using his peculiar manner of writing.
Inspired by what he thought and described, we decided to connect the exhibition devoted to conceptualism in the architecture of Belyaevo with Japan.
When a visitor comes to the exhibition, he or she literally gets into another country, which is very unusual and mysterious. The exhibited objects include reinterpreted objects of Japanese culture complemented with elements of the Soviet period and Russian modern era.
The exhibition begins with a noren curtain that separates different spaces in a traditional Japanese home. The exposition also includes a tsukubai stone basin, ikebanas, and many other installations. Interestingly, all the objects made in the Japanese style are at the same time related to the direct topic of the exhibition. For example, the kimono is decorated with a collage with a movie theatre, a demolished Soviet modernist architectural monument, instead of traditional patterns. Moreover, the elements for the Japanese tea ceremony include porcelain cups from the Soviet period.
Another interesting reference to Dmitry Prigov’s work is the fact that the project organisers did not specify their surnames.
Dmitry Prigov always deliberately introduced himself using his first name and patronymic name (Dmitry Aleksandrovich) and that was his pseudonym. My co-curator Elizaveta Zemlyanova, Dean of the Faculty of Design of IGUMO, and I also do not use our surnames within the project devoted to the Belyaevo District.
– The two parts of the exhibition are harmoniously interrelated. What was the unifying element between the Belyaevo and Izmaylovo Districts?
– When we started comparing them and looking for common things, the first thing that came to our mind was traffic. Everyone knows that the Moscow Metro is one of the most popular means of transport in the city. It connects the dormitory districts with the centre and with one another. That is why the image of the Moscow Metro was put into the basis of the concept of our exposition in addition to Japanese elements.
The second common element lied in standard housing, the similarity of a number of architectural objects in the two districts, and situations associated with them. For example, the Vityaz and Pervomaysky cinemas in the Belyaevo and Izmaylovo Districts were built according to very similar projects. Later they were both demolished within the same program. A number of exhibits at the event are related to those two objects representing certain symbols.
We deliberately placed banners with images of cinemas on the floor under the viewers' feet. We wanted to show that the buildings were not just demolished but literally trampled.
The third unifying element was even more interesting because it was based on coincidence. In September 1974, non-conformist artists who were not officially recognized exhibited their work on the Belyaevo wasteland. The Soviet authorities dispersed the exhibition in a fairly brutal way: 50 people were taken to the police station and the paintings were ruined by bulldozers.
The event was called the Bulldozer Exhibition and it was widely discussed not only in Russia but also abroad. The authorities who did not want to scale up the conflict let out the artists and allowed them to organise a new exhibition. The Izmaylovo Park became the venue for the event thanks to a strange coincidence.
Using old archive photos, we managed to find out that the non-conformists presented their works at the Prosyanskaya Dam that connected Belyaevo and Izmaylovo. Returning to the theme of Japanese culture, we decided to create an ikebana with plants collected at the Prosyanskaya Dam exclusively for the exhibition. In addition, we have prepared a special video installation about the situation that had happened to the artists.
The key topic of the exhibition focused on moving from one district to another and the connection between them. In 1974, the artists came from Belyaevo to Izmaylovo and, in 2021, we go from Izmaylovo to Belyaevo to hold the exhibition there, thus closing the circle.
Izmaylovskaya and Belyaevo Moscow Metro stations are very similar to each other thanks to having typical designs. At the same time, each of them has its own atmosphere and features. We presented our exposition in the form of stylized Moscow Metro stations. When entering the exhibition, the viewer seems to turn up in Belyaevo’s metro with typical platforms and columns. There he or she sees objects referring to the works of Dmitry Prigov and other artists. Then the visitor comes to the second part of the exhibition and finds him- or herself at the Izmaylovskaya metro station having a different rhythm and presented atmosphere.
I believe that we have managed to incorporate Japanese motives into the context of the movement in a quite harmonious way. The Garden of Stones became one of my favourite sites in this regard. In Japan, such gardens are created for meditation and concentrated relaxation. When watching the metro passengers, we noticed that Moscow residents are so accustomed to daily and sometimes tiring metro trips that they have a meditation-like state when using that means of transport. They immerse themselves in their thoughts and abstract from everything around them. After noticing that interesting similarity, we have placed the Garden of Stones in our artificially created metro.
– What contemporary artists take part in the exhibition?
– The exhibition features a number of works by both renowned and beginning artists. It also includes the results of research involving the students of the Architecture College of MKIK and the Faculty of Design of IGUMO.
A well-known contemporary artist named Valery Chtak has shown interest in the project. The author defines himself as a follower of the Moscow conceptualists. He knows Dmitry Prigov’s works well and made a reference to him when painting the curtain at the entrance to the exhibition. Valery Chtak depicted a black circle on the fabric. Similar figures were often found in Dmitry Prigov’s artworks.
Dmitry Prigov called black circles, objects that increase the volume, ‘the meat of space’. Such visual effects helped us convey depth even when painting a flat wall.
Another interesting person named Kirill Golovkin, who is the editor of the Strelka Mag magazine and researcher of the district, also supported us. He is also the author of the blog called Only My Belyaevo who refers to Dmitry Prigov’s works in the title of his project. Kirill Golovin tells the audience a lot about the uniqueness of the place where he lives and shares interesting facts and knowledge. In addition, he has been creating a unique collection of badges, stamps, books, magazines, brochures. and other things related to the area. Kirill Golovin provided the exhibition with some of such items.
One of them fit perfectly into the concept of our exhibition. It is an old tablet with the names of Moscow Metro stations, which was put on the car window to let passengers know the train’s destination. One side of the tablet has the inscription ‘Belyaevo’ and another one is labelled as ‘Novye Cheryomushki’. Although the tablet itself is quite ordinary and, perhaps may even be unnoticed by an average person, it conveys the amazing atmosphere of the Soviet times. It is an important element, which complements the image of our artificially created image of the Moscow Metro.
– The exhibition is a very interesting synthesis of serious research and boundless creativity. How do such extraordinary ideas appear?
– Modernism, which is brightly represented in the architectural legacy of the two districts, is the antithesis of conceptualism. In turn, conceptualism is closely connected with the name of Dmitry Prigov It is considered to be an important part of the Belyaevo District’s local identity. When we had the task to connect these two elements, we felt enthusiastic and confused at the same time. We thought that these two areas can be connected only through a creative approach and unconventional thinking.
Ideas of our projects are often born in casual conversations. Elizaveta Zemlyanova and I do not force ourselves to come up with ideas. We simply exchange thoughts and arguments about the stated topic and what we find most interesting about it. In this dialogue, one idea is followed by another, thus creating a whole chain of interconnections. That is how a concept is gradually born.
The very opportunity of having a discussion with a like-minder and discovering new aspects of the familiar things in the dialogue fascinates me.
The exhibition at the Belyaevo Gallery is especially important for me. My little son is taking part in it. He is involved in the project as a real artist taking part as an actor in the video installation about the Bulldozer Exhibition and the Prosyanskaya Dam.
I always find it very interesting to delve into discussing general issues through telling about something personal. This is the method that I use in many of my projects. That’s why everything we do is especially close, touching, and truly important to me.
– Who will be especially interested in the exhibition?
– In my opinion, the exhibition can be very interesting for not only the residents of the Izmaylovo and Belyaevo Districts. The vast majority of Moscow residents live in dormitory districts and pay almost no attention to the architectural legacy around them. Our project was created exactly to let people look at their environment in a different way. It helps them find interesting and valuable things in what they see every day.
The exhibition at the Belyaevo Gallery opened on August 18 and will last until October 3, 2021. I am pleased to invite everyone to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of past years, get acquainted with the works of talented artists, and get to know Moscow better.
Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov