#12: (Im)possible Spaces
"Seen from this perspective, dominant/dominated spaces, as imposed by the state upon its “subjects”, be they faithful or not, is simply the space, seemingly devoid of violence, a sort of pax estatica (or in the case of Western countries, a pax capitalistica) reminiscent of the Pax Romana. Though seemingly secured against any violence, abstract space is in fact inherently violent. The same goes for all spaces promising a similar security: residential suburbs, holiday homes, fake countrysides, and imitations of nature. The Marxist theory of the withering-away of the state gets a new lease on life when placed in the context of the following central insight: state management of space implies a logic of stability that is both destructive and self-destructive."
Sergey Sitar / David Riff /// The Re-Discovery of Post-Soviet Space
David Riff (D.R.): "Post-Soviet space" is a very popular term, but few people actually bother to explain what it means when they use it. Most often, it is little more than a collective representation of the vast geopolitical zone that arose with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I feel that this is far too vague. In the best case, post-Soviet space becomes an imaginative accumulator for a phantasmagoria of the past, a vicarious experience seen at an untouchable distance. Working to disambiguate the term, we could ask, with Henri Lefebvre, whether "post-Soviet space" forms a language, a spatial idiom of its own? Was there such a thing as "Soviet space" as a specific mode of producing the domiciles, institutions, and "common places" of socialism? (Lefebvre seemed to think that this was not the case.) In short, how would you define "post-Soviet space"?
Sergei Sitar (S.S.): It would probably be best to separate these questions out into chronological order. We can begin by clearing up the specificity of "Soviet" space in relation to "Western" space (in the time of their global competition), without ignoring their similarities. It makes most sense to understand them as "evil twins" that produced one another in the same industrial epoch. I think it might be productive to see the opposition between Soviet space and Western space from the vantage of "Hegelian" and "Kantian" principles. In Kant's critical philosophy, space is understood as a resource and a means (for organizing experience) - something like "fossil fuel," hidden from reason in the depths of the a priori. Understood in this way, the American cities from the period of rapid urbanization - from New York to Los Angeles - make a very "Kantian" impression. Everything begins with a homogeneous street grid at right angles (space appropriated or captured according to a rational principle). But then, everyone does what he feels like doing; there's competition and diversity (guaranteed by the relative legislation of the rational mind). The meaning that all of this produces is just as self-evident and absurd as the famous Kantian "starry sky" (which is probably where the American star-spangled banner comes from). During visits to Western cities, one constantly falls prey to the feeling of some kind of redundant, mannerist, even sybaritic hallucination, whose most extreme manifestation is obviously Disneyland or the "themed mall."
Ekaterina Degot / Elena Sorokina /// The Uninhabited Spaces of Democracy
Elena Sorokina (ES): Lefebvre argued that a politics of space exists since space is essentially a political category. The actionism of the 90s completely fits this mode: many artists used public spaces both as sites and as political commentary. Anatoly Osmolovsky, for example, often performed his actions in places that came with a certain historical and ideological baggage-on Red Square, or outside the Russian parliament building; his actions thus desacralized both old Soviet and new "democratic" spaces. What kinds of spatial commentaries are being made in contemporary Russian art? What forms of artistic reflection on post-Soviet space can we point to? Thanks to Ilya Kabakov, for example, the communal apartment, which had become a symbol of Soviet claustrophobia, is now a contemporary art icon of Soviet space, while the actions of Osmolovsky I've mentioned delineate an absolutely contrary method of using space and working with it. What's happening nowadays?
Ekaterina Degot (ED): In their work with the communist heritage artists today really have been evolving from recognizing it as a collection of symbols and material artifacts (which, of course, applies to the antiques market as well)-this is how the Sots artists of the 70s and 80s saw the Soviet Union-towards imagining it as a particular type of space. The transitional stage was the period when artists focused on monuments. In the art of the early 90s we find many heroic-comic attempts on the part of artists to erect themselves on the sites of absent or discredited monuments. Osmolovsky climbed onto the shoulders of the enormous monument to the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (thus returning, as it were, the revolutionary impulse to this martyr of the avant-garde, who had been illegally "appropriated" by Stalinism); and he secretly made his way onto the roof of the Lenin Mausoleum, where Stalin and Brezhnev had once stood. Alexander Brenner went to the spot where a monument to KGB patron saint Felix Dzherzinsky had been removed from and attempted to yell out to passersby, "Citizens, I'm your new commercial director!" An important detail in this last case was the fact that you can't get close to the place where the monument was without violating traffic rules (and without risking your life-the traffic around the square is usually heavy).
Boris Kagarlitsky / Alexey Penzin /// Soviet Space Proves Resistant
Alexei Penzin (AP): I would like to outline the general theme and the main questions of our conversation today. First of all, for contemporary thinking, space has long since ceased to be an abstract category of the "transcendental apparatus" of subjectivity. In the social world, it is appropriation and produced in different ways, depending on certain historical conditions. This concrete space - urban space, for example - is permeated by relations of power and domination. I would like to understand how space is made today, and which relations of power it contains. Second of all, if we are talking about urban space under late capitalist conditions (or "post-Fordism"), we can no longer say that production is concentrated in factories or even localized in its traditional places. The relations of capitalism extend to society as a whole, and the city itself becomes a "factory," which is saturated by social relations, or relations of class. Third of all, you - like other sociologists and theorists - have spoken of the phenomenon of new global cities. Yet at the same time, in our local situation, we have inherited the Soviet type of appropriating and dominating space, which was monumental in its ideologization. How is this space changing under the influence of global tendencies?
Boris Kagarlitsky (BK): Here, one can discern a number of very important qualitative changes. Moreover, these changes cannot be reduced to what can be described in the developmental categories of traditional bourgeois society. The principal change consists in the fact that the city gradually ceases to be an "organic" space. Until the 1970s-80s, any social space whatsoever was integral and whole. The city was an integral social organism in which all social relations were distributed. It contained proletarian neighborhoods, bureaucratic institutions, bourgeois areas, and bohemian zones. In the framework of bourgeois social structure, all of these elements are interconnected. But in post-modern society, space loses its integrity. Only some of its parts communicate with one another. Moreover, their interaction is self-contained, while only outer spaces far beyond the city limits appear to be open. Relations of physical vicinity have lost their meaning. Even more importantly, the relations between neighboring social groups have also become meaningless. Thus, relations of exploitation can connect people who are in completely different places and even completely different cities. Think of the Indian programmers who work thousands of miles away from their employers from the "first world," who use them as a cheap labor force. This actually has very little to do with the development of technology, the Internet, or the famous "global village," a concept which can be easily falsified through empirical observation. One assumed that if people finally gained access to networks and virtual technologies, they wouldn't care where they lived. However, the development of technologies has led to great demographic concentrations in certain places. For instance, if a city has an internet industry, it attracts people just as any other industry attracts people to any other center of economic development. So the fragmentation of space is not connected to internet technologies. The primary cause lies in something completely different, namely in the new structure of capital and in the new global division of labor: this gives rise to cities in which people are involved in one activity, banking, for example, or cities in which the service industry is hypertrophied, so that in the final analysis, there is little more there than police and administration.
Artiom Magun /// Another Space. A Little Tragedy
Aeneas descends into the underworld and talks to his father Anchises, telling him about the modern age and about his wanderings, including a recent journey to Russia.
Chorus of the dead: Men have lately become astonishingly rich. They have dug holes throughout the Earth, covered it with their anthills, and turned space into a complex labyrinth, increasing its surface billions of times. They have built themselves an aleph-a camera in a room with which they penetrate the most hidden corners of the world. The Russian people are particularly obsessed with interiors. The TV there doesn't show public squares anymore, but interiors where the heroes dash about, buried alive. Advertisements for medicine show the recesses of the body, and reports from outer space tell of the new sauna on board the spaceship.
Aeneas: Yes, it is a triumph. The monumental pyramids of this triumph rise higher and higher.
Oxana Timofeeva /// Free Ad Space
Mit deinen Augen, welche müde kaum
von der verbrauchten Schwelle sich befrein,
hebst du ganz langsam einen schwarzen Baum
und stellst ihn vor den Himmel: schlank, allein.
Und hast die Welt gemacht. Und sie ist groß
und wie ein Wort, das noch im Schweigen reift.
Und wie dein Wille ihren Sinn begreift,
lassen sie deine Augen zärtlich los...*
Rainer Maria Rilke
Of all things, containing all things, space - res extensa - is given to us as a place that all things occupy, as things themselves that occupy places, and as gaps between things where the wind blows freely, interstices that contain nothing but unmoving air - the vaguest of all things, whose existence we often forget.
Dmitry Vorobjev / Dmitry Vilensky /// Reclaim Your Space or, the New Dissidence
Dmitry Vorobiev (DV): I would like to discuss tactics for appropriating spaces that, in recent memory, have proven viable among creative young people and artists in our city. I have in mind not only temporary take-overs-street performances, pickets, grassroots festivals, graffiti and sticker culture, political demonstrations-but also attempts to secure reclaimed spaces-from squats to alternative cafes, clubs, and independent art centers. Other forms we know of only from the western context . . .
Dmitry Vilensky (VD): Like what?
- Guy-Ernest Debord /// Perspectives for Conscious Alterations in Everyday Life
- Oskar Negt / Alexander Kluge /// Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere
- Saskia Sassen /// The global city: strategic site/new frontier
- Saskia Sassen /// The global city: the de-nationalizing of time and space
- Александр Бикбов // Москва/Париж: пространственные структуры и телесные схемы*
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