On the whole, the project “Drift. Narvskaya Zastava” was dedicated to the analysis of everyday life, continuing the traditions of critical realism and situationist practices. Using contemporary methods of documentation, it attempted to capture the neighborhood’s social, architectural and demographic situations. In order to do so, a workgroup of artists, architects, sociologists, writers etc. organized a mobile sociological center, which was set up at a number of different points in the neighborhood. Using this material as a base, the workgroup’s artists have created video-films, sociological diagrams, audio-art, and installations, realizing a subjective mapping of social space.
Tsaplya (Olga Egorova)
“The Soviet Way of Life” A Video Excursion
This film is about the lives people lead in Narvskaya Zastava. Since this region was created for the cultivation of the most ideal of all Soviet people the Soviet worker it is haunted by the soaring specters of strong desire and directed will.
Even now, any outside observer thrown into this neighborhood will give in to nostalgic musings on “Soviet life”, or on the contrary, fall into irritation on its behalf. In order to uncover both hidden and obvious ideality of this area, I decided to utilize a methodological pamphlet, used by the lecturers of the “Znanie Society”*. This brochure is called “The Soviet Way of Life” ( Orenburg , 1974). It details all of the basic principles of the life of a real Soviet human being. This text draws the same emotional responses as the neighborhood itself: it contains a great deal of beauty, but at the same time, it is unpleasant and even frightening. Furthermore, it is very sad, as is any ruin of unrealized utopia. I have transposed this methodological text onto the real, everyday life of contemporary Narvskaya Zastava in three short video-walks around the most important places of the region: around the metro-station “Narvskaya”, along Traktornaya Street , and the Ekaterinhof Park . The main material of these video-films consists of the voices of the people who live in this neighborhood. They are nothing more that passers-by, whose voice we do not usually hear. I have made them audible.
I do not want to compare these two realities, the ideal Soviet means of life, which never existed and the normal life of normal people. I am not even sure that there is any real contradiction between the two. They simply have very little in common. Or maybe they do? Maybe we all yearn for “brotherhood and collectivism”, for the “equality of all peoples and nations”, for “faith in bright future of humanity”, for “confidence in the tomorrow to come”?
*The “Znanie Society” (Knowledge Society) was a Soviet-era organization which published popular-educational pamphlets and held lectures in public spaces, including factories and other workplaces. Its goal was to raise the levels of both literacy and ideological engagement among the population at large.
The Strange Never Give Up An Installation
The installation consists of a) a table with photographs of the “Strange”. Notes and commentaries, written by hand, b) a clothes-hanger with clothes of a special design, projected to reflect the inner world of the “Strange”.
Strolling around Narvskaya Zastava, you can find them everywhere. They are everpresent, coursing through the world’s capillaries like blood cells. Usually, the beauty of the “Strange” goes unnoticed, even if there are far more of them than people who live on the borderline, who have nothing left in common with society at large, such as the homeless, lying around on the asphalt, the “Full-Blues”*, who are hardly strange at all; instead, they provoke feelings of horror, pinching sorrow, pity, or anger. The “Strange”, however, provoke a feelings of surprise and exaltation, maybe because these people continue to exist, despite the inescapable poverty of their fate.
Just look at the way they dress! Their clothing is armored plating, designed to defend us from the heaviness of reality! There can be little doubt that the life of the Strange is reflected in their costumes. I swear: these people are far freer than the “Full-Blues” or that the “Well-Dressed”. The slight madness of the Strange eloquently tells us that they live in their own world; often, they march forward at a determined pace, busily carrying their burden in an elegant plastic bag.
…Before my eyes, a clear image unfolds: it’s 5 PM on Shkapin Street . The Strange hit the street and raise their hands to the sky silently. They are wearing a long yellow scarf. The “Full-Blues” and the “Well-Dressed” glare at them, aghast in horror. All movement comes to a halt.
* “Full-Blues” (Sinie), an version of sinyak , Russian slang for a drunkard who has reached the final stage of alcoholism.
The essence of my piece for the project can be summed up in the attempt at finding an adequate visual solution for what the group was able to find out in the process of the dérive. Personally, I was extremely interested in the way art and society are interrelated. This gave rise to pictograms, stripped bare of any obvious authorship, scattered throughout the space of the exhibition. They illustrate the results of a real sociological survey and depict the silhouettes of the dérive’s participants, fixed by a camera in the moment of the most heated and principled polemic debate, “hot on the traces” of the dérive.
Life after Life: An Installation on the Area between Shkapin Street and Rosenshtein Street
Since I was born and grew up not far from this area, I have been observing life here for a long time. For me, this area is not simply a “bad neighborhood”, a “reservation”, a place of ecological and social catastrophes. Instead, it is loaded with an extremely rich, ambiguous history, interwoven with small snippets of my own biography.
Life between Shkapin and Rosenshtein changes so slowly that its transformations go unseen, even for people who rarely visit this place, not to mention the locals who live here permanently. It is as if life here had been suspended and conserved in time, much like most of the local apartment houses, recognized as unfit for housing some time long ago, designated for complete renovation. This conservation in which renovation is never completed gives rise to real cultural sedimentations. In strolling through the labyrinth of yards, front doors, and back entrances, I constantly dredge up this sediment and its many cultural layers.
LIFE AFTER LIFE tells the story of a neighborhood that has survived its own history. Its examination takes place by looking at ordinary, everyday objects which have been withdrawn from use. Having lost their initial designation, torn from their context, these things become the objects of a laboratory examination. Placed into jars originally intended for chemical reagents, labeled with photographs of the places where they were found as well as the local population’s comments, these random objects take on a new quality, having been transposed into a different context. Here, it becomes possible to subject them to an analysis, uncovering what is happening to this disappearing world.
“The Locals of Narvskaya Metro-Station” A Video Film
This film is based on short fragments of interviews that we made with the inhabitants of Narvskaya Zastava at the exit of the Narvskaya metro-station. Its main actors are those people who expressed their desire to answer the questions we asked through our special questionnaire in front of the camera.
These questions concerned their everyday lives, such as: do you like living in this neighborhood? How has the area changed in recent times? How have these changes affected your life? What do you feel to be lacking here? Which improvements would you like to see? How does Narvskaya Zastava differ from the city’s other areas? Is this neighborhood still a part of the working-class outskirts? Do you feel that it is time to tear down the buildings of the Soviet era and to build something new? Are there places that you would prefer not to go to during the daytime? Are there places that are dangerous at night? Do you have a favorite place where you like to spend your free time? Could you tell us about the best and the worst things that happened to you and your acquaintances in this neighborhood?
Naturally, our narrators inevitably avoided giving dry answers to these question. Instead, they began to speak freely, expressing their concerns and connecting these to their personal experiences of their everyday lives.
The photo-series “Narvskaya Zastava” documents the author’s solo dérive around the neighborhood.