#7:Drift. Narvskaya Zastava
This project is an artistic inquiry into one of Petersburg ‘s most fascinating and contradictory neighborhoods, Narvskaya Zastava.
In looking at a map of Petersburg, one immediately sees that Narvskaya Zastava is an isolated zone, surrounded by a ring of factories, railroad tracks and shipyards. Before the revolution, it was part of the city’s proletarian periphery, an historical hotbed of dissent. After the revolution, during the 1920s, the neighborhood became the main center for the development of a new, socialist Leningrad, which is why it contains most of Petersburg’s constructivist monuments. Today, Narvskaya Zastava reflects the entire complex of social problems that arise with the “transition” from socialist to capitalist society. Unlike the tourist-center of Petersburg, the neighborhood has become an “invisible zone”. This state can be interpreted as typical of many smaller towns on post-Soviet territory, where the old models of socialist community composition and new class-constellations coexist in considerable tension.
There is a specter haunting Europe, nay, the world. The spectre of psychogeography. For 30 years the fingers of the stranglehold of tradition have, one by one, been peeled back by the eruption of exciting new non-Euclidean psycho-social spaces. Rock and Roll, the permissive society, a new Iiberalism existing in the social sphere have all provided a decompression chamber where the pent-up frustrations engendered by class society can be productively put to use in the engine rooms of new design, new fashion and faddish revolt. Centred upon youth as a source of naivety, the vital forces of the collective imagination are channelled into an economic subsistence, which provides a pool of talent amongst which established organisations and businesses can fish for new faces and new ideas. However, as the Gay Liberation Front has given way to the ‘Pink Pound’, as the Black Panthers have been replaced by the Fruits of Islam, as the delusions of Mao-tse-tung have been superseded by the Shanghai Stock Exchange, so the integration of non-Euclidean psycho-social space into a post-Newtonian mechanics is faced by the emergence of an anti-Euclidean opposition which will rekindle the fires of revolt with the matchsticks of metaphor. By drawing upon ancient songlines which reassert themselves within the modern urban environment, psychogeography as the practical application of anti-Euclidean psycho-geometry offers the third pole in the triolectic between the false universalism of modernism and the universal virtuality of post-modernism.
The following text is taken from ‘The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age’ by Sadie Plant and published by Routledge. Read it, and live without dead time.
…The situationists’ desire to become psychogeographers, with an understanding of the ‘precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’, was intended to cultivate an awareness of the ways in which everyday life is presently conditioned and controlled, the ways in which this manipulation can be exposed and subverted, and the possibilities for chosen forms of constructed situations in the post-spectacular world. Only an awareness of the influences of the existing environment can encourage the critique of the present conditions of daily life, and yet it is precisely this concern with the environment which we live which is ignored.
A tape recording of this talk was presented 17 May 1961 at a conference of the Group for Research on Everyday Life convened by Henri Lefebvre in the Center of Sociological Studies of the CNRS.
To study everyday life would be a completely absurd undertaking, unable even to grasp anything of its object, if this study was not explicitly for the purpose of transforming everyday life.
The lecture, the exposition of certain intellectual considerations to an audience, being an extremely commonplace form of human relations in a rather large sector of society, itself forms a part of the every day life that must be criticized.
Sociologists, for example, are only too inclined to remove from every day life things that happen to them every day, and to transfer them to separate and supposedly superior spheres. In this way habit in all its forms – beginning with the habit of handling a few professional concepts (concepts produced by the division of labor) — masks reality behind privileged conventions.
Since the 1980s, and with increasing speed since 1989, the world’s largest firms have taken advantage of technological and organizational innovations to pursue expansionist strategies whose operational framework is that of a “borderless,” i.e. tarif-free world. This mutation in capitalism is often interpreted as corporate globalisation, where competition between industrial and commercial groups for world market-share and the race to achieve economies of scale leads both to mega-mergers and to extensive foreign direct investment, itself driven by financial speculation. Under this interpretation, industrial lobby groups become key actors in a process of “deregulation” designed for the sole benefit of the largest firms, and applauded by institutional investors. The advantage of this reading is to underscore the considerable power of specific corporate entities, irrespective of their country of origin.
Thomas McDonough // THE DERIVE AND SITUATIONIST PARIS
In: Andreotti, Libero- Costa, Xavier : SITUATIONISTS- Art, Politics, Urbanism
Museo d’Art Contemporain de Barcelona 1996
In 1957, on the eve of the founding of the Situationist International, Guy Debord produced two unusual maps of Paris. Published with the help of his friend, the Danish painter Asger Jorn, Discours sur les passions de l’amour was an independent, folded map, while The Naked City was included in Jorn’s tract Pour La forme of 1958. Their production coincided with one of the high points of situationist intervention into the spheres of visual culture. Debord and Jorn composed the collage novel Fin de Copenhague in the same year, and the more ambitious Memoires in 1958. Debord’s second film, Sur le passage de quelques personnes a travers une assez courte unite de temps, also dates from this period. Like the maps, these works had something of a retrospective character, summarizing past activities and concerns and assessing their future relevance for the Situationist International.
One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.
In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.
But the dérive includes both this letting-go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities. In this latter regard, ecological science — despite the narrow social space to which it limits itself — provides psychogeography with abundant data.
A mistake made by all the city planners is to consider the private automobile (and its by-products, such as the motorcycle) as essentially a means of transportation. In reality, it is the most notable material symbol of the notion of happiness that developed capitalism tends to spread throughout the society. The automobile is at the center of this general propaganda, both as supreme good of an alienated life and as essential product of the capitalist market: It is generally being said this year that American economic prosperity is soon going to depend on the success of the slogan “Two cars per family.”
Commuting time, as Le Corbusier rightly noted, is a surplus labor which correspondingly reduces the amount of “free” time.
We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as a pleasure.
To want to redesign architecture to accord with the needs of the present massive and parasitical existence of private automobiles reflects the most unrealistic misapprehension of where the real problems lie. Instead, architecture must be transformed to accord with the whole development of the society, criticizing all the transitory values linked to obsolete forms of social relationships (in the first rank of which is the family).
In 1969 George Spencer-Brown wrote his seminal book ‘Laws of Form’1 in which he states: “…a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart”. From here on Spencer-Brown develops a calculus not based on numbers but on distinctions. The actual operations of Spencer-Browns mathematical system does not need to concern us here. What matters is that when he turns the frame or the boundary into the central unit of his system it opens up a shelter of logic in which the paradox that
– one can move from one place to another in one frame
– while simultaneously remaining in one space when viewed from another frame
is incorporated in his calculus.
… … … … … …
1. Images which are called up from the word „map”:
Maps of oil wars of water of bio-diversity of military posts
of Riachuelo/borders /capital cities
about socio-economic distribution
Maps of areas with various scales
With informative titles
Maps without spatial dimensions
August 19, 2004
Every city is a deeply interconnected web of spatial designs and patterns. From the urban to the suburban, our built environment is carved out into commercial and residential areas. Buildings, parking lots, garages and gas stations are built into streets, freeways, shopping malls, industrial parks and transit routs. Apartments, houses, yards and sidewalks all lead to schools, churches, temples, parks, grocery stores and restaurants. All woven together and mediated by noisy traffic, nauseating air pollution and aggressive advertising.
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.
Around 1900, the historical center of Petersburg with its famous ensembles, palaces, temples and theaters found itself girded by an enormous industrial ring, exceeding the center in surface area by far. It was dominated by industrial buildings in red-brick and brownstone, factories and workshops, interspersed with residential housing. Frequently, these were slums. Characteristic for the city’s proletarian outskirts, one of these neighborhoods sprang up on the banks of Obvodny Canal . The poverty and unsanitary conditions that reigned here drew a great deal of protest and dissatisfaction, so that the first Russian urban planners were already proposing measures for the redevelopment of Petersburg as early as the 1900s. Unfortunately, these suggestions remained projects. Real work on reconstruction and improvement of the proletarian outskirts only began with the rise of the Soviet regime. First and foremost, this concerned Narvaskaya Zastava – the city’s largest industrial district, formed near to the Narva Gate and the Putilov Works Petersburg ‘s industrial giant. The first attempts at reconstructing Narvskaya Zastava were undertaken in the early 1920s. They were primarily connected with the construction of new residential areas. The social revolution, not only in Petrograd-Leningrad, began with a revolution in housing. This was connected to the first steps of nascent Soviet architecture, which afforded a great deal of attention to the building of comfortable housing for workers. In Leningrad , real construction-work only began in 1925, once the period of economic ruin after the Revolution and the Civil War had abated. It was at this time that the city administration began to liquidate slums and began to construct the first experimental residential areas. The fact that the reconstruction of the urban outskirts began here was no coincidence. The young Soviet regime was displaying its concern for the workers of the region, which was famous for its stormy, revolutionary past.
In 1925-1927, the first model residential area with cheap, standardized, compact housing for workers was built on Traktornaya Street . Its architects included A.S. Nikolsky, A.I. Gegello, and G.A. Simonov. At the time, Leningrad ‘s new architecture was dominated by constructivism, which established itself as a new aesthetic system with a concrete social program. The creators of constructivism were inspired by art’s life-constructing power. The aim of their activity was to form society, rather than to create a new architectural system. They strove to change the face of the world, transforming everyday life as well as individual consciousness in order to educate the human being of the socialist epoch. In connecting creativity with the goal of organizing the processes of everyday life, the constructivists contributed to the formation of new types of building, developing a comprehensive approach to the projection of new settlements, in which residential buildings were combined with cultural and service facilities Houses of Culture, schools, public baths, and communal kitchens.
I can’t say that I have any personal connection to Narvskaya Zastava. In my personal perception from childhood onward, this neighborhood seems very far away. And this is what makes this neighborhood so strange. Because if you look at it rationally, it’s actually quite close to the center. You don’t actually have to travel very far; you only have to cross the Obvodny Canal and drive down Petergof Prospect or Gaza , as it was been called for all of my life, for as long as I can remember. On the one hand, it’s very close, but on the other, this neighborhood is very far away, as far as psychology is concerned.
So let’s say you’ve reached Repin Square . On the one side, there’s the Admiralty. On the other side of Repin Square , the Fontanka River ends. You already have the feeling that you’ve reached the end: gate, bridge; the end of the city. If you drive on, you’ll have reached Narvskaya Zastava, and you’ll already have the feeling that everything is different.