This photo looks like I stole it from a 1954, ’55 architectural journal, which is when the critics would have been photographing and commenting on this place, once the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Not so. I took it this Sunday. It was one of the few photographs that I took before I became too dispirited to even look for good art-d-bag pictures to take. It just is that the subject appears so much better in this nostalgic, retro view; it’s the only way to perceive the exhibition center.
Is there no other way?VDNKh, as it was then called, as the metro station still calls it, was once meant to be the display project of all display projects. This is Stalinist era. This is the philosophy: if we build it, they will come. Except the “they” is not one’s dearly departed. It’s not even the mass and crowd. The “they” is a state of being, the Homo Sovieticus, the new Soviet man. The ideology behind all of the architectural upheavals that I study all revolves around him, and around the belief that changing everything about society’s lifestyle, so that it will be more in keeping with the hoped-for Radiant Future, will make that future come about.
Gandalf, is there no other way?
Soviet Russia, meet the definition of utopia.
The Palace of the Soviets was built to seat so many thousands of delegates not so that each republic could send over a hundred representatives, but so the apparatus would be in place when the entire world fell to Communism.
The Stalinist Sisters were, for the present, spires in the night sky resembling the Kremlin’s own walls, a little reminder that if one didn’t toe the line, no matter where in the city one was, one could get a long train ride to Siberia, or else a short time standing against a brick wall. “Ten years without the right to send letters” was the euphemism-sentence for those killed outright. Simultaneously, they were lighthouses leading the way to the future, preparing city-dwellers for the new face of the city, of the world.
VDNKh was the model for the city, a new, Soviet town; a Magnitogorsk svoego roda (of a type). It was meant to be propaganda, too – very (very very very) respected architects (like the man in charge of one of the Seven Sisters; like one of the authors of the Red Army Theater; like half of the pair (one had passed away) behind Leninka, the Russian equivalent of the Library of Congress) constructed different pavilions for different republics. The photograph is of the Main Pavilion, glorifying Russia-in-absentia (Russia itself did not get a separate pavilion so it’s assumed the main pavilion/the entire complex is meant to be in its honor), by Shchuko.
What a great idea! How nice it sounds on paper. I could stand behind that kind of hopeful ideology.
But the real VDNKh, or VVTs, the All-Russian Exhibition Center, as it’s now called, is not that glorious. Not glorious at all, in fact. Where even a parallel – a World Fair, even Epcott Center – has some kind of self-awareness and grandeur, VDNKh has none. To walk around it is as disturbing as to watch a pack of feral children herd down the street, one holding your girlfriend about the throat and shrieking, “OUTLANDER! WE HAVE YOUR WOMAN!” While the built environment was once a set of pristine and, no matter whose (from the top, solely, or with some popular support) utopian-dream-filled buildings, an ensemble that was meant to inspire one to become a better Communist, now it’s dragged into sludge by posters, posters, everywhere, and nor a drop to drink; thousands of signs for bazaars and shops and
BUY ME SOMETHING! Mama, I want some candy!And then one realizes that at its best this was just a park of hollow façades. And then it gets creepier.
And all around the natives are rollerblading (it’s still cool here, as it is in Wisconsin) or taking strolls, or playing with their children, which would seem to make it better; at least no one is sobbing, no one is nostalgic, its old glory shall not be missed. But then…what? What is going on here? Why? Why not just continue to expand the amusement park located on its grounds all the way into it, so that a rollercoaster loops around the Main Buildings golden spire, and then all of the dichotomies will be fully embraced, and thus expurged.
A most famous statue, “The Worker and Collective Farm Woman,” (Vera Mukhina), which made its first debut on top of the Soviet pavilion at the Paris World Fair (which makes it 1937, I believe; I don’t have my notes open right in front of me) and later continued in glory as the icon for Mosfilm, the biggest film studio in the Soviet Union, and which stood at VDNKh until just a couple years ago, when it was completely dismantled, will soon be put back on its pedestal. Which means December 5 I need to return to VDNKh again.
For some reason, that thought fills me with despair.
“So we move down the empty road. I don’t want to own these prairies, or photograph them, or change them, or even stop or even keep going. We are just moving down the empty road.”-Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceSomeday I’ll explain how that quote fits into this entry.
Gandalf, drugovo prokhoda ne budet? – Gandalf, is there no other way?