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In Praise of Folly, or the Architecture of Russian Capitalism


First, we build our buildings and then our buildings build us.
Winston Churchill


The aim of this project is to expose the nature of contemporary Russian architecture and urban environment, which is almost impossible to depict in the extreme manifestations of its ridiculousness and is underappreciated in regard to its role in the formation of the ugly mentality of the people who live in this environment.

The first part of the exhibition consists of three paintings with flame-engulfed books of the Roman architect Vitruvius, the creator of the ergonomic system of proportions. His formulation of the qualities necessary for any building "usefulness, firmness, and beauty" defined the goals of architects in all reasonable ages of history. The burning of Vitruvius' books implies that Russian architecture of the last twenty years, with rare exceptions, has had nothing to do with any of these qualities, and that the architects who have created it should burn with shame.

Following the paintings, a series of seventeen drawings explore how architecture reveals the deep patterns of the ways in which our state functions. They are proof that buildings are copies of social relations poured in concrete. Some of the fragment of everyday life that the drawings depict relate to the images of the age from which the title of the project, In Praise of Folly, comes. It is the name of one of the most famous works of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Northern Renaissance thinker. The drawings also resonate with the somewhat later apocalyptic visions which our urban environment resembles.

The Manezh Square: the domes which have always been an ideogram of the heavens lie on the ground, turning into a metaphor of the end of times when the sky falls down upon the earth.

The post-Modernist joke found in the building on Goncharnaya street namely, columns that bear down upon the roof instead of holding it up is as absurd as the etching by Goya in which chairs sit on women instead of the other way around. Both images generally resemble our country, in which the state apparatus, instead of being an instrument for regulating and improving people's lives, has turned into a scrounger whom the people are forced to serve.

People's disunity and embittered individualism manifest themselves in self-built construction initiatives, seen, for instance, around the windows of apartment buildings. These are turned into doors with attached staircases; they are ersatz private entrances which allow one to avoid ever encountering one's neighbors.

A house with a portico made up of five columns forces one to remember the expression "the fifth column," which describes the secret network of agents and spies whose task it is to undermine a country from within and thus assist an external enemy in taking it over. The fifth column of this portico is the enemy in one's own house. It treacherously prepares to hit anyone who tries to leave through the front door. Inexpediency and a perverse idea of beauty are the traitors who breed distrust and phobias.

A series of objects made out of concrete and resembling a construction site puts one in mind of abstract sculptures or Minimalist works in which the purity of proportions, the relationship of length to width, and the texture of the material become the objects of contemplation. And yet this is not abstract art, but documentation the proportions of the objects are determined by statistical data about Moscow. Buildings are not simply made up of walls and space; they also say much about the people who built them.

Diana Machulina
Translation: Ksenya Gurshtein




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