Dmitry Vilensky on Gazprom’s Provocation

Gazprom’s PR office has pulled off another coup: information has circulated that the Okhta Center [Gazprom City] will house a museum of contemporary art. The message is clear: our corporation is progressive and its programs are progressive and modern, while the people who protest against the construction project of the century are retrogrades who cherish only what is covered in dust and mold. But do contemporary artists need such a museum? Can cutting-edge art be herded into a museum? ZAKS.Ru correspondent Anna Danilevskaya put these questions to well-known Petersburg artist Dmitry Vilensky, a member of the Chto Delat art group.

ZAKS.Ru: Dmitry, how do you relate in general to the idea of Okhta Center?

DV: A lot of awful things have now been built in the city. For the first time since the art nouveau period, in the early part of the twentieth century, the conscious production of a new, extremist capitalist environment is taking place, an environment of consumption, displacement, control, and entertainment. This is a unique historical moment. The question is when this will make people disgusted. For the time being, it would seem, a general atmosphere of rapture holds sway, and the population has delegated to the new bourgeoisie the right to treat the city in accord with its own notions of space. At first this was done more or less bashfully: all those crappy imitations of classical Petersburg and the shopping malls in the outskirts. But the Gazprom tower is a full-on manifestation of the power of capital in the city’s public space. Because it is not Matvienko who is in charge nowadays (you can easily imagine anyone whomsoever in her place). It is capitalism that rules, and imagining life without it is the really serious challenge. In my view, all the conservationist slogans (“We won’t let them ruin our city’s classical look!”) are uninteresting. It will be good if they lead to a total understanding that all this capitalist development is a waste, and our society proves capable of formulating an alternative program of development. But this isn’t happening yet, and I think that Gazprom’s insolence is an excellent provocation that finally shows the most convinced liberals what the power of capital really means.

Continue reading “Dmitry Vilensky on Gazprom’s Provocation”

The War on Russian Bloggers (and the War in Georgia?)

On August 5, Kemerovo blogger Dmitry Solovyov was charged with violation of the notorious Article 282 Part 1 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code. The regional prosecutor’s office accuses him of publishing several posts, under the nickname dimon77, that “incite hatred and enmity towards, and debase the dignity of, employees of the organs of the Interior Ministory and the FSB.” [One example of such “extremist” posts has been translated, below.]

On August 12, Dmitry’s home was searched. Police confiscated computer equipment and Oborona stickers. FSB officers participated in the search, and criminal charges were filed at their behest. The case is being investigated by R.I. Shlegel, senior special cases investigator and a Class I jurist.

The siloviki have clearly decided to make the Savva Terentiev case a precedent. Which of us hasn’t written something bad about a particular “social group”? If we don’t help Dmitry now, then tomorrow they might come for any of us.

Any help is welcome. We need a lawyer, we need experts to conduct an independent assessment of the evidence, and we need funds for all this. And, of course, we need the support of journalists and the blogger community so that the prosecutor’s office won’t get away with punishing yet another LJista on the sly. Continue reading “The War on Russian Bloggers (and the War in Georgia?)”

Mikhail Zolotonosov: Saint Shepetovka

When [the con man] Ostap Bender [in Ilf & Petrov’s Twelve Chairs] paints for the citizens of Vasyuki a mental picture of their future prosperity, his second selling point is architecture: “Hotels and skyscrapers to accommodate the visitors.” In the provincial mindset of the nineteen-twenties, skyscrapers were understood as an obligatory condition for turning a city into a “world center.” It is this archetype that is now being realized in Petersburg in the early twenty-first century.

From the Architectural Firm of Ilf & Petrov

“Dazzling vistas unfolded before the Vasyuki chess enthusiasts. The walls of the room melted away. The rotting walls of the stud farm collapsed and in their place a thirty-storey chess palace towered into the sky. Every hall, every room, and even the lightning-fast lifts were full of people thoughtfully playing chess on malachite-encrusted boards. Marble steps led down to the blue Volga. Oceangoing steamers were moored on the river.”

All we have to do is replace the “thirty-storey chess palace” with a ninety-storey skyscraper [Gazprom’s Okhta Center], the Volga with the Neva (the 400-meter folly just has to stand right on the bank of the Neva, not somewhere in the interior), chess with hydrocarbons, and the “rotting walls of the stud farms” with “hazardous” buildings, slated for demolition in accordance with 150-point lists prepared by city officials, and the entire picture painted by Ostap is restored right down to the last detail. Vasyuki becomes New Moscow, and Petersburg, Saint Shepetovka. [Shepetovka, in western Ukraine, is the birthplace of Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko.]

“Emulation of Shepetovka”

There are mental stereotypes that exist independently of expediency and logic, and it is these stereotypes that guide the reconstruction of Petersburg—in particular, the doctrinaire propagation of skyscrapers. The proposed new building height statute, which fully corresponds to the Saint Shepetovka mindset, is meant to further this project. This is the logic that [Matviyenko’s] “Saint Shepetovka dream team” inhabits. The dream team takes it as an article of faith that it is impossible to develop the city without the total demolition of old buildings and the erection of skyscrapers. The decisive battle for the transformation of decrepit, dilapidated Petersburg into Saint Shepetovka has been scheduled for 2008. Continue reading “Mikhail Zolotonosov: Saint Shepetovka”