The Way of Enthusiasts

03 Sep 2012

Exhibition in Venice reveals how Russian architecture has been affected from the Soviet era to a post-ideological society

If there is one collateral event that cannot be missed at the Venice Biennale this year than it has to be The Way of Enthusiasts, a stunning exhibition dedicated to the last sixty years of Russian architecture and how the shift between communism and capitalism has left a lasting impression on the built environment.

The exhibition features spatial commentaries by Russian artists over the last few decades and uses urban and architectural material as a parallel narrative to contextualize and depict patterns that have lied behind artistic practices since the shift from the Soviet era to a post-ideological society.

The ground floor of the exhibition highlights the start of the revolutionary housing programme of 1954, a scheme to build prefabricated residential buildings. As soon as you enter the exhibition space you are struck by Vadim Zakharov and Niklas Nitschke installation The Creation of a Time Unit for Dead Zone and Alexander Povzner's Playground. The Playground represents a common objet in every Soviet courtyard but the installation is filled with dangerous objects and it lacks functionality such as the ladder never reaches the top, representing over the years there is still the subject of standardized arrangements although the politic climate has changed.

The conversation between different generations of artists highlights both the similarity and the diversity of strategies in the exploration of the city environment. Daring performances in the urban field in the 1970's come into dialogue with the hermetic Collective Actions, the Moscow actionism of the 1990s and the youngest artists. In a society that has too rapidly been emancipated from it's socially, urban and artistic past there is thereof an urgent need to recognize the coherence or lack between these experiences.

On the second floor of the exhibition the soviet dream collides with the non-conformists of the ideological from the past decades to the present day. Images of protest, demonstrations and political graffiti are presented whilst in a side room propaganda films from the 1980's are played on a loop demonstrating the importance of housing production under communism whilst form, shape and aesthetics of architecture fell to wayside.

Perhaps the most interesting room of all is the final section of the exhibition which explores the contemporary issue of what is next for Post-Soviet Moscow. The radical changes in the country caused equally radical changes in all areas of life and in architecture. Moscow being the epicentre of these changes. A visual striking way of understanding the developments since the fall of communism can be found on the top floor of the museum where the curators have extracted certain patterns which in turn tell us about certain facts, events and phenomena. The team grouped Russian architecture into four categories: Unique, Massive, Generic and Phonenix using a collection of web-images.

In all, The Way of Enthusiasts is a beautifully presented exhibition of how politics has affected the urban environment in Russia and how artists have reacted to it.

Elena Collins

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