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COSY URBANIZM: Elena Kolesnikova

COSY URBANIZM: Elena Kolesnikova

Overview

*the exhibition is postponed  

The urbanisation process of the world accelerates at an unprecedented historical speed. It is predicted that the current share of 55% of the population living in cities will increase to 68% by 2050, while humanity will grow by 2 more billion. The strain on the cities infrastructures, most of which were built without that idea of population size in mind, is hardly imaginable at the moment. The techno-optimists, like the US climate envoy and ex-presidential hopeful John Kerry, assume that inexistent yet technologies will help to preserve the liveability of the cities. The pessimists, on the other hand, as predicting the looming collapse of the comfortable living, to which most of us got seamlessly accustomed in the last century. The access to clean water, clean air, proper roads, public transport, institutions of culture and so on will be challenged.

Inspired by the Soviet principles of urbanism and their mutation post-collapse of the USSR, Russian artist Elena Kolesnikova developed a large body of multimedia works dealing with the transformation of the urban landscapes in Russian southern towns. As the central planning principles were abandoned, the citizens of new Russia obtained unannounced and unsanctioned freedom of re-shaping their cities in a somewhat wild manner. People have started to expand their balconies and re-facade them in accordance with individual tastes (obviously restricted by the available to their disposal materials); the owners of the standalone house commenced constructions of the additional garages, verandas and other extensions. All these developments coexist on par with the inherited from the Soviet past cultural institutions, urban principles of constructing and arranging city infrastructure in accordance with the principle of comfortable living.

In her project Cosy Urbanism, presented at Shtager Gallery, Kolesnikova asks the question: how can one have experience of cosiness while being surrounded by the chaotic result of a collision between Soviet planning and wild individualised creativity, neglecting any principles of harmony? She re-interpreted the buildings, which are associated in her memory with the feelings of belonging and comfort, into the sofa pillows, which can be comfortably arranged in the comfort of one’s house. In the context of the gallery, which is hosted within the architectural studio in South London, Kolesnikova’s soft maquettes are entering the direct conversation with the traditional architectural models. The imaginary city, which rises from the artists’ selection from the various urban environments, crosses the national, cultural and stylistic boundaries. In a way, Kolesnikova’s cosy buildings present the manifestation of the personal urban utopia.

The display features archetypal “heroes” of urban landscapes of contemporary Russia, such as “Classical Shawarma” food shop or “Lady Boss” beauty salon. Despite standing in the cityscape as default placeholders, that make all Russian provincial cities so look alike, these buildings also reflect the cultural struggles within the country on the battle lines of immigration and gender politics in this particular case. Somewhat surprisingly, the Westminster Abbey also appears in the imaginary city standing for the desire to travel, explore and cherish the memory of the architectural marvels of the world that far not everyone is so privileged to enjoy on regular basis (especially in the context of the global pandemic and travel restrictions). Kolesnikova also includes there Moscow Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Architecture, both not as far removed from her immediate milieu in Russia as London’s landmark, but still being far in distance and outreach as the artist herself is based in the province. This gesture highlights the centrism and still imperial nature of the Russian state, where most of the resources, including the cultural, are still accessible only for the centre while the periphery remains majorly overlooked. There is also a Canadian food shop with organic produce, as an object of desire in the city landscape not present in the artist’s urban habitat as well as typical kindergarten. Apart from the typically present archetypal buildings, the artist featured a school for children with special needs – a disappearing type of institution in contemporary Russia.

Elena Kolesnikova investigates the urban environments of Russian cities as a cultural anthropologist and artist in one persona. The aesthetics and the design of comfortable living, always subjective to a particular individual in combination, reach an apogee in her practice through humanisation: by being made visible, relatable and thinkable.

text by Denis Maksimov

 

 Inspired by the Soviet principles of urbanism and their mutation post-collapse of the USSR, Russian artist Elena Kolesnikova’s project Cosy Urbanism, place the question: how can one have experience of cosiness while being surrounded by the chaotic result of a collision between Soviet planning and wild individualised creativity, neglecting any principles of harmony? She re-interpreted the buildings, which are associated in her memory with the feelings of belonging and comfort, into the sofa pillows, which can be comfortably arranged in the comfort of one’s house. In the context gallery’s stand, Kolesnikova’s soft maquettes are entering the direct conversation with the traditional architectural models. The imaginary city, which rises from the artists’ selection from the various urban environments, crosses the national, cultural and stylistic boundaries. In a way, Kolesnikova’s cosy buildings present the manifestation of the personal urban utopia. The display features archetypal “heroes” of urban landscapes of contemporary Russia, such as “Classical Shawarma” food shop or “Lady Boss” beauty salon. Despite standing in the cityscape as default placeholders, that make all Russian provincial cities so look alike, these buildings also reflect the cultural struggles within the country on the battle lines of immigration and gender politics in this particular case.

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