Curator: Lena Prents

Sociologists, cultural scientists, architects and artists have for long now been focusing on the subject matter of the city. Radical urban transformation processes taking place since the early 1980s in cities of both Western and Eastern Europe have changed their image and caused social and cultural splits. The exhibition “Minsk, urban diary” is dedicated to a metropolis equally influenced by those developments, but, because of its political climate and the context of its urban development, also offering a row of peculiarities. The image and the identity of the city are eagerly conveyed as a romantic mixture of the old and the new, of broad streets and green areas. These motifs are reproduced on postcards, serve as backgrounds for telecasts and are a must at any photo competition entitled “My hometown”.
The artists do not present a new collection of snapshots and details of the urban context. They question the official image of Minsk, analyse characteristic aspects responsible for its identity, search for the origins of its specific urban development, present their personal reception of the city and expose urban situations absent from conventional cityscape photo albums.
The exhibition in the Centre for Contemporary Art Laznia is an attempt at challenging two constants present in European perception of Belarus: marginal knowledge about Minsk apart from political headlines and minor interest in contemporary art production in and about Belarus.
Oxana Gourinovitch (b. 1975, BY/D) works as an architect in Berlin. While researching on one of the most famous places in Minsk, the Independence Square, she was confronted by questions which could not be answered neither by scientific literature nor by the offices of the responsible city planning department. Why are there no references to the history of Minsk before the Second World War in the cityscape? Why is there little to find about the Jewish history? Oxana Gourinovitch compiled diagrams illustrating milestones and peculiarities of the urban development of the city and confronting the viewer with unexpected views on the past and the present of the city. She chose this means of presentation also to reflect a common phenomenon in today’s Belarus from her personal experience: emigration of friends and acqaintances from Minsk.

Artur Klinau (b. 1965, BY), architect, artist and publicist, editor of “pARTisan”, the only magazine dedicated to contemporary art in Belarus. Klinau gained international publicity with his installations and conceptual works. For years he has been pursuing the idea of a comprehensive presentation of his hometown Minsk as “The Sun City of Dreams”. With references to “Civitas Solis” by Tommaso Campanella and Thomas More’s “Utopia”, Klinau in photos, photomontages and essays constructs a panorama of the city which, according to the artist, was planned and built as an ideal embodiment of communist utopia. Lushly decorated residential palaces were built for the “people of tomorrow”, magnificent parks with fountains were equipped with sculptures of ideal bodies, broad boulevards were all in green. Yet when examined closely, the realized ideas appear but a City of Dreams, a monument of the striving for the unrealisable, a terrific scenario for a romantic, superior play entitled “Happiness”.

Uladzimir Parfianok (b. 1958, BY) is one of the artists of the so-called “Minsk school of photography”, as an American critic once called Belarusian conceptual black-and-white photography of the 1990s. Parfianok is the head and curator of the Minsk Gallery of Visual Arts NOVA. The exhibition presents his earlier and newest work. The photo series “At the market” (1990), “Fragments of the being” (1987-88) comprise pictures of Soviet everyday life. Taking pictures in the streets had been an incredible pleasure, says Parfianok. People were open minded and not at all aggressive. A photographer was perceived as an attribute to the city’s landscape. Parfianok’s more recent works show not only the transformation of his artistic view on the photographed objects and acquired interest in other motives, but also changes in content and aesthetics of the image of the city.

Anna Chkolnikova (b. 1976, BY/D) studied art in Belarus, France and Germany and is currently based in Berlin. The characteristics of her work include an intensive discussion of spatial conditions and a reference to the external environment. As a result, space-filling installations emerge, often hinting at personal, subjective experience. This approach is also underlying Chkolnikova’s work “Home. Foreign”, prepared specifically for the exhibition in Łaźnia. Chkolnikova video recorded the memories of her grandmother’s friend, the 86-year-old Minsk inhabitant Gertruda Ivanovna Kalinovskaya. Chkolnikova embedded the touching stories of this woman with a phenomenal memory directly into an ornament of drawings on the walls. According to the artist’s idea, the visitors of the exhibition will step into a “room between home and foreign” – a state Chkolnikova intends to establish to describe her city.

Karsten Konrad (b. 1962, D) is a sculptor. Born and raised in the Western part of Germany, he often refers his sculptures and models to the socialist modernity whose architecture is interesting for him as a medium of utopian, idealistic ideas, but also as a phenomenon so undeservedly ignored in Western Europe. Konrad reconstructs constructual situations, once important for a certain location at a certain time – be it as distinctive part of the history of architecture or an expression of a certain social climate. As for material, he uses remnants of deconstructed furnishings of the ‘70s and findings from the rubble of destroyed buildings thus giving his models a vivid expression. Most of the architecture is known to the artist from his own experience and they are easily recognisable for the viewer, for example the ensemble of Prager Strasse in Dresden from the project “Stadtplaners Workshop” (“City Planner’s Workshop”). For the model of the Minsk Fashion House presented at the exhibition, the artist used a small photo from a German magazine as a sample. He was fascinated by the building because of its amazing combination of elements of international modernity of the ‘60s and ‘70s with the pathos of hypertrophic socialist hero worship – the light external construction and the monumental relief representing the defenders of the homeland during the Second World War. In the context of the fact that decisions about demolition of the buildings and even entire quarters are taken rather rashly, Konrad’s contribution encourages discussion about aesthetic and architectural historical qualities of the socialist modernity.

Aleksander Komarov (b. 1971, BY/NL/D) studied painting and conceptual art in Poznan and Amsterdam and lives in Rotterdam and Berlin. Observations from different countries, cities and cultures often inspire his works. He has already dealt with architectural embodiments of power and its historical change in his projects. The Palace of the Republic, a monumental building in the centre of Minsk, was interesting for Komarov because of his high representativeness for the urbanistic situation in the Belarusian capital. Designed in the 1970s, the construction of the Palace of the Republic started in the 1980s and was ceased for several years after controversial debates at the beginning of perestroika. It was only as recently as in 1994 when Alexander Lukashenko entered into office as President that the construction was resumed and accomplished. At this time, as Komarov appropriately puts it, the Belarusian political culture returned to the stage from the beginning of the construction. In his work “Immersion of Reality” Komarov uses various media – photos, photo compositions, a model of the palace and a video – in order to visualise different aspects of public perception and his own interpretations of the meanings carried by this building.

The exhibition will be opened on 30th November at 6 pm. All artists will be present.
A booklet under the same title will accompany the exhibition.

Municipal Institution of Culture