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Uncovering Hidden Beauty in Russian Suburbia

Published: July 30, 2014 (Issue # 1822)



  • St. Petersburgs Primorsky District, pictured here, is home to 500,000 people.
    Photo: Egor Rogalev / The Calvert Journal

  • Russias suburbs, such as Zyablikovo outside of Moscow, have inspired a new generation of Russian photographers.
    Photo: Masha Demianova / The Calvert Journal

  • The Holodno clothing brand embraces local suburbs in their creative practice.
    Photo: Holodno / The Calvert Journal

Every Russian has memories of the suburbs, and mine are quite straightforward. I lived in a suburb in south-east St. Petersburg from the age of five till ten. I remember looking out of the kitchen window on the 12th floor of a beige brick high-rise and staring at a square patch of grass, crossed by a diagonal path, with two other absolutely identical high rises on the right and on the left. Sometimes a barrel on wheels arrived to sell milk or kvas (a drink made from fermented bread) and tiny people in tiny jackets, like beads on a string, formed a queue. There was a hill we used for sledding in the winter and, as I later found out, it was made of rubbish from a time when this distant part of the city only had wastelands and dumps. Behind the patch of grass there were rows of tin garages, and behind the garages was the dusty sky criss-crossed by wires. A couple of years ago they built a big highway that stretched over the garages, connecting the edgeland of my childhood with some other edgeland.

I also stayed in the suburbs a couple of times during trips to Moscow as an adult. In summer, in Yugozapadnaya, where the high-rises emerged from the trees like abandoned Portuguese churches in Goa, urban jungles under endless tropical rain. Then in winter, at Petrovsko-Razumovskaya, an unbearably grim corner of the universe where I had to ride a freezing trolleybus from the metro for 15 minutes passing a factory that made crutches. Once I came back from a party at about 7 a.m., my host was asleep, and I spent 40 minutes lost in the empty frozen nowhere looking for the right door: all doors in all the estates around were absolutely identical, just like the estates themselves.

Russian suburbs are organized in mundane repetition. There is a school, a couple of small shops, driveways with huge holes, hopelessly thin young trees and an elderly grey-haired lady concierge sitting downstairs in a glass cubicle filled with houseplants, powerless to prevent the outbursts of violence, robberies and staircase drug consumption.

Large estates are like fractals, or a space created by facing mirrors. Building 8 is exactly the same as building 14, and its young inhabitants must perhaps have the same preoccupation: to someday acquire a similar cell in one of these purpose-built units around town. Can creativity come from places like that? In contemporary Russia, somehow, it does.

The new generation of photographers were the first to embrace the edgelands with their eyes wide open. To fully explain the strength this requires from a visually aware person, its important to appreciate how ugly the suburbs are. Not beautiful ugly like Brutalist buildings but ugly in the most tacky way. The buildings are disproportional and the materials they are built with cheap. The shop signs look like shroomy sea punk visuals, and theres always an obligatory old sofa or washing machine abandoned in a little park, not to mention cigarette butts, empty cans and plastic bags all details which dont do any favors to a photographer.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Oct. 1


The St. Petersburg International Innovation Forum 2014 kicks off today at Lenexpo, where it will be presenting the latest and greatest ideas until Oct. 3. Focusing on economic development and the decisions and measures necessary to encourage development in Russias most important industries, the event is a possibility to discuss the innovations currently available in a variety of fields.


Representatives of the Russian and international media industries arrive in St. Petersburg for the first ever International Media Forum being hosted by the city until Oct. 10. With a variety of events on tap, including workshops, lectures and film screenings, the event plans to reemphasize the citys reputation as the countrys culture capital and as an emerging market and location for the visual arts.



Thursday, Oct. 2


The celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Mikhail Lermontov continues with todays free exhibition in the citys Lermontov Library at 19 Liteiny Prospekt. Titled Under the Rustling Wings, the temporary exhibition will feature the costumes and scenery used in the 1917 production of Lermontovs play The Masquerade, which he wrote in 1835 when he was only 21 years old.



Friday, Oct. 3


Learn more about how to manage and evaluate employee performance during SPIBAs Human Resources Committee meeting this morning on Employee Assessment: Global and Local Trends. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the discussion will touch on such topics as the partnership between HR and business, reliable assessment strategies and more, with Tatiana Andrianova, the head of the SHL Russia and CIS branch in St. Petersburg, as the featured guest. Confirm your participation by Oct. 2 by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.


AmChams Procurement Committee Meeting is at 9 a.m. this morning in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.



Saturday, Oct. 4


Wine and cheese lovers will get their chance to revel during Scandinavia Country Club and Spas Wine Market Weekend. Going on today and tomorrow, wining diners can listen to live music, take part in culinary classes and, of course, sample a variety of fine wines from around the world. The cost of admission is 400 rubles ($10.30) for adults and 200 rubles ($5.15) for children.



Sunday, Oct. 5


Look for the latest fall fashions at the Autumn Market today in Freedom Anticafe at 7 Kazanskaya Ulitsa. The minimarket plans to offer clothes more flattering than the puffy jackets that are a staple of the citys cold-weather fashion, while offering the same amount of protection from the biting winds blowing off of the Baltic.



Monday, Oct. 6


SKA St. Petersburg, the citys KHL affiliate, welcomes Slovakian club HC Slovan in a match-up tonight at the Ice Palace near the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased on the clubs website or in person at either the arenas box office or the clubs merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Oct. 7


Learn more about Russias energy industry at the St. Petersburg Energy Forum that begins today and runs through Oct. 10. Attracting industry experts and political and business representatives, the forum plans to welcome more than 350 plus companies and their representatives to discuss the future of Russias largest economic sector.



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