[artinfo] Endangered Species: A plea for a Red Book of Soviet Modernism

Beöthy Balázs b2 at c3.hu
Tue Feb 15 10:05:04 CET 2022

From: stefan rusu <suhebator at gmail.com> (by way of János Sugár )

Endangered Species: A plea for a Red Book of Soviet Modernism
20 January-20 February, 2022
National Museum of Fine Arts of Republic of Moldova

The exhibition is the outcome of a research, part of "Insular 
Modernities" project, focused on socialist architecture from Central 
Asia and Eastern Europe that includes a photo-series of endemic plants 
juxtaposed with modernist buildings, a documentary "Return From The 
Future" and the video "Frunze". The research was undertaken by Stefan 
Rusu during an extensive stay and several trips in Tajikistan and 
Kyrgyzstan between 2013-2019.

In the last few decades, concepts such as rare and endangered species, 
biodiversity conservation, protection of flora and fauna, Red Book and 
others are used more frequently. One of the forms of biodiversity 
conservation in the Soviet Union was the Red Data Books. The "Red Book 
of the USSR" was established in 1974 and the first edition was published 
in 1978, which included species of rare plants. Among them species found 
on the territories of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Republic of Moldova 
were included.

The last edition of Red Book was in 1985. Since then, with few 
exceptions, the lists have not been revised and the Red Book has not 
been republished. The flora of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is still 
incompletely explored. Many plants have never been illustrated. Some of 
them have narrow distribution areas, being confined to a few mountain 
ranges or even small valleys. Juxtaposing the images of modernist 
architecture from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Republic of Moldova with 
the images of rare plants from those countries, imply a different angle 
of interpretation of the architectural heritage, not only as singular 
buildings, but also as a context that need similar approach as 
endangered species and their protection. Some buildings, like those from 
"Return From the Future'' documentary, are listed as national heritage 
of Kyrgyzstan and therefore protected by the state. However, some 
buildings are in decay, not maintained and preserved according to their 
status due to weak and inefficient application of the law.

The starting point for the concept of juxtaposing endangered plants 
versus modernist architecture comes from the Museum of Mikhail Frunze - 
a modernist building designed from Bishkek by G. Kutateladze and 
Y.Karikh in 1967. Among the museum collection there is an impressive 
herbarium (about 1200 items) assembled by the soviet revolutionary M. 
Frunze during his childhood. The herbarium from the video "Frunze" is a 
poetical reference to Frunze's unfulfilled path to dedicate his life to 
natural science. The state of conservation and the need to preserve the 
modernist architecture such as the Museum of Mikhail Frunze and a series 
of other buildings are the subject of the documentary and the current 

The cultural heritage of the immediate past in the case of modernist 
aesthetics is directly connected with present and future urban 
developments. However, the preservation of modernist heritage in the 
current socio-economic situation and urban context is problematic, in 
some cases even dramatic. In reality, very often there is a lack of 
social awareness of its historic significance and value as unique 
monuments. The photo-series, the documentary and the video are an 
attempt to change this perception. The exhibition traveled to Chisinau 
from Trieste where it was produced and presented at Trieste 
Contemporanea, Italy in 2021.

43', HD transferred to DVD, 2019
Camera: Azat Ruziev
Image&sound editor: Denis Bartenev
Directed by Stefan Rusu

The title refers to the plot of the science fiction novel "Return from 
the Stars" by Stanislav Lem. The pilot Gal Bregg returns from the space 
expedition, after 127 years of terrestrial time, during which life on 
the Earth has radically changed. The novel discusses the ideas of social 
alienation, cultural shock and dystopia, which is synchronized with the 
current state of the city. The cosmonaut resembles an architect that 
returns to the site he created in another century. The film is a visual 
essay on the current state of conservation of soviet modernist 
architecture of Bishkek city. The initial idea was to investigate iconic 
buildings, discuss with architects and experts about multiple aspects of 
former use and future fate of the buildings in the new political and 
economic circumstances, when the political agenda shifted from communist 
ideology to free market economy and promotion of national values.

A particular aspect of this investigation is the changing status of the 
buildings from its former ideologically charged function and position in 
the society, as it is the case of the State History Museum (former V. 
Lenin Museum) or Gapar Aytiev Fine Art Museum, which suddenly lost their 
significance with the collapse of the Soviet Union. During socialist 
period the two buildings and collections were the main instruments to 
shape the society and the new man - the builder of advanced socialism 
according to Marxist thought and principles. In independent Kyrgyzstan 
the former collections became obsolete and lost their influence on 
people; however  the buildings have the potential to serve the society 
in the new circumstances promoting national history and culture. All 
together the film is an overview of the state of conservation of the 
buildings listed as national heritage, but also an overview on recent 
urban changes and transformation occurred in Bishkek after the 90s. The 
film was produced as part of "Insular Modernities", comprising a series 
of documentaries about modernist architecture from Central Asian context 
(Almaty, Ashkhabad, Tashkent, and Dushanbe).

FRUNZE, HD, 17', 2018
Image&sound editor: Denis Bartenev
Camera: Azat Ruziev
Directed by Stefan Rusu

The plot of the film is based on the memories of a forester from Chui 
region, who visits a museum-memorial house, which he couldn't do for 
many years, due to his remote location in the mountains. The house is 
the birthplace of Mikhail Frunze (1885-1925) and among his personal 
items the forester found a herbarium collected by Frunze himself.

Herbarium is a reminiscence of the history that becomes irrelevant at 
the certain curve of human evolution at the times when the things become 
obsolete. The motive of herbarium comes from his teenage times when he 
drove with his schoolmates about 3000 miles: through 10 Tian Shan 
passes, from Verny (current Almaty), through Issyk-Kul, Central Tien 
Shan, Naryn - to Fergana and back. At the end of the 6th grade, he and 
his four companions (Poyarkov, Ivanov, Aronovich and Novak) made a long 
excursion along their native land. On the way an impressive herbarium of 
1200 endemic plants were collected. The herbarium is a reference to 
Frunze's unfulfilled path to dedicate his life to natural science.

The memorial house museum was set up after his imminent death under 
obscure circumstances in 1925. Frunze was born in the region and the 
capital of a new born country Kyrgyzstan got his name, he was involved 
in building a socialist state and a new society - a tribute to his 
revolutionary and military career. Later the museum was extended and a 
modernist building was erected over the thatched cottage of the Frunze 
family, designed by architects - Gennady Kutateladze, Yury Karikh and 
built in 1967. The new museum follows the principle used by Georgian 
architects in the construction of the Stalin museum erected in 1957 in 
Gori, Georgia. This modest memorial house was allegedly the birthplace 
of Mikhail Frunze (1885-1925), for whom Bishkek - the capital of 
Kyrgyzstan was renamed as 'Frunze' shortly after his death.

Frunze's revolutionary trajectory is perceived today as a collection of 
items that almost lost its significance in the public sphere of Kyrgyz 
society. The museum's collection and the museum's personnel resembles a 

Stefan RUSU (b. 1964 in Kâietu, Moldova). His artistic/curatorial agenda 
is geared towards the social and political changes in East European 
societies after the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the 
Soviet Union. Beginning with 2000 he was involved in the development of 
KSAK - Center for Contemporary Art, Chisinau where he produced 
curatorial projects and art initiatives and following the years 2005-06 
completed Curatorial Training Program at Stichting De Appel in 
Amsterdam, where he co-curated "Mercury in Retrograde".

In between 2014-2015 he developed a regional project in Central Asia, 
being the curator and editor of "Spaces on the Run" (2015). Urban 
transformations and the changes occurred in the public sphere where the 
subjects of his other curatorial endeavour - CHI?INA˜U - Art, Research 
in the Public Sphere (a project produced by [KSAK[-Center for 
Contemporary Art/Chisinau, 2010) - a cross-disciplinary platform that 
investigated the dominant institutional and political discourses that 
have shaped the society and the urban landscape of town in the course of 
its recent history.

In 2012 he directed "Reclaiming the City" commissioned by 7th Berlin 
Biennial, which reflects on dramatic socio-economic structural changes, 
the physical transformation of the city following the dismantling of the 
Berlin Wall and the impact of gentrification processes on public space. 
In 2018 he participated in TAB Tbilisi Architecture Biennale - 
"Buildings are not enough" with site specific intervention -Block 89. 
Stefan is a member of IN SITU - European platform for Artistic Creation 
on Public Space: http://in-situ.info/en/.

His recent initiative, Insular Modernities, explores how the phenomena 
of socialist architecture formed in Eastern Bloc, is maintained, 
preserved and perceived in contemporary societies. Aiming at 
preservation of modernist heritage from Central Asia and Eastern Europe, 
it analyses in various formats (exhibitions, publications, 
documentaries, social networks, etc.) the former function and current 
state of conservation of socialist architecture, as well as the role and 
changing status of public space at the new turn of the history.

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