I have been reflecting a lot lately on intentionality, particularly in the context of urban dynamics. I always –and perhaps naïvely nowadays- trusted the dialectic potential of cities, and while mindful of my limited understanding of St-Petersburg, I do believe it is committed for the most part to the social well-being of its citizens. It is fascinating to observe how the royal legacy, aristocratic idiosyncrasy, and a historic yearning for Westernization juxtapose with the contemporary identities present in the city. St-Petersburg dwellers celebrate with pride the world heritage of Petrograd and Leningrad, mindful of its architectural majesty, cultural polychromy, and humanistic stance, while they also challenge themselves and strive for originality and innovation.
Alternative art venues, such Project Loft ЭТАЖИ (ETAGY) or Pushkinskaya 10 offer more democratic opportunities for designers, film-makers, painters, photographers, writers, to showcase and share their work in social spaces beyond the city’s magnificent museums and private galleries. ЭТАЖИ is a 5-story building in Ligovsky prospekt 74, formerly a bakery that has been converted in community loft spaces devoted to modern art, local design, and slow-food, organic dinning. The creative energy of ЭТАЖИ is intoxicating -its intention sincere, the conversations that foster powerful, the diversity of the programming absolutely fantastic, and its commitment to promote positive social change through art inspiring. I treasure my Friday afternoons at ЭТАЖИ, wandering through the exhibition halls and corridors, writing at the Green Room Café, noticing the change of seasons from The Terrace, an open-air space for installations, often lost in language and in translation, feeling sometimes the nostalgia of our Providence AS220, already experiencing a sense of belonging to this versatile community. ЭТАЖИ is forgiving, is inspiring, spoke to me with the words of Rilke: “Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty - describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.”
Pushkinskaya 10, an icon of the St-Petersburg counterculture in the post-war Soviet era, is an emblematic site of independent artwork. It houses a fascinating mosaic of galleries, concert venues and studios, and supports a vibrant artist community beyond the imperial canon of the city’s official fine art. It also offers a residency program for those seeking freedom and mindfulness in contemporary art making. On the afternoon of November 9, inspired by the Berlin of 1989 and visions of a borderless world, I walked into Pushinkanya 10, and was welcomed by the voices of graffiti tattooed in the walls, classical music cords emanating from the windows of artists apartments, and a invitation that I could not refuse. As I was wandering through the courtyard, mesmerized by this compelling urban canvas, I was approached by these two folks, Misha and Valera, who in a blend of Russian and broken English, persuaded me to enter the John Lennon Temple of Love, Peace and Music –those who know me well can attest that curiosity is my compass, so I was easily persuaded by this invitation. Not knowing quite what to expect, I followed Misha and Valera into a tiny studio enlarged chaotically and beautifully by the most incredibly collection of Beatles memorabilia I have ever seen. Hours went by soaking the British tunes of those who believed that all you need is love, and listening to the exhilarating tales of artist and temple regent Коля Bасин, who devoted his life to bring the Beatles dream to his native Russia.
The evening has settled by the time I left the Temple; I crossed the courtyard now dark and silent a bit disoriented, and as I exited to bustling Ligovsky prospekt, the city lights of St-Petersburg awoke my mind from what it felt like a dream. I was pulled into the crowd heading to the subway still feeling feather-light, after being wandering in a Dali-like landscape; the clocks have melted away under my feet, I have experienced stillness and I breathed dreams.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” ~John Lennon