main exhibition space

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Kaliningrad inherited from Königsberg an extensive network of tramways. Between 1895, when the first line was launched, and 1945, we can see it running through the streets on photographs, postcards and even films. While studying the German documentary chronicles, I discovered some footage of the city center filmed from a tramway in motion. I decided to reuse the tramway to film the landscape of contemporary Kaliningrad.

From the three lines that are still in use today I chose the longest, the one that goes through the whole city and passes the Central square in the middle. I filmed the view from the window all the way, a round trip in one shot. The film is a complete loop that embraces the landscape of the city center in motion: in about two hours the film returns to the starting point and starts again.

 

Video 4K, sound | 136’, loop | Kaliningrad, 2015

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Assemblage of aerial photographs of the Central square of Kaliningrad, that has replaced the old town of Königsberg. Since the destruction of Königsberg Castle in 1968, the question of the future of the city center has never been resolved. The attempt to replace the castle by a new symbolic dominant - the House of Soviets - was a failure. Abandoned before the end of the works in the 1980s, the silhouette of the grandiose concrete cube still overlooks Kaliningrad. The area remains a wasteland for several decades.

The uneven pile of images, superimposed on each other, consists of 118 photographic shots taken by a drone with specific software for the field survey.

K | Digital prints, laminated on linoleum | variable dimensions | 2018

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Until the 1990s images of Königsberg were practically inaccessible in Kaliningrad, and even sometimes were subject to prosecution. "Königsberg in 144 pictures", published in Germany for the first time in 1955, was the first book to reveal the pre-war city to the inhabitants of Soviet Kaliningrad. Through the pages of this book, the newcomers have inherited nostalgia for the city they have never seen, mixed with a sense of bitterness for its loss. Arrived in Kaliningrad in the 1960s, this book circulated clandestinely in amateur circles, its pages have been rephotographed and developed in domestic photo labs. The descriptions were carefully translated from German into Russian and retyped with a typewriter.

 

Album | collection of photographic reproductions, made by amateurs from German books in the 1970s | Boris Bartfeldt personal archive

Original photo prints | collection of photographic reproductions made from German books in the 1970-80s | Anatoly Bakhtin personal archive

K as Mirage

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The desire of "tabula rasa" stipulated by Soviet propaganda is accomplished with a series of ideological destructions. Any manifestation of German heritage is seen as a foreign and hostile element. Thus the new life renounces the past, starts from scratch.

This destructive attitude generally escapes official documentation. Undisclosed demolitions are not filmed or archived. Curiously, it is the Soviet cinema of fiction that has produced best evidence of this attitude. In the early years of the post-war period, Soviet filmmakers rushed to the Kaliningrad region to shoot war films in the natural decor of Germany in ruins. Cases of real destruction were not uncommon. The scene presented at the exhibition to illustrate this phenomenon comes from the film "Twenty Days Without War", for which a wall of the medieval castle Ragnit, that remained intact during the war, was destroyed by explosion in front of the camera.

 

Twenty days without war | Alexeï Guerman | 101’, excerpt of 1’23’’ | 1976 | URSS

National Film Foundation of Russian Federation

K as Enemy

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The widespread looting of the region began in 1946 when the buildings of the center of Königsberg, affected by the destructions, were dismantled to supply in brick other cities of the USSR that lacked building materials. Today, in the rural area German houses continue to disappear implacably, while local websites similar to Ebay propose numerous ads selling German brick and tiles “second hand”. When the most valuable functional and decorative elements are removed, the house is carefully dismantled and redistributed between specific transport pallets: brick, tiles, wooden parts. In fact any construction is perceived a priori as a quarry of building materials.

The collection of photographs assembled on the wall in a large vertical rectangle comes from www.avito.ru - the most popular website for private ads. They are organised according to the progression from the top to the bottom evoking the disassembly process - in height we see houses that still stand and yet proposed for disassembly, the gradient stops at ground level with images where we only see a particle in close-up: one brick, one tile.

 

Images from ads for the sale of building materials taken from dismantled German houses, found at avito.ru (web site, similar to Ebay) ​

Digital print | 250 x 370 cm

K as Quarry

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When the German population fled East Prussia between 1944 and 1945, some families buried their most precious goods hoping to return and find them. Today these secret places are much sought after by diggers, also called "black archaeologists". This practice is formally illegal, but in fact the police do nothing to prevent it. Diggers equipped with shovels and metal detectors probe fields and forests in the areas of military battles or old housing estates, hoping to find treasures. Videos of amateur excavations circulate on the Internet.

 

Found footage | YouTube | 2016

K as Quarry

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Found object, identified as a fragment of the palisade of the Royal Castle of Königsberg | found in the area of the wasteland of the Central square in Kaliningrad.

K as Pompeii

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The plot of the future of the wasteland of the Central Square evolves for several years, even several decades, between two main actors: The House of Soviets, unfinished and abandoned since the 1980s, and the Royal Castle of Königsberg, once located on the same site, destroyed in 1968, which still haunts the imagination of the inhabitants of Kaliningrad. This antagonistic couple is at the center of public and private debates, on social networks and in the press. During my research I witnessed various turns in this plot, that would worth  a dramaturgy of an absurd theatre play. I started to get interested in the titles of the press articles, which often follow the same pattern: at the beginning there is the name or status of the “protagonist” of the article - architect, mayor of the city, expert or public figure - followed by a brief summary of his remarks.

The titles of the articles are retranscribed chronologically, in the order of their publication, uniting in a sort of a ready-made theatre play. They are divided into three groups, signified by the size of the font and the layout : the first-person statements, the protagonists; anonymous statements; the chorus, when the title evokes rather an exclamation or a comment of a community.

Drama | Titles of press articles, dedicated to the royal castle of Koenigsberg, and the House of the Soviets, assembled in two columns chronologically, as in an imaginary dialog. 

Inkjet print | variable dimensions | 2018

K as Castle in the air

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A resident of Kaliningrad, Nikolaï Tronevski, a committed photographer and amateur ethnographer, invents the state of Spandin and proclaims himself mayor. Spandin comes from the German Spandinen, the name of the most disadvantaged district of Königsberg, that kept its bad reputation during the Soviet era. For Tronevski this nickname summarises the current situation in the enclave; while denouncing it, he derides it. Tronevski depicts Spandin's daily life on his personal facebook page, annotating his photographs with sarcastic comments that accurately point out local issues.

 

selection of  publications made between 2014 and 2018 | screenshots | print on adhesive paper, laminated on plexiglass

on the right : post made in July 2016 | the phrase that annotates the image: In Spandin we protect cultural patrimony with carpets.

K as Backyard

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Video 4K, sound | 5’40’’ | Kaliningrad, 2015

K as Mirage

mezzanine

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The video is a looped static plan: faint light, shadows of trees, sounds of rare cars. The landscape hardly reveals itself, making it difficult to have a clear notion of space where it happens.

The camera fixes a glass surface, frontally.

Red and white headlights of passing cars are refracted, clinging to cracks. Quick flashes illuminate a spiderweb pattern of a broken glass. We are facing a window in the stairwell of an apartment house, showing traces of bullets. We are in Kaliningrad city center, 12 Gorky street, it is April 2015. Yet, the image is not attached to a specific place, and this knowledge remains off screen. As well as the origin of these bullet holes. The real story is unknown, so it becomes one of the possible stories.

 

Stars - water striders - tracer bullets - Christmas tree : the abstraction of the plan tends towards various associations, balancing between contemplation and anxiety. Calm and aggression, everyday life and war merge together and coexist in this image, superimposed as a filter on the view from the window.

Impact | video 4K, sound | 7’, loop | Kaliningrad, 2015 

K as Landscape with a ruin

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© Elizaveta Konovalova 2019