</How Contemporary Artists Reflect On Rapidly Changing Kazan City's Landscape>
author: Daria Rakhmanova


Territorial borders, both external and internal, build a certain dynamic of the city and affect the comfort and safety of people. Artists and photographers often reflect on the constantly changing urban environment and create various projects or art series shining light on the problems connected to the definition of boundaries, borders and territories. For example, Dutch photographer Valerio Vincenzo in his “Borderline. Frontiers of Peace” [1] project highlights the borders between European countries, or rather their conditionality and the absence of checkpoints and border guards — a result of the Schengen agreement signed between the countries.

Valerio Vincenzo, Borderline. Frontiers of Peace

Olga Pegova, Kunststuck

The projects of Russian photographers, however, show a less optimistic picture. Olga Pegova’s “Kunststuck” [2] shows false facades that affect the perception of urban space as in Russia debris nets ARE often printed with patterns imitating a building under renovation.

Dmitry Lookianov in his “Intrinsic Journey” [3] captures aesthetics of Russia's grey panel buildings and everyday landscapes in the country's most peripheral locations. In the photo project “O Brave New Village” [4], author Ilya Osinchuk reflects on the all-consuming power of massive residential buildings and compares them to black holes, and the remnants of the so-called "village life", which can no longer compete with concrete jungle, its weak defense is most likely doomed to fail.

Dmitry Lookianov, Intrinsic Journey

Kazan photographer Timur Khadeyev captured his acquaintances and friends against the backdrop of wastelands on the outskirts of the city in his ‘On the outskirts of Kazan’ [5] project, on which he worked from 2014 to 2018. He documents that moment and leaves it in his memory as shortly after the empty spaces would be taken over by new buildings.

The idea of ​​documenting the change in city landscape grew into something else when the photographer concluded that the presence of a person against this background gives it new meanings. Those empty spaces, according to Timur, have formed "blind spots" in the city. They are mesmerizing in their emptiness, even “wildness”, and also possess meditative qualities.

The photographer captures the process of gradual filling of space with new buildings: at first, new houses were visible just on the horizon and by the end grew into new multi-storey residential or office quarters along with new infrastructure. Khadeyev also pointed out that over time, those places where he was taking photos became inaccessible, a number of fences have appeared and the location of construction has expanded.

Timur Khadeyev, On the outskirts of Kazan, 2014-2018
The issue that the photographer addresses in his project remains relevant, since the construction does not ever stop, thereby, people have to continue to interact with new environment. New large shopping centers emerge (usually they are built closer to the outskirts of the city), creating new life around them. On the one hand, they satisfy the consumer needs of society, on the other hand, they form the space around themselves, leaving fewer and fewer empty unfenced meditative places where people can be alone with nature and themselves. Timur Khadeyev's project was a part of the Moscow-Kazan-Moscow group exhibition-research at the Tsarskaya Bashnya Gallery in Moscow in 2018.

Constant construction in Russia has made an infinite number of different fences a part of everyday life. Perhaps no other country has so many fences. They are being erected everywhere: as a division between a sidewalk and a highway, between different territories or between one high-rise building and another.

Sasha Grom, Fences, 2019
In the 2019 photo project “Fences” [6], Sasha Grom tries to uncover the reasons behind her own hostility towards these objects, a feeling of fear and lack of freedom. Through personal experience of perception, she comes to a conclusion that substantiates the nature of these emotions.

She says: “In my project, I consider fences as a phenomenon. And I also try to understand my personal feelings and thoughts about that. Using the method of ‘self-replication’, comparison and interaction, I have understood that the fence draws the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, provoking a feeling of alienation, paranoia and loss of freedom. At the same time, the very cause of the fence is fear of the external, the vast, the marginal. Fear begets lack of freedom. The result of my work is a series of group portraits, where the fence is the one being portrayed, while a person serves as the background”[6].

Sasha demonstrates various fences in her photographs: tin fences, concrete fences with barbed wire, Soviet PO-2 fences, wooden patriotic fences with a tricolor on them, metal fences similar to those used at rallies and protests, fences that seem completely meaningless (somewhere in the forest against the background of picturesque landscapes), “nominal” fences, which are easy to overcome, decrepit fences covering the identically decrepit buildings, etc. Fences become a noticeboard, a canvas of various statements (from graffiti to telephone numbers), a line between private and public, hiding something secret or valuable.

Initially, the concept of the project was somewhat different. Sasha Grom designed her own fence as an art object. As usually people protect something valuable, Sasha has decided that the most valuable thing is herself, so she acted as the very “object” that should be protected from prying eyes. She walked through the streets сarrying a fence, even attended several parties. But those around her perceived it in their own way, they wanted to join Sasha, stand next to her, take pictures using the fence as a background. Overall, they perceived her artistic statement as a joke. Eventually, she decided to use herself as a background, multiplying her self-portraits, and the fence became the one being portrayed.

Sasha Grom states that endless fences make her feel paranoid, as if someone is directing her route. This creates a feeling of hostility and lack of freedom. However, in the process of working on the project, the photographer realized that oftentimes fences reflect people who use it, or the place where it stands. It forms a certain awareness that the fence is not only about visual and, often, physical discomfort, but also is an inevitable necessity.

In Kazan, as in any city, there are outskirts delineating borders between the city and other settlements of the republic. Visitors do not notice or care about unmarked borders, but people living along those borders are constantly faced with certain difficulties related to paying for services, buying or selling land, and so on.

Yulia Kalinina in her project “Borders of Kazan” decided to take a look at the city as if from the outside and explore the outskirts of Kazan, its extreme points, places where the city ends and another territorial unit of the republic begins. Since the border is not officially marked in any way, Yulia decided to introduce a new variable into her photographs, that is, a boundary marker specifically designed for this project, which would act both as an art object and as a visible divider of the territory. In one case, the border goes right through the garage of a residential building, in the other, between rows of houses, or the beach and the river, the road and the roadside, etc.

Yulia Kalinina, Borders of Kazan, 2016
Yulia has learned about the specific problems local residents face by asking those whose houses are located along the borders of Kazan. For example, in the village of Osinovo, some houses have difficulties with garbage disposal. Those who live in the houses belonging to the city territory have fewer of them, as the Kazan city inspection companies are stricter in terms of controlling garbage removal. The borders of Kazan are drawn in a way that frequently adjacent objects may have different status and position — some belong to the city, others, outside of it, to the republic.

Akinskaya polyana of Urmanche village and Rodnik SNT (Gardening Non-Commercial Partnership) on the map
In this regard, local residents tend to have problems that have to be resolved in court. For example, Akinskaya polyana of Urmanche village can be found within the city limits on the map, but the nearest Rodnik SNT (Gardening Non-Commercial Partnership) is outside of it (pic.4). Some Rodnik residents said that they had difficulties with the registration of their garage as a property. The cost of the property also depends on the location — if it is within the city, it is higher.

When working on her project, Yulia has sought help from local Kazan historian Ilya Evlampiev, who delved deeper into the existing legal issues of local residents in the said border area. The project has not been demonstrated before.

  1. Valerio Vincenzo. Borderline/Frontiers of Peace. 2007-2019. https://valeriovincenzo.com/BORDERLINE-1
  2. Olya Pegova. Kunststück. 2020. https://olyapegova.com/ru/kunstst-ck
  3. Dmitriy Lookianov. Intrinsic Journey. 2012-2017. https://lookianov.com/intrinsic-journey
  4. Ilya Osinchuk. New Village. 2019. https://cloudbase.pro/new-village/
  5. Timur Khadeev. On the outskirts of Kazan. 2014-2018. https://endingmirage.com/na-okrainah-kazani/
  6. Sasha Grom. Fences. 2019. http://www.saschagrom.com/page/fences.html