</(Non)Children's Railway: Tunnel-Trip Into Painful Past>
by </odra>
photos: Artyom Go
The Children's Railway passing through the Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan was opened in 1930-s with the aim of sparking children’s future interest in railroad careers. It initially offered both entertainment and training opportunities for children, however, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it fell into decay. Semi-abandoned nowadays, it serves as an inspiration for artists interested in dialogue with the past.

</odra> found out about the punk site-specific project by Russian artists on this railroad. Arnold Veber, Artyom Go, Daria Hoffman, Roman Karman, Maresiy Ivaschenko, Egor Kirillov, German Orekhov and Igor Samolet took an unofficial walk through the tunnel and everyone was invited to join. Though one should keep in mind that it is not a pleasant summer stroll, but a journey into a horrible past. The starting points for the journey were two dates: 1937 and 1956.

In 1937, the railway was opened. It was also the year when USSR leader Joseph Stalin unleashed the Great Purge to tighten his grip on power, resulting in countless arbitrary arrests and executions. The architect of the railway park’s Mikael Mazmanyan was convicted and banished to Siberia.

The year of 1956 coincides with the Khrushchev Thaw, the period of de-Stalinization, when repression and censorship were relaxed. The tunnel’s construction may symbolize hope for freedom and the long-awaited change. Interestingly the architects envisioned that the tunnel beside serving for decorative purposes would also deliver fresh air from the gorge into the city downtown.

Thus, the semi-abandoned Stalinist recreational project becomes a starting point for retrospective correlation with emigration, the experience of being far away from home, vulnerability, contemplation about the future, resistance. The tunnel tears through the fabric of time and transports us back and forth.

Roman Karman on his experience of participating in the exhibition:

"We have quickly discovered the place for the exhibition. We were walking with Artyom and Igor around the Children's Railroad Park, and came across this tunnel. We posted an open call, gathered about a dozen artists and prepared everything in a couple of weeks, and it turned out to be a very pleasant experience.

The works were very different, but almost all of them were directly or indirectly about forced emigration and the political situation in general. In my opinion, it ended being very solid and atmospheric, a lot of quality works and relevant statements. A lot of ideas came from the location of the exhibition. Igor Samolet and I used rails as part of the artwork.

I personally created two works: the first was an audio collage using train sounds, Soviet synthesizers and distorted popular Soviet songs. The second was an installation on the rails of my military ID card crushed by the train and photos from my "past life" with friends, ex-spouse, etc. After the tour, everyone sat down to play Samolet's "Privilege game" on the rails. The audience was mostly Russian emigrants, but I also met a guy from France. After the exhibition, the artists and spectators went to have dinner together."

Most of the projects were focused on the processes and experiences of adapting to a new place, breaking the familiar flow of everyday life through no fault of their own. And one of the big questions is, why is this happening over and over again?

Arnold Veber:

"My work is called 'Limbo', it is my humble observation of myself and my relationship to the contexts that surround me as in recent years I have been feeling disconnected from the world, like a pattern that does not coincide with the patterns around me, but those patterns make changes in mine, so I am a superject. I'm here but I'm somewhere else, I can't get out of my imagination. I don't allow myself to express my feelings, but the chamber format of the exhibition has allowed me to relax and do something easy.

Since I've been living here for a year and a half now, this place has acquired its own connotations for me, I go jogging in the morning, and often my route includes this railroad, I think I'm interested not in the railroad itself, but in what has happened around it, in the stories this place stores. The Children's Railroad attracts a pretty diverse audience, at night there can be questionable company, often, for many, it is a place for dating, for some a spot for solitude, for me it has become a place where I have exhibited my humble work. I guess it's a base that backs up urban stories, an empty space."

Artyom Go presented fragment of the video installation made specifically for the Yerevan Children's Railroad:

"Looking at the dates of its construction (1937) and the tunnel (1956) in which the video was shown, we can notice a broader context. 1937 was the year of the beginning of the great terror. And in 1956 the debunking of Stalin's personality cult took place But the tunnel in which the exhibition will took is a sham: it is built on a flat site and has only a demonstration and entertainment function.

The video work consists of 28 layers of overlaid video fragments of the frontline actions. When assembled in this manner, they become an abstraction that, in my view, serves as an integral backdrop to our new life, the foundation of our existential catastrophe. At some point, this video collage begins to transform into a polygonal grid that moves similarly to the original video. This is an attempt to extract another abstraction from the original, one that is further removed but still preserves its core. For me, it's a kind of expression of the processes that occur within all of us. The human capacity to adapt even to the most horrifying things, trying to replace constant pain with something else. I wanted to create a video about getting accustomed to terrible events."

At the site-specific exhibition, all the objects were deformed: torn, cut, broken. The road as a mode had walked over them, leaving a scar on each one. The railroad is always a witness to time. Powerful, ingrown sleepers keep secrets of the past that are easy to stumble over. Photographer Denis Zeziukin has already shared with </odra> the story of his family’s suffering from the terror. His research, which began with the railroad, we published earlier.

Eric Bulatov was probably right: you shouldn't lean because you never know where that railroad really leads.

Eric Bulatov, Do not lean, 1984, artnet