Text by Vitalie Sprinceana (part of the bigger text originally entitled: “The city belongs to everybody: claiming public spaces in Chisinau” to be published in 2014)
The project of Cantemir boulevard emerged for the first time in the development plan of the city of Chisinau immediately after the war, between 1945-1947, being guided by the architect Alexei Shchiusev. According to the project, the lower part of the city was to be demolished in order to give way to a spacious boulevard that would have allowed the “synchronization” of the upper part of the city with the lower one. The massive destruction caused by the Second World War (according to some estimates, approximately 70% of the city buildings have being totally or partially destroyed (20)). And the immense respect for Shchiusev’s authority (author of the “V.I. Lenin” Mausoleum in Moscow) has allowed the authorities to carve the city as they pleased.
The first plan provided the Cantemir boulevard to end at Cosmonauts street, but in 1972 there has also been added a portion which reached the Calea Iesilor street. Only several portions of this projected boulevard have been actually built – the Cosmonauts street, the portion of the Cantemir boulevard between Negruzzi and Ismail streets, as well as the gyratory orientation from Calea Iesilor.
Somehow surprisingly the idea of building the Cantemir boulevard survived well the fallout of the Soviet Union and has been continued by the democratic leadership of the city as provided in the General Urbanistic Plan (GUP) adopted in 2007 (21). As an argument there was used the idea of making the road traffic through the Central sector more fluid and connecting through a rapid highway the Chisinau Airport with the Buiucani district. This initiative of the authorities was severely criticized by a large part of the community of architects who objected that building Cantemir boulevard would affect the aspect of the historic center of the city, which was banned by the national laws and the international conventions concerning the protection of historic cultural patrimony signed by the Republic of Moldova (22). The architects accused the City Hall that it adopts decisions without consulting with the specialists in this field. Afterwards, GUP was rejected both by the Moldova Academy of Science and the Ministry of Culture.
At this moment, the Cantemir boulevard remains in a project stage and the intense discussions around GUP have reoriented to the Zonal Urbanistic Project (ZUP) which provides the improvement of the central area of the city and in which again there has been found place for Cantemir boulevard.
In this context, a group of artists and architects chose to follow the idea that the best way to prevent the building of this boulevard and the massive destruction of the architectural patrimony, and the negative impact on social life that it would cause, would be to engage its users (residents, area workers, passers, temporary residents) in various activities that would consolidate the local identity, would return to use some abandoned public spaces, subtilized or monofunctional and that would attract and inspire the residents of other parts of the city. The project also aims to elaborate an ambitious long-term plan that would allow to identify, recover and return to use the public space of Chisinau.
The first stage of this project of revitalization has been the organization of a workshop on mapping the public space of Chisinau between 2nd and 6th of July 2012 (21). Held by the Association of Young Artists Oberliht, Chisinau in collaboration with Planwerk, Cluj (Romania). The program of the workshop included the elaboration of new criteria of cataloging the city public spaces, tours in the mapped zones, the elaboration of a new grid for evaluating the selected public spaces. On the projected portion of Cantemir boulevard there have also been identified 10 locations with potential for revitalization.
The second stage was to create a reading group called Public Spaces in poist-Socialism lead by sociologist Vitalie Sprinceana, which was held in the Summer-Autumn of year 2012, and gathered students, artists and activists. This reading group, also present on social networks, aimed to familiarize its members with fundamental theoretical concepts necessary to understand urban policies, urban democracy, the right for the city and the transformations that occurred in the post-Socialist space within last 20 years, both at regional and at local level. A direct result of the group was the organization of a regularly updated online library, which contains relevant texts, both classic and recent (24), in Romanian, Russian, English and French languages.
The third stage was to conduct a survey-questionnaire for the users of the public space from these 10 chosen locations. The questionnaire was elaborated by sociologist Vitalie Spranceana in collaboration with several students from the Faculty of History and Philosophy, the Department of Philosophy and Anthropology of the State University of Moldova and was conducted within the period of March-April 2013. The questionnaire included questions concerning the profile of activities of the place, the civic involvement, the wishes and visions for change of the locals and of the users of public space, the mechanisms of social inclusion/exclusion, the emotional attachment to the place etc. The results of this quality research have been publicly presented in May 2013.
The most interesting result (and most fertile concerning the initiative for revitalization) of this survey was the identification, among the users of public space from the area of Cantemir boulevard, of an attitude of distrust of the possibility of involvement in the decisional process. The absolute majority of the questioned expressed their opinion that they would gladly participate in the renovation of the public space of the area, that that they have ideas for arranging these spaces, but they are not sure that the authorities would listen and would pay attention to their opinion.
Due to this discouraging situation, the community of artists-activists decided that the project of revitalization must be done not only for the citizens, but also with their direct participation. The constant artists-citizens dialogue aims to re-create and re-vitalize a collective of the public space, according to the logic of its most disadvantaged users – the citizens, and against the corporative, political or administrative logic. Therefore, the line of Cantemir boulevard was integrated in an artistic event with international participation – as part of project SPACES: the Civic Center of Chisinau – beyond the red lines. As part of this project there have been organized a series of events concerning the revitalization of some of the 10 identified locations. The architects Alex Axinte and Cristi Borcan from StudioBASAR (Romania) have organized a public workshop of urban interventions 7th-13th of September 2013 (25). Followed by work on the ground, the participation of the residents in the process of rehabilitating the space situated at the intersection of Ivan Zaikin/Sf. Andrei street, but also a picnic and a film projection at the end of the workshop. As part of the same project, Slovak artists Jana Kapelova and Michal Moravcik conducted an intervention in a different location – the one on Balanescu street 21 – which included the reuse of old furniture gathered from local residents (26), and Swedish artist Karl Hallberg made an intervention in the location conventionally named Triangle 2, situated at the intersection of streets Pruncul, Sf. Andrei and I. Doncev (27).
One of the great difficulties in evaluating the success of the proactive movements is the fact that they almost always represent open unfinished projects, therefore they are still works-in-progress. The initiative of revitalizing Cantemir boulevard is in this situation. It is still too soon to evaluate its chances of success, the artistic actions have had some success and should be continued. Fortunately, the Cantemir boulevard plan is still under discussion and there is a strong opposition in the artistic and architectural medium against its construction.
On the other hand, the discussions concerning Cantemir boulevard have left in a shadow a different aspect – the chaos created by the refusal to adopt GUP and ZUP are allowing some entrepreneurs and commercial agents to demolish, rebuild large parts of the area with the support of the authorities.
There is a risk, very well formulated by one of the activists, that before the adoption of the final decision concerning the construction of Cantemir boulevard, the zone on its line would be partially or completely destroyed.
Two moments related to this initiative should be mentioned.
The first one is associated with the participation of artists communities within the movements of urban activism. These contribute decisively in enriching the symbolic repertoire, in rising the attractiveness of these movements, as well as to new reflections and arts practices in the public space. The implication of the artists in urban activism is as much opportune as the local artistic medium practices an almost obsessive separation from politics, as a consequence of the excessive politicization of art in the Soviet period, but also because of the co-optation of the political potential of local art in “quiet” themes such as anticommunism, national identity or Orthodoxy. The possibilities of artistic interventions are truly limitless, both in real space and in virtual space.
The second moment is related to the participation of foreign artists and the establishment of some transnational connections. Beside the effect of creating prestige for such actions or the one of growing the visibility of the actions as a result of the foreign involvement, this process also has, in the Moldovan context, a negative consequence: the one to make the local artists devoid of responsibility: the artistic intervention in the public space becomes subsequently the privilege of foreign artists while the locals populate other niches. It’s a complex challenge both for the community of local artists involved and for the groups of activists.
(20) Virgil Paslariuc. “Who devastated the historic Chisinau?” http://www.historia.ro/exclusiv_web/general/articol/cine-devastat-chisinaul-iulie-1941
(21) General Urbanistic Plan. http://www.chisinau.md/category.php?l=ro&idc=500
(22) A group of architects claims that the decision to build Cantemir boulevard has been taken by interested persons without consulting the specialists.. http://unimedia.info/stiri/-1212.html
(23) Mapping of Public Space in Chi inău workshop (2012-13). http://chisineu.wordpress.com/proiecte/atelier-cartografiere/
(25) The Civic Center of Chisinau: Recovered Spaces. Urba Interventions Woekshop with StudioBASAR (Cristi BORCAN) and Tudor ELIAN [RO], 7-11 of September 2013 http://chisineu.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/spatii-recuperate/
(26) SPACES: Projection by Jana KAPELOVA and Michal MORAVĆIK (Public Pedestal) [SK”If we don’t need it?” 21.09.2013, 20:00 http://chisineu.wordpress.com/2013/09/21/daca-nu-va-trebuie-film/
(27) SPACES: Intersectionsan installation by Karl HALLBERG, 20.09.2013, 17:00 http://chisineu.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/intersectii/
CHISINAU CIVIC CENTER- Beyond the Red Lines
curated by Vladimir Us/ OBERLIHT
Text by NB
Chisinau Civic Center- beyond the red lines is a project which is not possible to evaluate only from the perspective of the “events” that could be seen or participated in during the SPACES meeting in Chisinau, in September 2013. The “ChisinauCivicCenter” project is a long term proposition which started in the beginning of 2012 as a sort of experiment in “preparing the pro-active (in opposition to the standard re-active) civic urban movement”, based on the existing situation- a boulevard marked in the current GUP of Chisinau, although conceived in Soviet Republic of Moldova, but built only partially, so far. Motivated by recent public debates and the controversy around the possibility of re-building the Cantemir Boulevard (and destroying important historical heritage of Chisinau along the way), the group of activists, cultural workers, architects and social scientists gathered around OBERLIHT association tried to react in advance, before the project is implemented, searching for ways to prevent its construction. Their aim was even broader: “to elaborate an ambitious, long-term plan that would allow to identify, recover and return to use the public space of Chisinau”. The range of activities planned to support the aim was wide, including the research- mapping workshops with architects, setting up a reading group named “Public Spaces in post-Socialism” including the on-line library, a survey related to the topic in collaboration with students, an international conference, film screenings and series of artistic interventions derived from the artist in residency programs (international artists) or done in collaboration with the local art scene.
The starting point of this group, (i.e. the conclusion that the protest movements should take more active role, instead of always being one step behind in relation to developers or (developers friendly) city administration), is a challenging standpoint which definitely deserves more attention. It basically starts with the premise that organized private business conquering/endangering common or public goods should encounter already organized “front”, resistance units embodied in the aware and ready-to-act citizens groups eager to defend their (i.e.public) interests. This sort of scenario triggers some considerations, especially concerning methods of realizing it, within the prevailing system based on the supreme value/worship of the private ownership and profit making that goes before any broader social or public interest.
During the recent conference held in Zagreb entitled “Culture, commons and institutional innovation”, there were discussions around the issue of better positioning of the independent cultural actors within the social and political context. The first interesting argument was referring to the already known fact that culture should leave its narrow sectoral position and exit the self-sufficiency. Within the new social dynamics (in which, in many countries, the cultural scene became actual and relevant SOCIAL ACTOR by engaging in questions of spatial politics i.e. defending of what is considered as “public good”), there is a need that cultural workers create new tactical alliances. These alliances would lead to the wider social connections with the aim of influencing wider social process. In short, the aim of cultural workers should be to produce lines of confrontations with other social actors, towards the common goal.
This kind of thinking is not so far from the attempt of creating “pro-active protest movement” by the Chisinau group, although it is articulated somewhat differently (due to different contexts and experiences). What they have in common is their deep concern for the future of commons and finding the best strategy of protecting them. The key element in both situations is the presumption of the emancipated citizen, who is able to recognize the violation of his/her own rights (to the city) and to act upon it, but this comes only after the questioning and an attempt to re-articulate the dominant political paradigm which proclaims profit-making as the highest (social) value. As we know, this is a long process, especially in post-soviet countries in which all political elites coming to power after the fall of the state-socialism established themselves by demonizing the socialist past, presenting it as a monolith, non differentiated narrative, burying along any possibility of collectivism or any idea of social connections based on any other rational “interest” but ethno-national(ist) one. However, as Boris Buden stated “from the very beginning nationalism was the motor of the transition, the mechanism which enabled radical transformation of the ownership relations in post-socialist states” (*0). It practically served as a smoke curtain for the introduction of the free market economy in formerly socialist (state run) economies followed by the criminal privatization of state property done in collaboration with new, (predominantly nationalist) political elites who made significant (personal) profit along the way and made a huge, almost irreparable damage to the new national economies.
The bottom line of all these civic efforts mentioned before is- the attempt to re-create the community on the basis of the common interest that goes beyond singular, private demands, to re-build destroyed solidarity tissue and affirm citizens political subjectivity. Following the thought that “the context which is not critical cannot produce critical (artistic) practice”, art, as well, can not act as isolated practice, it should make a part of wider social movements.
What does this mean for the artistic practice itself? It does not mean the dictate of the particular form or a style, it addresses more the artist as a political subject (lets say “artist as citizen”, for this occasion) and a producer of symbolical meanings.
If we go back to the Chisinau Civic Center- beyond the red lines project, and its September programme, we could trace several interesting moments as far as artistic practice is concerned. Here I would specially mention Valeria Barbas´ (musical) performance entitled “Claxsimphony” in which she conducts a concert for five car trumpets, based on the traditional musical score, which she adapts for this occasion. She places herself on the elevated platform (of the CHIOSC (*1), situated in the City center, just opposite the City administration building and highly frequented restaurant/bar, in between the informal parking lot and busy Bucuresti street.
With her background in music as well as in visual arts, Barbas starts the concert by “checking” each of her orchestra members, giving them instructions, using the conductors gesticulation, and the car drivers responding her with an appropriate length of the “car horn” sound. After the initial rehearsal, the concert starts, creating condensed sound that becomes the noise, leaving the initial score, gradually gaining high frequency, going over Bucuresti street sounds, provoking angry reaction from the nearby restaurant and making accidental passers by, schoolchildren, overwhelmed by the excitement. The parking lot/square where Valeria Barbas placed her performance has been for years the place of “negotiations” (and contesting of public space) between the employees of the City administration and the visitors of the restaurant who park their cars there, from one side, and various cultural initiatives aiming to free the square for culture and leisure, from the other.
Another interesting example is the project entitled AESTHLETICS IN MOLDOVA// inventing new (collective) sports by the American artist Tom Russoti or his other, participative, collective action of taking over the Chisinau Circus (2)* dressed in animals and circus workers´ costumes. Unfortunately, although triggering extremely important questions for the actual Moldovan reality, the first attempting recreation of the collective action and questioning competition as a principle of co-existence, the other re-claiming the commons (state-owned building of Chisinau Circus), both of these actions were not consequent enough to radically formulate demands of the project actions or demonstrate the position of the artist. This is maybe due to the insufficient involvement with the local (political) context by the visiting artist.
To conclude, Chisinau Civic Center- beyond the red lines was an ambitious and respectable attempt to gather different initiatives of recent urban fights in Chisinau as well as to articulate new positions on the civic sector scene, inter-connecting various actors. This was specially visible during a two days conference which gathered international and local urban activists and theoreticians sharing their experiences and views on the burning issue of protecting or reclaiming the commons.
0) B.Buden in an interview “Kultura je najvažniji ideologem stvarnosti”, published at kulturpunkt.hr
1) CHIOSC- see more here: http://chiosc.oberliht.com/apartament/
2) CHISINAU CIRCUS- one of the exquisite examples of late Soviet modernism and one of the city landmarks, closed for the last two decades for the reasons of inadequate administration of the venue and undergoing privatization