Behind The Curtain</span></p>Marianne Mueller

Behind The Curtain

Marianne Mueller


Back in 2019, the photographer Marianne Mueller was invited for a second time to Yekaterinburg. She had "for once, a clear idea for the exhibition" that she would present at her residency. It had to do "with the existing curtains I noticed on my first visit, which had since been stowed away in a storage room" and what the inside of a photographer's studio in pre-revolutionary Russia would look like.

On that first visit, four years earlier, she had discovered the Constructivist architecture typical of this Russian city. Whole neighborhoods imagined, at the end of the 1920s, as communal clusters with "architectural ideas that were changed while still under construction, for lack of materials, experience or change in ideology", she remembers. A century later, some of those constructions still stand, but barely resemble what they once were.
A project soon took form, an exploration of precisely what is left of that architectural heritage in Yekaterinburg and other cities of the Sverdlovsk region. It started as a zine, combining Marianne’s photographs with a meticulously detailed travelogue by Gabrielle Schaad, doctor in architecture and art history, as well as dry and ironic captions added by Konstantin Bugrov, professor of Russian history.
But then "it grew, and became a 240-page book with scientific footnotes and text in Russian and English", says Marianne Muller. The final version from which the photographs published in Tide magazine are excerpted from - The Book of Complaints and Suggestions—Re-Constructing Constructivist Interiors - published in October 2022.
This exploration, or "stroll-ological" inquiry as they christened it, is sometimes guided by local architects, urbanists and historians, offering insights and perspective, and sometimes by the trio’s instincts alone. It is deeply researched and immersive, not only because of the amount of information, but because it aims to give a complete picture of the Constructivist ethos, outside and inside.

On the macro level, we accompany the authors down long parallel streets, gazing with them at rows of austere buildings repainted to hide the decay or communal homes that mutated into something else. We learn about the intricacies of town planning and the bureaucracy that forced this Socialist metropolis into existence a century ago. "It was surprising that Constructivism had nothing to do with what we had imagined, explains Marianne Mueller. There were construction projects that were hardly feasible, there were simply no materials. And then, everything was redesigned, paved over, decorated, repurposed for the umpteenth time ».
The micro level allows us to go behind the scenes, architecturally speaking, and peek inside dining rooms or repurposed spaces that used to be shared between inhabitants. Chairs, chandeliers, windows and curtains that aimed to be futuristic a century ago and that seem, today, stuck in the past are just as fascinating and full of history as the immense buildings that contain them. 

As Gabrielle Schaad remarks, this long and improvised investigations, sometimes stumbling into such intimates spaces, "create an atmosphere, an aesthetic that the more we read, see and learn, the more we feel like we are there with them, and almost feel like we went back in another time that was frozen". That feeling is personified when one of their guides shows them Stalin's ghost. On the wall of one building, his silhouette had been painted many times over. But over the years, she says, the paint disappeared and aftera cleaning session, the face of this omnipresent figure appeared again, faded, like a reminder of a past that still lingers.

The Book of Complaints and Suggestions—Re-Constructing Constructivist Interiors: Standpunkte, Basel, 2022 Design Marianne Mueller, travelogue Gabrielle Schaad, captions Konstantin Bugrov. Softcover, 240 pages, 115 color images, 20.4 × 14.6 cm. Production management: Marianne Mueller and Metenkov House — Museum of Photography, Ekaterinburg. ISBN 978-3-9524872-2-8

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