Welt / Raum

Roland Schöny, 2015

To Moscow this time. Combined with a transfer of the gaze along the axes of the utopian. Technocratic progress and acceleration, however, have vanished here in the dust of the triviality of everyday life. The last symbols of pathos have long lost their deceptive glamour. A typical phenomenon of the implosion that occurs as soon as vision nears deception. But how sobering when a single reality is all that remains. The stress of having to escape the present seems to have ebbed away in standstill. Plans for a tomorrow maybe later. The geometric play of building site barrier tape and the shadows on the sandy ground with three pieces of warm-red brick is all that remains to create the illusion that ‘A Moment of True Feeling’ might once again return. How reassuring, then, the curtains hanging there so modestly. Reminiscent of the expanse of the stage as an allegorical machine, they spare the shudder after returning to the commonplace.

Ultimately, a number of striking clues reveal the location of these two photo projects by Wolfgang Lehrner. While political history continues to boil up dramatically outside despite its proclaimed end, two different super-symbols in a surrounding of various architectural and design elements tell of significant new beginnings in world history and how they seized up in the wake of the golden era of stagnation. The stone head of a Lenin statue or bust deposited at the edge of a hall combined with the visible part of a beam element bearing the insignia of Soviet socialism; and then the reflection of a Vostok rocket in the windows of a functionalist exhibition building. The scene is one of the most popular leisure parks in Moscow.

Wolfgang Lehrner, an explorative artist who has already travelled to numerous cities in post-socialist South-East Europe, using his camera to explore formations of urban identity linked to common notions of urban periphery, now continued his research in Moscow. Taking the reverse approach here, he set out in search of the vestiges of significant symbols of new beginnings, making his way onto the terrain of the VDNKh, the one-time Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (Выставка достижений народного хозяйства). In this mélange of fun park, Versailles imitation, and site of trade fairs, the technological advances of the USSR, from agriculture to spaceflight, were showcased in changing phases for the whole family in several pavilions in the style of Socialist Classicism as of 1939.

Meanwhile, most of the buildings, successively cleared out after 1989, have the appearance of warehouses inside, and are used only temporarily. What remained is their vast dimensions and a spaceflight exhibition still in place on the edge of the site. With the aid of just a few symbols, Wolfgang Lehrner pans out the enormous semantic repertoire of the place and its potent historical significance. Soviet astronauts and Laika the dog are still revered as pop stars even today. While the first Sputnik flight into space in 1957 radically challenged the Western powers’ claim to superiority, Khrushchev’s reform policy after 1956 gave rise to numerous initiatives intended to boost progress, resulting in international exhibitions on the expansive grounds of the VDNKh. The hunger for tempestuous reform as in the first minutes of socialism failed to communicate itself, however. As if in passing, Wolfgang Lehrner’s visual concentrates tell of the traces of an expanse no longer imaginable.