ArchiTeam Interviews the Artist and Curator Yuri Avvakumov

Yuri Avvakumov

By: Maria Anagnostou

  • You seem to be a world traveler. What is the importance of architectural tourism?

I was born in the Soviet Union, where we had an iron curtain and it was impossible to travel until perestroika years, which happened at the end of the 1980’s. So, I started to travel when I was about thirty. Of course, it’s another world. It’s different from what you saw in books and on TV and movies. To travel is important because you can touch something. It’s like a fifth sense because you get a part of vision, a part of sound, and you can get it like a synthetic thing. This is the new perception, the space perception. For me, it is absolutely important. Apart from those political absents, from political borders. It’s a new experience. And, this is also an old experience because you see spaces that were created by some other people and, sometimes, they’re just great.

  • What is the importance of travelling, especially for architects, and humans in general?

The first thing that seems to me as the most important is the feeling of freedom. If you are free to travel, that means you travel a lot. If you need to apply for travelling, or to ask some permission to go there or there it is an important thing. But, if you are free and you feel free, that means that your eyes are wide open. You, or us, or some Europeans in architecture, if we are speaking about architecture, they used to it in order to work or even to create a kind of Eurocentric model. We usually speak about classical, mostly thinking about Greece for instance. But they were some same classical periods, in China architecture, in Maya architecture, in Incas architecture, in Indian architecture. Travelling gives you the chance to understand that the whole world is multicultural and multicentral and this is much more important than just to see a Greek temple and think that this is the only thing that is thought to be great to us.

  • What do you think is the added value that architecture creates within a city?

About 60% of what is created, it’s created without architects. This number is not really precise, it might be 80%. So, the role of architect is important, but at the same time, it’s not so important, because people could live without architects practically. And the

architect, from my point of view, is the first figure who should realize the beauty of the world which is created without him. And then, when he sees that something is created without him, he should be the first to protect the beauty, which is not the architectural beauty, but just the beauty. A beauty of a space is not necessarily architectural space. A beauty of a view and it’s not necessarily architectural view. So, when the architect realizes that there is a space or spacial beauty that doesn’t belong to him and becomes the first protector of this space, then we can talk about the added values.

  • You have taken part in a lot of international exhibitions and have represented Russia twice in the Art and Architecture Biennale in Venice. What is the importance of architectural events worldwide? What are the profits for a city holding such kind of major events?

Architecture in Venice is like the Olympic Games. So, there is not a question to take part or not to take part. We should take part in the Venice Biennale because it’s a possibility not only to show your work and to get some critical attention, but it is also a possibility to meet people and to feel what is new in architecture and what are the doubts, what are the problems and to get it not only through the magazines and journalists, but to get it kind of straight.

  • You have introduced and re-introduced the term “Paper Architecture” to describe the genre of conceptual design in the USSR OF THE 1980s. What exactly is “Paper Architecture”?

“Paper Architecture” is projects that were not intended to be realized. So, this sort of projects are different from projects that were not realized because of some economical or some technical or some other reasons. It’s different. Because, if you work on the project having in mind that this project will never be realized, you create your own rules of composing a piece of paper where you work. But, since we already work with computers, “Paper Architecture” is already in the past.

  • You have also created the “Utopian Foundation”, where a large installation is exhibited since 2000. How would you describe the “Utopian Foundation” and which are its actions?

It was totally utopian. It was just established and got all the needed documents from the Ministry of Justice, and it didn’t do anything at all. In such mood, it continued for ten years and then after I got the paper from the Financial Ministry that “since you are in inactivity, you have to close”, the foundation was closed. That’s it.

  • In 2002-3, you have curated 36 architectural photography exhibitions, titled “Photophogram 24”. How would you describe the relationship between the art of photography and architecture? It is said that many buildings nowadays are designed in a way to look good in photographs, so that they can be promoted. Is that true in a way?

To tell the truth, every exhibition had a kind of tough problem. Every exhibition consisted of 24 photographs and the opening was on every fourth Tuesday of the month, because of some certain reasons. Tuesday is the next day after Monday, which for the museum is a day off so there was time to change the exposition, and also because in Russia the fourth Tuesday somehow is never a holiday, so none of the openings was moved to another day. I would also say that all of these exhibitions were somehow dedicated to the city. Not to architecture, but to the city. It’s what Rem Koolhaas said, that there is no city without architecture, and there is no architecture without a city. Also, I didn’t think about the so cold “architectural photography”. I didn’t think about this type of photography that you could see in architectural magazines, mostly for promoting architects and their work. They were my 36 exhibitions. They were from artists, from architects, from photographers. Mostly, they were about architectural space. Sometimes, about details in architectural construction, but mostly about some other, not so representative parts of architecture. The model, I think, is deep and sensitive architecture. I was trying to make some thoughtful exhibitions. I would say that they were small exhibitions, but the press reacted pretty positive. We had a great number of replies. It was an interesting work. For me, it was interesting because with every new exhibition I didn’t know the result. It was a really interesting experience for me.

  • Russia is a country with great history. Designing a modern building within this context is a complex procedure. Is critical regionalism an approach to contemporary Russian architecture?

We lost about 17 years since the golden age of Russian government in architecture. And, now, we are not the first people in the school of architecture, I mean globally. So, Russian architecture should study. It should study and study and study to get back to the first classes. I work there, I have a lot of friends amongst building architects, but I’m not sure that Russia is the country where you could speak to these people about contemporary architecture.

  • Is the urban environment of Russian cities satisfactory for the people who live in it?

Not at all. Probably, there are some changes that happened with people who live in the cities, not with architects, because architects, unfortunately, are not in the avant-garde of the process of making the city life comfortable. They need to have some sort of a commission. Commission could come from municipalities, from federal government, but also from people. This is the most important thing and people would get their building to formulate their needs. It would be much easier for architects to work.

  • Can you please provide your personal proposal for 10 buildings (constructed and visitable) which you think as the most important worldwide that someone must visit anyway?

I don’t know the answer to this question…Because it depends. The building belongs to climate, to surrounding, to everything. So, you could go to the same building in the morning and get one effect and in the evening it will be another effect. I could name some architects, but these are all from the main figures, like Le Corbusier or Mies Van de Rohe or Frank Lloyd Wright or Konstantin Melnikov. They are just fantastic.

About Yuri Avvakumov:

Architect, artist, curator. Born in Tiraspol in 1957. Graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute in 1981. Takes part in art/architectural exhibitions since 1982. Starts AGITARCH studio in 1988. Established UTOPIA FOUNDATION in 1993.

In 1984 – reintroduced the term PAPER ARCHITECTURE to describe the genre of conceptual design in the USSR of the 1980s.

Since 1984 – organizes exhibitions of PAPER ARCHITECTURE in Moscow (Youth magazine, 1984 / Moscow Architectural Institute, 1992 / State Museum of Architecture, 1994), Ljubljana (SCUC, 1986), Paris (La Villette, 1988), Milan (Palazzo dell’Arte, 1988), Frankfurt (Deutsches Architekturmuseum, 1989), Cologne (Linssen, 1991), Brussels (Foundation pour l’Architecture, 1990), Zürich (Architekturforum, 1990), Cambridge (List Visual Arts Center, MIT, 1990), New Orleans (Contemporary Arts Center, 1991), Austin (Huntington Gallery,1991), Amherst (Fine Arts Center, 1992), Volgograd (Museum/Exhibition Center, 1997) etc.

In 1986 – begins series of TEMPORARY MONUMENTS dedicated to the constructivism of the 20ies, that were exhibited at Linssen Gallery, Cologne (1990); Russian Museum, St. Petersburg and Museum of Architecture, Moscow (1992/93); Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin and State Historical Museum, Moscow (2003/04). Other works of TEMPORARY MONUMENTS were also shown at the ARCHITECTURE ET UTOPIE. Pavilion de l’ Arsenal, Paris (1989); VISION VON RAUM. Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne (1991); DIE KUNST DES FLIEGENS. Zeppelin Museum, Friedrichshafen (1996); THE ARCHEOLOGY OF THE FUTURE CITY. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (1996); MIRAGE CITY. ANOTHER UTOPIA. NTT ICC, Tokyo (1997); FORM-SPECIFIC, Moderna Galerija Ljubljana (2003); RE:MODERN, Kunstlerhaus, Wien (2005); RED CORNER, Stella Art Gallery, Moscow (2006); DIESE OBSKURE OBJEKT: KUNST. Kunshistorische Museum, Wien (2008).

Takes part at the Venice Biennale in 1996 (SENSING THE FUTURE. ARCHITECT AS SEISMOGRAPH) and 2003 (UTOPIA STATION). In 1996-2000 installation RUSSIAN UTOPIA: A DEPOSITORY was exhibited in Venice (Russian Pavilion); Rotterdam (Netherlands Architecture Institute);  Moscow (State Museum of Architecture); Volgograd (Museum and Exhibition Center) and St. Petersburg (State Russian Museum).

From the early 80ies – works with the heritage of the Russian Avant-garde, designs exhibitions of Popova, Rozanova, Melnikov, Tatlin, internet site of LEONIDOV; in 2002 – reconstructs Suprematist Architectural Model by Malevich.

In 2000-03 – curates PHOTOPROGRAM 24 of 36 exhibitions of urban/architectural photography, hosted by the State Museum of Architecture and Moscow House of Photography.

In 2007 – curates BORNHOUSE exhibition at Vkhutemas Gallery, Moscow (during 2nd Biennale of Contemporary Art) and Peter’n’Paul fortress museum, St Petersburg, in 2008 – San Stae cathedral , Venice (during 11th Biennale of Architecture), in 2009 – St Marie Madeleine cathedral, Lille (during Europe XXL festival).

Public collections: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg / State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow / State Museum of Architecture, Moscow / Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt-on-Main / Victoria & Albert Museum, London / ZKM Museum of New Art, Karlsruhe  / Moderna galerija, Ljubljana / Nasher Museum, Duke University / Stella Art Foundation etc.

About the author:

Maria Anagnostou
Maria Anagnostou