Narkomfin — A web documentary by Luciano Spinelli and Natalia Melikova

Natalia Melikova, the mastermind behind The Constructivist Project, is collaborating with Luciano Spinelli and others from Ogino Knauss on a new web documentary about Ginzburg’s Narkomfin building in Moscow. This comes not too long after Isabella Willinger’s excellent documentary Away from All Suns, released late last year.

Their description of the project is reproduced below. For further information on Dom Narkomfin, consider the following:

NARKOMFIN — A web documentary

Project in progress — expected completion spring 2014.

Authors: Luciano Spinelli and Natalia Melikova, with Inna Erosh and Stepa Dobrov.

Summary: NARKOMFIN is a web documentary project that captures the atmosphere of current life in 2013 in this historic constructivist building located in Moscow, Russia. The virtual platform of the project invites the viewer to explore the hallways, knock on doors, and get to know some of the inhabitants. A variety of possibilities for interaction with the space and people of Narkomfin allows for a subjective experience for each visitor. By entering some of the apartments, one will have a chance to listen to the residents tell about who they are, what kind of work they do, how the communal architecture influences their everyday life and why they live in this particular building.

Why: The architectural significance and the various circumstances surrounding the fate of the building are widely discussed. However, few can freely visit Narkomfin because of its limited access, therefore little is known about what it is actually like to live there. After having the opportunity to live there for a couple weeks, we wanted to know more about how people appropriated and interpreted their space inside this famous building. This project takes a closer look at the homes and people hidden behind the ribbon windows.

How: In our project, we applied a photo-ethnographic approach of the space, perceiving the long corridors through the viewfinder and meeting new people with our cameras in hand. Progressing from casual conversations, we then asked each of the participants identical questions. In this way, we were able to acquire general information as well as giving the residents an opportunity to share their opinions. More than just a subject in front of our lens, their participation influenced the development of the project. Those that did not want to partake, did not. Those that did, they opened up their worlds to us, shared their homes, their stories, and their talents.

When: 2013 (majority of material capture in May 2013, additional capture summer 2013).

Content: images, video, stop motion, audio, text.

Languages: English / Russian

Special thanks to the people that opened up their doors to our project and shared with us their stories! Continue reading

Amidst the ruins of the Soviet avant-garde

Isa Willinger on her film
Away from All Suns!

Originally published at the architecture website uncube. Several weeks ago I posted another interview with the director.

Architecture was once considered fundamental to the rethinking of society and the shape it took. This is the premise of Away from All Suns! a new feature-length documentary by filmmaker Isabella Willinger, a documentary filmmaker based in Munich and Berlin, whose work focuses on gender, social upheavals and human rights. Her film examines the relics of Constructivist architecture scattered throughout Moscow and attempts to tease out what’s left of their revolutionary past. Upon their construction, these buildings embodied the emancipatory change promised and, at least for a time, instituted by the Bolshevik Revolution. Over three-quarters of a century later, suspended in a fragile purgatory between decay and demolition, structures like the Narkomfin Building (1928-30) and the Communal Student House of the Textile Institute (1929) still stun in their radical and emphatic newness.

These buildings seem to rise “from a time more modern than my own,” Willinger says at the beginning of the film. And yet they are just one part of the story. The film’s narrative juggles a cast of unconnected characters, each of whom occupies — in one sense or another — three revolutionary residences. As becomes apparent over the course of the film, their paths are intrinsically bound up with the misfortunes of their storied addresses; like the buildings themselves, they are imperiled by increasingly conservative, reactionary forces that, buoyed by a galvanized corporate sector, threaten their existence, if not that of democratic Russian society. Even so, they persist against great odds, with mixed feelings of nostalgia, hope, and helplessness.

Willinger recently premiered Away from All Suns! at the Istanbul Architecture Film Festival, where it was awarded the top prize. Ahead of its European DVD release, she talks to Sammy Medina for uncube about her film, the Soviet avant-garde, and the bleak future of Russian architecture.

Archival newsreel footage of a Soviet parade with a wooden model of Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International (1919-1920) carried through the streets

Newsreel footage of a parade with a model of Vladimir Tatlin’s
Monument to the Third International (1919-1920) in the streets


Sammy Medina:
When did you first visit the modernist ruins in Moscow?

Isa Willinger: I first visited them in the summer of 2010. I was actually researching a completely different film topic in Moscow then and was not planning on making a film about them at all. On my walks through the city, I felt an affinity to the Constructivist buildings that I would come by randomly and began to photograph them. Moscow as an urban space and also as a cultural space has something very inaccessible about itself, something even unwelcoming and closed. In retrospect, I think the buildings were the only thing in Moscow’s cityscape I could visually and culturally connect with.

Sammy Medina: What was it about them that impressed you?

Isa Willinger: To me the buildings seemed like gigantic signs in the city. I have no background in architecture, so initially I wasn’t aware of the spatial and urban concepts behind them. In the course of making the film, this obviously changed, but I have never lost the sense of my initial impression. I’ve always continued to see and treat them as signs, rather than architecture. Continue reading