A Space For Dreaming

»Not a single nation dwelling in un-fairness and un-happiness shall be spared the dream of building The City of Happiness. Once the building starts, however, one should remember that what is being built is the City that does not exist. A Society of Happiness is just a sweet dream, and The City of the Sun is to be dreamt of – a land under a metaphysical, not a real Sun.« – Artur Klinau from his novel Minsk. A Sun City of Dream (2006)

In their project a sun city of dream point zero, Solitude fellows Tania Arcimovič and Anton Sarokin from Minsk/Belarus consider concepts of utopia, memory, and identity. Based on the art work A Sun City of Dream by Artur Klinau, which comprises the visual poem of the same title and the novel Minsk. A Sun City of Dream, they experimented with the novel’s plot. It tells the story of a person born in Soviet Minsk who by recalling the city of his childhood and youth also narrates a historically unsuccessful social experiment: the Soviet empire. The body of Minsk and its history are the main metaphors in the account, a memory space, in reference to which the hero tries to find and remember himself in order to realize what it was and how he can imagine his future. Working on the plot and its related topics, Tania Arcimovič and Anton Sorokin realized a multimedia installation, which was presented at Solitude from September 17 to November 1, 2015.

Around 500 years ago, the English writer Thomas More wrote his Utopia. Some hundred years later, the Italian friar Tommaso Campanella created a philosophical work The City of the Sun. Both works articulate the realisation of the dream to create a society of universal happiness, social harmony, and justice. About 400 years later, the Belarusian artist Artur Klinau creates a conceptual art work A Sun City of Dream based on the ideas of European thinkers about an ideal polis (or state). He presents Minsk, his hometown, as a place where The City of the Sun – an ideal socialist city – was implemented. Speaking of the attempts to realise Utopia within the Soviet Empire, he refutes the very possibility of such a romantic idea, arguing that there is an inevitable gap between the ›desired‹ and the ›real.‹

»Utopia can become Reality. In order to do this, one has to put up a grand decoration, an outstanding theatre-set of a Society of Happiness. It is then the task to make people believe in this set as if it is Real. Those who do not wish to believe so have to die. Then those who do not believe will keep quiet for fear of death. Most people will inevitably believe. This belief will be sincere, wholehearted, and in a generation Society will wake up in a happy Country. Utopia – an island that does not exist – will become real if the Dream takes over the Reality.« – Artur Klinau: Minsk. A Sun City of Dream

A Sun City of Dream is an urban development built between the 1930-50s in the centre of Minsk, unique in its grand scale and totalising style. Fragments of A Sun City of Dream can be found in any post-Soviet/post-communist city, but in Minsk the idea was implemented to its fullest degree, which is a fate of this city. The history of Minsk starts as a graveyard – with the bloody banks of the Niamiha river [1] – which later became a graveyard for ›dead‹ cities. Following every political or natural turmoil, the city would not be reconstructed but would be built anew. This happened after the Second World War: the restoration of the destroyed city (80% of which was wiped out) entailed a creation of a brand new city – a socialist one, not a reconstruction of the historical appearance of the city (as was the case in other places). Minsk – a city without memory and identity (tabula rasa) – was an ideal point for such experimentation.

In this way, a new city appeared with a fully reset memory of the city and its inhabitants – A Sun City of Dream, in which I was born.

The city has no name proper and no history of its own. The history of any city is the history of endless birth, maturing, ruining, renewals, struggles for city ownership, its loss or its abandonment. Many wars – from the West or from the East – ruin it into dust, and then it arises again and again, accumulating its memory (explicitly or inconspicuously for a stranger’s eye).

A ruined city – A ruined identity

The history of my city is endlessly anonymous – a similar story in another city. I stumble upon its ›ruins‹ or feel its pain points even as I wonder around alleys of a foreign city, thousands of kilometres away from home. I hear its voice everywhere, even without closing my eyes. I fear this – am I as abstract as it is?

I walk through the city, leaving behind a trail of anonymous texts.

The city has no name proper and no history of its own. The peculiarity of my city is only in the fact that I was born here.

– Text by Taciana Arcimovič

Tania Arcimovič: No, I was not thinking that deeply about utopia, politics, memory, history when I started working on the project a sun city of dream point zero. I remember my first impression of Klinau’s book. It was like a shot from an old film – a child standing next to a concrete wall, with a ball, throwing it into the wall. The ball bounces back and falls into her arms. The child throws it up into the air again. It flies up and suddenly it bursts. Initially it was a dream – for a child to remain a child. A Sun City of Dream thus becomes a space for a dream, in which you can dream, but you know for sure that at some point you will wake up and the reality will get you.

Anton Sarokin: I wasn’t born in Minsk, but I was brought here from time to time because my grandmother lives here, and it is where my father was born. These trips seemed magical (as probably all trips in childhood do). Therefore, my image of the city became even more romantic. That’s why the ball I was holding and throwing up into the air was falling back to me for much longer. It feels that Minsk was my utopia of childhood and adolescence, and it persisted until I moved here permanently. Sometimes the dreams at a distance are even more colourful. I guess the departure from these intense dreams can thus become even more dramatic.

To think visually – I remember vividly the shadows of the buildings (of Stalin’s era) along the main avenue in the heat of summer as I am returning from the theme park, half asleep, held by the hand, and everything seems really massive, sleepy, and sticky. At that time, the city appeared to be empty and surprisingly silent (which is strangely the case even now). And this floating emptiness is somewhat merged with the crawling shadows of Stalin’s architecture along the avenue as if the silence had found its visible form. From that distant past, this feeling has moved into my consciousness of today, but maybe it has grown in size.

TA: This is how a sun city of dream point zero started – with visions, dreams, images. But the more I worked with this theme, as I remember, the more it become more real and grounded. At this point, the past, the present, and the future – of my personal and the collective memory – came together. A residency in Warsaw and at Solitude was very helpful in thinking about this. Once I was immersed in a new context, with other histories and circumstances, the points of connections emerged that led me to think of the games of history. Say, Solitude is an utterly different world, at the other side of the wall, not even GDR (East Germany), but Warsaw is the capital of one of the ex-socialist states, in the body of which the same ›wounds‹ can be found as in my city.

The experience of other countries was very important for me, especially to see that Minsk is in no way unique. This experience also established the necessary distance to enable me to see the picture in more depth, to realise that me and my city are a part of a whole vast historical narrative. Some parts of my research in Poland and Germany are included in the project. I am especially grateful to Mr Joly for the histories of Birkenkopf, which form a chapter of the project. The Birkenkopf phenomena – which is a reflection on memory – strongly emphasises the nullification that we talk about and about which the facades of Minsk narrate.

AS: Nullification is one of the key words in the project. Minsk has always been nullified in a direct and metaphorical sense. The previous appearances of it were erased, as was the memory of its past. In some ways this continues to be the case now. The events of very recent past become silenced as painful and muted points on the body of the city and the country as a whole. Speaking about these moments is crucial as it is the only escape from the official state discourse they have been co-opted by, the discourse which misrepresents various terms by means propaganda. One of the easiest (and the least imaginative) way to erase a memory is to silence it. Events are being erased from memory if they are not spoken about.

When I started to work on the project, my previous works naturally fitted into a sun city of dream point zero as the collection of different forms of silence titled Belarus 4’33. These works revisit the traumatic events of recent past, which have not been worked through in the collective memory, and are left undigested and rotting. I work with sound as my medium. Working with the sound of ›silence‹ has been and still remains a challenge for me, both at a conceptual and technical level.

TA: It is unlikely that the whole project can be shown at the exhibition at Solitude. We will only be able to show some fragments – video, sound, photographs. Such an interrupted structure in separate chapters perhaps will operate differently and become a reason for people to think of their memory and their city.


[1] First mention of the city dates 1067 in connection with a bloody battle on Niamiha river during the period of feudal fragmentation of Kievan Rus’ between the forces of the Yaroslavichi tribe and Vseslav of Polack