Simona Rota: Ostalgia

A photographic survey commissioned by Vienna's Architekturzentrum sheds new light onto Soviet Modernism, depicting a series of "heroic", oversized structures built between 1955 and 1991.


Photo-essays / Simona Rota

The word and concept of Ostalgia, born in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, could be literally translated as Pain of East. If there before, it wasn't appointed until former East Germany, faced with the rapid changes necessary for integration with its western half, felt homesick for its old identity in the process of dissolution. This yearning along with a certain sentimentality of the West towards the just rediscovered East created a new mythology about the former East Germany and by extension, about the East — the former Soviet bloc. In German, Ost means East. In Greek algos means pain. Ostalgia is a linguistic alloy, as it is impossible: it is the desire to reconstruct something that might not have ever been there.

Ostalgia is also a photographic series developed by Simona Rota during two years, between 2010 and 2012, in the aftermath of a documentation mission for Vienna's Museum of Architecture (AzW). It was born in the context of their research on Soviet Modernism: the modern architecture that was promoted between 1955 and 1991 in the former Soviet republics.

Here, buildings are most often large structures of heroic air accompanied by huge oppressive public spaces where individuals are swallowed. They might have been designed and built as an expression of triumph, while excessive public space and its correspondent small private spaces might show a will of control over individuals' public and even private life. Buildings put forth by the regime have bold, sometimes experimental designs, and are defined by a search for an image of power, progress, prestige and economic success that would be able to legitimize any plans and actions of the leading political powers.

These are large buildings that now stand like absurd giants, the incarnation of big dreams invalidated by history, while the decadent atmosphere that reigns today in the former Soviet republics creates a physical and virtual space on which it is easy to project anxiety, myths and nostalgia. Simona Rota

Top: Tbilisi, Georgia, Ministry of Highways and Transportation, 2011. Above: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Lenin Museum (now Historical Museum), 2010