Russia. 9,000 km by train, between past, present and future

Railway networks and stations are at the heart of the Russian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, titled “Station Russia” and curated by Semyon Mikhajlovskij.

Padiglione Russia, Biennale di Venezia 2018

The freespace in the Russian Pavilion is the same as the entire country, “an enormous empty space, studded by some large metropolises”, explains the curator Semyon Mikhajlovskij, Dean of the Institute of Art, Sculpture and Architecture at the Fine Arts Academy in Saint Petersburg. “The real problem is how to connect it”. That’s why his response to the theme of the sixteenth Venice Architecture Biennale, “Stazione Russia”, was the railway lines and stations, analysed between the past, present and future in five “emotional” rooms.

“The last room is my favourite,” states Mikhajlovskij, “because here we have a kind of electrocardiogram from Moscow to Vladivostock, 9,259 km in seven days”. The film 7 Days in 7 Minutesby the young director Daniil Zinchenko sums up, in a handful of minutes, the landscape seen from a train window. “It’s a magical, magnetic video, where the scenery is made up of minimal elements,” continues the curator. “It gives the exhibition a human dimension”. 

The video describes Zinchenko’s journey across Russia to visit his grandfather. It’s a sentimental story, yet not unique. For example, Alexsander Solgenytsin, after returning from exile in the US, decided to take the train from Vladivostock to Moscow, on a highly symbolic trip. Passing across taigas, steppes and tundras, with 157 stops along the way, the Trans-Siberian, the longest railway on the planet, crosses 7 time zones, 12 regions, 86 cities and 16 rivers, and has always been Russia’s backbone, the element that joins town centres and which still today distributes 30% of the country’s exports. For Russians, however, besides being an essential service, it remains something to try, at least once in a person’s life.

In another room, the walls are covered with lockers and old forgotten luggage: it’s a baggage storage but also a room of memories. Some lockers open onto the thoughts of writers, politicians, philosophers. There’s even Le Corbusier who, observing Siena from a train window, had compared it to the Palace of the Soviets. Other lockers are closed. “We’ll ask visitors to add to the list, to suggest the names of people who are missing. And we’ll add them, opening other lockers,” states the curator.

The metal train tracks are used to hang vintage photos of stations and passengers in the section titled “Architecture Depository”, while in the “Waiting Room of the Future” we find designs for the development of the Three Station Square in Moscow by two young studios, Gorozhane/Citizenstudio and Studio 911. Instead, the first room is dedicated to geography: a video by Arden Vald narrates the size of the country, its cities and “the circulation network” of the roads. “Russia is a very vast country and the best way to explore it is by train,” concludes Mikhajlovskij. The most romantic way, but also the most reliable. “Not everything works in Russia, but the trains are always on time”. 

Station Russia, the Russian pavilion at the venice Biennale 2018
Station Russia, the Russian pavilion at the venice Biennale 2018
Exhibition title:
Stazione Russia. 16. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura di Venezia
Pavilion of Russia at the Giardini
Semyon Mikhajlovkij
Opening dates:
26 May – 25 November 2018
Dichotomy of Free Space Model:
Curated by Mikhail Beilin and Daniil Nikishin (Citizenstudio )

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