The Upper Market Place
Artur Klinau is a new star of the Belarusian cultural scene, but certainly not a newcomer in the art sphere. He is an architect, conceptual artist, photographer, writer, and publisher of the cultural magazine “pARTisan”. In his project “
Below you can find several chapters of his book translated by the Office for a Democratic Belarus. Enjoy your trip to the Sun City of Dreams!
If you arrive in
The never-ending cavalcade of trains crosses the
The Square greets you with a Gate of two pyramidal towers. At the corners of their middle tier stand eight statues of the Sun City Guards. Only recently have these Keepers of the City returned to their usual places. They were gone from the towers when I was still a child. But I remember that during hot summer days, when we wandered aimlessly along the dusty nooks of the City, the Guards still startled us with their presence. Some of them lay idly under the huge arches, which connected the Square to the sub-palace park, spread out behind the towers.
Over the arches one could see charcoal-black, cast-iron medallions, sporting the bas-reliefs of locomotives with huge five-point stars in the middle. The train has always been the symbol of the Happiness Country. In many films from my childhood the train flies, as large as a cinema screen, into the serene future, with the red star shining on its front. Long ago, in some park behind the tower, there was even a big toy train with cars made of metal. But we rarely played there. Usually some men sat there drinking something out of their big bottles. Cigarette butts and corks covered the train and the ground around its cars like a carpet.
In my childhood there was no wire netting above the arches. It appeared later, protecting the perimeter of the palace facades facing the Square, when they gradually began to shed their old pompous decoration. Sometimes it landed on the heads of unlucky pedestrians.
The history of the City began long before the Happiness Country was born. By some amazing chance, its beginning coincides with the time when Thomas More was creating his own utopia in the other part of
The country was called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The name originated from the ancient local tribe Litva, which lived to the northwest of the future
In the beginning of this history there was a War. There had been many wars before, they happened afterwards as well. But this one was special. It came to the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the east, lasted thirteen years, turned cities into ruins, and took the life of every second citizen of the Country. In the Eastern lands one could even find places where only three out of every ten people survived.
The wars with the City on Muddy Water (
Before that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was an entirely successful part of
The unlucky adventures of the Grand Duchy began in the 16th century, when the Duchy of Moscow (the future Evil Empire) regained strength after the end of the Tartar bondage and began to fight its way into the West. Two centuries full of long devastating wars arrived. In 1569, exhausted after six wars with
The 17th century was the beginning of the downfall of the Grand Duchy. It had to fight on two fronts – against the Duchy of Moscow and the
The Titanic, which stretched out from one sea to the other, sank, having nine breaches in its body – nine great wars, one of which was mortal.
As a boy, I never dreamed of becoming an astronaut. I had no wish to become a pilot either, even though these were the dreams of most of the boys in our City because pilots protected the Country from enemies. Astronauts were simply seen as gods. The Country celebrated every time one of them set off for outer space. I remember the TV transmissions being interrupted, and the Announcer’s head appearing on the screen.
The head, rapping out every single word, announced in a stately manner:
“ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ALL THE RADIO AND TELEVISION STATIONS OF THE SOVIET
The whole Country stood still and clung to their TV sets. The Announcer reported details about the names of the spaceship and the astronauts who flew it. Later, at 9 p.m., during the Country’s newscast called “Time,” a video recording from the orbital station was shown.
A slightly blurred image of the insides of the satellite appeared on the screen. There were astronauts resembling big fish, or the amphibian people from the movie “The Amphibian Man.” They swam towards the lens of the video camera and said something to the earthlings in happy voices. The connection to the orbit was usually rather poor, that is why one had to strain all his hearing and attention. The amphibians said that the flight was going normal. That day they conducted an experiment with some plants and drosophila flies. Often one of them held up a rubber plant in a flowerpot, letting it float from time to time in the air. The flowerpot would then slowly drift to the upper corner of the TV screen.
We followed the flight every day when the astronauts were in orbit. When they came back, the Announcer’s head appeared on the screen again and declared that the flight had ended as planned. The astronauts had already landed. A couple of days later they were flown by a special airplane from Baikonur spaceport to
I remember the very first welcome – the reception of Gagarin. I was not yet born at that time, but the TV often showed the rerun of the event. Gagarin rode in an open limousine through the City, whose streets were filled with millions of people. They rejoiced. Gagarin smiled and waived his hand at them. The whole TV screen was filled with small white rectangles, which covered the streets in confetti snow. I loved Gagarin. But, nevertheless, for some reason I didn’t want to be an astronaut. I wanted to become an artist.
I loved holidays when I was a child. Only much later, when I grew older, had they vanished from my life, turned into mere duties of ritual – sitting around the table, buying presents and sending standard greetings. But in my childhood there were real holidays, when you anticipated their coming well in advance, counted the days left, your excitement growing day after day, until, finally, it turned into an exultation of the arrived festivity. There were six holidays in the Happiness Country: the Revolution Day, the New Year, the 1st of May – the Workers’ Day, the Victory Day, the Men’s Day, and the Women’s Day.
The most favourite holiday of all the
Of all the other holidays, I liked the Revolution Day and the 1st of May the most. The Revolution Day coincided with the school vacation time, which reinforced the festive impression. This day a military parade and the demonstration of the workers were broadcast. My mother usually left very early for the demonstration. I, half asleep, switched on the TV set and, lying in bed, watched the broadcast from the
The Metaphysician appeared at exactly ten. In my childhood his name was Brezhnev. Then the Love and the Wisdom showed up. They were followed by the Courage, the Justice, the Virtue, the Endeavour, the Truth, the Cosmographer, the Geometrician, the Historiographer, the Poet, the Logician, the Rhetorician, the Grammarian, the Medic, the Physician, the Politician, the Moralist, et cetera. At this moment the Power was already present on the square. It arrived in two cabriolet limousines and, after the Metaphysician appeared, began to inspect the rectangles. On approach, the Power greeted each of them. The rectangles chanted “Gaf-gaf-gaf!” and the Power moved on. Having finished the inspection, it ascended the Ziggurat and reported to the Metaphysician. Then the parade began. The rectangles moved. The axonometric views – so adored by me – shifted in the TV screen. The parallelepipeds went one after another and disappeared in the black side vertical of the TV box.
Time after time the Metaphysician appeared on the screen. Posing as a Roman, he sent his greeting to the phalanxes of the troops marching by. Little cars rolled out onto the square. They carried missiles. The tanks followed. Then big cars with big missiles appeared. The demonstrators always followed the big missiles. They spoilt the orderliness of the axonometric perspectives, and barged onto the square as a spotty mass, carrying the flat heads of political leaders painted on boards, with balloons, and red banners sticking out.
Sometimes I was also a part of this mass. Time after time my mother took me to the demonstration. On such days my excitement was boundless. I had to wake up early – at six or seven in the morning. The columns summoned themselves well in advance of the official beginning. The centre of the city had already been sealed off from public transportation, therefore we had to cover some distance by foot. We advanced in the column of a shoe factory. When my mother and I reached the designated spot, we were met by people who radiated sincere joy. One could feel that this was a real holiday for them.
At the designated time the columns in all the corners of the City set off for the centre of the
Our column needed an hour or two to reach the Avenue through the side streets. The closer the Avenue loomed, the more excited the masses of people grew. Finally, near the
The Tribunes drew closer with every step. The “Hurrah!” grew louder and stronger. And, finally, when we moved past the Tribunes, the “Hurrah!” engulfed us and everything around us. “Hurra-a-a-ah!” The columns cried out the enthusiastic greeting to the Tribunes, where the Priests of the
This was the culmination of the day, the complete admiration and feeling of happiness. Having passed the Tribunes, the column reached
I was quite indifferent toward the Men’s Day and the Women’s Day. I didn’t feel they were holidays, possibly because they were not celebrated during the school vacations. I didn’t like the Victory Day. I have always found it somewhat downcast: too much reminded me of death on this holiday. Two days before the Victory Day the television began to show War movies. Someone was constantly being executed, burned, or murdered on the screen. The summer sun was already above the City, but the verdure of the parks had just begun to open after the long winter. The City was dusty and deserted.
The Victory Day was marked by the Veterans’ March. The endless mass of old people streamed down the Avenue to the
As a child I might have been quite mistrustful towards the squares and streets, but I surely liked the courtyards of the
In fact, the City’s courtyards were small parks, limited by the rectangles of blocks. These courtyard parks were in some sense the protest diagonals of the
The closed private space could not exist in the
Strolling in the city’s courtyards as a child, I could still find the fragments of scenery decorations that appeared when the City was still being created. I remember these bizarre plaster sculptures, which stood in the middle of flower beds and in the midst of wild tangles of the courtyard parks. To be honest, the courtyard parks were very much different from those large parks of the
And so they lived, overgrown with wild bushes, covered with weeds and strange buildings, fences, and garages. The plaster sculptures of bears clutching honey barrels, of deer, of little boys leafing through books, of women who took their children somewhere by their hands – they all looked especially sentimental in the midst of these wild bushes, sheds and hedges. They were illuminated from within with some heartfelt tenderness, with a lyrical melody, so different from the sunny-passionate fierce marches of the
A feeling of timelessness, of the embodied
There was a sensation of eternity and timelessness, of the ruins of Civilisation. The length of this Civilisation had broken into fragments, which formed fanciful designs like glass pieces in a kaleidoscope. These designs were real and deceiving at the same time. You could approach a vase, touch its rough white-coloured surface, but it was also illusory, unreal in its appearance here, pelted into the loneliness of this City from the unknown culture of the unknown place, from the Civilisation, which did not exist in the Time, which did not exist.
If you move northwards or southwards away from the Avenue, the change in scenery becomes more and more obvious. The corridors of splendour begin to fall into pieces. Flat, but integral decorations become fragments. The Wall-Palaces turn into the Window-Palaces. The buildings don’t create the illusion of Palaces any more – they merely symbolize them. Of all the former magnificence a single mark remains that should demonstrate that you’re seeing not just any usual building, but a Palace. The role of such a mark can be played by a couple of ornamented windows, by a portal, or by some pilasters that are located on the non-plastered wall, often in most the unexpected places of the building.
The yellow City gradually turns grey. Grey is the colour of its bricks. You have a feeling that the author who created this masterpiece painted the centre of the composition in all detail, but left the marginal areas of the canvas as a sketch, with some expressive strokes of his brush in odd places suggested by his sub-consciousness.
The pompous corridors of riches begin to die away, become less and less solid. They get ever more flat, less excessive, then modest, and, finally, miserable. Instead of wonderful Wall-Palaces, you see empty brick boxes with even geometric rows of similar dark windows, two or three of which – usually those facing the street – retain some of the decor’s splendour.
These Window-Palaces categorically proclaim their high origin and demand piety towards them, despite the fact that the truth is already visible, without Wall-Palaces to hide it. It is looking at you out of the next window, which is no more hidden in the courtyard park, but shamelessly exhibits its nudity right here, in the street.
You can’t help thinking you are being a part of a phantasmagoria, a fragment in a huge scenery decoration for some amazing play. The reality is substituted by the theatre set design. The scenery, in turn, dissolves into reality. The City of
The Happiness Country died a slow death. It had been ill for a long time. Its soul – people’s faith – was leaving it, little by little. Then the Metaphysicians started to die, one after another; so fast, that we hadn’t even got used to a new one, as the TV was already showing “
The first time I saw the dance of little ballerinas on the fangs of the Kremlin’s stars was when Brezhnev died. His death marked the end of a great epoch. The uneasy expectation of something unknown settled in. Nobody knew yet, that the Happiness Country would die, but everyone had a foreboding of the approaching catastrophe, of the dénouement unknown to anyone. The final act of the play called “Happiness” began.
The coffin with the Metaphysician was set up in the Central Column Chamber of the House of Soviets. This was an old tradition of the Happiness Country – saying farewell to its High Priests in this Chamber. It was here where Lenin was mourned, where people wept over Stalin’s body, where they bid farewell to Brezhnev.
The image of the House of Soviets appeared on the screen. The coffin stood on the stage surrounded by the funeral drapery and bulky columns of the Corinthian order. Its perimeter was covered with red pinks. One could see other flowers as well, but only pink had been the symbol of the Revolution. One after another, people with black bandages on their right arms came out to keep the honorary funeral watch. These were the co-rulers of the Metaphysician – the Love, the Wisdom, and the Force, and also the Courage: The Virtue, the Justice, the Endeavour, the Truth, the Cosmographer, the Geometrician, the Historiographer, the Poet, the Logician, the Rhetorician, the Grammarian, the Medic, the Physician, the Politician, the Moralist, et cetera.
Sometimes the camera took a close-up of the Metaphysician. His big wax face appeared on the screen. It looked like a death mask. The Metaphysician had had such a long life, that his face had long since resembled a death mask.
It was late autumn. Only a couple of days before the Country had celebrated the last autumn holiday – the Revolution Day. That is why the people who came to the coffin to bid their farewells were dressed in the same grey overcoats. They held their hats in their hands. Perhaps there were some other colours, but the screen of my TV set showed all the coats grey. Someone cried, others were sad, and everyone looked unhappy. The flow of these coats moved for a long, endlessly long time, accompanied by the music of the little angels of death, who were capering at the sharp edges of the crimson stars.
After that, a catafalque appeared on the screen – a military gun carriage, draped with red velvet with golden fringes. In a slow and grand manner, the coffin of the Metaphysician emerged from the black doorway of the Column Chamber. The procession started moving. This was the last road of all Metaphysicians. It led across the river Acheron, the
The red squares of pillows preceded the coffin. Golden stars of the Metaphysician’s orders lay upon them. There were a lot of them, dozens of squares with little stars in the centre. Silently and slowly, one after another, they moved in front of their master’s body. They were followed by the red coats of arms with black funeral ribbons with the diadems of the words of mourning. These were carried by hands in black gloves. The catafalque came after the coats of arms. It was decorated with the portrait in a black frame. The family of the Metaphysician, bent with grief, shuffled after the coffin. The Love, the Power, and the Wisdom moved after them, wearing karakul hats. People in beaver hats followed. Then the musquash hats. The hare fur hats silently stood across the perimeter of the Square.
The procession neared the Kremlin wall, the gravestone of Gods, which stretched out across two sides of the Kaaba of the Happiness Country; a black pyramidal-shaped stone, where the mummy of Lenin lay, of the prophet, who became God. The coffin with the Metaphysician inside glided towards the grey parallelepiped, which was excavated from under the ground, leaving a two-meter deep hole. It was surrounded by other parallelepipeds, which had already returned under the earth’s surface, and by the cones of spiteful fir trees, which grew in the end of the Square, where the Kremlin began.
When the procession had finally dragged itself to the parallelepiped, something happened, which made everyone watching television shudder. The metronomes beating rhythm suddenly lost the step. When the coffin was lowered into the empty parallelepiped, a hand in a white glove let the rope slip: Just another moment and the coffin would have crashed down. It took a fraction of a second for the rhythm to straighten it up, and the coffin with the Metaphysician slowly sank onto the bottom of the parallelepiped. Still, everyone understood that this was a bad omen. However, it was already impossible to correct anything.
When the coffin with the Metaphysician went under ground, factory sirens began their lamentation. They roared in all industrial suburbs of all cities. The long inconsolable cry flew around the spaces of this grey autumn day. It swept over the quiet Avenue, over parks, over the deserted squares of the
The suburbs of the
I was born in the Happiness Country. Was I happy there? Perhaps, yes. Every person has his own Happiness Country – his childhood, which doesn’t care where you were born.
Was I happy in the Country of Utopia? Probably, yes. As long as I kept believing in it. We believed in this wonderful scenery decoration, which was erected between the Utopia and the Reality. The scenery decoration, which concealed the harsh truth of the rotting Reality from the Utopia and created the illusion of the materialization, implementation of the Utopia for the Reality. The Society of Happiness was materialized merely as the aesthetics of Happiness, as a grandiose but flat theatre set design, constructed on the frontier between the Utopia and the Reality. Through its enormous colonnade shined the infinite, haze-covered emptiness of the
Could the Utopia have been implemented in a different way? Probably, yes. But not in the Empire of Evil. The Empire of Evil was not a child of Utopia. It appeared many centuries earlier, in the country where slavery still remains the curse of its people. The people who are able to create genial masterpieces, but can’t shake off the thousand-year-long imprecation. The highest justice of a slave is to enslave another. For centuries, the Empire of Evil carried its slavery to other peoples. The historic
Could the Sun City have been embodied as something more than the mere scenic decoration of the
The illusionary city appeared there, where the ghost cities once stood, as scenery decoration to the strange, but sublime romantic play. This is a play about people’s dreams which never come true, about the City of
I was born on the bloody shores of insomnia, in the Sun City of Dreams.
My children came into the world in the
The Old City
All copy rights belong to Artur Klinau
Photos by Artur Klinau