Minsk: the Sun City of Dreams. The new book by Artur Klinau scrutinizes the Belarusian capital

There is a sea in Minsk. No, it’s not this pitiful lake on the north-western outskirts of the Belarusian capital. There is a real sea, which is filling the broad Avenue of Independence with its mighty blue waters. You can even see a snow-white sea cruise liner casting anchor near the Empire-style tower of the KGB headquarters. And still, this sea is framed, put behind glass and hung on the wall in a small exhibition room of an independent art gallery “Padzemka”, which is situated literally under ground, one storey below the main Minsk street. Artur Klinau, a tall man in elegant spectacles, the author of this photo collage, is drinking coffee in a tiny back room of the gallery. He is leafing through his new book titled “Minsk: die Sonnenstadt der Träume” (‘Minsk: the Sun City of Dreams’).

“Padzemka” is one of few places in Belarus, where the independent art, like Klinau’s, can be exhibited. This is particularly sad, since Artur Klinau is gradually becoming quite a prominent figure abroad. Having studied architecture in Minsk, he has become known as one of the leading Belarusian conceptual artists, especially famous for his “total installations”. Then he founded an art magazine “pARTisan”, which is undoubtedly the most splendid periodical dedicated to the issues of contemporary Belarusian art. Finally, Most recently Artur Klinau turned to photography, and created a “visual poem” about Minsk.

During a reading in Berlin a couple of years ago, Klinau’s photos and ideas appeared to be so fascinating to the Western public, that the german publishing house „Suhrkamp“ commissioned him a text version of the visual poem titled „Minsk: the Sun City of Dreams“. As a result, the art project of Klinau has grown into an exciting account of Minsk as a city, where the utopia turned into the reality, and the dream was embodied in stone and asphalt.

If you wish to look deep into the soul of the Belarusian capital, this is the book you should turn to. Its name hides a tricky word game. In Belarusian it is titled “Mensk: Horad SONca”, where “sonca” is translated as “the Sun”, and “son” – as “dream”. In Klinau’s mind, the history of the city is developing together with his own personal story. „I was born in the Sun City of Dreams“, reads the first sentence of the book. „The first thing I remember about it is an enormous concrete slab, which I am trying to clamber“. This is how the author recalls himself being a child, climbing up the stairs of his apartment building.

„We live in a dream, which has come true“, writes Klinau. He shows Minsk as a huge experiment, similar to the “The City of the Sun”, depicted by the Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella four centuries ago. The new Minsk was a project, created by the Empire, with the Metaphysician as its ultimate ruler. The soviet symbols, which can be found everywhere in Minsk, turn into religious symbols of a pagan cult. This new, soulless city destroys the old one, the city of small houses and curved streets filled with the aroma of coal being burned in countless stoves.

According to Klinau, the creators of the new Minsk merely intended to turn it into a gate, which would decorate the way to the actual City of Sun – Moscow. However, when it came so far as rebuilding Moscow, the gods and demiurges of the Empire have not dared to destroy their own city of childhood. Thus Minsk remained the only realization of their dream, both grand and inhuman.
So far no author has created such a detailed account of the present-day Minsk. Klinau has managed to look into the face of this city, which does not exist, of these people, who do not exist, of this place, which does not exist – Utopia called Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

Artur Klinau has already had a number of readings in German cities, and is preparing to go on a literary tour through Austria. Unlike the German-speaking public, Belarusian readers have to remain patient: the Belarusian version of Klinau’s book still has to come. There is some irony in the fact, that the German publication of “Minsk: The Sun City of Dreams” precedes the Belarusian one. However, this is a good sign, proving that the Belarusian literature is able to catch attention of the Western readers even before the fellow Belarusian publishers open their eyes.





Prepared by the Office for a Democratic by Ales Kudrytski

Photos: Minsk by Artur Klinau