The Red City of the Planet of Capitalism is a video installation that revisits proposals for a communist sprawl in the Soviet Union of 1929.
Originally developed by Mikhail Okhitovich and Moisei Ginzburg, Avant-garde urban planners, Disurbanism set out to eliminate the difference between city and countryside by proposing a radical critique of urbanization. For Disurbanists, the sickness of the modern city and its inevitable centralized hegemony could be resolved only by the city’s destruction and dissemination across the Soviet landscape. In its place, they envisioned an energy and communication grid: a network of highways, infrastructure, mobile homes, natural resources, and public services on the scale of the USSR. Disurbanism would counter Le Corbusier’s modernism and its attempts to resolve the internal contradictions of the urban setting by bringing the rural into the confines of the city.
In the voice-over we hear the letter delivered by Ginzburg to Le Corbusier, who was horrified by the avant-garde disurbanists plans. Reproaching Le Corbusier for his reformist vision of the city, Ginzburg articulates his communist philosophy of a fully-networked life, “you do all this because you want to cure the city, because you are trying to keep it essentially the same as capitalism made it. We in the USSR are in a more favorable position — we are not tied by the past.”
Disurbanist ambitions were short lived: Okhitovich was the first architect who was sent to the camps at the very start of the Great Terror. With the assistance of a 3D modelist, the video is constructed from the handful of remaining drawings and sketches published in the 1930 edition of Sovremennaya Arkhitektura (The Journal of Modern Architecture). With the closure of that chapter in Avant-Garde practice, their emancipatory imagination of network architectures found its afterlife in the emerging field of cybernetics: Disurbanism, and other underexamined network architectures, recount the trajectory of our connected lives today: the contingent history of Web 0.0.
from the catalog essay for the solo exhibition at Folkwang Museum, by curator Antonina Krezdorn (2021):
As if in a computer game, Bahar Noorizadeh navigates us through a virtual world in the first cinematic segment of the multimedia installation The Red City of the Planet of Capitalism. In the inhospitable hilly landscape, insect-like creatures move at lightning speed along luminous markers. One of the main demands of the Russian disurbanists, the revolution of transport, finds an imagined realisation here. This architectural avant-garde, which formed in Russia in the 1920s, sought new forms of socialist urban and housing construction. They demanded nothing less than the abolition of the city itself. In the midst of the foggy virtual environment, we encounter colourful shells and shiny surfaces of rendered building complexes. A look inside reveals hints of human life. Among the buildings is the Narkomfin communal house (Moscow, built 1928-30), an architectural icon that the architects Moissei Ginsburg (1892-1946) and Ignati Milinis (1899-1974) assembled from different types of housing as if from a modular construction kit. The approach later served as a template for mobile housing in Russia and for Le Corbusier’s (1887-1965) housing machines.
Letters are read out in voiceover. It quickly becomes clear from the tone of voice that this is a discussion of principles, a tug-of-war between two thinkers whose political systems demand different objectives. Noorizadeh mounts fragments of the quotations from Marx, Lenin or Engels used in the letters in coloured block letters on the virtual hills, shiny facades or floating in the air. Ideal and ideological assumptions are literally presented as a construction and thus de-constructed. They bridge the gap between the independent image and sound levels and intertwine to form a vision of the future, a world of speculation in which seemingly everything is conceivable and realisable – all the way to disurbanistic city that is not one and does not want to be one.
Video and text courtesy of the artist.
Bahar Noorizadeh, “The Red City of the Planet of Capitalism, 2021,” in mohit.art NOTES #6 (October 2023); published on www.mohit.art, September 14, 2023.