Alexander Konstantinov: “I went out into the city through the door of the office of engravings”

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It is difficult to determine who he is: artist, designer, architect? Doctor of Mathematical Sciences, defended his dissertation on the topic “Description of nonlinear random processes”, an artist whose personal exhibition was held at the Tretyakov Gallery in 1992, a designer whose installations transform the urban environment and rural landscape, an architect who transforms volumes with the help of steel, concrete, aluminum … In recent years, Konstantinov in Moscow, alas, is a rare guest. More and more often he can be seen in America, Japan, Luxembourg – where the projects of this unique specialist from Russia are more than in demand. Alexander Konstantinov told ARTANDHOUSES about them.

Alexander, how did you, an artist known for your numerous exhibitions in museums and galleries, find yourself in the company of building architects? Is this a game of chance or a gesture against the snobbery of museum halls?

Both, any homeless person who finds himself “on the street” will answer you the same way. Of course, it all started with an accident – an invitation from the Moscow National Center for Contemporary Art to do something with the facade of their building, which was put under reconstruction. But then, apparently, the city draft carried me out of the jealous, in the words of Paul Valery, museum premises into the street. Without making any special claims, I continued to collaborate with outdoor museums, and also began to create works for urban public spaces. Art has ceased to be a private enterprise, and artistic revelations, giving the townspeople the pleasure of a kindred quality, did not interfere with quietly doing mortal things. At first, these were large temporary installations with a lifespan of several months to several years.

Then they began to compare you with the artist Christo. What do you think of this parallel?

This flattering comparison is due to the scale and fragility of the work. The fundamental difference is that Christo wrapped the existing architecture, revealing its essence, while I created gigantic three-dimensional drawings or, rather, engravings, complementing the urban environment with unceremonious use of citations. Perhaps, formulating carefully, it can be argued that an aura of authenticity penetrated into our ephemeral installations from opposite sides. Definitely, I entered the city through the door of the engraving study. Once there was even an exhibition in an Austrian gallery, in which drawings and engravings seemed to fly out through open windows and scattered around the city. A year later, the “White Quarter” was built in the courtyard of the Cabinet of Prints of the Pushkin Museum – a giant negative of an Italian engraving stolen from a nearby building.

How did you get these huge pieces to look like handcrafted pieces?

This was handicraft. As a rule, it was performed by students – art historians, artists, architects from local universities, who, by tacit agreement, receive internship from their teachers. The drawing was pasted by hand using colored tape on industrial plastic sheets. Quite a laborious job. This was how time was gained, which we always lack, and this is how about two dozen installations of quite an architectural scale were created in a dozen countries. And the theme was mainly architecture. However, in the Austrian Alps, the “Glacier” was made in the place where nature did not have enough height above sea level to create a real glacier.

Now you have moved from scotch tape, “drawing in space”, from the transformation of architecture to the architecture itself.

Maybe I'm tired of answering a question on duty in an interview: isn't it a pity that such large and beautiful structures are dilapidated, dismantled, become the prey of time? After all, you can use other, more durable materials. And that was done. The day has come when wood, and then steel, aluminum, concrete, glass replaced the imaginary reality of “manual” technologies. The student groups were replaced by industrial and construction companies. All creativity moved to the AutoKada format and the ephemeral shaded quarters and walls took the form of a house, school, library, hotel, bus station, etc.

You have listed various types of buildings. What is the most interesting for you, you are still involved in parks and have become a master of this genre?

Public buildings, spaces, in particular parks, are certainly a very interesting topic. The development of the entire scale, from the concept, the master plan to buildings and small architectural forms, this is really a task. You know, every person is “born a Roman” and to create for him a worthy space, predetermined by a look at modernity, this is really the goal.

The first park projects that I was lucky enough to work on were renovation projects, and in fact the reconstruction of the Moscow parks “Sokolniki” and “Fili”. Together with the studio “Yauzaproekt” in 2011, we supervised the works that were carried out on colossal territories and fundamentally transformed the spaces of the parks. Basically it was work “in the open air”, I was in excellent physical shape: being in continuous contact with numerous contractors, for the sake of architectural supervision, I walked thirty kilometers a day.

Ongoing Is your cooperation with Yauzaproekt now?

Yes, we are building a district in Obninsk, several residential buildings united by a two-storey ring of shops, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, etc. I am engaged in facades and landscaping.

Recently, you have been building a lot abroad, especially in Luxembourg.

I cooperate with the architectural bureau BENG Architectes, perhaps, it is possible to conduct a tour according to our joint projects. Recently completed – the ECCO power plant and the acoustic fence of the railway passing through the city of Esch-sur-Alzette. The fence snake circles the city for two and a half kilometers, and its fragments transform the ends of many city streets. However, its dynamics do not strive for totality, but, following artistic prudence, with refined skill, emphasizes the subjective expressiveness of each of the streets. The hygienic function has been enhanced with aesthetic sense.

Tell us about your recent industrial project – power plants.

Actually, these are two adjacent objects – a power station and a transformer station. In both structures, pipes are an essential element; ventilation superstructures play their role in the transformer station. Digging through the archive of my memory, I instantly found a prototype for an architectural solution – medieval peasant buildings. In France, there are several well-preserved villages in the Cévennes National Park. Each peasant farmstead consists, as usual, of two buildings – a house and a household yard, united by a fence. For all elements of buildings, walls, roofs, gates, fences, the same material is used – local natural stone. Only the chimneys of the fireplaces on the end facades stand out plastically. The small size of the windows integrates them into the surface of the masonry. Reduction to the pure phenomenon of sculpture, in my opinion, here achieved the perfection of architectural solutions.

And you used this technique called from the depths of time in an industrial facility?

Yes, he perfectly fit the plan and cuts dictated by the engineers. The concrete sarcophagi, including the roofs, were sheathed with profiled sheets in of-black colors, and the pipes in of-white colors. Fortunately, both buildings have no windows at all, and the ventilation grilles and doors have been camouflaged to match the wall arrangement. Out of reverence for the colossal energies concentrated inside, Euclidean geometry was violated – there is not a single right angle in the building. For communication with the sky, the abode of lightning, the colors of the pipes are responsible, which in certain weather “dissolve” against the background of clouds. They say that public outcry sometimes manifests itself in a funny way – passers-by sometimes wonder when services will be held, mistaking the power plant for a church.

Is this a suburb?

No. Around is quite dense urban development, many office buildings, a huge residential area is being built three hundred meters away. It's strange, it seems strange to me that most industrial facilities are built without any thought. After all, they are at least the maximum size. And, in my opinion, this is simply ineffective, unprofitable – if there is a character at the construction site who cares about quality, then with the same, if not with a smaller budget, an event with spiritual potential occurs. But the main thing for the customer is quality. And the quality of such a building is automatically improved. For example, during the construction of the power plant, my Luxembourg colleagues carried out such strict supervision that none of my friends believe in the authenticity of the photographs, saying that it is impossible to build this way and that it is Photoshop. We have to show photos of the construction site “in progress” as proof.

Europe, Europe, and what about you with other continents?

You have hit the spot, just now there is a transcontinental spring. Opening of the first phase of Turn Park in Massachusetts in late May. It is a cultural center and sculpture park. Two years of hard work. This is exactly the kind of project that we talked about: it seems that everything will be done – from philosophy to a nail. And after that, immediately work on the Japanese project in Susu. Bus stations will be built there, a very social project. But out of superstition, let's talk about these projects after the opening day and implementation. You know, architectural practice cuts the imagination.

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