The mysterious yourt

Arxitekturny Zhurnal, 2009

Once I went to Katia’s yurt.

It happened in Karakalpakstan. I remember well that state of total peace and protectedness from the outer otherworld, a feeling that was neither hostile nor familiar. It was simply a different environment, so much different from anything I have felt or tried before, that I felt my escape to the bosom of the yurt as a return to where I had initially come from, to the place where most people usually forget the way. A whole set of feelings was painted in unknown colours: the smell of the felt, the hum of the wind, the absence of windows in a spherical space. Only scattered light from the top defined the objects, many of which looked far from archaic, but rather quite respectable, taken from the world of vanity and madness. There was a hearth in the middle — far from centrifugal repulsion, it exerted a magnetic pull. You are hidden in the cocoon of good — no corners, no hysteria. This is a model of the world, of the universe. You are on the ground, surrounded by the colorful gauze of patterned ribbons, engirdling your safe atmospheric layer around its circumference. Beyond is ruin, darkness, and emptiness. 

It’s strange, but you don’t sleep well in a yurt; you feel troubled. You’re always waiting for the resolution, as if uneasy about being the only consumer of this universal silence that hour after an hour is running out, and there won’t be enough for anybody else. And what is there beyond the door?.. again I felt worried and longing to go back, to go for a spacewalk.

Usually (almost always) the images of yurts appear in the context of orientalist subjects, and are nourished by them — subjects of which everyone is sick. As a rule, the set is quite standard: Karamzin, Kuznetsov, Roubaud, Sommer, Kulik. Of these, Pavel Kuznetsov is perhaps the most poetic, yet this poetry is dressed with the same spices which foreigners are always treated with at the East. Gradually the yurt became a part of the “Asian ornament” described by the unforgettable Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov (“uruk, aryk, camel, donkey”). Fortunately, Katia Rozhkova managed to avoid it. She did not produce common myth or popularized visual standards. It is really comfortable in “her” yurt.

Between the 1940s and 50s, two men from Leningrad, Vladimir Sterligov and Pavel Kon-dratyev independently developed a similar understanding of the philosophy of space. Both were Kazemir Malevitch’s students developing the practice of the suprematism’s “great helmsman”, searching for the notorious “added element”, strenuously escaping the captivity of the straight line, running to the kingdom of the curve. And when they saw each other’s “cup” and “cupola”, both were astonished with this discovery. The anecdote goes that Sterligov exclaimed: “Do you realise WHAT we both found?” Later, they were developing the code they found in equations handy and familiar to each of them: Sterligov worked with the ecumenism of domes, Kondratyev with the yarangas of Chukchi hunters, children of Mother Earth.

It is gratifying that instead of echoing anyone, Katia chose her own resources for her searches. She moves from the material, physical world to the immaterial and back. This trip is breathtaking, as it unexpectedly opens astonishing perspectives: logic notwithstanding, images appear flashing in one’s memory first, then they become visible and palpable, then these external manifestetions of our imagination perform a reconstruction, allowing things (objects) to play a solo part, and then it all returns to the sign-symbol that summarizes and signifies the entire path before it. This all works like a masterfully directed cinematic arabesque. Corded rope hoops of the yurta’s frame, tissue fragments with decorative elements (there is a cult of the textile in Karakalpak steppes: to express a compliment to his lady love, a man can say literally this: “I want to see you as often as you see your favourite piece of cloth”), some exquisite archeology of details that were forever lost, collective portraits of apples (once alive, unpicked) on the tree branches — all this is the richest monochrome of the world sunk in self-contemplation. Fragments of prehistoric consciousness that reach us at barely surviving photographic and cinematic films, with their distinctive stains of age and dissolving pigments. Always wishing to avoid speaking of prettiness, I have no choice here but to confess that all of this is bewitching.

Katya films with the strobe effect — the frame moves unevenly, it stumbles over the image of a dog. The same dog Tarkovsky invented once. When his Stalker decided to lie down to rest from the dim disturbing thoughts (“What can I ask for myself, what kind of inmost desire?”), this image appears suddenly, as a knot of this inmost mystery, the embodiment of the human conscience which saves from tempations of lies and hypocrisy. The camera follows this black sheep dog, showing the panorama of the material feast frozen by the water. What strikes most with Katya’s dog is its gaze, aimed straight at the viewer. It drills you, testing your might, as if it was an intelligent object. Humanization of creatures is a clear humanistic intention, despite the author’s obvious effort of avoiding people in “the frame”. Yet this is not a problem, because we are not watching Katya’s documentary. Nor is it fiction. This film is of its own kind, built upon intuition and spontaneous search for the true beauty. Beauty that is woven of the most varied associative elements: Rozhkova’s heroes (“real” and imagined) dissolve in space, dematerialise only to be reincarnated in something unbelievable later, something reminiscent of “Shroud of Turin”, for instance. Or wooden Empire State Buildings of the rustic elevators, or found objects, handmade and hard to imitate (telephones, sewing machines and typewriters, and so on). Now there comes a turn to “humanize” the “dead” mechanisms. Shiny metal, happy to receive some oily grease, its mechanic life shines with glorious muscles. The architectonics of these well-built iron “creatures” makes one remember ancient Greek examples familiar from school: Katya succeeded to find a good ultramodern equivalent to the “Discobolus” of Myron (see p. 75). The disc in the thrower’s “hand” is to be sent to fly free at the will of an artist possessing the skill of inventive interfigurativeness. The artist’s “equipment” and instruments do not matter as much: the pencil and ground canvas are his or her ID and documents.
Cinematic thinking, cinetongue, dynamic and vibrant, is inherently Katia’s, who professes the cinophile black and white aesthetics. She refuses the multicolouredness of the surrounding environment, what seems serious and brave move few are capable of. Katya’s solution provides an original effect in constructing new expressive formulas. I was stricken by her triptych with the empty buckets: the form of the presentation of the form (I am sorry for such a tautology) as an absolute category, prevailing over everything else, approaches here an all-embracing character. Bottomless womb of these objects transmits a resounding symbolic echo to us. Monumentally, without obnoxious methaphors, Katya told us about these buckets’ life, as if she was writing a novel about the vicissitudes of human fate. In his time, the modernist writer Eliseo Diego told with meticulous detail story of life of two miserable shoes. There were many who symphatized with it…

Ildar Galeev