23 May 2011

Russian Lessons

Christine Armbruster, who has appeared on my blog before with her Sarajevo project, is once again making me jealous.  She is currently living in Russia taking pictures and maybe learning Russian while doing a trans-Russian trek with her friend Tree Gore.  Their project is being documented on the blog, Крыша.  She doesn't know she's being featured today, so it will be a pleasant surprise.  This is my thanks for her sharing her Sarajevo project and being a visible follower on my blog (and a kick-ass fellow ECE enthusiast).

You can read the basic outline of her summer plans on her blog.  This blog will hold many photos of Russia (there are already a few) and I'm already seething with jealousy.  Part of the reason I'm jealous is because I've always wanted to go to Russia, learn a Slavic language, and the other part is because it's an artistic lens on economic issues.  If you liked her Sarajevo series, you should be following this for her photos.  They will be there in spades, I can assure you.  The subject matter is also worth following, but the photos will sucker you in, at the very least.

As the Крыша "About the Journey" page states, 

A good friend of mine and I are setting out on a journey to understand the economic collapse and survival of people. Christine and Tree, trying to understand how everyday people make the best of life. We will be riding trains, taking buses, and hitchhiking across Russia to visit single-industry towns, called monogorod, hit hardest by the economic shifts in the wake of the Soviet collapse. Why?
I think they will provide for a perfect, isolated, and extreme case study for what happens everywhere, including here. 40 years ago the world was caught between two different and powerful ideologies. The Cold War, as far as I am concerned, was simply a misunderstanding of a common goal to live a better modern life. 40 years ago, the USSR was the other super power but, as fate would have it, under the veneer-bravado of “one-upping the Joneses” their economy buckled first–
-First. Our economy and lifestyle is not any more invincible than theirs was.
 © Christine Armbruster, via
The blog's name means "roof" in Russian, but it evokes the same meaning as home.  It's shelter, protection, and safety.  I am fascinated by economic processes, its close tie to politics and life––both cultural and personal––and the combination of economic theory and ethnographic documentation makes me sing anthropological phrases.  I live for this.  This project is also bringing to mind a lot of tie-ins with my work in Germany. 

I studied how the small town of Lütte was able to revitalize its local identity and future prospects through a small club known as "Verein Altes Haus", or "Old House Club".  This town faced a very similar problem when its residents gave up the family tradition of farming and moved away.  Eastern Germany is haunted by these small towns facing extinction by the simple math of population: without new people, the residents die out.  Beautiful farm homes were succumbing to dilapidation and three women in Lütte saw this happening.  They thought, "We can change this."  They created this club, which used the beautiful backdrop of Lütte to hold festivals and raise money to restore their old homes.  It projected an image of a hopeful future with respectful ties to the past.  Lütte has not stayed an agrarian community, but it embraces the heritage of agriculture.  After a presentation I gave on my project, someone asked if this model could be applied elsewhere.  I couldn't answer yes because I knew that the club was successful because they were mindful of history, culture, and identity; however, the idea could work anywhere though the model may be limited.  It's the grassroots movement, tailored to its location, that makes it work.

I focused on how people actively changed their fate.  This blog promises to chronicle how people deal with it, whether or not they actually change it.  I am very excited to see the project come to full fruition, so I'm closely following it in the meantime.  The entries I have read so far have been wonderful and tie in America's burst bubble.  There are similarities and the emphasis on the shared human experience is a lovely way to make a specific issue a universal discussion.  I suggest subscribing to their email list so you are up to date on their thoughts, adventures, and beautiful photographs.