new feature: facebook field notes

Dear readers, today is the premiere of a new feature here on Archiving the City: facebook field notes. For many years, I avoided the draw of facebook, but when I joined the Strelka Institute, I was asked by program organizers to join facebook, in order to make participation and communication with colleagues easier.

In recent weeks, I have found myself involved in extended conversations about my Moscow life with friends from around the world. It now occurs to me that these conversations are in fact an extension of my “Shop Talk” series (cross-disciplinary conversations about method), and so I have decided to post some excerpts of chats and emails here, as “field notes.”

(Of course, these excepts appear in edited form, in order to preserve the integrity of the conversation, and the privacy of my interlocutors, as per their requests).

12:03pm
how is going for you in moscow, still boring?

12:04pm
well moscow is getting a bit better

12:04pm
ah thats! great!! actually better
glad moscow is getting u

12:05pm
some of my russian colleagues are slowly realizing how difficult their country is for foreigners, and reaching out a helping hand. i have been invited to several homes of colleagues, to some parties, and today, to some kind of hipster artist collective in an old factory somewhere.

as i said a BIT better. the people are still very strange to me. i have had enough conversations with the young people here to know that they are very tense and depressed about the country’s situation

12:07pm
well, its good to feel happy, even if just a little! so enjoy the BIT more!

12:07pm
many just try to escape into little worlds of hipster intelligentsia

12:08pm
like the kinds Yurchak described in his book? (Alexei Yurchak, Everything was forever, until it was no more)

12:13pm
not exactly. this is a different time. those people were poor and did not have (or want) money and jobs. these ones that i have met are elite in many ways: iPads, iPhone, ieverything. They work in the same little circles of media-art-architecture-design; they have middle class to very rich parents (lots of brands: prada & american apparel feature prominently). They have gone to the best schools in the country, usually due to family connections. However they feel their country “uncivilized” they want to be more connected with Europe and north america. they do not appreciate the mannerisms and attitudes of the older Putin generation, and the coarseness of their country men. so they retreat a bit, but not too much, because they are the young winners of society

i just went to an exhibit of necrorealist art and then after an exhibit of the latest young moscow artists (sponsored by martini and rossi, of course). let me tell you, yurchak’s people had a very different mentality.

12:16pm
gotcha
is a different kind of western influence
a recent aggressive capitalist western influence, different from the processes of westernization taking place during the 80 and 90s under the soviets and right after the end of USSR

12:22pm
maybe. i don’t know if the influence is western, or simply part of a global trend. they look to europe and north america, but at the same time are very insulated within the particularities of their own history–maybe too insulated in fact. this is the cause of the tense depressiveness: they want to be more european, but they are afraid of great distance culturally and historically between their country and the “west.” so it is hard to say western influence. it is very strange. they talk about visiting london, berlin, new york, but never “britain, germany, usa.” so i am not sure if it is that they are influenced by the west, or that they long for some lifestyle that is replicating itself around the world right now: this nondescript international floating life, linked by certain brands and hip places.

for example, it is not as if they long for democracy. non of these people are democratic activists, or would ever do anything like “occupy wall street.”

12:28pm
i hear you–its important to question the idea of “the west”, since it does not say much, and it does not describe processes that as u say, are more “international”–but still london, i agree, is not the UK, I agree, so its more a longing for mega-city lifestyles, but is London and not for example Kuala Lumpur. In this sense, it is not West in general, but still a part of the so larger unspecified western culture

12:30pm
well they also talk about shanghai and hong kong and sao paulo. the studio program is taking us to tokyo.

12:30pm
and some of those Russian, perhaps, might have a lot in common with OWS , in terms of views on social programs, though their lifestyles are a contradiction to the OWS’ claims

12:30pm
i just gave an example of those 3 cities
could be true, i have not asked…

12:31pm
yes, but is your program not all the russians u described above, i mean the parents of those mates of urs

12:33pm
maybe. i thought we were talking about the young people? those comparable to the necrorealists of yurchak’s day. anyway, it is hard to tell, as i have not been here very long, and my impressions are formed from a very strange distance from the people

12:34pm
i meant Russians in general, but yes, generations are different and its important to distinguish

12:41pm
well then i must say i do not know russians in general, and doubt that i will. i am moving in a very specific circle. the city of moscow is organized in rings, quite literally. the city is divided by giant rings of avenues, and people tend to socialize within their “rings.” I was warned when i arrived here never to leave the first two rings, as my life could be threatened by the (poor or working class) barbarians living beyond. So the rings are social and physical and increasing everyday. My work place is on an island across from the kremlin, which is right in the center of the center ring. this island is its own world of media-design-bars-restaurants-cafes-cool-expensive-face-control. not a place for just anyone to come anytime. Given this, it is not clear that i will get far off this island, except to go to other islands as led by my new friends and colleagues. So when I speak about young russians, i am speaking about these islands within moscow/russia.

12:48pm
i see–
it sounds a bit like Nairobi, in terms of urban segregation by different classes…sorry, got to go on skype now–my aunty called–parents etc..lets talk/chat later , if ur still there, keep writing about moscow and its rings, and also who told u not to explore other rings…, well this is what u do , no?

12:53pm
if i go to other rings, it is with the guidance of colleagues. this is not the kind of place to just ride the train and get off somewhere and go for a walk. at least not for me, as i clearly do no blend in most parts of the city. but yeah, let’s chat more later. –a

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One thought on “new feature: facebook field notes

  1. As the three of us came to know, it’s all too easy to encounter gang-style bullying in the heart of the first ring. ;P Maybe it’s actually inverted — some people believe that maybe the worst beasts live in the heart and the kindest people, on the outer reaches. That’s going metaphysical, of course.

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