Anastassia Smirnova: «It’s time for change»

18.12.2013, 15:51
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The Programming Director of Strelka’s Education Programme speaks about the theme for the year and a new angle for city analysis.

During the first three years of Strelka’s existence, we set out to research large and ambitious themes: Public Space, Preservation, Design, and Urban Culture – quite a comprehensive range of topics. Since we considered ourselves something of an education start-up, we wanted first to map out the general area of our interest. Moreover, we intended to do it with great enthusiasm. Last year, for example, our students were researching education, and it is barely even possible to consider education a theme at all, it being such an immensely broad field of human activity. Students had to make painful choices, defining narrower and more specific themes to work on together with their tutors.

And yet we don’t regret doing what we did. Our efforts have not been in vain. Themes researched here at Strelka have later become subjects of public debate, fueling such events as the Moscow Urban Forum. Many projects promoted by Strelka outside of the education programme grew, in fact, from student research. What more could you ask?

Now, I think, it’s time to try and find a different approach, maybe even one that seems at first glance quite modest. The theme of this year’s education programme is Urban Routines. With this theme, we offer another angle from which to analyse the contemporary city.

This is no bird’s eye view perspective, but a careful – under the microscope! – study of the very fabric of urban life: household activities, weekdays, routine – all those subtle things that so rarely enter the researcher’s field of view.

We haven’t turned our backs on our big ambitions, however. On the contrary, we hope that the analysis of banalities and daily routines will lead us to grandiose discoveries. Michel de Certeau, prominent researcher of everyday routines, French historian and cultural studies scholar, once noted that urban routines offer great material for the investigation of strategies and tactics, to think about the future and reflect on the role of the citizen in political life.

Cars, Offices, Dwelling and Retail – our research studios – all represent things that each citizen encounters everyday in the rituals they perform almost unthinkingly. There are, however, a multitude of fundamental economic, political, cultural and social mechanisms at work behind these ritual actions and these need to be researched; otherwise it would be very hard to offer anything new.

Our research studios will focus on Moscow, and Strelka – having amassed such a vast amount of material and built up a whole network of experts and connoisseurs of the city – could well become the ideal laboratory to conduct this type of research.

It must be emphasised that we prepare professionals to work with the issues of future urban development, and can only guess exactly what skills and knowledge our graduates might need in five or ten years’ time.

This is why we teach them certain fundamental things: to see the city as a diverse but unified whole, even while examining its most minute fragments; to accept and understand the complexity of processes taking place within it, even when something seemingly simple and familiar comes under the lens of research; to know and love working with people from different professions, with different worldviews and speaking other languages; and then to embark on the quest for unconventional solutions to standard, perpetually aggravating problems.

This is where the theme of Urban Routines opens up a new wide field of activity.