Curator: Katerina Chuchalina
The 'Grain' Pavilion, All-Russian Exhibition Center, Moscow 2014
Group show 'ik-00'
Collateral project of the XIV Venice Biennale of Architecture
Casa dei Tre Oci, Judecca 2014
Note. A scientist who recognizes the mundane and the obvious in natural phenomena often turns out to be a charlatan, a wrongheaded researcher. His mistakes become his contribution to science.
Note. The creators of “Star Road” look through the city walls. The pioneers, as they call themselves, have mapped a route across an Italian town Biella in a form of a five-pointed star.
Ist Bergen Assembly 'Monday Begins on Saturday'
Contributors: Anastasia Potemkina, Ekaterina Zavyalova, Alexey Buldakov
Permanenten (Kode 1), Bergen, Norway, 2013
On natural selection in Khoroshevo-Mnevniki district of Moscow. Text from the catalogue of the Ist Bergen Assembly 'Monday Begins on Saturday'.
on the exhibition 'Frontier'
Made by Anastasia Potemkina, Alexey Buldakov
Art&Science Lab, Moscow, 2013
Collective show 'The Way of Enthusiasts'
Collateral project of the XIII Venice Biennale of Architrecture
Contributors: Anastasia Potemkina,
Ekaterina Zavyalova, Alexey Buldakov
Palazzo dei Tre Oci, Judecca, Venice, 2012
Presidium of False Calculations
Contributors: Anastasia Potemkina, Dmitriy
Potemkin, Alexey Buldakov
Museum of Philanthropy and Entrepreneurship, Moscow 2012
The Park of Urban Fauna is dedicated to wild animals for which the city has become a natural habitat.
A sketch of an urban sculpture to be installed in places where pigeons are numerous.
Collateral program of the IV Moscow Biennale
Potemkina, Dmitriy Potemkin, Alexey Buldakov
Art Squat Forum, Mosow 2011
Video by Anastasia Potemkina
Traits acquired during a lifetime are not passed down. This is the principle theorem of natural selection and its categorical nature provokes intuitive resistance. It’s hard to swallow. We are cultural animals. And we to think that by passing on the baggage of our experience, we will become immortal. And really, speaking scientifically, there are problems with this theorem; its verifiability has been called into question time again over the last decades. Darwin’s theory emphasizes the inexorable opposition between the inherited and the acquired, and even if it is no longer an unavoidable natural scientific law, it can play the role of an optics, a specific instrument for the study of cultural processes as if they were natural ones.
Inherited traits are that minimum of genetic information required to generate the body. In the course of its natural growth, the body acquires abilities for interacting with the environment. It learns how to position itself in society, how to feel, how to tell a grain from a pebble, how to sow and how to reap, how to build and destroy, and how to seek out and find the cases of its own existence. The body is gradually imbued with reason and culture to such a degree that its origin in unreason seems less and less probable. It changes its environment to correspond to its own acquired traits, making it more or less suitable for the heritability of genetic information.
The specificity of the relationship between the inherited and the acquired lies in the one-sidedness and irreversibility of both terms. Life’s singular will to expansion impresses irreversible changes upon the conditions of life’s heritability. The circle closes. The snake bites its own tail.
The snake is blind and its relationship to its own tail far from harmonious. The conflict of the inherited and the acquired always involves a loss of control over the sequence of cause-and-effect, a regrettable randomness, unforeseeable mistakes that either load to ecological catastrophe of open possibilities for new species to emerge. In different fields of human culture and different temporal formats, the conflict between the inherited and the acquired can be seen as the conflict of chaos and order, the animal and the human, the vegetative and the social, redundancy and integrity. The conflict between the inherited and the acquired is when we get rid of excess hair on our bodies but it still grows back from under layers of makeup, like grass sprouting up from under the pavement. It's like when the Colonial Administration of Indochina offers up a reward for every dead rat in its battle with parasites, so that the locals start to breed them in huge quantities, bending to the laws of the market; it's when the unspeakable is pushed beyond the boundaries of language and loses the possibility of fixation in cultural memory but keeps returning in different forms of transpersonal experience; when small gaps in urban planning are populated by expansive animals and plants, who are then ascribed the cultural status of parasitic species.
The 77th Block of Khoroshev-Mnevniki was planned to meet the needs of workers from the neighboring car factory. It consists of around twenty five-story apartment buildings, a few multistory buildings, and a certain quantity of children's playgrounds surrounded by greenery. All of this is encircled by loud car routes on three sides. In a word, it is a typical development of worker's housing from the Soviet period. But one seemingly insignificant architectural detail opens new perspectives for the heritability of at least two species. There are small ventilation ducts in the basements and on the roofs of the buildings, now populated by cats and pigeons. Thanks to this peculiar detail of Soviet social housing, the bedroom community becomes an improvised park of urban fauna, ideally suited to observing the life cycles of animal communi-ties in their interaction with the human population.
At dawn, thousands of pigeons occupy the space around the benches in the squares of children's playgrounds and the bus stops, the most profitable positions for begging. The un-kempt city birds take them as their pasture for the first half of the day. Multiplying in the attics, they have been living on alms from the locals and are no longer afraid of people. Sitting on the bench in the square or waiting for the bus at the stop you will notice several dozen pigeons milling around you in their characteristic manner. They are waiting for alms in the form of left-overs from your repast. The fearlessness with which they surround you makes you think that this might not be a request but a demand. They never have to wait for long. As soon as a loose scrap of kebab or a stray sunflower seed falls to the ground, they jump on their prey, forming a living heap of moving bodies, vivid in all its shades of grey. Little cliques of pigeons wait for alms right under the windows of the most generous donors. Come winter or summer, heat or rain, they stand guard as long as the sun is high. Those who have eaten their fill populate the telephone wires by the hundreds, covering the pavements with drawings of guano, their places on the parterre taken by new beggars, and so it goes, until the evening.
It is only toward evening that the cats come out. As large as the phylogenetic differences to their feathered neighbors may be, both species have the status of beggars. One would think that cats, as predators, would hunt pigeons, but it just doesn't happen in this urban fauna park, itself the result of the human capacity for constantly expanding its own phenotype, not in the valley of beggars where the paths of natural selection are tangled and far from obvious. Here, cats are not at all interested in pigeons, who aren't afraid of them any more than they are of people.
Every basement in the neighborhood is home to at least one colony of cats, reminiscent of a pride of lions in terms of social structure. Cats are not afraid of people, but they don't let anyone come too close. Aggression within the cat community is strictly ritualized. It is only in mating season that there are real catfights. But aggression is also the most widespread reaction to human attempts at contact. Unlike domesticated animals, wild cats do not need human attention. The only exception is to be found in those few people that the cats allow to feed them. Anyone else who wants to look at them up close or even pet them should make sure that the cats have an escape route. Otherwise, the cornered animals can leave with scars as a memento. The honorable role of the cat feeder usually falls to older single women living on the first building. They regularly bring food and do everything in their power to keep the cats from hunting. The women feed them, build them kitty litters with cardboard boxes and old carpets, and watch out for the growth of the population, sometimes even taking the cats to the vet. As a reward for their attentions, they are allowed to be gentle to the animals and to enjoy them up close without using the social networks. "You're scaring them," I heard again and again as I tried to take pictures of the feeding process. In the valley of the beggars, the role of the cat-feeder is something you to earn. Still, nobody stopped me from watching the games of newborn kittens, a huge multitude of which were recently born in the neighborhood as I was writing this text.
Thus, small ventilation ducts have arguably been paramount to the integration of animals into the urban environment. They have made possible what the members of the Urban Fauna Laboratory call "the valley of the beggars," that unique ecosystem that reflects the economy of the human infrastructure. Is it accurate to define the urban animal as a beggar? Doesn't a beg-gar gain the status of a cultural decoration after a while? Can one predict what will happen to these communities of expansive species in the evolutionary future? One can only find answers to these questions by using the method of participant observation, avoiding both theoretical generalizations and dry mathematical abstractions.