A new world generates a new language. Andrei Platonov searched for this different sound his entire life. The rhythm for his expedition was set by the railway: Born into the working class in Voronezh in southern Russia in 1899, he was sent to work in a locomotive factory as a child. The revolution enabled him to become an engineer, a dreamer of machines and their possibilities, who fought on the front of the revolution and encountered hunger, utopia and violence in the steppe landscapes of the civil war. In the novel Tschewengur, his magnum opus, these elements flow together into a linguistic work of art. His perspective is that of those who suffer the most, the farmers subject to famine and drought, the roamers without land or property, those people without language, writing and history. Built on the threshold of death, their world is broken into by mechanisation and reorganization through the revolution. They are supposed to become »subjects« and create a new world, instead of enduring the old one. Sent by the young Communist party, two extremely different anti-heroes set out to find communism in the expanses of the steppe landscape. They encounter a mythical world inhabited by strange creatures, a world in which humans are part of the structure of things and no longer its rulers, in which the syntax of life together is built anew. In the small town Tschewengur, which they finally reach, the stuff of everyone’s dreams appears to have been achieved: the end of all disagreements.
»In that hour, perhaps, happiness itself sought those who would be happy, but the happy were resting after their social worries of the day and did not remember their kinship with happiness.« (Tschewengur, English translation by Anthony Olcott)
Like two exclamation marks robbed of their meaning, two cement towers stand on the premises of an industrial park in Lichtenberg: the remains of the warehouse complex at the state-owned VEB Elektrokohle, today the offices of architect Arno Brandlhuber. A landscape made of cement and forgetting, weeds and artificiality, GDR ruins and the import industry. When it became clear in January that the planned premiere of Sebastian Baumgarten’s stage adaptation of this masterpiece was not going to take place, the team re-defined the production and moved out of the Gorki to Lichtenberg. There, between turbo capitalism, art space and the residues of socialist urbanism, space could be found for Platonov’s language. The work is now being presented as a cinematic photo essay in September 2021.
Performance rights: Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin
Photo: Esra Rotthoff