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Gallery: Gavin Browning, Greta Hansen & Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong

Trans Siberia




Trans Siberia, by Warm Engine — artists and architects Greta Hansen and Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong — should win an award for its ambitious timetable, not to mention expeditionary endurance. The challenge? Trace the historic spread of communist ideology through building typology. How? Travel the 5,000 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing during the dead of winter, stopping off at fourteen cities along the way. Get off at each stop to photograph and draw the administrative buildings and centers of power. Then, return to the United States, where you will quickly design and execute an exhibition from these findings.




It’s a challenge that melds politics, architectural history, photography, drawing and exhibition design, under a time crunch and the discomforts, discoveries and forced intimacy of extended foreign travel. The results — now on exhibit at Studio-X New York — are an expansive and heady survey of little-understood and even less-visited cities. Visitors will discover Perm, once a nuclear testing zone that was silently unchartered on Soviet maps and unpassable even for Soviets of that era (official papers were required for entry or exit), as well as Changchun, China, whose suburban administration recalls corporate office parks dotting the outskirts of countless Sun Belt cities — yet whose scale is distinctly Chinese in terms of building practice and the display of state power.

Elsewhere along the route, imperial buildings have been twice repurposed — first under communism and then under post-Soviet capitalism. And in the city of Manzhouli, in Inner Mongolia, fanstastical, candy-colored architecture stands in defiant contrast to that city’s typically austere monuments to officialdom.

Throughout their trip, the Warm Engine duo wore five pairs of pants to stay warm, accessed little fresh fruit or vegetables, and drank a lot of vodka on snow-covered sidewalks. After hoofing it over six time zones and twenty-five days, the pair emerged from the frozen Russian landscape into a China alit with New Year festivities. Concluding their project in Beijing, where the travelers were denied photographic or pedestrian access to that city’s administration, they made due by photographing the bureaucratic complex’s gates anyway. It’s a somewhat vexing closing image to a journey that tries, but in this case fails, to undo Western stereotypes of non-transparent Chinese governance. Yet, Warm Engine suggests that Trans Siberia is not a fixed or complete exhibition, but rather a beginning point toward understanding larger cultural similarities and differences. For example, cities (including Beijing) along the route contain both open and closed administration buildings and centers, where local and foreign visitors are routinely granted or denied access, and which offer rich platforms for future inquiry.

Gavin Browning  

Credits

Warm Engine departed Moscow on January 28 and arrived in Beijing on February 19, 2010. As part of the growing Studio-X Global Network Initiative and engagement with international issues at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University, Trans Siberia is being exhibited at Studio-X New York. The show opens on March 26 and runs through April 16.

It is sponsored in part by the Arts Initiative at Columbia University. This funding is made possible through a generous gift from The Gatsby Charitable Foundation.
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Comments (4)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

I want to congratulate the dynamically creative duo of architects/artists Hansen and Wong on their excellent project! What a fascinating report. As a tour operator and travel agency that puts more individuals on the Trans-Siberian train than any other, we don't recommend that most Westerners travel during this fierce time of year. But Hansen and Wong were not intimidated by anything: weather or bureaucratic red tape. Best wishes for this wonderful project!
Eleanor Flagler Hardy
03.29.10 at 01:08

and they are sexy!
alfie
03.31.10 at 10:05

Bring the exhibition to Louisville?
Mark Hawkins
03.31.10 at 12:04

Inspired concept, fearless voyage and powerful images. I wish I could see the exhibition in person. Congratulations on your incredible work!
Sanja
04.01.10 at 04:31



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ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

Images of the administrative centers of 14 cities located along the Trans Siberian Railway.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong is a partner in the creative duo Warm Engine.
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Gavin Browning holds an MS in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a BA in English from The New School University. He was the director of Studio-X, a downtown Manhattan extension of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he curated events and exhibitions, and edited The Studio-X NY Guide to Liberating New Forms of Conversation (GSAPP Books, 2010).

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Greta Hansen is a partner in the creative duo Warm Engine.
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