Collecting the City

Haris Hadjinicolaou, Athens
Exhibition text (English)

The installation Collecting the City appears to be a visual narrative based on the impressions of the urban landscape, triggered by the process of investigation and memory. It shows affinities with a novel where time ranges far and wide as long as the writer attempts a subjective interpretation of reality by giving meaning to the commonplace, the fragmentary and the accidental. In the work, the associations inspired by the experience of everyday life “slide” along the past, the present and the future, like a fictitious streetcar.
The narrator of Marcel Proust (1) recollects his past, human beings or landscapes and gardens through a sip of tea where a piece of madelaine is soaked.
Thus Lost Time is regained. Vladimir Nabokov (2) projects a futuristic image, an eccentric writer of the 21st century, who accidently discovers an old yellow streetcar in a Technological Museum. He then becomes inspired to re-invent past times, when the streetcar asserted itself gracefully in the European metropolis. At the same time, comparing the horse-drawn wagons being replaced by this new means of public transportation, he anticipates equally the replacement of the streetcar; but he will be proved wrong. New tram routes are dividing modern cities following the urban planning framework and the ecological disciplines of the new millennium. The tram’s re-emergence in the contemporary metropolis becomes evident as a triumphant come- back.
At the construction sight of Collecting the City two largescale black and white trams are playing the leading role in an inspirational “film-noir”, triggering visual dialogues between Berlin and Athens, both in a state of change. The conversation
between the two capitals is introduced by wall images of the two trams, their illusionistic rails and the intricate net of cables on the gallery ceiling. On the other hand, actual materials,such as sand, stone and metal
“duplicate” evidence of the ever changing city life. This reproduction of urban environment is enriched with various metaphorical meanings. In the process of transforming reality into art, time is implied with very subtle transgressions.
The viewer strolling through the various parts of the installation is confronted with the instantaneous and the timeless, the autobiographical and the collective, but also with simplicity and complexity. In this visual “bagatelle” of our common every day surroundings, boarders between inside and outside spaces are blended whereas hand-made elements and found objects constantly alternate. The photographic origins of the two streetcars get exceptional poetic dimensions from the moment
that their geometric and at the same time organic silhouettes appear to approach with the distinctive elegance of two dancers. Their graceful journey on the rails is implied through the choice of material, namely layers of black and white tulle.
The main theme of the piece, the streetcar, having identical front and back views, could also be proposed as an allegory of history being reinterpreted constantly and having ambiguous notions of the beginning and the end, exactly as Vladimir Nabokov (3) forecasts the future through reflections of the past moments onto the present. Not only do the trams mirror the playful interchange of light, shadow and the glow of fermented urbanization but they also constitute an autobiographical reference to the two artists whose conversations are reflections of their intimate relationship as identical twins.
The archaeology of the modern city and the artifacts of the man made environment are the main resources for Maria and Natalia
Petschatnikov who often use the means of photography to collect images during their city wanderings.These snapshots,combined
with old documentaries, form the basis of their research. Series of diptychs accompany the installation like variations on the same theme, namely images of modern and historical trams combined with “romantic” views of the sky intersected by tram cable
lines. The paintings depict two points of view on the perceived situation and imply time passed between the two snapshots they are based on. The genre of miniature oil painting allows the artists to experience a simple, often banal situation in a deep and personal way through intense observation and activated memory. The overall polyphony is completed by an illusionistic black and white nebulous sky that is mirrored playfully from the “dock” of Beton7. In Berlin a new tram network is being laid out, following the reunification of the city. The old tracks which existed only in the East sector of the city and still bear witness to Berlin’s recent “divided story” are being extended towards the former West. On the other hand, in Athens, traces
of the old streetcar rails are still noticeable in several sites thus becoming a precious evidence of the massive changes that the city has undergone during its brief modern phase. It is worth mentioning that in most regeneration plans a new tram network
will go across its unified historical centre. In the archive documents as well as in the literary references, the tram is always associated with everyday people, who either as staff of the train or even as passengers, go about their daily routine, dependent on public transportation. Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov approach with great subtlety an urban symbol that is coming to the fore as a catalyst on modern city maps.Complicated structure of the installation invites the viewers to look for many more alternative routes and encourages further possibilities for personal interpretations.
The twins Maria & Natalia Petschatnikov (*1973, St.Petersburg) work as an artist duo in the border region between painting and installation. Their works give us a glimpse into how the world must look to two people whose lives are intimately connected.
The Petschatnikovs choose to focus on seemingly insignificant phenomena that are part of our daily lives. With imagination and
wit, they manage to tease out new and surprisingly profound perspectives on the everyday world; they find the extraordinary within the ordinary. Maria and Natalia Petschatnikov are not sociologists, their methods are not those of documentarians, their motives not those of field researchers. Rather, they look for their motifs as they stroll through the city and collect, and
the photographs they take while doing so become the basis for the painterly or sculptural engagement with the objects. It seems that these calculatedly focused images and installationlike stages achieve associative spaces thanks to the disparity of their media. A narrative level thus comes into being, and spaces open up that want to be filled with one’s own stories, memories, and ideas. The Petschatnikovs also emphatically invite the viewer to make connections between their various projects, as between the various media that they utilize. Maria & Natalia Petschatnikov live and work in Berlin.

Marcel Proust, “In Search of Lost Time’’,1927
Vladimir Nabokov, “A Guide to Berlin”,1925
“The streetcar will vanish in twenty years or so, just as the horse-drawn tram has vanished. Already I feel it has an air of
antiquity, a kind of old-fashioned charm ...and some eccentric Berlin writer of the twenty first century, wishing to portray our time will go to a museum of technological history and locate a hundredyear-old yellow street car ...I think that here lies the sense of literary creation-to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times.”

Haris Hadjinicolaou, art historian