When I decided to come to Moscow, I was most of all excited to see old stuff—Soviet relics, dead writers’ apartments, art from bygone dissident movements. I listened to music from the 1930s to prepare myself and made lists of museums to visit. I wanted to live in a Moscow that had stopped existing sometime in the 1990s.
The first few weeks were hard. None of the Russians I met were interested in the things I was—Russian literature, Soviet history—and I felt like I was a grumbly, dusty, irrelevant member of the intelligentsia as I wandered the city trying to commune with (literal) statues. I couldn’t visit Mayakovsky (a 1920s-era poet known for his new ideas and poetic innovations) because his museum was under renovation and his statue, in a completely different area of the city, was on a patch of land being dug up to build a new square. The old-new was being turned into the new-new.
One day, not having the energy to go far from home, I decided to go to Garage, the contemporary art museum in Gorky Park. I entered the park along my usual route and then stood in the shade trying to figure out where I was. I was half-listening to some violin music coming from the bridge underpass, and when I went over to investigate I found a young man wearing a badly matching red T-shirt that said ROCK and red jeans, standing on a platform playing an amped violin accompanied by more electronic violin music. There were rows of benches below, and they were filled with people listening, many of them recording him. The music was beyond beautiful, and I spent half an hour watching him switching from violin to guitar to keyboard, thinking of him writing his music and recording it and then playing it, twice, here, somehow finding so many listeners—people who wanted to listen to art.
I went to Garage later, meandering through slowly, incompetently ordering a bilberry lemonade at the café just because I had never heard of bilberries before (in any language), finally steeling myself for the ridiculously long line for the exhibits. I chose one at random and stood there, stood there, stood there. Somewhere near me said that this exhibit was better: this one had lights, the other one only had bubbles. I waited in the heat, prepared to be disappointed by lights that could not be worth a half-hour’s standing.
Then I got into the lights. It was a tiny room into which we were admitted one at a time, and it was full of mirrors and lights. They reflected forever, so that you could see yourself standing in the cosmos, surrounded by stars. I slid my foot forward to find the glass and there was empty space. I felt like I was everywhere in the universe.
I left seeing Moscow differently. It wasn’t one small (albeit huge) city, stuck in its one long, defining history. It is something new, something composing itself and layering itself on top of itself, a city expressed in many different instruments, a city that keeps the whole universe inside itself, somewhere or other.
By: Julie Hersh
Term: Summer 2015