Through the images and narratives of 20 buildings the exhibition explores key themes related to architectural, social and cultural history of Tashkent and its current condition. It exposes the Soviet modernist layer of Tashkent as a unique artistic, cultural and social phenomenon capable of adequately revealing the specific character of Soviet modernization in Central Asia. More than just another “peripheral case” of multiple modernities or a white spot on the world map of architectural modernism of XX century, this architecture – being relevant to the global cultural scene – reflects the colonial, postcolonial and, at the same time, decolonial aspects of the Soviet social and cultural experiment. After WWII Tashkent was assigned the role of the capital of the Soviet Orient, a vitrine of socialism in the East. Conceived by both local and Moscow architects, the distinctive quality of Tashkent modernism derives from the tension between this aspiration to embody the socialist Orient in architecture and the one that resisted it to find more subtle interpretations of the local.
The exhibition consists of two interwoven layers: photographs by Armin Linke, and archival documentation, exposing the research narratives and preservation strategies.
Armin Linke’s work poses a larger question of the nature of images. Today, as photography has become much more than a mere representation of reality, but an ambiguous reality onto its own, the exhibition maintains an attitude critical towards the image as a sublayer. Intending to avoid the clichés formed during the last 15 years in the representation of Soviet modernism, whereby the modernist buildings are portrayed out of context, and glorified as remnants of an exotic, remote and extinguished culture, Armin Linke’s photographs aim – rather than immortalizing the passing beauty of Tashkent modernism – to highlight its contemporary value, at times intrinsic and at times acquired. Similarly to Agamben’s contemporaneity, defined as the “relationship with (own) time that adheres to it through a displacement and an anachronism”, these buildings, built between 1960s and early 1990s, are seen as powerful metaphors to reinterpret the present day Tashkent.
The archive includes fragments of research materials, analytical and preservation processes. Departing from a specific building, it articulates the key themes for understanding Soviet modernism: the relationship between the center and the periphery; the role of institutions; typological, technological and materials experimentation; the competition between republics; the ideology, the orientalism, post-independence transformations and the contemporary condition. The archive also elucidates the repertoire of preservation strategies that have been developed specifically for Tashkent.
The first step in implementing the preservation effort is to assure the protection of selected buildings through including them in the national list of monuments and describing their significance. Likewise the preservation and modernization of one of the studied buildings – the former Republican House of Tourism to become the new French Center and Center for Restoration of Art – will soon enter the construction phase. Finally, the Cultural (Modernist) route, connecting the city’s modernist buildings, will be developed as a thematic intervention and will start operating through a mobile app.
The vast research and theoretical efforts were crucial for the process, the result of which we will see already at the end of 2023 as a pedestrian route through the most important modernism buildings, created for Tashkent citizens and guests, and later – in the buildings that are being preserved, restored and given new function to by the world's best architects.
— Gayane Umerova, Executive Director of the Art and Culture Development Foundation of Uzbekistan
The project that ACDF, Ekaterina Golovatyuk and the project team introduce at the Triennale is a unique effort to combine political, social and esthetic considerations in a single, comprehensive and new approach to the notion of preservation.
Instead of focusing on individual structures, the aim of this impressive work is to establish a new validity for an architecture that was highly ideological in its own time, and to resist the current temptation to project simplistic contemporary values on artifacts from a complex, relatively recent, past.
— Rem Koolhaas
After decades of worldwide neglect, today there is an understanding that modernism is not only a valid part of our common history as the architecture that preceded it, but also a very important movement that generated many innovative ideas, buildings and visions for the city as a whole. Modernist architecture is recognized today as a unique artistic, cultural and social phenomenon that can most adequately reveal the specific character of modernization of Soviet Central Asia.
— Ekaterina Golovatyuk, architect, co-founder and director of Grace, coordinator of Modernism XX/XXI project
Tashkent’s modernist buildings still communicate the social and cultural agenda of the past. At the same time they are also extremely contemporary. These buildings are very sculptural, with rather elaborate surfaces — their external and internal skins —functioning as a scenography for a larger social script.
— Armin Linke, photographer and filmmaker
The public program of Tashkent Modernism. Index expands on key topics raised by the exhibition through a series of conversations and lectures. Among these, on April 19, a public talk with Gayane Umerova, Rem Koolhaas and Jean-Louis Cohen, moderated by Ekaterina Golovatyuk, addressing the key points of the research and preservation effort.