"Labor" Market (with support of Aleksandr Dolgov)

I used to reach the university by minibus from the stop ‘Labor Avenue’ to the one called ‘Market ‘Labor’, situated in the very centre of the city. The word ‘market’ in the name was a novelty; it used to be called ‘Labor Stadium’. But, as most of the stadiums, in the 90s ‘Labor’ turned into a giant marketplace. My mother used to buy clothes for me there when I was a kid. And I have to confess that I hated it immensely: I liked football and secondhand stores much more than markets and Turkish jeans. However, several times a year I had to thoroughly examine the t-shirts, jeans, suits, coats, gloves, sweaters, hats, boots and sneakers presented there, as well as those who supplied it all. I recall that the sellers used to seem successful people to me. It was as if they belonged to a special caste. They owned cars of foreign make. They used to travel abroad now and then. They certainly had video-tape recorders, cassette players and other attributes of success that used to fascinate children’s minds in the 90s.

It was later, when I was studying at the Voronezh State University, that one of our philosophy professors told a story about how he had to betray his mission for serving behind the counter at this very Labor Stadium. An ideal image of a shuttle trader began to crack. Of course, everything was not that simple, and it was not the betrayal of philosophy that one should have been upset about. It was an utterly hard physical labor. Most of the vendors actually had higher education. Workers of culture and medicine, of intellectual and creative labor, engineers – in other words, all those toilers of the social sphere who were turned down by the wild Russian capitalism – became shuttle traders not because they wanted to. Then, with increasing frequency, news started to appear in the media about shuttle traders being attacked by bandits. The pioneers of Russian capitalism were murdered and robbed in loads. Still there were certain positive and even romantic sides to this activity. In the very early 90s foreign goods still had a sacred status that spread on all those who had any relation to them. The opportunity of free travelling was also important.

The Soviet odes to the distance, the praise of those brave engineers who went to build the Baikal-Amur Mainline or simply to work in the faraway Siberian science towns were replaced by the raptures over the opportunity to freely cross the borders. Now the engineers – sometimes even the same ones – travelled to China or Poland several times a year. One shouldn’t also forget that this was an experience of individual entrepreneurship that came both as a challenge and a great experiment for the Soviet mind.

By the end of the 00s, when I did not have to travel between the two ‘labor’ stops anymore, the amount of the markets started decreasing gradually. It became unprofitable to carry the goods by oneself. All the specter of the brands represented in the fashion sections of Moscow magazines had already appeared in Voronezh. As for the Russia’s capital, this story finished there with the closing of the so-called ‘Cherkizon’ market, in the proximity of which I also had the opportunity to reside for some time. The shuttle traders’ generation was fading away. The most successful ones went on to be prominent businessmen. Some ended up in prison. Some are not among the living anymore. And some even returned to their old professions. But I was still captivated by ‘Labor’. I used to return to this place repeatedly when I visited Voronezh. I especially liked it there in the evening, in the end of the workday, as the bright Buren-style red-white fabric of the stalls was carried to the utility rooms and the market turned into a giant waste ground crammed with tilted iron frames. Later my interest led me to a close acquaintance with Alexander Dolgov, first a Soviet engineer and later one of Russian shuttle traders. We recorded a long conversation with Alexander where he told the story of his life – the way from the press to the stall and, however strange it may seem, back to the press. Today Dolgov is working in his profession again. It turned out that the old Soviet presses that were made in the 80s are still in use. But as for the people who can handle them, there are very few left.

This was when the intellectual laborers of the Soviet State were remembered of. It’s an ironic twist of fate that Dolgov, being an amateur photographer, continues to occasionally use photography in his work up until now. For him, a simple shot of a broken junction of the press sent by e-mail is sufficient to specify how to eliminate the fault. After the work is done, he receives the repaired and newly painted press that looks like it has just gone off the production line.

We decided to jointly create a monument to the market ‘Labor’ by combining our conversation, photographs by Alexander Dolgov, and my own installation made of the trading stalls’ frames. Now each side of a stall within the monument has a line on it from the refrain of the song about hope and the romance of distances. Having accompanied the generation born in the 70s, this song changed its sense only slightly as the direction was changed in the 90s. “Hope is my earthly compass, and luck is my reward for courage. And one song is enough if it is sung about home in it.”

Arseniy Zhilyaev

"Hope my compass terrestrial"

The unknown star is shining
Again we are torn out of our homes
Again towns and cities between us
Airport's runway lights
Here are mists and rains
Here is the cold dawn
Here on this unexplored path
Intricate stories wait for us
Hope - my compass on earth
And luck - trophy for bravery
One song is enough
Only if it is about home
Believe me, that here from afar
A lot is lost in the view
The stormy clouds are melting
The arguments seem absurd
Need to learn how to wait
Need to be calm and stubborn
To get sometimes from life
Restrained telegrams of happiness
Hope - my compass on earth
And luck - trophy for bravery
One song is enough
Only if it is about home
And I can't still forget
Everything that we haven't sung
Dear tired eyes
Moscow's blue blizzards
The life is separating us, like before
In the sky there is an unknown star
Shines, like a monument to hope
Hope - my compass on earth
And luck - trophy for bravery
One song is enough
Only if it is about home