Continuous Mapping: project review

Don’t miss the green door in the grey city.

Regarding the “Continuous Mapping” performance:

On the previous Friday, September 17, the Science & Theatre Laboratory unveiled “Continuous Mapping,” a project featured within the context of the 6th Ural Biennale of Contemporary Art.

While it is categorized as a performance, one could engage in a debate about this classification, though such distinctions are not of paramount importance. We attended the inaugural show and are eager to explain why you should partake in this delightful expedition.

The immersive experience commences within the confines of the National Centre of Contemporary Arts (NCCA). Here, the project’s director, Maria Staroselets, and playwright Alina Zhurina warmly welcome the initial group of guests. Although the journey is meticulously designed for a modest ensemble of twelve individuals, the sensations and impressions are profoundly personal—allow me to narrate my own experiences.

Headphones and travel diaries are already waiting on the table: everyone will have to choose their own “logbook”, but from show to show these diaries will travel with different people and keep profiles, memories, advice, wishes, notes. So far, there are very few records, and you are looking closely at the previous owner, trying to imagine what they are like – your invisible companions on this route.

A calm and pleasant female voice greets you in the headphones; you open the diary on the first pages – get to know the previous owner and talk about yourself and your city. Formally, this city is familiar to you – Yekaterinburg. But it sounds, looks, and smells different from all of the other participants of the show. Many questions are taken by surprise: for example, what color is your city? And, seriously, what color? Gray, brown – like on this cloudy day? Or are the colors still bright, because despite the bad weather, the mood is good, and everything is perceived joyfully? What does the city smell like? Maybe the metro railway (the smell of the path from the railway station to the University building – my first independent route in the once unfamiliar Yekaterinburg)? Or maybe the Autumn leaves and fallen apples? Or coffee?

We got acquainted – now it’s time to hit the road. The route lies through the city garden. While you are walking, you hear the voices of the playwright and the director of the project. The two women discuss what the cities of their childhood were like and what worlds they invented to make it more exciting to live in them. You, too, begin to remember…

Yet, a new challenge eagerly awaits you: a weathered photograph nestled within the diary, a black-and-white snapshot captured right here in the city garden during the late 1970s. Within this image, you’ll encounter a stylishly attired young lady, her smile directed towards the camera lens. Guided by the voices in your headphones, you are prompted to scrutinize this individual within the photograph and discern the precise location where this picture was taken. And when you pinpoint this spot, the photograph transcends its static existence and transforms into a temporal portal.

While this may appear to be a straightforward illusion, you willingly succumb to its simple enchantment and embrace the rules of the game. This journey isn’t merely about traversing the city; it’s a journey through the city—a city you believe you know, yet often you follow familiar routes without truly observing, without contemplating the world that envelops you. Today, however, is destined to be different.

As you step through the city garden gates, an experience awaits that defies convention. Where there would typically be gates, today they become portals to another dimension. You enter the Greenwich shopping center, ascending the escalator (or ascending the Ural mountains?), all the while guided by the voices that encourage participants to tap into their imaginative faculties. As a result, the entire shopping complex magically morphs into an international airport. Here, you encounter a pink dinosaur statue adorned with whimsical wings, and through the power of imagination, it transcends its identity as a faceless plastic art piece, transforming into a passenger ready to embark on a journey to unknown destinations…

As we gaze through the expansive panoramic windows, we’re no longer met with the ordinary mall setting, but instead, a charming European street unfolds before us. Unexpectedly, a sense of profound solitude begins to creep in, a stark contrast to the bustling anonymity of daily life. The city, whose grandeur often eludes us amid our routine, now exerts a subtle influence.

Coming to our aid is a voice in the headphones—a different voice this time, as various individuals, ranging from researchers and philosophers to delivery personnel, “visit” the playwright and director, sharing their insights on city perception. Abruptly, despite the September setting, the voice evokes memories of the New Year holidays: the warm glow of lights emanating from windows, illuminating the unique worlds within each apartment. These words instantly infuse a sense of tranquility and warmth into the atmosphere, recalling raucous celebrations and heartfelt wishes exchanged during that season.

You’re now tasked with crafting one of these heartfelt wishes: a blank postcard eagerly awaits within the diary notebook. The voice prompts you to pen a sincere message and present it as a gift to a fellow participant in the group. Participants exchange cards, and you read the heartfelt message from an entirely unfamiliar girl—a wish for you to venture to the seaside and, if possible, not to dwell too much on life’s complexities. It’s a bit heartrending to part with the postcard, yet you carefully return it to the notebook, contemplating how it might serve a purpose for the next traveler who embarks on this journey.

Emotions on this journey fluctuate widely. As you traverse the underground passageway, you are confronted with the fears that grip individuals in the midst of city life, conveyed through documentary recordings from focus groups. Memories of your own fears resurface. You then turn to the diary, and your fellow traveler from the past once more extends a helping hand: “Close your eyes and envision yourself in a place where you feel at ease. It’s bright and serene, with a gentle breeze caressing your face.”

However, before you jot down how you manage fear and anxiety in a bustling metropolis, there’s one crucial revelation yet to be unveiled.

The narrative introduces another intriguing episode, drawing from Herbert Wells’ “The Door in the Wall”: “At school, Wallace and his friends often played Northwest Passage. It involved leaving home 10 minutes earlier, navigating an unfamiliar path, and arriving at school in time for classes.” Inspired by this tale, you, too, embark on a quest to find your “Northwest Passage.” The guidebook contains a transparent map, mapping out Arctic Canada with Veiner and Khokhryakov streets demarcated, and a red line connecting one street to the other. This uncharted path beckons, a route you’ve never traversed before. Enchanted by the tale playing through your headphones, you momentarily overlook the green door—might it reveal itself should you venture down this unknown path once more, or perhaps another?

Text: Daria Sannikova
Photos: Tatiana Doukscha
September 21, 2021