Books

Book Review: On “Provintsiya”

February 13, 2018

The photographer Heinrich Völkel and the poet Hendrick Jackson embark on a literary journey through the vastly unknown Russian province. This journey is premised on the thesis that essentially all places outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg are considered provincial, irrespective of their geographical significance.

What lays beyond the “two” capitals of Russia is often unknown to people, especially abroad.

In “Provintsiya” the authors set themselves the task of exploring the Russian, in its vastness, which they do with great perceptiveness. They discover the essential characteristics of the land, without exposing these cities or comparing them with St. Petersburg or Moscow. This approach already demonstrates the authors’ deep cultural understanding in general and the love that they bring to their profession.

The results of this literary journey are presented in the form of a book scroll that encourages the reader to experience the authors’ journey via the process of the reading. The reader has no other option but to follow the authors’ given travel chronology, as the form of the book prohibits random scrolling. “Provintsiya” reveals itself to the reader step-by-step as the book roll gradually discloses its contents: The five cities visited could not be more different.

Chelyabinsk is an industrial city, Astrakhan basically consists of small island formations, Volgograd is the old Stalingrad and prides itself on defeating the Germans, Ulyanovsk is the hometown of Lenin and the  distinctive mark of Arkhangelsk is the ice.

This literary illumination of these cities appropriately  summarizes the Russian “Provintsiya”. Why? Due to their geographical location, these cities and its population seem to be infinitely distant from the epicenter of any world affairs. The distance slows down progress so that any progress once it has been achieved, is already too dated to be considered progress .Technical means aren’t able to accelerate this process.

The people of “Provintsiya” have an insatiable longing for the new and for development. They desire not only to witness changes, but to participate in the change itself before it is gone. The grotesque and the absurdity of “Provintsiya” are on the one hand the inability of the old to finally pass and on the other hand the inability of the new to arrive before it is already old, so people can take advantage of progress, as it occurs, in every sphere.

Heinrich Völkel and Hendrick Jackson succeed to capture “Provintsiya’s” cultural aspects  without “describing words” and “illustrating images”, as they claim at the beginning of their literary journey.

 

 

*“Provintsiya” by Heinrich Völkel and Hendrick Jackson was published by round-not-square.com.

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