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Hasty, tired and careless, we don’t often take our time to appreciate the magic appeal of town space. The walls, the bridges, the palaces, the embankments wait for us to stop and rediscover them, but we seem to have lost the ability of genuine wonder. We need a guide to help us see, an interpreter to help us hear what these silent stones have to say.

That’s what a photographer does. S/he arranges things the way they can speak to us, reveal what they are about. Photography guides us deeper that the façade helps us grasp something more essential than mere shapes and colors. Photographers take us beyond the surface, into the core. They deconstruct and reconstruct, they recompose and rearrange, they may turn everything upside down. The result is uncannily insightful. Everything is the same and not the same, as if new dimensions and relations suddenly sprang out of the habitual.

Maria Kremneva overturns the townscape of Haarlem and St.Petersburg. She shows the towns reflected in the water of the rivers and canals, she makes the buildings converse with their own mirrored images. The word reflection appears here in the fullness of its meaning, we see her towns meditating on themselves, observing their own nature. Every element of an image faces its inverted self, as a means of rediscovering its hidden core. In this dialog with its own topsy-turvy twin, every one of them and the whole space revive their depth and substance, resounding with significance and urgency. The method of antithesis gives volume to the original object. As though suddenly endowed with a compound eye, a multifaceted vision, we acknowledge many aspects of one entity at the same time. New dimensions open, new ways of exploring this world afresh, as if we were present at the moment of creation.

And then Maria goes further than that. She looks for new depths in her inexhaustible subject. She gives us yet another facet of vision, yet another dimension of this exploration, and thus multiplies the effect exponentially. She shows two different cities reflected in each other, facing their contrasts and similarities.

Peter the Great, the Russian tsar who founded Saint Petersburg, was inspired by Holland where he had spent some time in the very last years of the 17th century. Holland was the crucial part of his Great Embassy, a mission meant to achieve a number of political aims, and, above all, to become the first giant step towards bringing Russia closer to Europe. The great Tsar researched first-hand the aspects of civilization and culture, of technologies and everyday life, to carry them over onto Russian wilder, more elemental soil. He built his dream city, St. Petersburg, the way he must have conceived while contemplating the graphic quality of Dutch townscape, harmony dissected by the symmetry axis of the canals. At the outset, this new capital built after Peter’s vision was almost entirely “Dutch”, with typical spires and bridges, chimes on belfries and many a windmill, contributed by architects such as Herman van Boles, who came from Schiedam to design, among other things, the famous steeple of the Admiralty. In later years much was altered, under Italian influence as well as thanks to the emergence of Russian architects, but the spirit has remained.

This spirit is what holds the city together, in a desperate attempt to tame the wilderness, to order the chaos, to bring symmetry to the elemental. We can imagine that Peter’s dream was born from this balanced geometry of reflection, the same doubling of the above by the below as we can see in Maria’s photos. Both in the dream and the photographs, the towns reflect upon themselves and upon each other. Each one looks into the mirror of the other and, transformed by the opposition, reinforces itself and comes to us enriched. The gingerbread coziness of one is echoed by the wintry splendor of the other, the peaceful contentment by the windy discomfort, the beauty… by the beauty.

Waiting for us to see all that, the cities remained conversing with each other in silence. Now that Maria has opened our eyes, they are sharing their true selves with us. They have let us into their silent conversation.

Video from the opening of the exhibition

3 november Opening tentoonstelling Maria Kremneva A Silent Conversation

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