International Leaking Roofs Day (Saint Petersburg)

ROOF LEAKS UNITE RESIDENTS
By Sergey Chernov
The St. Petersburg Times
April 13, 2011 (Issue # 1651)

Residents, artists and anarchists united Sunday to protest the St. Petersburg authorities’ failure to deal with housing issues by celebrating the fictitious International Leaking Roofs Day in the courtyard of a 19th-century building on Kolomenskaya Ulitsa.

The celebration, which included a discussion, an outdoor art exhibition and tea party, was organized by Verkhotura art group, one of whose members, Polina Zaslavskaya, lives in the building.

“The main idea was that people should unite and organize themselves to fight the problem, rather than deal with it alone,” Zaslavskaya said.

“And we came up with this humorous form: An exhibition, to invite artists to unite and tackle the problem with their artistic means. The housing problem is a common one; it doesn’t matter what you do, the main thing is to do it all together.”

Called “Everything Leaks and Everything Abides,” the art exhibition featured satirical posters criticizing the city’s housing services for the lack of transparency and alleged corruption, as well as documenting the effects of leaking roofs — a problem that affects thousands of the city’s households.

Zaslavskaya painted a series of watercolors with titles such as “Roof Pierced By a Crowbar,” “Electrical Wiring Has Burnt Out” and “Leak in the Kitchen. A Hot Water Pipe Burst in the Attic.”

The anarchists — some of whom held a regular Food Not Bombs event nearby, distributing free vegan food to underprivileged and homeless people — provided vegan snacks and hot tea as well as background music.

According to Zaslavskaya, the date was chosen to mark the first anniversary since the roof of her building, located at 38/40 Kolomenskaya Ulitsa, first started to leak. Despite promises from St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko to fix city roofs, the leaks returned last winter.

Zaslavskaya attributes this to corruption and inefficiency. “When such housing horror occurs, when things are on the verge of catastrophe, it immediately becomes clear to everybody how everything works,” she said.

“The Housing Code was issued back in 2005, but it still doesn’t work. City Hall came up with the “St. Petersburg Roofs” program in which they replaced old roofs with new ones, but it made things even worse because they were poorly made.

“It’s an example of solidarity among thieves and completely insane corruption, because incredible amounts of money are just draining away.”

The exhibition’s title, “Everything Leaks and Everything Abides,” is a play on words on Heraclitis’ quote “Everything flows and nothing abides” (in Russian, there is one word for both “leak” and “flow”), and was used on a poster that Zaslavskaya and her friends made for a rally against leaking roofs last month.

“The residents asked us to do something like ‘Valya, Fix Our Roof,’ which was an almost supplicating tone,” she said.

“I don’t know how productive that is. Quite the opposite, I think it makes sense to say, ‘Let’s battle, let’s unite, let’s organize ourselves and take everything over.’ There should be moods like that.”

Zaslavskaya believes that outdoor art events could overcome alienation and unite people — at least the residents of a specific building.

“There are severe problems now, and they can be used to try and stir up people,” she said.

“To overcome total loneliness and isolation, because I think it’s sad.”

Photos by Sergey Chernov. They are used here with his permission.

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Filed under activism, art exhibitions, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

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