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Youth without Age - Jack Constant

As lockdown eases, you take the opportunity to visit another country, experience a different  city, a new culture.  You’ve been scrolling through your instagram timeline, seeing all the places you can’t go and wanderlust begins. You forget about the imposed isolation upon your return, you need to escape, if only for a weekend.  You want to escape this time, this place, this pandemic.

Looking through the list of countries for permitted travel, you choose Latvia and book a ticket. You've never been there before and see endless possibilities.

As you arrive in Riga, you book into your hostel and wander the city.

You are drawn towards an old thrift store and explore inside. Inside you find a mysterious travel journal with images and annotated notes, it intrigues you and the shop is closing soon, its almost 5pm local time, you forgot to put your watch forward two hours and feel panic.

You check the price, 50 euros, the pandemic has saved you money, not being able to go out so you buy it and walk out...

As you sit down at a small café, you order a coffee and look through the journal. Someone has documented their travels, an attempt to preserve a moment captured then lost to the annals of time. How did this end up in a second hand store?

You open the pages and begin to look...

Riga, Latvia

There are two main towers in Riga, Latvia. One is the Academy of Science. The architecture of the skyscraper resembles many others built in the Soviet Union at the time, most notably the main building of Moscow State University. It was funded by “voluntary donations” from farmers across the country to educate people in science and technology. A local nickname is Stalin's birthday cake because it was presented as a “gift” to the people.

The tower on the left is the- the Riga TV Tower, the tallest tower in the EU. These loom large over the city below and both are ways of imparting information; the one on the right via education and the one on the left by media.

 Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria

On August 2, 1891, a group of men met on the peak to create the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers' Party, which later became the Bulgarian Communist Party.

The historical significance of the site led the government to approve a large memorial to celebrate Bulgaria's communist progression. In 1981, after nearly eight years of construction, the Buzludzha Monument was unveiled.

The giant monument was open to the public and used for official parties and events until the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in its closure in 1989.

Left to the elements, it only took a few years without maintenance for it to fall into disrepair. The Bulgarian government took no interest and let it rot; pretending it didn’t exist. Fortunately, the internet and curiousity of foreign visitors has revived interest in preserving the monument.

Sadakholo, Georgia

The border between Georgia and Armenia is littered with abandoned factories, half-finished buildings and traces of their previous existence of one entity.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Jurate Cirtautaite wrote “A few periods of history showed that in Lithuania, the main goal for the companies were to build fast, cheap dwellings on the empty lots. The capital
of Lithuania, Vilnius city is not an exception. The city is built ineffectively. Functions, neighbourhoods are far apart from each other and the transportation ineffectiveness leads to
the longer and tedious hours of commuting, dwellings and structures are in poor condition and don’t fit living standards anymore. People naturally moves out from these buildings, leaving neighbourhoods, villages or even cities desolated.
But the paradox is that city has a great number of vacant property and land. These properties create borders, which people avoid. The snow ball is rolling and it brings emptiness, disorder and crime to the place, while it could be used for numerous diverse developments and to make the city pattern more vibrant and sustainable.
The starting point of the project was from well-known quote in Vilnius by the street artist: “Vilnius full of space”. It was written on the emptied building in the city centre. The quote appeared around 2007, when Vilnius suffered from grand and cheap developments on the new plots.
The project focus is on one city centre block, which lies next to the main train station. It has various parts and problems to be considered: historical aspects, preservation rules, topography, history, high crime rates, emptiness and etc. But the main questions to be answered are about architecture role in making community bonds and what is required to involve people in the decision making.”

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

In the center of Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina, stands the former Ljubljanska Banka. It is among the tallest buildings in the city and a casualty of the Bosnian War after the breakup of Yugoslavia. During the occupation it was used as a Sniper’s nest leading to it’s new alias, the Sniper Tower.

This photograph captures many aspects of the city stretching generations: the tower, shelled buildings from the war and the beauty of the Mostar Gymnasium founded in 1893. To the right you can see the minaret of a neighboring mosque, and out of frame upon the hilltop is a large cross which illuminates at night.

Belchatow, Poland

The Elektrownia Bełchatów, located in Bełchatów, is the largest coal fueled power plant in Europe and one of the largest in the world. In 2007, the World Wide Fund for Nature ranked the power station as Europe's 11th most inefficient power station due to carbon dioxide emissions of 1.09 kg per kWh of energy produced, and the highest absolute emitter, with 30.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year.[5] In July 2009, the facility was titled as the biggest carbon polluter in the European Union by the Sandbag Climate Campaign.

You wonder what this is all about? An attempt to make meaning of the current state of Europe? A documentation to preserve the authors life? You are three coffees in and you can feel it vibrate inside you, you are intrigued...

Qabastan, Azerbaijan

Sarande, Albania

Albania has a lot of concrete skeletons. These concrete skeletons date from the 90s, when a series of nationwide pyramid schemes created a building boom that left many constructions incomplete. In the mid-1990s Albania was transitioning from a state-controlled economy to a capitalist market economy. The relative naiveté of Albanians in the face of large-scale financial investment led to a speculative mania, wherein many invested in what turned out to be pyramid schemes: companies without assets attracting investors by offering high returns.

After the fall of Communism in Albania in 1991, there was a lack of government regulation accompanying the introduction of private property: it became a kind of free-for-all. Based on their presumed riches, Albanians began constructing across the country. In 1996-97, at the peak of the pyramid schemes, the nominal value of the schemes’ liabilities amounted to half of the country’s GDP.

Whether these relics amount to failure from an architectural standpoint is open to interpretation: through informal means, people have claimed or re-claimed many of these structures for alternative uses, testifying to the communal creativity born of economic devastation and state failure.

This was a planned apartment block; repurposed into a car park.

Yerevan, Armenia

YOUTH WITHOUT AGE, WHERE THERE IS NO DEATH

 

There are two common folk stories separated by an evershifting border. In Romania, Petre Ispirescu (1830-1887) wrote Youth Without Age and Life Without Death whereas Where there is No Death is an Ukrainian folktale, collected by Mykola Zinchuk in 1987 and both concern existing beyond time. They similarly tell the story of a youth who wishes to exist forever and his adventures to secure an endless ahistorical existence. However, while the Romanian tale speaks of the inevitable failure of this endeavour and how all things must end, the Ukraininan tale suggests one can move beyond the thread of time if they separate from all unions that tie us to it.

This different interpretation of a similar folktale is reflected in each countries political and cultural trajectory. While both ex-communist states with borders drawn by European powers throughout the centuries, they have taken different paths following their entry in the 21st Century. In 2007, Romania was accepted into the EU, reflecting its desire to align further West in the future. Part of this process has involved modernising and changing the country, turning some aspects of culture and tradition to dust, akin to the protagonist in Ispirescu’s tale. In contrast, In March 2016, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker stated that it would take at least 20–25 years for Ukraine to join the EU, suggesting that it had not moved forward and is, in effect, not bound to such foreign influences such as modernisation or indeed, chronology.

These snapshots of time come from a variety of ex-Communist countries which straddle this thread of time, between a world where time is relentless and nothing except nostalgia can exist and a world that cannot accept chronology and where all things exist at once. Some have accepted the ceaseless march of time and some exist beyond it.

Jack Constant