Ştefan RUSU

public space / workshops

Reimagining the New Man in the context of Victoria City (Red Ucea)

Context: Victoria Summer Camp - Utopian Cities, Programmed Societies
Organizer: 2580 Association (Cluj, Romania)
Period: 24 - 29 of June 2019

The workshop format was designed to explore by means of contemporary art (film, video footage, photography and other cultural artefacts) the image of cultural worker, the process of labor in the context of industrialization of Victoria City. Following the slogan “Build a plant and civilization will follow”, like Magnitogorsk, Nova Hut, Dimitrovgrad's or Visaginas, the birth of Victoria City, due to the internal mobility of workers, remains one of the most interesting social experiments. 
The aim of the workshop was to facilitate the knowledge about the role of cultural producer during socialist era city development and industrialization through use of new methodology to produce media art projects based on archival sources and in-situ collected material.
This format was initially tested in Tajikistan under the title “Re-imaging the New Man” as a temporary platform for in-depth study of archival film footage, as well as transformation of cinematic language into digital format. Dealing with the context of post-communist condition of society was a way to keep in mind a temporary bridge between the socialist period when Romania become an industrialized country and the situation after the collapse of Eastern bloc, when things changed dramatically. A reference to that moment of recent history opens up a set of archival sources originated in state and private archives (audio recordings, photos, analogue films, prints, posters, etc.), which may serve as a primary source for artist works.
Obviously when you approach an industrial complex of such magnitude that ceased to exist decades ago, the traces of recent history are not easy to find since the biggest part of chemical plant was gradually dismantled, washed away through time. Still there was a hope to identify visual evidences about city development, as well the life of the Victoria’s inhabitants. We looked for photographic images, analogue movies (8-mm, 16-mm film) of socialist period depicting the main directions of the society development (economics, political education, urban development, health, youth involvement, youth organizations in Socialist Romania, etc.). While approaching the city context we propose besides the film archive (as far as we can access) to expand the investigation by investigating the photo archives and written documentation, so that we do not limit ourselves only to video and film as a purpose, so that students/participants can propose other formats, such as writing essays, photo projects, installations, etc.)
The main subjects to be explored during the workshop where the following: the image of “new man” (cultural worker), the urbanization of Victoria City (Red Ucea) and the process of residential differentiation along with the social codes.

Exploring the image of cultural worker:
The city of Victoria has been synonymous from all points of view with the Chemical Plant, around which the community was formed. In 1956, seven years after its establishment it already had 2,700 inhabitants, and in the 80s the population tripled.
The new socialist cities were seen as “laboratories” for molding a new lifestyle centered on the idea of “cultural work”. The construction of Victoria City, determined the retrieval of ideological lines in the project of (re)defining the ’worker’s spirit’. The local archives from 2 March 1946 (Victoria Chemical Plant’s Archive Nr. 31/1945-1946) mention the division of sporting and cultural activities into three groups: administrative, sports (athletics section including, hiking, biking and bowling) and cultural (music section including choir, instruments, chamber music, pop music, literary department, library, theatre, game casino - “specifying chess, backgammon, etc.”- and publications, including the departmental conferences and popularization courses, cinema, screenings).

The process of urbanization of Victoria City:
"Victoria is the first new city to appear on the map of the Romanian People's Republic. Everything that happens here in the settlement at the foot of Fagaras is directly related to the existence of the chemical plant. You can find in every house, or apartment where a worker, engineer or technician involved in the sphere of chemistry (...). Functionalist and formalist tendencies, representative for the western ideas of the time, have been rejected, whereas the socialist realist approach national in form, socialist in content was to be followed. Thus, the study of national and traditional architecture became essential, generating external ornamentation and detailing; soviet symbols – the hammer and sickle, as well as the five-point star are placed together with traditional motifs. This is the case of the chemical plant administrative building. The current status of Victoria is that it could potentially become a large village. People are no longer at work, they are simply gone. The young people all went to work abroad. At the 1992 census there were 10,142 inhabitants, and at the last census the population had reached 7,310 inhabitants. We can say that the city disappeared from Romania. In order for the city to survive, it has to reinvent itself, try to live on agriculture or tourism. Victoria is located at the foot of the Fagaras mountains. You can easily reach the Negoiu and Moldoveanu Peaks, and the scenery is spectacular. There are also enough agricultural lands. Attracting tourists with outdoor sports and mountain tours can be a new start for Victoria.

The processes of residential differentiation:
During the state socialist era the socialist ideology, the political and economic system under which the cities developed, brought about similarities in their development processes as well as similarities in terms of outcomes. By the late 1950s development priorities were being re-assessed. This resulted in an increase in public funding for housing production. Extensive urban development characterized the development of Victoria City during the following three decades.
People in higher socio-occupational positions were favored in the allocation of dwellings in the first modern housing estates of the 1960s, but by the 1970s, access became more equal for households in all social strata. In the 1980s, the volume of housing production decreased following the economic recession. The broad residential differentiation between the housing estates was related to the time of their construction, tenure and local factors.

Ideally the workshop should start with a theoretical section with a series of lectures specifically focused on identified subjects, along with film screenings and practical laboratories and preceded by the preparatory work on research and collection of archival material from various sources dealing with work at the chemical plant, people’s private life and the city. In fact, some of the topics of “Utopic cities, programmed societies” program developed a theoretical input on broader spectrum of issues, but the missing link was insufficient archival materials, so the participants could mainly rely on in-situ observation, interviews and documentation.

“Reimagining the New Man in the context of Victoria City (Red Ucea)”was developed by Stefan Rusu as part of multiannual project, “Utopic cities, programmed societies” aims to forge the art-design-science - technologies scene in Romania by taking the case of Victoria town in the Brasov region and the history of Romanian cybernetics as starting points for artistic and design interventions.

Victoria Chemical Plant’s Archive Nr. 31/1945-1946
ROMÂNIA FURATĂ. Victoria, oraşul îngropat de combinatul chimic DIGI24 (23.02.2016)
Yankovskaya, Galina. “The Economic Dimensions of Art in the Stalinist Era:
Artists’ Cooperatives in the Grip of Ideology and the Plan.” Slavic Review 65, no.4 (Winter 2006)
Zvorykin, A. A. Cultural Policy in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Paris: Unesco, 1970.

Contribution to journal - Victoria Summer Camp: