A guide to the New East
Photography

Memory palace: inside Russia’s crumbling houses of culture

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In his series Dkdance photographer Dmitry Lookianov explores Russia’s Palaces of Culture (Dovorets Kultury, or DKs), event and exhibition venues built during Soviet times as centres for recreational activities. “The idea came to me when I was visiting one of Moscow’s numerous DKs. The cultural activities in them were grim but the architecture was a good example of Soviet grandeur,” says Lookianov. “At first I was planning a more ironic series but the more time I spent in DKs, the more my photography became imbued with a sense of melancholy.” DKs first appeared in the 1920s and 1930s, primarily as platforms for mass propaganda, but were later developed into venues for leisure and culture where people could enjoy film, theatre, dance, art and literature. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the DKs lost their financial backing and struggled to survive. Since then, the buildings have fallen into disrepair and their props, costumes, musical instruments and theatrical scenery remain unused. Despite their neglect, Lookianov still believes that DKs are still relevant. “The people in these photographs are mostly municipal workers who have worked there for a long time,” says Lookianov, who took the photos in the Moscow region and in central Russia. “Some have stayed out of habit but some are genuinely interested in their work and try to maintain the premises with their own funds and through donations. In small towns and villages, DKs are still the centre of cultural activities and they serve as a place to gather for local artists, musicians, kids and anyone else who’s interested in culture.”

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