Sunday, March 2, 2014

“The ‘Golden Toilet’ Stage of Things”

A brief, topical post, underscoring some of the spatial-architectural aspects of the recent events in Ukraine: not so much the incredible scenes from Kiev, of a European square as a blackened, apocalyptic war zone, but the spectacle outside the capital, as the general public descended on the ousted ruler's latter-day Versailles.

Photos: Jeffrey J. Mitchell/Getty Images and David Rose for the Telegraph

The tone of the reports was gleeful, fueled by the astonishing images of the gaudy, overstuffed furnishings and bizarre fantasy amusements of Yanukovych's estate: the mini-hovercraft, the elaborate galleon moored on the man-made lake, the private zoo with its ostriches. It also undoubtedly compelled an upbeat voice due to the pleasant irony of regular folks filing through the attraction in an orderly fashion, rather than ripping the place apart in a furious orgy of looting, as if the palace had already become an historical monument of a distant era, open for tours during regular hours, where visitors could chuckle at the poor taste of so many tacky, ego-stroking follies. 

Constantin Chernichkin/Reuters
Washington Post Image
This blog has intermittently covered the architectural and landscape dimensions of this decade’s revolutions, recently in Istanbul and the streets of Brazil, and earlier the spatial aspects of the uprising in Bahrain. The primacy of public space in Cairo has been extensively discussed by Orhan Ayyüce in Archinect, but these were largely dealing with public, and outdoor, zones, not the mansions of the elite.

Invading the autocrat’s inner sanctums has a long history, even in the post-modern era, stretching back to early internet days, uploaded photos of Saddam’s palaces. This was replicated with increasing frequency since the Tunisian revolution of 2011, when seaside villas were vandalized live on Al Jazeera. This has become a cultural phenomenon, a regular, repeated, stage in popular overthrows. No less than David Remnick, writing in  a March 1st blogpost, “Putin Goes to War,” in the New Yorker, sums it up brilliantly:
Just a few days ago, this horrendous scenario of invasion and war, no matter how limited, seemed the farthest thing from nearly everyone’s mind in either Ukraine or Russia, much less the West. As it happens so often in these situations—from Tahrir Square to Taksim Square to Maidan Square—people were taken up with the thrill of uprising. After Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, the coverage moved to what one might call the “golden toilet” stage of things, that moment when the freedom-hungry crowds discover the fallen leader’s arrangements and bountiful holdings—the golden bathroom fixtures; the paintings and the tapestries; the secret mistress; the lurid bedrooms and freezers stocked with sweetmeats; the surveillance videos and secret transcripts; the global real-estate holdings; the foreign bank accounts; the fleets of cars, yachts, and airplanes; the bad taste, the unknown cruelties.The English-language Kyiv Post published a classic in the genre when it reported how journalists arriving at the “inner sanctum” of the mansion where Yanukovych had lived in splendor discovered that he had been cohabiting not with his wife of four decades but, rather, with—and try not to faint—a younger woman. It “appears” that Yanukovych had been living there with a spa owner named Lyubov (which means “love”) Polezhay. “The woman evidently loves dogs and owns a white Pomeranian spitz that was seen in the surveillance camera’s footage of Yanukovych leaving” the mansion.But that was trivia.
It is trivia, how true. Rather than the final scene, the self-guided romps around the suburban spread were swept aside in the larger events, and in the hours since Remnick's post was uploaded, new events, and new spatial violations on a larger territorial scale had unfolded, with larger global consequences. The awe-struck tours of the frivolity and kitsch of the Dictator’s log-cabin McMansion seem quaint just days later, as the initial victory, and the opportunity to topple the monuments of an earlier regime, slipped away in the onset of further war. 

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