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Interview with Tyran: How Urban Development Can Turn into a Celebration
2013-11-28 | personages, cardboardia for citizen, interview

For the past five years, Cardboardia has mainly grown due to the enthusiasm of its members in finding tools for the development of new areas. The founders of Cardboardia - music producer and journalist Sergei Korsakov (presently the ‘Tyran of Cardboardia’), and legal consultant Victoria Novikova – have come very close to creating an innovative educational program in urban planning for university students. This program is planned to be implemented in cooperation with the Department of Spatial Management of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

The International cultural project called ‘Cardboardia’ has been designed as a country without borders. All participants of the project are actual residents of this unique and amazing country. The construction of Cardboard towns, which usually takes around two weeks in towns and cities in Russia and other countries, is called «Cardboardia town materialisation».  As Tyran  of Cardboardia told us: «A Cardboard town is a good opportunity to experiment with ideas ». How does the experiment turn into a reality that can profoundly change our lives? We have talked about this with Tyran.

AV (Anna Vikhrova): Tyran please tell us how Cardboardia achieves its aims. How does this usually happen?

SK (Sergei Korsakov): Well, usually everything starts by finding an area of around two to three thousand square meters in size. Cardboard cannot resist wind and rain.  Therefore, this area should be an indoor space.  Once a suitable area has been found, we start to build the infrastructure and actual town. This is also the time when people with potential projects and businesses, as well as artists, can register with us. Once the construction is completed, they will be able to settle within the new cardboard town.

When they have settled, we open our doors for visitors. In this way, new museums, hairdressing shops, tattoo saloons, photo studios, and even hotels are born.

All our visitors pass through the “Visa Center”. Visitors also change money to the national currency of Cardboardia. They can even obtain ‘personage-ship’ (Cardboardia citizenship) if they want.  Anyone can become a Cardboardia personage, provided he or she has creative ideas, and the interest and energy to implement them.  All those involved in the materialization of Cardboardia ideas will find like-minded people, and fully enjoy the experiment and artistic exploration.

AV: How did you come up with the idea to develop a «parallel universe» made of cardboard?

SK: The idea for my first Cardboard town was born at my wedding with Victoria. During the wedding preparations, I realized that neither a standard secular wedding nor a traditional religious one would work for me. I knew I wanted my wedding to be special, yet was aware that stereotypes are hard to break in our Russian reality. So I decided to create my own country, where all traditions, including weddings, would be mine and interesting. The first Cardboard town was built in 2007, for the Afisha Picnic Music Festival, which is held every summer in Moscow, Russia. At that time, we chose cardboard, because it was quite cheap and therefore within our budget.

Thereafter, I slowly began to think about creating and developing a country that had a structure, but no limited territory or borders. This country does not take part in conflicts. Neither does it fight with other countries for territory. Our towns exist for a limited period of time, which is two weeks. The area for the town is either rented or granted. In order to receive the necessary area for our towns from other countries, we shall give something in return. Our country is still young and does not have any oil deposits or similar resources. Our resources lie in opportunities for entertainment, education, and new experiences within an interesting town.  In the beginning, the whole Cardboard community was completely based on my ideas and projects. As our initiative developed and gradually grew, I noticed that people started to come up with ideas themselves. Today we have an extensive community of people with highly diverse backgrounds - from art and culture to business and management.

AV: So you gradually began to cooperate with local communities?

SK: Yes. Everyone admires the entertainment offered through Cardboardia. For me, this is not enough. I think that events and celebrations should be useful. Therefore, beyond the entertainment, Cardboardia should fulfill specific tasks, especially in spatial development. Our curators try to involve different social groups from the community in general for every new Cardboardia creation. This is an enormous scope of work, and this actually explains why the pre-production period lasts for around six months. Presently, we focus on research in local communities. In the near future, we would like to concentrate on the development of a creative economy for each specific town.

AV: How do you involve people/participants in the project?

SK: We use competition and open calls in creative economies. This is a start-up opportunity in Cardboardia. Attendance levels in Cardboardia towns are usually high. As a result, the authors of creative projects can meet the real audience face to face. The emerging entrepreneurs can see how their goods and products are received by the audience, and in this way assess their customers’ tastes and preferences. Contrary to the owners of regular businesses in Moscow, business people of this kind cannot really lose money.  All they have to pay is a small registration fee in the amount of Rubles 500 (approximately USD 15). This kind of payment is the equivalent of a regular entrance fee for any event, but offers the chance to gain experience. And if the project works in one country, there is no reason why it should not work in another.  

We also organize a competition, which is an Open Call for young architects (age up to 35). The idea for this competition was born when we realized that architects and designers are often neither acquainted with their materials nor with spatial dimensions. Many also do not properly understand deadlines. Competitions teach participants to comply with rules and guidelines. This means that a creative professional has to keep deadlines. Another widespread problem among architects in Russia is that they know how to build, but they do not understand the purpose of building. There is no connection between the installation/object and its existence after construction. Thus in case of our competition for architects, we give specific assignments with a very precise scope.

AV: So what is the benefit for local communities?

SK: For Russia, “Cardboard Towns” are like therapy. Visitors of our project have different backgrounds: from ‘tough guys’ with a serious look about them and a tough past, to children with little socialization experience... We have never actually expected that people from so many walks of life would be willing to participate in our project. In any case there is no reason to be afraid as our main task is to teach people to communicate with each other.

In the construction of a Cardboard town, we actively involve students and school children to volunteer. This actually helps them to socialize, as even the most introvert people will open up through participation in the creative process.  For young people, this is also an opportunity to try their skills and get a clearer idea of what they would like to do in the future.  The project offers them experience in creative management, journalism, psychology, and education. This is very important, since children at schools and students at universities in Russia often do not know what career to choose, mainly due to a general lack of practical support in making their choices.

Whenever big companies express their wish to enter the Cardboard town, we ask them to comply with the rules. Cardboardia has very strict rules on advertising and marketing. Standard methods like banners, flyers, and promoters in hats and T-shirts cannot keep the audience’s attention for long. Everyone has to follow the rules. This means that companies have to think about new strategies. Nobody will stop selling, but the limitations imposed by Cardboardia will give birth to new ideas.

AV: Have there been any attempts to develop Cardboard towns with specific emphasis on spatial development? Any examples of successful stories/cases?

SK:There was a plan to create a Cardboard town in Scotland at a former factory that was about to be transformed into a creative center.  In a creative economy competition, the two best projects had been determined, and were about to get the space for their own use for the period of one year. A year is the minimum amount of time required to develop the potential of any creative business. Unfortunately, the Organizers eventually stopped negotiations when it became clear that the budget was too high, and with it the risk involved. Yet, this story proves a definite interest in Cardboard towns in Europe, and is particularly encouraging for us, as Russia has one of the lowest rated creative industries in the world.

Yet, even in Russia, there have been successes. We already built Cardboard towns twice in the city of Perm, each for one year. During the first year, our personage-ship holders (supporters) in Perm organized a free market. The former governor of Perm, Mr. Oleg Chirkunov, provided them with a permanent space for the project. In this way, the first ‘freeshop’ ever was launched in Russia.

AV: Your project looks like a network. In what ways does this type of organization help you achieve your aims?

SK: The internet is a good example, as it allows a social network to be applied in the real world. In every creative business networking has the same importance as an actual contact. For a Cardboard town, this means that several thousand people come as visitors on a daily basis, whereas only 100 to 200 people are actively involved. Experts come from other cities and countries to conduct workshops and educational programs. In this way, a Cardboard town turns into an extensive platform for cooperation, mutual exchange, and assessment by professionals.

There is a great potential for spatial development by Cardboardia in the cities of Russia. Presently, we are developing a six-month educational program with focus on urban planning/urban studies, in cooperation with the Department of Spatial Development of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.  We are planning to put together a group of ten to twelve people with diverse backgrounds in order to design a Cardboard town for a specific area, considering the special features of the area.  As a result, we would like to see a set of recommendations on interaction/cooperation with local communities in territorial development.

We are eager to change many things in the environment. I want both, students and children, to understand that there is place for change, that there is a way to go, and that change can be implemented in enjoyable ways, which represent a positive additional element in development activities.


translated by Mayya Lobova

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