April 1- June 18, 2023
If Disrupted, It Becomes Tangible – Infrastructures and solidarities after post-Soviet condition
National Gallery of Art in Vilnius
Curated by Aleksei Borisionok and Antonina Stebur.

Gediminas Urbonas, associate professor MIT
Nomeda Urbonas, MIT research affiliate

Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas and their project Druzhba are presented at the If Disrupted, It Becomes Tangible – Infrastructures and solidarities after post-Soviet condition exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, curated by Aleksei Borisionok and Antonina Stebur.

Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas/Urbonas Studio present their project Druzhba (2003-ongoing) – an installation that embodies research based exploration of the cultural, political, and geographical territories that unfold in a fictional journey along the world’s longest crude oil pipeline, stretching 4,000 kilometers from Siberia, through the Baltic States, into Eastern and Central Europe. The infrastructure of the biggest Soviet project designed to control the whole of the Eastern Bloc, is examined by Urbonas as more than just a pipeline – rather a meta-theory of colonial psychogeography and imperial complex, linked to personal anxieties, ideas of power and cybernetic games.

Installed as the entry to the exhibition that derives from the notion of infrastructure, which is understood as a way of distributing and organizing power relations. If Disrupted, It Becomes Tangible – Infrastructures and solidarities after post-Soviet condition is curated by Aleksei Borisionok and Antonina Stebur for the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius. It explores the political context of extractivist and logistical infrastructures, digital and information technologies (IT), affected by wars and political uprisings in the geography and temporality that goes beyond the post-Soviet condition.

Networks of infrastructure such as railways, gas pipelines, internet fibre optics, Telegram channels, video monitoring systems and so on remain intangible in everyday functioning. At the same time, their breakdown, disabling and interruption exposes the work of the whole infrastructure and their interconnectedness. In a literal sense, power and its materiality become visible, mundane and embodied through breakdown and interruption.

The section that Druzhba installation unfolds thru its research – ‘The Ruins of Infrastructures’ – comprehends how various types of infrastructures—transport, logistics, information, military, Internet and so on— establish particular configurations of power, forms of economic exploitation and social exclusion.

This section centers on the acknowledgement that infrastructures of modernization, primarily related to high technologies, are based on existing or ruined Soviet industrial and post-industrial heritage, research and education, production and the military-industrial complex. Consequently, they have certain logic embedded in them originating from the time of the Soviet Union.

The geography and temporality of various artistic practices presented at the exhibition stretch far beyond the post-Soviet condition. The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and recent political protests in various ex-Soviet countries—Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Armenia among others—demonstrate the activist and voluntaristic potential of the technologies themselves. Digital activism and militancy such as hacking, disruption of automated cybernetic systems and leaking of databases became a crucial part of social movements during the protests and an essential characteristic of warfare in Ukraine.

The Druzhba project is an archive of the metabolism of the Druzhba pipeline. Druzhba, or “friendship” in Russian, is a master signifier, a grand-narrating, imperial structure meant at its inception in 1960 to “lead the world into a new dawn”. The project’s psycho-geographic readings reveal mechanisms of power, colonization and submission that rightfully belong to the past but still persist even today. The pipeline is known from the images of the maps that show its branching, from media reports celebrating its new installments, its proposed expansions, its refinery openings and closings, the pumping stations, settlements of the oil industries. This evidence of celebration of massive extraction puts together narrative threads about the Druzhba pipeline and the ambiguous areas of exchange between culture and economy of modernization. The installation highlights the flows and energies produced by a disintegrating colonial infrastructure and links the distorted and pressurized story of the Druzhba pipeline to psyche of disintegrating empire.

Related links:
Exhibition website

Druzhba Installation at the Kaunas biennale 2019 After Leaving / Before Arriving

The Druzhba Project by Urbonas Studio at The Baltic Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale, 2016

More on Druzhba project at the Baltic Atlas

Image credits: Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Druzhba (2003-ongoing). Installation. High-performance plastic, UV print, Archival footage. Graphic design and architecture in collaboration with Gaile Pranckūnaitė, Marek Voida, Jurga Daubaraitė and Jonas Žukauskas (2018). 2023. Images: Daniel Anohin, Gintarė Grigėnaitė, Katsiaryna Miats