New East Digital Archive

Outsider art: why Russia’s hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

Outsider art: why Russia's hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

Bleak and gritty, Russia’s suburbs have become a source of inspiration for a generation of young artists, photographers, fashion designers and musicians

9 May 2014

← Return to Russian edgelands: journeys in the urban wilderness

The city’s edgelands, a remote kingdom of endless high-rises, are increasingly becoming the landscape of choice for contemporary Russian visual culture, for fashion shoots, music videos and art projects.

Many of the designers and artists looking to the suburbs for inspiration grew up in the 1990s and the 2000s a particularly resonant time in Russian history. Squeezed between two tectonic plates, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the new conservative era of the 2010s, the period was marked by a fragile, uncertain hope for the future. Against the bleak backdrop of pale high rises, fragments of a new and old world swirled together: mysterious artifacts of the west such as Snickers bars, chewing gum and video rentals combining with those of the Soviet era, their propagandist effect diminishing as they transformed into sentimental relics.

Today, as the last pieces of rural wasteland are measured and sold to make space for new malls and housing developments, Russia’s young artists, photographers, fashion designers and musicians keep returning to the suburbs and recasting them in their own image. Through their work, distant residential neighbourhoods become a metaphor for innocence, adolescence and the coming of age. The spaces they create are not realist so much as utopian, reassembled from fragments of memories and dreams. Images and impressions that are ultimately not local but universal.


The Moscow-based designer Gosha Rubchinskiy was among the first to use the suburbs as a source of inspiration, looking to their lost, lonely atmosphere and to their young inhabitants in tracksuits and leisurewear.

After spending time shooting in New York, fashion photographer Masha Demianova looked with fresh eyes at the Moscow suburb of Zyablikovo, discovering in its harsh beauty a new location to depict models, beautiful friends and breathtaking views from her window.


Bergen Kremer is the side project of Vlad and Ira Parshin from Motorama, a high-profile indie band from Rostov-on-Don. Their tracks are usually recorded from the first take with all the imperfections and faults. Bergen Kremer’s cover of the 1990s Russian rock song Voda Okrain (Water of Edgelands) has become an anthem for the suburbs.

Pavel Milyakov writes electronic music under the name Buttechno, creating a haunting soundtrack inspired by the remote corners of Moscow’s Orehovo-Borisovo district. He is also the creator of the artwork Orehovo, a manipulated image of Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow with artificially built in high-rises standing in for the natural landscape.

Singer-songwriter Evgeny Novikov, of the Moscow-based band Manicure, grew up in the isolated high-rises near Vodny Stadion metro, looking out to to Khimkinsky Pond. Manicure’s new album Voskhod is influenced by his childhood memories of the bleak, melancholy outskirts of the city.


Artist Kirill Savchenkov explores the environment of the suburbs in multiple ways, from conducting a walking tour of the suburbs as a performance piece in Excursion to the visual work Umwelt, in which he places a high-rise in a digitally created landscape of enormous mountains, isolating the block from context, history or future.

Drawing inspiration from the raw subcultures flourishing in the remote suburbs, Petr Davydtchenko reflects on the rise of far-right ideology, the self-destructive tendencies of Russian youth and the symbolism of Adidas tracksuits.

Vasya Run is an experimental art project aimed at giving voice to a new generation of Russian youth. In the course of the project eight Moscow youngsters sign up for an intense period of self-development through lectures, workshops and art practice. The goal is to find new ways of pushing the boundaries of personality in the digital age. All the participants of the project come from the suburbs.

Read more

Outsider art: why Russia's hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

Urban pastoral: Alexander Gronsky’s visions of thwarted arcadia

Outsider art: why Russia's hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

Outsider fashion: the strange attraction of Moscow’s suburbs

Outsider art: why Russia's hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

Block party: Owen Hatherley celebrates a much-maligned housing project

Outsider art: why Russia's hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

Dark kingdom: how Artur Lomakin went from Moscow’s suburbs to global fashion’s avant-garde

Outsider art: why Russia's hottest designers and artists love the suburbs

The new objectivity: photographer Max Sher’s alternative guide to Russia