Tytus Szabelski-Różniak
Critical Infrastructures
Jun 12 – Aug 3, 2024
Vi Per
Prague, Czech Republic

By definition, a critical infrastructure is one that is crucial for the operation of society and the economy. If it is threatened, a crisis situation may arise. However, such situations undoubtedly accompany its planning and construction, which involve political negotiation, economic transfers and the distribution of human resources. The construction of infrastructure such as oil and gas pipelines or fibre-optic cable reflects the geopolitical situation of the time and influences the future, affecting the industrial production of the countries involved and the lives of many individuals, whether as experts or workers sent to remote foreign countries. Completed infrastructure then generates communities at the nodal points linked to its maintenance and operation. Infrastructure can be thought of as a network that “feeds” society, with society to some extent dependent upon this resource. This in turn renders infrastructure an instrument of power. Threatening the flow of “nutrients” from infrastructure becomes a stronger political argument than, for example, preventing human rights violations or maintaining peaceful relations. Despite its often robust physical form, when subjected to scrutiny critical infrastructure reveals itself to be a fragile tissue of interdependencies.

An example of such an infrastructure is the Druzhba pipeline, which was officially opened sixty years ago, in 1964. It was built between 1961 and 1971 and connects Russia to locations in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Its network today includes around 4,000 kilometres of pipeline stretching across several countries, with multiple junction points such as tank farms, oil terminals and service stations. In the Czech Republic, there are three service stations, two terminals and one tank farm on this branch of the pipeline, comprising approximately 350 kilometres of pipeline (excluding branch lines and duplications). The pipes, which are around 50 centimetres in diameter, are for the most part hidden underground, only surfacing in some places before once more disappearing.

The Druzhba pipeline has been the subject of research by the artistic couple Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas since 2003. They perceive the pipeline as embodying the distribution and organisation of power relations that change over time and in the physical space comprising several thousand kilometres of pipeline. They attribute to the monumental structure its own metabolism, as if it really were an organism that pumps, transforms, digests, distributes and regurgitates. In the installation they use information gathered from available archival materials or interviews and project it into texts, videos and objects. Their installations bear witness not only to the original intention to build a network that, notwithstanding the euphemistic name Druzhba (Friendship), employs strategies of colonisation and domination, but also to the impact the collapse of the Soviet Union had and is still having on such infrastructure and the communities linked with it. Subsequent privatisation has symbolically shifted what had been a state-controlled instrument of power into private hands, where it is completely beyond public control. The war in Ukraine being fought at present has rendered the potential for critical infrastructure to influence political events even more apparent.

[ . . . ]

The exhibition Critical Infrastructures is part of the international project “Networks of Support” co-organised by the National Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning and co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland under the Inspiring Culture Programme, Ministry of Culture Czech Republic and City of Prague.

Critical Infrastructures
Jun 12 – Aug 3, 2024
Vi Per
Prague, Czech Republic

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