550km - Die Druschba Trasse: a Friendship Pipeline
Pipelines—their construction, operation, routing etc.—have been often subjects of tension, contention, even wars. This project investigates the Druschba-Trasse, a 550 km segment of gas pipeline that delivers natural gas from Siberia to Europe.
As the name already suggests, this pipeline was built during Eastern Bloc times, and it is part of the natural gas line called “Sojus” (union), a line that was collectively erected by the countries that belonged to the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (MEA). In 1974, during the XXVIII Congress of the MEA in Sofia, Bulgaria, the initial construction of the pipeline was decided. Each of the participating countries—Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and East Germany, was responsible for building one segment of the pipeline. East Germany’s job section was the area between Krementschug (Ukraine) and Bar in the western part of the Ukraine. Overall, the Sojus gas pipeline underwent several construction phases and its completion took almost 3 decades. The first phase of construction was completed in 1978. The pipeline is in operation today and is one of the main supply lines of natural gas to Europe. It runs underground, but reaches above ground at compressor stations, which are located approximately 120km apart.
The images of landscapes included here are part of a larger photographic campaign that includes images of the compressor stations, the remaining camps, and the errected infrastructure such as apartment buildings and schools, etc., the so-called residue, and historical images taken by the workers who built the pipeline.
550 KM Die Druschba Trasse – The Friendship Pipeline The Photographs of Beatrix Reinhardt by Nanette Salomon
Works of art draw on histories of all sorts to stimulate their production and, in the end, when successful, create their own unique story. The more layered these histories are the more profound and resonant the work of art becomes. Beatrix Reinhardt’s suite of landscape photographs entitled 550 KM Die Drushba Trasse – The Friendship Pipeline, currently on view in the Art Gallery, orchestrates a rich and complex mélange of historical, political, social and ultimately personal histories, and in its course formulates a unique terrain that maps a new aesthetic journey. The starting point for this journey is a stretch of land found in the Ukraine measuring 550 kilometers, that is, around 342 miles. It houses a segment of the impressive pipeline that in its entirety when finished and to this day transports natural gas from Siberia to Europe. The construction of this pipeline was planned and constructed under the auspices of the members of the Eastern Bloc, a coalition that had been established in 1955, and consisted of the former Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe including the USSR, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and East Germany, among others. While referred to in the West as the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern members identified their foundation as the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance; a title that economically bonded its politically affiliated members. Plans for the pipeline, called “Sojus” (Union), were initiated in 1974 at the XXVIIIth Congress of the Mutual Economic Assistance (MEA) where each of the participating countries was made responsible for a segment of the line’s construction. The “Druschba Trasse” was East Germany’s allotment and the work proceeded from 1974 to 1978. In order to succeed in this ambitious task, indeed the largest capital investment of the DDR, the East German government needed to enlist a multitude of willing, able-bodied workers who were willing to relocate with their families to this remote and foreign site. The project entailed not only building the pipeline with its periodic compressor stations but what Reinhardt calls the residue – an infrastructure of housing, schools, post offices grocery stores and other amenities necessary to achieve acceptable living conditions. In addition to their wages, the workers were offered incentives to sweeten the deal, which included the expedited acquisition of, often Western, material goods such as tires and cars. Even more persuasive was the aggressive ideological campaign targeting East German youth under the auspices of the organization called Free German Youth (Freien Deutschen Jugend, the FDJ) as the Central Youth Project (Zentrales Jugendobjekt). Here the terms of enticement were awards and medals and the promise of travel, exploration and above all, high adventure. An example of the visual rhetoric is represented in the current exhibition by a blown-up schematic map of the pipeline. All in all the enterprise was built up in the hearts and minds of the East Germans reaching legendary, mythic proportions, not unlike our own national myths of conquering the American Wild West or travel to outer space, as Reinhardt points out. Born in 1972 and raised in Jena, a major East German city, these were the spellbinding stories that filled the imagination of Beatrix Reinhardt’s childhood years. In the 1970s the construction of the pipeline, framed as the great socialist achievement, infused every aspect of life in East Germany, from the educational curriculum to the informal chatter of social gatherings. Together they instilled a mystique and a nostalgia that were the perfect nurture to fuel Reinhardt’s creative expression as an adult artist. 550 KM - Die Druschba Trasse, begun in 2008, is the product of her several years’s photographic project to artistically capture the emotive aura of this pipeline with its complex national and personal histories. In Reinhardt’s words, “the stone, steel, and mortar of the man-manipulated landscape around the pipeline hold embedded imprints of the collective aspirations of different eras.” The landscapes are part of her larger photographic campaign that includes among other parts, images of the remaining houses, schools, etc., the so-called residue. But as a collective work of art this landscape exhibition stands on its own, providing its own aesthetic logic and offering its own set of artistic coherences. The landscapes in their forms and subjects vary from photograph to photograph, sometimes dynamically, dramatically piercing the space with long unbroken diagonal lines of pipe, sometimes tranquilly and calmly, with no evidence of the man-made steel buried beneath the surface, displaying fields of golden grain or wild flowers. At times the pipes bundle together giving a sense of solidarity and purpose, at times the vertical edifice above a compressor station authoritatively marks the necessary manipulation of the gas to get it to its destination. Again quoting the artist, “disorder and order are in constant flux, as the landscape expresses grandeur or devastation.” Parallel to the narrative references to the specific geographic site and mining its emotive force, the photographic images of this exhibition together create their own independent and aesthetic narratives as they “converse” with one another both formally and iconographically across the space of the Gallery. 550 KM Die Druschba Trasse continues the artistic vision of Reinhardt’s previous work, especially her sensitive photographs of the spaces of social clubs, but now with a much greater personal emotional investment. It seeks meaning in the social and phenomenological aspects of the human story as they are revealed in the spaces people create, pointedly without the presence; one might say the distraction, of those who created them. Although Reinhardt has fully engaged with the workers of the Druschba trasse, meeting and interviewing them and their families - to the point where she was invited to attend a pipeline reunion, (Trassetreffe), she allows the spaces they worked to single-handedly articulate the values, hopes and dreams of their experience. With the exhibition of this body of work, the space of the Art Gallery of the College of Staten Island is equally enlivened in the process.