An Alternative Reality -- All in Cardboard

MTA few of the cardboard buildings in Kartonia at Project_Fabrika providing evidence that residents like to go with form over function in their creations.
Just about everybody has wondered at one point or another what it would be like to be someone else, with a different career, home or even name.

An interactive exhibit running in town through the weekend offers an answer, allowing people to realize their most ambitious desires in a matter of hours -- in cardboard.

Kartonia -- or CardboardTown -- gives those willing to pay for the opportunity the chance to become citizens of a town where they can build and paint their own home as they like, start up their own business to earn real money, give themselves new and unusual names, and even create their own masterpieces.

Kartonia has come to life at Project_Fabrika, a contemporary visual-art exhibition hall in an unused section of a paper factory on Perevedenovsky Pereulok, near the Baumanskaya metro station. Other than the fact that it is a bit scaled down, with most of the buildings 2 meters tall or less, it looks like a real town, with buildings, shops, streets, a central square and a park -- all made of cardboard.

"People want to entertain themselves in an exciting way, but they don't know how," said Sergei Korsakov, the head of Bad Taste, the group of young artists, designers and graphic artists that is behind the exhibit. "We have to help."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Korsakov, resplendent in his bathrobe and fez, stopping by one of the cardboard buildings while introducing visitors to some of the sights of Kartonia.
Korsakov -- also known as Tyran, or Tyrant -- dressed in a blue-and-gray striped bathrobe and a red fez with a golden tassel, had just descended from his perch on a balcony, from where he watches over the town as ruler.

"We are helping people express themselves," he said.

And the people are able to express themselves not just in how the town looks, but also in the life it leads. Its citizens organize and vote in elections, go shopping, attend concerts and take part in other public activities. Kartonia even has its own television channel, films its everyday life and broadcasts it to the citizens and guests.

Any visitor to Kartonia can become a resident -- a "personage" -- and in doing so gain the right to take part in the election of the town's ruler, the Tyran, the right to get married at the local registry office (without the months-long wait that is standard at Moscow wedding registries), and numerous other perks not enjoyed by nonresidents.

A personage permit costs from 15 to 25 badtastes, the town currency in Kartonia. At the current exchange rate of 20 rubles to the badtaste, this works out to 300 to 500 rubles, or around $12 to $20.

Along with gaining personage in Kartonia, you also receive a nickname that can reflect the role you would like to play, like "Princess," or a thing with which you associate yourself, like "Carrot."

"We create a new plot every day and put it on," said Ksenia Kalinina, 20, a friend of Korsakov's who goes by the Kartonia name of Princess. "Each personage plays a certain role."

Kalinina works as a translator in real life, but as Princess she works as the chief accountant of Kartonia and sells personage permits.

For those looking to take an even more active role, a business permit goes for 150 badtastes, or about $123, which entitles the holder to a cardboard building along with the relevant business sign. On offer were a casino, hotel and a post office, but budding Kartonia entrepreneurs are also invited to bring their own business to town with them.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
A couple of visitors strolling down one of the exhibit's streets last week.
Businesses sell their products or services in Kartonia for local money, which can then be exchanged for rubles at the town bank.

"We are creating methods to earn money from people together," Korsakov said.

From an artistic standpoint, Korsakov said cardboard provided an alternative to modern art. "Modern art is evil, it mostly parodies, while I hope to achieve something good here," he said.

As such, Kartonia offers people -- children and adults -- the opportunity to create their own works of art out of cardboard. It's free of charge if you bring your own materials -- including the cardboard -- but Kartonia will also sell you a large sheet for 5 badtastes, or about $4, as well as any other materials the artist might need.

Only those who have Kartonia personage are allowed to offer their creations for sale or take them away with them, with the remainder of pieces staying behind as town property.

"This is a great idea," said journalism student Alexandra Kopyleva, 19, during a visit to Kartonia last week. "We rarely have interactive exhibits where everyone can participate."

In keeping with the strong business element in Kartonia, there are also souvenirs on offer as well as snacks at the town's cafe.

But for people like Dasha Rychkova, 25, Kartonia's chief architect, it is the artistic possibilities that the town offers that are most important.

"This is interesting as an architectural project because there are no strict architectural rules, unlike in a real town," Rychkova, a designer by profession, said while painting a large sheet of cardboard. "It's exciting to create a town with your own hands."

The Kartonia exhibit runs through Jan. 20 at 18 Perevedenovsky Pereulok and is open daily from noon to 11 p.m.
Telephone: (495) 265-3926, 265-0318
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