Coma: Sweet Smell of Urban Decay

In conversational Greek, the word "coma" means merely "a deep sleep." But doctors describe the condition as "a heavy, life-threatening physical state characterized by the absence of all reaction to outside stimulation."

But let the doctors argue. Alexander Brodsky has come up with a new use for the term - to describe the state of the world's cities.

Moscow architect Brodsky's "Coma," currently on display at the Marat Guelman Gallery, is a 5.3-by-1.5-meter model of a city positioned underneath a series of five-liter plastic intravenous-feeding bottles filled with motor oil.

In Brodsky's piece, a city of few skyscrapers and quite a few Moscow-style low-level buildings is being sustained on black gold fed it through tubes - the oil runs through the streets, down what might be Tverskaya, up what slightly resembles Prospekt Mira, bleeding new life into the city... a city Brodsky insists is not Moscow, just an unidentified city of millions.

"I wanted to show a dying, a failing in the strength and spirit of a town," Brodsky said.

"I didn't intend the model to resemble a real city - it's an abstract place. But, since I knew Moscow best of all, I used it as an example."

Brodsky, who grew up in the Russian capital, said the city's buildings and byways hold great meaning for him and that what he sees as the city's decline has saddened him, inspiring him to build the model.

"I liked this town," he said. "And now I have to watch it dying."

The model, its clay buildings placed atop a zinc platform, stands before a background of 12 black-and-white photographs showing the destruction all over Moscow after the hurricane of 1998 - fallen trees, collapsed garages, fallen billboards. Three video screens play scene after scene of grim urban landscapes - homeless people, mounds of trash, demolition sites and the like.

"I don't mean this as an act of protest against [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkov," Brodsky said.

But Brodsky does have some complaints.

"The process of destruction began long before [Luzhkov]," he said. "I think it began when the Old Arbat vanished and Soviet architects built that awful Kalinsky Prospekt [the New Arbat] in 1968."

But what of progress?

"Some people say that Moscow is getting better, but I don't think so," Brodsky said. "And it's the same situation in a number of towns all over Russia."

By no means does Brodsky see the decline as being limited to just Moscow.

"You can visit New York and enjoy it, but someone who's lived there for 30 years will say that the city has suffered many losses," said Brodsky, who recently spent six months in the United States, where he was busy constructing a "monument to the memory of dead buildings."

The monument, which is now on display in downtown Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, was made from real fragments of demolished buildings. He was contracted to build it by the Pittsburg Cultural Trust.

"Coma" runs until April 15 at the Marat Guelman Gallery, located at 7/7 Ulitsa Polyanka. Metro Polyanka. Tel. 238-8492. Tue. to Sat. Noon to 6 p.m.