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    Some notes on remont, by Zhanara Nauruzbaeva

    Visiting artists’ studios and talking to artists about their working spaces, I noticed that almost everyone mentions “remont” (or the lack of it that they feel they have to explain). Generally, remont means renovating or refreshing your home.

    Since my early years of childhood, I’ve been afraid of ‘remont’. The moment my parents would pronounce this scary word, it would make my stomach feel queasy. Remont was something that my mother would do to our home EVERY summer.

    Let me first tell what remont involved in our household. It started from packing and then moving everything out of a room, including furniture. This procedure would generally take a couple of days. Afterwards, you clean cob-webs on the walls and lay out the floor with old newspapers. Only then, you begin to white-wash the walls and the ceiling. After white-washing the whole room once, you let it dry. Then, inspect it for quality. Then, perhaps, do it all over again. The number of times you’d repeat this operation depended on the quality of limestone and the fastidiousness of the person making remont. My mother would do it for about three times. All these operations would take a day or two. Then, you’d remove the newspapers, wash the floors and windows. The same would be conducted in every room. Afterwards, the round of painting would begin – windows, doors, radiators, floors. (I liked this part because of I’d often get to work with a brush). The painting process would take another few days (depending on the quality of paint). Then, all our things would start moving back in the house.

    I hated remont because that would mean displacement for me. I would not be able to read, because all books would be packed and put away. Plus, there would be no place to read. Even if I found it, as soon as I would sit down and read, my mother would call me for help. Other discomforts would include sleeping on the floor, sleeping with the smell of turpentine, getting bitten by mosquitoes, or enduring the zenith of summer heat outside.

    This is how my mother would spend her summer holidays. A school teacher, she would get forty-eight days of vacation every year. Instead of traveling somewhere, she would spend half of her vacation making a remont in our home, and then, visit her mother’s home in a different city and do a remont there as well (along with her sisters). Among my mother’s arguments for the remont was “to refresh” the apartment, to do away with ‘worms’ and moths, and to change the environment.

    Remont was not confined to the realm of the private homes. Entire organizations – schools, kindergartens, institutes – would also conduct their remonts as well. After school-year ended, our class master teachers would collect money to conduct a remont in their assigned rooms.

    Today, remonts still continue. I often hear many people talking about their remonts. While in the Soviet period, people used to make remonts themselves, today, people tend to hire other people to do remonts. There are lots of special things being put in that require special skills.

    Incidentally, the artists that we have visited seem to have not been really engaged with that kind of remont. Most of the studios that we have been to seem like they have not had remont in the last ten years (at least).

    Daniel has been fascinated with the whole issue of remonts in Kazakhstan. He has mostly been struck with how different people make remonts in their apartments and how altogether, they contribute to a very interesting total view of the apartment building. It becomes a montage of sorts. He say that this would never happen in the States. The external look of the apartment building is controlled by very strong regulations. You can’t change anything in your apartment that would alter the external look of the building. Here is his painting that was inspired by a building on Lenina street in Almaty called “Three Heroes” (Три богатыря)

    For instance, we were really struck by how the building that was allocated to the Union of Artists (on the cross-section of Kabanbay street and Vesnovka river) during the Soviet period. The building itself was built about thirty years ago. It was designed to host artists (upper floors were dedicated to apartments and the lower floor was given as studios – very high ceilings). Almost all first floor apartments belong to artists. Some artists’ commercial well-being is expressed in the kinds of modifications that they have made to their respective studios.

    NB: As I grew up and moved out, my mother started having ‘remonts’ in my absence, to which I’m very thankful for her.