Daria Bushmeleva, a Petersburg enthusiast, takes us off the beaten track to hear the real voices of the city in her Vox Populi project
There is no doubt that St Petersburg is a mecca for underground street culture, whether it be provocative graffiti on rooftops or viral rap battles in bars. Vox Populi is a photo project that explores a specific side of that culture—wall writings from the city streets. Created by Daria Bushmeleva, the project aims to expose the covert and ignored voices of St Petersburg that are verbalised on the city’s walls. In the true manner of St Petersburg and its inhabitants, Vox Populi quietly reveals the honest hope to be heard in the midst of the rush and noise of the big city. It is a gallery of echoes, hints, and metaphors that represent the real, bare voices of St Petersburg.
After putting together Vox Populi, Daria noted that the completed project possessed all the fine characteristics of St Petersburg itself. Enigmatic, rebellious, solitary and melancholic—this is how Daria describes her adopted city. “It marches to the beat of its own drum and always stays true to itself,” says Daria. She is originally from Perm but now can’t imagine living outside St Petersburg. Despite having lived here for only four years, Daria remains enamoured by the “Venice of the North” and keeps coming back to the city that she now considers her home. “There’s no other place like St Petersburg,” says Daria. “It feels like it’s torn between two completely opposite worlds: its soul is both Russian and European, and neither at the same time—it’s something else, something inexplicable. St Petersburg has been ardently trying to find its identity throughout its history—always remaining on the divide—and that’s exactly what makes the city so special.”
Being utterly fascinated by the residents of the city (Petersburgers), Daria sees them as being distinct from the rest of the Russian population—similar to the situation in France, where the differences between Parisians and the rest of the French are quite stark. “Petersburgers are weird, but in a good way,” confesses Daria. “Depth, mystery, madness, and solitude are inherent to the character of the city. People might seem cold and reserved on the outside, but in reality, they are compassionate and caring. This particularly showed during the metro explosions last April, when citizens came together as one—without witness, without reward. Nothing fake, nothing artificial—Petersburgers are real and unassuming.” It is precisely this mixture of characters and emotions that found its expression in Daria’s photo project.
Vox Populi came about by accident: Daria never planned for it to become a proper project, she simply started to notice hidden messages on the city’s walls, and now she has a collection of over 100 photographs. In fact, the closer she paid attention to these writings, the more sense they made, finally coming together into one clear voice. The one message that particularly stood out from the rest was the very first one that Daria noticed, near the Griboyedov embankment. It said, “You don’t need glasses to see your slavish position”. It was such a powerful and provoking message, yet so seemingly casual and simple, that it made Daria want to continue to look out for more writings of the kind.
Unfortunately, not many notice and appreciate such acts of expression. “We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but people tend to be inattentive to these messages, passing them by every day; they see, but do not observe. By creating Vox Populi, I wish to demonstrate that St Petersburg is more than Nevsky Prospekt and the Hermitage. I firmly believe that the devil is always in the details and the most precious and captivating is never on the shiny facade. These little riddles make the city alive,” says Daria.
According to Daria, these wall writings are a form of communication that is representative of Petersburgers themselves: unobtrusive, yet riotous; seen by everyone and by no one. It is more than street art—like in the saying that a Russian poet is more than merely a poet. There is no denying that today, the world is flooded with information and noise, making it harder to break through and convey our thoughts to others. For this reason, Vox Populi represents a cry of the city through the deafening cacophony of the large metropolis. Reading these messages is like having an intimate conversation with St Petersburg.
The idea behind Vox Populi is to show people that St Petersburg is more than meets the eye. “People live in their space, stuck in the same old ‘home-work-home’ routine, but have no idea about what is actually happening around them; we get so used to our surroundings that everything becomes dull and mundane, making us less perceptive of the beauty. Every single one of these wall writings is on the surface, but we simply choose to ignore them. At the same time, we always think that somewhere out there, far away, a real, better life is on the go, that the grass is greener on the other side, when in fact St Petersburg itself possesses infinite opportunities, untold stories, and secrets. You can fall in love with the city over again and discover something new every day, all you need to do is look around.”