Decrepit urban landscapes are a common sight for most denizens of post-Soviet countries. In the face of rapid modernisation of transit and communications infrastructure, coupled with ongoing construction of new office and housing real estate in more central locations, decay is a pervasive presence in less visible, peripheral urban spaces. At the same time, given that urban life is now increasingly mediated, city dwellers are now interacting with these spaces in hybridised ways, underpinned by new layers of infrastructure, networks and personal connections. How do users of the Russian-speaking internet engage with the political and aesthetic notions of making visible the ‘falling apart’ of their cities?
The paper examines the visual material published in the “Aesthetics of F*ckville” community on VK, the most popular social network on the Russian-speaking internet. The community, founded in 2014, aggregates and curates images of ‘ruin porn’ and ‘godforsaken places’ submitted by users from cities around the post-Soviet space. Grounded in the disclosures of community founders and users in existing media interviews and public online comments, and contextualised in the region’s urban, political and social transformations, the study performs a social semiotic analysis of the roughly 2,000 images posted to the VK community feed (as of January 2018). The findings offer insight into the motivations for posting urban decay-focused content and the meanings present in the images themselves, the objects within them and the act of sharing them. The analysis reveals a dualism in the visual fascination with publicly shared images of urban decay. On the one hand, it is indicative of a desire to inspire a romanticised appreciation of the uncanny beauty of decrepit infrastructure. On the other, it emerges as a politicised act of networked resistance to the normalisation of decay as the dominant status quo associated with cities in the post-Soviet block, often seen as the periphery compared to the more modern and developed Western urban spaces.