There are several assumptions about the origin of the toponym «Kitay-Gorod». Still, we are only interested in one, according to which the name comes from the old Russian word «kita». According to 17th-century dictionaries, kita was used in the meaning of a bundle, something «gathered in a braid». Kita is often mentioned in descriptions of military uniforms. Kita in the form of a bunch of feathers could be located on a helmet — what later became known as the «sultan», as well as wherever a decorative knot or a pigtail was found, for example, on the edges of a ladle — lining for a horse saddle. The fortifications’ walls were often built from poles tied in a bundle — such architectural elements were also called «kita».
According to these backgrounds, the ancient Roman fascia can be considered a close analog of what the «kita» was in Russia. The political icon, the fascia, inherited by the Romans from the Etruscans, became a symbol of the unity of the Roman Empire’s territories. «Tied together» is one of the key definitions of the state. The image of fascia has retained its place in the state symbols of some European countries to this day. Coming back to the Russian «kita», we discover that on a deep linguistic and symbolic level, we are faced with the expression of a Russian state, which in its foundation widely inherits traditions of Rome. This connection was expressed in the famous formula of Philotheus of Pskov, «Moscow – the Third Rome», which became one of the guiding principles of the Russian Empire’s political theology.
But «kita» is not just an object but also a process, a principle of organizing several things into a single one. Kita is the work of the sovereign and the entire nation to keep this multitude together. This work was perceived as something good and sacred before divine revelation. It is no coincidence that in Russia, there was a saying: «Nations are the thoughts of God» and the Russian people said, «We will either be saved in the kita or perish».
The Russian man’s involvement in the principle of «kita» reflects in biblical and Slavic legends famous in Russia. One of the Old Believer legends tells about the city of Kitezh that hid in the waters of lake Svetloyar, defending itself from the «godless Batu Khan».The Kitezh kita thus embodies the idea of the divine protection and invulnerability of Russia. We find another example of implementing the kita principle in the Old Testament story of the prophet Jonah. Jonah was sailing on a ship to Nineveh in God’s direction to warn the Nineveh people about the city’s imminent destruction. A violent storm began, which was associated with Jonah’s presence on the ship. Jonah was thrown overboard, swallowed by a huge sea monster — a whale. He spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale and was taken to Nineveh. Eventually, Jonah saved the city from the impending disaster. In this story, the whale performs as a powerful creature that contributes to the implementation of the divine will to preserve the town and the entire Assyrian kingdom. Interestingly, «whale» in Hebrew is translated as «Leviathan». This allows us to recall the ideas of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who directly linked the figure of Leviathan with the state’s phenomenon. Even though modern etymology does not allow us to conclude the root relationship of the words kita and whale («kit» in Russian), keeping these two words together is the result of applying the principle of kita to the writing of this text.
The figure of Kitovras takes up a special place in the Russian 15th-century apocrypha. A centaur with wings, or the king of dreams — a wise and cunning creature — a friend, enemy, and brother of King Solomon. It is known that Kitovras possessed unprecedented wisdom and cunning, walked only in a straight line, and helped Solomon construct the First Jerusalem Temple. The most famous depiction of Kitovras is located in Aleksandrovskaya Sloboda, the residence of Ivan the Terrible. The gate with his image was transported there by the guardsmen from the Novgorod Cathedral of St. Sophia. In the embodiment, Kitovras holds Solomon, who has lost a cunning bet by the legs and, according to legend, throws him «to the ends of the earth». In this imagery, we are introduced to a political metaphysics, according to which the king’s figure does not rise above the kita, but it is a part of a multitude gathered in a bundle, along with the people, animals, and spirits.
Thus, «Kitay-Gorod» is a toponym that reflects the state’s concept and the paradigm of Moscow Principality’s politics as a part of Medieval Russia. The demolition of a better part of the Kitay-Gorod wall in 1934 has solved the pragmatic issues of the new urban development. Yet, this modernist iconoclasticism gesture strikes at the mythopoetic structures the Russian state was built on.
Nevertheless, kita should not be viewed only in the political dimension. The principle of organizing many things into a single one occurs at all levels of social, mental, and poetic being. Putting aside the essentialism that lurking behind this principle, we turn to kita as a pathway. This mental and artistic tool opens the way to the creation of the imago / imaginatio templi.
Dmitry Khvorostov, the curator
Dasha Kuznetsova (b. in 1989 in Moscow) is an artist, art director, and co-founder of Plamen Gallery. She holds MFA in Graphical Arts from Moscow State University of Printing Arts.
Kuznetsova’s artistic practice combines various media. She addresses the wide field of Russian culture, oneiropraxis, intemporarity, memory and death — «Russian dream», reflecting on the themes of the borderline state, modern consciousness, and Russian folklore. According to the artist, she works with metaphysical meanings that are understandable to everyone who considers himself/herself human.
The artist perceives art as a conduit to the collective dream, calling to reflect on Russian culture’s fate and the loss of its important layers. Culture demands updating and reconstruction; otherwise, it will «dissolve in the information noise and be forgotten».
Kuznetsova’s works have been exhibited at solo shows at Center Red, the House on the Embankment Museum, and at START Winzavod. Her group exhibitions include shows at ART4 museum, Plamen Gallery, ISSMAG, «Plague Space», Daipyat Gallery, Money Gallery, Richter art space, along with participation at the 7th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2020).
Dmitry Khvorostov is an artist, curator, co-founder of Plamen Gallery, and a specialist in library and exhibition work at MMOMA Education Center. He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of the Russian State University for the Humanities (2012) and the Baza Institute (2015). Khvorostov has participated in projects of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow Manege, Teatr.doc, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA), and the Triumph Gallery. In 2020, he became a curator of «The Closed Fish Exhibition» at the Voznesensky Center.