One of the most expressive examples of the problematic relationship between reality and the real for me was a series of events that took place in the transition between two stations of the Moscow metro in the recent past.
The two Belorusskaya stations are connected by a passage, which is located at a shallow depth in an extremely unfavorable place from an engineering point of view — due to the close occurrence of groundwater.
Opened in 1952, the passage between the stations serves as a striking example of Stalinist architecture: solemn high arches, floral decor, blown glass ceiling lights, majolica and natural pink marble decoration. However, the proximity of groundwater and the complexity of operation lead to constant leaks, oxidation of natural marble and rotting of plaster, which is covered several times a year by utilities with a new layer of paint to hide erosion.
One day I noticed how in the very center of the passage, between the two arches of the solemn arches, a jet of water began to pour out of a crack in the marble blocks. Starting at eye level, a trickle of water flowed in a smooth, neat vertical line down to the floor, ran into a small puddle, turned and continued to flow down the stairs and on to the station platform. This went on for a month until the maintenance service began to take action.
The first solution was to arrange the hole in the place where the water jet came to the floor. Thus, it turned out to avoid the accumulation of liquid and the formation of puddles. However, the water was still running, albeit almost imperceptibly for others. If at that moment someone would have stopped at this place, he could have noticed how a stream of water flows out of the gap between the marble blocks, flows over the marble surface and disappears into a hole in the floor. The invisible fountain continued to exist for six months, until the formation of limestone plaque on the surface of marble slabs became noticeable, after which a second attempt was made to solve this problem.
It consisted in installing a chrome door. Apparently, the maintenance service attempted to find the source of the leak in the wall, for which a fragment of marble tiles and a piece of the supporting wall of the arch were dismantled. And to hide the hole, a technical hatch was installed in this place. Made of chrome-plated steel, with solid hinges and a keyhole, it left a sense of the validity of its presence, as if some technical node or a cluster of wires were hidden behind it. An outsider viewer could not suspect that in fact the hatch hides an empty hole in the wall. This solution made it possible to eliminate the leak for several months until it reappeared, this time flowing out of the gap between the door and the mounting frame of the hatch.
The third, final form, was the solution for the arrangement of a metal chrome lining that would hide the jet of water along its entire length, starting from the crack of the hatch and ending with a hole in the floor. From the outside, it might seem that the resulting structure has always been here and was conceived according to the station project from the very beginning. Convincing in its formal solution, it created the illusion of rationality and technical necessity — to solve an engineering problem unknown to the layman: it seemed that wires or pipes serving the human good and ensuring the functioning of the station should be located behind it. In reality, the only real function of this design was the need to hide the leak and mask the inability of utilities to stop it.
In a certain sense, this empty construction, which does not carry a valid technical function, still has a symbolic function. The seemingly complete, chrome-plated surface actually turns out to be an empty shiny crust, hiding an unstoppable flow of water in the dark. Convincing visual is a necessary condition here to create a sense of order, as if everything is under control, the surrounding world is clear, material, logical and justified. This shiny surface is what Jacques Lacan calls Reality — a protective veil that protects us from the terrifying appearance of the Real.
The image of the metal lining from the described story, like a parasite, has been haunting me ever since in the form of a suspicion that the objects of the surrounding world that seem solid and meaningful only formally produce this effect, in reality serving as objects-surfaces that protect us from the emptiness of the Real.