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Design and material culture in Soviet Russia, 1960s–80s
Author: Yulia Karpova

The major part of this book project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 700913.

This book is about two distinct but related professional cultures in late Soviet Russia that were concerned with material objects: industrial design and decorative art. The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s is broadly recognised to have been Russia’s first truly original contribution to world culture. In contrast, Soviet design of the post-war period is often dismissed as hackwork and plagiarism that resulted in a shabby world of commodities. This book identifies the second historical attempt at creating a powerful alternative to capitalist commodities in the Cold War era. It offers a new perspective on the history of Soviet material culture by focusing on the notion of the ‘comradely object’ as an agent of progressive social relations that state-sponsored Soviet design inherited from the avant-garde. It introduces a shared history of domestic objects, handmade as well as machine-made, mass-produced as well as unique, utilitarian as well as challenging the conventional notion of utility. Situated at the intersection of intellectual history, social history and material culture studies, this book elucidates the complexities and contradictions of Soviet design that echoed international tendencies of the late twentieth century. The book is addressed to design historians, art historians, scholars of material culture, historians of Russia and the USSR, as well as museum and gallery curators, artists and designers, and the broader public interested in modern aesthetics, art and design, and/or the legacy of socialist regimes.

Open Access (free)
Yulia Karpova

.10 In her review of the Moscow Design Museum’s debut exhibition, the Swedish design historian Margareta Tillberg shifted the focus of her analysis from plagiarism and imitation to the affective power of Soviet objects: Even if Soviet design was often – but far from always – based on originals borrowed from the West, the individual objects exude a personal charm, variation, and quirkiness that makes them well worth preserving, exhibiting, and discussing. Certainly, one might think the Vyatka is merely an unnecessary repetition of the original Vespa, only heavier, of

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

of the twentieth century. But he is best known, in his post-adventurer life, as a diplomat and human rights worker. He helped negotiate Norway’s independence from Sweden in 1905, and served as his country’s representative in London in the following three years. In 1920, he was appointed by the Council of the League of Nations to investigate the plight of remaining prisoners of war after the 1914–18 war, many of them in Russia. By the summer of 1922, about 430,000 prisoners had been repatriated. That same year, Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work

in Austerity baby
Yulia Karpova

only through exhibitions but also through high-quality household goods avail- KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 170 20/01/2020 11:10 A new production culture and non-commodities 171 able almost everywhere – at least in all major cities – from Ukraine to the Russian Far East. Moreover, the factory leadership was sure to note that ‘people in Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland can buy goods with the label of the Leningrad Factory of Artistic Glass’.35 By the time the government increased the import of goods in an effort to mitigate the growing consumer

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

its ease of assembly.62 The 1960s fashion for Space Age forms received no better commendation than at VNIITE. From 1957, the Dnepropetrovsk Aggregate Plant (Ukraine) produced two similar vacuum cleaner models with elongated, streamlined shapes.63 Both were the products of reverse engineering, widespread in Soviet factories’ engineering bureaus. Raketa was based on a 1930s model by the famous Swedish manufacturer Electrolux, while Chaika closely copied a design by the Dutch firm Erres.64 When modifying the Western models, the factory designers attempted to strengthen

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Tania Anne Woloshyn

composition. The figures dramatically tilt their faces upwards with eyes closed to the sun, their poses reverent and even desperate for its benevolence to shine down on them. In their act of sun worship, the figures show clear affinities with those in Fidus’s Lichtgebet , the Swedish Axel Emil Ebbe’s Solrosen ( Sun-Rose ) sculptures ( c . 1892 onwards), the German statues Der Mensch ( Man ) and Gläserner Mensch

in Soaking up the rays
Open Access (free)
Tania Anne Woloshyn

teaching Alfred Stieglitz in the early 1880s. Vogel’s research on the ‘chemistry of light’ (photochemistry) was directly cited by light therapists well into the twentieth century. 32 The sun’s ability to blacken silver salts was discovered in 1725 by anatomy professor Johann Heinrich Schulze and confirmed in the 1770s by Swedish apothecary Carl Wilhelm Scheele. 33 The experiments by German chemist Johann Wilhelm Ritter clarified

in Soaking up the rays
Yulia Karpova

-produced furniture. The three-­decadelong interruption in furniture design education, however, meant that Soviet metal furniture was still, in the opinion of Khazhakian in 1960, ‘a lame-duck industry’ (samyi otstaiushchii front).70 While assigning furniture designs to students, the palace’s architects also conducted research on the latest models of Finnish and Swedish furniture and as a result ordered 40 per cent of all of the palace’s furniture from Finland. They later regretted their decision when they saw the student projects, which far surpassed KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT

in Comradely objects