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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)
Soviet things that talk
Yulia Karpova

socialist object was to become ‘an instrument and a co-worker’.17 Christina Kiaer’s impressive study of the objects of Russian Constructivism (an avant-garde stream that included productivism) indicates that the idea of the ‘comradely object’ not only opposed the commodity culture of capitalist countries, but also responded to the partial revival of market mechanisms under the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced by Lenin in 1921 as a temporary measure to develop the economic basis for a Soviet industry ravaged by the Civil War. As Kiaer suggests, NEP policies such as

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

postmodernist architecture and design. Another important catalyst for change was the recent emergence of Soviet KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 104 20/01/2020 11:10 Objects of neodecorativism 105 semiotics and its growing influence on designers, who were receptive to the idea that objects have communicative functions and ‘speak’ with consumers in a specific language.41 Consequently, the role of tastemaker and organiser of the socialist material environment became more challenging. While obviously adjusting to the new economic policies of the state, applied artists

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

rational reorganisation of social life in a post-­revolutionary society. While in capitalist, French society, as Bourdieu suggests, tastes are justified through the refusal of other tastes and thus ‘tastes are perhaps first and foremost distastes’,104 in Soviet society taste was often defined as an attribute of the defeated aristocracy and petite bourgeoisie. Accordingly, with the reappearance of the latter as Nepmen in the time of the New Economic Policy, taste became a characteristic of the class opponent for leftist intellectuals, especially the artists associated

in Comradely objects