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Open Access (free)
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

speakers. However, their ‘speech’ is possible only through the power of human agents – artists. Art infiltrates into everyday life through objects; objects affect everyday life through ‘speech’ composed by artists; artists educate society in aesthetics through objects. The interplay between art and the quotidian, between people and objects, described by Iaglova, has also informed recent developments in the humanities and social sciences. The ‘material-cultural turn’ that emerged in the mid-1980s in archaeology and anthropology converged with critiques in other social

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

is clearly a modernising act, what does it mean for a porcelain or textile designer to be up-to-date? Does a glass artist become ‘contemporary’ only when she or he also starts working with such innovative materials as plastic? These questions prompt an inquiry into the very possibility of a useful, tangible object expressing the spirit of a present time, especially as defined by the rapid development of science and technology, vibrant consumer culture and fashion. In his attempt to arrive at ‘thing theory’, Bill Brown suggests that the objects of everyday life are

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

and their everyday life. The promise of the Party and government to ‘fully satisfy the constantly growing material and cultural demands of the Soviet people’3 by increasing the quality and quantity of available consumer goods implied the high social and cultural potential of objects. Historians emphasise the government’s promise of the proliferation of goods and better homes as one of the key characteristics of the post-Stalin period.4 Denis Kozlov and Eleonory Gilburd argue that, in terms of the heightened attention to the living conditions of the now predominantly

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

example, his ‘Tea Couple’. Even though Smirnov mentions industrial production in his book, what interests him most is not mass reproducibility, but the relationships between different consumer objects and between objects and their users. While theorists of productivism presented the artist as an organiser of both production and everyday life,6 Smirnov believed that the artist, though educated in technology, should delegate nuts-and-bolts questions to engineers and technicians and concentrate instead on foreseeing possible consumption scenarios. It is not by accident

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

functionalism, Soviet art theorists of the 1950s tried to find a balance between beauty and utility, between artistic fantasy and mass reproducibility. This balance would guarantee the honesty that, as I argued in the first chapter, emerged as a chief criterion of a modern, post-Stalin socialist object. Even before VNIITE took responsibility for ‘fully satisfying the constantly growing material and cultural demands of the Soviet people’,1 applied artists (the term I prefer for this profession in the Khrushchev period) used their work’s connection to everyday life as the main

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

response to the official mandate to design festivals to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1967 and Lenin’s jubilee. ‘For three years we, Soviet people, have been KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 162 20/01/2020 11:10 A new production culture and non-commodities 163 saturated with celebratory mood. We [decorative artists] have been concerned less with household objects for everyday life and more with objects for exhibitions.’ However, this was not a misfortune, Smirnov continued, in response to some worried art critics such as Iurii

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

narratives at different stages of life. Today, I seem inclined to take England’s side against any criticism (especially, perhaps, by an American). But not so long ago I put quite a bit of energy into my own demonising of England – the other side of my idealising of ‘America’, perhaps. In 1976, my father wrote a short memoir of his own, reflecting on his experiences in Germany in the 1930s, recording the increasing problems that he Atlantic moves [5] confronted in his work as a chemist and the growing isolation in his everyday life. Towards the end, he expresses his

in Austerity baby
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

different world. In Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire the coming-into-colour signifies the angels’ full immersion in the ‘real’ world of everyday life. So the effect of adjusting from black-and-white films to the new colour cinema must have been something similar. In a context in which reality has been conventionally represented in black and white, the introduction of colour was bound to register a kind of exotic shift. The history of colour cinema and its technologies is a fairly new, and fast expanding, field in film studies, but I haven’t Colour (mainly blue) [ 77

in Austerity baby
Open Access (free)
Tania Anne Woloshyn

, the material remnants of everyday life … do not have a stable meaning, decreed by their makers and frozen in their formal structure (materials, style, technique). Instead, meaning emerges through social practices, including an object’s representation in various media, its connection to shared customs, and its significance to the people who own or operate it. 64

in Soaking up the rays