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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.

Yulia Karpova

urban society, the USSR in the 1950s and 1960s was comparable to European countries whose material environment had been severely damaged by the Second World War.5 As Kozlov and Gilburd note, ‘Unprecedented in the household context, Khrushchev’s mass housing campaign belonged with contemporary trends in urban planning, construction technology, welfare and aesthetic vision’. They label the government’s effort to reinforce its legitimacy by increasing people’s material prosperity and paying greater attention to consumer goods as the ‘Soviet regime’s new materialism’.6

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Tania Anne Woloshyn

and science as well as in industry. Like radiologists, who were similarly struggling at the same moment to gain legitimacy as a group of specialised practitioners, light therapists turned to standardisation as a way to wrestle control over their equipment, their patients, and their reputation. Increasing dependence upon patient attendance records, budget ledgers, and dosage units are evidence of a shared experience among these ray technicians. 48

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

, is indicative of underlying anxiety among the medical community about retaining sufficient control over exposures (see Chapter 2 ). Their aim, Vaughan-Cowell made clear, was to prevent light therapy from losing legitimacy as a valid, successful modern therapeutic in the unqualified hands of the ignorant public or unscrupulous quack. As Thomas de la Peña argued, such declarations were counterproductive, merely

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

difficulties of representation communicate much about light therapy’s own tensions as a nascent series of treatments struggling to gain legitimacy. In light treatments such as red-light therapy, photography proved impossible as a means of representation. Yet, even in this instance, in photography’s absence, we learn how practitioners conceptualised the dangers and advantages of particular wavelengths of light by emulating

in Soaking up the rays