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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

the production process was a crucial task of an artist.13 Another, no less important role was as a producer of useful objects for the masses rather than pure art for a select public. This vision radicalised the Arts and Crafts movement’s call for aestheticising labour by reconceptualising art as ‘intellectual-material production’,14 and at the same time proposed an alternative to a capitalist commodity by promoting the self-conscious creation of objects for everyday consumption. In opposition to seductive commodities – or as Rodchenko called them, ‘dark slaves’ of

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

‘according to the laws of beauty’. Thus, humans’ production is creative: it is a means of self-production ‘not only intellectually, as in consciousness, but also actively in a real sense’ as humans ‘see themselves in a world they made’.29 Drawing on this point, Chekalov portrays art objects as a ‘real product of conscious human labour’, as a human being’s self-expression with the spiritual dimension, including one’s aesthetic views.30 Consequently, any human-made – or for that matter human-­ designed and machine-made – object is an expression of real life and real creative

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

easel, monumental and decorative art in all their diversity, as a single visual and material system carrying a range of meanings, from intimate to global. The border between ‘easelism’ and ‘monumentalism’ was disappearing, whereas decorative art could accommodate both characteristics. As a result, Vasilevskaia noted, decorative art transmitted artists’ beliefs, and it was this ‘sharp intellectualism’, rather than any formal qualities of artworks, that made decorative art truly modern. Predicting the irritation of some fellow critics, she stressed that the new

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

prevailed in the early 1960s, what interested artists now were traditional forms and ornaments of Russian household objects such as a kvasnik (a pot for kvass – a traditional Baltic and Slavic lightly alcoholic fermented beverage). Some critics welcomed this enthusiasm for all things ‘primordially Russian’. For example, the art critic Irina Uvarova (who would become the second wife of the dissident writer Iulii Daniel) noticed a certain ‘Russian longing’ that suddenly overwhelmed intellectuals and writers in urban centres in Soviet Russia and incited their pilgrimage to

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

mentality incompatible with such kind of creative activity. (Andrew Gemant, 1961) [ 226 ] The creative act is a kind of giving birth, and it is noteworthy that as an historical fact intellectual creativity has been conspicuously lacking in women, whose products are their children … Men bring forth ideas, paintings, literary and musical compositions … and the like, while women bring forth the next generation. (Frank Barron, 1968) For rather different reasons, feminists have pointed out the incompatibility for women of having babies and producing art or literature

in Austerity baby
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

of thanks she had quite forgotten how furious they were with their driver, who rushed them away too early.) hH Alessandra Comini is one of a growing number of women academics writing memoirs. Some of the books, like hers, are accounts of an intellectual or political life, told in personal terms. Other writers have told stories of their lives as Holocaust survivors, or as children of survivors. For some, the nature of memoir and autobiography is the point of the work, which both contributes to the academic study of life-writing and at the same time tells the reader

in Austerity baby
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

education, travel, hospitality, and philanthropy. It was an intellectually alert home, in which books were read and discussed, and in which the humanist agnosticism of Henry Simon was, during his life, and remained after his death, the dominant Simon philosophy. There’s a wonderful photograph, reproduced in a short biography of Henry Simon by his grandson Brian Simon, of the entire family posing outside Lawnhurst in 1898. Ingo, third from the left and about twenty-three years old when the photo was taken, already looks the part of the aesthete. Not remotely interested in

in Austerity baby
Yulia Karpova

attack. On the contrary, these consumer choices found understanding as a legitimate reaction to ‘the striving of a small group of design specialists to offer people, in a centralised manner, a ready and complete model of material environment’.85 Pereverzev’s text exemplifies an internal critique of VNIITE design policy and attitudes that unfolded simultaneously with the development of neodecorativism in decorative art. Both processes captured and responded to the growing popularity of antiques and rising anti-urban moods among Soviet intellectuals that were reflected

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

Philosophy Department of Moscow State University, could not find a position in research or teaching because of his difficult character and thus ended up as the head of the department of readers’ letters of Komsomol’skaia Pravda. Thus, he devised an institute of public opinion as an outlet for his intellectual ambitions. Arkhangel’skii probably drew the information about Grushin’s personality from informal communications with Grushin himself (who was thirty-three years older and died in 2003) or his colleagues or pupils. Aleksandr Arkhangel’skii, ‘Nesovetskaia filosophiia v

in Comradely objects