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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.

Yulia Karpova

sense of the multiplicity of Soviet objects and of creating hierarchies of things and uses – ‘objectively defining the necessary and sufficient minimum of items, capable of providing a contemporary level of comfort’.93 It was, therefore, an expressive element of what Serguei Oushakine calls ‘Soviet productivism’ – a cultural practice of late socialism that echoed the ideas of the 1920s theorists and focused on rationalising the relations between sensuous characteristics, forms and the social functions of things.94 Conclusion By the mid-1950s the rapid changes in

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Soviet things that talk
Yulia Karpova

in particular can benefit from new KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 2 20/01/2020 11:10 Introduction 3 materialist optics in reconsidering the history of interrelations between humans, objects and nature.12 This decentralisation of ‘heroic’ designers and increased attention to materiality provides broad opportunities for examining design under state socialism. While collectivist institutional culture and planned economies precluded designers from obtaining full-fledged individual recognition, let alone stardom, material culture and consumption continuously

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Yulia Karpova

Epilogue A considerable amount of the work on this manuscript was undertaken in Denmark, where I stayed as a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University in 2016–18. As one of the leaders of European product design and a country with a profound national design mythology, Denmark is a magnet for a design historian. Exploring the European context for the comradely objects of late socialism, I frequently visited the library of Designmuseum Danmark Copenhagen. One afternoon in the autumn of 2016, during a lunch break in the museum café, the librarian Anja Lollesgaard

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

recently prevailed in our architecture and applied art, and, on the other hand, to the asceticism of Constructivism that absolutely rejected any use of decorative means.17 Here, Kagan skilfully used forms of authoritative discourse to update the notion of socialist realism – mutatis mutandis, which could be applied to state socialism, in the spirit of de-Stalinisation. His goal was to correct the misdeeds of the recent past, arguing against corrupt Byzantine grandeur and advocating for a return to the original Bolshevik ethos, but avoiding what he perceived as the avant

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

Soviet industrial projects were hazardous for the environment, one should be cautious about presuming KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 143 20/01/2020 11:10 144 Comradely objects that all social practices under state socialism were outright unsustainable. The image of state socialism as wasteful – not only literally but also ­symbolically – owes a lot to the Western narrative that emerged soon after the formation of the Soviet bloc and that matured around the time of its collapse. After her emigration from Hungary to the US, sociologist Zsuzsa Gille noticed the

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

thingness [natural’naia veshchnost’] with illusory space’.61 Apparently speaking of this new synthesis, Voronov referred to the material environment of late socialism beyond the factory floor, shop windows and prefabricated flats. The impulse for ‘synthetic’ and non-utilitarian ceramics came, unsurprisingly, from the Baltic region, which since the 1950s had set the tone for Soviet decorative art. In 1971 Vilnius was the first Soviet city to host the All-Union Symposium of Ceramic Artists (the first such conventions of KARPOVA 9781526139870 PRINT.indd 179 20/01/2020 11

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

to take him in, and eventually he was arrested. We have two different accounts of how he died. The records on the official German website (Gedenkbuch for victims of National Socialism) show that he was interned in 1940 in Saint Cyprien camp, and deported to Auschwitz from Drancy camp on 17 August 1942. A document in Albert’s family, compiled by a local historian of Busenberg, records that he was first interned in Gurs camp in the Pyrenees, then in ‘St. Cyre’, and that he was shot trying to escape to Spain in 1943. In Busenberg, outside the house of my

in Austerity baby
Open Access (free)
Janet Wolff

for racial reasons, i.e., the Jews and the Sinti and Roma, nor indeed did it include women’. Moreover, the insistence on interpreting National Socialism ‘through the lens of a Marxist theory of fascism’ also obviated any focus on the primary victims of the regime. Philately and chemistry [ 187 ] [ 188 ] The ramifications of this economic interpretation of fascism were that those aspects of mass killing that could not be perceived as having been economically motivated – in other words, the genocide of the Jews and the Sinti and Roma – were naturally threatening

in Austerity baby