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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

narrow focus on a singular object in order to progress towards ‘total design’. Ideal objects In the 1960s VNIITE was preoccupied with developing evaluation criteria and methodologies for design processes. Household objects were the first item on the agenda: from 1965 to 1966, in cooperation with the Design Institute of Poland, VNIITE conducted research on the contemporary standards of domestic space and furnishing for different consumer groups, and on consumer requirements for different categories of goods. This research was related to the development of typologies

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

-ordered structure of sectional cases that fills a wall. Regardless of its type (sectional, collapsible or shelves), it has a definite module and rhythm […] Ceramics, glass, light fixtures, books, prints, souvenirs, plants, fabrics and other household objects infuse this structure, fill it, introduce vibrancy to it; everything ties in a coherent whole.1 Hence, while encouraging vibrancy and a certain diversity in the modern Soviet home, Piletskii specified that such diversity should be constrained, subjected to a spatial grid. However, he did not mean that all the objects in a

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Yulia Karpova

introduced me to Boris Berlin, one of the leading Danish designers and a co-founder of the well-known company Komplot Design, who started his career at VNIITE before emigrating in 1983. Berlin is closely affiliated with Designmuseum Danmark: he designed the furniture for its library and regularly participates in its exhibitions, so his visit to the museum’s café was not an accident. Hearing about my research topic, he responded with scepticism, noting that there was not much good design of household objects in the USSR. This view is neither surprising nor unique. The

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

Russian avant-garde: the role of the artist in industry and mass production. The first section will focus on an interview series conducted by the Dekorativnoe Iskusstvo SSSR team in 1973 with artists, engineers and administrators at several Soviet factories that produced household objects. Then, proceeding to the mid-1970s, this chapter will discuss design professionals’ investigation of the messages that ‘talkative’ objects conveyed to exhibition viewers and to everyday users. Finally, the chapter will outline the case of a Leningrad group of ceramic artists, One

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

the improvement of people’s everyday lives while also seeking opportunities for professional recognition, or could adopt certain forms of institutional critique without becoming dissidents. My desire to provide a nuanced picture of people who cared about household objects in difficult political circumstances is precisely what drives the inclusion of both human and inanimate agents in this analysis. The discrepancy between the designers’ visions of highly functional, rational objects and the shabby, monotonous pool of available commodities has become a commonplace

in Comradely objects
Yulia Karpova

consumers’ active participation in correcting object systems. Simultaneously, Loktev adds, ‘by modelling dynamic systems, we can manage consumers’ initiative’.37 This is the credo of a ‘taste expert’ adjusted to the age of cybernetics: the consumer is given freedom of taste, but this freedom is to be managed by the designer. Thus, in Soviet design theory of the mid-1960s, not only was the household object made dynamic, as Boris Arvatov had said it should be in 1925, but the concept of consumer taste became more dynamic, too. While design professionals, continuing

in Comradely objects
Open Access (free)
Jenny Edkins

down themselves: this is not going to be a film that reveals itself swiftly: patience will be required. There is something vaguely threatening about the scene, though. The power and precision of the instrument, man-made for sure, but somehow its movement is now beyond control: an instrument, but of what? The circles are repeated in shots of the surface of the moon that follow. The next scene is a domestic, everyday setting. Sunlight through rustling leaves reveals a kitchen and household objects: a radio, chairs, tapestry-work cushions, a picture of the last supper

in Change and the politics of certainty
Open Access (free)
Criminality during the occupation
James E. Connolly

investigation demonstrated that they had not done so. Hugo was bruised, but this was in fact a result of his wife having thrown household objects at him in order to defend herself, a fact she freely admitted. The Commissaire Central therefore ended his letter by asking the Mayor to persuade the Germans to release the arrested policemen.21 It is unclear if this occurred. A case where the conclusion is visible is that of M.  Willerval, a policeman from Tourcoing. He was brought before a German war tribunal on 13 March 1916, accused of aiding, feeding and clothing hidden French

in The experience of occupation in the Nord, 1914– 18
Yulia Karpova

. The scope, diversity and quality of the exhibits signified the triumph of art that was oriented towards mass production and the satisfaction of consumer needs. One reviewer enthusiastically noted that ‘simple household objects’ were exhibited alongside objects traditionally ascribed to applied art (such as porcelain cups or glass vases).140 Aluminium and enamelled kitchenware produced at two Leningrad factories141 was juxtaposed with a modestly decorated porcelain tea set from the Leningrad Porcelain Factory as embodiments of honest artistic labour. Glassware from

in Comradely objects