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.
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
-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
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
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
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
’ 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 Khrushchev’s policy, saw themselves as responsible for guiding consumer behaviour, this guidance became more flexible.38 As Glazychev summarised in 1968
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
household objects made out of raffia and cloth, from between 80 and 120 stalls along the road. However, most stalls were selling Chinese-made clothing and accessories instead of wax cloth and wooden sculptures when I arrived. There were also a number of stalls along Via Bologna selling the kinds of domestic product that West African customers look for, such as bags of kola nuts; green tea to make Senegalese tea ( attaya ); Carotene skin-lightening soaps; and rough, brightly coloured flannels for use in the shower. Following the election of Mayor de Magistris, and the
the cemetery (Sayer, 2010 ). These examples demonstrate quite different distributions of material culture within each cemetery. In two cases, Wakerley and Deal, the distributions were evident in household objects, and in the selection of particular types of object. At Apple Down and Morning Thorpe (see Chapter 6 ), the difference manifested in the ritual, which dictated the type of burial assemblages to include within a grave, as much as in the material culture. ‘Less significant’ objects like pins, buckles and firesteels were part of these assemblages, but