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- Author: Tijana Vujošević x
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The creation of Soviet culture in the 1920s and the 1930s was the most radical of modernist projects, both in aesthetic and in political terms. This book explores the architecture of this period as the nexus between aesthetics and politics. The invention of communist culture in the aftermath of the October Revolution was perhaps the most radical of modernist projects. The book demonstrates that the relationships between utopia and reality, idealism and pragmatism, between the will for progress and the will for tyranny, are complex and that they do not always play out in the same way. Case studies presented demonstrate the notion that Soviet architecture of the 1920s defined the New Man as primarily a worker. In contrast, during the 1930s the New Man was supposed to be an admirer of socialism in aesthetic terms, the total work of art created by the Communist Party. After an overview of the evolution of Soviet subjectivity, the book discusses transition from the productivist ethos to the representational ethos, which is epitomized in the public baths constructed around 1930 in Leningrad and Moscow. These structures were envisioned as both efficient machines for the production of cleanliness and microcosmic representations of the Soviet society. The book also presents a particular genre of socialist realism, the environmental expertise of obshchestvennitsy, or socially minded women. Finally, it explores the history of this immense structure, clad in expensive marble and illuminated by electrical lighting, altogether the embodiment of socialist modernity.
The Metro was one of the big public works responsible for the colossal transformation of the Russian urban and rural landscape. The Metro is the golden calf of the Soviet Union, a precious and iconic object created by personal contributions and celebrating the socialist ethos, the common belief in the communist world. In the 1920s Lenin famously proclaimed, "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country." Electricity lent the cloak of the Metro "magnificence and light"; it created an "aura of lyrical soulfulness." Soviet design of the future would enter the realm of the supra-visual; articulating new forms of social life, it would articulate a new sensuality, engaging the haptic, visual-tactile sensorium. This was the vision of one of the pioneers of Soviet constructivism, Moisei Ginzburg, as elaborated in his treatise of 1934, Housing.
The story of Soviet architecture is a story of builders who created socialism's wondrous image, their real and imagined identities, such as that of the politically and aesthetically enlightened builder. "Building" socialism was also a metaphor for pursuing the goals of the communist revolution, becoming a New Man (or woman) along the way. The notion of "New People" in the communist realm was, in a sense, a mirage. Soviet citizens never became as free and as enlightened as the myth about the New Man promised. As we have seen, the development of this myth entailed, apart from big ideological and political shifts, such as the transition from "Leninism" to "Stalinism," a process of incremental change. The Soviet State perverted the modernist dream of freedom and progress; Soviet architectural enthusiasts would pervert this perversion, and the level of this new perversion is the true measure of freedom.
In his story, "Bathhouse," written in 1924, the Russian writer Mikhail Zoshchenko relates his attempt to take a bath in one of Leningrad's banyas, public facilities for bathing and steaming the body and doing laundry. The story of the Soviet public bathhouse around 1930 is a story of the transformation of the banya, an age-old institution, an indispensable element of Russian everyday life, and an object of government speculation that predates the communist era. The banya was both a bubble of communist collective intimacy and an ecosystem in which the intimate relationship between the body and the building defined the subject of Soviet industrialization. The implementation of new technologies and their integration into processes of self-care defined the truly Soviet bath, of the kind that would radically improve the life of the workers.
This chapter describes a personalization of the Soviet political project and Stalinist propaganda in the publication in which the image of the mother voting for Stalin appeared: the journal Obshchestvennitsa which translates as "the socially-minded woman." In the narratives of the 1920s, the activist is a proletarian man or woman. They discuss everyday problems, such as providing adequate nutrition for the family and balancing work duties and care for the household. The director of the cosmetics and hygiene institute also stresses that proper nutrition is key to beauty. The wife-activist projected in Obshchestvennitsa did not try to solve the problem of hunger and scarcity of food, as the activists of the 1920s did, but was rather an avid consumer of supposedly abundant food. Socially minded women (obshchestvennitsy), according to their journal, mirrored socialist realist painting through their own aesthetic creations.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book demonstrates that the relationships between utopia and reality, idealism and pragmatism, between the will for progress and the will for tyranny, are complex and that they do not always play out in the same way. It establishes that, in the 1920s Soviet power was meant to be power over means of production, while in the 1930s it was the power of demonstrating the value of socialism in one country. The book presents a particular genre of socialist realism, the environmental expertise of obshchestvennitsy, or socially minded women. It explores the history of this immense structure, clad in expensive marble and illuminated by electrical lighting, altogether the embodiment of socialist modernity.
A group of cosmonauts float in outer space, tethered to their spaceship, in a series of crudely rendered sketches. These numbered sketches are part of a series of drawings from the notebook of the scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, prepared for the film Cosmic Voyage. From the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, Tsiolkovsky developed visions of life in the universe and calculated ways to attain that life. By describing the everyday life on Mars, Alexander Bogdanov narrates life in communism as a parallel space odyssey, making communism tangible and popularizing it in the same way that Tsiolkovsky renders the outcome of his cosmic pursuits. The celestial utopia originated in cosmism and evolved into a series of visions of life in the sky, projects for facilitating the "mastery" of the skies as the last spatial frontier, and ideas about new revolutionary identities.
The scribble on a grid is a plan of a scene in the play "The Magnanimous Cuckold," performed in Moscow in 1922 in the theatre of the director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Meyerhold's "biomechanical" proletarian actor performing in this space was trained to work in a chronotope, to think about his body and its actions as existing in both space and time. The idea of "biomechanics" and space coming together as a chronotope inhabited by a modern, progressive worker was actually created by a bureaucrat. Aleksey Gastev, the bureaucrat in question, was the founder of the Central Institute of Labour, an institution formed in the 1920s dedicated to training workers to develop precise, timed, efficient movements. Gastev's entire theory of proletarian spirit fits in a peculiar and idiosyncratic way into the communist theoretical tradition. Karl Marx defined the notion of workers' "class consciousness" in German Ideology of 1885.
GosPlan research, published in the journal of the Commissariat of Labour, Voprosy truda (Labour Issues) in 1923, was the brainchild of Stanislav Strumilin. Strumilin proposes that the material environment plays a crucial role in determining how efficiently and how rationally Soviet citizens spend their time. Strumilin and Boris Arvatov clearly had a common understanding of the environment as an object-assemblage. Alexander Toporkov complemented his designs with a theory of the object that he presented in Technical Everyday Life and Contemporary Art, published in 1928. Humanist art, Toporkov explains, was geometric and based on mental abstraction. The idea of the home as a workplace and habitation as a manipulation of objects was widespread in the Soviet 1920s. For GosPlan, the constructivist group of architects called Obedinenie sovremennykh arkhitektorov (OSA) created a Soviet version of European modernism.