Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary
August 22, 2011—
The Soviet Union was a world in pictures. Its creation in the wake of the Russian revolutions of February–March and October–November 1917 was facilitated by a vibrant image culture based largely on new media technologies. Its periodic re-makings – during Stalin’s Great Leap Forward (1928–1932), World War II (1941–1945), the Thaw (1956–1964), Perestroika (1987–1991) – were all accompanied by new media revolutions. Now, twenty years after the disappearance of the USSR, despite the decidedly mixed legacy of the Soviet experiment, the Soviet image continues to fascinate and to mystify.
|1. Click on the images to enlarge.|
Two of the most striking manifestations of Soviet image culture were the children’s book and the poster. Both of these media testify to the alliance between experimental aesthetics and radical socialist ideology that held tenuously from the 1917 revolutions to the mid-1930s and defined the look of Soviet civilization. The children’s books and posters featured in “Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary” allow us to relate this new image culture to the formation of new social and cultural identities under the watchful eye of a powerful and oppressive state. They cover a crucial period, from the beginning of Stalin’s Great Breakthrough in 1928 to the re-construction and re-grouping that followed the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets called World War II. As these works show vividly, there was no ideologically neutral space in the rich and vibrant world of the Soviet imagination. By the same token, though, there was no zone of Soviet life free of the image.
“Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary” is drawn entirely from the collections of the University of Chicago Library. The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at the University of Chicago houses a large collection of over 400 Soviet children’s books published between 1927 and 1948, with the majority dated 1930-1935. This collection, the provenance of which is not known, is supplemented by a small but fascinating group of Soviet children’s books from 1930-1931 acquired by the Library as part of the R R Donnelley & Sons Company Training Department Library, where they were used in the company’s distinguished apprentice program for printers. Individual items have also been drawn from the Library’s general circulating collections. The posters in the exhibit are from the Dr. Harry Bakwin and Dr. Ruth Morris Bakwin Soviet Posters Collection, a group of nineteen posters from 1930-1932, collected on two trips to the Soviet Union and donated to the Library by their son E. M. Bakwin.
The exhibition was created by the collaborative efforts of eight graduate students, one former undergraduate and two faculty members at the University of Chicago. The participants represent a range of academic disciplines, from history to art history and Russian literature. Each participant was responsible for one or more topic text, including the selection of images and translations, and their contributions are recognized on the pages of this Website.
by Robert Bird
Robert Bird teaches Russian literature and film. He is the author of books on Fyodor Dostoevsky, Viacheslav Ivanov and Andrei Tarkovsky, and has published widely on the aesthetics of Russian modernism.
Kathryn Duda is a graduate student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature. She is interested in late Soviet culture, but enjoys a good novel from whatever period or place.
Leah Goldman is a Ph.D candidate in Soviet history. She holds a B.A. summa cum laude in music from UCLA, an M.Mus. in performance from Mannes College of Music, and an M.A. in social science from the University of Chicago. Ms. Goldman spent the 2009-2010 academic year conducting archival research in Moscow under the auspices of a Fulbright-Hays DDRA grant and is currently writing her dissertation, entitled "Art of Intransigence: Soviet Composers’ Fight Against Censorship, 1945-1957".
Matthew Jesse Jackson teaches in the Departments of Visual Arts and Art History.
Michelle Maydanchik is a doctoral student in Art History. She is writing a dissertation about performance art produced in Moscow throughout the late and post-Soviet periods, focusing on actionist practices of the 1990s.
Daniel Phillips is a graduate student in the Department of Art History studying modern Russian art.
Katherine Hill Reischl is a Ph.D student in Slavic Languages and Literatures. Her research interests include Russian and Soviet photography, modernist prose, socialist realism, media aesthetics, and Russian iconography.
Flora Roberts is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of History, writing a dissertation on Tajikistan during the Soviet period. She has previously worked in international development in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, and will be conducting field research in Central Asia in 2011. Flora also has a degree in Classics from Oxford University and three young children.
Claire Roosien graduated in 2010 with a BA in Fundamentals: Issues and Texts and Slavic Languages and Literatures. She spent the 2010-2011 school year studying ethnic pedagogy in the Chuvash Republic of the Russian Federation, and plans to attend graduate school beginning in 2012.
Andrey Shlyakhter is completing his dissertation, “Smugglers and Commissars: the Making of the Soviet Border Strip, 1917-1939,” in the Department of History. His research interests include economic deviance, “borderness,” and Soviet state (in)security. His departure from the USSR in 1989, at the age of eight and a half, interrupted what was by all indications a promising military career.
Items in Exhibition:
They have an interesting software product, and I’m sure there are others.