The Other Children of Marx and Coca-Cola: Pop Art and Cinema in Eastern Europe

David Crowley – Royal College of Art, London

One New Left critique of Cold War modernity claimed that – under the pressure of consumerism and the spread of mass media – East and West were coming to resemble each other. This indictment was made often, perhaps with greatest force by radicals in the Counter Culture at the end of the 1960s. For instance, in 1970 the Dziga Vertov Group made ‘Pravda’, a film shot illicitly in Czechoslovakia, which accused the socialist societies of Eastern Europe of succumbing to consumerism.

What has had far less attention are the various critiques of Socialist consumerism made within the Eastern Bloc itself. In this talk, David Crowley will explore the emergence of a one line of critique of consumerism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1960s which shared much with the rebuttal of ‘industrial civilisation’ by the New Left in the West. Focusing on the films of Vera Chytilova, Dusan Makavejev and Witold Leszczynski, as well artists Natalia LL and Komar and Melamid, he will consider how ‘pop’ images drawn from advertising were used to reflect on alienation and social anomie, as well as to issue critiques of the new programmes of consumer modernisation then being trumpeted by Eastern European states.


On the creation of a design system in the USSSR

Irina Kostenko, Director of VNIITE’s Design Centre (Centre for Technical Aesthetics) 1975 – 1992

The All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE) was founded in 1962 in Moscow. It served as a key institution for the creation of the unique Soviet design system with 15 branches across the different socialist republics. Yuri Borisovich Soloviev, director of VNIITE, initiated and actively developed this system. After the first projects that used design methods in their production were successfully implemented in the manufacturing sector there arose a need to promote these developments. It was decided to form a division of VNIITE that would be charged with promoting the use of design in production and help with their adoption by the national industry.

In 1975 the Centre for Technical Aesthetics was opened in the centre of Moscow in the “Izvestia” publishing house building, which was then under construction. It was the very first Design Centre in the Soviet Union. The Design Centre showcased works from all the design sectors that VNIITE was working in. The Centre presented the latest projects developed at the VNIITE’s many branches: in Belorussia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Leningrad and in the Latvian design center.

It is fair to say that the Design Centre was the first of its kind in the Soviet Union. It was effectively the only body in the USSR that systematically promoted developments in the soviet design industry.

History in the Making: Experiment Invalidovna, Prague 1961

Rebecca Bell – Royal College of Art

Project Experiment Invalidovna was initiated by ÚBOK (Institute of Fashion and Interior Design) to find solutions for furnishing the interiors of apartments in the new Invalidovna housing estate in Prague. The project provides insight into the three-part relationship of designer, state organisation and manufacturer in Czechoslovakia in the early 1960s. It also represents a meeting point between ‘craft’ and ‘modern’ within centralised production, incorporating objects by members of ÚLUV (Centre of Folk Art Production), who explored folk forms and traditional craft techniques in relation to new design. This paper proposes that Experiment Invalidovna raises questions regarding history and temporality within Czechoslovakian socialist design.

Many ÚLUV and ÚBOK objects within the Invalidovna interiors were prototypes targeted at wider manufacture (ultimately five flats were furnished by designers and five by associated manufacturers, a display occurring in in department store Bilá Labut’). The involvement of ÚLUV re-contextualised traditional practice to suit the purposes of design for socialist Czechoslovakia as well as drawing upon a long-term history of Czech institutions and associations established to cultivate the design of consumer goods and relationships between designers and production. Related contemporary discussions of the project also referenced American, Scandinavian and British publications on minimalist design. The role of Invalidovna as a case study in subsequent Czech writing highlights the importance and complexity of the project. Designers such as Emanuela Kittrichová presented interior measurements, diagrams of space, activities and furnishings from the Invalidovna flats, illustrating how the project demonstrated socialist and international modernist attempts to own and order leisure time through domestic environments.

Experiment Invalidovna was a pragmatic and informed response to state-organised design, which pulled together wide-ranging influences to explore what object production could mean in the Czechoslovak socialist context. Through its engagement with historical and international practice, the project also raises questions around socialist metanarratives regarding time and space.

Designing for the Socialist Present: Post-Utopian Practice in Soviet Urban Design of the 1970s

Tom Cubbin – University of Sheffield / Royal College of Art

In 1964, an experimental design studio was established with the Soviet Union of Artists by a group of philosophers, artists, designers and architects who sought to revive some of the fundamental ideals of the Russian Constructivism within the context of the ‘scientific-technological revolution.’ For seven years, designers at ‘Senezh studio’ developed methodologies for designing socialist objects that would restructure the material environment of socialism.

Unable to find successful ways of collaborating with industry, the studio stopped designing ‘socialist objects’ and began creating vast architectural models that imagined socialist townscapes. Culturology and semiotics became important tools for imagining an urban design defined in relation to culture, history and local identity that could not be immediately related to laws of societal progress. ‘Museification’ and ‘theatricalization’ of the urban environment were particular characteristics of these schemes. Working within the official framework of the Soviet Union of artists, these projects were officially presented as plans for ‘visual agitation,’ and in many ways manifested a range of concepts that were becoming associated with ‘postmodernism’ in the West.

However, within the studio, some of those who had proposed more radical solutions for the creation of a socialist material environment saw ‘museification’ as an abandonment of the ideals upon which socialist design had been founded, and urged a return to a futurological agenda. Not naïve to the new realities they faced, their models provided subtle criticism of the status quo, while expressing optimism for building a communist future in a non-totalitarian state. In my paper I will discuss two projects undertaken at Senezh that suggest alternative relationships to past and future in the construction of the socialist present.

Building up a Design Culture in the German Democratic Republic: Parallels and Differences to Design in the West

Siegfried Gronert – Bauhaus University, Weimar

When the two Germanys started to build up their own design institutions after the Second World War, they had a shared cultural background. They had both inherited the great past of the German Werkbund and the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, but both had also inherited the disastrous results of the Nazi-regime. As a satellite state of the Soviet Union, the GDR explicitly rejected German design heritage. The few German design personalities who had not emigrated after 1933 left the newly founded GDR very early – Wagenfeld in 1950, Mart Stam in 1953 – for the West. While in the FRG the ideas of Werkbund and Bauhaus were re-established and developed very quickly, in the eastern GDR functionalism and aesthetic avant-gardes were adamantly refused and suspected of formalism. Though the spell of formalism weakened after the death of Stalin, aesthetic discussions in the arts, architecture and in design were strictly regulated by the ideology of the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany). On the other hand, the western avant-garde School of Ulm with its technical, semiotic and systems approaches to design were very well received in the east. In practice, there were amazing similarities between the designs by the western Braun company and the eastern radio designs. As in the building industry, the Plattenbau (prefabricated building with concrete slabs) was seen as a social and aesthetic solution for housing, system design, economically planned and technically designed products were seen as the best designs for living. The competing ideas for design in the East and the West were strengthened by the respective Councils for Design, Amt für industrielle Formgebung and Rat für Formgebung. But when at the end of the 1970s the Anglo-American term “design” was adopted into the eastern vocabulary, the political change which was to come in 1989 was already in sight.

Modernisation in the Baltic during the 1960s: Curatorial Experience

Lolita Jablonskienė, National Gallery of Art, Vilnius

In 2009, the opening year of the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, the gallery hosted the V&A exhibition “Cold War Modern. Design 1945−1970” curated by David Crowley and Jane Pavitt. The international exhibition, grounded on research of a broad field of practice (on both sides of the Iron Wall), installed in the grand exhibition hall of the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius , was held with the aim of objectifying a rising interest in the Soviet period architecture, design and popular culture in Lithuania consolidated and certainly influenced the shaping of the new local theoretical discourse.

Therefore, when in 2010−2012 NGA together with partners in other Baltic countries took up a project leading to the exhibition reflecting on Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian post-WWII architecture and design (“Modernisation. Baltic Art, Architecture and Design in the 1960s–1970s”), the curators (Lolita Jablonskiene LT, Kai Lobjakas EE, Iliana Veinberga LV) had to both for the first time assemble an eloquent set of exhibits scattered in fragmented public and private collections and simultaneously define its stand in relation to two already operating discourses: presumptions embedded in the local Baltic art historiography and museum policies (e.g. “national peculiarity”, “marginal cultural value”) on the one hand, and on the other − a turn towards the “Cold War politics and creativity” viewpoint that was gathering momentum with the impact of the eponymous exhibition.

The “Modernisation” exhibition attempted to check “national modernizations” against bigger systems of theory and practice − in the Baltic region, the USSR and the international context. The curatorial research was impeded by the different conditions of museifying and listing of the Soviet period architecture and design objects in the Baltic states – the broad-based intention was to stir up the actual politics of collecting, preserving, and communicating post-war modern heritage. Though eventually because of the limited availability of original objects for display and the context-sensitive curatorial approach, the exhibition spotlighted Soviet modernisation specifically as a project with its engineered possibilities and impossibilities and a projection of inevitable negotiations between these two extremes in the everyday.

The introductory conference, the design workshop, and the exhibition looked at the Baltic modernisation at close range and presented it as witnessed by the preserved designs and artefacts little known both to the professionals and the general audience. Some of the exhibition reviewers qualified it as the strategy of exposure rather than that of deconstruction. In reality the curators had and judging by the critical discourse on the project have achieved a particular time-and place-related goal – to interfere with the emergent interpretations of the Soviet period Baltic modernisation: those exalted by the embrace of a meaningful international discourse as well as the parochially nostalgic ones.


The afterlife of Suprematism: Malevich’s legacy in Leningrad art porcelain in the late 1950s – 1960s

Yulia Karpova – Central European University, Budapest

One of the marks of de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union was the artists’ enthusiasm to (re)discover and rehabilitate the legacy of Russian/Soviet avant-garde, including the work of Kazimir Malevich. In the late 1950s – 1960s, access to Malevich’s work was very limited and fragmentary, but this stirred up interest and gave a room for various interpretations. The story of Malevich’s influence on the formation of unofficial artistic culture and nonconformist art in the USSR has attracted certain scholarly attention. However, little is known about the impact Malevich’s work, in particular Suprematism, exerted upon the Soviet post-war decorative art and design, whereas art historians frequently notice Suprematism’s strong design potential. Malevich himself envisioned Suprematism as a universal code for reorganizing material culture of the future – from architecture to dress.

This paper investigates how the Malevich’s utopian idea of “Suprematic harmony” was reinterpreted, or probably even deconstructed, in the era of post-war Soviet modernism, taking the example of Leningrad porcelain. State Porcelain factory, a successor of the imperial elitist enterprise, in the 1920s opened its doors for avant-garde experiment, including Malevich and his pupils. One of them, Nikolai Suetin, continued to work at the factory until his death in 1954. and Two other students of Malevich, Anna Leporskaia and Eduard Krimmer, unwilling to join the camp of socialist realist paintings, started careers in art porcelain in the late 1940s and worked there throughout the Khrushchev period and later. They used Malevich’s lessons, albeit in uneven manner, for his own pedagogy and shaping the factory’s production style. Analyzing works of these and younger porcelain designers, diaries, memoirs and interviews, I inquire into the post-war afterlife of suprematist porcelain and, broader, “suprematist” approach to design.

Deterritorializing Utopia: “Paper Architecture” in Moscow, 1984 

Andres Kurg  – Institute of Art History, Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn

On 1 August 1984, the exhibition “Paper Architecture” was opened in the premises of the editorial office of the youth magazine Yunost, in Moscow, showing a selection of imaginative drawings and critical projects from more than thirty young architects. Trained in the Moscow Architecture Institute, these practitioners already became known during their studies for their successful entries in international architecture competitions sponsored by journals like Japan Architect or Architectural Design, where no restrictions in terms of budget, site or building systems could rein in their sense of fantasy. As a movement, Soviet paper architecture gained international recognition during perestroika period in the late 1980s, and was then often seen as a withdrawal from official design practices, understanding it through the dominant dichotomous model where the all-powerful state was countered by an escape to an apolitical private life. This was further underlined by the postmodern critique in the West, which supported its interpretation as a turn away from rationalist and collective values. Taking the exhibition in Yunost office as my starting point, I want to investigate the critique of modernism, and Soviet utopia, posed through these paper projects from the late 1970s onwards. If conceptual and often abstract competition briefs played their role in the way paper works were put together, their message grew out from the transformations in the late socialist society of the 1970s and 1980s. Against the notion of an apolitical withdrawal, I want to look at the paper projects as part of the local context and struggles: the paper architects did not stand apart from the official architecture and design institutions but often grew out from discussions held there, their work repeatedly interpreted earlier modernism, and several of the works could be read as an intervention into rather than escape from the socialist urban context.

Creation of a new professional identity (working title)

Mari Laanemets

In my paper I would like to discuss the “image” of designer and self-perception of artists linked to the notion of design.

The design study was introduced in the State Art Institute of the Estonian SSR in 1966. Generally it is associated with an ideologically more liberal education: functional field of design was exempt from the strict ideological control as were imposed on fine arts. Therefore, it has been customary to see design as an umbrella for creative and experimental work. Many artists had not only studied design, but were working daily as designers in various state institutions. These design related ideas were cropped up in various ways in the programmes of artists groups like ANK, Visarid and SOUP’69, that sought to redefine relations of art, environment and society.

I am interested in discussions and refelctions on design in artistic circels, that were significantly influenced by the idea ofGesamtkunstwerk of the Avant-Garde as well as by the ideology of design that had emerged in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The focus will be on the specific role of design (as cultural and aesthetic practice): to remind on the ethical responsibility of artists, and on the other hand to legitimate new artistic practice as professional practice. Finally, I would like to reflect on the duality shifting of this practice between critical approach and totalitarian gesture of aesthetisation.

From Environment to Milieu via Berlin-Marzahn: The Urbanism of the In-Between in Late Socialist East Germany

Torsten Lange – Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, Zürich

Abstract Coming Soon.

Things to Use: Desgn Objects in Everyday History

Andreas Ludwig – Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam

Amoung the many objects of everyday culture being preserved in museum collections, displayed in exhibitions, and still being found on flee-markets, “design” objects play a crucial role. They are mass-produced objects within an abundance of  everyday equipment, they are of mundane character and  at the same time part of the material environment of the East German society. If we call them “design objects” today, they admittedly weren´t the same during their time of use. This change of perspective makes their specific museal character obvious. Their reappraisal is result of an interpretation and back in their time of daily use only few did notice their design quality. Industrial design became crucial in the GDR when in 1958 the Communist Party proposed the superiority of socialism over capitalism in the field of individual consumption. The consumer durables produced now were to appear modern and achievable to every citizen. In the course of the 1960s, professionally designd objects of everyday use appeared, from plastic dishes to electric household aplliances, making post-war shortages in provisioning seem resolved and indicating a general modernization in the field of consumption. Whereas their “design” character appeared only in retrospect, the refurbishing of consumer durables during the 1960s had a long-lasting effect on the East German interpretation of modernity as being functional, candid, long-lasting und, later on, seen as boring, repetitive, and out-dated. Since the late 1980s they were brought back into recognition as culturally branded markers of their time.

Soviet Design Heritage in a Modern Context

Alexandra Sankova, Director at Moscow Design Museum

The process of studying the cultural heritage of Soviet design and the preparations for the exhibition “Soviet Design, 1950-80’s” met with many challenges. As a result of a lack of respect for out national history many important documents and models that illustrated the work of soviet designers were lost; some researchers when so as far as to question the very existence of a national design school in the USSR.

The word ‘design’ was considered foreign and was not officially used in the USSR until the late 1980’s. Industrial artists worked on industrial design and industrial graphics artists worked on graphic design. Only in 1987, with the founding of the Designer’s Union of the USSR was the term ‘designer’ finally applied to a profession, the practical foundation for which can be traced to the 1950’s.

The unique socialist model of design that formed in the Soviet Union is little studies. The main factor for its development was the duality of its nature: the rift between humanistic design concepts, reflected by the highly methodical school, on the one hand and the technological inertia of soviet industry that lacked an economic incentive to develop on the other.

In 1991 the USSR ceased to exist. The crisis in production that started after the dissolution of the Soviet Union arrested the development of Russian design. Today, when Russian design of the XXI century is being developed it is as important as ever to look back on the cultural heritage left by Soviet design.

Postmodernism Is Almost All Right. Polish Architecture After Socialist Globalization.

Łukasz Stanek, University of Manchester

This paper traces the links between postmodernism in Polish architecture after socialism and the work of Polish architects in the Middle East during the last decades of the Cold War. Since the 1970s, the accelerating export of architectural labor from socialist Poland coincided with the disappointment of many architects with “real existing modernism”, dominated by state bureaucracy and construction industry. While the exchanges with the West were restricted and increasingly uneven, it was the work in Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Syria that furnished many Polish architects with the experience of postmodernism as the new mainstream in architectural practice and discourse. By tracing these transnational exchanges, this paper shows, first, how architects from socialist countries, including People’s Republic of Poland, contributed to the current phase of globalization of architecture, for which the spectacular urban development of the United Arab Emirates became a paradigm. Second, this paper questions the impact of this experience on the architectural practice in Poland after its return to the peripheries of capitalism. By revisiting notable postmodern buildings in Warsaw, Kraków, and Wrocław, this paper shows that Polish architects abroad learned not only about advanced technologies, complex functional programs, CAD, and the organization of the office, but also about the postmodern sensitivity to intermediary scales, recognizable images, and urban complexity. At the same time, the experience of practicing architecture outside of the public debate facilitated the architects’ renouncement of their social obligation in 1990s Poland, which only most recently began to be questioned.

The Hungarian Design in the light of the Zsennye Workshop: 1978-2014

András Szilágyi (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest)

I don’t think that there is anyone on this Planet, who should be introduced to the Rubik-cube. The „Rubic pandemic” in 1980 was not only the greatest success a Hungarian product had ever achieved, but also became a symbol of the Eighties. This decade is generally an interesting period in the History of Design. In this most succesful decade in Hungary’a design history, one of the leading centers of„design theory” was located in Hungary, in the small town of Zsennye. In the last two years I researched the Zsennye Workshop. A book is going to be published this June.

Zsennye played a prominent role in design theory and soon became one of the leading theoretical centers in the Eastern Block. The story starts in 1975 in Moscow with the cooperation of Yuri Solovyev, the chairman of VNIITE and president of ICSID, József Cserny, a Hungarian designer, father of the Hungary based Symposium Movement and professor Horst Oehlke from the GDR a leading theoretican from the Humbold University. The first Workshop was held in 1978. Yevgeni Rosenblum, a prominent of SENEZH became the Honorary Chairman of the Workshop.

From the board of 9, 3 delegates were from the GDR’s UPÉ, 3 from Senezh,and the rest were practicing Hungarian designers. Zsennye played a prominent role to establish a connection between the tradition of Bauhaus, VHUTEMAS in the context of a symposium for designers from the socialist and western countries. Senezh and the UPÉ are now long gone, but the Zsennye Workshop still exists. In it’s transition to a contemporary design workshop we can follow the changes of contemporary design theory. Since Marcel Breuer and László Moholy Nagy were both Hungarians, Zsennye today provides a living connection between contemporary design, it’s modern roots and the „Big Generation” of Hungarian Design.

“Design for Man an Mankind”: VNIITE hosts ICSID’75 Moscow

Margareta Tillberg – Stockholm University

This presentation will look at the role of the Soviet Union in the international discourse on design during the Cold War, with ICSID – International Council of Societies of Industrial Design as an important platform. ICSID was founded in London in 1957 and in 1963 the organisation was granted special consultative status with UNESCO, in order to “using design for the betterment of the human condition”.

With its regular international congresses and interim meetings, ICSID was an important forum for designers in all countries, not only of the “first world”, but also of the countries from behind the Iron Curtain.

Representatives from the Soviet Union started to pay attention to ICSID immediately after its inception. In 1962, VNIITE (the Russian abbreviation for the All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Technical Aesthetics) was founded in Moscow. VNIITE quickly expanded to become the biggest design institute worldwide and ICSID was an important vehicle for constituting its network. VNIITE soon took upon a leading role. By 1969 VNIITEs founding director Yuri Soloviev was ICSIDs vice president, and 1977-79 its president.

The special focus of this presentation will be the prestigious international congress ICSID’75 Moscow, hosted by VNIITE under the rubrik “Design for Man an Mankind”.   It will describe the event from the perspective of official Russian language media, as well as from behind the stage, using interviews with a number of the participants in the event.

Neither a real artist, nor a designer: art laborers in the Riga Porcelain Factory and their output in the Soviet period

Iliana Veinberga – Art Academy of Latvia

 An artist could gain access to the Riga Porcelain Factory and work there by several different approaches. Each one had a specific degree of artistic liberty. The least independent artists in terms of artistic freedom were the staff employees of the factory. Production technology and the industrial goals of the Soviet Union posed particular restraints on what was expected of the artists working in the industry. In most cases these people were educated and trained as professional artists, they were members of the Artists’ Union of the Soviet Latvia etc., however, the industry factor did not allow them to level up with the artists working primarily in fine and applied arts.

The onset of the discourse of design did not do much for the workers of the Porcelain Factory either, as the capacity to address the ‘complex problems’ and tasks of the Soviet material reality in this field was limited in comparison with the heavy and electrotechnical industries, architecture, environment, information and other fields where designers worked.

Over the course of the 1950s,  1960s and 1970s numerous advancements were made to raise the status of the factory artists and encourage their creativity – this task was in accord with the system’s aim of fostering availability and quality of the industrially produced goods. In my paper I will examine the status dynamics of the art laborers working in the Riga Porcelain Factory corresponding to the shifts in the socialist system of production in general and the lightweight industry in particular. My second task is to trace how – if ever – these shifts were reflected in the output of the Riga Porcelain Factory.

Design Theory and Self Management Socialism: The Yugoslav Case in Panoramic Survey

Fedja Vukić – University of Zagreb

Theoretical discourse on design had been developing in a significant quantity from nineteen-fifties to eighties throughout the formative years of the concept of self management which had been installed in 1952 within former Yugoslav federation. The idea of workers participation, as a vital element of industrial modernisation had been followed by a number of cultural strategies and practices, some of which was backed by ideology and ruling party.

But some other developed in a spontaneous manner, from architects, artists and art historian, as was the case of debate on industrial design as a key factor in humanization of living and working environment.

This paper presents a panorama of theory insights into design within the social and political ambient of self management socialism, over more than thirty years. Public debate on design was developing and semantic field of the concept of design was expanding within that period. The four cultural contexts are identified and presented as crucial: the critique of the concept of applied arts, context of architecture theory, context of public activism in the domain of housing and the context of art criticism.

Development of terminology and theory on design was a reflection of social and economic framework in which a major shift had been the political decision on economic reform in 1963., when socialist party had introduced elements of free market economy within the context of state planned one. This was a major change in paradigm of self management socialism, and it is witnessed even within design theory as a reflection of new economic reality. Focus on some of the key issues in design discourse is treated as an element for reconstruction of cultural history of socialist Yugoslavia.


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