A very long time ago (in internet years), I had a Twitter conversation with blogger and general funny girl Vicki Boykis (@vboykis) about our attitudes towards Russian tchotchkes. The original link is dead, but it was probably something along these lines. Her response was an unequivocal “yea,” while I was firmly on the “ugh, why?” side. (Need another example of Vicki’s interesting love for things Russian?). We agreed that likely, the different times when we left had an impact on our families’ attitudes towards the country and its tchotkes. More on that in an upcoming post.
I was reminded of that exchange by this post from Good magazine on a new Soviet design book, called Made in Russia: Unsung Soviet Design. Take the Soviet soda machine, which dispensed bubbly bevvies into a communal drinking glass. The glass was attached to the machine, and everyone used it: “With all the plastic floating around and the nagging debate about any bottle’s carbon footprint, you have to wonder: Are machines like this, with some public health updates, perhaps, an idea worth stealing back?”
So in other words…
There isn’t enough of everything because we’ve completely messed up our economy, and our people don’t want paradise, they want Coke and jeans and colour TVs. And ugh, we have to share drinking glasses with strangers because we’re not environmental, we’re just f-ed.
North American interpretation:
Wow, how forward thinking and environmental. How cool. And look at those retro features. Let’s do it!
More photos from the book at 99% Invisible, and a great interview by Julia Barton with writer Michael Idov (born in Latvia, immigrated to Cleveland at 16, now in New York), who makes some great points about the way consumer goods played into the power struggle between the Americans and the Soviets (and more of the same in the book, I imagine).
The essence, argues editor Michael Idov, is the system that built them: a post-WWII economy, mostly closed from the rest of the world, trying to transform its tank and grenade factories into places that churned out Western-style consumer goods. Idov grew up in Soviet Latvia with “some pretty terrible stuff,” but he believes the experience makes him, and other Soviet citizens, hyperaware of good design when they see it.
|Retro Russian Import Lures Older Riders
Go Soviet at the CNE
Unsung icons of design
The book is ultimately a contemplation on everyday things in a time when it wasn’t popular to riff on everyday things and they weren’t all that abundant either. Gary Shteyngart and Lara Vapnyar are among the essay contributors.
Something about these images (especially the Sputnik ad) reminds me of the irony pointed out in Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, which I wrote about recently—total horror set again an odd sense of pride and sacrifice. It’s an interesting tension that doesn’t necessarily exist in all totalitarian countries—genuine achievement set against genuine horror. Without making ridiculous somersaults of historical speculation, I think it’s safe to say that the Soviet victory in WWII certainly played a part in this.
You can listen to the podcast at the top of this post or check it out here at 99% Invisible. Plus, there’s such a fabulously great comparison between the parrot that keeps interrupting the recording and the Soviet “art” of imitation.