The BackShop Journal

A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Revolution Every Day: an Exercise in Dangerous Nostalgia

Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago is hosting an exhibition of Soviet posters made by women. Presented on the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, this exhibition "immerses visitors in the distinct textures and speeds of everyday life that arose—and have lingered stubbornly—in the wake of revolutionary upheaval," it says in its presentation. The exhibition opened on September 14, and it will last until the end of January.

As the official announcement says, "Revolution Every Day juxtaposes works of Soviet graphic art—primarily posters from the 1920s and 1930s, many by female artists such as Valentina Kulagina—with works on video and film, including  excerpts from Dziga Vertov’s documentary films from the 1930s, post-Soviet videos by artists like Olga Chernysheva, as well as a new commission by Cauleen Smith. Focused on the experiences of women under (and after) communism, these works involve viewers in visual and aural conversations concerning the temporality of the everyday, revealing how socialist labor involves feats of endurance and patience as much as heroic action."

The title of the exhibition is probably a play on the well known trotskyist term "Permanent Revolution."

People tend to be nostalgic about things past, no matter how awful they were, and this is especially dangerous when the critics are spatially and temporally so removed from the place and era that brought so much misery and suffering. Today's western intellectual elite is imbued with feminism and Marxism (with a face), and the theme of this exhibition fits well into their worldview.

In the presentation of the exhibition, it also says that "In its distinct approach to its subject, Revolution Every Day ... undermines our readymade responses to the Russian Revolution and makes  it possible for Western audiences to experience Soviet visual art anew." 

It is true that presenting these tasteless posters can have an aesthetic value. That is because they are taken out of the context of its propaganda purpose and viewed purely from the autotelic perspective. Adding the historical and political context in which they were made makes them lose their appeal, however. An understanding of the circumstances and motivations which produced them renders them a carnival of kitsch at best, and a repugnant indoctrination tool at worst.

Svetozar Postic

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