Saturday June 2, 2012 – All-Soviet, All-The-Time

(I apologise for the temporary lack of photos. Turns out I renamed the folder they were in and confused the internet.)

Here’s the Battleship Aurora! It fired on the Hermitage that signalled the October Revolution in 1917.

Here I am trying to point like Lenin:

Here it is, in a below-deck museum, firing on the Winter Palace – it only shot blanks so the cats were OK:

Here’s the actual flag it was flying (poorly photographed) during the uprising. No Soviet branding, just the workers’ standard:

A paperweight from one of its commanders?

A Communist plate:

I might get this in towel-form:

The Orthodox Church put a chapel in it after 1991, just to ‘consecrate’ it i.e. celebrate the final defeat of the movement that had attacked its privileges. That’s the pre-revolutionary Cross of St. Andrew, patron saint of the city:

After the Aurora, we found a Russian cafe, where I ordered what I thought might be a quiche and turned out to be something eggy covering a big piece of fish. So it’s official: I’m a pescatarian for the duration of this trip. It’s just impossible to find vegetarian food – even the vegetarian restaurant we went to was heavy on egg and cheese. Unless I want to live on salad (and there’s no guarantee that doesn’t have meat in it), or vastly improve my Russian enough to bother waiters with special requests, I’m ordering fish in lieu of ending up with something meatier. It’s validating, at least in making me realize that I don’t particularly like meat – I’m not regretting the last 19 years of vegetarianism. Fish is kind of bland so far, it’s like cooking an animal removes the need to use any spices. But I don’t have much of a choice.

We marched through heavy rain across the Neva to the State Museum for Russian Art, and I’ve prepared a photo-tour with commentary. But I only have a half-hour left on my battery so you good people will be spared the full experience, at least until I can find an outlet. But here’s a precis. I stuck with the 20th century, as that’s all I figured I had energy for – and I didn’t even have energy for all of that. The 20th century took up the entire upper floor of the building, which itself twisted and turned with no apparent reason or floor plan. When we eventually left, M. and I had to retrace our path to get out.

I wanted to see the progression of Soviet art to Stalinism, and I wasn’t disappointed: from the giddy experimentation of suprematism, art movements quickly became representational and, if not glorifying the regime, glorifying the idealized denizens of Soviet Russia. That’s not all bad: it’s great to see workers being treated with dignity, even heroism compared to being ignored or ridiculed in the west. However, elevating workers to religious icons is not the point of socialism: the Revolution was to begin transforming workers to whole human beings, not to celebrate their status as cogs. Trotsky said (trust me on this one, I think it’s in Literature and Revolution) that ‘we can’t make socialist art yet because we have yet to create the new human being’ i.e. the USSR is still a class society. Stalinist dogma turned that from a necessity to a virtue. Compare Kazimir Malevich’s Peasant Woman from the early 1930s, which has the approved subject matter but at least has some formal ingenuity…

With “Women Delegates” from 1939:

As technically beautiful as it is, and as much as I’d like to have people that enthusiastic at my union meetings, there’s no subtext, no formal conventions at all (not surprising, since formalism was a crime). It’s the artistic equivalent of Microsoft Word: What You See Is What You Get.

My battery is down to five minutes, so that’s all the art lecture you get. For now.

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4 thoughts on “Saturday June 2, 2012 – All-Soviet, All-The-Time

  1. “I didn’t even have energy for all of that” — that means it must have been vast (or that you were unusually tired)!

  2. Hey Greg. Been following your entries. Sounds like you’re having a good time. Staying with a family was a great idea! Keep ’em coming. Only thing is 2 June entries don’t show any photos (the descriptions sound interesting, but I’d like to see what you’re referring to). Cheers. Greg S.

  3. Hey there, It looks like photo bucket did not like your photos of the Battleship Aurora .. you may want to repost them from another site. Keep on with the blog!

  4. Hey folks,

    Yeah, sorry about this. The photos are on photobucket but for some reason the links don’t work… then I couldn’t access photobucket to get to them… then wordpress itself stopped publishing… and of course my computer itself refuses to let me transfer files from my camera now since it magicked away my desktop… I feel like I’m being slowly squeezed from the internet. I saw a Macbook Pro last night and got a pang of nostalgia for computers and internet connections that actually work!

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